Saturday Music

Had a good ride today, abbreviated by the rising storms of afternoon. By early evening the storms on the mountain were epic. It reminded me of the stories of wizards or martial arts masters who lived high on storm-shrouded mountains. 

Dragging pegs through the mountains on a fast motorcycle is as good as it gets short of war. It’s better yet if your woman is with you, as my wife was today  

Top Terror Threats


Make Orwell Fiction Again

The Alternative to Police

Regarding an Atlanta shooting last year...

Today a Fulton County grand jury indicted two men involved in the shooting. According to prosecutors, both men were members of the Bloods gang and were manning the roadblock where Turner was shot because Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by a police officer in the nearby Wendy’s parking lot, was also a member of the Bloods gang....

“There are many more who will never be criminally indicted but should be indicted for their allowing a situation like this to happen in the city of Atlanta,” attorney Mawuli Davis said Friday. “We’re clearer now than we’ve ever been that this was absolutely preventable and did not have to happen but for the city surrendering a block, a neighborhood, to what has now been described as a gang.”

It could have been a well-regulated militia of responsible citizens, but the government seems hostile to that idea and tries to prevent volunteer civil defense organizations from operating. Or it could have been professional police, but I hear the idea is to defund those and eliminate them from these neighborhoods. 

The world is what it is. Somebody is going to be keeping order with guns. If you don't like the cops, you can have the community. If you don't trust the community and you don't trust the cops, you suppress both; but you're going to end up with gangsters instead. Maybe you like your local gang, and you think they're a better option. Maybe they are. 

Better be sure.


The Taliban are staging a very rapid reconquista of Afghanistan, apparently taking our intelligence and military experts by complete surprise in spite of 20 years of investments in knowing what is going on in that country. They're capturing major amounts of war materiel we have apparently left behind for them (probably they can't long maintain the Blackhawks and MRAPs, even if they can operate them;  hopefully they'll find good use for the small arms supporting the righteous cause of their brother Muslim Uighurs). 

It's bad enough that we spent 20 years training an Afghan army that fell apart at the first touch. It's worse that we had absolutely no idea of how strong the Taliban was even at the last. There was no successful infiltration by these intelligence agencies with the infinite black budgets, no visibility on what they were capable of doing. 

The real lesson is that our institutions have failed. The military never lost a gunfight above the squad level, but they never came close to attaining the conditions for winning the war -- or even understanding what was possible in a place like Afghanistan. The intelligence services are complete failures. The brass should be cashiered, almost across the board; the intelligence community disbanded and replaced. 

But so too so many of our institutions, which are ossified and immobile, helpless and beyond reform. This includes the institutions that would be tasked with reform, such as Congress. 

The Soviet Union did not long survive its adventure in Afghanistan; it may well be that the US Federal Government will not either. Afghanistan itself was too far away to wound us, though it bled us of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Yet the rot it reveals in our institutions looms like a sudden terminal diagnosis in the life of a man. 

Massive IQ Drop in Children

It’s just one study, for now, but 15-22 points is huge. 

Strange swings in confidence

 I've seen this chart before, but not showing differences between Americans and Brits.  It's odd enough that the confidence levels should be so consistently different between the two populations, but what's even weirder is--there are people who think they could survive a fight to the death with a grizzly bear, etc., unarmed?  And there are people who think they couldn't beat a cat or a rat unarmed?

Don't we all feel like we live in a Dilbert cartoon?

A good interview with Elon Musk, including an anecdote about optimizing processes that really should have been eliminated in the first place:
"[T]here were these fiberglass mats atop the [Tesla] Model 3 battery pack that were in between the floor pan and the battery. And it was the one point choking the battery pack production line. . . .
“I tried to fix the automation, like, make the robot better, make it move faster, shorter path, increase the torque, delete the reverse 720 degrees on the bolt cause that’s unnecessary. Go forward fast, not at a 20% rate but at a 100% rate. And instead of spackling glue on the entire battery pack, just put little dabs of glue because the fiberglass mats are sandwiched between the battery pack and the floor pan anyways so all you need is something to hold it in place until you bolt the battery pack into the car.”
And after doing all of this work on automation and acceleration and simplifying Musk finally wondered what the purpose of the mats was in the first place.
“I asked the battery safety team . . . . I said ‘Are they for fire protection?’ And they said ‘No, these are for noise and vibration.’ . . . Then I asked the . . . noise vibration harshness team ‘What’s it for?’ and they said fire safety.”
“So, literally, it was like being in a Dilbert cartoon, okay,” Musk said. He added, “Actually, I feel like I’m in a Dilbert cartoon quite frequently.”
. . . [T]hey put microphones in two cars, one with the mat and one without and found no one could tell the difference. So after all of that, they deleted the mats “and just bypassed this $2 million robot cell that was a complete pile of nonsense.”

That Should Do It

Cases up, deaths down

From Issues and Insights:
It's getting rare to find reporting that focuses on hospitalizations and deaths instead of whatever they mean these days by "case counts," but it's out there if you hunt hard enough. Bloomberg started carrying daily updated charts many months ago. I check them often to compare the 7-day-average "case" trends against the "death" trends: big uptick in cases, small impact in deaths.

On the other hand, in just the last couple of months I've learned of two friends-of-friends in their 60s or 70s who died of COVID: both were unvaccinated, and neither pursued monoclonal antibody treatments. I don't get it. Texas Governor Abbott just announced this week that he was opening a number of outpatient antibody infusion clinics, but no one I talk to seems to have heard of the treatment at all, though it's FDA-approved and seems to work brilliantly. There's a nearly complete press blackout on the subject. It has to be administered fairly early; you can't wait until you're in dire straits and hospitalized.

West's Founding IX: Moral Laws

We are reaching the heart of what interested me about this book: the refutation of many scholars, whose work has influenced my own understanding, who held that the Founders had not meant for the government to morally shape individuals as a matter of respect for individual liberty. West is going after some big players here, including Gordon Wood, Alan Gibson, Harvey Mansfield, and Peter Onuf; he is also partly rejecting Thomas Pangle, Jean Yarbrough, and even Leo Strauss (to whom he is obviously philosophically aligned to some degree, but whose arguments he finds flaws with on several occasions). 

West is doing it right, too: not offering a different interpretation, but offering new textual evidence that seems clear-cut on the point. It is possible that he is leaving things out; for example, at one point he offers an argument that the Founders often aimed at a generalized Christianity, but he doesn't mention Jefferson's well-known kind words about Islam. Now, those words were more foreign policy and diplomacy than anything else, and there is more to the story. Still, the fact that it goes unmentioned makes me wonder what else he has omitted that might not fit his vision.

The silence proves nothing, however; his actual inclusions are very impressive. 

One of them has limits he is up-front about. He quotes John Locke on the 'four kinds of moral law,' and notes that there is no evidence he knows of that the Founders used this concept (though some of them read the book in which it is mentioned). (188-9) Rather, West says, he is bringing it up to give us a framework for considering how the Founders' actions can be interpreted. Locke is himself following Aquinas' tradition for the most part, which West doesn't mention at all. 

Locke's four laws are: 

1) Divine Revelation ("Eternal Law" for Aquinas)
2) Natural Law ("Natural Law" for Aquinas)
3) Civil Law ("Human Law" for Aquinas)
4) "The law of fashion and private censure" (This is not a kind of law for Aquinas, but rather the domain of honor and shame)

For the first, he has citations even from Jefferson that a foundation on the divine is the only firm foundation for the defense of liberty. (190-1). Divine law is known to us only by revelation, and reason cannot access it directly. 

Natural law is derived by reason from what is observed about Creation; to know God's works is to learn something about God and God's intentions. What reason can derive about the moral structure of the world is of the second water, but it is still higher than man-made civil law. Human-made laws that violate natural law are and ought to be void; as we have seen throughout, the Founders thought a system of civil law that violated natural rights ought to be overthrown. 

Civil law is the least interesting category. It should serve the natural law by spelling out consequences for violating the natural rights of others, and by offering non-violent ways of settling disputes ('torts,' for example). Here too is public education, which is supposed to shape and train the virtues in the hope of raising up citizens fit for a free society, its offices, and its duties. 

The fourth category is one that I wouldn't normally think of as being a sort of law, but West makes a good case that the Founders might have done. As he points out, the Founders used this a lot to try to shape moral society through praise, condemnation, celebratory speeches, funerary speeches, honors, shames, and so and and so forth. 

West is also good on the limits of Enlightenment thought in the view of the Founders. A lot of scholars view the Founding as an Enlightenment project. West shows that the Founders, though aware of the Enlightenment and interested in it, were also skeptical of how far pure reason could take you. He has good citations to Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington's Farewell Address. (198-200)

So, if the ultimate metaphysical ground for natural law is the divine law, ought government to promote religion? West argues that the Founders were strongly in favor of this almost across the board; he gives an argument that Washington thought the government should promote religion even if it were thought to be a false religion rather than to leave the common people without a divine warrant to encourage their practicing of good habits. (Confer with Aristotle's arguments, well known to readers of this page, that virtue is a kind of habituation of one's character through practice until excellence becomes habitual.)

West concludes that the Founders were open to government promoting religion, and less open to government supporting a particular religion. They defended free exercise, but did not defend the idea that all religions were equally deserving of support from the government. As Tom noted in the comments below, states did in fact have state religions at and after the Founding. West argues that, at the Federal level, there were three basic approaches to what ought to be done:

1) A specific Protestant denomination;
2) "[W]hat Adams called 'the general principles of Christianity'"
3) "[T]he God of Liberty who endows all men with inalienable rights, who is identified neither as biblical nor anti-biblical." (212)

Perhaps other approaches are possible, but that is what he thinks the Founders did.

The chapter closes with some other clear-cut encouragements by the Founders in the direction of actively using government to develop citizen virtue. The strongest one is militia service, which is meant to inculcate courage but also the sense that the defense of the free state is a personal duty of every citizen. Jefferson thought we should all carry guns, and use them regularly:

"A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind... Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks." (216) Jefferson means here taking walks in the country, and shooting small game and birds-a-wing over land. There are too many people for that today, and too many cities, but it was common practice even among proto-environmentalists like Aldo Leopold in his A Sand County Almanac.

That also brings to my mind my favorite quote from Francis Parkman, one of America's great early naturists and educators. "For the student there is, in its season, no better place than the saddle, and no better companion than the rifle or the oar."

I am convinced, with only the reservation mentioned above, that the Founders were hugely interested in shaping American moral character in salutatory directions. They could adopt this without much fear because they had an idea of the good to which 'salutatory' pointed that was rooted in natural law. The great hazard of a similar movement today -- that 'health' would become aligned with the interests of the state and its powerful corporate bedmates -- was not present because of a robust, rooted philosophical tradition. 

Rogues in the House

The title of one of REH's Conan stories, and also this song by a band called Ironsword.

Aristotle On Shame

As regards a weekend discussion at AVI's, shame actually functions similarly to justice-as-lawfulness in Aristotle's ethics. Yet he is much less willing to assert that shame's encouragement of virtuous behavior is a kind of virtue than that justice-as-lawfulness is at least sort-of like virtue.
Shame should not be described as a virtue; for it is more like a feeling than a state of character. It is defined, at any rate, as a kind of fear of dishonour, and produces an effect similar to that produced by fear of danger; for people who feel disgraced blush, and those who fear death turn pale. Both, therefore, seem to be in a sense bodily conditions, which is thought to be characteristic of feeling rather than of a state of character.

The feeling is not becoming to every age, but only to youth. For we think young people should be prone to the feeling of shame because they live by feeling and therefore commit many errors, but are restrained by shame; and we praise young people who are prone to this feeling, but an older person no one would praise for being prone to the sense of disgrace, since we think he should not do anything that need cause this sense. For the sense of disgrace is not even characteristic of a good man, since it is consequent on bad actions (for such actions should not be done; and if some actions are disgraceful in very truth and others only according to common opinion, this makes no difference; for neither class of actions should be done, so that no disgrace should be felt); and it is a mark of a bad man even to be such as to do any disgraceful action. To be so constituted as to feel disgraced if one does such an action, and for this reason to think oneself good, is absurd; for it is for voluntary actions that shame is felt, and the good man will never voluntarily do bad actions. But shame may be said to be conditionally a good thing; if a good man does such actions, he will feel disgraced; but the virtues are not subject to such a qualification. And if shamelessness-not to be ashamed of doing base actions-is bad, that does not make it good to be ashamed of doing such actions. Continence too is not virtue, but a mixed sort of state; this will be shown later. Now, however, let us discuss justice.

In a way this is a strange conclusion, because justice-as-lawfulness is going to end up turning on either fear or shame: the coward is pushed to the front by law, but only because he fears being put to death for disobeying the law, or because he fears being shamed as a coward by his community. The law's requirement is a rational principle, though, whereas shame is merely an emotion -- one that might be rightly or wrongly felt.  

Even so, it is 'conditionally a good thing,' shame -- the condition being that it produces right action. Virtue is not good only conditionally, because it produces right action essentially.

Georgia Update

Ballots rejected by the machines were returned to election poll workers, who were allowed to alter them and then have them count. "In all, more than 5,000 of the 148,000 absentee ballots cast — or about 3% — in Georgia's largest county required some form of human intervention, according to logs obtained from Fulton County[,]"

The article notes that isn't enough to swing Georgia, which had a final margin of almost 13,000; but that's just one county, and it's just one mode of changing votes. (Recall, too, the Time Magazine 'Secret History of the 2020 Election' in which one of the things the self-described conspirators claimed to have done was to have recruited an "army" of poll workers on their side.)

West's Founding VIII: That the Founders Intended to Develop Public Morality

So we begin Part II of West's book, "The Moral Conditions of Freedom." This first chapter is devoted to simply proving, against a host of leading scholars, that the Founders took it to be part of the purpose of government to inculcate virtue among the citizens. West accomplishes this by quotations from founding documents and charters. 

He begins with three documents that focus on the education of the citizenry, including the 1785 charter for the University of Georgia (quoted here). "As it is the distinguishing happiness of free governments that civil order should be the result of choice and not necessity, and that the common wishes of the people become the laws of the land, their public prosperity and even existence very much depends upon suitably forming the minds and morals of their citizens. When the minds of people in general are viciously disposed and unprincipled and their conduct disorderly, a free government will be attended with greater confusions and with evils more horrid than the wild, uncultivated state of nature." (165-6)

Scholars have wrongly thought that 'liberty' and 'republicanism' -- or 'liberty' and 'virtue' -- were opposed to one another. The concept, as West reconstructs it through quotations to these scholars, is that liberty is about doing what you want; virtue is about doing what you ought (and republicanism, requiring virtue, ends up being a kind of freedom-that-binds-you, a paradox of sorts). Some go as far as suggesting that the Founders rejected, through their embrace of freedom of conscience, any notion that the government should try to train its citizenry towards virtue. 

Returning to the state constitutions and other foundational documents, West shows many clear examples that this conception is wrong. In addition to The Federalist, he gives the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights: "no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." (175) He finds similar language in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire; and similar language to the opening quote from Georgia in North Carolina and Massachusetts. 

Likewise above the state level, he has quotations from the 1776 resolution of the Continental Congress that the powers they were claiming were "for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order, as well as for the defense of their lives, liberties, and properties[.]" (176) That puts the defense of natural rights -- life, liberty, property -- in the last and perhaps fundamental place, but raises the preservation of 'virtue' as well as 'peace and good order' to near parity.

This should be no surprise, West suggests, given that the Founders equated moral law with the very natural law they were intending to enshrine. Jefferson is quoted on his foreign policy, which he describes as "the moral law of our nature" which is "the moral law to which man has been subjected by his creator," adding, "The moral duties which exist between individual and individual in a state of nature accompany him into a state of society[.]" (177) Hamilton also: "the established rules of morality and justice are applicable to nations as well as to individuals; that the former as well as the latter are bound to keep their promises, to fulfill their engagements, to respect the rights of property..." is natural law, and also the moral law. (178)

Private virtue is not enough, given that not all are equally capable of virtue nor inclined to it; and so, moral institutions are required. (181-3). In this, West says, they are in agreement with "philosophers both ancient and modern." (184) He quotes a scholar who mentions Aristotle by name, but cites a different section than the one that occurs to me, to whit, Aristotle on the function of law with respect to justice:

Since the lawless man was seen to be unjust and the law-abiding man just, evidently all lawful acts are in a sense just acts; for the acts laid down by the legislative art are lawful, and each of these, we say, is just. Now the laws in their enactments on all subjects aim at the common advantage either of all or of the best or of those who hold power, or something of the sort; so that in one sense we call those acts just that tend to produce and preserve happiness and its components for the political society. And the law bids us do both the acts of a brave man (e.g. not to desert our post nor take to flight nor throw away our arms), and those of a temperate man (e.g. not to commit adultery nor to gratify one's lust), and those of a good-tempered man (e.g. not to strike another nor to speak evil), and similarly with regard to the other virtues and forms of wickedness, commanding some acts and forbidding others; and the rightly-framed law does this rightly, and the hastily conceived one less well. This form of justice, then, is complete virtue, but not absolutely, but in relation to our neighbour.... What the difference is between virtue and justice in this sense is plain from what we have said; they are the same but their essence is not the same[.]

What Aristotle means here is that the law should compel everyone to act as if they were virtuous. Thus, the coward will be enjoined to act as if he were brave, and punished if he does otherwise; the temperate and the intemperate will be required to act temperately, etc. This means that justice (i.e. lawfulness) and virtue are the same in terms of the conduct they produce, but not the same in essence: the virtuous man does it because he is virtuous, without compulsion, and thus is better than the lawful. 

West notes an important difference in that the Founders separated public virtue from private virtue, leaving a great deal more leeway in private life. Not complete leeway, as he points out: even religious liberty is not unlimited in these charters, which say that it cannot excuse 'licentiousness.' (175-6, 180) Yet I believe he has successfully shown that the Founders thought of encouraging the virtues necessary for citizenship as a task that government and especially its educational systems both should and must undertake. 

UPDATE: West doesn’t mention him, but the want/ought discussion of liberty and virtue is also present in fellow Enlightenment thinker Immanuel Kant. For Kant, what proves that a rational being is free and not driven like an animal by base desire is his ability to choose what he ought instead of what he wants. Even metaphysically freedom is proven by doing the virtuous thing instead of the desirable thing.