Yankee Loggers

Raven dropped an excellent documentary about the practice of logging, up on the border, as it was done during the 1930s. 

The film was originally silent, but they have the notes the filmmaker made and have them read by someone with a suitably Yankee accent. As Raven noted, I was struck by the care the narration takes to mention the name of every worker involved. The author was the superintendent of the logging enterprise, and this was apparently his final shipment of lumber. He takes care to memorialize not only his own and his father's accomplishments, but those of everyone else as well. That kind of respect for the hard-working ordinary guy is worthy, and it shows the camaraderie that can come from sharing dangerous and difficult labor.

While I enjoyed every aspect of this movie, especially the movement of logs and the workings of the mill, I was struck by the food. These guys ate four meals a day, and they ate! Beans, ham, eggs, and canned beef for protein; and three meals a day that contain biscuits, donuts ("I've seen the men eat half a barrel of donuts at one sitting"), and cookies for carbohydrates to make a hard day's labor possible. Meals at 4 AM, 9 AM, and 2 PM, then supper at the end of the workday. Even the cooks worked hard, if they were turning out meals for hungry men every five hours all day long. 

Great find, Raven.

Plato's Laws VII

The seventh book of the Laws begins with a piece that must be nearly the first in the genre of philosophers giving advice on how to raise babies. One of my favorites of these is Kant's work, On Education, which is the easiest Kant you'll ever read and also the funniest. It's funny in part because of the hilarious suggestions Kant comes up with about things he plainly knows nothing whatsoever about, like breastfeeding. The Athenian likewise has some ideas about how it is important to educate the child from the stage of the embryo by constantly walking about as a mother, and then having nurses to transport the child back and forth, because motion is so important to its education -- while, however, keeping it swaddled so that it can't in fact move at all. We may safely set these sections aside.

Of greater interest is a point on which Kant and Plato clash, which is the importance of liberty for young children. Kant puts it this way:
First, we must allow the child from his earliest childhood perfect liberty in every respect (except on those occasions when he might. hurt himself-as, for instance, when he clutches must be at a knife), provided that in acting so he does the liberty not interfere with the liberty of others.

The Athenian gives it this way:

Ath.  [A]t [ages] three, four, five, and even six years the childish nature will require sports; now is the time to get rid of self-will in him, punishing him, but not so as to disgrace him. We were saying about slaves, that we ought neither to add insult to punishment so as to anger them, nor yet to leave them unpunished lest they become self-willed; and a like rule is to be observed in the case of the free-born.... The nurses are to see that the children behave properly and orderly-they themselves and all their companies are to be under the control of twelve matrons... annually selected... whom the guardians of the law appoint. These matrons shall be chosen by the women who have authority over marriage,... if any citizen disputes the punishment, let her bring him before the wardens of the city; or, if there be no dispute, let her punish him herself.

Perfect liberty in every respect is definitely not what the Athenian has in mind, but rather careful training in the customs and culture of the city. Plato's work endorses the very thing that Kant hoped to throw out, that is, the authority of customs and traditions that are merely inherited. Kant would argue that such things are accidents of a sort, rather than rationally derived; Plato's Athenian argues that we can see the rationality of them in the fact that cities survive or perish based on how strongly the old customs are held.

Ath. That all the matters which we are now describing are commonly called by the general name of unwritten customs, and what are termed the laws of our ancestors are all of similar nature. And the reflection which lately arose in our minds, that we can neither call these things laws, nor yet leave them unmentioned, is justified; for they are the bonds of the whole state, and come in between the written laws which are or are hereafter to be laid down; they are just ancestral customs of great antiquity, which, if they are rightly ordered and made habitual, shield and preserve the previously existing written law; but if they depart from right and fall into disorder, then they are like the props of builders which slip away out of their Place and cause a universal ruin-one part drags another down, and the fair super-structure falls because the old foundations are undermined. Reflecting upon this, Cleinias, you ought to bind together the new state in every possible way, omitting nothing, whether great or small, of what are called laws or manners or pursuits, for by these means a city is bound together, and all these things are only lasting when they depend upon one another; and, therefore, we must not wonder if we find that many apparently trifling customs or usages come pouring in and lengthening out our laws.

There follows a section on the importance of martial training, both for boys and for girls (if, the Athenian says, the girl does not object to being exposed to it -- a liberty the boys are not granted, but similar to his concern from book six that women will probably protest being subjected to eating at the public mess so strongly that they probably can't be forced to do it). 

He has a proposal in case they do object, though, which is that the girls should be taught to dance in armor -- in honor of Athena, I believe, the virgin warrior-goddess. The boys likewise will engage in warlike parades and such, clad in armor throughout the exercises in order to develop their ability to work in armor for long periods of time. 

Ath. After the age of six years the time has arrived for the separation of the sexes-let boys live with boys, and girls in like manner with girls. Now they must begin to learn-the boys going to teachers of horsemanship and the use of the bow, the javelin, and sling, and the girls too, if they do not object, at any rate until they know how to manage these weapons, and especially how to handle heavy arms... 

Ath. The custom of the Scythians proves [that we should teach fighting equally with both right and left hands]; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes.... [this] may be of very great importance to the warrior who has to use iron weapons, bows and javelins, and the like; above all, when in heavy armour, he has to fight against heavy armour. And there is a very great difference between one who has learnt and one who has not, and between one who has been trained in gymnastic exercises and one who has not been. For as he who is perfectly skilled in the Pancratium or boxing or wrestling, is not unable to fight from his left side, and does not limp and draggle in confusion when his opponent makes him change his position, so in heavy-armed fighting...

Education has two branches-one of gymnastic, which is concerned with the body, and the other of music, which is designed for the improvement of the soul. And gymnastic has also two branches-dancing and wrestling; and one sort of dancing imitates musical recitation, and aims at preserving dignity and freedom,... Nor, again, must we omit suitable imitations of war in our choruses; here in Crete you have the armed dances if the Curetes, and the Lacedaemonians have those of the Dioscuri. And our virgin lady, delighting in the amusement of the dance, thought it not fit to amuse herself with empty hands; she must be clothed in a complete suit of armour, and in this attire go through the dance; and youths and maidens should in every respect imitate her, esteeming highly the favour of the Goddess, both with a view to the necessities of war, and to festive occasions: it will be right also for the boys, until such time as they go out to war, to make processions and supplications to all the Gods in goodly array, armed and on horseback, in dances, and marches, fast or slow, offering up prayers to the Gods and to the sons of Gods[.]

Now this is a point of agreement between Plato and Kant, the latter of whom also is very interested in the physical education of the youth as well as their moral and intellectual education. It is a point on which our own systems fall down: whereas Kant proposes mountain climbing as a regular part of education, and Plato has warlike exercises, we sit our kids in desks for hours every day, perhaps with a few minutes of recess or supervised games. Far better would their lives be, and perhaps their educations, if their physical nature was engaged as much as we hope to engage their mental capacities. 

Week in Pictures is up

Let's Have Some Waylon Jennings

It's Friday, after all.

Honne and Tatemae

Edward Luttwak, who describes himself as "historian and rancher," rather famously the former, offers an historical parallel to the present difficulties. I will not refer to the political issues of the day other than to note that this is what he is really talking about, but will explore his historical parallel in light of a Japanese (and Chinese) moral standard that Americans usually reject as a moral duty. 

The advantage of turning to the historical example is that the facts are clear. JFK used the Chicago machine, as well as fraud in Texas, to elevate himself to the Presidency. Nixon refused legal remedies, but accepted the result in what Luttwak describes as a patriotic spirit. 

One might ask whether patriotism can really require one to accept being cheated, or what to make of a government whose stability depends upon one side periodically refusing to mention that the other side cheats. On the other hand, this was during a dark period of the Cold War, when accepting being cheated may well have seemed preferable to weakening the United States government in the face of the USSR. JFK was a veteran and a patriot in his way; however corrupt, Nixon (himself not completely lacking in corruption) could reason that he wouldn't hand things over to the Communists.

The Japanese concept at work here is one called Tatemae and Honne, or, 'the façade' and 'the true sound.' There is a parallel concept in China, in which one is expected to maintain an outward façade of happiness and pleasure whatever one feels inside. This is considered an important moral duty to others, because it maintains their happiness and social harmony. It is considered very rude to be honest in ways that are upsetting to others, even if your feelings are grounded on true facts.

I have long thought that an important reason the American system does not (yet) admit of Chinese-style tyranny is that we generally reject this as a duty. We might suggest something like it for Thanksgiving, when people of all political opinions are at the table; but it is less about pretending that the divisions don't exist than about not raising them for a while. 

Likewise, I have suggested in this space that people who are disagreeable in the psychological sense serve a very important social purpose too: they are the ones who will point out when there is a problem everyone else might like to ignore, just because it is more comfortable and agreeable not to mention it. This can permit progress when otherwise progress might never occur. 
The more formal the meeting or the more public the situation, the more codified it will be and the more the tatemae will be displayed and the honne pushed down and repressed. Public and private are separated so ruthlessly in Japanese society that one rarely mixes with the other: sharing your recent family issues with your colleagues is as unthinkable as your wife coming to visit you at work. Should you decide to burden everyone with your worries and negative emotions, you would drop in the esteem of all Japanese around you for disturbing the positive effects of the tatemae.

For although it may take a hard toll on the individual, forbidden from speaking out his distress for fear of troubling his listener, it does create a harmonious atmosphere as all do their best to be cordial and outwardly friendly.
Taking on a burden to protect others is honorable, and doubtless this seems like a way of maintaining honor to the Japanese. Luttwak thinks it was patriotic to pretend in this way, and to avoid making a scene. Returning America to a harmonious atmosphere might be as simple as going along with the façade. Certainly everyone would be happier if we had a more harmonious nation, would they not?

I'm raising the issue for discussion, not to declare judgment on it. My own positions are well known and established, but it's worth talking over -- again, in the historical context rather than the present one, and as a question about whether this is indeed properly entailed in one's moral duties.

"Chinese Vision of Freedom" Redux

State propaganda outlet China Daily assures you that the rapid decline in Uighur birthrates is not at all due to forced sterilization, international studies notwithstanding. No, it's due to 'liberation of women'!

Decreases in the birthrate and natural population growth rate in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in 2018 resulted from the eradication of religious extremism, [an official PRC] report released on Thursday said....

The changes were not caused by "forced sterilization" of the Uygur population, as repeatedly claimed by some Western scholars and politicians, it said.

In a research report released last year, Adrian Zenz, a German scholar, said there had been a significant drop in the natural population growth rate in southern Xinjiang in 2018 and claimed that proved China was trying to control the size of the Uygur population....

In the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no long baby-making machines, it said. Women have since been striving to become healthy, confident and independent.

Yes, of course. Also, it's hard to get pregnant while you and your husband are in separate re-education camps.

Coors Beer and Bootlegging

It occurred to me, in a discussion of nostalgia and freedom at AVI's place, that I couldn't think of any reason why it should have been a Federal crime to move Coors Beer east of the Mississippi. It turns out the reason was that the beer wasn't pasteurized

It also turns out that bootlegging Coors was not just the business of truckers, but of Presidents and celebrities. There's an interesting story, as often there is with bootlegging. 

Laws VI, 4

This will be the last part of Laws VI, at which point we are halfway through the larger work. Those of you who are getting tired of this can breathe a sigh of relief, or else groan as you realize that there's still just as much to go as we've hit so far.

The closing section has more on marriage, and the proper regulation of recently-married couples to ensure they are properly prolific. Plato views this as a kind of moral duty, so that if you're doing your job and having lots of kids, man and wife can be treated as an honorable member of the community; if not, they need to be taken in hand by a band of elder ladies, and watched over carefully to make sure they're getting the job done. If it doesn't work out after ten years, they're to be divorced by the state and reassigned. Women are meant to marry the first time between 16 and 20, so ten years will give them a plausible second shot if they were married to an impotent husband. Marriage is meant to be for the good of the state, and not for individual happiness, so an unproductive marriage is to be dissolved even if the two partners were happy with each other.

There's also more on urban defense, cached in a discussion about the physical layout of a city. The upshot of this section is that the Athenian is against having city walls, because they make people lazy by making them feel safe. By leaving the city exposed, vigor in defending the city from all suspicious approaches will be maintained -- and thus, a more virtuous citizenry. "Walls ought to be of bronze and iron, and not of earth."

There are also two more important sections on female equality as regards defense. The Athenian is pro-conscription of all, men and women, for service. Women may not be assigned the same duties as men -- this is a time when the major weapons were heavy bronze armor and violent physical combat -- but they should be assigned duties and expected to serve in them. They do get off earlier, at age 50 rather than 60, but there is here too a kind of proportionate equality being maintained.

The other section has to do with public meals, which you may remember from way back in the beginning of the work. Public meals came about because of a necessity of defense, so that the city took to providing regular meals for the fighting men so they wouldn't have to worry about any of their fighters being too hungry to be effective. The Athenian spends a lot of time talking up this practice, and very hesitantly suggesting that he has an idea for improvement that he's very nervous about mentioning to his companions. After a long time, it turns out the idea is that women should be made to come and eat at public meals too -- the effects on communal spirit and public morale are so great that women as well as men should be required to appear, and take their food at the public mess.

Why is he so nervous about suggesting this? Not because of the men! He's worried about an outcry from the women, who will be so outraged at having their eating habits exposed in public that no legislator could hope to withstand them. 

Ath. The careful consideration of this matter, and the arranging and ordering on a common principle of all our institutions relating both to men and women, greatly conduces to the happiness of the state. But at present, such is the unfortunate condition of mankind, that no man of sense will even venture to speak of common tables in places and cities in which they have never been established at all; and how can any one avoid being utterly ridiculous, who attempts to compel women to show in public how much they eat and drink? There is nothing at which the sex is more likely to take offence. For women are accustomed to creep into dark places, and when dragged out into the light they will exert their utmost powers of resistance, and be far too much for the legislator. 

Even the godlike legislator of the Laws quails before women who don't want to be told what to do, or be seen to be eating too much by their society. 

All of this is interesting, but the real pearl in this final section of Book VI is the discussion of slavery. Though we reject slavery, I think rightly, as you shall see the discussion remains important because it generalizes to power relations of all kinds. It is fairly short, so I will quote it liberally. 

Ath. There is no difficulty either in understanding or acquiring most kinds of property, but there is great difficulty in what relates to slaves. And the reason is that we speak about them in a way which is right and which is not right; for what we say about our slaves is consistent and also inconsistent with our practice about them.

Megillus. I do not understand, Stranger, what you mean.

Ath. I am not surprised, Megillus, for the state of the Helots among the Lacedaemonians is of all Hellenic forms of slavery the most controverted and disputed about, some approving and some condemning it; there is less dispute about the slavery which exists among the Heracleots, who have subjugated the Mariandynians, and about the Thessalian Penestae. Looking at these and the like examples, what ought we to do concerning property in slaves? I made a remark, in passing, which naturally elicited a question about my meaning from you. It was this:-We know that all would agree that we should have the best and most attached slaves whom we can get. For many a man has found his slaves better in every way than brethren or sons, and many times they have saved the lives and property of their masters and their whole house-such tales are well known.

Meg. To be sure.

Ath. But may we not also say that the soul of the slave is utterly corrupt, and that no man of sense ought to trust them? And the wisest of our poets, speaking of Zeus, says:

"Far-seeing Zeus takes away half the understanding of men whom the day of slavery subdues." [This is from the Odyssey --Grim]

Different persons have got these two different notions of slaves in their minds-some of them utterly distrust their servants, and, as if they were wild beasts, chastise them with goads and whips, and make their souls three times, or rather many times, as slavish as they were before;-and others do just the opposite.... man is a troublesome animal, and therefore he is not very manageable, nor likely to become so, when you attempt to introduce the necessary division, slave, and freeman, and master.

Cle. That is obvious.

Ath. He is a troublesome piece of goods, as has been often shown by the frequent revolts of the Messenians, and the great mischiefs which happen in states having many slaves who speak the same language, and the numerous robberies and lawless life of the Italian banditti, as they are called. A man who considers all this is fairly at a loss. Two remedies alone remain to us-not to have the slaves of the same country, nor if possible, speaking the same language; in this way they will more easily be held in subjection: secondly, we should tend them carefully, not only out of regard to them, but yet more out of respect to ourselves. And the right treatment of slaves is to behave properly to them, and to do to them, if possible, even more justice than to those who are our equals; for he who naturally and genuinely reverences justice, and hates injustice, is discovered in his dealings with any class of men to whom he can easily be unjust. And he who in regard to the natures and actions of his slaves is undefiled by impiety and injustice, will best sow the seeds of virtue in them; and this may be truly said of every master, and tyrant, and of every other having authority in relation to his inferiors. Slaves ought to be punished as they deserve, and not admonished as if they were freemen, which will only make them conceited. The language used to a servant ought always to be that of a command, and we ought not to jest with them, whether they are males or females-this is a foolish way which many people have of setting up their slaves, and making the life of servitude more disagreeable both for them and for their masters.

Ancient Greek slavery as depicted in Homer was especially of women, as was common throughout the ancient and medieval world. Women were skilled at textile production, weaving and dyeing, and this produced highly valuable and portable trade goods. Women were also generally less likely to revolt successfully and kill their masters; and so, when Troy falls to the Achaeans, like usual they kill all the men and older boys, and enslave all the women and girls. 

Yet the Helots are a major exception, which gets mentioned in this passage here. Perhaps the whole of Sparta's famous warlike nature arises from the Spartans' domination of a whole population of people called the Helots. Because they ruled over this whole tribe of people as lords over slaves, Spartans were constantly afraid of revolt and murder, and thus they organized their whole society to be eternally prepared for war in the ways that have made them so famous even today. 

The banditti of Italy, also mentioned, are escaped slaves who wage war against their former masters (and anyone else, perhaps feeling that it is only just for them to enslave others as they were once themselves enslaved). 

So there are big problems with slavery, and two basic approaches to dealing with it that the Athenian proposes. One is to keep the slaves divided, as by not keeping a lot of one tribe of people together -- better still if they can't speak to each other, because they are from different nations with different languages. Yet even then you have to recognize that attempting domination with the lash only multiplies your difficulties as a master:  the slaves get worse, more dangerous, more distant from you the more force you use to compel their obedience.

The second approach, then, is to adopt a moral view of slavery:  "... to do to them, if possible, even more justice than to those who are our equals; for he who naturally and genuinely reverences justice, and hates injustice, is discovered in his dealings with any class of men to whom he can easily be unjust."

This basic moral principle applies, as he notes, to all other power relations. This raises an interesting question, though, which I will leave open in the hope of encouraging debate.  Can you "be even more just" to someone you keep as a slave?  More broadly, and thus more importantly, how can you be 'even more just' to someone while exercising power over them?  

There's another problem: on Plato's model, what is supposed to justify exercising power is possession of virtue. At least some slaves are noted in the passage as being more virtuous than their masters (this made me think of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, where Pompey is not a slave but is a servant who adopts slave-like behaviors, yet is clearly the moral superior to the Wayne character and is completely and wisely trusted by him). This model clearly is only realizable in the case where some sort of justice, and not the lash, is used by the master; yet it still seems as if even this best model of slavery represents an inversion of Plato's moral ideal that power justly resides with virtue. 

So with that I will leave it open.

On Violence and Today

Donald Trump, a buffoon who stumbled into the Presidency and nevertheless did much more good there than I might have expected, was unwise to call for today's march. Having tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands -- of angry people outside Congress while they counted the Electoral College votes was bound to result in an attempted incursion. The failure of the police and the military to take this seriously is almost unaccountable, but the President should have known it would happen too. It was wrong to call for such a thing unless he was intending to lead it in an actual revolutionary attempt to overthrow and replace the government.

This is a moral claim presented as a material conditional. I believe that no true son of the American revolution can ever reject political violence per se. How could you vote for a successor of George Washington, who crossed the Delaware and killed sleeping soldiers on Christmas morning? How could you honor the Founders at all, or what they built? Revolutionary violence is at least sometimes called for in human history, and when it is, it is. 

What is never called for is endangering lives when you don't mean to follow-through. Trump was just attempting some political theater, the obvious consequences of which he didn't bother to understand. The military I criticize in the post below for failing to do the obvious thing too. The DC police apparently opened the barricades and let the mob though. 

After a year of watching mobs storm police stations and Federal buildings, or attempt to set them on fire (often with police inside!), it should have been obvious that this was going to happen. Apparently almost no steps were taken to prevent it.

Now we will be told, in the interest of unity and calming the waters, that we should give up all our grievances and admit that there was no truth in them. There was, though.

The elections really were illegitimate and stolen, and it really has been proven: Pennsylvania blatantly violated its state constitution. Wisconsin violated its laws. Georgia violated its laws both in the 3 November election and again in the run up to yesterday's.  For example, Georgia allowed Stacey Abrams to continue to register new voters even though Georgia law specifically forbids voting in a runoff if you didn't vote in the general. 

There still remain important matters that haven't been proven in court, such as the ballots-in-suitcases that were pulled out in Fulton County after the poll watchers and media were dismissed from the building, then counted for hours. Even if every one of those turned out to have an innocent explanation, though, it's clear that this election was illegally conducted in ways designed to give Democrats an advantage.

That being true, it is right and proper to say that it is true. The fact that there are weak-minded people out there who might engage in bad actions if they get excited doesn't excuse us from the duty to speak the truth. This is especially binding when we are speaking a truth that those in power would very much like suppressed. Right now the whole of the media and the Democratic party -- which is about to assume all three elected parts of the government, having promised to pack the fourth one to their satisfaction -- wants you to quietly pretend that they won fair and square.

They would also like you to be ashamed to have been associated with any of this, so you won't push back on what they do with their newfound power. 'Wouldn't that be giving encouragement to crazies, like your friend in the buffalo hat and Viking tattoos? You shouldn't encourage them. We won fair and square. Say it again. Everything we're doing is legitimate and justified, because we won fairly and you are bad people.' 

We do have to decide on basic question of what is to be done. Elise asks, in one of the Plato posts below, what we do if the government falls into wickedness and also there is nowhere else to go. That's a good question. There's nowhere else to go.

Does that justify revolution? Maybe. At this point, I'm inclined to be stoic in the literal sense -- to return to philosophy, accept what can't be changed, and to hope that the Biden crew of Establishmentarians won't get too crazy. I'm going to try, in other words, to obey the constitutional order and do what a citizen ought to do. 

That said, I absolutely do embrace political violence on those occasions in human history when it is truly called for and necessary. I do not reject it as an option. I just intend to try to live peacefully, and see if that works. Even the mighty Declaration of Independence says:

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

So we'll try that first.

"The Chinese Vision of Freedom"

The entire democracy movement of Hong Kong was just arrested; I imagine they have a different 'vision of freedom' than this author, and they're Chinese too.

Half of this article's claims require taking official statistics from Beijing as if they were plausibly related to the truth; the other half is an argument that we should give up our ideas of freedom in favor of the PRC's. Tell it to the Uighur, or the Tibetans, or the Taiwanese. 

The Blue Flu

Military more than political, really. 

I had read that the DC guard was going to be deployed today. If I were handling the deployment, I would have put them around the Capitol as the OBVIOUS place that would be in danger, since that's where the Electoral College votes were being counted today. The only way even a very large protest could have disrupted that would be to penetrate the building; so, job one would be to prevent that from happening.

Turns out the Pentagon "rejected the request" from the civilian government to secure their own national capitol against an obvious risk at a critical moment.  Just like the police who have been letting rioters carry on nationwide, the military decided it didn't want the bad press of having to enforce order against political protests that spin into violence.

National Guard units are activating now, at the President's order, to enforce the mayor's 6 PM curfew which could have been avoided if everyone had done their job in the first place. The Capitol should never have been left unsecured today.

This failure of professionalism and discipline by our officers' corps will have profound and negative consequences. 

A Brief Political Post

Vice President Mike Pence, ex officio President of the Senate, has decided not to use any powers to choose alternative slates of electors. As the link notes, Pence is wrong about the history here; both John Adams and especially Thomas Jefferson used exactly the power he is disavowing. 

Nevertheless, the matter is decided. Even under the understanding that the President of the Senate could choose which slate to prefer, Mike Pence has made his choice. He is the constitutional officer assigned with the duty, and he has decided what that duty entails. No one else has the right to gainsay this decision, including any of us.

As such, the electoral college results will -- after some Congressional theater -- produce a Biden presidency. Regardless of whether the popular elections that selected the electors were constitutional, legal, or fraudulent, the electors have sent their votes and the President of the Senate will accept them. Congress will count them, and Biden will win. There will be no legally legitimate grounds for further contests. 

Vice President Pence has acted according to his own best judgment, in the most consequential decision of his tenure. He has the right and power to make this decision, and so the matter is settled.

Plato's Laws VI, 3

Of the modification of the laws over time, the Athenian admits its necessity but is clearly greatly bothered by it. In fact, he can barely bring himself to speak of it; almost the whole section that is supposed to be about letting future generations alter the laws turns out to be a long discourse on the importance of good courtship and marriage rituals. 

The initial argument for accepting that modification should be permitted is a metaphor, or analogy, to a painter who wishes not just to perfect a painting but to keep it looking good through the ages.

Ath. Suppose that some one had a mind to paint a figure in the most beautiful manner, in the hope that his work instead of losing would always improve as time went on-do you not see that being a mortal, unless he leaves some one to succeed him who will correct the flaws which time may introduce, and be able to add what is left imperfect through the defect of the artist, and who will further brighten up and improve the picture, all his great labour will last but a short time?

Cle. True.

Ath. And is not the aim of the legislator similar? First, he desires that his laws should be written down with all possible exactness; in the second place, as time goes on and he has made an actual trial of his decrees, will he not find omissions? Do you imagine that there ever was a legislator so foolish as not to know that many things are necessarily omitted, which some one coming after him must correct, if the constitution and the order of government is not to deteriorate, but to improve in the state which he has established?

Cle. Assuredly, that is the sort of thing which every one would desire...

Ath. As we are about to legislate and have chosen our guardians of the law, and are ourselves in the evening of life, and they as compared with us are young men, we ought not only to legislate for them, but to endeavour to make them not only guardians of the law but legislators themselves, as far as this is possible.

So they agree that the young must be taught to be guardians of the law, and the Athenian proposes a speech to try to convince the young of the importance of doing this. Yet almost at once he begins talking about marriage: how to structure society so that there is proper interaction between families, so that potential brides will be known to families into which they might marry; the importance of games and sports and dances for the youth, where they will get to know one another (including, he states, in various 'states of undress appropriate to the sport, such as modesty allows). There is a restatement of the rule that all men must be married by thirty-five, or else pay various fines and penalties; and of the bar on dowries, which is relaxed a bit (especially for the rich) provided that even more fines are paid. 

The Athenian proposes here an explicitly anti-eugenic arrangement, whereby the rich must marry the poor and the intelligent must marry the "slow." He argues that "[e]very man shall follow, not after the marriage which is most pleasing to himself, but after that which is most beneficial to the state." That principle is from the Republic, but the mode of marriage being proposed in the Laws is the exact opposite of the Republic's model. 

Presumably this is of the utmost importance in the Athenian's mind toward ensuring that there is a well-settled, disciplined population into which the adjustment of the laws might be trusted. The segue is not clearly justified, so it must be a thought that follows so naturally in the Athenian's mind -- and perhaps in Plato's, though it is important to keep their identities separate given Plato's love of irony -- that he doesn't see why anyone would need a justification for what seems to me like a significant departure. Indeed, he not only does not justify the departure, he returns to the subject for a single (rather lengthy) sentence, and then immediately dives back into marriage. 

In any case, right in the middle of this discussion of marriage he does eventually tell us what he thinks the process for amending the laws should be. It should be a ten year apprenticeship, with the original legislator working with a younger man to adjust the laws of the colony as they find the need. Once that ten years is past, the laws should be fixed in a permanent form. No adjustments should be possible except with the unanimous consent of many different people:

Ath. A ten years experience of sacrifices and dances, if extending to all particulars, will be quite sufficient; and if the legislator be alive they shall communicate with him, but if he be dead then the several officers shall refer the omissions which come under their notice to the guardians of the law, and correct them, until all is perfect; and from that time there shall be no more change, and they shall establish and use the new laws with the others which the legislator originally gave them, and of which they are never, if they can help, to change aught; or, if some necessity overtakes them, the magistrates must be called into counsel, and the whole people, and they must go to all the oracles of the Gods; and if they are all agreed, in that case they may make the change, but if they are not agreed, by no manner of means, and any one who dissents shall prevail, as the law ordains.

Now this is a city of 5,040 households, which is perhaps the size of a small town. Has anyone been to a town council where there was no dissenter on any public question of importance? 

A similar regulation affects NATO, by the way; it was brought into being in spite of significant distrust among its member states, and consequently it cannot act nor change any of its regulations except by the consent of all members. That gives each state a great deal of confidence that the alliance will not be turned into an oppressive system: every state can object to any decision, and any such objection shall rule. 

NATO was nevertheless highly functional for decades, and won the Cold War, and even today it manages joint actions in various places. Turkey's drift towards China and Iran (and Russia) suggests that the alliance may no longer be capable of achieving its original major project, though fortunately Russia is less threatening than was the USSR. 

So perhaps there is something to be said for this suggestion, since it seems to remove much of the danger of tyranny. You will have known the laws when you joined the colony, and if you get through the ten years without having reason to object to them (in which case exile or outlawry is the path of the good man), you will gain a household veto on any new laws. It will be hard to change the laws yourself, should you wish to do so, but in return you gain a measure of stability and confidence that the government will not be turned against you (as the NATO members feared the alliance might be). 

On the other hand, the system is highly non-adaptable. Our own constitution would probably not have survived a similar process, even if every state rather than every household were given the veto.  In fact the only one of our amendments to occur in the first ten years was the 11th (the Bill of Rights having been passed at the same time). 

Back on the first hand, however, Plato's colony is not intended as an expansionist project. The big compromises of the first decades of the United States were over expansion as it changed the balance of power between the states. Aside from that, the 13-15th amendments were products of the war that was sparked in part because of the changes in the balance of power brought about by the introduction of new states, slave or free; and the 17th-21st were reactions to mass immigration, chiefly, which Plato's colony would forbid. (The 19th would presumably not have been necessary in any case, given Plato's view of equality for women.) The 16th we'd have been better off without; the 22nd was really just a restatement of a traditional principle that FDR chose to violate; the others are mostly small adjustments. If the United States had remained in its original form, perhaps many of the changes that followed later would not have been needed.

Of course, it is not merely constitutional amendments that Plato's colony would enact only by unanimous consent, but any sort of changes to the law. The largest and most obvious objection is that this might have prevented us from abolishing slavery; by coincidence, slavery is the subject of the next and last part of my commentary on this book.


Flyboys, 2006, after a pilot complains about a German pilot who killed a bailed-out pilot unlawfully:

Captain Thenault: "Reports can be filed. But you want "justice"? *You're* the man in the air. *You're* the man with the *gun*!"

Apropos of nothing. Just an old movie quote that happened to come to mind.  

Cool if it works

SpaceX is trying to move toward more reusable rockets. The next step is to snag the returning rocket with a launch arm, which would save having to add "bulky legs" to the cylinder. Watching SpaceX videos is starting to be a lot of fun.

Plato's Laws VI, 2

These next two days are potentially momentous, politically; but few of us are in a position to have even an indirect effect on the outcome. Thus, I shall try to studiously ignore the matters of the moment in favor of the more important matters of the eternal. Let's return to Plato's Laws, Book VI.

While I am going to continue to ignore the discussion of particular offices, e.g. how judges and magistrates should be distinguished, I do want to note in passing the truth of something Plato has to say about the officer in charge of education.

Ath. There remains the minister of the education of youth, male and female; he too will rule according to law; one such minister will be sufficient, and he must be fifty years old, and have children lawfully begotten, both boys and girls by preference, at any rate, one or the other. He who is elected, and he who is the elector, should consider that of all the great offices of state, this is the greatest; for the first shoot of any plant, if it makes a good start towards the attainment of its natural excellence, has the greatest effect on its maturity; and this is not only true of plants, but of animals wild and tame, and also of men. Man, as we say, is a tame or civilized animal; nevertheless, he requires proper instruction and a fortunate nature, and then of all animals he becomes the most divine and most civilized; but if he be insufficiently or ill educated he is the most savage of earthly creatures. Wherefore the legislator ought not to allow the education of children to become a secondary or accidental matter. 

The idea that children must be properly trained less the advantages of civilization be lost to the worst kinds of savagery is an important one. This is, as he says, in some ways the first business of a society. If it fails in this, as we appear to be doing in spite of sending more children to more years of education than ever before, there is a great peril of failing in everything. 

That dire point aside, note Plato's interest in ensuring that the girls and boys are both considered in education. It's not just that he mentions "youth male and female," but that his ideal officer will be someone who has successfully raised both sons and daughters. (I would not qualify, both because I'm not quite old enough and because I've only raised a son.) 

Plato has the Athenian restate this view of equality in his discussion of the final purpose of life and of the state:

Ath. There was one main point about which we were agreed-that a man's whole energies throughout life should be devoted to the acquisition of the virtue proper to a man, whether this was to be gained by study, or habit, or some mode of acquisition, or desire, or opinion, or knowledge-and this applies equally to men and women, old and young-the aim of all should always be such as I have described; anything which may be an impediment, the good man ought to show that he utterly disregards.

It is not merely that women are capable of some virtues, and should be encouraged to develop the ones that they can; but that, exactly like men, the whole business of their lives should be the inculcation of virtue. Courage, temperance, justice, all these things are just as important for women as men. 

This is familiar ground for readers of the Republic, but it's even more strongly stated in the Laws. In the Republic, Socrates defends merely the proposition that highly capable women should be admitted to the Guardian or Auxiliary classes, 'though it is hardly to be expected that they are going to be the equals of the men in those classes.' The view of the Republic is eugenic, in that the hope is that the classes will breed true, although some measures are taken to push failures back into the lower classes. The Laws view is not: all citizens, male and female, are to be educated and taught to strive for virtue to the best of their ability. 

This last passage is immediately followed by a remark, perhaps important to us today, about what is to be done if the civilization ultimately fails and falls into vice.

Ath. And if at last necessity plainly compels him to be an outlaw from his native land, rather than bow his neck to the yoke of slavery and be ruled by inferiors, and he has to fly, an exile he must be and endure all such trials, rather than accept another form of government, which is likely to make men worse. 

Death before dishonor; become an outlaw before submitting to tyranny. This much I wholly endorse.

There are two more matters in this book before we finish with it that each deserve their own section. The first is the matter of leaving the legislative power to future generations, so they may correct flaws while hopefully not undermining the original project. The second is a discussion of slavery, which even this idealized ancient society did not imagine it could avoid. 

Thank you, Mr. Nunes

A good summary of a disgraceful episode.

A Band Like This

It's been a tough year, but this guy's was at least as bad as yours.

I hope so, anyway.

Tempora, Mores

This is quite a development.

This means that in my lifetime we will have gone from a nation that could be scandalized by a President giving an interview to Playboy to a nation incapable of being scandalized by a President plagiarizing from Playboy.

Well, she'll be President the day after tomorrow, so to speak. Unless Trump's people pull off a miracle, and then win the war they'd start if they did. The point isn't about her, though, it's about us.  

Authority and Legitimacy

D29 links an essay with an interesting conception of what the terms "authority" and "legitimacy" mean. It's a little idiosyncratic, but it's a plausible frame for thinking about the problems Plato's Athenian has been encountering. (The essay, and its predecessor, are also worth reading in their own right; at least for those who accept that the recent election, characterized by outright violations of law and state constitutions, which were then blessed by all the courts, represents an effective end to constitutional government. However, I am here interested in the philosophy, not the politics.)

So here is how he defines his concepts:

I'll try to be more explicit about what I mean by the terms 'authority' and 'legitimacy'. Authority derives from the degree that a regime reflects the truth of human nature. Legitimacy refers to the degree that a regime reflects the views of the population it purports to represent. A bit of reflection will suggest that a given regime may be legitimate, yet lack authority--and vice versa, unfortunately. In an imperfect world, authority and legitimacy will normally be imperfect, as well. However, I take it as given that the regime established by our written Constitution had sufficient authority and legitimacy to command the consent of the population.

Arguably those are exactly the problems the Athenian is wrestling with in the last two books of the Laws. On the one hand, he needs a state that has legitimacy in this sense: the people who live under it will continue to consent to be governed by it. He takes it as read that some sort of equality is necessary to maintaining this legitimacy. So, in Book V, he proposes several approaches to ensuring this legitimacy, e.g., the complete equality of common ownership of everything, or the proportionate equality of his more complex system of tiered wealth.

Book V falters on the ground of human nature, though: the first approach is one no one will endure, anywhere at any time. The second is also one that is going to break up on the rocks of human nature, including the ordinary human activities of reproduction, economic activity, etc. These states can't exercise authority on these terms, which means that whatever legitimacy is gained is insufficient. 

Book VI has the Athenian turn to an important point of human nature, which is inequality: specifically the inequality of virtue, which enables only some to be trustworthy with powerful political offices. He has an elaborate system, again, designed to try to ensure that only the best people gain power and exercise it well:  that is, a system of authority that one could trust. 

The problem here proves then to be legitimacy: human beings will not accept that they are unworthy of equality of power, and will revolt against a scheme that sets out to rule them without giving them a share. The Athenian proposes accepting some schema that will allow the less-worthy to participate in government offices, but proposes that it needs to be minimized because it's terribly dangerous and destructive to give power to the vicious. 

So whether or not you think these essays describe our current conditions well, I think it's very helpful for trying to see the problems Plato is teasing out. Feel free to reference it in our discussions of the Laws.


It’s more rhetoric than prayer, I guess. 


Some clever rejoinders:

"How will the churches know which are the hymns and which are the hers?"

"Joe Biden to call for national mask mandate and womandate."

Add any more you find in the comments.