Saturday, June 7, 2014

I'm Exhausted

Two days of planting corn, sorghum, sunflowers and I've still got loads of work to do in the garden.   It's a really big garden, it has to be, it's a major part of my sustenance.   Next year, I plant the corn with a planter.   I guess it's time pointing out to me that I'm not 50, anymore.  

I'll try to post something later today.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Great Answer

Everything in this interview with Marilynne Robinson is worth reading, this quote is especially worth remembering.


In your second novel, Gilead, the protagonist is a pastor, John Ames. Do you think of yourself as a religious writer?


I don’t like categories like religious and not religious. As soon as religion draws a line around itself it becomes falsified. It seems to me that anything that is written compassionately and perceptively probably satisfies every definition of religious whether a writer intends it to be religious or not. 

And this:


Ames believes that one of the benefits of religion is “it helps you concentrate. It gives you a good basic sense of what is being asked of you and also what you might as well ignore.” Is this something that your faith and religious practice has done for you? 


Religion is a framing mechanism. It is a language of orientation that presents itself as a series of questions. It talks about the arc of life and the quality of experience in ways that I’ve found fruitful to think about. Religion has been profoundly effective in enlarging human imagination and expression. It’s only very recently that you couldn’t see how the high arts are intimately connected to religion.


Is this frame of religion something we’ve lost? 


There was a time when people felt as if structure in most forms were a constraint and they attacked it, which in a culture is like an autoimmune problem: the organism is not allowing itself the conditions of its own existence. We’re cultural creatures and meaning doesn’t simply generate itself out of thin air; it’s sustained by a cultural framework. It’s like deciding how much more interesting it would be if you had no skeleton: you could just slide under the door.


How does science fit into this framework?


I read as much as I can of contemporary cosmology because reality itself is profoundly mysterious. Quantum theory and classical physics, for instance, are both lovely within their own limits and yet at present they cannot be reconciled with each other. If different systems don’t merge in a comprehensible way, that’s a flaw in our comprehension and not a flaw in one system or the other. 

Solemn Music For A Solemn Remembrance Aaron Copland: Nonet For Strings (orchestral version)

An Even Bigger Irony FOX "News" Unwittingly

lends support to Neil Degrasse Tyson's speculation about aliens not recognizing human intelligence by having on the racist, sexist, idiot Gavin McInnes to racistly slam Neil Degrasse Tyson.   Who, of course, is currently the star of a program on another FOX network.  

Update:  I don't wish to imply by the title that FOX "News" ever does anything wittingly.  It is sly enough to know its audience and if there's one thing the FOX "News" audience doesn't require or recognize, it's wit. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How is This For Irony

It seems that Neil Degrasse Tyson, aka The Greatest Genius In The World ® is speculating that maybe aliens have already been here and didn't recognize any intelligent life on Earth.   That would be Neil Degrasse Tyson, The World's Greatest Genius ®  WHO IS A PARTNER WITH SETH MACFARLANE, AKA THE MAN WHO IS MAKING PEOPLE STUPIDER EVERY SINGLE DAY ON THE NETWORKS DEDICATED TO MAKING PEOPLE STUPIDER, ON THE MEDIUM THAT HAS DONE MORE THAN ANY OTHER TO MAKE PEOPLE STUPIDER. 

This should probably be on my other blog, the one with the rude name, but it's too ironic to isolate there.

Does The World's Greatest Genius not disqualify himself by saying something so massively and cluelessly ironic? 

My thanks to The Daily Grail for alerting me to this irony.

Scrupulous Fairness in Service To Oligarchy: The Process Liberal

I'm planting a lot of beans and corn this year and that's what I'm doing the next several days.  And I'm trying sorghum too.  In short, I'm swamped with garden work.   Here's an early piece I wrote, as I was beginning to try to make sense of the failure of liberalism.  From June 2006


You have to admit some liberals are strange. Some get up on a soap box and that turns into their whole universe. One of the oddest of these ducks is the process liberal. You can tell one by it's call, "I'm not interested in the outcome, I only want the process to be honest,". And so it's time to rip out another weak plank from the platform of The Code of Liberal Ethics before someone else steps on it and gets hurt.

This might pinch some toes but Fred Wertheimer is the great example of process liberalism. Some of you know that I've got a bone to pick with him over his teaming up with Newt Gingrich to get Jim Wright ousted, ending the only real opposition that the Reagan-Bush administration ever faced. In the most supreme political irony of our age, Fred and Newt sank him over a BOOK DEAL that by Gingrichean standards was chump change. Even if Wertheimer's motives were pure, in theory, this act marks him as the archetype process liberal due to it's pettiness, the enormous benefit it brought to Republicans and the damage it did to Democrats. You remember, Wright was replaced by the tragically ungifted Tom Foley who obsessed over marble floors in the elevators and lost the house to Newt Gingrich. I don't believe that was what Wertheimer wanted but it wasn't any surprise when it happened.

Process liberals bask in their own purity knowing that they are welcome on any talk show in the country and will seldom be asked a tough question or get pinned down on anything they say. They go on and answer all of the reverently posed questions about the latest sins of Democrats. They predictably bleat out their dismay over these venial sins which, they decree, must carry the penalty of eternal damnation. In the process they sell out the real progressive agenda that doesn't end in process, it ends in results, in making peoples' lives better.

They say "the ends don't justify the means" on the rare occasion someone questions their judgment. But that phrase was invented to counter people who wanted to use means that involved killing people and doing serious injury. Dictators' ends don't justify their means. But the left in the United States won't start doing that, no matter what the temptation. The left will use the untidy and imperfect process of government to defeat Republicans' lies and theft. If there is some minor naughtiness involved it's a small price to pay for child nutrition, healthcare, jobs creation, Social Security and other such benefits to humanity as the notably impure Democratic majorities of the past have produced. Remember the "post office scandal"? Looks penny ante after Bush II, doesn't it.

The sentimental attachment we have for these process liberals is rather strange itself since they haven't produced much and they've prevented much good. That the Republican media values them isn't any surprise, it should be an indictment against them. They wouldn't be asked on if Republicans didn't like the results.

Is That What's Troublin' you, Bunky? I Get Hate Mail

Someone objects to me having said that liberalism is about moral absolutes.   Well, the real thing is.  It isn't about anything else.  And when you have one thing as a moral absolute, you have to hold its opposite to be morally wrong and to fight against it.   And I've gone through those moral absolutes often enough that even people who read me casually know what I'm about to say without having to think about it.  Liberals hold that everyone, including them, has a real moral obligation to treat people equally and that they have a right to being treated exactly that same way, especially they have the same right to being treated well.  Liberals hold that everyone has the same rights to have their rights respected and that no one is entitled to a privileged position in that.  No one is more equal than anyone else.  Not even the clever and hip in their own minds.

Real liberals hold that people have a right to have their needs met by society and that people who can't provide for themselves are not to be allowed to linger and die in abject, miserable poverty while other people wallow in an excess of material luxuries.   That people have no right to bend the law to allow them to steal from the mouths of the poor and destitute or even the lower middle class to add to the billions they've already managed to get through dis-illegalized theft, as O Henry may have put it.  Real liberalism is founded on what gets called "The Golden Rule" and, as Jonathan Edwards did put it, "liberal provision" to the poor by society.  It is founded on the absolute equality of all people.   In fact, since the objection to my talk about liberalism as moral absolutes equates it to fundamentalism (I doubt the guy really knows the meaning of the word)  here's more of what the vilified Calvinist preacher of hell fire and damnation said on the topic of equality,  

The proper objects of our liberality are not limited to those of the same people and religion because our enemies, those that abuse us and injure us, are our neighbours, and therefore come under the rule of loving our neighbours as ourselves.

ow, isn't it a poor excuse for liberalism if Jonathan Edwards, in Puritan ridden 18th century Massachusetts outdoes Mr. Liberal in 21st century New York City in his liberality?   As could be pointed out, apropos of my second post yesterday, he certainly outdoes most of the liberals since the Georgia Peanut Farmer, Jimmy Carter, in terms of liberal provision to the destitute and so many of the heroes of liberals in the post-war period.  He was more radical in terms of economic justice than most of the lauded Brit radicals who were so notably stingy to the poor, spending endless turgid words about how to make the inadequate subsistence they insisted on was bountiful even more inadequate, so as to not spoil the poor and their children.

No, liberalism stopped existing, certainly in any kind of real or effective form, when it applied a lazy moral relativism to its basic moral holdings and capitulated to the privileged.   The liberals who did that were mostly from the affluent and near affluent class, or those holding degrees as a ticket to affluence,  replacing snobbery and a concentration on lifestyle issues for the basic moral holdings of liberalism.  Liberalism became about defending smut from being called smut more than it did providing for poor folks.  It has devolved further, as the internet has taught me, into disdain for the very people who liberals once existed to defend and champion.

If I had to bet on it, I'd bet on lots more of those "fundamentalists" finally taking the moral absolutes taught by Jesus seriously and becoming liberals in deed if not in word, even as those officially denominated liberals retreat farther back into neo-liberalism and then neo-conservatism.  It was left to the last great liberal president we've had, the Southern conservative educated as a public school teacher - who the Ivy League product, The Best and the Brightest*  disdained as a vulgarian - to make the greatest attack on poverty and make the greatest progress towards legal equality in our history.   Johnson's progress was built on the effort and suffering of, largely, Southerners who still believed in the reality of those moral absolutes. It was the War on Poverty that neo-liberals and neo-conservatives attack because they don't believe its goals are more than delusional, not the way the world really works.

You've got to believe that equality is real and absolutely morally binding to be a liberal and if you don't believe it's really real, you're already on the down slide.

The history of the past thirty-five years proves, liberalism isn't just on the ropes, it's lying on the mat and the man is counting.  And that isn't all because conservatives are pulling every dirty trick they can, I don't mind pointing out with the help of that media that the pseudo-liberals, especially those who make money off of the media,  spend so much of their time defending instead of real poor people in all their unpicturesque unfashionableness**.   It's because real liberalism was found to be hard and definitely unfashionable and was given up by "liberals" who wanted to be groovy and up on the latest trends in the 1960s and getting it on in the 1970s.   "Liberalism" became all about ending the broadcasting code and restrictions on I Am Curious Yellow (a remarkably stupid movie posing as art) which, since you could make money off of them, were far easier to do in comfort than mount The Poor Peoples' Campaign and things like that.

* Who pressured him to escalate the war in Vietnam and sandbagged his efforts to end our involvement, splitting the liberal coalition and, as The Reverend King predicted, would divert the funds needed to implement the War on Poverty.  Those Ivy League liberals were never liberals.  The Ivys are where kids get talked out of real liberalism.  Look at Obama and his economic team.

** Those real poor people so stubbornly refuse to look like they came out of a Walker Evans print or the cast of Grapes of Wrath.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Liberation Theology And History Are More Effective For Treating Depression Than Drugs

The past year was a year of sickness and death for my family and friends and, as I knew it would, the aftereffects have been debilitating.   I've refused the prescription drugs that have been suggested, as if becoming addicted to a drug would help.  I have been treating what has been officially called chronic depression by my doctor by listening to liberation theologians and the such.   James Cone has done more for me than any pill could have done.   And I thank the greatest electronic journalist in the history of the medium,  Bill Moyers, for presenting so much of what I've been listening to.

Here is a great discussion between James Cone, Taylor Branch and Bill Moyers which shows how radical Martin Luther King jr. was, how far beyond the more officially designated radicals he was.

You can find the transcript here.

There are so many things in the discussion that could be mentioned, one which supports a point I made was that the self-promoted, officially more radical were already trying to push him aside due to the unfashionable status of his thinking.

  BILL MOYERS: But here's the unfortunate thing. As you write about it, after his assassination, riots broke out across Memphis. And even though he acknowledged that, quote, "Riot is the language of the unheard," didn't this outbreak of violence in some way begin the end of the movement?

TAYLOR BRANCH: This is a very, very profound and difficult topic and I would have to say that it had already begun before. Nonviolence was already not popular. It had already become passé. Some of the most hostile language toward nonviolence came from the Left, people saying that nonviolence is kind of Sunday school and outmoded now.

And that we want to adopt the language of violence.

And King's answer to that was, “Nonviolence is a leadership doctrine. If we abandon nonviolence, it's not that we're stepping up to demand the right to be just violent, just like first-class white people. We're stepping back from a leadership doctrine in the United States." And that's what America including especially white America, does not understand.

One of the few speeches, by the way, in which a white leader acknowledged that was Johnson.

Before he said, "We shall overcome," he said “so it was at Appomattox, so it was at Concord, so it was at Selma last week, when fate and destiny met in the same moment."

So, he was putting a nonviolent black movement not only in the heart of American patriotism, but in the vanguard heart of American patriotism.

BILL MOYERS: But do you admit that nonviolence ultimately didn't work? That it couldn't change America?


JAMES CONE: No. It did change America.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It did change America.

JAMES CONE: It changed it radically for me. I grew up in Arkansas and I know what fear is. What the movement did, nonviolence did, was to take the terror out of the South. And for the first time, you can not only go to hotels, but you can go all over the South without much fear of harm. That is a major achievement.

BILL MOYERS: Certainly I recognize that.

TAYLOR BRANCH: The white South was the poorest region of the country when it was segregated. It was totally preoccupied in this terror.

It was not fit for professional sports, even, until nonviolence lifted it out of segregation and white Southern politicians were no longer stigmatized. So, you get Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and all these people elected president. And they're all standing on the shoulders of a nonviolent black movement. Whether they realize it or acknowledge it or not. That's the reason that our blinkered memory of this period is such a handicap for us today.

But, you know, getting rid of poverty, redistribution of wealth is not as easy as getting the right to vote. The right to vote doesn't cost anything.

A big reason that what Reverend King tried to accomplish in his last years wasn't accomplished is that he took on the biggest issue, poverty, which struck at the heart of the problem,  poverty, the injustice of enormous wealth with power and the massive number of people in poverty without power.

BILL MOYERS: Not since Martin Luther King has inequality been on the table the way it was at the Occupy briefly appeared on the scene. And I wondered watching Occupy from here if a Martin Luther King had risen to embody that movement, would they have carried us further toward the changes that King and others wanted?

JAMES CONE: It may would have. I'm not sure. But, you know, getting rid of poverty, redistribution of wealth is not as easy as getting the right to vote. The right to vote doesn't cost anything. But redistribution of wealth takes across class lines. That costs a lot. And people will fight you in order to prevent that from happening. And I don't know what it would take in order to make that happen.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It's also not a simple formula. Dr. King never said we were going to give up freedom to have redistribution imposed on us. He never advocated something like that. It is a hard intellectual, spiritual challenge to figure out, "How do you preserve freedom and address poverty?" I don’t think Occupy got that far yet. It didn’t take that much responsibility.

It was just kind of a sign of protest and not a developed sense of responsibility the way, even the sit-ins were taking lessons from Rosa Parks.

JAMES CONE: Yes. That's right. The sit-ins disrupted society. The freedom riots disrupted things. Occupy Wall Street didn't disrupt much of anything. They just camped down there and they were not grassroots in quite the same way the Southern movement was during the time of King.

I think that is the key to something which has puzzled me over the past decade, the relative speed and ease with which substantial progress has been made in gay rights, that gay rights has been taken up by the media and corporations and affluent people while racial justice and, undeniably, poor people have been being pushed backwards.  Most of what gay people are fighting for doesn't basically challenge the economic structure of the developing oligarchy.   The oligarchs can allow progress for people who aren't demanding economic justice without it costing them anything.  Racial justice, women's equality, economic justice, environmental protection, those all cost them something, they cost the millionaires who run the media something.   And one of the most potent of means with which the struggles that The Reverend King was involved was suppressed was to make them seem unfashionable.

Beginning in the 60s with "radicals" who would turn conservative in rather telling numbers, who would sabotage the left by attaching it to violent, anti-democratic theories and figures and into the 1970s and 80s with the attacks on "political correctness" which made racism fashionable, the same people who sold Americans on tobacco, junk food, casual use of tranquilizers and stupid fashions, used their skills to destroy the most successful leftist movement in the history of the country, taking down the unions at the same time.

Every line of the discussion is worth reading and hearing and thinking about.  I'm going to take two of these a day until this time has passed and I intend to keep going.   I heard someone once say that if the statistical evidence of the enhancement of health and well being of being actively religious were put in a pill, the psychiatrists would be lobbying the FDA to approve it for immediate sale.  But we don't need them to prescribe it, we can take it over the counter now.  For free. And acting on it is even more effective.

Post Liberalism Is Brain Dead And Not Liberal

Let me put it plainly, any "left" in which anyone has to pretend to think that Kathy Acker was anything but a completely selfish and irresponsible jerk and talentless sensation peddler is no kind of left.   Really, Bood and Guts in Highschool, I'm supposed to pretend that's anything but the typings of an entirely untalented, anti-intellectual, degenerate OUT OF SOME SENSE OF FAIRNESS TO ACKER? That I'm supposed to pretend it is anything other than crap designed to get her the attention of a stupid and jaded corner of the literary establishment that will theorize and lie it into something other liars pretend has some merit?   And I'm supposed to be fair to the pile of crap because it, a book centered on the incestuous relationship between a ten-year-old girl with her father and her further adventures in sexual degradation and crime when she decides to leave him because he's seeing another woman?   Oh, and that's a complete send-up of patriarchy and the restrictions of an oppressive society.   Did I mention that she becomes a sex slave who is being groomed for prostitution for a good part of the thing?   Though I'll admit that not far into the thing, I had to skim because I could feel myself becoming stupider as it went on*.

And that's only one of the monuments of "sex pos" "feminism" I'm supposed to accept because, well, you see, a woman wrote it.  One who slept around, sometimes with women.   Or, rather, pasted it together, or something like that.  Oh, and she uses The Scarlet Letter (perhaps one of the few real novels Acker ever opened?) and someone she calls Jean Genet, whose name is used to provide the required touches of the artsy.

And if I don't pretend that it's anything other than a piece of crap that, far from being an attack on patriarchy, is actually an exhibit in the terminal stupidity of the litterateurs and assistant professors who champion it, the very post-feminist feminism that built on that and similar piles and the brain-dead and even more seriously heart-dead left that phony feminism is a part of.  If I don't pretend that it's crap produced for the stupid and decadent pseudo-liberals of the literary set to pretend to like, I'm a patriarchal oppressor and enabler of Sam Brownback.

Real liberalism, the kind that takes office and changes laws for the better is not a matter of toleration for ideas just because, well, they are ideas.  It isn't anything goes, no, not even if the one going for it is a woman or a member of some other identity group.  Real liberalism is based in a condemnation and struggle against exactly those things embraced by the bored, jaded, stupid and lazy sensation seekers of the pseudo-left, the ones who assert that anything that can be lazily and dishonestly defined as freedom of expression, allowable because anyone harmed or exploited by it or those encouraged by it are free to escape through the invocation of their agency.   Real liberalism is unfashionable because its ideals have been deemed to be hokey,  if there is any idea that was never and will never be compatible with the debasing and destructive force that fashion is, it is The Beloved Community as described by The Reverend Martin Luther King jr.   It was not and will not be fashionable because it is radically egalitarian and fashion, literary and in popular culture, is all about inequality.

Thomas Frank asked a good question when he asked What's the Matter With Kansas.  How did Kansas go from being progressive to paleo-conservative?  But he might ask another question, what's the matter with the liberalism that lost Kansas?   I'd say he should look to see how it changed from the absolute holding of moral positions to the ship wreck flotsam and jetsam of poses and the lazy, jaded libertarianism based on the vague toleration of things that destroy both the reality of the rightness of those positions and the possibility of putting them into effect.  A liberalism that tolerates and attempts to include things like "sex pos", that champions "expression" that can successfully corrupt a society into a toleration of oppression and inequality merely because, well The First Amendment and Lady Chatterly's Lover, is dead liberalism.   Kansans aren't stupid, no matter how much the fans of that book love to believe it, they are obviously smart enough to see that so many liberals, especially the ones who get media attention,  have given up on liberalism.   And it didn't give up at the point of a gun or by the failure of liberalism that was put into effect,  but to follow fashion and a career in the media.

You're more likely to find real liberals working at the United Church of Christ or other church based food pantry or food kitchen than you will in the pages of any journal or any popular blog.   You probably won't notice them because, to the lazy eye, they look so much like the people play-liberals love to look down on and despise for their unfashionable lives.   You're more likely to find real liberals in the economic class whose children are at risk of being sucked into the life that the thrill seekers in high rise condos, gated communities and safe jobs so love to think about.   Real liberals don't want anyone's children to be sucked into that for the entertainment of the pseudo-post-left.

*  Perhaps that accounts for why so much that has been written about the book is stunningly stupid, even when it's published in some tony journal.

Janey’s age serves as an ironic device, especially when seen through the lens of Freudian interpretation. Susan E. Hawkins writes that 

"Janey, as an incest victim, blames herself for her father’s indifference and thus can’t  handle Johnny’s romantic interest in the starlet. Conversely, Johnny’s attachment to  Janey and his need to free himself of it sound absurdly like the emotional struggles disenchanted spouses experience in their attempts to leave a marriage made unhappy through their own midlife crises (646). "

Johnny tells Janey that “You’ve completely dominated my life… for the last nine years and I no longer know who’s you and who’s me” (12). Johnny’s friend Bill (who also sexually abused Janey, “but his cock was too big” (10)) tells Janey that she has “dominated his life since your mother died and now he hates you. He has to hate you because he has to reject you. He has to find out who he is” (11). The irony of these statements, which Susan Hawkins alludes to, is centered on their Freudian implications. Karen Brennan writes that “Bill’s psychoanalysis 
refigures the family roles by casting Janey as the overbearing mother and her father as the daughter/son on the threshold of the Oedipal stage. The father-daughter relationship, for Bill, is really a son-mother relationship” and turns the Freudian theory upside-down and inside-out (258). Brennan’s use of Freudian theory for analysis of the text is rendered more ironic by Janey’s age. The father resents his daughter, who is only a child, for holding him back and smothering his identity the way the son resents the mother for the same reasons. Fatherly responsibility, and Janey’s dependence, do not matter to this man, as is made clear by his resentment for an incestuous relationship that he started when his daughter was an infant. Later, Janey tells Johnny that “It was always me, my voice, I felt like a total nag; I want you to be the man” (12). Janey, a ten-year-old little girl, believes that she has usurped her father’s position as the one with power in the relationship, a sign of her father’s emotional manipulation. Adding to the irony of Bill’s psychoanalysis is his remark that “There’s always been a strong connection between the two of you. You’ve been together for years” (16). This bizarre connection is also 
commented on by Janey, who tells Johnny, “When I first met you, it’s as if a light turned on for me. You’re the first joy I knew” (9). With this remark, Acker turns the natural infatuation a very young girl has for her father, as well as Freud’s Electra complex, inside out through sarcasm. 

Such is the intellectual coherence of the "sex pos" and its allied intellectual fashions.   I won't mention its grasp or morality because it would make me gag.  Liberalism is all about moral positions and moral absolutes and one of those is definitely not tolerance for things that damage people.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Is Science Really Real? We Don't Have The Key To Omniscience

This recent Huffington Post article,  Science and Reality - Is Science Really Real? by Tony Sobrado,  doesn't seem to have attracted any comments*.  I suspect there are two reasons for that, 1. the sci-rangers don't recognize the question as carrying the radical challenge to their world view that it does 2. because it doesn't pose the question in a form that would allow them to get their so very valued hate-time in. Here, as Tony Sobrado begins.

We live in a world where science prevails. After all who would argue with it, science has given us computers and planes. On the path to reality many of us might think that science is the kingmaker, presenting the idea that both science and reality is objective and universal - standing outside the mere social affairs of petty human discourse. Science is more than just powerful theories that match empirical data. Scientific theories are far more meaningful and powerful than other representative devices we possess like art because science does not attempt to address reality, science is reality.

Although this is a popular common sense view of science it is also a contentious issue that strikes at the heart of contemporary debates regarding the role of science, philosophy and the ultimate deliberations on reality. This is because science and the pictures of reality that it paints should not be taken for granted by way of unequivocal universality and non-contingency. This point is often completely overlooked. Many treat science and the construction of reality, as universal, timeless and objective negating not just the historical and cultural elements that underpin these practices but also how theories and concepts that once vehemently explained reality now completely fail to do so.

Anyone who has read much of what I wrote will know it's a question I've dealt with quite a bit in addressing the scientism that is ubiquitous on so many allegedly leftish blogs.   The question is one that is important for several reasons, among those the intellectual hegemony science practices due mostly to the prestige its utilitarian aspect has.   The big money guys wouldn't push STEM education if it wasn't, in the end, about making money by making stuff to sell.  Without that utility, science would be, essentially, a hobby.

Oh, but the less angry and hot-headed sci-ranger would say, science is so much more than that, it's the quest for ultimate truth, for a theory of everything about everything.  The somewhat more reflective of that minority would, if pressed, admit that was an impossible quest, the intellectual capacity of human beings, even if science does have the key to finding that holy grail, is too finite, our time likely too short (thanks in no small part to science and technology) to ever get there.  The dismal prospect is that even what little advance we can make in that direction will die with our species, whatever successors we may have on Earth or whatever our fellow thinkers elsewhere in the cosmos will never be able to know it or use it. Quite a grim prospect for such a would-be idealistic notion, no?

But Sobrado goes far beyond those notions and presents a really important and almost unknown issue for science as the ultimate oracle of reality, the fact that science is not a fixed and never changing truth, that its own history proves that at any given time  it contains serious distortions of reality, unknown to those who are using their contemporary science as the oracle they won't admit they mistake it for.

However the initial problem of asserting a timeless and universal reality, instead of a malleable and questionable one, lies in the correspondence between empirically verifiable evidence, and therefore the externally proposed independent reality, and the gap bridged by theories. It is here where the problems begin to unmask themselves and start to question the supremacy of predictive and explanatory power; and even the possibility of a permanently knowable reality. This is because the history of science has a garbage bin of discarded scientific theories that would astound the average layman. So what's the problem with this? Surely science is full or hypothesis and theories that don't work? This is of course true but in the case of discarded theories they once worked as accurately as those that we cherish today in terms of observation, prediction and explanation.

So what can be going on here with reality? In general, scientific realists would advance something like an ascending treasure chest picture of reality. That with each new theoretical framework that is established we get just that bit closer to a true underlying reality. The disposal, progression and evolution of maxims about reality are required in science and we have seen this with Big Bang cosmology - for instance the addition of inflationary theory to account for anomalies like the uniform distribution of cosmic background radiation in the observed universe. When these anomalies arise scientists adapt theories, adding new dimensions to them that can be verified and once this works out as expected we can add them to the picture of reality and we move on like the Higgs Boson. Scientific realism is a treasure chest of grand theories building expansively on previous knowledge, ironing out the creases and getting closer to reality by chopping away at theories that are no longer adequate, no longer required and therefore no longer part of reality.

Which is a good expansion on what I generally refer to as the cemetery of discontinued science,  as real a part of science in its day as any ideas that persisted.   And as what has been taken into the tent that covers what is "science" for academic, political and social purposes has been expanded to such areas as psychology, sociology, and the other soft sciences which have produced entirely more of that failed, inadequate science than physics and chemistry.   With the decision to make biological science address behavior and social interactions under the guise of natural selection, one of the prices paid was to insert the attempt to address topics too vague, fleeting and elusive into what is, in itself,  the most vital of real sciences.   It is likely that deal with the intellectual devil was bound to happen, but it should never have been allowed to happen without the continual admission that what was being done wasn't as secure as the experimentally verifiable findings of chemistry and physics, the conclusions not subject to a firm guarantee of reliability.  But the false prestige of allowing it to pass as equally sound has won, over and over again, to disastrous results that most certainly did not "work".

The problems addressed by Sobrado aren't unknown to even the most solid and most reliable of the physical sciences, though.   And it is due to the importance of these issues to those hardest of sciences that we already know that science isn't any such key to ultimate reality.  It can't unlock the mystery of its own foundations, it can't elucidate most of our experience, the selling of science as that key is, today, known to be a fraud and a con.  Though sci-guys who are peddling their promissory notes of materialism on that basis get away with it as much as some discredited radio or TV investment huckster or hallelujah peddler.   Those who buy that bad paper (metaphysical paper, that it is!) so, so want to believe in its value and claim that they are scientifically immune because, you see, they don't believe in anything.  Thanks to their superior sciencyness, they KNOW.

So, the question should be far more controversial than it is.  I suspect it's because the same people who can be counted on to run up the comment count of the nearly daily post about Tyson vs. Hamm, don't really understand what Sobrado was writing about.   And scientists who do understand that aren't eager for the general public to understand what science is and what it isn't, what it can do and what it can't do.  Which is an all too human failure that is more typically admitted within the humanities and religion than it is in and about [see also Sagan and Tyson] science.   Science would work a lot better if they were honest about it.   And it is how science, actually, if unadmittedly works, anyway.   Tony Sobrado concludes this way

In a certain sense this is all one has to agree on to be an anti-realist. This then allows the anti-realist to account for the success of any scientific theory throughout history because ultimately scientific realists today must be instrumentalists about all previous theories highly successful and empirically verified theories throughout history. This then puts the realist in a compromising position where now it is they who cascade on the wrong side of likelihood because they (n)ow must essentially argue a form of exceptionalism about the present compared to the past that they cannot also logically guarantee in the future.

*  I don't do Facebook so I can't do it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Do Not Do This

When you are at your dentist and he has put wadding in your mouth, as he is waiting for the Novocaine to kick in, chatting about gardening with you.  He knows you are a gardener who likes to try new things.  When he asks what new thing you are growing this year, even if it is the truth, do not answer, "peanuts".   Believe me, you will regret it. 

It's been that kind of day.  And it's time to plant corn and beans and what I wish I had said instead, amaranth.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Musical Limits of Technology

I use the Finale music program to arrange, write and, on rare occasions, play music, it makes a lot of things so much easier and so much faster than pencil on paper.   One of the advanced features of that is an alleged "human playback" feature that will put in some algorithmic slowing and speeding of the music typed into it, allegedly the way a person would.  I'm not impressed with it and keep that feature of it turned off for virtually every use I've made of it.

A machine can't do what a person would do, it's impossible for a machine to simulate that without reference to an actual performance to base it on.  This is a neat feat of engineering.  Music, I wouldn't call it that.   Whenever they try to capture music, scientists and engineers can only go a short way to the goal.

[Trigger warning:  This makes my teeth hurt, avoid earphones]

Ehrenreich Redux

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about the reaction to Barbara Ehrenreich's new book and her coming out as an atheist who, nevertheless, has had what many people, including, apparently, her, would call a mystical experience.

I read this blog post this morning

Online, radio, and print news is abuzz about Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Living with a Wild God, with the paradoxical subtitle, A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything. And, yes, this is the “fourth-generation atheist,” Barbara Ehrenreich, of leftist-labor and feminist-activism fame, whose award-winning journalistic investigations into social, economic, and political issues span decades.

Now in her early seventies, Ms. Ehrenreich discloses a narrative running parallel to her life and career since a young age, most significantly a personal experience at 17. On a predawn walk in Lone Pine, California, Ms. Ehrenreich recalls, she encountered “something alive” which she describes as nothing short of a “cataclysmic experience” when “the world flamed into life.”

No visual hallucination, no prophetic voices; rather, the world opened up and was “rushing out to” her. Ms. Ehrenreich writes:

“Something poured into me and I poured out into it…. a furious encounter with a living substance.”

Looking back on this moment, as recorded by her younger self, Ms. Ehrenreich reflects on the want of adequate language to describe what happened, personally, experientially, and as an atheist who continues to describe herself a rational empiricist (though, recently, also as a “mystical rationalist”).

Grasping for words outside of “ineffable,” “transcendence,” “spiritual,” or “religious,” Ms. Ehrenreich leans on the word “mystical” to carry her burden of meaning. The lack a vocabulary to express the varieties of the inexpressible leads Ms. Ehrenreich to her larger challenge to science: go forth boldly in the study of uncanny experiences...

Here is my reaction to the post.

In reading Barbara Ehrenreich over the last few decades, one of the thing that has struck me is how much of her hostility to religion governs how she thinks. Over the past decade of the new atheist fashion, I've come to see how much that hostility, not empirical rationalism has governed all aspects of modernity for all of the 20th century.   

That has led to such things as the rote denial of the fact that, in the West, religion was the major force in reforming society and laws in most areas, racial equality, womens suffrage, rights of workers, relief to the destitute and poor.  I have also, largely through reading what atheists of the "rational empirical", materialist type have said, have come to see atheism as an inherently anti-liberal ideology, denying the absolute reality of equal, inherent rights and the equally held moral obligation to respect those rights.  Without those metaphysical foundations, liberalism (in the American sense of the word) is impossible and, in fact, wrong.  

Through reading history I have also come to the conclusion that those things are obviously not wrong, that the history of the 20th century, largely through the activity of anti-religious governments and governments that denied the reality of those metaphysical foundations produced a factual record proving that liberalism got that part of it right.  Those lessons, unlike the ones demonstrating evolution and geological history of the planet and life, are an articulation of human intentions and a more direct route to understanding than science has available to it.   People produced that record to articulate their intentions and document their acts, to communicate them in a way that is intentionally unambiguous - accounting for and rejecting intentional falsification.  The record of that history is directly factual in a way that much of science can't be.  The fact supporting the reality of equality, inherent rights and moral obligation is unambiguous whereas much of neuro-science, cognitive-science, evolutionary psychology and the speculations of cosmology are far more indirect and require a far greater degree of interpretation, much of it as or more open to ideological twisting and wishful thinking as any other area of academic study.  The past decade of encountering atheism and atheists has shown to me that they are as prone to being governed by wishful thinking as any other group of people.   Without an authoritative declaration that it is a sin to bear false witness and lie, even that imperfect governor on self-deception and intentional deception are replaced by the mere gamble that they might not be able to get away with it.   In the area of academic discourse and journalism, they often do.  

I might have added that a declaration of their disbelief, their atheism is also a requirement, so often it seems nervously appended to something quite unrelated to it.   Thornton Wilder's note on Our Town, dispelling any suspicion that he's unreliable, believing in such woo as an afterlife and the mind of God, purifying that by invoking the shade of Dante.*

And I have to confess that another comment at the blog got there a lot faster than I did.

Submitted by Reza Mahani on Tue, 2014-05-27 08:37
From your descriptions, I get the feeling that she does not have enough "humility" to be taken seriously on these issues. But this is just a first impression.

Reza Mahani got one of the major things wrong with our intellectual life better in that observation than I did in paragraphs.

* I had a project a few years back of reading everything by Wilder I could get to and came to the conclusion that his fear of dealing with that topic might have something to do with why his best works seem to fall apart at the end.  The concluding chapter to The Eighth Day is especially disappointing, leading more logically to the conclusion of life's futility than in the value of any particular second of life's experience.   Perhaps that has something to do with the bleak cynicism of so much of what is called modern.