"My Own Private Denmark"

PowerLine discusses in some detail today a theme that Assistant Village Idiot has often raised:  Socialist and socialist-leaning Americans appear to have in mind an image of Scandinavian socialism that was tried, and then abandoned, some decades ago, when its ruinous effects on prosperity and job-creation were observed.

As Ace says, we continue to judge socialism by its intentions but capitalism by its results.  Meanwhile, other countries try the grand experiment, while we avert our eyes from its effects, preferring to take a walk down memory/fantasy lane.

Some Further Discussion on Piercello's Proposal

Piercello asked me to clarify the boundary between strict logic and the kind of practical logics we find in ethics (like the use of logic in rhetoric). I thought the answer was worth a separate post.
I'm delighted to host a discussion like this one. It's an excellent use of our limited time on earth to wrestle with these high questions.

The boundary between strict logic and non-strict logic (including but not limited to rhetorical logic) is bright-line, and indeed already expressed in our discussion. It has to do with what kinds of objects the logic is treating. Strict logic treats logical objects, i.e., objects that are internally consistent throughout.

Objects in strict logic include universals, variables, and constants. Universals are true universals (usually formalized as capital letters these days, like "F"). A constant is an individual (usually 'a, b, c...' from the front of the alphabet); a variable (usually 'x, y, z') is a set of particulars that can range over many individuals, so that you can speak using variables about what it means for particulars to instantiate the universal. So if "F" is "is a raven," then "Fx" is "anything that is a raven," and "Fa" is "a, which is a raven." Expressed in more Platonic terms, "F" is a way of referring to the form of ravenness; Fx refers to all objects that instantiate this form; Fa refers to one particular object that instantiates the form.

However, as Aristotle points out at the beginning of the [Nicomachean] ethics, we never encounter any of these things in real life. His account of why objects don't perfectly instantiate Platonic forms differs from mine; he thought that practical objects, being made of matter, didn't perfectly instantiate the forms because of the potential necessary for matter which was never quite fully actualized into the pure activity of the form. I've explained that I think the real reason is that we shift from logical objects to analogies between physical objects that really aren't 'alike throughout' in the way that logical objects by their nature are.

Note then that Kant is not really doing strict logic at any point in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Because this is groundwork for a project in the practical world, he is always dealing with ethical objects rather than strict logical objects. Kant is really unhappy with Aristotle's approach, which I mentioned above. What Aristotle says is this (EN 1.3):

"Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better."

Kant does not like the idea that we cannot be precise in our ethical conclusions, and is trying hard to figure out a way around the problem that will allow for clear, precise, rational ethical decision. His move is to reach for universals not as forms, but in terms of generalizing situations to see if you can come to general principles (i.e. what he calls 'universal laws') that govern all different instances of a problem. (It will turn out you really can't, because problems don't instantiate singularly; usually a real ethical dilemma is a nest of different problems, where the general principles are in conflict. But set that aside.)

I recommend Kant because his project seems to me to be allied to yours in important ways. It is definitely not exactly the same, though. You are also wrestling with this issue of how to persuade people to behave in more rational ways. Like Kant, you need to get people to accept standards that are alien or foreign to them currently. Kant's introducing several concepts that are brand new, like the categorical imperative; no one has ever heard this terminology before at the time he's publishing this groundbreaking work. So he has to persuade people (rhetoric) that this is a sensible way to talk, as well as that it can solve some of the problems of ethics (rhetorical logic).

Note, though, that he is not really at any point engaged in strict logic. He is trying as hard as he can to find something analogous to a logical object in practical life. The universals he's reaching for with his 'universal laws' aren't logical universals, but broad analogies under which many different practical problems might fall.

As a result, the sandwich you describe isn't quite there. Rather, he is trying to shoehorn analogy into logic as much as can be done. I think Kant believes he's successful, which enables him in the wider Metaphysics of Morals (written many years after the Groundwork, by the way) to declare his conclusions with much more firmness than they have proven to deserve (e.g., that any just society must have a sovereign individual who is immune to the laws; that marriage can only be a union of exactly two persons of the opposite sex, and that absolutely all societies must introduce legal marriage in precisely this form; that masturbation is necessarily worse than suicide; etc).

That said, I also think you can learn the rules of strict logic without in any way adopting the consensus that they are the right way to proceed. Most everyone who engages in the practice seriously, including myself, develops a critique of parts of it. That's one of the most interesting aspects of the study of logic. There is a rhetorical aspect to such criticisms, in that we are trying to persuade each other that our approach to wrestling with the problem we've encountered with the system is better than other methods. But it's not necessary to learning the system; all that you have to do to learn the system is learn it, not consent to it.

The closest thing I think you can say is that you have to learn the rules of a game to play the game. But it's still not rhetoric; it just looks like rhetoric because we typically learn it from someone else. Imagine (here's a Kantian exercise) a man who was somehow born and raised by wolves, but in his adulthood began to try to work out the rules of logic. He might come up with different ways of solving particular problems, just as in math the Japanese have developed a different way of doing multiplication than Westerners. But because strict logic like* math has an objective standard, whatever approaches he developed could be found to be valid or invalid, complete or incomplete, independently of ever discussing them with anyone. The objective standard is provided by logic itself: some approaches to logic work, and some do not.

It's sticky, trying to deal with the hinge between these models -- which can somehow be objectively tested against themselves, that itself a philosophical difficulty -- and the way the models apply to reality. Somehow they do, even though the kinds of objects involved in math/logic are not what we encounter, we can use math and logic predicatively with a lot of success. Why the success is even possible is a problem, given the incompatibility of the kinds of objects involved; why the success applies only imperfectly is another problem.

If I've given you serious problems, though, I'm doing my proper work as a philosopher.

* "like math" is itself problematic philosophically; there's a huge debate as to whether logic is in fact a subset of math, or indeed whether math is actually a subset of logic, or if they are simply similar fields. This is non-resolved after 2,000 years of discussion.

We're not sick, quit (atchoo) saying we are

Nothing says "healthy culture" like an hysterical inability to tolerate disagreement.
Given the accumulated costs of decades of state-driven lending, massive malfeasance by local officials in cahoots with local banks, a towering property bubble, and vast industrial overcapacity, China is as ripe as a country can be for a massive economic correction. Even a small initial shock could lead to a massive bonfire of the vanities as all the false values, inflated expectations and misallocated assets implode. If that comes, it is far from clear that China’s regulators and decision makers have the technical skills or the political authority to minimize the damage—especially since that would involve enormous losses to the wealth of the politically connected.

Critical ideology studies

From Maggie's Farm, advice from Andrew Gleeson on avoiding temporal or cultural myopia in a modern university:
What follows is advice I would offer to any student with the good fortune to study such a [Great Books] course. You enjoy a remarkable opportunity—afforded inside what Oakeshott called “the interim,” a sunny recess between the sheltered world of childhood and adolescence, and the onerous responsibilities of adulthood—to enjoy without distraction an induction into a great inheritance. It is unlikely you will get it again. I hope the thoughts I have assembled here will help you make the most of your experience. They are not exhaustive and they are not gospel. You can judge their value for yourself as you pursue your studies.
There's a radical thought! If you don't treat Western Civilization as gospel, you needn't fear contaminating your progressive purity merely by deigning to study it. Gleeson warns that a typical modern "critical studies" approach undermines the very sense of independent critical judgment that a student should be pursuing in reading the Great Books.
One often hears the word “critical” used as an adjective to describe some fields of academic studies, e.g., “critical X studies” (as if other fields were uncritical). Too often it means merely to be against when really it should mean to be discriminating. Worse, sometimes it signals an expectation of subscribing to (and conscripting the text and reader into the service of) an ideology.
By contrast, proper attention to the great books cultivates an independence of judgment you should jealously guard.
A course of "progressive" study ought to mean approaching progressivism itself with the same skepticism its proponents advocate for a study of the Western canon.

It's History-Makin'

The Commandant orders the elimination of Confederate "paraphernalia" from all USMC facilities. What does that mean? I'm not sure, since it appears the USMC doesn't have any Confederate memorials or anything like that. Were rebel flags being sold at the exchange? The Corps' spokesman was unclear on exactly what, if anything, would be affected.

But it's just one part of the bold agenda for a new Marine Corps.
Commandant Gen. David Berger last week instructed top Marine leaders to remove Confederate-related paraphernalia from the service's bases worldwide. The directive is one of several forward-leaning initiatives Berger said he is "prioritizing for immediate execution."

In his memo, a copy of which was obtained by Military.com, Berger also ordered leaders to find ways to move more women into combat jobs, to review the possibility of yearlong maternity leave for female Marines, and to extend parental leave policies to same-sex partners.
Yes, sir, more young women in the combat arms, with a year off each if they bear children. Of course this is all a part of bringing perfect equality among the sexes, except for the part where the women get a year off; and it won't cause disruption or degradation of standards when the female members of the team vanish from training and deployment for a year. (A year, out of a four year enlistment!) No, only good things will come from this wholesale adoption of social justice ideals into military standards.

A humane, practical, beautiful solution.

Medieval Philosophy

A nice little collection of video lectures from Medievalists.

UPDATE: Skip the one on defining metaphysics, which is not good.

Panic/Don't Panic

Some good perspectives on the pandemic from NeoNeo, in an open-comments session. In the don't-panic line:
I’ve been watching this topic for the last several weeks. There’s still very little known and some of what is known is suspect. Just on general principles, I don’t believe the Chinese numbers, and I really would not be at all surprised if various Western nations are holding back information – it’s already clear how incredibly stupid people are when stampeding in panic.
It’s been my stance from the beginning – once it was clear that direct human-to-human transmission was possible, and apparently fairly easy (eg, the Webasto case in Germany) – that the actual number of people who have been exposed to the virus is vastly higher than numbers indicate. You can reasonably assume at this point that virtually all of the millions of people in the densely populated Chinese cities initially hit have been exposed. (You can also assume that every person on the Diamond Princess was exposed.) If they actually are counting deaths in the low thousands, it means it’s really not much more deadly than seasonal flus which kill tens of millions every year anyway.
Logically, you cannot have a virus which is on one hand easily transmissible and on the other hand, not rampant in a closely packed urban setting. Thus all of the original counts are skewed sharply toward people sick enough to seek medical care, omitting huge numbers of people who aren’t and never were. It is not reasonably possible anywhere to test every one of millions of asymptomatic people, or people who have minor cold/flu symptoms during cold/flu season. It’s not as if the normal cold/flu viruses politely took the season off so this new virus could have the stage to itself.
The latter is the second thing I wonder about. Since everyone is obsessed with testing for a new virus, are they assuming every sick person who tests positive for this coronavirus can only be sick because of it, not because of other viruses in circulation? It’s been hard to get an answer to that, as in, “We tested for the flu A, B and C variants that are common this season in our area, and got a negative result, and then we tested for COVID-19.”
Since so much is unknown, the situation has to be watched with caution. There’s ample evidence that older people and those already ill need to be particularly cautious; what we’ve seen so far suggests that COVID-19 is more likely to kill in that group, vs the young and healthy, as was the case with the 1918 Spanish flu. But after saying that, I do think coverage so far has been needlessly over-the-top and hysterical.
On the other hand, preparing for panic itself is not a bad idea, because believing something is irrational is not at all the same as believing people aren't likely to act that way:
It’s a bit like the point I made earlier about panic buying. You might be all reasonable and superior intellectually and *not* panic buy because that after all is the unreasonable herd doing what the herd does. But that attitude won’t feed your children after the herd has stripped the shelves. The Reasonable Thing to do is get in there and get shelf-stripping yourself Stat. (Or prepare in advance of the Herd).
* * *
For all your Reason, humans are mimetic apes. You work with that… or you get nowhere.
Stock up on basic essential supplies. We have no idea how fragile our logistics and other systems are until it’s too late. Is all very well to laugh at panic buyers… But if said panic buyers stripped the shelves and you can’t eat, well where’s your intellectual and moral superiority then?
Make contingency plans for relatives who need regular medical care: Things like outpatient chemotherapy, dialysis, insulin supplies. I am pretty damn sure that a lot of people died in China because [they] could not get to their dialysis sessions because their block was quarantined and/or the hospital they usually went to was chaotically overloaded with Coronavirus cases.
I hope it turns out to be a fizzer. But even a fizzer can be the straw that broke the systemic over-complexity camel’s back. A little preparation is a good thing. Official pronouncements will aim to avoid mass panic. This is good too. But it also means that official pronouncements *could* be understating the problem. So be smart and make some simple preparations.

Age of Conan: Soundtrack

Popular music is so awful today, it's easy to think that no lovely music is being produced. As Eric Blair used to say, though, it's being done -- it's just not making the radio. Lots of it is being made for movies, and now for video games.

There's some very pleasant stuff there. It's not groundbreaking; I think it's intended to be derivative of the 1982 Conan's soundtrack. But it's nice.

Religious Freedom, Exceptis Excipiendis

Apropos of nothing, Sanders brought up an essay Vought had written as an alumnus of Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a professor for a Facebook post in which she announced that she would wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims for a season. In an article in response, Vought wrote out a basic Christian tenet: that people cannot know God except through Jesus. "Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology," he wrote. "They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his son, and they stand condemned."

Sanders repeatedly read this passage back to Vought during his confirmation hearing, at one point accusing him of perpetuating Islamophobia.

“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible. It is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders said. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”
In fairness, I'm pretty sure that even the Pope no longer believes that statement.

Homeric Hometowns

Now this is a pretty cool map.

Would Putin Like President Sanders?

Michelle Goldberg thinks that he would not.
[Sanders'] unlikely ascendance would be a blow against the corrosive cynicism in which authoritarianism thrives. America would be the country where young people of all races powered a campaign that proved stronger than plutocracy, stronger than nationalist demagogy, stronger than any of the tools that men like Putin have used to bring liberalism to its knees. To young idealists around the world, America would look — dare I say it — great again.

Building a multiracial social democracy is one of the great political challenges of our time. Few nations on earth have figured out how to create, in heterogenous populations, the solidarity needed to sustain a robust public sphere. Putin has exploited this difficulty, stoking tribal fears in countries with changing demographics to make liberalism look like a form of social dissolution.

If enough Americans unite across racial lines to replace Trump with a Jewish socialist, it might mean that our country is figuring out how to transcend the illiberalism of our age. I still find it difficult to believe that Sanders can pull it off. But if he does, Putin won’t be pleased for long.
In a piece arguing against calling people Russian assets, including Sanders, some reasons to think that Putin might be pleased.
If we look at who is actually doing Russia’s work — dividing Americans against one another with these suggestions of foreign influence — it turns out that these journalists are much better candidates for ‘Russian agents’ than any of the politicians (excepting Ms. Clinton, who is right there with the journalists advancing irresponsible rhetoric). I do not say this to accuse them, or anyone, of being a Russian agent. What I mean to say is that Putin has more reason to be happy because major TV networks are accusing the winner of the Nevada caucus of being a spy than he has reason to feel good about Bernie Sanders having won.

Bernie Sanders’ election might possibly be good for Russia insofar as he is able to make good on his campaign rhetoric to undercut America’s energy exports. Russia’s economy and much of its geopolitical power derives chiefly from its energy exports, especially to Europe. Sanders’ desire to cut American exports would drive up prices for energy in the global market, enriching Russia, and make Europe much more dependent than currently on Russian gas and oil. Sanders’ stated desire to cut American military spending would probably also delight the Russians. Yet none of those policies is being advanced by Sanders because they would help Russia. He wants to cut energy exports because he believes it will help the climate; he wants to cut military spending as a believer in a longstanding left-liberal/progressive critique of America as warlike and imperialistic. Any benefit to Russia is coincidental.
So what's more harmful to Putin's Russia and its interests? Hope and aspirations for multi-racial democracies? Or the loss of oil and gas monopolies?

Fake News Today

BB: Russians declare election too chaotic for them to successfully intervene.

TO: (Slideshow) Guide to the 2020 Democratic Candidates.

DB: SEALs quietly end relationship with PR firm behind 'bad boy' media campaign.


Jim Geraghty cautions against complacency, but still believes the "socialist" flag is voting-booth poison in November:
Democrats, perhaps because they differ from the rest of the electorate in their feelings about socialism, are bad at estimating how socialism would play in a general election. Two weeks ago, in the Yahoo News poll, a 49 percent plurality of Democrats said most, nearly all, or about half of Americans would consider voting for a presidential candidate who called himself a democratic socialist. The guess was incorrect. According to the same poll, only 35 percent of voters said they’d consider voting for such a candidate. Democrats got it wrong.
Democrats think that the socialist label is harmless because it has no negative connotation to them and in their circles.

Piercello's Theory of Consensus Argumentation

Our old friend Piercello, whom some of you may remember for his three-factor theory of human nature and his theory of aesthetics, dropped by to ask for some thoughts on a new theory that successful argumentation depends on consensus. It's a short argument if you want to read it.

I have some things to say about it.

1) The kind of argument he is describing is deductive logic. There are other kinds of arguments, but I think they are even more susceptible to the charge he is bringing. Non-logical forms of argument, for example persuasion by appeal to emotion, are even more dependent on 'a consensus about how things should be done' than deduction. I don't actually have to share your feelings -- certainly I don't have to experience them -- to appeal to them. But I do have to understand how you feel in order to frame an argument that will successfully motivate you to action in the way I desire. Induction is already a problematic form of argument, really more a form of guesswork than a proper proof, but that makes it also more subject to consensus about what kinds of guesses we're allowed to make. (Usually: "It's a proper inductive proof if and only if it is based on a random sample from a proper set; if and only if it is repeatable from a number of randomly selected elements from the set," etc. But this still depends on a consensus idea of what 'a proper set' entails, a question that is easy in mathematics or strict logic, but quite hard in practical reality.)

2) Deduction is a limited form of argument, though, because it is incapable of discovering anything. What deduction allows you to do is to prove that since you know X, you also know Y. It's a form of realization, in other words, rather than discovery of new facts about reality. The most classic example of a deductive proof is this one:

Assumption: Socrates is a man.
Assumption: All men are mortal.
∴ Socrates is mortal.

If the assumptions are true, the conclusion follows. The reason it follows isn't actually the one, Piercello, that you're suggesting. It's not that I have chosen a methodology that you agree is valid, based on a standard that you agree is reasonable, which was chosen by method... etc. The reason it follows is that the truth is contained in the assumptions. What the deduction is doing is helping us realize that we know the conclusion because we know the facts in the assumptions. Nothing new is really being added. Something new is being recognized.

Now if your point is rhetorical, it may be that you're correct about the necessity of consensus. In other words, if the argument is that I can only convince you of the conclusion if you agree to the methodology of deductive logic, that might be right. If the point is not rhetorical but logical, however, it is not right. Because deduction is only recognition of the truths I also know from what I already know, the argument is valid whether or not I like it or agree to it.

Notice by the way that the classic syllogism isn't really subject to the third line of attack you mention ("You've cherry-picked your evidence"). Assuming those two assumptions turn out to be factually accurate, the conclusion follows no matter what new assumptions you add to the pot. The only new information that could alter the conclusion is information that invalidates one of the assumptions (e.g., "Socrates is not a man but a god"). Otherwise, the conclusion holds whatever else you add ("All ravens are black"; "Some men are very long-lived"; etc).

There you go.

Well, I Appreciate Your Honesty

Headline: “We Can't Have a Feminist Future Without Abolishing the Family.”

That does clarify things. Now we just have to sort out whether feminism or the family is of greater value. I imagine that even if we left the decision entirely to women, family would come out easily on top.