Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hypothetical Enlightenment History, Very Short Version

The Enlightenment was the full revivification of the great Athenian philosophical tradition. (Tradition previously of Miletus.) Unfortunately, the mighty epistemic tools were resurrected from a grave crawling with the corruption that laid low the sophists. Even more unfortunate, the grave contained the sophists' evil bedfellow, democracy.

Sophistry, unleashed upon a population unprepared and lacking resistance, quickly laid the foundations for popular government. Popular government, once established, convinced each citizen that they have a share of government power - that they're a politician. Therefore, all citizens sought expertise in the politician's primary tool, sophistry. Sophistry became normalized, even prized.

These centuries have seen innumerable self-serving political campaigns, waged and won using ever advancing sophistry. These politicians are seen as heroes by their duped victims, as they embody an ideal sophistication to aspire to, and each victorious manipulative lie is seen as a worthy ideal.

The truth is what it is, but a lie can be designed for marketability; to go down easy and smooth, to fit existing misconceptions. Each new avaricious politician sees a much easier path in expanding old lies rather than attempting to fight them.

The result is that by now, the average voter's head is stuffed to bursting with the fossils of past power grabs. Almost everything they say or do that has any political relevance whatsoever is the echo of some dead politician's clarion call to serve his interests over their own.

A second thread comes from the truth that the basest fool can ask a question that the wisest cannot answer. Sophistry has respected this truth by embracing skepticism over taking a stand, and nebulous abstractions over concrete details. In battles between sophists, clarity only provides a target for your opponent. Consistency only relieves them of thinking up new assaults.

Knowledge is quite a difficult capital to destroy. The truth itself is immortal, endlessly supporting its child. But as the sophistry pandemic rages unchecked, more and more knowledge is lost.

In physical terms, the solutions to many of 'society's problems' are simple, even easy. Tons of them used to be common sense. But the fossils stand guard. Popular sophistic skepticism is enough, even where the fossils lay thin. The truth isn't sophisticated enough to be fashionable.

The plague even attacks the core of every human, their consciousness. It is all but impossible for the richness of the real world to shine past the tangled masses of metastasized sophistry.

The only question is whether intellectual hygiene can be promulgated the way physical hygiene was, to let sophistry know the resounding defeat suffered by cholera.

The alternative is to consign the public to wandering their purgatory of confusion, forevermore unable to understand or even perceive the world around them, easy prey to any passing sophist who suffers from just a couple fewer lies than they do.

How am I doing so far? One problem is that I have no account, positive or negative, for the massive technological explosion. The whole material wealth problem has been unambiguously solved. Almost all I know about it is the popular history - which I unambiguously reject, for the reasons you might extrapolate from the above.

Having stated this, I'll be able to listen for reality objecting to any of it. Hopefully it is voluble and I won't have to wait long.

P.S. Reality is generously doing the opposite. From La Wik:
"The sophists' rhetorical techniques were extremely useful for any young nobleman looking for public office. ... The historical context provides evidence for their considerable influence, as Athens became more and more democratic during the period in which the Sophists were most active"

Also, "The sophists certainly were not directly responsible for Athenian democracy" which, translated from wikese, means "The evidence clearly shows that the Sophists were directly responsible for Athenian democracy." La Wik, unreliable? Hardly.

I expect this trend to continue. Neat.

Did you notice how pessimistic the model is? That is intentional. I'm optimistically biased. Almost all the writing I read is politeness biased. If the truth happens to be pessimistic and scathing, the only way to get there is to start there. Conversely, evidence can easily push me to be more optimistic, and I know anyone writing about this, even obliquely, will add any of the more charitable features I've missed.

It's working. Writing, and especially publishing is focusing my attention on anything relevant.
I've found at least one error, something I ding others for all the time. I'm writing analysis, not observations. What I'm seeing is accurate, but what I'm extrapolating isn't, necessarily. I can guarantee this sort of thing happens wherever rulership is in fact democratic, but democratic causation is rare and getting rarer. Secondly, the kind of non-intellectual person who is less susceptible to sophistry tends not to write or speak about it, so they appear only faintly to me.

Roll Call:
Dalrymple kicks ass, as usual.
"Since the end of World War II, the British have grown accustomed to the idea that the money in their pockets is what the government graciously consents to leave them after it has taken its share."
"They saw the reform not as an attempt to align education with the needs and capacities of the real economy—by making students question the value of education and by encouraging universities to offer something of real value—but as a means of restricting access to education to the rich"
"Considering the disastrous personal consequences of being illiterate in a modern society, this is a gargantuan scandal, amounting to large-scale theft by the educational authorities. No anarchist ever smashed a window because of this scandal, however; and so it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the demonstration was in defense of unearned salaries, not (as alleged) of actual services worth defending."
That last wants sharpening. Teachers no longer even pretend to teach, but it's taboo to say so. Indeed, your odds of ending up literate are probably higher if you avoid schooling of any type altogether, than if you end up imprisoned in a government school.
"The press usually defends the public sector, viewing it as an expression of the general will and a manifestation of a rationally planned society, manned by selfless workers."
"mass poverty would return" Market does right; government takes credit. Government does wrong; market takes blame. Nobody bats an eye.
"So it is not surprising that the Guardian, which one could almost call the public-sector workers’ mouthpiece, has reported that hospital emergency departments are already feeling the budgetary pressure and risk being overwhelmed, even before the cuts have been implemented in full. Meanwhile, one can still find plenty of bureaucratic jobs advertised in the Health Service Journal"
"during which, fearing unpopularity, it failed to explain the real fiscal situation to the electorate" Electorate now complicit in its own swindling.
"which means that the public will remain what it now is: the servant of its public servants."
"impossible political promises are believed only by the prepared mind. And our minds have been prepared for a long time, since the time of the Fabians at least."

In ancient Greece, it was reasonable to suppose beauty and truth were the same thing. They seem so closely related. Now, it seems reasonable to suppose they're enemies, that to commit to one is to compromise the other. I don't understand how making people miserable helps control them, but it really is unreasonable to assume misery doesn't.

"The lottery paradox has become a central topic within epistemology, and the enormous literature surrounding this puzzle threatens to obscure its original purpose."
Haha...whut? The rounding error is literally 100% of the measurement; why does it surprise anyone that a thousand 100% error probability measurements don't add up to one?

Weather records follow the Cauchy distribution. They must, because "in physics is the result of its being the solution to the differential equation describing forced resonance," and the weather is a forced resonance system. This means records will produce an endless parade of high-temperature records that can be used to convince voters that the globe is warming. The counter is simply to compare the parallel endless parade of low-temperature records.

Political correctness' first outbreak immediately followed an act that gave the franchise to more than 10% of adult males.

"But not only that: I discovered that, in large part, the left’s rhetorical world is everyone’s. Its pseudologisms and weasel words—its perniciously equivocal vocabulary and taxonomy—infect public life and the body politic."

Not precise, but pretty close. Elide the partisan spin, and you find bellagerens has clearly seen the truth. The comparison of the naked and interpreted versions ironically proves that sophistry is, indeed, everyone's problem.

"In the rhetorical world given us by [democracy], a thing is not a thing: every term has a second meaning, a connotation, an interpretation. Words bear more loads [...] than structural steel."

I agree this needs to be said out loud. That's bad. That's very bad. "You try to expect from each person what your understanding of them predicts it is realistic to expect." "If [your] expectations are very high, and require that the person has a large number of positive traits, then what is likely to happen is that your friends fail at least one of these expectations from time to time." How did 'high expectations lead to disappointment' get to be worthy headline news?

Three, (via.)
Emphasis mine:
"The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.

What has happened morally in the West is what has happened financially as well. Good and otherwise sensible people were persuaded that you could spend more than you earn, incur debt at unprecedented levels and consume the world’s resources without thinking about who will pay the bill and when. It has been the culture of the free lunch in a world where there are no free lunches."

"If earth were invaded by man-eating aliens from another planet, and the media said they had come to bring democracy to earth, we'd be cheering for the aliens to take us over and eat us. We're sheep led by ideologues. [...] We're puppets pulled by slogans."

"There are people here with nothing," this rioter continued: nothing, that is, except an education that has cost $80,000, a roof over their head, clothes on their back and shoes on their feet, food in their stomachs, a cellphone, a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, an electric stove, heating and lighting, hot and cold running water, a guaranteed income, free medical care, and all of the same for any of the children that they might care to propagate."
So which is it; is that 'nothing' is an effective bit of sophistry, or is the rioter is a sophist's victim, and cannot tell the difference between their stuff and nothing?

"For the intellectuals, a tiny minority, to build a working majority with the tools of trans-democracy, they must discover and diligently exploit a vast pool of empty heads."
Having achieved power, they use it to empty more heads and get them more efficiently empty. Partly this is democracy but also it is the scholar's intellectual dominance hierarchy - asserting dominance over and through ideas.

The power of orators, via:
"in the opinion of the wisest man Athens ever produced, it was the orators who, in their adulation of the people for their own purposes, destroyed the Athenian commonwealth."

And it has been argued on many sides that political liberty, in this sense, has been a distinguishing mark of Western civilization, being implicit to our forms of government long before the Enlightenment spelled it out. Brian C. Anderson, writing in the October issue, follows Michael Novak who, in his book On Two Wings of 2002, rehearses the familiar thesis that Western civilization arose from two powerful spiritual forces, one originating in Athens, the other in Jerusalem, one expressed in Greek political philosophy, the other in "Jewish metaphysics."

Emphasis mine, (via)
"Al-Qaida was not founded by Osama bin Laden, as many wrongly believe, but in the mid-1980’s in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a revolutionary scholar, Sheik Abdullah Azzam."

Note dates of the splinter sects, e.g, " Its roots can be traced back to an extraordinarily influential late twelfth century Italian mystic, Joachim of Fiore (1145-1202) "


Kent McManigal said...

So often I have heard statists claim that the solutions I propose to the problems they obsess over are "simplistic". When you make a problem more complicated than it really is, the solution will seem simplistic. But, as L. Neil Smith has said, the State depends on "poorly solved" problems.

Crime? "Solve" it by making it a crime to defend yourself from it with effective tools, and then point to the increase in crime as evidence that the penalties and prohibitions on self defense aren't draconian enough.

Alrenous said...

Right, I know what you're talking about.

If it's so simplistic, then it is simple to test. It will quickly show its unsuitability and we won't have to argue about it anymore. Oh? They seem to get panicky when you suggest that?

I note also the skepticism and vagueness in the face of concrete suggestions. You have a plan. All they have is hand-wringing.

For this and many other reasons...politicians are clearly sophists. Any time they say anything, it is most likely because the opposite is true.

And yet the people continue to support politics. Honestly, I'd even be fine with most people supporting politics. They have the right to their opinion - that, is to be wrong. My specific complaint is that they think I don't have the right not to support politicians, and not to be subject to them.

But their belief that they have the right to impose politics on me inevitably implies, by symmetry, that I have the right to impose a-politics on them.

Anarchy implies anarchy. Law of identity.
Democracy implies anarchy. Law of non-contradiction.

Indeed, every -cracy is in fact kratocracy, rule by force.
This is also a simple fact, too unsophisticated to be well-known. If I try to break off from politics, these people will force me back. I'd really rather not invoke my right to impose a-politics on them. I'd rather just talk. I shouldn't have to impose a-politics on a whole country before I can exercise my desire to be left alone by anyone I leave alone.

Johnny Abacus said...

"The only question is whether intellectual hygiene can be promulgated the way physical hygiene was, to let sophistry know the resounding defeat suffered by cholera."

Reminds me a great deal of Stove's What is Wrong with Our Thoughts.

Unfortunately, the problem, while of the same form as spam, is significantly more difficult to solve. Spammers merely (attempt to) sell bad products at high prices. Sophists attempt to corrupt the very thoughts of their audience. In that, it is HIV to spam's Smallpox.

Alrenous said...

I'm specifically trying to expand in Stove's direction.

If sophistry is as resistant as HIV, then there's still a solution: intellectual aristocracy.

If the masses are unredeemably deludable, then accept that they are. They won't like it, won't approve, probably won't believe...but if the 'consensus of experts' is that they don't have a clue, then the sophists won't be able to wield them as a club. "Commoner's sense" goes back to being the insult it deserves to be.

I just don't start with that solution because A: it's giving up and B: its so tempting to believe because it creates feelings of superiority, making it an impressive feat to tell the difference between someone who believes because it is true and someone who believes because commoners are icky. Especially if the believer in question is yourself.

Also, C: if hygiene does work, then commoner's sense can just be sensible, which would mean a ton of brains change from producing crap to producing wealth, and neo-sophists automatically get the ribbing they deserve.