The London Libertarian

The London Libertarian

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Commentary and debate on politics, economics and culture from a libertarian perspective. To Libertarian Alliance Website >

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BBC radio on Democracy day.

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Tue, January 27, 2015 14:52:49

At the House of Commons with Democracy Day due 20 January, the BBC yesterday got the moral and political philosopher, Professor Michael Sandel, to spur an audience to apply some critical thinking to democracy that was broadcast at 8:30am on Tuesday 20 January 2015. Michael Sandel presented this special BBC Democracy Day edition of The Public Philosopher, recorded in the Palace of Westminster with an audience of MPs, peers and the public the day before.

Sandel lead on a few issues, beginning with J.S. Mill’s rather futile idea of giving many votes to the educated, as if even a hundred votes could have anything like a hundred times the affect, or even any effect at all of note, on the result in a very large electorate.

Few people want to think about democracy. 1) The audience wanted, on principle, an equal vote, so there was a mass rejection of Mill on more votes for the educated. Each vote should count the same. Yet the consistency arrangement tended to rule that out. Many, as thoughtless as Mill, thought that some system of PR might rescue the affect that a vote might but clearly a vote or many votes in a large electorate is bound to be insignificant. This seemed not to be noticed at Westminster. 2) They also wanted accountability to the public, as if that could be had in Representative Democracy [or in Delegative Democracy either] where the experts make up long diverse manifestos that few can find time to read and where any single issue, or topic, is basically well obfuscated. It might as well not be there. 3) They wanted to do what is right [suggested by Sandel to be what is Politically Correct {PC} but soon adopted by the audience of MPs and others as obvious too] even if against the majority [they do not even notice that this PC meme is not one whit democratic, but rather sees it as a duty to go against it on capital punishment; and indeed on any PC issue, if ever it is rejected by a majority] so they reject referenda too, as it will not do the right thing i.e. be PC. They all like the PC privileges on race and sex.

Students do not like to be blamed for not registering to vote. Blame itself is nasty and against PC. PC is against judgement. Indeed, they were all far more PC than democratic. So when democracy clashes with PC it is held to be wrong but they still want to say they are not ruling in favour of PC as they feel PC is part of democracy in a way.

They conflate the two but not only does democracy clash with PC, but with liberty too. But as democracy is always an attempt at proactive coercion against others, so it is always somewhat illiberal. It is intrinsically against liberty but, again, the audience conflated democracy with liberty too; as do many in the mass media and even in political philosophy departments in the colleges.

Many in the audience held to Mill’s idea that voters needed to be educated, even if they rejected his more-vote solution. They hinted at a solution of being paid to spend time finding out instead, and many of the audience suggested special days off to be educated before each pending General Election, an getting paid for educating themselves about it from general taxation.

Some MPs feel that marginal seats are tails that wag the dog in claiming all the attention of all the political parties and that some form of PR might solve that imbalance, they said.

Democracy can be used by liberals to negate the negation, to vote for rolling back the state or for full privatisation and that is like reactive or defensive voting rather than a proactive attack on others.

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The reformation of Islam

LibertyPosted by David McDonagh Thu, January 08, 2015 14:38:38

The long swansong

Satire is the chief enemy of Islam in those swan song days of its prelude before its “death” in the form it has been hitherto, but, its new life, after this “death”, a new life as a normal bourgeois religion is slowly emerging before our eyes.

This normalisation is what its adherents have long dreaded, and many Muslims still dread it today, but most of Islam’s younger members, especially the males have already been there since about 1970. It was clear that many teenaged males, and also older males, in their twenties, were drinking beer on par with the UK natives in public houses, or pubs, by the late 1960s, yet that alcohol consumption is a great departure from Islam, even though mosques were, back then in the early 1970s, springing up as though the creed was growing rather than ebbing.

Most of the many UK mosques, maybe, date from the early 1970s; a lot certainly do. But by 2070, they will most likely be closing UK mosques more rapidly than they are the forsaken Christian churches in the UK today.

This normalisation of Islam is a cultural tide that many Muslims still wish they could roll back. That is what the Rushdie affair of the 1980s was about and it is what the attack on the magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, Wednesday, 7 January 2015, was about too.

Twelve people were killed in the attack on the magazine offices to get revenge for targeting Islam in their cartoons. Eight were journalists and four others, including two policemen were also killed. Eleven others were injured; a few were reported by the BBC as badly so.

The reaction will only enhance the felt need for most Muslims to conform to French normality. A few more Muslims might join the jihad to try to protect Islam as it still is, but way more will want to conform to religious normality as a result. So, ironically, the cultural tide they seek to resist will be boosted by their resistance. Such jihad resistance can only effectively score own goals, even if they do also recruit a few to aid them in the short run.

Cherif and Said Kouachi are said to be the main two attackers on the magazine yesterday. They are now on the run, but still armed. Cherif Kouachi was sentenced to three years in gaol, back in 2008, for recruiting jihadist fighters to go to Iraq from Paris. Yesterday, Hamyd Mourad, 18, on hearing his name on the news, handed himself in to a police station in Charleville-Mezieres. So he is already keen to conform. That indicates that even the very committed may soon drop out, owing to this sort of activity.

The magazine's office had been earlier firebombed in 2011. It had been a long running aim of the staff of the magazine to deliberately normalise Islam.

Bystanders yesterday reported that the gunmen shouted in the street as they made their getaway, saying "we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" , "we killed Charlie Hebdo", and "God is Great" [in Arabic] too, but if they have killed off this particular magazine, many new ones are highly likely to arise to further satirise Islam. The aim of Charlie Hebdo staff to normalise Islam looks unstoppable, even if the magazine itself now folds up.

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What is Politics?

PoliticsPosted by David McDonagh Sun, January 04, 2015 10:56:23

Why do people think politics are a sign of concern but the market is not? Most people seem to have no idea of what politics is. Many people, especially many students, feel all we do is political but this is a de facto, if unwitting, totalitarian outlook.

So when the state spreads into fresh aspects of life, like trying to stop people smoking, or to slim down, the de facto totalitarians feel those zones were/are political already, as all that we do is somehow political. So they feel the state need not be limited.

Politics is state action in the main, though the state has a few rivals, like the coercive bodies that we call Trade Unions. Politics is not just free decisions that affect others but rather it is forceful or coercive action against others. Coercion is the realistic threat of force or open violence; not mere speech about imaginary force. The state has it. Some Trade Unions have it. Firms usually lack it entirely. But a few firms in the past, maybe, had the use of coercion and thus they were political.

A free market can only emerge once the state ceases to exist. Many hold we cannot have a free market. A lot of the LA members are such, as were most classical liberals; but no anarchist agrees to that. Most liberals thought the state was a good thing but they held that it is best to keep it to doing only a few things, like keeping law and order.

The market gives the people way more control than politics ever could but not over but rather in society. It is not central control that most might first think of but rather it is polycentric control over our own affairs. David Ricardo erred badly in comparing the use of money to votes, an inept comparison that is still used in economics books today. If money was like votes we would all be dead. Churchill was haply right to say that democracy was the best form politics but it is still crass politics thus it is still illiberal coercive action against other people. Thus politics is anti-social, not caring for others, as fools feel to be the case. It is the jackboot, even when on the feet of basically well-meaning people.

Many free decisions do affect other people but they have no threat of force or violence, so they are not political. Politics is about using force against other people. Politics is gratuitous hostility towards others. It is thus very unfriendly.

Many might say that free actions can be worse than violence might be in their impact. One foreman, at a firm I worked for in the 1960s, used to often repeat that he would sooner hit a man than sack him, and it was said that he had acted on this idea, often, in the past, before I arrived, but I never saw anything like that from him; though he was over six foot three inches tall and clearly physically fit enough to repeat it again. In fact, he was a friendly chap but he did repeat his maxim often. I used to reply that the sack might be better for them, but it is easy to imagine some men who might agree with him.

This could be liberal if he put the choice to the victim beforehand so that he could choose, but if he assumed it, without consent, then it would be illiberal; but sacking a man is no more illiberal than a man deciding to leave the firm. But if he is the best worker in a small firm then it could cause the firm to decline. I recently watched the 1950s film Hobson’s Choice (1954) that featured that in its story line.

Most of society [i.e. human interaction; this post is part of my society, for example] is effectively free of coercion, thus it is apolitical. It even was such in the late USSR; as Michael Polanyi realised, despite the mythology surrounding that state.

There never was a mixed economy or a state centrally planned driven economy either. It is quite true to say there never was a free market too, but some, not all, in the LA think the latter will be achieved some time in the future.

Monopoly is a reason for expecting dysfunctional activity and the state is the sole cause of actual monopoly, and near-monopoly too. Liberty is vital for human welfare.

Where we go, how we make a living and the like, is best left to the individuals concerned. The state should keep out of it. That is the basic pristine and anarcho-liberal creed. But even well before we get rid of the state, money needs to be privatised, so the 2008 financial mess can be dodged that fools on the mass media tend to think was caused by free market values. One man more than any other who was for loose money was Keynes and a great liberal propagandist [as even Keynes was once] who aided the process , especially around 1970, was Milton Friedman. Those who the mass media speak of as free marketers are often in favour of state regulation. The USA is in a mess today owing to the national monopoly of money. That alone would rule out a completely free market.

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HistoryPosted by David McDonagh Sat, December 27, 2014 11:56:14

It is with sorrow that I learn of the death of Allen Phillips Griffith, or Griff as we all knew him as, in the department of philosophy 1979-’82, at the University of Warwick; though some LA members attended as philosophy students later than those dates. Griff was the Professor of Philosophy there from about 1965, when the University officially opened, till the early 1990s.

Griff was an admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein, whom he thought had improved philosophy greatly, allowing many things to be said way more aptly and concisely than before this seminal philosopher had made his contributions, as well as allowing later philosophers to express many new insights.

Griff used to deliver an annual lecture in the spring of every year to the students homosexual society to share a bit of Wittgensteinian wisdom with them viz. that they never could quite fall in love, as there was no option of marriage, a societal institution that, alone, allowed romantic love to have a full meaning. I did recently wonder whether this lecture might have been, finally, rendered defunct by the resent legislation, but I never did ask Griff if he thought that was now the case.

After his, to me at least, surprise conversion to Roman Catholicism in the mid-‘80s, he exclaimed, echoing a celebrated question of Wittgenstein, when I went to see him to ask why he had converted from atheism, that it was no different metaphysically. I always thought, and I still tend to do so, that the world would look very different if it did happen to have a caring creator. It would then not look as it does now.

Griff was not very much impressed by recent Continental Philosophy and the day after hearing Jacques Derrida give an evening talk in London, in the early 1980s, he expressed his disapproval to an early morning philosophy class that he took back at the University of Warwick the next day.

Griff attended a few of the student’s University of Warwick Debating Society’s lunchtime and also the evening debates, and also he gave a talk at one LA meeting in London in the late 1980s at the LSE, before he retired. However, he felt that it was too far to travel from Nottingham, where he moved to on retiring from the University in the early 1990s, to once again address the LA in London.

Griff found a home in the Tory, or the UK Conservative, Party early on, but he often said that he was a Tory anarchist, maybe being influenced by some of Edmund Burke’s early writings in imitation of Robert Harley.

For a long time, Griff championed the writings of Joseph Butler in ethics.

It is sad to think that Griff is no longer with us.

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Science is never settled

SciencePosted by David McDonagh Mon, October 20, 2014 16:58:01

Science will never be settled.

This “defence” of science by Jonathan Bines is often very bigoted and quite stupid. Science needs no actual defence, as common sense accepts it as a vital corrective, but what this rather stupid fool feels about science is not very realistic. He is in the right day job as a comic; at least in the short run. But his real quest is not really to defend science but to get his readers to think it right to adopt Green policies on Global Warming, or otherwise we reject the whole of science he concludes, but that is simply silly as science never can be about any policy but only about the external facts; or the way how things are. As the Stoics saw 2500 years ago, no policy follows from how things are.

Many people credit science for what technology does, but technology will not wait for science, any more than science will wait for philosophy. Science remains nearer to philosophy than to practical technology, but technology would destroy society with white elephants if ever the price system did not tame or control it. This comic needs to thank the market for many things he feels science grants the human race.

Indeed, scientists have been wrong in the past and thus should not be trusted now. Science is about testing our ideas rather than trusting them. Trust belongs to dogma and religion. Trust is about values rather than the external facts.

Indeed, scientists are biased by personal prejudices that they might call assumptions or hypotheses. Bias does risk error.

Financial incentives and costs aid science as well as technology to remain realistic. Common sense is bigoted about money, a far great invention than fire or the wheel. The compulsory educated bigot has trouble with this, as daft religion rejects this world for silly reasons.

Scientists often do aim at personal or professional success. But success is not always in term of money. Some scientists have been secretive as they feel in dire competition or in a race with other scientists, but many have not been such. Most presentations of the discovery of oxygen holds Joseph Priestley as naïve in showing Lavoisier the experiments where he discovered de-phlogisticated air, that Lavoisier later called oxygen, but Priestley felt he needed to aid anyone to test the experiments as soon as possible, that science was team work and that his own prestige did not matter very much.

Scientific ideas are always threated as if suspect. To be in science is to be re-tested. Science is never settled.

Particular scientists often feel quite certain. Science seems far more of a flux than it actually is, as there is a diversity of ideas in science. Scientific journals, like Nature, reflect this diversity far more than science, as a whole, making progress or moving on.

We do not have to accept science. We are free to discount it if we wish to do so; but most of us will not do that consistently.

Science is more like organised or disciplined common sense than another way of knowing that should be given primacy over other rival ways, such as intuitive knowledge or personal experience. Any scientist will use intuition or personal experience if it looks scientifically useful, of course.

Most scientists disagree with the consensus view in some things or to some extent and there is no way to assess who is right when two scientists both have a good case. Such deputes can continue for decades. But often evidence emerges that refutes a strong theory like phlogiston and then the refuted theory gets universally rejected. But this may be reversed later on. Science is never likely to ever be an ended quest for the truth but rather a quest that continues, as Popper said. Consensus simply does not matter very much. This is a fact about science that makes the recent attempt to abuse science by the backward Greens look silly. The democratic theory of truth is not one iota scientific.

Technology has aided science way more than science can ever hope to aid technology.

Politicians make many dysfunctional suggestions that tend to waste wealth. The state needs to be rolled back or even dissolved entirely. State policy is anti-social.

A critique is a criticism limited to the terms of the target but most criticism will never be so limited, nor need it be. The fashionable abuse of the word “critique” is very silly. It is a sign of an ignoramus i.e. of someone who needs to master his brief.

“Science works”? What does that mean? It looks like a solecism. My best guess is that the fool means that technology works. Science is nearer to literature than it is to technology.

We are told that science explains things but that looks like a personification of science. Only persons explain. Sure, enquiry often leads to knowledge but that is not really informative. Scientific enquiry is a pleonasm. Any enquiry can be, roughly, called scientific.

Our author gets better on science as a process of re-testing thus:

“Science is able to achieve its results by following a rigorous method of investigation involving the creation and testing of hypotheses against observational evidence. At every stage, these hypotheses are subjected to intense challenge. First, they are tested through the process of scientific research. Then through the process of publication and peer review they are subjected to challenge by the larger scientific community. After publication, they continue to be challenged, corroborated, modified, or refined by new research and new hypotheses. Science that has withstood this onslaught of skepticism is seen to be accurate and trustworthy, and consequently it earns the backing of a consensus of practicing scientists.”

That is not too bad. The process of testing never ends, though we are told that it does. But then it declines into the following:

“Because science is based on such a strong foundation of evidence and analytical rigor, anyone who would challenge science, particularly well-established science such as that on evolution, climate, or vaccines (or, for that matter, gravitation and quantum mechanics), rightly faces a very high burden of proof, a burden which most science skeptics fail even to acknowledge, much less satisfy. “

But as the author told us, scientists will be forever re-testing the ideas that remain within science. Ideas can only escape reconsideration by being rejected by science. There is no store of established science, free of future re-testing thus there is no real foundation in science. Nor is science ever really finally established or settled. Scepticism always re-enters science.

Our author continues:

“Science cannot be refuted by appeals to intuition or personal experience, attacks on the character or motivations of scientists, accusations of institutional bias, or by "cherry-picking" a particular authority figure, alternative theory, or research study.”

Ad hominem attacks on mere persons are out but cherry picking is not, nor is intuition. They will just need to be presented as hypotheses, that is all. They will face attempted refutation, of course.

“It cannot be denied because it is inconvenient, or because one dislikes the policy implications. “

Science can never have policy implications. Science is about facts, not values.

“It cannot be dismissed on supernatural grounds or through suggestions of conspiracy.”

Not within science, but this is often done by the various Christian groups.

“It cannot be undermined by dreaming up alternative hypotheses (unsupported by strong evidence), or by pointing to remaining uncertainties in the established theory.”

There is no epistemological support. No true observation can amount to anything stronger than a mere assumption; nor can valid argument. So no hypothesis has ever been supported by any evidence the last 2500 years, nor is the next 2500 years likely to find any supporting evidence either.

“All these are utterly inconsequential as refutations -- not because scientists "know better" than the rest of us -- but simply because they fail to convincingly meet the burden of proof.”

Proof is best left to geometry and logic. A true counter example refutes. The acceptability of that fact by qualified scientists is not one whit germane to the de facto refutation. Scientists are free to deny the facts. If they are ignorant then they might well do exactly that. The status of the observer does not matter to any fact. And science cannot make or change facts, nor is scientific consensus germane to any fact. Scientists face what the philosophers call the epistemological problem, which is dire, so that is why the scientists never stop testing in their unended quest for those facts that, by their current enquires, they consider to be germane.

Science is not about the acceptance of anything, it is about testing as best as we can.

Jonathan Bines continues: “Science works, and so we accept its findings -- not because we have "faith" in them or because they are perfect -- but because in an uncertain world, we wish to use the best available information to solve our problems, improve our condition, and understand our situation.”

But most of the general public do not know what current science holds on this or that, and even many scientists do not know other aspects of science that are outside of their own domain all too often. The division of labour makes experts of us all, but also laymen of us all too. There is no end of things that we should know, and quite a few that we once did know, but have forgotten. Science works but it continues to work, it does not even settle factual accounts beyond future revision and remains utterly indifferent to policy and politics.

Jonathan Bines is right that there is no faith in science and I would say there is none in religion either, as the mind re-thinks much as science does, but subjectively, tacitly and without the open public testing and attempted replication by different teams which is attempted refutation too.

Ideas are never sacred in science, or they should not be, but they are in religion but then religion is about what is valued as sacred rather than what is believed or thought to be the case. By contrast, science is profane; so is the reality principle that is human belief. Loyalty is alien to belief and it should be to science too. Loyalty is for people not for mere ideas. Some people may, or they may not, accept the findings of science. It is not going to affect science any more than science can affect the facts.

But what about the funding of science, who will fund it? Science cannot affect the facts but the funding of science might be neglected if it becomes unpopular, and there has been a lowering of the prestige of science with the recent controversies like mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease [vCJD] a human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy that the cows had that spread by prions that were jinxed proteins that had the ability to spread their jinx to the ordinary proteins of first some cows then later some humans too.

Science lost public prestige in that vCJD affair and it is being repeated in the current Global Warming affair too but it is not likely to lead to a permanent lack of funding in science for more research, as some Greens have told me they fear will be the case, for enquiry will always be needed, whether science is popular or not. Charities and firms will most likely provide funds if the state does not. That might be better than state funding. It would be freer for sure.

But Jonathan Bines feels that science means we all ought to accept this or that: “ This means, in the year 2014, accepting the current scientific consensus that vaccines are well-understood, safe, and effective. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that humans are causing the climate to change through the emission of atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gasses with results that will almost certainly range from bad to catastrophic. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that evolution through natural selection is the theory most likely to describe observed biological diversity at all levels from DNA to species, including human beings.” But most of that is what they used to call “academic” in the 1960s, so most people are completely indifferent to it and it simply does not interest them. Does that mean that science is not working as far as Jonathan Bines is concerned or is it rather that it hardly affects science much whether most people know about it or not. The latter looks to be basically the case.

But Jonathan Bines wants science to have way more authority than it ever did have in the past and he seems to overlook, too, that science, since the founding of the Royal Society, in the 1660s, wants to reject authority not to crave after it. The scientific motto is “take nobody’s word for it.”

But then Jonathan Bines changes his tune. He says:

“Certainly, we should maintain a ‘healthy skepticism,’” but then he immediately changes again thus: “but we should focus that skepticism, not on the science, but rather on the claims of those who profess to be in possession of some special knowledge or authority outside of the formal scientific process.”

Traditionally, science welcomes scepticism on the science too. But any idea, sceptical or otherwise, is good enough to go on with. But to get it tested in science it needs to be testable. If it is not capable of being tested it is not yet scientific. But to test is to attempt to eliminate false ideas. Science is out to reject ideas as false. But it is particularly not the case that if it passes a test then we must thereby accept it. Instead, science will test it again.

Science rules out religion in hypotheses to be tested but not religious adherents in science. Their religious opinions do not keep the religious out of science, so the various religious groups can, often, get qualified scientists to join them, and to occasionally speak for them.

A public indifference to science is not to reject science but simply not to accept it. This has not harmed science much up to now, but the comic, Jonathan Bines, seems to be more of a Green than a scientist, and the Greens, even if they are right, have been abusing science of late and that is what Jonathan Bines is doing in his pretended defence of science. He is attempting to get it to endorse Green policy.

He concludes: “ To do otherwise would be to deprive ourselves of the greatest tool for human advancement mankind has ever known, at exactly the time when such a tool is needed most.” But, clearly, despite the public being more sceptical of what they roughly think of as science than ever, owing to the vCJD affair and the like, science is not in trouble today, let alone being abandoned. What Jonathan Bines seems to want is a Green agenda but no policy agenda whatsoever could ever quite be scientific.


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The ad hominem meme of a denier

PsychologyPosted by David McDonagh Tue, October 14, 2014 16:38:22

The fact that humans are always free to deny any fact or collection of facts, but not even one person is, ever, free to believe whatever they like.


This article is basically a reply to the blogger Mark Hoofnagle on deniers that is at the end of the link above. It is an attempt to dismiss those he disagrees with without giving whatever they say any proper consideration. He seems to have it in for propagandists, as so many people do, but especially those he calls deniers. But this concept is an excuse not to debate with those he wants to dismiss.

We can say what we like but never quite believe as we like. Belief is not a human action but rather it is an ephemeral state of mind. Belief is only of the live mind, so it is not like knowledge in that respect. We may know something that we cannot immediately recall but that we might recall in about an hour, or maybe even a day later, but belief is what we think is the case just now, at the present moment, and it involves a fresh take, or a fresh judgment, on the world. Thus all belief is a slight test of what there is out there.

There is not ever any stable belief i.e. there is nothing even remotely like Popper thought was faith. Popper was utterly deluded on that rather stupid idea of mental stability. What allows people to reproduce contents similar to their past beliefs in their current beliefs, now, is the common external world itself moreso than the dendrites in our brains, though the latter have some input too. The air we breathe in is similar in content to earlier air we used, owing to what is external too, but there is more input of our assumptions into any belief than there is in the air we breathe in.

However, no actual belief can last longer that a fresh in-take of air. As we use air to refresh the blood so we, similarly, use belief, mainly in current action, or activity, that needs to be re-checked by our senses to check how we are managing with anything that we attempt to do, but any ephemeral belief-take will also spill over into theoretical abstract things too. Belief is to do with activity but many things we believe, most of which we suppose is on the horizon whenever that is in view, for example, might never be acted on by ourselves. However, any belief is going to be mainly used up in doing whatever we do e.g. we need to refresh it, by use of our senses, just to see whatever we are doing at any one time. Anyone blind person will be clearly handicapped in that respect, in all they do, for they will not be able to check whatever they want to do by the use of their eyes.

Some authors that Mark Hoofnagle is concerned with have written books denying the link between HIV and AIDS but I have not read any such book.

Karl Popper was right to hold that mere belief was not really germane to science, though he did, unwittingly, allow it in when he went on about honesty in science, which he associated with rationality.

Popper might also have noticed that belief is an excellent heuristic. Also, he might have noted that conjectures, also are not automatically right, no more than are our automatic beliefs, which also have the logical status of mere assumptions, so both equally risk error. However, the rule of assumptions in logic is that any assumption will allow us to make a beginning. Mistakes in the logic can only arise later. But the assumption might well be false, of course. Logic is about validity rather than directly about the truth.

However, Popper was roughly right to try to keep belief largely out of science; that science was to do with the objective account [that he called world three, or W3, which is objective] rather than only of what we have in mind [that he called world two, or W2, which is subjective]. Popper was right to attempt to shun subjectivity. He was also right that belief in pseudoscience is not germane to science either. Any conjecture will do to begin from. Science is ideally open to one and all. It tends to ignore the Irishman who says: “If I were you then I would not start from here!” We can start from almost anywhere. It hardly matters where we are coming from.

However, like DRS, I am very keen on belief. I think most people tend to conflate beliefs and values. The English language conflates those two aspects of the mind. In the philosophy of religion, the difference is made in a common distinction between “believe in” [i.e. value] and “believe that” [i.e. think is the case]. Beliefs are only just what seem to be the facts to the believer at any one time.

It is our values that mainly motivate us. We act mainly on our values but belief serves the passions but yet it is not quite the slave of them, as Hume said, for our beliefs have no fear of our values and what we believe never flatters us.

However, I think Hume was basically right.

Oddly, David Hume was the one author that Marx was not very hostile to, and that is what led me to read Hume in 1968. I found him roughly right then, as I still do now, but his terminology seemed exceedingly inept, especially as Locke, Berkeley and Hume himself mainly had only a verbal difference in their revision of what Thomas Hobbes said in his 1651 book. The terminology still does look to be very inept. In particular, what Hume calls irrational looks most rational to me, including all our automatic beliefs. The daft dogma that rationality requires choice, that Hume seemed to have adopted, seems to obfuscate reality for anyone at all who adopts it.

My prelude above is to the consideration of what Mark Hoofnagle says on the quite false meme of denialism, false as it holds that humans can decide whatever they believe when no animal, let alone no human, ever can. Belief is a reality principle in animals, as it is practical feedback from the world as to whether the animal is safe, or not, as well as being a practical need for whatever the animal wants to do. Belief cannot flatter, nor can it be controlled. Natural selection would have soon seen off whimsical choice in belief. It would have crowded out the need we have to see what we are doing, as well as if we are out of likely danger from predators at any one time. A reality principle, such as belief, will be a prerequisite of any animal activity.

But backward psychology seeks to serve what Francis Bacon called false idols [i.e. pigheaded memes, like denialism, that seems to satisfy the holders as an end rather than enlightening them about reality; they are basically expletives that refer to nothing real: constituted blanks] rather than looking at how humans actually are. Brain science is very similar.

Popper held that science was about testing. This looks, on the face of it, the opposite of trust, but Mark Hoofnagle is moaning that those he calls deniers lack trust. But what has trust got to do with it? We need to test theories rather than to trust people in science. It does not really matter much if ever we lack trust. We test ideas as if we do not trust them at all.

We are told that conspiracy theories are down to a lack of trust on the part of the people who adopt them; that such people also suspect a plot on the part of the authorities against the public.

That there may be such plots would not surprise me but I would not normally expect them to be effective. I do not doubt that corruption is fairly common, but presumably most organisations check for it. So most corruption fails to have much special or particular impact, though it will be a factor in the normal costs of firms, I suppose.

The idea that conspiracy theorists are paranoid looks not only false but also quite inept. I have spoken to many such propagandists since 1968 and I have never seen a sign that any of them were even slightly paranoid. That latter is a very personal disposition but conspiracy propagandists seem to adopt an external paradigm that is not at all related to the type of person they happen to be but rather to the world as their theoretical account would have it.

Ideally, any such conspiracy theories would boost science but in fact it seems that not many conspiracy theorists follow up the theory as much as one might expect them to do. Nor do those people they talk to seem to study science, or history, or whatever, as a result. In that, the conspiracy are propagandists not like the normal religious or political propagandists, who more often do seem follow up their ideas in reading books on the topics in question a bit more, even if those people they speak to still do not usually bother.

But paranoids do not think to ever be fair to their imagined enemies at all but rather feel as sure and as fearful of them as a normal person would be of an escaped tiger from the local zoo.

This analogy of conspiracy theorists to actual paranoids by Mark Hoofnagle looks completely inept to me. He seems to want to abuse the propagandists rather than to try to explain them with this analogy.

I ought to confess that I am a propagandist myself. I never did feel they were abnormal, no more than those who like going fishing or who indulge in any other intellectual interest or hobby; though I suppose that most propagandists would feel what they do is way more important than just a hobby. I became one in 1968 but I guess I did like them way before then. In 1962 I discovered that I not only did not believe in the Catholic creed of my parents, and the adults in general during my first ten years, but also that I never had believed it. I was just confused on belief in my early years. To say I believed in the Catholic creed seemed to be the correct answer when questioned but I never checked my actual beliefs prior to giving that supposedly correct answer. I have ever since tended to think since that most, if not all, of the nominally religious no more believed it than I ever did.

However, I never did like the creed very much in my early years and most of my peers, from 1962 onwards, seemed to value the creed more than I ever did. But not one became a propagandist for it, as far as I know. I immediately became a minor propagandist against it but I was keener on athletics than on propaganda up till 1968. All athletics are enthusiasts, or fanatics. I transferred my enthusiasm for exercise to reading in 1968.

Whenever Bertrand Russell runs down fanatics, as he repeatedly does in many of his books, I always tend to think that the author himself was also something of a fanatic. Surely they are only dangerous if they aim to do dangerous things. Most athletes are harmless despite being quite fanatical, for example. Most murderers do not seem to be fanatical but they do seem to be out to be harmful anyway.

Paranoids do tend to think they are way more important to other people than a normal person would do, especially to their imagined enemies, but they do not, particularly, claim special knowledge any more than most people do. Mark Hoofnagle seems to simply err there, in claiming that they do. We all do assume we know some things that others do not, and much of what we say to others is exactly to share some of this information with them, but Mark Hoofnagle attempts to say this is a paranoiac trait, and to then smear the conspiracy theorists/ propagandists with being paranoid. David Shpairo is cited as holding similar ideas, but there is no safety in numbers whenever one simply gets it wrong.

No one at all can willingly, or deliberately, overlook facts. No paranoid, even remotely, attempts to do that, even though they feel, quite strongly, that those individuals who they have supposed to be their enemies truly are their enemies. Paranoids do not, usually, think that everyone is out to get them. Nor do they often show disrespect for the authorities. If anything, they are unusually trusting, the very opposite of what our blogger, here, wants to say about the propagandists who are called deniers. Mark Hoofnagle writes as if he does not know much about paranoids.

Some propagandists might lie about theoretical issues but, as it is so clearly futile, my guess is that very few, if any, do, but, anyway, no one ever believes their own lies. Self-delusion is as unrealistic as the pet meme of denialism is, and for the same basic reason viz. we cannot choose whatever we think is the case.

We do make assumptions to make out whatever there is out there in the world but that is not quite the same as deliberately manipulating the opinion that we happen to have of the world. Mark Hoofnagle gives an unrealistic spin to the reality of how people are when he writes:

“Denialists exhibit suspicious thinking when they manipulate objective reality to fit within their beliefs. It is true that all people are prone to fit the world into their sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts reality and does so with an uncommon rigidity.”

No one has rigid beliefs. No one wilfully forms beliefs. Instead, the actual beliefs that all people have change quite automatically as they look at the world. Our five senses revises, and re-creates, our beliefs by the moment, as about as often as we inhale and exhale air. We use our beliefs to do whatever we decide to set out to do and we need to revise them to do almost anything that we do, whilst we do it, be it to go for a walk or to make a cup of tea or whatever.

Our belief-take is revised by the second and this is a sort of weak test on any earlier belief. The animal belief system is a bit like Popper’s philosophy of science, like making assumptions and then testing with a fresh panoramic assumption-take after some activity; or conjectures and attempted refutations, or trial and error.

What Mark Hoofnagle finds compelling in what David Shpairo says does not look one whit realistic to me. But as I have seen others, like Joseph Agassi, on self-deception, another myth, as both memes say equally silly and unrealistic things, so both do seem to reflect some popular theories about human irrationality [W3 memes] rather than the anything real about the human mind [W2].

Mark Hoofnagle then says a few things in favour of tolerance that I can agree with. He says the deniers are not liars in the way that they are often said to be. They are not evil plotters; that they err rather than they deliberately lie.

But then he says they are not worth arguing with! Why not? Because they are trapped in their own denialism! How can that happen? We do not seem to be told. But we can guess that he is not going to be adequate on most of this fallacy of his sheer ad hominem fallacy dismissal of the supposed deniers. The whole idea seems to be to attempt to dodge reasoning on Mark Hoofnagle’s part. Why does he prefer it to just dealing with the so-called deniers openly in debate?

I think I have said enough above to expect the theory of deniers to be false, if ever we were told. But most of the rest of what is written by Mark Hoofnagle on probability seems to have little, if any, bearing on this topic of supposed deniers.

Mark Hoofnagle repeats that deniers are of a certain personality type. But the conspiracy theorists, who he says they are very similar to the deniers, do not seem to be of any particular personality type. Nor do the religious and political groups I have looked at since 1968, from within the organisations that I joined and also from without with the many various rival groups to the ones that I joined. The various propaganda organisations seem to attract all sorts of persons; both within their branches [usually based on locality] and as to biases between branches. Some members within a branch are more extraverted, say, than others, and some branches are extraverted than others too, and in personality types all paradigms seem to attract all the various psychological types that we can find in the wider society.

I have also joined some non-ideological educational bodies, from about 1975 onwards, and they too seem to be no different from the ideological groups just because there is no overall ideology. I have yet to meet a single person in such groups that regard themselves, personally, as especially wrongly treated by others or by society as a whole as Mark Hoofnagle imagines the deniers do. They just never seem to talk about such things. With the ideological groups, the ideology has always been held as being quite impersonal.

Christian groups have been creationists, of course. Mark Hoofnagle says those do have a different style, as he says do the Global Warming deniers. It is ideology rather than personality that distorts their outlook with them, he says. He seems to be, as Thomas Kuhn was, proud to find excuses not to argue with people; thankfully Kuhn was often willing to break this bigoted principle.

I suppose this anti-debate meme, of which the meme of denial is one amongst many excuses for, is the main reason why human progress is slowed down. I do not like any protectionism in any case, but rather I prefer free trade but this anti-debate outlook of Polanyi/Kuhn and it is about the acme of protectionism. It holds progress back.

However, free speech should be free. We should not follow up recommendations if ever we do not want to do so. We have no duty to look into all issues that a propagandist feels to be important. The propagandist can be content with those who do want to follow up whatever he recommends. If he does his job well, there should be enough of them on any progressive issue.

Mark Hoofnagle feels it is wise not to argue with a propagandist, any of which he seems to feel is going to be a crank-pot in any case. He says: “To argue with a Dale would only make you look like the fool” where a Dale is just some fanatical propagandist, or an enthusiast, as they might have said in the eighteenth century. But if any such Dale makes us look silly then maybe that is because he does know a bit more than we do on his pet topic.

As Popper said, we should learn from rather than to fear our errors. We are all fools anyway. A fool, I presume, is someone who ought to know better than he actually does. Well, we are all always like that anyway. We all remain ignorant to some extent. We all should know at least a bit more than we do. What merit is there in hiding that fact? Mark Hoofnagle does not show any merit in his keenness to cover up the fact that he can often look silly. That is the sort of thing that we all need to tolerate, in ourselves and in others too. But this denier meme is intolerant rather than tolerant of others.

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Can War Ever Be Economic?

HistoryPosted by David McDonagh Thu, October 02, 2014 18:12:13

The idea that war is good for society is very common. Not many economists endorse it, but Tyler Cowen is an exception. In The New York Times 13 June 2014, he suggested it might remedy the current sluggishness in the USA economy. He seems to think that war can be a stimulus. There has been too much peace.

The stark reality seems to contrast with Cowen’s thesis, as it seems to be that the wars have cost farl too much to almost everybody, but so, too, have normal politics and, indeed, the state itself.

Cowen is, despite this brave outburst, the sort of libertarian who likes to conform to the state. Like most economists, he tends to think that economics exists to aid the state to make economic policy. He might well agree with many people, economists and non-economists, that Alfred Marshall erred to brand the area, or the subject matter, economics instead of leaving it labelled as “political economy”. Keynes, whom Cowen also admires, attempted to reverse that but he failed.

Indeed, this war-eulogy outburst from Cowen shows this conformity to the state, as well as being a brave anti-social message. The state is, after all, the epitome of an anti-social institution, despite its rather successful attempt to get large numbers of people to think it is an obvious social boon. War is about as bad as politics gets, it is the acme of crass politics, but even normal politics is crass. It is intrinsically illiberal.

Cowen says he feels that war been lacking recently, or at least, it remains low by historical standards. He earlier supported the war in Iraq; odd for a libertarian, as is his conformity to Keynes and the endorsement of state action.He says that he “realistically” settles for as part of the package of modern life.

He says some headlines from Iraq recently might fool some people into thinking war is already abundant today but he says it is tame next to the killings of the 1914 or 1939 world wars that killed off tens of millions prior to 1950. Does he even think that killing itself can boost growth? He later replies that the growing destruction of war might be the thing that accounts for the current sluggish peace. But first he continues that even the killing in Vietnam killed more off than recent wars in the Middle East have done. All this abundant peace makes economic growth less urgent, he declares.

Cowen does not quite want to say that war improves economies, as he admits that it clearly destroys wealth, as well as lives. He is not endorsing the Keynesian rather popular meme, that preparing for war boosts state spending and so it puts people back to work, either. Instead he wants to say is what war tends to do is to aid the politicians to get things right. Competition such as war between states sharpens up any state so that it better aids the nation’s overall fitness. This tends to boost the GNP. He, later, suggests that it might boost it to 4% a year rather than the current best-hoped-for 2% a year.

If we look back at all the innovation war has aided in history then we might realise that a very good case can be made out for war, Cowan suggests. It might seem repugnant, but history suggests that war is an economic boon. He feels this case recently made out by a few historians and that it is not so easy to dismiss.

Cowen says that war aided nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft just as he passively accepts that the state can boost effective demand by stimulus rather than looking at the reality that the state merely broadens demand in such a way that the immediate result will be to lower it, overall, rather than to increase it, despite the fact that purchasing power will be transferred to new hands by inflation. Such a process is not likely to ever even conserve total demand at the same level let alone boost overall demand to new a higher level, as the Keynesians imagine. But Keynes said it, so Cowen conforms to it. He is similar with the historians in doing that.

Cowen continues that war in the past got the USA state to push forward many new innovations along. This is what history teaches us, he seems to say. Not for Cowen the extreme idea of Henry Ford that “history is bunk”. But as it is written, it all too often seems to be, especially on the benefits of war.

Cowen tells us that the Internet was designed to conduct a nuclear exchange and Silicon Valley too was innovated by the military. It was the late USSR that, with Sputnik, boosted the USA to try to catch up by developing science and technology in reaction. Here we seem to have one economist, Cowen, who much prefers history as it is presented to him than to thinking about the opportunity costs of whatever the state did. He admires the sheer efficiency of the Manhattan Project but he tends to overlook that the bomb was no social boon.

But war makes the state efficient; Cowen seems to think, or at least to say. He feels that Japan might wake up now that China is pressurising it with revenge for the 1930s in mind, but Western Europe lacks that sort of vital external threat. That is why European states are so sluggish. He seems to have forgotten the fact that they can tax so have no need to earn their keep.

We are told of three books by recent historians that make the case further: War! What is it Good For?(2014) Ian Morris, War and Gold (2014) Kwasi Kwarteng and War in Human Civilisation (2006) Azar Gat, the last cited on which Cowen feels the two new books are both based on.

But Cowen feels the main problem with all this is that war can be so much more destructive today. This seems like Cowen himself is waking up to the weakness of his new shocking thesis.

So it is not the useful as a means of getting out of economic stagnation that it used to be, after all. Cowen feels that we are in a trade-off between more growth with war in exchange for less growth with peace. This latter option brings Politically Correct things like tolerance for minorities and sometime persecuted groups. Cowen reflects that this might be the better result than more growth and war together might bring. He somewhat returns to normality at the end of his article.

I think Cowen is over impressed with the GNP in any case, just as he is with Keynes. A lot that passes for economic growth looks like a misnomer, as adding the costs of the funeral services of tragic victims of road accidents makes for a higher GNP out of clear losses. Nearly every economics textbook lists some of the many anomalies with the meme of GNP.

War is clearly an all-round risk to people that generally reverses economic well-being, and that should be as clear to Cowen as is the nose on his face. As a critic of economics rather than an economist, it seems to me that Cowen ought to attempt weigh up, by opportunity cost, what the backward historians say rather than to accept whatever happened as what best needed to happen, at least to a far greater extent than he seems to have done.

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George Orwell

Current AffairsPosted by David McDonagh Tue, September 02, 2014 20:53:27

I criticise the above below. But immediately below is a link to a talk that David Ramsay Steele recently gave on Orwell.

His book on Orwell might well be out soon.

How mediocre was George Orwell?

George Orwell was no philosopher, or thinker, but rather he was a follower of Bertrand Russell. However, he was certainly a master of the English language. He might not have often been very informative, but even when he wrote on making a cup of tea, his prose was well worth reading, even if nothing much could be learnt from what he wrote.

Like so many others, it was all too easy for me to soon read all the main things he wrote in the 1960s. His surviving wife brought out his collected journalism in four volumes in 1969. All four have been widely read.

Daft Will Self picks on Orwell’s ideas of writing to criticise or to reject. This is certainly Orwell’s strong point. But in clear and readable writing Orwell has few rivals. This is why he continues to be read. Oddly, in this attack, Will Self confesses to being an avid reader of Orwell’s. He finds the books can be returned to again and again. How many others can he say that of? It does not occur to daft Self to ask why that is, if it is to be truthfully said to be mediocre. Presumably, it is because he finds the writing to be good, rather than mediocre. He even explicitly admits that he likes the style. But then the love of paradox leads daft Self to say that it is the good style that makes Orwell a mediocrity but the likes of Self rarely can see the difference between the sort of paradox that is logically valid but merely clashes with common sense only, that can be true, and the intrinsically absurd such as he employs here in saying readable prose is a sign of mediocrity. It is plainly a sign of excellence. The plain fact is that Orwell was an excellent writer. Hence his success as a writer.

Self confounds his folly further by saying that Orwell had a particular genius in his prose style that had almost hypnotic virtues of clarity that suggests to the reader that he alone comprehends what is being said. How mediocre is that?

Self seems to think the word “ideology” can do a lot of work in getting over his rather absurd message. He accuses Orwell of being an ideologue but the accusation is nebulous in the way it is used of late, as it seems to refer to no more than some sort of outlook, or other. Don’t we all have an outlook of some sort? Why bother saying it of Orwell [or of anyone else] then?

Self uses another intrinsic paradox to end with viz. whenever we tell a truth we thereby obfuscate other truths; but this, again, is yet another absurdity. A truth that should obscure nothing is that Self is clearly a bit on the thick side.

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