Enchiridion XXVI


The will of nature may be learned from things upon which we are all agreed. As when our neighbor’s boy has broken a cup, or the like, we are ready at once to say, “These are casualties that will happen”; be assured, then, that when your own cup is likewise broken, you ought to be affected just as when another’s cup was broken. Now apply this to greater things. Is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say, “This is an accident of mortality.” But if anyone’s own child happens to die, it is immediately, “Alas! how wretched am I!” It should be always remembered how we are affected on hearing the same thing concerning others.

Can anyone be so rational or detached about a beloved child? Ought one to be? Even Job tore his garments and shaved his head in mourning over his children, and was said to be blameless for 'he did not charge God with wrongdoing.' Epictetus wants us also not to charge the divine with wrongdoing, and simply to accept it as one of the random things that happens in this world. Which, of course, it is. 

Enchiridion XXV

Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in courtesies, or in confidential intercourse? If these things are good, you ought to rejoice that he has them; and if they are evil, do not be grieved that you have them not. And remember that you cannot be permitted to rival others in externals without using the same means to obtain them. For how can he who will not haunt the door of any man, will not attend him, will not praise him, have an equal share with him who does these things? You are unjust, then, and unreasonable if you are unwilling to pay the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for nothing. For how much are lettuces sold? An obulus, for instance. If another, then, paying an obulus, takes the lettuces, and you, not paying it, go without them, do not imagine that he has gained any advantage over you. For as he has the lettuces, so you have the obulus which you did not give. So, in the present case, you have not been invited to such a person’s entertainment because you have not paid him the price for which a supper is sold. It is sold for praise; it is sold for attendance. Give him, then, the value if it be for your advantage. But if you would at the same time not pay the one, and yet receive the other, you are unreasonable and foolish. Have you nothing, then, in place of the supper? Yes, indeed, you have—not to praise him whom you do not like to praise; not to bear the insolence of his lackeys.

The analogue here is Diogenes, whom Plato reportedly called “Socrates gone mad.” 

“A philosopher named Aristippus, who had quite willingly sucked up to Dionysus and won himself a spot at his court, saw Diogenes cooking lentils for a meal. “If you would only learn to compliment Dionysus, you wouldn’t have to live on lentils.” Diogenes replied, “But if you would only learn to live on lentils, you wouldn’t have to flatter Dionysus.”

CDL Proximity Metric

A few years ago, reporters were incensed when they were asked whether they or someone they knew owned a pickup truck -- the Ford F-150 being the most popular line of vehicles in America for decades, and the next two most popular also being pickup trucks. None of the reporters knew anyone with a truck.

In the wake of the Convoy for Freedom, another metric has been proposed: "How far out in your immediate social circle do you need to go to find someone who can legally operate a dump truck?"

I myself own a Ford F-150, so I am zero steps removed in the first metric. I am not too much farther in the second one. I can myself drive a fire truck, which in North Carolina is legal for volunteers without a CDL provided they take an annual weekend certification course. Professional firefighters require a CDL. Since several of my friends are professional firefighters -- the county has a few slots for them, in addition to the volunteers -- the distance is one.

Back in Georgia my next-door neighbor was a big rig driver. He retired after being hijacked and shot, though he managed to wreck the truck to prevent it being stolen (and to allow the police to capture his hijacker). It's a hard job under the best of circumstances, and can be dangerous as well. 

Brilliant Analysis

Nobody believes China's pandemic numbers are remotely accurate: they are clearly lying. As part of its coverage of the Olympics -- which we should be refusing to participate in, both because of the ongoing genocide and slave labor in China and also because we cannot protect our citizens who travel there, as even Nancy Pelosi admits -- the NYT decided to entertain those numbers.

Headline: "Good morning. China’s zero-Covid policy has kept deaths very low. Can it continue?"

Has it, though? Refer to the graph at the first link.

The NYT admits that there is widespread disbelief: "Even if China’s official numbers are artificially low, its true Covid death toll is almost certainly much lower than that of the U.S., Europe or many other countries. Consider how enormous the official gap is."

That is an astonishing bit of reasoning. "Even if they're lying, look how BIG the lie would have to be. They can't be lying THAT much."

I mean, they could be. Their lies over the Great Leap Forward leave us guessing, even today, as to whether only 30 million people died or as many as 60 million people did. They control the state media and have threatened the foreign media on the ground very effectively, while purchasing influence with their parent companies. There's no reason to believe their numbers are remotely accurate, especially since they are also implausible. They're claiming to be doing fifty times as well as Japan, for example, a nation of similar population density and social cohesion but higher technology and far better sanitation. 

UPDATE: The PRC apparently chose to open the games with a synchronized display of smiling and waving Uyghurs, whose families are under threat at home to ensure their cooperation. It is raw, totalitarian propaganda. 

Another Western Interlude

Enchiridion XXIV


Let not such considerations as these distress you: “I shall live in discredit and be nobody anywhere.” For if discredit be an evil, you can no more be involved in evil through another than in baseness. Is it any business of yours, then, to get power or to be admitted to an entertainment? By no means. How then, after all, is this discredit? And how it is true that you will be nobody anywhere when you ought to be somebody in those things only which are within your own power, in which you may be of the greatest consequence? “But my friends will be unassisted.” What do you mean by “unassisted”? They will not have money from you, nor will you make them Roman citizens. Who told you, then, that these are among the things within our own power, and not rather the affairs of others? And who can give to another the things which he himself has not? “Well, but get them, then, that we too may have a share.” If I can get them with the preservation of my own honor and fidelity and self-respect, show me the way and I will get them; but if you require me to lose my own proper good, that you may gain what is no good, consider how unreasonable and foolish you are. Besides, which would you rather have, a sum of money or a faithful and honorable friend? Rather assist me, then, to gain this character than require me to do those things by which I may lose it. Well, but my country, say you, as far as depends upon me, will be unassisted. Here, again, what assistance is this you mean? It will not have porticos nor baths of your providing? And what signifies that? Why, neither does a smith provide it with shoes, nor a shoemaker with arms. It is enough if everyone fully performs his own proper business. And were you to supply it with another faithful and honorable citizen, would not he be of use to it? Yes. Therefore neither are you yourself useless to it. “What place, then,” say you, “shall I hold in the state?” Whatever you can hold with the preservation of your fidelity and honor. But if, by desiring to be useful to that, you lose these, how can you serve your country when you have become faithless and shameless?

"How can you serve your country when you have become faithless and shameless?" There is a rhetorical question, since we have endless evidence before our eyes of how such people 'serve.'

This is a larger statement of how to engage in public matters, which have also been called 'semblances' and 'externals.' It is not that you ought not to do it; it is that you ought not to privilege any of them above the maintenance of your own honor, fidelity, and self-respect. If you do no more than provide your country with one more faithful and honorable citizen, you will have done enough. If it is given to you to do more, fine; if it is not, you have fulfilled your real duty by preserving these internal qualities.

It occurs to me that Stoic philosophy is not taught in public schools, except for those who choose to major or take electives in philosophy or history and even then only if they happen to choose that area. Yet what better lesson could we convey to the young than this one right here in today's chapter? It does not matter if you are famous; it does not matter if you are powerful. It only matters to live with faith and honor, and to live so that you hold your head up because you know that you deserve to hold it up. 

Only in that way could you serve your people anyway, whether friend or fellow citizen. 

The clear analogy today is to Mark 8:36, which makes a similar but metaphysically sterner claim. What profits it you to gain a position of service to others if you have lost the faith and honor that would allow you to perform service? Well, it might profit you quite a bit -- again, there are many examples right in front of us of people who have profited from precisely that. Yet I think Epictetus means something very close here to what Jesus said.

Strictly Unconstitutional

The White House calls on all media platforms -- by name, Spotify -- to censor the speech of Americans with whose views they disagree. 

Private platforms might possibly do what they want; that's an argument, though there are significant counterarguments. Private platforms that are explicitly carrying out the will of the government are acting as agents of the state, and are bound by the restrictions on the state. 

Of course the government is already in violation. The courts might correct them, or not; the corporations might choose to do the right thing, or not. There is a point, coming closer, at which the corrective is us. 

If you stop arresting people, arrests will go down

 On the other hand, some of the kids may get killed by someone you didn't arrest.

Enchiridion XXIII


If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be content, then, in everything, with being a philosopher; and if you wish to seem so likewise to anyone, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you.

This begins to be an answer to the question raised by the last chapter; we will see more over the next two days.

What would we do without critics?

Via Neo:  I can't say "Justin Castreau" didn't ask for it.

JP Sears is funny as usual, but he can't hold a candle to the genuine news article Neo linked:  "critics warn that conflating the absence of bloodshed with 'peaceful' protest downplays the dangers of the weekend demonstrations."  Was there violence that didn't quite draw blood?  Well, no, but one person interviewed (duly identified as non-binary, because we need to know) said she knew of at least one child who was afraid to go outside.

That's a DeSantis signature.

I leave you with these words of comfort:

I don't think you have to call the kids in until the "mostly peaceful" klaxons go off.

A Rough Estimate on Ukraine

 Russia continues to redeploy significant assets in ways that look like it is preparing for war. It has chosen to redeploy dozens of deniable Wagner PMC assets from Africa to Europe, and is today moving its Pacific Fleet through the Suez Canal to take up position somewhere closer to Europe -- the final destination is unclear at this time, but even from the Mediterranean they could provide some support. Like the existing deployments of forces on the border, the Pacific Fleet maneuver is expensive and cannot be maintained for a very long time without sacrificing a strategic asset in a strategic region. 

My personal guess is that the Russians will use Belarus to provoke (or more likely fake) a Ukrainian 'provocation' the Belarussians will respond to, allowing Russia to invade under the pretense of defending its allies from Ukrainian aggression. They will use the overwhelming force they are accumulating behind special operations and aircraft fires to rapidly seize and hold the eastern half of the country only, I estimate, where most of the population speaks Russia and conceives of themselves as Russians. If they then consolidate that position, there will be a long front that can be dug in and defended. Western diplomatic pressure to make them concede it will be exactly as effective as it has been in South Ossetia and Crimea, i.e., not at all.

Russia is in a perfect position to steal a march on the West, take the portion of Ukraine that will be easiest to take and easiest to hold, and to do so at a low cost in lives and resources. It's the most sensible play, and in accord with Putin's past operations. They could do something more aggressive, but it would also be more expensive and be more likely to create a long-term problem for them like an insurgency behind their lines.

I'm guessing Belarus will do it this time because their President just publicly issued a more aggressive statement on Ukraine than Russia has done. They've already allowed Russian military assets onto their territory, and are openly inviting many more 'if attacked.' If they're staging up to take the lead, then Russia gets to come in not as aggressor -- the chief war crime -- but as a defender and savior of its (allegedly invaded) ally. This will also serve as a pretense that the Russians are not aggressively gobbling up territory again, though of course the collapse of the West and of American power under the Biden administration has made such realignments inevitable. 

Expecting a play of that sort is probably also why the Ukrainian government is trying to get the Biden administration and others to lower their tone, as they want to avoid any appearance of provoking or encouraging conflict. The last thing they could want at this time is to give any appearance of being an aggressor in this conflict. (CNN analysts are a good reverse barometer, so if you read this analysis you'll see both that lowering the tone is the wise play and also that the Biden administration is almost certain to go the other way, thinking they are being 'muscular' rather than walking into a trap.)

Anyway, that's my estimate of what military intelligence calls the 'Most Likely Enemy Course of Action' (MLECOA). This differs from the 'Most Dangerous Enemy Course of Action,' (MDECOA), which I'm not going to lay out in public. I doubt most Americans care enough about any of this to want to get involved, but the Biden administration has shown a stark disconnect from being able to care about, or even entertain concerns from, ordinary Americans.

Enchiridion XXII


If you have an earnest desire toward philosophy, prepare yourself from the very first to have the multitude laugh and sneer, and say, “He is returned to us a philosopher all at once”; and, “Whence this supercilious look?” Now, for your part, do not have a supercilious look indeed, but keep steadily to those things which appear best to you, as one appointed by God to this particular station. For remember that, if you are persistent, those very persons who at first ridiculed will afterwards admire you. But if you are conquered by them, you will incur a double ridicule.

Let us combine this advice with the last chapter’s: sometimes the admiration does not come until after you die. Socrates and Jesus both had a few admirers at their executions; numerous artists knew very little commercial success in their lives. Some committed suicide, even, only to have their works become beloved later — Robert E. Howard is often mentioned here, and Van Gogh was just mentioned at AVI’s place. 

In remembrance of death we remember that all of life’s troubles are passing; in remembering that honors often come after death to those who were true to their divine appointment, we might even face death boldly under difficult conditions and circumstances. 

Yet it is striking that Epictetus, who has heretofore cited honors like admiration as mere semblances to be discarded as ‘not our business,’ would cite them here. Is admiration from others a proper ethical concern, or is it not?

The interested might turn to Aristotle’s discussion of whether honor affects the happiness of the dead beginning in Nicomachean Ethics I.10 and followings. Aristotle asked if Solon was right that you couldn’t judge the happiness of a person before death, or if you could. This leads into a general discussion of happiness as an activity (which presumably only live people can execute), but that leads to a puzzle about whether the dead can be less happy if they are later scorned, or if their children suffer, and so forth. He isn’t quite wiling to say these things can be dismissed as considerations even for the dead, for whom they are no longer even semblances. 

Solidarity - A Blast from the Past


A Perfectly Framed Comment

UPDATE: Solidarity, baby. Workers of the World, Unite. 

Enchiridion XXI


Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible, be daily before your eyes, but death chiefly; and you will never entertain an abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything.

This is a lesson that is definitely found in Zen, in especial in the Bushido tradition (*-do in Japanese generally denotes a Buddhist spiritual approach to finding enlightenment in a practical art). Epictetus was sort-of exiled from Rome as part of a general ban on the teaching of philosophy in the city, although I do not know how terrible he found the Greek countryside in practice. 

There is similarly a long tradition in Christian Europe following this advice, which is called Memento Mori in the Latin ("Remember Death").

Compromise and the Possible in Politics

If you wanted to create a compromise position that would address the concerns of the Freedom Convoy and also the political/managerial class in Canada, would it be possible? The Prime Minister says no (through Twitter and Zoom, continuing not to explain exactly where he is physically located). This is because:
  • His opponents cannot be compromised with because they are racist Nazis (the Managers seem to encounter a highly improbable number of Nazis in the world; this time the evidence seems to be that some placards compare vax mandates with the treatment of Jews by the Nazis -- which hardly puts the Nazis in the position of good guys, I notice, oddly for those who are supposedly Nazis themselves); 
  • who lie and insult (and apparently threaten, although they assert they will be peaceful he shows no signs of being willing to appear in public anywhere near any of them, regardless of security arrangements); 
  • and who desecrate war memorials (this latter apparently referring to a single woman who was dancing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canada).
This definitely requires thinking the absolute worst it is possible to think of tens of thousands of your fellow citizens who normally work for a living and pay the taxes that funds your salary. Politics was supposed to be the art of the possible, which meant seeking compromise in spite of differences.

The attitude is nevertheless common among the Convoy opponents. If you ask the Manager whom the Washington Post hired to explain the situation to Americans, there can be absolutely no compromise because opponents are too irrational to formulate a position: instead, the government must be "a strict line of resistance that doubles down" on everything they hate -- which, actually, suggests to me that the author knows perfectly well what they want and could easily compromise with them if inclined. (Is it appropriate for a party allegedly aligned with the common man, in a democratic society, to 'strictly resist' the people while 'doubling down' on everything they hate?)

Weirdly, to me, a compromise position appears to be quite obviously in reach because they both want the same thing. Ottawa's mayor put it this way (quote in first link, above): "You have the right to protest, you've had your protest, please move on. Our city has to get back in normal stead." 

The protest itself is merely a demand to "get back to normal." That's literally all they want: they want the Canada of the last hundred years back. (Cf. "Make America Great Again," which likewise merely demanded a return to the normal condition before we started making trade deals against our interests and policing the global economic order instead of pursuing national interests like defense). You could give them at least some of their normal back, in return for them giving you at least some of yours.

The Managers do not want that normal, which is also very odd. Canada has always been described to me as a pretty happy place, where people are exceedingly polite and the health care system is supposed to be enviable compared to our own. 

That is now how the Managers describe their own society. It's almost as bad as ours, to hear them tell it. 
The convoy speaks of threats to liberty. It would be close to something if the participants weren’t so far off. Threats to liberty are rampant in Canada, but not because of vaccine mandates. Rather, it is income and wealth inequality; worker exploitation; gendered, religious, racialized and other forms of hate violence; ongoing settler colonialism; and other forms of structural marginalization and oppression that compromise liberty. Same as it ever was.

The “Freedom Convoy” is a regrettable movement that offers a reminder that open societies will produce protest movements — as they should. However, when those movements are toxic, they must be denounced and resisted. 

I think I may have to adopt the policy of referring to this class as 'the Managers' on a semi-permanent basis, and to this sort of I-hate-my-country description as "the Litany of Bullshit." Canada is a perfectly nice place that is having some hard times that are self-inflicted by its own government, which apparently hates it, its people, and its history. Such a government cannot have any claim to democratic legitimacy, which at minimum requires loyalty to and love of the demos of which one is a part. 

The plantation

Despite the article of faith embraced by the politerati, it's possible that President Biden's plunging approval rate among not only American voters but black Democrats resulted not from his failure to criminal justice or election "reform," but instead from vaccine mandates and inflation. As Eric Levitz points out, the popularity crash comes from black voters with a less solid attachment to the ideological wing of the Democratic party. By definition, a poll of voters includes people who managed to vote, and therefore don't necessarily feel a voting restriction like picture i.d. requirements as a personal threat. Choosing between a feared vaccine and a job, in contrast, or facing an alarming rise in the monthly bills, is a kick to the gut: more likely to engage the attention than any nattering from political authorities.
Morning Consult’s national tracking poll shows a stark inflection point in Biden’s Black support immediately after the announcement of the mandate. Between September 8 (the day before the mandate’s rollout) and September 20, Biden’s support among Black voters fell by 12 percentage points in the survey. One might write this off as a coincidence, had the pollster not specifically monitored Biden’s standing with unvaccinated Black voters — and found that he had lost 17 points with that segment of the electorate over those two weeks.
As noted above, a post-September decline in Biden’s Black support has been captured in other polls. And there is no analogous inflection point (yet) showing a similar decline in the immediate aftermath of a legislative setback on voting rights.
* * *
[A]s political scientists Ismail K. White and Cheryl N. Laird argue in their book, Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior, the Black bloc vote is a product of “racialized social constraint” — which is to say, the process by which African American communities internally police norms of political behavior through social rewards and penalties. In their account, the exceptional efficacy of such norm enforcement within the Black community reflects the extraordinary degree of Black social cohesion that slavery and segregation fostered.
If this thesis is correct (and White and Laird do much to substantiate it), then it would follow that the erosion of African Americans’ social isolation would weaken racialized social constraint, and thus narrow the Democratic Party’s margin with Black voters. As White and Laird write:
We believe that increased contact with non-blacks and a decline in attendance at black institutions, in favor of more integrated spaces, would threaten the stability of black Democratic partisan loyalty. The result, we believe, would be a slow but steady diversification of black partisanship because leveraging social sanctions for racial group norm compliance would become much more difficult in integrated spaces.


Enchiridion XX


Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows, who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be bewildered by appearances. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.

It is true that ultimately we control how we decide to respond -- and indeed whether we do. One time when I was in school another boy hit me from behind. I did not know him, and to this day don't know why he hit me. Ultimately I just looked him the eye for a long moment, and then went on without a word. It was a very effective strategy, as he'd hit me just as hard as he could from behind -- and failed to do any damage. I'm sure he knew that he didn't want the fight he'd provoked.

Still, I think we can reasonably sever the Stoic point -- that I, and not you, am the master of my inner world and I don't have to let you provoke me if it is not useful to me -- from the general obligations of honor, from which so much of our common peace depends.* In general it is useful to respond to force so that it does not grow bolder, and to quash petty tyranny so that it does not gain mastery. People should be afraid to give blows without good cause, and abuse under any circumstances. Our society is much more pleasant when we conduct ourselves with the mutual respect that comes from knowing that the alternatives are too dangerous to ponder.

* "from which... depends" rather than "on which... depends"? This is one of those amusing places we sometimes discuss where the language is even now changing. We almost always now say 'depend on,' and think of depending as if it were a sort of foundation 'on' which something might be rested. Yet of old 'depends' meant 'hangs down from,' as a watch might depend from a chain. Both usages imply firmness of support, the sense of direction has inverted over time. I take great pleasure in being one of the keepers of such secret fires. 

Our bubble is better than your bubble

Who but a racist could believe that meritocracy was racist? The students at elite Brooklyn Tech are "Bengali and Tibetan, Egyptian and Chinese, Sinhalese and Russian, Dominican and Puerto Rican, West Indian and African American." They're also 61% Asian and therefore not racially balanced.
“Educationally, we don’t need these schools,” said David Bloomfield, a professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College. “These students cannot be in a bubble. They need to be in a more diverse student body, where you could have advanced classes.”
Only we do very much need schools like Brooklyn Tech "educationally," and there aren't comparable advanced classes in the "diverse" schools they "need" to be in or, at some of the schools, any advanced classes at all. It's almost as if the lessons we are determined that these kids learn had more to do with political indoctrination than science.
Tausifa Haque, a 17-year-old daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants whose father drives a taxi and whose mother is a lunchroom attendant, says:
This is my great chance. It’s my way out. I have classes with students of all demographics and skin colors, and friends who speak different languages. To call this segregation does not make sense.
Ricardo Nunez, who is black, says:
I don’t feel like a minority. We resist being pitted against each other at this school.
But you're not allowed to climb out, and we have ways of making sure you allow us to continue to pit you against your peers, namely, denying you a decent education and a shot at financial independence if you don't agree to stay inside the right kind of bubble. Which is definitely not that bad bubble consisting of gifted and hard-working students.

Wipe that grin off your face and shut up

I understand objecting to highway blockades--at least if they're blockaded by the Wrong People--but it's never a good look to criminalize cheering.

Aren't bike paths the real infrastructure?

Or should we think about using some of the infrastructure boondoggle bills of the last, say, 20 years on bridges that are about to collapse from long-acknowledged rust? Nah, more paternity leave for Transportation Secretaries ought to do it.

Canadian President Flees Country

Now that’s a headline I thought I’d never see. Afraid of a few truckers — his own fellow citizens, the guys who keep the logging and cattle industries on the road. What a spineless coward. 

Miss me yet?

 From a WSJ commenter on a bit of Noonan nonsense, via PowerLine:

Mr. Biden is as rude as any president, and without the success to compensate.

Preference falsification

Do I wish this guy were in office instead of the current disaster?  You bet I do.

Richard Fernandez argues that the dam is breaking.  It does look that way, and has since the Virginia elections.  There's a sense of "We've completely had it, just knock it off."

At Fernandez's suggestion, I'm reading "Private Truths, Public Lies" by Timur Kuran (1998), about the social instability that comes from the repression of dissent and the ritual mouthing of platitudes for which one has more and more private contempt.  People will live a lie for a time if they must, but their support is brittle.  At the right moment they'll jettison the lie without a backward glance.

When Donald Trump speaks, the attraction is that he's saying what he believes, and what much of the audience believes.  They're so tired of hearing nonsense they're expected to take seriously.  Even if he occasionally comes out with something they doubt, the relief of not being fed absurdities is liberating.  "This stuff is ridiculous," they say to each other.  "Why are we putting up with it?  Let's quit doing it."

In Canada, Justin Trudeau and his family have fled the capitol in fear of a "small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing do not represent the views of Canadians...."