Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Question

If you enjoy this essay, please consider purchasing a copy of Where Dawkins Went Wrong and Other Theological Blockbusters from this address - a collection of  some of the best and most-linked-to essays from this blog and its predecessor. It contains my five part assault critique of 'The God Delusion', along with essays on gay bishops, the 'gospel' of Judas, the 'legend' of the three wise men.



Most of what follows is true.


In 1973 we had a Science Lesson.


It was taught by Mr. Muir with the help of a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. Tape-recorders generally meant that the lesson was going to be interesting, but you needn't pay much attention to it - Science or Music or Drama. On Fridays there was a tape-recorded religious service with a special hymn book and Johnny Morris doing funny voices.


Mr. Muir was headmaster. I think he often chose to teach the interesting lessons like Science and Painting and Football and left ordinary teachers like Miss Walker to teach the dull ones like Sums and Verbs and Needlework. But I wonder if he had to teach this particular science lesson because Miss Walker had refused point-blank to do so?

We never had a single word of sex education: not even the baby animals coming out of mummy animals' tummies kind. Once, when we were doing a Project which involved picking stories out of last week's newspapers and talking about them, Spencer had asked Miss Walker to define the word "streaker". She said that it was "a man who did what you mustn't."


This particular tape involved a long, exciting, dramatized account of a man with a beard who had gone on a long voyage on a ship to an island and discovered some tortoises. I don't believe the E-word was mentioned.


In Masterplan Q, Doctor Who visited a planet that was in a very primitive state and therefore of great interest to evolutionists like himself. This was on the back of a Nestles Chocolate wrapper, and therefore possibly not cannon. As well as listening to programmes taped off what Miss Walker called the wireless, we sometimes traipsed out into the corridor and watched a Schools Programme live on TV. The idea of taping TV programmes hadn't been invented. Quite a lot of these programmes seemed to be about Fossils. I don't know how many times and in how many different ways it was explained that dead animals could sometimes leave their shapes in rocks. In principle, one could do the same thing with blotting paper.
The TV was opposite Mr. Muir's office, so sometimes while you were watching the TV programme about fossils and (and sometimes coral) someone else would be waiting outside Mr Muir's office to be smacked, which could be a distraction. I wonder if we were supposed to have moved on to Fossils of monkeys and thus to the big E? But so far as I remember, we never got beyond starfish. I had (speaking of monkeys) a full set of PG Tips Tea cards, so I must have always known about dinosaurs, but I am not quite sure where I thought they fitted in to anything.

I got the point that the man with the beard had found skeletons of monkeys on the tortoise-island and realised that these monkeys must be the same monkeys that human beans were descended from. At the end of the radio programme, I raised my hand, possibly waved it around somewhat, and spoke words to the effect: "Please, Sir: Does this mean that God didn't make the world after all?"


Mr. Muir's reply was oracular, if not actually prophetic.


"I don't know," he said "Ask Miss Walker."


I am ashamed to say that I went against the spirit of his instructions and actually did ask Miss Walker.


"Please Miss," I said, "We've been doing the Voyage of the Beagle with Mr Muir, and he said to ask you whether God made the world."


"Ah," said Miss Walker in an off-hand kind of way, "All that means is that men have found old bones of animals which they think look a bit like people's bones. I shouldn't worry about it if I were you."


So I didn't.


At secondary school, we got 35 minutes of R.E taught by biology teachers, geography teachers and P.E teachers. One teacher talked about Rudyard Kipling and Inuit creation stories. A different one pointed out that the book of Genesis had got the order in which things were created exactly right, even if the time frame was out by a factor of a few hundred billion, so that proved it. A girl with plaits called Sonja pointed out that if people had evolved from monkeys there wouldn't be any monkeys, so that proved it. The geography teacher explained that all the wars in history had been caused by God, but she had a hearing-aid so no-one paid any attention to her. Girls got a film of how a baby is made, and boys got a chat about how playing with yourself is perfectly normal and you should avoid homosexuals even though it isn't really their fault. Everything I know about evolution I learned from David Attenborough, although to be honest I was more interested in the BBC Television Shakespeare. After I left school, Mrs. Thatcher invented the National Curriculum and abolished homosexuals, smacking and the GLC, so it's all probably very different nowadays.


But the question "Does the Voyage of the Beagle mean that God didn't create the world after all?" is still a controversial one. If you get the answer wrong, you won't necessarily be sent to stand outside Mr. Muir's door, but you may be kicked out of the Royal Society.

131 comments:

Mike Taylor said...


If you get the answer wrong, you won't necessarily be sent to stand outside Mr. Muir's door, but you may be kicked out of the Royal Society.


Not necessarily. While I often feel overawed in reading the comments on this blog (how come everyone knows so much more about C. S. Lewis than I do?), we have finally come to a subject where I can speak with a modicum of authority, being both a Christian and a palaeontologist. I can tell you from my exotic journeys through the world of palaeo that there are more Christians in there than you might expect, including some pretty high-profile people. None of them, to my knowledge, have been thrown out of the Royal Society.

Among the many Christians in palaeo, there is one (1) Young-Earth Creationist, or YEC for short -- Marcus Ross, who works on mosasaurs (huge, scary marine lizards). Quite how he manages to cling to a 6000-year-old Earth, when everything he studies cries out "evolution!" to the rest of us is a bit of a mystery. And, to be candid, more than a little embarrassing.

To sum up very, very briefly an approach that has widely been found helpful in reconciling the apparently-but-not-really contradictory claims of science and Christianity, you can think of science as being there to answer "how?" questions (to which the answers are things like evolution, relativity and genetics) while Christianity is there to answer "why?" questions, such as "Why is there a universe at all?" and "Why do we spend so much of the intervening time wearing digital watches". This sort of separation-of-chuch-and-state doctrine was named "Non-overlapping magisteria", or NOMA for short, by the noted evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, who was himself an atheist but (unlike certain other evolutions whose names spring all to readily to mind) one with some respect for religion.

Black Knight said...

Reiss was treated incredibly shabbily, and a number of scientists agree.

Bah.

Phil Masters said...

The treatment of Reiss certainly looked... a bit bizarrely hair-trigger, I thought, at the very least. Some explanation of where that reaction came from seems to be that the people who went after him hardest are U.S. based. These sense that they're in the middle of a serious intellectual-cultural war, in which the other side have the president of the country (and, now, a possible future vice-president) on their side, may explain a tendency to shoot first and analyse details later.

(And when I was at school, Div lessons didn't ever mention creationism, as I recall. Meanwhile, well, I ended up not taking Biology O-level because of peculiar scheduling arrangements and the school's ham-fisted attempts to optimise exam results. Which I now rather regret, having spent a lot of the subsequent decades reading things like The Blind Watchmaker and Wonderful Life and The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee.)

culfy said...

I went to a RC primary school and I remember the subject of evolution being bought up and the question 'If Adam and Eve then why Cavemen?" being asked. Mrs Teacher hummed and hahed and basically said 'er, they were around before Adam and Eve but died out'. I don't think she'd heard of the Pope's decree that evolution was perfectly compatible with Catholicism.

Richard Dawkins has heard of this decree and has said that he prefers an honest creationist. You see, he thinks religious believers are daft because they don't believe in evolution, therefore anyone who believes in evolution is not a religious believer.

I hope he does start calling himself a Bright so I can continue to call myself an atheist and not be so embarrsed.

Kurt said...

The doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria has two problems. (1) Most religions make factual claims about the natural world (miraculous events, historical events, etc.) and those are also part of what science talks about. (2) NOMA types tacitly assume that in cases like this, it is one side, namely science, that gets to define the domain of the other side. “The timetable of the universe’s creation is a scientific question, ergo not part of science, ergo your sacred text doesn’t say anything about the timetable of the universe’s creation.” Dawkins has rightly rejected NOMA for these reasons.

Kurt said...

Correction: "... ergo not part of religion ..." Sorry.

Andrew Rilstone said...

That was one of the parts of "The God Delusion" that I thought was confused. The other was part was pages 1-53 and 61-406.

I thought the idea of NOMA was something like: "No amount of study of the property of the water and the physics of the kettle will tell you whether, in fact, I want a cup of tea. If I do want a cup of tea, that will still be true, however many times and however slowly you explain the physics of heat to me. On the other hand, anyone who says that once we know whether I want tea or coffee we don't need to know, or can't know, or shouldn't ask, what physical effect heat has on water should be carted off to the funny farm as soon as possible."

That is: If it is possible to ask teleological questions about the universe then the scientific questions stay the same. We can ask "Why does the universe exist in the first place, and how ought I to live in it?" and still carry on investigating it scientifically. Athiests (by definition?) think that the "why" questions are literally meaningless: but you can't find out whether or not they are right by doing more scientific experiments.

I don't think that the question of "miracles", which is essentially what you are raising, effects the argument. You remember C.S Lewis's example: if Joseph hadn't known how babies were made, then he wouldn't have been in the least bit surrprised when Mary became pregnant without "knowing a man." There may be very primitive cultures where no-one has spotted what sex is for, and every pregnancy is attributed to some supernatural cause, but the story of Jesus' birth isn't one of them. If it is true, then gynocology and sex education can carry on precisely as it did before.

Again: atheists (by definition) say "The normal rules of the universe can't be suspended, because there is no outside force to do the suspending." But that's precisely what the disagreement is about: you can't take it as a premise.

Of course, theists sometimes make direct claims about the empirical universe which are perfectly amenable to scientific investigation: it is perfectly reasonable to say that everything we have ever seen or dug up is a lot more consistent with the theory of evolution by natural selection than with the "theory" of young earth creationism.

I am afraid that some of the more naive "new" atheists take it for granted that all theists believe that God made the world in 6 periods of 24 hours, and that when they say they believe something else, they are fibbing. A half-wit posted a comment to my original "Dawkins" series to the effect that, since I clearly didn't take the Bible "literally", I had no business calling myself a Christian. I briefly looked at an atheist website last week which had, among other things, an essay that demonstrated, at great length, that the story of Noah's Ark wasn't historically true . Because, y'know, as long as there has been water and light it's been, y'know, possible to generate rainbows. (If you attempt to draw this kind of person's attention to the significance that Jews and Christians believe that the myth of Noah actually has, they are apt to say "Lepracauns! Nude Emperors! Nuance! Obfucation!")

Kurt said...

I get the same sensation reading AR, Esq that I get reading Anscombe, namely “This is obviously a brilliant person, but I don’t think it is only my fault I have to reread everything six times.”

I think AR,E is saying that NOMA is a legitimate doctrine, because it is quite possible to keep one’s religion and one’s science separate. I agree it’s probably possible (although I wonder about challenges along the same lines as A. N. Prior’s attacks on the is-ought gap, using disjunctions. Amusingly, one example involves tea-drinking—see this, p. 2).

But it’s one thing to say that religion and science can coexist, and another thing to say that they must, i.e., that any religion which violates the nonaggression treaty is out of bounds, or that it is no longer a religion but a hybrid of religion and (presumably false) scientific teaching. Because (again) who sets the bounds? The scientists. NOMA pretends to be a neutral metadoctrine but is not neutral. And by the NOMA criterion, the religions embraced by most religious believers are out of bounds. Although (again) it is possible to embrace a type of religion that is not in violation, and I am sure there are a few people who do embrace that kind of religion.

Miracles, conceived as rare and isolated suspensions of natural law, are an interesting issue. A Lewis-type view, it seems to me, tries to hold a sort of middle ground by allowing that supernatural things occasionally happen but that one can nonetheless have a doctrine (science) about what normally happens. I like this kind of view and would like to think that something like it can hold up. However, it seems to me pretty clear that this is not an easily-demarcated truce line but rather a gesture at a line that will be fought over in all sorts of ways. The young-earth creationist will point out that the beginning of the universe is an exceptional event, not part of “what normally happens.” The secular scientist will reject the Biblical account of the fall of Jericho on the grounds that walls fall through demolitions work, not through trumpet blasts. And near as I can tell, the people who aren’t Christians very often (almost always?) aren’t Christians because they don’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection—and why not? because they believe such a thing to be impossible = contrary to the laws of nature. And then there are more everyday occurrences, like the sensation of the presence of God, or the exercise of free will, or the abortion of a fetus, where religion is liable to offer one account of what happens and science is liable to offer another. I do not say that one cannot hammer out a compromise for each of these examples. But I don’t see how one can be confident that a compromise emerges easily, naturally, the moment one invokes NOMA.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I get the same sensation reading AR, Esq that I get reading Anscombe, namely “This is obviously a brilliant person, but I don’t think it is only my fault I have to reread everything six times.”

Memo to self: Do not post first drafts on forum. Revise until coherent and put on blog. If you must publish incoherent first drafts, send them to RPG.net where no-one will read them anyway.

steve3742 said...

I think a counter example to the creationist who tries to argue that the creation of the world was an exceptional event (and therefore could be characterised as a miracle and so violate what we know about the natural world) is to use a reductio ad absurdium. What follows? The existence of fossils, carbon dating and all sorts of stuff that shows the world is much older than 6,000 years and had many other species on it leaves you with only one possible conclusion: God also created dinosaur fossils, etc 6,000 years ago and made them look as though they were far older.
Bill Hicks has answered this line of argument far better than I possibly could on his Arizona Bay album (and I'm still hoping some journalist will ask Sarah Palin about dinosaurs) so I'll summarise: This doesn't just violate what we know of science, it also violates what we know of God.
And then there are more everyday occurrences, like the sensation of the presence of God, or the exercise of free will, or the abortion of a foetus, where religion is liable to offer one account of what happens and science is liable to offer another.
I don't think religion offers any account of what happens during the abortion of a foetus, it just argues about the ethics of it. Science can say so much about viability outside the womb, etc. but I don't believe that's where the pro/anti battle is being fought. In the exercise of free will and determinism, I don't believe science has much to say about arguments that are essentially unprovable one way or the other (Philosophy would say more, but still has no conclusion.) So the only one I see as a potential battleground is the sensation of the presence of God, presumably dismissed as mere psychological phenomena by scientists. At this point, I would have to question, like Popper, how scientific psychology actually is.

steve3742 said...

I briefly looked at an atheist website last week which had, among other things, an essay that demonstrated, at great length, that the story of Noah's Ark wasn't historically true.

Scarily, there are a number of people who do take the Noah's Ark story literally. See here. And I saw a website once (can't find it now) that detailed the construction of the ark, which animals could have been kept where, how much food it would have had to carry, how it would have been able to cope with sanitation, etc. Incredibly detailed and completely useless.

Kurt said...

I don't think religion offers any account of what happens during the abortion of a foetus, it just argues about the ethics of it.

To repeat: Certainly one can have a religion that says nothing about what happens during an abortion. But on the other hand one can have a religion that says “at some point the soul departs, and that is the moment of death.” Now either one can regard the soul’s departure as a genuine factual happening with empirical consequences, in which case the discussion must continue about what the soul is, and how it could be causally responsible for things that happen to the body, and now we’re talking about the negotiation of a truce in a particular case. Or else the soul’s departure is presumed from the outset to have no impact on what goes on with the physical side of things—it is either a metaphor or else the soul is assumed to have no causal powers—and now we’re letting science set the limits of what religion can claim.

In the exercise of free will and determinism, I don't believe science has much to say about arguments that are essentially unprovable one way or the other

There are different ways of trying capture the notion of free will. Science will happily permit a notion that is compatible with physicalistic determinism, but try pushing some form of incompatibilism and watch the scientists snicker and make cracks about the ghost in the machine.

I am not staking out any position on the nature or activities of the soul, nor on free well. The snickering scientists may, for all I am saying, be right. I’m just rejecting the idea that NOMA is a cost-free way of making the conflicts go away.

Gavin Burrows said...

Kurt said...
I’m just rejecting the idea that NOMA is a cost-free way of making the conflicts go away.

NOMA is ret-conning. It post-dates all the main world religions, who wrote their holy books bereft of knowing all those points where they were supposed to say “sorry, wrong department.” Like most ret-conning, it gets you over an immediate difficulty, but then opens up fault-lines everywhere.

Andrew Rilstone said:
We can ask "Why does the universe exist in the first place, and how ought I to live in it?" and still carry on investigating it scientifically. Athiests (by definition?) think that the "why" questions are literally meaningless: but you can't find out whether or not they are right by doing more scientific experiments.

This is true, but not in the way that you mean.

Atheists may not believe that there is some kind of a priori sense of cosmic order, a code of ethics built into the fabric of things the way gravity is. But this does not stop anyone from bringing their own sense of order into the world.

If I say “someone should really tidy up around here”, I am merely expressing an opinion. If I do then tidy up around here, I have made (at least a small) change to the world.

Of course I am referring to no certain source of knowledge or wisdom that tidying up around here is universally recognised as the best of all possible courses of action. If challenged, I have nothing but the workings of my own brain with which to justify what I’m doing.

Some of us regard that as an advantage.

I am afraid that some of the more naive "new" atheists take it for granted that all theists believe that God made the world in 6 periods of 24 hours, and that when they say they believe something else, they are fibbing. A half-wit posted a comment to my original "Dawkins" series to the effect that, since I clearly didn't take the Bible "literally", I had no business calling myself a Christian.

There is nothing very surprising about this. Perplexed by the complexity of the world, people take refuge in the idea that what the world really is, is their own mirror image. Exactly the way they are, only upside-down. So the only task left is to explain that their black is really white, their up is really down. Any talk of green or blue or half-way-up is clearly obfuscation. Hence such overly familiar formulations as “no, I think you’ll find what you’re reallysaying is something I find easier to answer.”

I gather the half-wit you refer to was a half-wit atheist. But a passing half-wit Creationist would of course agree with every word. Were they to meet, they could be secure in the knowledge that the only remaining question was who could shout loudest...

Andrew Stevens said...

To briefly correct Phil Masters and Steve3742, George W. Bush has endorsed Intelligent Design (not Young Earth Creationism), but Sarah Palin hasn't even endorsed Intelligent Design. Nobody knows what her views on evolution are. (Both Obama and McCain are on the record as believing in evolution, though both are Christians.) Palin said during a debate in 2006 essentially what Reiss did. She went on to emphasize that she thought creationism "did not need to be part of the curriculum" and made no effort to make it part of the curriculum as Governor of Alaska. The claim that she is a Young Earth Creationist has no basis whatsoever (though it may be true - who knows?). As for the U.S. being in the middle of "a serious intellectual-cultural war," take it from me: it's not that serious. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Gavin Burrows's description of a debate between half-wit atheists and half-wit Christians more or less sums up the state of the debate in the U.S. (I think most reasonable people on both sides have been driven out of the debate by their own allies.)

We can ask "Why does the universe exist in the first place, and how ought I to live in it?" and still carry on investigating it scientifically. Athiests (by definition?) think that the "why" questions are literally meaningless: but you can't find out whether or not they are right by doing more scientific experiments.

This is not true. There is nothing in the definition of atheism which requires that "why" questions are literally meaningless. I certainly don't believe that; there is nothing in the definition of atheist which requires it. There is a religion very common in atheism (and becoming more common) called "scientism" which steadfastly denies that there are any facts of the matter at all in enquiries on which science cannot speak. This belief claims that not only is religion all nonsense, but so is all philosophy, and probably most of the social sciences as well. Since science relies on the prior truths of philosophy to be correct in order to establish its own imperium (whether science is effective is an epistemological question which cannot be answered scientifically), this is the equivalent of kicking the ladder out from underneath you while you're still standing on it.

I don't know why atheism got so caught up in the religious schema. I understand why religious people think, "If meaning, then God. If no God, then no meaning" (it is congenial to their argument), but I am baffled as to why so many atheists accept this. Nevertheless, a very great many of them do. (Well, the "men in the pew" do. Most atheist analytical philosophers do not, bar J.L. Mackie.) Aristotle believed that the world had an objective ethical framework which had nothing to do with his Uncaused Cause, whose job was entirely metaphysical and not at all ethical. This binding up of God with ethics and/or meaning is purely Judeo-Christian and there's no real basis for it.

Gavin Burrows said...

George W. Bush has endorsed Intelligent Design (not Young Earth Creationism), but Sarah Palin hasn't even endorsed Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is worse because it’s fundamentally dishonest. Intelligent Design is a way of saying Creationism via weasel words. If someone says “I choose to believe in Creationism and will cheerfully ignore all scientific evidence”, you or I may think they’re delusional but that’s up to them. But ID involves a (ludicrously paper-thin) veneer of scientism, designed solely to get around the formal Church/State divide and get its wares into American schools.

(I’m curious about the phrase ‘Young Earth Creationism’. The two go together, don’t they? Or are there Old Earth Creationists, who believe God created the Earth for Man but didn’t get round to making any men for a while? “And on the next day God got distracted. Well, for a few billion years, actually.”)

Gavin Burrows's description of a debate between half-wit atheists and half-wit Christians more or less sums up the state of the debate in the U.S.

I feel vindicated, yet strangely devoid of joy.
This is not true. There is nothing in the definition of atheism which requires that "why" questions are literally meaningless. I certainly don't believe that; there is nothing in the definition of atheist which requires it. ... Aristotle believed that the world had an objective ethical framework

So our responses to Andrew fly off in completely opposite directions!

Kurt said...

It’s easy to declare that there are people out there who hold stupid views or are dishonest in how they present them, because with all the people in the world, some are bound to fit that description. But it’s equally easy, and plausible, to insist that with all the people out there, not everyone fits that description.

So: a “young-earth creationist” is someone, who, like Bishop Ussher, believes the Earth to have been created circa 4000 BC. Other types of creationists include those who believe in creation over seven 24-hour days but perhaps hundreds of thousands of years ago, and those who believe “seven days” means “seven eons” and perhaps with lots of stuff happening according to normal natural law but with key events occurring through direct divine action. (In other words, in answer to Gavin B’s parenthetic question: yes, there are in fact lots of such people.)

As for Intelligent Design: there are at least some people who claim (I cannot read their minds) to be motivated not by a desire to get Biblical creationism taught in public schools, but by the force they feel a certain kind of argument carries. Michael Behe, for example, who to the best of my knowledge believes in an old Earth, and in the common decent of man and other modern primates, and who in other ways cannot be classified as a young-Earth creationist.

It is sometimes objected that a proposition like “This must have been designed” lies outside the realm of science. But no one makes this objection when one is talking about crop circles or the radio signals the SETI project is looking for, so I think some more discussion is required before the very idea is written off when it comes to the origin of biological structures in living beings. Having said that, I would add that I’m not aware of any notable success by ID people in offering irrefutable examples of Intelligent Design in biology. Perhaps the idea of an Intelligent Design argument is legitimate in principle but a failure in practice, or perhaps the examples are still there, awaiting the right kind of discovery and publicity. I don’t see how one can tell which it is, without already knowing in advance how the universe was created.

Gavin Burrows said...

Intelligent Design proposes an Intelligent Designer, who may or may not be God.

Okay, let's suppose there turns out to be a super-intelligent designer of the Universe called Bernard. Bernard, you see, thought up and built the Universe.

Well then either Bernard is a very, very clever man or else all the major religions have been getting Bernard's name wrong all this time.

There is no such thing as an honest Intelligent Design adherent. I don't say that to be hostile to them (though I am), but because it stands up to no scrutiny whatsoever and was concocted to hoodwink the unwise.

Kurt said...

Thank you. If this were the draw phase of a poker game, I would now tell the dealer, “None.”

Phil Masters said...

Okay, so far as I can determine by research to accepted modern standards (ten minutes with Google), Palin has indeed avoided saying what her own beliefs are about creationism (or "Intelligent Design") or evolution - but what she has said is "Teach both ... I am a proponent of teaching both". This may be sloppy phrasing on her part, but on the face of it, it's subtly but significantly different to what Reiss said, which was "...when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have ... and doing one's best to have a genuine discussion. The word 'genuine' doesn't mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time".

Palin's (rather brief) comment seems to endorse teaching creationism in schools, whereas in his rather longer comments, Reiss simply said that some pupils will raise the subject, so teachers might as well be prepared to tackle it, while pointing out that it's not scientific - which, in science lessons, is probably going to define it as "wrong" for most pupils present. Which is why, yes, the way he was treated strikes me as pretty indefensible.

Anyway, though, stretched metaphor time. Things like NOMA are, I'd say, extended and refined versions of "Can't we all just get along?" Which, as an expression of principle, is admirable, and would help prevent a lot of wars. But when people see themselves as already being involved in a war, saying "Can't we all just get along?" is notoriously ineffectual; it invites the answer "No, obviously not, and please get out of the way".

Now, the people who see themselves as being involved in a war in this matter (especially in the US) may be half-wits and clowns, but as it turns out, they're half-wits and clowns with some influence in the Royal Society. And - keeping the metaphor going to the bitter end - Michael Reiss seems to be a classic friendly fire victim. What he was trying to perform was a subtle camouflaged outflanking manoeuvre on the creationists, appearing harmless and allowing them a tiny advance while actually hitting them from the side. Unfortunately, this looked to other people from his own side like he was with the other lot, and then they noticed that he seemed to be wearing an enemy uniform...

steve3742 said...

Regarding Palin, she has, as noted, refused to say what her beliefs are (though I'm not too sure how hard she's been pressed, which is why I really would like a journalist to ask her about dinosaurs.) However Philip Munger, an ex colleague of hers from back when she was mayor of Wasilla, has said that Palin once told him she believed Man and Dinosaurs co-existed on a 6,000 year old earth. Combined with her refusal to come out and say anything definite on the subject, I think this is reasonably indicative that she does believe in Creationism but is staying quiet for political reasons. Of course, it could be the other way round - she's a secret evolutionist and is keeping quiet to avoid upsetting her Religious Fundamentalist supporters - but I doubt it.

This matters more than it first looks. Palin is incredibly right wing and even more fundamentalist that Bush. Of course, she's only running for VP, but John McCain is old and not too healthy. Palin is far too close to the presidency for comfort.

Michael Reiss' undeserved fate is an example of what happens when people let fear and hysteria guide their decisions and shows (if it needed showing) that it's not just religious people who can muster a witch hunt and commit ridiculous acts during one. I liked the friendly fire metaphor, but I'd add that it was probably more the media and an establishment that seems not to have the courage to stand up to the Mail, Express, et al, even when (as they must have known) they were completely wrong.

Regarding ID, I agree that it is intellectually dishonest - how the designer could be anyone other than God escapes me too - but it's notable that the designer wouldn't necessarily be the Judeo-Christian God. This obvious enough fact is obscured because most of ID's proponents are Christians. But it is possible to believe in ID without believing in a 6,000 year old earth, seven day creation, Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, or even being a Christian at all. I'm sort of curious as to what the Buddhist take on all this is. (Muslims, according to one guy I met handing out leaflets trying to convert me, believe in some variant of ID.)

NickPheas said...

'If Adam and Eve then why Cavemen?"

Surely this is easy? Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden of Eden, they are forced to clothe themselves in animal skins. They and their offspring spend a time going forth any multiplying and sheltering where ever they can, especially in caves.

Andrew Stevens said...

To get the distraction out of the way first, Phil Masters did correctly quote Sarah Palin, but the clarifications that she gave came immediately after the debate when questioned by the press. See this article in the Anchorage Daily News which has the advantage of having been written before she was running for Vice-President and contemporaneously with the quotes being discussed. As for John McCain's health, I hope Steve3742 is in as good shape when he's McCain's age. McCain did of course suffer from melanoma and it's freely granted that if that recurs, his prognosis wouldn't be good. His chances of surviving a first term are likely better than 90% given his genetics (his 96 year-old mother and her twin sister are still alive) and his health, which is generally excellent. The greatest risk to McCain would be, as it always is for Presidents, the risk of assassination. Not that any of this matters; Henry Paulson appears to have handed the election to Obama when he allowed Lehman Brothers to fail and froze the credit markets. Previously it had been a fascinating campaign. The party that couldn't win nominated a candidate who couldn't lose and the party that couldn't lose nominated a candidate who couldn't win. I genuinely had no idea who would win. (And, of course, something could still change and hand the election back to McCain. A terrorist attack would do it. I'm sure the 9/11 Truth people believe Bush is plotting one as I write this.)

I hadn't heard about Philip Munger, but given he runs a left-wing blog which has spent the last two years attacking Palin on every subject, I think it's safe to say that he has just a little bit of incentive to have made that conversation up.

In any event, it is wrong to imagine that it matters what the President thinks about evolution. (By all means, attack Palin on inexperience; I'm right there with you. McCain should have chosen someone else, I agree.) School curricula is a state issue - if you're correct about Palin's views, elevating her to the Vice-Presidency removes her from Alaska where she could do real damage to the Vice-Presidency where she can't do anything.

It's also important to remember that this is a country where only 10% of the people believe Lee Oswald acted alone and where, reputedly, when Bill Clinton became President, he immediately asked Webster Hubbell (according to Hubbell) to find out whether the government was covering up aliens and who killed Kennedy. And Clinton's actually very smart. People are just, in general, not very good at analyzing evidence. (By the by, I have no idea whether Webster Hubbell's anecdote is true or not, though the rest of Hubbell's book is very friendly to Bill Clinton and Hubbell didn't relate the anecdote to embarrass Clinton since Hubbell is just as bad with evidence and, as far as I can tell, didn't think there was anything embarrassing about it.)

Evolution is far, far more complex an argument than who killed Kennedy and evolution is, prima facie, pretty implausible. (Humans just can't think on the sorts of timescales that evolution deals with.) If people can't get an open-and-shut case about the assassination of Kennedy right, how likely is it that they'll get evolution right? I don't think non-belief in evolution proves anyone is an idiot, any more than I believe that the people reading this who believe the CIA killed Kennedy (and there's got to be at least one) is an idiot. I believe they're misinformed and misanalyzing the evidence.

As for Intelligent Design, I totally agree (obviously) that Intelligent Design is hogwash, but, yes, plenty of people believe that man evolved over millions of years with God (or some other Intelligent Designer) intervening at appropriate points.

Anyway, though, stretched metaphor time. Things like NOMA are, I'd say, extended and refined versions of "Can't we all just get along?" Which, as an expression of principle, is admirable, and would help prevent a lot of wars. But when people see themselves as already being involved in a war, saying "Can't we all just get along?" is notoriously ineffectual; it invites the answer "No, obviously not, and please get out of the way".

And, of course, this is why the debate in the U.S. is entirely conducted by half-wits and clowns. They're the sort of people who believe that they're in a war instead of involved in politics. The heart of politics is compromise - let's make a deal because otherwise we have to kill each other. The lunatics on both sides believe politics is really just a non-violent war which they expect to turn violent at any time. They aren't interested in making deals; they're interested in exterminating the other side. The reasonable people on both sides have no use for that sort of nonsense. This is why Americans so often vote for divided government, which forces both sides to come to the table. (I am convinced that, absent September 11th, the Democrats would have taken back Congress in 2002. It is unfortunate that they did not.)

As for NOMA, I believe it is usually formulated to give too much dignity to religion. However, Gould did write once, "Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner." Gould also said, "These two magisteria [religion and science] do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)." Both of these statements seem to be obviously correct. Methodological materialism is the only way science can operate, but this does not prove materialism and certainly does not invalidate moral philosophy or aesthetic philosophy and no thoughtful scientist should claim that it does. (Indeed, whether or not materialism is true is quite clearly not a scientific question. I know of no experiment which could conceivably prove or refute it.) Of course, the problem is that scientists are often no better at thinking through subjects outside their specialty than the people who gave us creationism, JFK conspiracy theories, alien cover-ups, 9/11 "Truth," and the like. The belief that science is the only subject that is capable of providing us with truth is very congenial to a certain type of scientist. Then they get to claim that they're the only people who say anything worth listening to.

Kurt said...

Does anyone want to say why Intelligent Design is hogwash? Instead of just declaring this to be "obviously" the case. (I regret introducing that word into this thread, even though my intent was only to pay a compliment.)

It might be good to start by stating whether one means all design-based arguments for theism, or something more specific. If the former, it might be nice to talk about someone besides Sarah Palin for a while. Say, Aquinas. Or if one means something more specific, it might be good to say what that something is, and why it is more ridiculous than design arguments generically.

Also, if someone thinks ID is hogwash because it is an argument for theism and theism is hogwash, please just say that and save everyone a long read.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Does anyone want to say why Intelligent Design is hogwash? Instead of just declaring this to be "obviously" the case.

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs.html

Stephen said...

I didn't actually say ID was hogwash, just that it's shorthand for saying you're religious, which I maintain is true (and Gavin Burrows actually said it, I just agreed with him.) Whether a belief in theism is automatically hogwash is another argument that needs to be made and hasn't been (I would say no, incidentally.)

The point is that people who argue for ID tend to be Christian Creationists and use ID to mask ideas that they know would be otherwise unacceptable. I've pointed out that this isn't necessarily the case, but it does tend to be the case. As such, it's intellectually dishonest.

There may well be non-Christian ID beleivers - Muslims, Buddhists perhaps - but I don't think you'll find an atheist ID beleiver. I don't think the doctrine's automatically hogwash, but it hs been tainted by the way it's been used and the people using it. It could be argued that it's non-scientific and therefore has no place in a science class and it was this argument that got Reiss fired, wrongly IMHO, especially as he was basically just saying that people are going to bring this argument up and teachers should be ready for it.

Steve3742 said...

I seem to have inadvertantly switched user names. The above comment from Stephen was from me.

Andrew Rilstone said...

My understanding was that the words "Intelligent Design" were used to designate a group of people who claim that the scientific evidence rules out all species having evolved by a process of Natural Selection. The theory of "Intelligent Design" (I thought) does not hold that the universe as a whole was designed by an intelligent being. It holds (I thought) that at least some of the creatures on earth most have been at least partially designed. The evidence which it cites (I thought) was that some animals have cells and organs which are "irreducibly complex" and can't, therefore, be the product of random mutation. I have no intention of going back and looking it up, but I think that Dastardly Dick broadly agrees with their logic, but utterly rejects their data: if we found a creature with irreducibly complex organs (say, one with wheels) then that would be strong evidence for a designer; but in fact the organs and cells which the ID exponents say are irreducibly complex turn out not to be when you look into it.

I also assumed that ID was a strategy: that its exponents do, in fact, believe that God created the universe and that their reasons for believing this have nothing to do with ID. (e.g They believe in God because they think that they have been in contact with him, or because of an a priori belief in the special authority of the Bible.) I assume that they have made use of this scientific sounding argument either a: Because they think it will impress non-believers or b: Because they think that it's a way of getting round the American rules against teaching religion in public schools. But I may not be right about this: for all I know there are sensible secular scientists who reject the theory of natural selection on purely evidentially grounds.

I think that when people say "Intelligent Design is Hogwash" they mean "The claim that Intelligent Design is a valid alternative scientific theory for the origins of species and that it should be taught alongside Evolution is Hogwash" not "The claim that the universe has a designer is Hogwash."

Most Creationists who I have spoken to (and by "most" I mean "both")do not think that Genesis is the literal truth: they think that God personally designed each little flower that opens and each little bird that sings ("Special Creation")but reserve judgement about how he went about it and over how long a period.

The Worldwide Church of God (neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire) suggest that "the Earth was without form, and void" means "the Earth BECAME without form, and void." The N.I.V translation of the Bible seems to suggest that they may even have a point. In the beginning (a very long time ago) God created the heavens and the earth, then (about 6,000 years ago) the earth BECAME chaotic and desolate, and God spent a week or so tidying it up.

Mr. C.S Lewis wonders out loud whether God forming Adam out of clay might possibly perhaps mean "God picked one of the primates which had evolved and added a soul to it." Some people now take it for granted that this is exactly what the Genesis says did happen. (There are also people who take it for granted that Genesis says that a huge sheet of ice had frozen in the atmosphere, making a sort of dome thingy called "the firmament" and Noah's Flood is what happened when "the firmament" finally melted.)

Personally, I rely heavily on Mr. Northrop Frye, who wrote: "The God of the fundementalists could never have become incarnate in Jesus Christ. He would have been too stupid to know what a parable is."

Phil Masters said...

At this point, I become sidetracked by the reflection that the hypothetical Intelligent Designer really doesn't have to be any sort of god at all. All it takes is a bit of engineering skill, a lot of knowledge of genetic engineering, a presence on pre-human Earth (probably over a very long period), and obscure motives.

In other words, the vaguely parental aliens of several Arthur C. Clarke novels and certain 1970s comics probably fit the bill better than any widely worshipped deity. If Intelligent Design really got into schools, it might do less for the Bible than for Chariot of the Gods and the recruitment policies of the Scientologists.

Phil Masters said...

I'm sort of curious as to what the Buddhist take on all this is. (Muslims, according to one guy I met handing out leaflets trying to convert me, believe in some variant of ID.)

Anecdotal information only, and I'd love to hear a more informed response, but my understanding is that Buddhists don't have much trouble with Darwin - evolution got into schools in Japan quite early, for example. To start with, Buddhism doesn't say much about the creation of life or the universe - there seems to be a core idea that there may (or may not) be gods, and they may do stuff like creation, but they're just part of the system, and debate about their nature isn't what matters. Beyond that, a lot of Buddhists accept the idea of cross-species reincarnation, and a belief system which says that you may be reborn as an ape is hardly going to get annoyed at the suggestion that your distant ancestor may have been one.

Islam and creationism (or Intelligent Design) seems to be a complex issue these days. The Koran doesn't actually have a huge amount to say about the specifics of creation, and from what I've read, moderately sophisticated Muslims probably had less trouble than Christianity taking evolution on board - it might be Allah's chosen mechanism, and those Old Testament stories that were in the Koran could be fitted in somewhere, and those non-Koranic ideas about creation that had been fitted into the belief system were open for adjustment if necessary. There was probably a bit of implicit Intelligent Design thinking in there somewhere - if Allah chooses to intervene, he can - but exactly where may have been vague and freely debatable.

But then, along came all those fundamentalist, anti-Western, literalist schools of thought (in reaction to Western influences), and the Intelligent Design-like stuff got emphasised, followed by full-blown creationism - especially among Islamists in Turkey, for some reason - I guess it's an anti-Ataturkist thing. Wikipedia has something on the subject. Which leaves Muslim and Christian fundamentalists looking quite similar, surprise, surprise.

Site Owner said...

And *before* science chipped away repeatedly at the *metaphors* how much religion over how much time was dedicate to them being literally true?

Simon BJ

Steve3742 said...

And *before* science chipped away repeatedly at the *metaphors* how much religion over how much time was dedicate to them being literally true?

You know, I'm not sure Genesis was written or read as metaphor. It's OK for us being modern, scientifically educated and worldly wise to scoff, but 3,000 years ago the tales probably seemed a lot more beleivable.

The hostility displayed to Darwin as recently as the late 18th Century shows that the Bible was being taken literally by a majority up until then. In fact, you can probably credit Darwin with undermining this view. I'm aware of some people questioning some of Genesis claims before then but they didn't get as much widespread acceptance - or hostility - as Darwin.

Kurt said...

Sam: Yes, anti-ID material isn’t hard to find. But the link goes to a page which itself is a bunch of links, and the links go to big heaps of articles. I was hoping someone would state the key point or points which they think emerge from all of that stuff, about why ID is hogwash.

Stephen: The “ID is hogwash” comment came from Andrew Stephens. To make sense of your comment, I think one needs to distinguish “ID” as denoting a doctrine or argument from “ID” as denoting a movement, with the latter using the former as camouflage. If that’s what we’re doing, at the moment I am solely interested in the former.

Andrew: I think I endorse everything in parag. 1. One sometimes sees talk about physical constants creating the conditions for life mentioned in descriptions of modern ID theory, but that unhelpfully broadens the scope. And it sounds like Dastardly Dick made what I think would be the right sort of objection (one not based on NOMA, to take one more swipe!). On parag. 2 I would like to just say again that there are lots of people in the world, and although I’m ready to accept that ID (movement) has said strategic character but that some believers in ID (theory) are sincerely persuaded, there are yet others who are just sincerely interested though skeptical that it can actually pan out. Me, for instance. Parag. 3 again I agree—about ID not being a viable alternative theory. What it might be is an interesting type of objection to evolution, and on THAT basis someone might legitimately say it should be taught in school. Not alongside evolution but as part of teaching evolution, and the teacher should also explain what defenders of evolution say in reply. Given the existence of the conflict in politics and in the courts, it seems to me a bio. teacher has a professional duty to at least briefly state the key tenets of ID so the kids know what all the fuss is actually about. The ID people talk about "teaching the contoversy," but one needn't do it equal-time style because pretty clearly there isn't an equal amount of material to be covered on each side.

Steve3742: The most interesting and plausible stuff I’ve heard on Genesis is that regardless of what the writer thought of it as an account of literal happenings, the main intent is theological and moral: (1) to portray the God of the Hebrews as a deity who rules not only over a localized patch of geography but over everything—including the deities of other religions, which in this account are the Moon, etc., who are so much subject to God that He assigns them their place in the order of things, and (2) to declare that the proper state of the cosmos, and of us in it, is one of goodness and health—in contrast to I think the Babylonian creation myth, which starts with the rotted corpse of a god defeated in battle. But I’m reporting what I’ve been told, not anything I know from my own research.

culfy said...

You know, I'm not sure Genesis was written or read as metaphor. It's OK for us being modern, scientifically educated and worldly wise to scoff, but 3,000 years ago the tales probably seemed a lot more beleivable.

Much of the problem with the Genesis story stems from a dodgy translation which gives the impression that the Genesis writer literally thought that the name tags on the fig leaves for the first people read 'Adam' and 'Eve'. In fact, I seem to recall that Adam is translates everywhere else as 'mankind'. Once you reread Genesis in the light of this, it certainly seems more of a metaphorical intent.

The hostility displayed to Darwin as recently as the late 18th Century shows that the Bible was being taken literally by a majority up until then. In fact, you can probably credit Darwin with undermining this view. I'm aware of some people questioning some of Genesis claims before then but they didn't get as much widespread acceptance - or hostility - as Darwin.

I presume you mean 19th century (or that Erasmus Darwin really got up some people's noses with his fossils). I've recently read John Grant's 'Corrupted Science' in which he says of the Darwin 'controversy' "After the initial shock of Darwinism..the various Christian churches settled down to a peaceful coexistence with science's new worldview". Indeed, the much quoted Archbishop Ussher (of world created in 4004 bc fame) was treated as a bit of an embarresment by the church whilst Nicholas Steno, who studied the rocks and fossils to arrive at a much more ancient time of creation for the earth, was promoted to bishop and eventually beatified by Pope John Paul II

Gavin Burrows said...

Regarding Sarah Palin:

I always suspect the formal separation of Church and State actually helps Republican candidates, precisely because it permits Palin and her cohorts to go all vague and fuzzy over such questions. Creationists will be happy with the coded confirmation, where voters who might otherwise be alarmed can pass over it.

And that “teach both” guff has been refuted well enough here.

On Alien designers:

But then, who designed all those aliens to start off with?

If it walks like a God, quacks like a God and creates everything out of nothing like a God does – that probably means it’s a God.

Andrew Rilstone said...
The theory of "Intelligent Design" (I thought) does not hold that the universe as a whole was designed by an intelligent being. It holds (I thought) that at least some of the creatures on earth most have been at least partially designed.

Well they sometimes use as examples either quite primitive forms of life or quite basic things about complex animals. (Such as the way blood clots.) I think they tend to gravitate towards human origins because the subject’s so emotive. “We’re not saying you’re an in-law to a monkey!” etc.

Kurt said...
I was hoping someone would state the key point or points which they think emerge from all of that stuff, about why ID is hogwash.

It essentially says “maybe some bloke came along and left it like that.” Which can of course never be disproved. Which of course also means it can never be proved. So in short it has nothing to do with Science.

Andrew Stevens said...
This is why Americans so often vote for divided government, which forces both sides to come to the table.

You’re suggesting Americans consciously opt for divided governments? It does often seem to end up as President Vs. Congress, and I have occasionally heard Americans express that wish. Of course we have a different system here, the only way a government gets divided is via a hung parliament. Politicians always take fright at that idea, saying it would lead to weak government. I always think “Really? Where do I sign?”

Aristotle believed that the world had an objective ethical framework which had nothing to do with his Uncaused Cause, whose job was entirely metaphysical and not at all ethical. This binding up of God with ethics and/or meaning is purely Judeo-Christian and there's no real basis for it.

I am at best semi-informed here, but...

We’re all the Big Greek Philosophers all writing after the classic age of Greek Myths? By then Greek society was a bit similar to the way you could call our society ‘post-Christian’, highly influenced by religion but not strictly adhering to it any more? If so, isn’t it possible Aristotle was bringing back religious concepts painted to look innate and irreligious?

(Whichever way, I have to say I find the idea of an ‘objective ethical framework’ a mystification, irrespective of whether it’s at root religious or not.)

Kurt said...

Not only do some Americans prefer divided government, out of mistrust of both parties, but I heard a conservative radio pundit actually make that argument on behalf of McCain not long ago. Not that I would expect to hear the same argument from him if the GOP ever retakes control of congress.

Andrew Stevens said...

I said:

As for Intelligent Design, I totally agree (obviously) that Intelligent Design is hogwash

Obviously modifies agree, not is. Because I am an atheist, I obviously agree that Intelligent Design is hogwash. I do not believe that Intelligent Design is obviously hogwash. I just wanted to clear up that misunderstanding. In that same comment, I conceded that evolution is A) prima facie implausible and B) that the evidence for it is very complicated and takes a great deal of analysis. The argument for an old Earth is much stronger and much more clear, which is why scientifically unsophisticated evolutionists like Matt Damon are much more comfortable attacking Young Earth Creationists and pretending that all ID proponents are Young Earth Creationists.

I actually think that a good case could conceivably be made for Intelligent Design, but such a case has not been made. ID relies on Michael Behe's concept of "irreducible complexity." Behe claims that Darwinian evolution is not even in principle capable of explaining the biological forms we see. The burden of proof is on Behe and Behe does not discharge his burden, in my opinion. Behe theorizes that there is at least one organ or biological system which is irreducibly complex, that is that the removal of just one component of the system makes the system completely useless. He then goes on to argue that this falsifies evolution, for such a system could not have evolved. Behe is vulnerable to attack on two points: 1) his evidence (i.e. identifying such a system) and 2) his theory.

I'll quickly object to his theory. Even if he demonstrates that a system is indeed irreducibly complex, it does not follow that such a system could not have evolved. The classic example that is used is that of stone arches. They are, by Behe's logic, irreducibly complex. Remove a single stone and the arch falls. And yet arches are built by building around a scaffolding and then removing the scaffolding. Evolution could easily act to simplify as well as to complicate, by "removing the scaffolding," so to speak. Behe is also vulnerable on his evidence, but I'll let biologists deal with those.

I will also say that I much prefer Behe's argument than that of most creationists. Most creationists will insist that evolution is false because our current understanding cannot explain exactly how and why every thing that now exists evolved. This is an irritating argument. (Your argument doesn't explain everything perfectly and therefore my argument, which doesn't explain anything, must be correct.) Behe's argument is at least in theory a good argument. If he could demonstrate it, he would indeed win the day. So far I believe they have failed to discharge their burden.

I always suspect the formal separation of Church and State actually helps Republican candidates, precisely because it permits Palin and her cohorts to go all vague and fuzzy over such questions. Creationists will be happy with the coded confirmation, where voters who might otherwise be alarmed can pass over it.

Certainly. State religions also cause irreligion among the populace. When you realize that your bishops are selected by politicians who may or may not even believe in God, it's hard to take them too seriously. The federalist system is also a big part of it. Nobody except the nuts on both sides cares what Bush thinks about evolution because he can't actually do anything about it.

You’re suggesting Americans consciously opt for divided governments? It does often seem to end up as President Vs. Congress, and I have occasionally heard Americans express that wish. Of course we have a different system here, the only way a government gets divided is via a hung parliament. Politicians always take fright at that idea, saying it would lead to weak government. I always think “Really? Where do I sign?”

Certainly they do. Americans elected a Republican Congress in 1994 to protect them from Bill Clinton and, in 1996, reelected Bill Clinton to protect them from the Republican Congress. I believe they would have corrected Congress in '02 bar September 11th. I expect that they'll elect Obama in 2008 and throw out the Democrats in Congress in 2010. Republicans used to win the Presidency easily (bar the Carter aberration, elected because Nixon was a crook) because Congress had a more or less permanent Democratic majority. (This changed in '94.) Contra Kurt, I suspect that many conservative pundits have come around to the idea that Bush and a Republican Congress from 2001-2006 were not a good thing for the country. The strategic voting tends to be done in midterm elections, though, not in Presidential elections.

We’re all the Big Greek Philosophers all writing after the classic age of Greek Myths? By then Greek society was a bit similar to the way you could call our society ‘post-Christian’, highly influenced by religion but not strictly adhering to it any more? If so, isn’t it possible Aristotle was bringing back religious concepts painted to look innate and irreligious?

I don't believe religion played much of a role in Greek ethics, although there are scholars who disagree with me and they do have some good evidence for their beliefs. The confusion of ethics with religion seems to me to be a Judeo-Christian-Islamic thing. Confucianism is called a religion only because it deals with ethics, but it has nothing to do with religion at all; it is purely an ethical philosophy. Confucius is considered a sage, not a holy man. But, sure, I suppose your theory could be right. Aristotle did philosophy the way people ought to do philosophy, leaving common sense and the opinions of the wise as undisturbed as possible.

(Whichever way, I have to say I find the idea of an ‘objective ethical framework’ a mystification, irrespective of whether it’s at root religious or not.)

I think the same thing of an "objective mathematical framework" or an "objective logical framework," or, for that matter, an "objective metaphysical framework." It's all a bit mystical. The central question is why is there something instead of nothing at all (and God doesn't help us - why is there God?). Since we don't have any explanation for that central question, we're stuck with the fact that the Universe has some strange properties.

Kurt said...

Andrew: Your post is a model of temperance and nuance. Clarifications, and correction of misreading by me, are gratefully noted.

My only mild objection would be to the "Contra Kurt ..." comment. I made no claims about conservative pundits in general, only about one (Michael Medved). I think he's probalby representative of conservative pundits on the radio (print media being another matter).

Andrew Stevens said...

Sorry, didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I've never heard Medved, just seen him as a talking head. He's always struck me as far less of a bombthrower than most on talk radio, but I could be wrong about that.

You make a strong general point. True political partisans would rather have their party run everything. I'm sure there are those on the left (probably including almost everyone reading this) who prefer the Bill Clinton of '93-'94 to the Clinton of '95-'00. And there are, I'm sure, people on the right (probably including a couple of people reading this) who prefer the George W. Bush of '01-'06 to the Bush of '07-'08. But the silent majority disagree with both.

Kurt said...

Medved is indeed more moderate than other radio conserv's, but therefore representative for purposes (I should have said) of this one point. If even Medved would be happy to give all-Republican government another go (and I think he would), etc....

Andrew Stevens said...

By the way, Richard Dawkins and Michael Behe probably agree that, if Behe successfully completed his project, that this would prove that God exists. I demur. Even if it were demonstrated that Darwinian evolution is an inadequate explanation for all the forms we see in Nature, somehow the logic that this inescapably leads to a god (or, for that matter, an Intelligent Designer) eludes me.

Dawkins wrote: "I feel more in common with William Paley than I do with the distinguished modern philosopher, a well-known atheist, with whom I once discussed the matter at dinner. I said that I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin's Origin of Species was published. 'What about Hume?', replied the philosopher. 'How did Hume explain the organized complexity of the living world?', I asked. 'He didn't', said the philosopher. 'Why does it need any special explanation?'"

I don't believe Dawkins has followed this logic through to its conclusion. Either A) it was perfectly appropriate for Hume to wait for a non-supernatural explanation and withhold judgment on the existence of God or B) it is inappropriate for Dawkins to hastily conclude that living things are the only things in the world which require explanation. Dawkins is misled here by his own specialty (it is no coincidence that biologists are much more likely to be atheists than chemists, who are more likely to be atheists than physicists, who are more likely to be atheists than mathematicians). He assumes that if his own specialty is adequately explained, then everything is adequately explained.

But the mystery of design in living beings is nothing like the mystery of mathematics. See Eugene Wigner's piece The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.

Gavin Burrows will accuse me of "mystification" here, but I breathlessly await his non-mystical explanation for the laws of mathematics. For myself, I am an atheist because I believe a god doesn't answer anything - it just pushes the mystery a level back. But, if we accept (as Dawkins apparently does) that God is the only sufficient explanation for an as-yet-unsolved mystery, then there are still plenty of mysteries to go around even if we agree with Mr. Burrows and claim that ethics is not a mystery since ethics is entirely man-made and anything goes.

Phil Masters said...

If it walks like a God, quacks like a God and creates everything out of nothing like a God does – that probably means it’s a God.

But the hypothetical being of the Intelligent Design devotees doesn't walk the walk or quack the talk.

If someone could point to a biological structure or process somewhere on Earth that definitely couldn't have evolved, then you still don't need anything that I'd call even weakly godlike. You simply need the intervention of an intelligent actor, at some point in the biological history of Earth, with a good grasp of genetics and the tools to do some genetic engineering.

That's not God. That's, well, quite conceivably someone here's grandson. We're already messing about with genes on a very crude basis. Give things fifty or a hundred years, and with any luck, the biotech tinkerers will be capable of engineering in a lot of specific mechanisms or processes to order. That's science fiction, but by current standards, it's very low-key, conservative science fiction with a decent-looking chance of turning out to be prediction.

So all that any one or two instances of irreducible complexity would prove is the presence, in the past, of an non-human biologist with a taste for upgrading local life forms. Dunno about you, but I don't think that second-string Star Trek villains are particularly worthy of worship. And, well, I may be wrong, but somehow I don't think that's what the Intelligent Design mob are thinking of when they say that there may have been a designer.

Gavin Burrows said...

Kurt said:
...although I’m ready to accept that ID (movement) has said strategic character but that some believers in ID (theory) are sincerely persuaded, there are yet others who are just sincerely interested though skeptical that it can actually pan out. Me, for instance.

To me this is a little like saying that the Hitler Diaries are accepted as fraudulent, but maybe they tell us something about Hitler anyway.

The most interesting and plausible stuff I’ve heard on Genesis is that regardless of what the writer thought of it as an account of literal happenings, the main intent is theological and moral: (1) to portray the God of the Hebrews as a deity who rules not only over a localized patch of geography but over everything—including the deities of other religions, which in this account are the Moon, etc., who are so much subject to God that He assigns them their place in the order of things...

There is nothing particularly unusual about a tribal religion which says “our God is bigger than your God. In fact your God isn’t even really a God, but our God’s bitch.”

...and (2) to declare that the proper state of the cosmos, and of us in it, is one of goodness and health—in contrast to I think the Babylonian creation myth, which starts with the rotted corpse of a god defeated in battle.

I’m not sure your depiction of Babylonian mythology is particularly nuanced. (In fact I’m picturing a people singing “we all live on a rotting Goddess corpse” to the tune of Yellow Submarine.) But you may be right about Genesis being primarily theological.

It’s of course an interesting (if unanswerable) question how Genesis was taken at the time. Even if we were to get past these binary notions of literalism/ metaphor, my objection would be that these are modern concepts being grafted onto an ancient society. I’m not sure such a distinction would even have been made then.

As Andrew R reminds us, by the New Testament they had a working notion of what a parable was. Perhaps there’s an association here with the jump from a tribal religion to a universal one. When it has to jump beyond culture-specific metaphors, it needs to develop a kind of conceptual esperanto.

(NB We’ve had the thing before about Fundamentalism being a completely modern notion, haven’t we?)

Andrew Stevens said...
I will also say that I much prefer Behe's argument than that of most creationists.

Of course you don’t get to be World Heavyweight Champion by knocking over the fat kid at the back of the class. Similarly, you don’t defeat an argument by taking on it’s stupidest adherents but it’s smartest ones.

And of course I agree with everything you say about ID here, including what it would mean if Behe were proved right. But by the same token, if it were proved the world was run by a cabal of Jewish Marxists I would be obliged to demur to that. My suspicion is that neither will be proved any time soon.

In short I’m saying you don’t need to be so nuanced about it. (I’m partly joking there. Partly.)

State religions also cause irreligion among the populace.

Dunno that this follows. Britain was a religious country for quite some time.

The strategic voting tends to be done in midterm elections, though, not in Presidential elections.

Well, yes. To get nit-picky, do your examples prove conscious intent? Couldn’t it equally be a pendulum swing, where people vote in a Republican President, get pissed off with him by the mid-terms so vote Democrat the only way they then can – via Congress?

But, sure, I suppose your theory could be right.

‘Hypothesis’ may be the term there, Andrew.

Gavin Burrows will accuse me of "mystification" here, but I breathlessly await his non-mystical explanation for the laws of mathematics.

Breathe, Andrew, breathe.

I tried (honest guv) to read your link. But a weary numbness overcame my sense, and I was confronted by the spectre of my own irreducible simplicity. In fact my brain refused the jump long before the end and began instead to ponder which Doctor Who assistant was the most fanciable. (The answer to which was Leela. That’s my generation.)

All I could glean was that there’s some ‘objective mathematical framework’, as if (beyond a certain level) mathematics shouldn’t be seen as invented but discovered. (Which I could have guessed from the context anyway.) But why all this should be was beyond me, I’m afraid.

You might conceivably (no money-back guarantees) get a meaningful response from me on objective vs. subjective ethics. But nothing I could say about mathematics would be likely to add up.

Phil Masters said...
So all that any one or two instances of irreducible complexity would prove is the presence, in the past, of an non-human biologist with a taste for upgrading local life forms

Where I disagree with you and Andrew R is over the scope of ID’s claims. I understand them to be angling for what is technically known as the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle, with any specific refs being by way of example only. If not all IDers quack like believers, I shall stand corrected.

Anyway, don’t Creationists generally try to dismiss UFO-spotters as idolatrous? (In which they’re probably right, come to think of it.)

Dunno about you, but I don't think that second-string Star Trek villains are particularly worthy of worship

Certainly not. That honour is reserved for second-string Doctor Who villains alone.

Andrew Stevens said...

There is nothing particularly unusual about a tribal religion which says “our God is bigger than your God. In fact your God isn’t even really a God, but our God’s bitch.”

There may be nothing unusual about it now, but I think Kurt is right and the Hebrews were only the second people to do so (and the first to make any sort of impact). It's much harder to make such a claim in a polytheistic religion, which was virtually all religions at the time. It had been done once before by the Pharaoh Akhenaten, but nobody appears to have taken him very seriously and after his death he was labeled a heretic and his temples and reliefs were defaced.

Polytheistic religions rarely had religious wars or even major religious conflict. Polytheistic societies either assumed that their gods were basically the same as that of other religions (the Romans identifying their gods with the Greeks) or else they assumed that different lands had different gods. Religious warfare is a monotheistic thing.

Dunno that this follows. Britain was a religious country for quite some time.

I'm going to make the controversial claim that devotion to Anglicanism was largely simply anti-Catholicism and the English in general never took their state religion very seriously. There were some people who did, namely the Puritans, but they fled to America and their descendants became atheists. I don't think the Church of England was ever a particularly devout religion.

Well, yes. To get nit-picky, do your examples prove conscious intent? Couldn’t it equally be a pendulum swing, where people vote in a Republican President, get pissed off with him by the mid-terms so vote Democrat the only way they then can – via Congress?

Yours is a plausible hypothesis, of course. Note that I am saying conscious intent exists in only a minority of voters, surely less than 20%, but these are the "swing" voters, i.e. the voters that matter. There are also of course plenty of pure partisans on both sides. But the divided government view is not unusual.

I tried (honest guv) to read your link. But a weary numbness overcame my sense, and I was confronted by the spectre of my own irreducible simplicity. In fact my brain refused the jump long before the end and began instead to ponder which Doctor Who assistant was the most fanciable. (The answer to which was Leela. That’s my generation.)

I've seen Leela naked. So I think the obvious answer is Polly. Or Zoe.

You might conceivably (no money-back guarantees) get a meaningful response from me on objective vs. subjective ethics. But nothing I could say about mathematics would be likely to add up.

My claims about objective ethics are going to crucially rely on analogy with mathematics. Synthetic a priori knowledge and all that.

However, the major point is that atheism does not entail logical positivism. Most atheists are logical positivists, unfortunately, though they don't call themselves that. But that's just because logical positivism had an enormous influence on the scientific community which still persists to this day, despite positivism's utter and total collapse as a philosophical movement. (That "justly famous episode of black comedy in the history of philosophy", as David Stove called it. As another wag added, complete with plot twists and sight-gags, in the prefaces A. J. Ayer added to successive editions of Language, Truth and Logic.)

This is why I always say "Dawkins delenda est." As long as the millstone of positivism can be hung around the neck of atheism, with the active cooperation of so many atheists, atheism will never win the serious battles. (Sure, they can beat up on Young Earth Creationists, Muslim extremists, and other easy targets, but the sophisticated will dance rings around them.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Polytheistic religions rarely had religious wars or even major religious conflict.

I have to be honest and say I find this invocation of the inclusiveness of polytheism a bit rose-tinted. To begin with, religious wars are rarely ever actually religious wars. Societies fight wars over territory, lineage or over which Doctor Who assistant was the most fanciable. They then go and invoke their Gods. (“We will win because we’ve got that great big bloke on our side. I mean, you can’t actually see him or anything but...”) And if you’d like to try and argue there were rarely wars before monotheisim, please go ahead!

It's much harder to make such a claim in a polytheistic religion, which was virtually all religions at the time.

Surely it’s the opposite by definition! A polytheistic religion can try to push its rivals’ Gods down in the league table, a monotheisic religion is stuck with denying them in their entirity. In true tribal societies this isn’t much more than rhetoric because you’re normally looking to knock your enemies back rather than over. But once you get to the polytheistic empires, what started out as name-calling becomes a way of striking truces. “You can keep worshipping your Gods, just so long as you admit ours are bigger.” (See for example the way the Persians treated the Babylonians after conquest.) Of course, this was to be so useful that in practise the monotheistic religions did a similar thing. It’s commonly accepted Catholic ‘saints’ were originally pagan Gods.

I'm going to make the controversial claim that devotion to Anglicanism was largely simply anti-Catholicism and the English in general never took their state religion very seriously. There were some people who did, namely the Puritans, but they fled to America and their descendants became atheists. I don't think the Church of England was ever a particularly devout religion.

One way to read this would be that England is innately irreligious and Puritanism was just a way to purge Catholicism out of our system. If so, I don’t think that at all fits with history. I’d side more with Tawney’s view that Purtianism reflected the ideology of the rising merchant class. And they didn’t all flee to America, and some that did even came back once the English Revolution got going! Anglicanism was certainly a compromise between the Puritans and the wider society. (I would be tempted to write ‘fudge’ there if this was someone else’s blog!) But if you’re saying it had no depth, you have to square that with it’s width.

Moreover, was it Chesterton who said if you stop being religious it’s not that you believe in nothing, but that you will believe in anything? As a non-Christian, I’m quite surprised by the size of the “God-shaped hole” you can see in English society today, as people turn to kooky New Age cults or just become shopaholics in malls in Bristol.

American atheists can sometimes see English society as a mecca of enlightened tolerance. Trust me, it isn’t!

I've seen Leela naked. So I think the obvious answer is Polly. Or Zoe.

In the rarely shown Doctor Who on the Nudist Planet? Or do you mean Louise Jameson?

Anyway, we should stop now before someone mentions the infamous photo shoot of Katy Manning and the Dalek sink plunger!

However, the major point is that atheism does not entail logical positivism

I think you’d need to say more about Logical Positivism’s insidious effects before I could grasp your point.

Curiously, I surprised myself by how much of an Existentialist line I took in this debate so far! I don’t think of myself as such, but I suppose I do go along with the ‘existence precedes essence’ thing. Certainly I’m a materialist, but then some have argued the Existentialists were actually idealists in disguise!

Sure, they can beat up on Young Earth Creationists, Muslim extremists, and other easy targets, but the sophisticated will dance rings around them.

You mean rhetorically. If sense had absolutely anything to do with it, no-one would have taken up those daft doctrines to start off with. Arguing against them is easy, but in itself devoid of effect.

Anyway, I hope Mrs Walker is pleased by the lively debate she has stimulated in the class...

Phil Masters said...

Where I disagree with you and Andrew R is over the scope of ID’s claims. I understand them to be angling for what is technically known as the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle, with any specific refs being by way of example only.

You may well be right. Either the Intelligent Design mob say that the incidents of irreducible complexity which they (claim to) have found represent the interventions of the intelligent designer, and other (probably most) instances of speciation and adaptation are produced by evolution as described by Darwin, or they claim that every mutation and species modification is the work of the designer, and nature doesn't and can't make species-sized leaps; genome modifications above a certain level of complexity have to be managed.

And no, they may well not mean the former, because that doesn't lead to the God of the Pentateuch, just the sort of skiffy aliens who dump black monoliths on Tycho or land flying saucers on Nazca (without sinking in the soft dirt there). But if they go for the latter, then the intelligent designer has to take responsibility not only for any elegant little bits of irreducible complexity, but also for all the appalling bodge jobs like the mammalian eye or the human torso.

Which isn't much of a god to worship either, I'm afraid.

Kurt said...

Gavin: Apologies if I'm taking the comment too much in earnest, but how do shopping binges in Bristol testify to a God-shaped hole?

Site Owner said...

Behe's argument is not only not good but nigh tautologous. An 'irreducably complex' organ or creature is not a disproof of evolution unless 'irreducably complex' means either wholly or in part 'incapable of having evolved'. Proving 'irreducable complexity' is exactly as hard as proving 'incapable of evolutionality' neither more nor less because that's what ID means by 'irreducability'.

Simon BJ

Site Owner said...

Re maths. Maths is the application of logic to the observed universe, and to the earlier deduced mathematics derived from it.

Maths itself shows that it is an incomplete framework, requiring at least one unproven axiom.

So long as the universe continues to be self-consistant, logic which assues self-consistancy as a given holds, and maths works. Whether you think the consistancy of the universe necessitates God is the issue, but maths itself has no special status.

Why should a universe be consistant? is a good question, to which a non-theistic answer might be - inconsistant universes do not survive long enough to develop beings capable of the application of schemes of logic.

Simon BJ

Andrew Stevens said...

I have to be honest and say I find this invocation of the inclusiveness of polytheism a bit rose-tinted. To begin with, religious wars are rarely ever actually religious wars. Societies fight wars over territory, lineage or over which Doctor Who assistant was the most fanciable. They then go and invoke their Gods. (“We will win because we’ve got that great big bloke on our side. I mean, you can’t actually see him or anything but...”) And if you’d like to try and argue there were rarely wars before monotheisim, please go ahead!

Who said they were inclusive or non-warlike? All I'm saying is that ideology and religion didn't play much of a part in their warfare. I am very skeptical of this realpolitik view that no wars (or very few wars) are actually fought over religion or ideology. I think history is incomprehensible with such a view.

It’s commonly accepted Catholic ‘saints’ were originally pagan Gods.

If you say "took the place of," I'd be inclined to agree.

One way to read this would be that England is innately irreligious and Puritanism was just a way to purge Catholicism out of our system. If so, I don’t think that at all fits with history. I’d side more with Tawney’s view that Purtianism reflected the ideology of the rising merchant class. And they didn’t all flee to America, and some that did even came back once the English Revolution got going! Anglicanism was certainly a compromise between the Puritans and the wider society. (I would be tempted to write ‘fudge’ there if this was someone else’s blog!) But if you’re saying it had no depth, you have to square that with it’s width.

I'm not saying England wasn't still religious when Henry VIII broke with Catholicism. I'm saying that the Church of England caused a decline in religiosity from that point forward. The hatred of Catholicism continued for some time, but displays of piety have been rarer in England than in America for centuries. However, you may well be right. I am to a certain extent speculating here and I'd be happy to be corrected by anybody who happens to be an expert on, say, religion in 18th century England.

In the rarely shown Doctor Who on the Nudist Planet? Or do you mean Louise Jameson?

I do, of course, mean Louise Jameson, but Leela looks strikingly like Ms. Jameson when Ms. Jameson is in the proper skins.

I think you’d need to say more about Logical Positivism’s insidious effects before I could grasp your point.

The positivists said that all metaphysics is nonsense and that philosophy is nothing but the handmaiden of science. You can imagine how grateful the scientists were for this. In particular, they tried to push the "verification principle." They said only two types of statements were meaningful. Statements of math and logic or purely formal statements on the one hand and empirical claims which could be verified on the other. Everything else was meaningless. The biggest difficulty is that the verification principle itself is neither analytic nor verifiable and is, therefore, meaningless, by its own criteria. Simultaneously, Karl Popper, who was a cousin to the positivists, but insisted loudly (and correctly) that he was not a positivist, simultaneously pushed for the falsificationist criteria, which fared somewhat better, though not a lot. Popper, however, did not argue that non-falsifiable statements were meaningless.

Cosma Shalizi put it better than I can: "Successive formulations of the [verification] principle were increasingly subtle, increasingly hedged against the triple faults of being vague, of rejecting everything interesting, or (most distressing of all) passing absolutely anything. In the end the combined talents of all the Postivists and their associates (not exactly trifling) were quite defeated, and I don't think verificationism has a single living defender."

There is a great interview that Bryan Magee did with A.J. Ayers back in 1987. See this video. At 6:29 in this part of the video, after about 35 minutes talking about logical positivism, Magee asks "Now it [logical positivism] must have had actually some real defects. What do you think now in retrospect the main shortcomings of the movement were?" Ayers responds, "Well, I suppose most of the defects is that nearly all of it was false." And both of them have a good laugh. Ayers then goes on to argue that he still wants to say that it was true in spirit and that the attitude was right. By the way, I don't want to be too hard on Ayers. He was a smart man, by all accounts a great gentleman, and he was certainly affable and likable. And you have to give him huge credit for his intellectual honesty. It takes a lot of courage to admit that one's life work was, ultimately, worthless. By the by, the Ayers interview is worth watching in its entirety for anybody with an interest in logical positivism.

Somebody should write a book about logical positivism called "The Triumph of Metaphysics." Metaphysics is inescapable. The positivists were stuck with an implicit metaphysical position, and used their "all metaphysics is nonsense" claim as a shield so they didn't have to defend their metaphysical beliefs, the same thing modern atheists do to this day. Gustav Bergmann, a member of the Vienna Circle who broke with the positivists rather early, once wrote, "An unexamined metaphysics, that is, one implicitly held, is for a philosopher the worst metaphysics of all." And that more or less sums up the logical positivists.

Re maths. Maths is the application of logic to the observed universe, and to the earlier deduced mathematics derived from it.

The logicist view of mathematics is perfectly plausible. I subscribe to it on alternate Wednesdays. Logicism is a form of mathematical realism, however.

So long as the universe continues to be self-consistant, logic which assues self-consistancy as a given holds, and maths works. Whether you think the consistancy of the universe necessitates God is the issue, but maths itself has no special status.

If you're saying that math doesn't have any special status because it's logic that actually holds the special status and math is a subset of logic, I'm fine with that.

Why should a universe be consistant? is a good question, to which a non-theistic answer might be - inconsistant universes do not survive long enough to develop beings capable of the application of schemes of logic.

I'm a big fan of the anthropic principle generally. I think all atheists have to be. However, it's a bit of a lame argument when we're talking about the existing Universe. If we're saying why were we so lucky to be born on an improbable planet capable of evolving intelligence, the anthropic principle is a satisfactory answer. But there's no reason to think there are any inconsistent universes. And there are very good reasons to think that mathematics and logic aren't just true in this universe, but in any possible universe, that they are necessary truths. Do we believe there is a Universe where something can be both A and not-A at the same time and in the same respect?

Kurt said...

Gavin: Apologies if I'm taking the comment too much in earnest, but how do shopping binges in Bristol testify to a God-shaped hole?

Haha. Just saw the zombie video. Never mind.

Gavin Burrows said...

andrew stevens said...
I am very skeptical of this realpolitik view that no wars (or very few wars) are actually fought over religion or ideology. I think history is incomprehensible with such a view.

Well, I note the word ‘ideology’ has snuck itself in there, but I would still claim the reverse. In the Iran/Iraq wars of the 80s, the Sunni vs. Shiite schism was cited. And it was of course entirely a co-incidence that Iraq invaded Iran at the nearest point to their oil fields.

Even something like the English Revolution had a religious and ideological dimension, and was not merely Machiavellian, but that dimension in itself had a materialist basis. (As already discussed.)

There’s Bunel’s very funny film The Milky Way where devout types proclaim nit-picking niceities of creed, then get into big fights. But it’s funny because we know history didn’t actually work that way.

I'd be happy to be corrected by anybody who happens to be an expert on, say, religion in 18th century England.

You may well be stuck with me until the expert gets here. It’s true that Puritanism takes a personal conception of religion against Catholicism’s collective one. Which might seem to square oddly with a national church. But...

In the late 17th and partly 18th Century, the Puritans’ main enemy was not Catholicism per se but folk customs. People wanted to continue to get drunk on festival days and play football, just like the Revolution had never been fought. (Unlike Birmingham City Council, the Puritans did actually try to ban Christmas.) Though they defined these things as examples of Godlessness, they were merely things people had been allowed to do beforehand. There’s no reason to suppose those football players wouldn’t have widely considered themselves Christian.

Added to which of course, the Church eventually watered down all that stuff. (Like giving up on banning Christmas.) In recent times the Church of England has been torn between staying the national church (at the cost of being little more than a repository of platitudes) and representing the remaining faithful. But the ‘God Shaped Hole’ doesn’t start till the 1970s, I would say...

Logical Positivism-

So you’re saying empiricism can only take you so far, you’re going to need some kind of metaphysics and you’re better off admitting it? And that those who don’t admit it are kidding themselves?

Do we believe there is a Universe where something can be both A and not-A at the same time and in the same respect?

Doesn’t Quantum Physics say this universe does that already? (Steve Ditko must really hate Quantum Physics?

Andrew Stevens said...

First, I would just like to apologize for unaccountably calling A.J. Ayer "Ayers" five times in one paragraph. I have no idea how that happened.

Well, I note the word ‘ideology’ has snuck itself in there, but I would still claim the reverse. In the Iran/Iraq wars of the 80s, the Sunni vs. Shiite schism was cited. And it was of course entirely a co-incidence that Iraq invaded Iran at the nearest point to their oil fields.

Even something like the English Revolution had a religious and ideological dimension, and was not merely Machiavellian, but that dimension in itself had a materialist basis. (As already discussed.)


I'm not saying that the realpolitik view isn't sometimes true, just that it's not always true. Neither of your examples were true religious wars. The Thirty Years' War, for example or the French Wars of Religion or even the Crusades. How many wars were fought (and are still being fought) over the relatively unimportant piece of real estate known as Jerusalem? I mentioned ideology simply because that's normally included by the realpolitik view, but I'd be happy to exclude it.

I should say that I'm not wholly committed to the idea that England was less religious than other nations in the period in question. I'm not sure how one would really go about demonstrating such a thing; it's merely my sense of the history of that time. In any event, it wouldn't demonstrate my thesis about state religions since the U.K. at the time was unique anyway, being the first country to industrialize.

So you’re saying empiricism can only take you so far, you’re going to need some kind of metaphysics and you’re better off admitting it? And that those who don’t admit it are kidding themselves?

Yes. Take Quine, originally connected with the logical positivists and as thoroughgoing a materialist as you can find. He certainly denied the existence of God, denied the existence of all mental states (identifying them with neurological states), and denied the existence of values and virtually all universals. However, even Quine, eminent philosopher of mathematics that he was, had to concede the existence of abstract entities, namely numbers. This, of course, blew an enormous hole in his materialism which he consistently fought to avoid enlarging. I go much further than Quine, of course, in my non-materialism and I certainly don't insist that all, or even any, atheists go as far as I do. If you want to stick with non-cognitivist ethics and deny the existence of values, I'm okay with that. It's a defensible position. But the dogmatic insistence that strict materialism is the only possible metaphysics doesn't give atheists a lot of credibility.

Doesn’t Quantum Physics say this universe does that already? (Steve Ditko must really hate Quantum Physics?)

No. There's a lot of nonsense written about quantum mechanics. Some people claim that quantum mechanics violates the Law of the Excluded Middle (a thing must be either A or not-A), but as far as I know nobody argues that it violates the Law of Contradiction (a thing cannot be both A and not-A at the same time and in the same respect). It doesn't in fact even violate the Law of the Excluded Middle, but we'll leave that for another time.

By the by, the reason why so much nonsense is written about quantum mechanics is because the Copenhagen Interpretation was very much a logical positivist interpretation which refused to consider any possible interpretations which relied on anything that couldn't be observed (e.g. hidden variables). It was put forward by Bohr and Heisenberg and strongly supported by Born, Pauli, and von Neumann. The supporters were all of a particular school of thought, highly influenced by the positivists. The opponents were much more diverse and included Einstein, Schrodinger, de Broglie, Planck, Bohm, Popper, and Bertrand Russell. Nowadays, you'd be hard pressed to find a physicist who will defend Copenhagen if you try to pin them down on it, but nobody's much interested in revising it either since science has been taken over by the instrumentalists (who believe that concepts and theories are merely useful instruments and that we shouldn't care if they accurately describe reality so long as they are effective at predicting phenomena). A lot of the "weirdness" of quantum mechanics are simple measurement problems under specific circumstances which have been gratuitously generalized into various metaphysical assertions. (The same thing is often done with Godel's Theorem, referenced by Simon BJ above.)

One of these days, I am convinced that science will come around to the idea that Einstein was actually the one who was correct in the famous Bohr-Einstein debate. The Copenhagen Interpretation is incomplete. Indeterminacy is epistemic, not ontological. It is our knowledge that is necessarily uncertain, not reality itself.

The key point, however, is that any claim that quantum mechanics violates the laws of logic can only be a claim of an interpretation. The actual experiments can't show any such thing. Every measurement gives a very definite result - a measurement is either such-and-such or it is not. A measurement certainly can't be both such-and-such and not-such-and-such simultaneously.

Gavin Burrows said...

Phil Masters said:
the intelligent designer has to take responsibility not only for any elegant little bits of irreducible complexity, but also for all the appalling bodge jobs like the mammalian eye or the human torso.

It’s a bit like the old gag ‘God is alive and working, just on a less ambitious project’. If the deviser of the appendix or male pattern baldness is their idea of an intelligent designer, I’d hate to see the handiwork of a stupid one.

Andrew Stevens said...
Neither of your examples were true religious wars. The Thirty Years' War, for example or the French Wars of Religion or even the Crusades. How many wars were fought (and are still being fought) over the relatively unimportant piece of real estate known as Jerusalem?

The Iran/ Iraq War is a classic of the ‘excuse’ category, yes. There were no similar excuses when Saddam invaded Kuwait, but he did it anyway.

But I can’t think of something closer to a ‘true’ religious war than the English Revolution. Both sides were motivated by a synthesis of ideological and material concerns which manifested themselves in a religious form. That’s about as ‘true’ as it gets.

I’d argue Jerusalem is pretty much being fought over as real estate today, if not in the time of the Crusades. But having an enemy to rally against who persecuted the local Christians was pretty handy at the time. (And if the local Christians were actually reasonably tolerated, too bad!) And it gave the Knights something to do which stopped them getting drunk and breaking things and raping people’s daughters more nearby. Though of course that ‘something to do’ was exactly that same thing, only further afield. The Crusades were largely a form of National Service for Toffs. The English Revolution was far ‘truer’.

A measurement certainly can't be both such-and-such and not-such-and-such simultaneously.

Isn’t there the thing about quarks being waves and particles simultaneously? I was also interested in you listing Russell as an ‘opponent’ of the Copenhagen Interpretation, as I tend to think of him as the key LPer.

But you could probably tell me almost anything here as I know no more about Science than about mathematics. I never used to listen to Dr Zarkov much after I noticed it was Flash Gordon who always got the girl.

From what little I know of LP I have a level of sympathy for it. All too often philosophy seems to me a string of assertions which are really just baseless conjecture. You can try to pick holes in the internal logic, but is there any justification for the base this whole edifice was built on in the first place? LP was at least an attempt to bring some rigour to it.

Gavin Burrows said...

"More nearby" is actually terrible English! 'Nearby' might have done...

Andrew Stevens said...

I’d argue Jerusalem is pretty much being fought over as real estate today, if not in the time of the Crusades. But having an enemy to rally against who persecuted the local Christians was pretty handy at the time. (And if the local Christians were actually reasonably tolerated, too bad!) And it gave the Knights something to do which stopped them getting drunk and breaking things and raping people’s daughters more nearby. Though of course that ‘something to do’ was exactly that same thing, only further afield. The Crusades were largely a form of National Service for Toffs. The English Revolution was far ‘truer’.

The Crusades don't start until the Seljuk Turks conquered Jerusalem. The Arabs did treat Christian pilgrims and Christians living in Jerusalem well and nobody started a Crusade when the Arabs held the Holy Land. But the Seljuk Turks were a horse of a different color. There were plenty of evils in the Crusades, particularly in the treatment of Jews (as always, it's the Jews who get the worst of it) and, of course, the ridiculous Fourth Crusade which sacked Constantinople. I am not particularly persuaded by the modern argument that the Crusades were an excuse for a war to occupy second sons. And I'm certainly not persuaded by the view that the Crusades were about evil Christians persecuting peaceful Muslims. (Given that the Muslims were actually the ones doing all the conquering, Christianity was apparently doomed, and the Crusades were almost all failures.) To be fair, however, you're probably referencing later Crusades rather than the First Crusade and I do believe that the various Crusades should be viewed very differently.

I'm sure you know more about the English Revolution than I do. It's always looked like a political revolution to me, rather than a religious one. Barring serious investigation, I'll take your word that it was viewed as a major religious conflict. In any event, obviously I'm not going to defend it as a serious religious war, since I wasn't even aware it was viewed as such by anyone.

Isn’t there the thing about quarks being waves and particles simultaneously?

The Law of Non-Contradiction states that a thing cannot be both A and not-A at the same time and in the same respect. Quantum mechanics only shows that electrons can act as particles or as waves depending on how we measure them. (So there's no contradiction there.) What quantum mechanics shows is the inadequacy of classical concepts like "wave" and "particle" in fully describing the behavior of small-scale objects. If the theory is correct, even macroscopic objects have wave properties, but their wavelengths are too small to detect. In any event, we don't even need to accept that. The de Broglie-Bohm Interpretation gives the exact same predictions as Copenhagen and is, therefore, an equivalent theory, and its ontology is that there is no duality - that there is only a particle which is guided by a pilot wave, causing interference patterns. The Many Worlds Interpretation (which is probably the modern favorite of physicists) can be viewed as a wave-only theory and was so viewed by its originator, Hugh Everett.

I was also interested in you listing Russell as an ‘opponent’ of the Copenhagen Interpretation, as I tend to think of him as the key LPer.

Russell, along with his student Wittgenstein (and going back even further to Hume), is certainly a sort of godfather to logical positivism. (As are other great philosophers like Frege and G.E. Moore.) Russell, admitting that he didn't know the science well enough, was unconvinced by the non-determinism of the Copenhagen Interpretation. Basically, he agreed with Einstein that "God does not play dice."

I would not put Russell in the positivist school. For one thing, all of Russell's major contributions came before the positivists were ever founded. Russell was a great philosopher in the first forty years of his life and then did virtually nothing for the last sixty. (He himself claimed that the Principia Mathematica exhausted him and he never again attacked another subject with comparable rigor.) Certainly he had some positivist sympathies and was a huge influence on A.J. Ayer.

From what little I know of LP I have a level of sympathy for it. All too often philosophy seems to me a string of assertions which are really just baseless conjecture. You can try to pick holes in the internal logic, but is there any justification for the base this whole edifice was built on in the first place? LP was at least an attempt to bring some rigour to it.

Logical positivism and analytic philosophy were, at one time, pretty much synonymous. Certainly I am 100% sympathetic to analytic philosophy and to bringing rigor into the field and Russell, Moore, and, yes, the logical positivists certainly did that. The mistake of the logical positivists, though, was in asserting a metaphysical position of their own (though never explicitly stated) and then insisting that all other metaphysical positions were "meaningless" and refusing to debate them. (The analogy with Dawkins is obvious.) It's a nice trick if you can pull it off and they did pull it off for a couple of decades.

After the collapse of positivism (possibly pushed by Wittgenstein's posthumous repudiation of the Tractatus, which was a sort of bible of the positivist movement, with the publication of Philosophical Investigations), the remaining positivists, like Quine, tried to defend the implicit positivist metaphysical position and found very great difficulties in doing so. Non-cognitivist ethics run into the Frege-Geach Problem, which, I believe, they have never solved (Blackburn notwithstanding). Quine was forced to conclude the reality of abstract entities (particularly numbers) because otherwise the objectivity of mathematics is basically impossible to explain. And so forth.

It is not the rigor of the positivists that I am complaining about; it is their lack of rigor on those subjects which didn't interest them. And not just a lack of rigor, but a sweeping assertion that their own metaphysics was obviously right and didn't even need to be argued for.

I too am sympathetic to the positivist program, if by it one only means the simple assertion "a lot of metaphysics is nonsense." It's very tempting to simply dismiss Hegel as "meaningless" and, frankly I think the charge has a lot of justice. Sadly, it's not that easy. Instead, we have to explain why Hegel's thought is diseased, which it so obviously is.

Phil Masters said...

The Crusades don't start until the Seljuk Turks conquered Jerusalem. The Arabs did treat Christian pilgrims and Christians living in Jerusalem well and nobody started a Crusade when the Arabs held the Holy Land.

But wasn't the point there that the Byzantines were (rationally) nervous of the Seljuks, as a military/imperial power as much as anything, and went looking for westwards for assistance - by sending a letter which pushed a lot of essentially religious buttons?

Of course, the Byzantine appeal landed in a feudal culture running a religious fever and with a growing surfeit of younger sons. For all Alexius Comnenus's political brilliance, the result must count as one of the biggest cases of Unintended Consequences in history.

Andrew Stevens said...

All your facts are correct. Of course, this was hardly the first time the Byzantine Empire had appealed to Western Christendom for help against Muslim conquerors. They had been slowly losing territory to the Arabs for centuries (and, a few centuries later, would lose Constantinople itself to the Ottoman Turks). In 1074, Pope Gregory VII called for aid to the Byzantine Empire, which had failed to stop the Seljuk Turk conquest, but it was pretty much ignored. However, it did focus attention on the East and complaints about abuse of Christian pilgrims (and it's certainly true that the Turks were denying access to the pilgrims) meant people were more ready to accept taking action when Pope Urban II made his call.

Alexios ended up doing pretty well, though. While he did see some of his Empire pillaged by his own allies since he was unable to supply such a massive host (which he wasn't expecting), in the end the Crusades did reconquer a number of territories for him. Later Crusades, though, almost certainly weakened the Byzantine Empire and accelerated its fall.

But the behavior of the Seljuk Turks is usefully contrasted with the Arabs. When the Arabs conquered Jerusalem, they made an agreement that they would not destroy Christian holy sites or impede Christian pilgrims. (Saladin would later do the same after he defeated the Third Crusade.) For nearly five hundred years, the Arabs more or less kept that agreement. It is true that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was destroyed in 1009 by the eccentric and almost certainly mad caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, but after he was assassinated, his successor rebuilt the Church with Byzantine aid. In the West, the destruction was, bizarrely, blamed on the Jews. Ultimately, the destruction of the Church contributed somewhat to Crusader zeal 90 years later. It should be said, though, that I know of no evidence that the Seljuk Turks mistreated Christians who lived in Jerusalem or did any damage to Christian holy sites.

I don't disagree that the Crusades had much to do with political power in the East, but I don't think the behavior of Western Christendom can be explained by a realpolitik view. Only religious fervor can explain it.

Gavin Burrows said...

Interesting posts here. I think I may well be confining my comments to Things I Know At Least Some Small Amount About. In other words, back to Leela...

Andrew Stevens said...
I'm sure you know more about the English Revolution than I do. It's always looked like a political revolution to me, rather than a religious one. Barring serious investigation, I'll take your word that it was viewed as a major religious conflict

It’s amusing the way we’ve swapped over positions as soon as the English Revolution came up! Of course I agree it was, on a political level, a battle for control between King and Parliament. I describe it as a revolution, after all, rather than the more common term Civil War. But for that political war to be waged it had to be underpinned by some quite fundamental ideological shifts, which took on a religious form.

Perhaps a decent working definition of an ideology is when something so fundamentally underpins your world-view you can’t actually see it any more. It’s like asking fish what it’s like swimming in the water, do they even notice the water without being taken out of it?

Along these lines, one significant thing the Puritans did was print a whole load of English-language Bibles. They were so completely convinced that the Bible so underpinned their worldview, they only had to give it to people uninterpreted and unadorned and everyone would naturally flock to their side. (I’ve sometimes wondered if that exacerbated the creed factionalism that characterised the era.)

I am not particularly persuaded by the modern argument that the Crusades were an excuse for a war to occupy second sons. And I'm certainly not persuaded by the view that the Crusades were about evil Christians persecuting peaceful Muslims. (Given that the Muslims were actually the ones doing all the conquering)...

... I don't disagree that the Crusades had much to do with political power in the East, but I don't think the behavior of Western Christendom can be explained by a realpolitik view. Only religious fervor can explain it.


Of course I could just be being dense here (no jokes please!), but I find a kind of ‘excluded middle’ in your comments. I can’t locate the point where you engage with my argument over the Crusades, in fact you fully agree with Phil Masters! Why wouldn’t you want to get those pesky drunken Knights off your hands?

I’m also not sure where the thing about ‘peaceful Muslims’ comes from, how it relates to something myself or Phil said. There was fairly incontrovertibly a Muslim empire in those days, and empires do tend to go in for a bit of conquering somewhere along the line.

It’s also amusing that Islamophobia back then was of the ‘evil empire’ sort, whereas nowadays it always sidelines anything like that in order to paint Islam as anti-civilization. The bright orange right wing Euro MP Robert Kilroy Silk asked not-so-long-ago what the Arabs had done for Western civilization. I presume he meant apart from inventing it.

But back to the point... The editor for Guardian America claimed today that “looker” (as in “Leela was such a looker”) was a British phrase. I’ve always assumed it came from America. Is this another one we can blame on the Germans?

Andrew Stevens said...

A small amount of research indicates that the causes of the English Revolution are quite contentious. The Whig version (which highlights the rise of Parliament and the House of Commons), the Marxist version (which highlights the rise of the bourgeoisie), and the revisionist version gaining popularity now which denies a teleology of history and which claims that the English Revolution was just a bloody tiff between a King and some of his subjects, so they would probably prefer to call it a Civil War. I have some sympathy with the revisionist program, though I am not inclined to revisionism generally. Rescuing historical people from being the tools of historical processes of which they themselves were completely unaware seems to me to be a fine thing. Anyway, given all the possible interpretations, I'm clearly not going to get it right. There was clearly a religious element and it is unclear (to me) how important it was.

Of course I could just be being dense here (no jokes please!), but I find a kind of ‘excluded middle’ in your comments. I can’t locate the point where you engage with my argument over the Crusades, in fact you fully agree with Phil Masters! Why wouldn’t you want to get those pesky drunken Knights off your hands?

Because this is ahistorical for the First Crusade. Most of the people who showed up for the First Crusade weren't knights at all; they were peasants. Pope Urban and Alexios were expecting a few thousand knights, but ended up with 40,000 Crusaders, mostly unskilled fighters and including women and children. If you want to argue that part of the Pope's purpose was to stop Western Christendom from fighting each other by giving them an external enemy to fight, there is probably some truth to this.

I’m also not sure where the thing about ‘peaceful Muslims’ comes from, how it relates to something myself or Phil said. There was fairly incontrovertibly a Muslim empire in those days, and empires do tend to go in for a bit of conquering somewhere along the line.

Neither aimed at you nor Phil. Merely arguing against a popular modern belief. I freely grant that, in this conversation, it could be considered a straw man. Nevertheless, I do maintain that a lot of people believe it.

It’s also amusing that Islamophobia back then was of the ‘evil empire’ sort, whereas nowadays it always sidelines anything like that in order to paint Islam as anti-civilization. The bright orange right wing Euro MP Robert Kilroy Silk asked not-so-long-ago what the Arabs had done for Western civilization. I presume he meant apart from inventing it.

Preserving a lot of it, I'd grant. The Greeks and Romans invented it. (Of course, you might be talking about Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations, which do have some claim to inventing Western civilization. Those areas are inhabited by Arabs now, but I deny they were Arab then.) The two largest contributions the Arabs made to Western civilization are A) preserving the works of many great Greek writers, particularly Aristotle and B) their contributions to mathematics, but most of those they took from India and merely transmitted to the West. (E.g., the Indians were the first to use zero as a number. Algebra was invented by the Babylonians and brought to a high degree of sophistication by the Indians and the Hellenistic philosopher Diophantus. The Islamic Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi, whose name gives us algorithm, did make some major advances in the book which gave us the word algebra. But he did not, as is popularly believed, invent the entire field of algebra.) The Arabs were, however, a great empire at one time and made vast contributions to medieval mathematics, science, philosophy, medicine, etc. Very little of Arab civilization transmitted itself to the West, though.

But back to the point... The editor for Guardian America claimed today that “looker” (as in “Leela was such a looker”) was a British phrase. I’ve always assumed it came from America. Is this another one we can blame on the Germans?

I don't know where it comes from. The Online Etymological Dictionary only says it was first used in 1893, but doesn't say where. I certainly think of the word as American slang, but now largely defunct. It was frequently used in the '30s and '40s, but rarely used today. I think virtually any American would recognize the term though and know what was meant (like dame). I doubt the Germans are responsible for it though.

Tim said...

Gavin Burrows says
It’s amusing the way we’ve swapped over positions as soon as the English Revolution came up! Of course I agree it was, on a political level, a battle for control between King and Parliament. I describe it as a revolution, after all, rather than the more common term Civil War.

Wait, now I'm confused - are you talking about the Civil War (1642ish - 1651 ish) or the Glorious Revolution (1688) - I had assumed the latter...

dagonet said...

Andrew stevens wrote:
"The Arabs were, however, a great empire at one time and made vast contributions to medieval mathematics, science, philosophy, medicine, etc. Very little of Arab civilization transmitted itself to the West, though."

I assume you meant "arab culture" in the last bit ;9
Still disgree, though. as early as the 9th century, a monk in the west were complaining that there was more catholics studying arabic than latin. While certainly exaggerated, it is true my medival ancestors were better at arabic than, say, greek. One of the big accusations levelled by the humanists against the scholastics was that they "cared more for Averroes than st. Augustine & st. Paul".
The arabs also invented a small thing called "scientific theory", and optics, and an extra celestial sphere, etc, etc. The Wests openess to such starteling new concepts is most certainly why we have a - bombs & Paris Hilton today.
By the way, why was the west more "fevered" religiously than anywhere else? Things were certainly going well for us, at least after year 1000+, and terribly for the arabs (barbarian invasions, anti - intellectual conterreveolutions, etc) wich is why the crusades could be performed at all, to take back the "missing" parts of the roman empire. That various religious experiments (most bizarrely the childrens crusades & fighting monks) where associated with them is only logical. Even if they just ended up establishing a new power balance.

Andrew Stevens said...

Dagonet, there is of course a debate on this issue and just how much of a contribution the Arabs had to, for example, "scientific theory." This is not a debate the two of us can actually resolve. I am inclined to a middle view: Arabs made a number of contributions, but it does not amount to a Scientific Revolution with the single exception of optics which was revolutionary.

However, a couple of points. 1) The Scholastics who devoted themselves to Averroes did so because they believed Averroes to be the greatest commentator on Aristotle. They did not devote themselves to Averroes's original philosophy. 2) While the Arabs were declining in the early eleventh century, Islamic society in general was not particularly. Which is why almost all the Crusades failed except the First which hit at a propitious time while the Arabs were fighting off the Seljuk Turks.

Gavin Burrows said...

Tim said:
Wait, now I'm confused - are you talking about the Civil War (1642ish - 1651 ish) or the Glorious Revolution (1688) - I had assumed the latter...

I’m talking about neither, Tim. I’m talking about the English Revolution of the 1640s and 50s.

Andrew Stevens said:
A small amount of research indicates that the causes of the English Revolution are quite contentious. The Whig version (which highlights the rise of Parliament and the House of Commons), the Marxist version (which highlights the rise of the bourgeoisie), and the revisionist version gaining popularity now which denies a teleology of history and which claims that the English Revolution was just a bloody tiff between a King and some of his subjects, so they would probably prefer to call it a Civil War.

Do we detect the hand of Wikipedia here? The Whig version calls it a Civil War too. Calling it a ‘Revolution’ was itself revisionist in its day, and highly contentious. The ‘revisionist’ version you mention isn’t really very “now”, it was doing the rounds when I was studying the period back in the mid-Eighties!

It always seemed like an exercise in damage limitation to me. It was put forward by right-wing historians but, unable to come up with a genuinely rightist angle (which would involve claiming there was neither a Civil War nor a Revolution!), they resorted to a quasi-form of post-modernism. It was all, in Homer Simpson’s inimitable phrase, “just a bunch of stuff that happened” with no overall picture or pattern. They probably wouldn’t even be dignifying it with so meaningful term as ‘Civil War’ were the term not already established.

I have some sympathy with the revisionist program, though I am not inclined to revisionism generally. Rescuing historical people from being the tools of historical processes of which they themselves were completely unaware seems to me to be a fine thing.

I have heard this argument many times without ever understanding it. Why is doing things mob-handed supposed to be a limitation and not an advantage? The rising merchant class wanted a more powerful Parliament and (in general) they got it! How does this make them the ‘tool’ of something?

It certainly seems true the Puritans got swept along by the momentum of events they precipitated but then ran away from them. Few argued in advance for the King to be offed, for example. Certainly if your impression of Revolutions revolves around scheming cadres hatching secret plans you’re going to get hopelessly confused, but you could say something similar about the French revolution.

There were some people who did, namely the Puritans, but they fled to America and their descendants became atheists.

You’re overstating the case here, but at the same time I do tend to suspect the oft-cited direct influence of Puritanism on modern American society is both overly schematic and overly stated. This isn’t just because... um... a lot more folk moved there after the Mayflower did. (Honest, it’s in the books!) The height of Puritan migration was before independence, where all of America was behind the Proclamation Line. Few of the modern states that correspond to that line match where the Bible Belt is today. And anyway, I doubt there’s much in my mindset that matches what my great-grandparents thought.

I would agree it was of some influence (so wouldn’t say “their descendents became atheists” myself) the War of Independence did incubate Puritanism. I’d also suggest the frontier experience probably also incubated Puritanism, being a private revolution involving self-reliance etc.

But overall I suspect that America isn’t so heavily (to coin a crude phrase) ‘right-wing individualist’ because it’s Puritan, but exactly the reverse. The lack of welfare provisions (compared to similar countries) creates opportunities for evangelists among the poor, where they get to combine dinner with prayers.

Because this is ahistorical for the First Crusade.

But surely this was at most the exception to the general rule?

The Greeks and Romans invented it.[civilization] (Of course, you might be talking about Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations, which do have some claim to inventing Western civilization.)

I am, except I wouldn’t put “some” ahead of “claim.” They meet all the commonly accepted conditions for civilizations, and quite simply got in first! (Though of course you generally need to be wary of assuming cause and effect from chronology, especially in the ancient world, it seems reasonable to do so here.)

Those areas are inhabited by Arabs now, but I deny they were Arab then.

Well there you hit upon the flaw in my anti-Kilroy gag of course! Though, from the tone of his comment, I somehow doubt he’d know any of that. I could probably claim the Persian Empire as Arab too, and get away with it! (There’s that clip doing the rounds of the McCain supporter claiming Obama can’t be trusted because he’s ‘Arab’. One of the few moments you could also feel sorry for McCain.)

the Indians were the first to use zero as a number. Algebra was invented by the Babylonians and brought to a high degree of sophistication by the Indians and the Hellenistic philosopher Diophantus. The Islamic Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi, whose name gives us algorithm, did make some major advances in the book which gave us the word algebra. But he did not, as is popularly believed, invent the entire field of algebra.

I’ve heard so many conflicting stories over who invented the zero I now don’t know who to believe! No-one ever seems to consider it could have been invented independently by both. (But of course there were trade links between the two, which would dent that suggestion.)

Very little of Arab civilization transmitted itself to the West, though.

I don’t believe this is true. Between them the Moors and the Turks held huge swathes of southern Europe in their time. You can still see the Moorish architecture in Spain today. And of course ‘algebra’ is but one of many ‘el’ and ‘al’ words we got from Arabic.

Incidentally, isn’t the Taleban’s murder of the aid worker Gayle Williams another classic case of realpolitik masquerading as religious intransigence? If it’s unlikely she was prosletysing it’s as unlikely they ever genuinely believed she was. Scaring aid workers from the country suits their programme of destabilisation, and if they can do it Kabul (the enemy stronghold) so much the better!

Andrew Rilstone said...

When Kilroy silk said that the Arabs had contributed nothing to civilisation, he obviously meant that the Roman Numerals had no figure for zero, making it very hard for them invent calculus or overdrafts. So we adopted the Arabic numbering system, which does have zero. So it is literally true that the Arabs contributed "nothing" to civilisation.

Sorry.

Andrew Rilstone said...

He actually said "We owe the Arabs nothing." Joke still works, can't be bothered to retype it. It was Hitler who said "The Jews have contributed nothing to Civilisaiton." Easy mistake to make.

Andrew Stevens said...

Do we detect the hand of Wikipedia here? The Whig version calls it a Civil War too. Calling it a ‘Revolution’ was itself revisionist in its day, and highly contentious. The ‘revisionist’ version you mention isn’t really very “now”, it was doing the rounds when I was studying the period back in the mid-Eighties!

Quite probably; I don't actually remember where I was reading about the three views of the English Revolution/Civil War and it might well be Wikipedia. (But then I am not nearly so denigrating of Wikipedia as many. Like any reference work, it makes errors and often makes more egregious errors than traditional reference works, but they tend to be easy to spot.) When it comes to history, mid-Eighties is still pretty much "now."

I have heard this argument many times without ever understanding it. Why is doing things mob-handed supposed to be a limitation and not an advantage? The rising merchant class wanted a more powerful Parliament and (in general) they got it! How does this make them the ‘tool’ of something?

When it comes to history, I am of an anti-theoretical bent. I am not persuaded by grand teleological theories of history, whether they are congenial to my worldview (as the Whig version would be) or whether they are Hegelian-Marxist in character. I'm not saying there isn't some truth to all of these views. There certainly is progress in history and there certainly is class struggle in history. But viewing all of history through a particular lens is a serious limitation; people are more complex than that.

You’re overstating the case here, but at the same time I do tend to suspect the oft-cited direct influence of Puritanism on modern American society is both overly schematic and overly stated. This isn’t just because... um... a lot more folk moved there after the Mayflower did. (Honest, it’s in the books!) The height of Puritan migration was before independence, where all of America was behind the Proclamation Line. Few of the modern states that correspond to that line match where the Bible Belt is today. And anyway, I doubt there’s much in my mindset that matches what my great-grandparents thought.

I would agree it was of some influence (so wouldn’t say “their descendents became atheists” myself) the War of Independence did incubate Puritanism. I’d also suggest the frontier experience probably also incubated Puritanism, being a private revolution involving self-reliance etc.

But overall I suspect that America isn’t so heavily (to coin a crude phrase) ‘right-wing individualist’ because it’s Puritan, but exactly the reverse. The lack of welfare provisions (compared to similar countries) creates opportunities for evangelists among the poor, where they get to combine dinner with prayers.


This is essentially the same argument that we had over language earlier. I suspect that our different perspectives are causing us to emphasize different things. As an Englishman looking at America, you principally see differences between the two countries. As an Anglophilic American looking at America, I principally see similarities to England. My claim is that the four English/Scottish migrations to America (Puritans, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Scots-Irish) were crucial and dominate our culture, in language most obviously, but in many, many other ways as well (law, philosophy, etc). Did Germans, Italians, Jews, Scandinavians, Irish, etc. also make large contributions to American culture? You bet, but primarily they assimilated to the existing English culture.

However, the "right-wing individualism" of America doesn't come from the Puritans at all. If you look at those areas where the Puritans had the most influence, it's all in the left-wing parts of the country (which is why I say that their descendants became atheists, speaking as an atheist descendant of Puritans). The "right-wing individualism" primarily comes from the Cavaliers and the Scots-Irish and from frontier culture in general. It's their descendants who are currently religious while the Puritan descendants largely abandoned theirs. (Most of them are actually de facto atheists, but nominally still Christians.) The Puritans began behind the Line of Proclamation, of course, but the Northern Midwest was settled by New Englanders (i.e. Puritans or their descendants) migrating westward. (The Line of Proclamation was never taken very seriously by the colonists and was a dead issue thirteen years after it was proclaimed.) I freely grant that today New England is much heavier on Puritan descendants than the Midwest is, but there's a reason why a particular accent, which began in New England, dominates the Northern Midwest. The Bible Belt, however, is not Puritan; it begins as Anglican (the Cavaliers) and becomes non-Anglican Protestant through a series of religious revivals (many of which originated in New England, but became most popular in the South), particularly the Second Great Awakening. But it's not new migrations to America which causes the Bible Belt; it's peculiarly American experiences.

I am, except I wouldn’t put “some” ahead of “claim.” They meet all the commonly accepted conditions for civilizations, and quite simply got in first! (Though of course you generally need to be wary of assuming cause and effect from chronology, especially in the ancient world, it seems reasonable to do so here.)

The Sumerians and Babylonians certainly have the strongest claim to inventing civilization. Western civilization as we know it today, however, is the invention of the Greeks and Romans. Very little of Sumerian and Babylonian culture survives in Western civilization; huge swaths of Greek and Roman culture survive.

But surely this was at most the exception to the general rule?

Are we switching places here? You emphasize Sumer and Babylon because they came first? I emphasize the First Crusade because it came first? I concede that the view of excess knights might be appropriate in later Crusades. I cannot tell you how appropriate since my knowledge of the Crusades after the Third is limited.

I’ve heard so many conflicting stories over who invented the zero I now don’t know who to believe! No-one ever seems to consider it could have been invented independently by both. (But of course there were trade links between the two, which would dent that suggestion.)

Zero as a number was invented independently by the Mesoamericans. The base 10 system complete with zero that we know today, however, was certainly taken by the Arabs from India. (Whether the Indians invented it can't be said with certainty, but it seems likely.) Al-Khwarizmi wrote a book called "On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals" and Al-Kindi wrote the four volume "On the Use of Hindu Numerals." There isn't any doubt on this particular point. The base-10 system with zero as a number was taken from India by the Arabs. (This does not denigrate the many great things that Arabic mathematicians did with the system.) Modern mathematicians refer to our numerals as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.

I don’t believe this is true. Between them the Moors and the Turks held huge swathes of southern Europe in their time. You can still see the Moorish architecture in Spain today. And of course ‘algebra’ is but one of many ‘el’ and ‘al’ words we got from Arabic.

I do view language as a sort of Rosetta Stone of cultural contributions. I concede, of course, that we get some words from Arabic. But it's just trivial compared to Greece and Rome. (And I'm not saying you ever said otherwise.) Similarly, America may well get some of its idiosyncratic words from modern German, but a modern German would find American English nearly incomprehensible, while an 18th century Englishman would understand almost all of it. Unlike Mr. Kilroy-Silk, I'm not denying Arabic influence on Western civilization. Indeed, I am very much an admirer of the Arabs. But let's not go too far in the opposite direction; Arabic contributions are trivial compared to Greek and Roman (or, for that matter, English, French, or German) contributions. The only place where this is probably not true is Spain and Portugal where, I assume, the Arabs had much greater influence.

Incidentally, isn’t the Taleban’s murder of the aid worker Gayle Williams another classic case of realpolitik masquerading as religious intransigence? If it’s unlikely she was prosletysing it’s as unlikely they ever genuinely believed she was. Scaring aid workers from the country suits their programme of destabilisation, and if they can do it Kabul (the enemy stronghold) so much the better!

I had to look up Gayle Williams since it's not a big story here (at least not yet). I would be inclined to agree, but then there definitely seems to be a religious component since they are particularly targeting women. They've killed three other female aid workers in the last ten weeks, but no men.

Gavin Burrows said...

andrew rilstone said...
He actually said "We owe the Arabs nothing." Joke still works, can't be bothered to retype it. It was Hitler who said "The Jews have contributed nothing to Civilisaiton." Easy mistake to make.

That was the header. (Perhaps he was offering to take them the zero back.) He went on to say:

"The Arab countries are not exactly shining examples of civilisation, are they? Few of them make much contribution to the welfare of the rest of the world." (Along with stuff about Iran supporting Saddam, so the war between the two of them was clearly a kind of deep cover.)

Full thing here

Of course he also formed a political party to combat the encroaching European influence on British affairs, to defend our culture and way of life. A party called Veritas. A... um... Latin name.

It is of course possible that Robert Kilroy-Silk is not an intellectual giant.

(I will reply to the other Andrew's comments later...)

Phil Masters said...

Incidentally, isn’t the Taleban’s murder of the aid worker Gayle Williams another classic case of realpolitik masquerading as religious intransigence?

Going largely on journalistic anecdotes, I doubt this. Of course, the assortment of motives, tactics, attitudes, and prejudices throughout that movement is doubtless very mixed and varied - but there are too many stories of conservative Muslims from that part of the world saying that schools for girls are teaching them cannibalism or something similar, and turning out to mean it entirely literally. The level of prejudice and cultural paranoia in that region is clearly deeply scary and pretty unbelievable. The brutal misogyny of the Iranian revolution and the Taleban goes way beyond any kind of functional realpolitik.

Years back, reading William Dalrymple's In Xanadu, about travels in Central Asia in the late '80s, I ran across his account of sharing a lift with some local fogey who spent much of the trip declaring things like Dalrymple's Walkman to be "against Islam". I found it funny at the time; less so now. Obviously, this sort of thing is reactionary bigotry and xenophobia hung on a religious hook - but it's a big, accommodating hook, and the bigotry pre-dates any current tactical considerations.

The base 10 system complete with zero that we know today, however, was certainly taken by the Arabs from India.

A current BBC TV series about the history of mathematics had a segment the other night in which the presenter visited an Indian shrine with an inscription that included the oldest known appearance of a zero. (Zero zero?)

dagonet said...

Andrew Stevens wrote:
"However, a couple of points. 1) The Scholastics who devoted themselves to Averroes did so because they believed Averroes to be the greatest commentator on Aristotle. They did not devote themselves to Averroes's original philosophy."

My own impression is that they did: and that they even took over Arabic accusations of heresy against him. That his continuation of Galen, Plato, etc (which is what I assume you mean by his "original" philosophy) turned out to be a lot less useful is another matter.

"2) While the Arabs were declining in the early eleventh century, Islamic society in general was not particularly. Which is why almost all the Crusades failed except the First which hit at a propitious time while the Arabs were fighting off the Seljuk Turks."

Thats why I wrote "arabs", not "moslems".
Of course, the scientific work done in the dark ages was both multi - religious & multicultural (people always forget the Jews & Syrian christian schismatics), but they all spoke arabic together.

Sorry if I go on a bit about this subject: its not because I want to compare the arabic continued use of classical thought (in contrast to the byzantines, who just kept the language) with the scientific/industrial revolution (cant compare that to anything, really): but its not complete nonsense that without the things the arabs gave us (such as universities, and economic alternatives to those fat cats in Constantinople) we would not have neen able to have that revolution at all.
Considering our current state of affairs, that might be an useful thing to keep in mind (also for arab - speakers)
(Hmph. And everybody keeps on about the Iberians, but what about Sicilly? Or the large Moslem populations in Eastern Europe?)

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Rilstone said...
It was Hitler who said "The Jews have contributed nothing to Civilisaiton." Easy mistake to make.

Hitler was in black and white. Kilroy-Silk is a fairly vivid orange. There may even be some other differences. I’ll get back to you...

Andrew Stevens said:
I am not nearly so denigrating of Wikipedia as many.

I was just goofing around, as they say. (Quite possibly from the original German.) I don’t have anything against Wikipedia. I’d obviously been dipping into it myself to notice!

There certainly is progress in history and there certainly is class struggle in history. But viewing all of history through a particular lens is a serious limitation; people are more complex than that.

What Charlie said: “History of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” Which means of course, as long as there’s been history there’s been class struggle, it’s interwoven with every aspect of our lives and informs to some degree everything we do.

What Charlie didn’t say: We are nothing but the product of our class background. This makes history predestined and forewritten. The fact that some of his loudest apparent proponents were unable to read him correctly, and so started saying all sorts of foolish things, doesn’t change any of this.

The ‘Reformist’ conception of the English Revolution is almost classic here. It busies itself finding exceptions to the ‘rule’ of class alliances (eg finding brothers who took opposite sides), which it then claims overthrows the rule. But the ‘rule’ was only ever intended as an overall picture, exceptions are notable only if they turn out to be numerically significant. It’s like the rules of English spelling and grammar, you can find exceptions if you want but the rule is still the rule.

Also, I often find a funny paradox. People are often keen to claim any kind of class analysis turns humans into cogs. But if you challenge in any way something like the market mechanism, the same people often respond that it merely reflects ‘human nature’, as if that’s something fixed and immutable. If you suggest that maybe people are more complex than that, they write you off as a hopeless idealist. Surely some contradiction! (Whether Andrew would say this or not I’ve no idea. I’m speaking in general.)

The Line of Proclamation was never taken very seriously by the colonists and was a dead issue thirteen years after it was proclaimed.
I’ve sometimes wondered how meaningful it was. It couldn’t have been particularly easy to police at the time! But it was cited by the Independence movement, wasn’t it? Was that just for political reasons?

The Bible Belt, however, is not Puritan; it begins as Anglican (the Cavaliers) and becomes non-Anglican Protestant through a series of religious revivals (many of which originated in New England, but became most popular in the South), particularly the Second Great Awakening. But it's not new migrations to America which causes the Bible Belt; it's peculiarly American experiences.

Interesting comments. I note with some alarm however that we seem to be almost agreeing with each other here. What are we going to do now?

Incidentally, many people associate Puritanism with Evangelism. But, such was their stress on religion as a private affair, many sects (for example the Muggletonians) forbad anything that smacked of ‘cold calling’. (You may not be too surprised to hear that almost none of these sects survived to today.) And of course anything remotely resembling “happy-clapping” would have seen the Mayflower changing direction pretty sharpish, they didn’t see any need for either of those things.

Are we switching places here? You emphasize Sumer and Babylon because they came first? I emphasize the First Crusade because it came first?

I’m saying they were first therefore they’re first, not they’re first therefore that’s significant!

Very little of Sumerian and Babylonian culture survives in Western civilization; huge swaths of Greek and Roman culture survive.

Of course the Victorians used to assume that there was one great template civilization, and all the others mere copycats. And of course no-one believes that today. However this seems to me to be almost going to the other extreme. The Sumerians surely had some effect upon the civilizations which followed. Though of course any effect on the Greeks would have been indirect, let alone the Romans.

Also, I suspect British culture likes to play up a Greek influence which is little more than a caricature of noble democrats and benign philosophers rather than military occupiers. If we’d actually been invaded by the Greeks I doubt our image would be so rosy.

I concede, of course, that we get some words from Arabic. But it's just trivial compared to Greece and Rome.

Of course this is true. But I wasn’t counting numbers of words, I was saying when we use an Arabic word that would suggest we got that concept from Arabia. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. (Even if they got the concept from someone else. Thanks to you and Phil for the comments over that, BTW.)

The only place where this is probably not true is Spain and Portugal where, I assume, the Arabs had much greater influence.

The Ottomans had an influence over the Balkans too, though probably not to the same extent.

Phil Masters said...
The brutal misogyny of the Iranian revolution and the Taleban goes way beyond any kind of functional realpolitik.

I’m sure that’s true, but the two arguments aren’t necessarily at odds. If your aim is to scare out the aid workers and create a fundamentalist regime, it makes ‘sense’ to start with the female ones...

Of course if you create a situation where groups of young men are denied any contact with women except when punishing them for alleged transgressions... well, the results are pretty inevitable really.

Andrew Stevens said...

We are rapidly running out of disagreements.

What Charlie didn’t say: We are nothing but the product of our class background. This makes history predestined and forewritten. The fact that some of his loudest apparent proponents were unable to read him correctly, and so started saying all sorts of foolish things, doesn’t change any of this.

I am inclined to agree with you. Marx was a peculiar mix of German philosophy, French politics, and English economics. It is easy to see why Marxists saw Marx as determinist. His philosophy of history largely comes from Hegel and Hegel was a determinist. However, it's also easy to see why Marx may not have adopted that view. Hegel was a determinist due to his pantheistic outlook; Marx was explicitly an atheist. This was his principal disagreement with Hegel. However, I do think there is much in Marx which indicates that he believes that technology is more or less the only deciding factor in a culture.

Also, I often find a funny paradox. People are often keen to claim any kind of class analysis turns humans into cogs. But if you challenge in any way something like the market mechanism, the same people often respond that it merely reflects ‘human nature’, as if that’s something fixed and immutable. If you suggest that maybe people are more complex than that, they write you off as a hopeless idealist. Surely some contradiction! (Whether Andrew would say this or not I’ve no idea. I’m speaking in general.)

The principal disagreement between Marx and the conservative tradition is that Marx believed that human nature can (and would) be changed and the conservatives believe no such thing. But the people who criticize Marx on the "cogs" argument are usually not in the conservative tradition, but leftist critics of Marx and they do not generally agree with the conservatives on fixed human nature. I'm not sure I see your contradiction even if we grant that the two arguments are made by the same people, though. Human nature could easily be constrained enough to admit the one, but not so constrained that it obliges the other.

I’ve sometimes wondered how meaningful it was. It couldn’t have been particularly easy to police at the time! But it was cited by the Independence movement, wasn’t it? Was that just for political reasons?

Lots of people complain about unjust laws that they have been easily and happily violating for years. I suggest that this is the reason why it was mentioned. It showed the tyranny of George III even though nobody bothered to respect it.

Incidentally, many people associate Puritanism with Evangelism. But, such was their stress on religion as a private affair, many sects (for example the Muggletonians) forbad anything that smacked of ‘cold calling’. (You may not be too surprised to hear that almost none of these sects survived to today.) And of course anything remotely resembling “happy-clapping” would have seen the Mayflower changing direction pretty sharpish, they didn’t see any need for either of those things.

I certainly don't associate Puritanism with evangelism, never mind "happy-clapping." I do believe Puritanism had a profound influence on the American left. E.g. some of the most restrictive alcohol laws in the country occur in Puritan New England. Then there are the anti-smoking crusades and health Puritanism in general, frowning on gambling and drugs, making sure you buckle your seat belt, and other strange attitudes of the left. I realize that some of these attitudes occur on the left in other countries as well, but I wonder how much of that is America's (and England's) influence.

Also, I suspect British culture likes to play up a Greek influence which is little more than a caricature of noble democrats and benign philosophers rather than military occupiers. If we’d actually been invaded by the Greeks I doubt our image would be so rosy.

Probably because their military legacy was the least important thing about them culturally. They never became so big that their military prowess captured the imagination like the Romans. I actually got into an argument recently about Sparta v. Athens. The former, of course, are remembered for their military prowess. Curiously, I found the person I was speaking to had some fundamentally ahistorical ideas. E.g. she thought that it was Sparta in which women were entirely disrespected, whereas in reality Sparta's women had far and away more freedom and dignity than in any other Greek city-state, certainly far more than in Athens. In Athens, women were considered fit for nothing other than sewing. In Sparta, where the men might be missing for years at a time, sewing was considered slave's work; wives were needed to run the household. Aristotle wrote, "And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury. The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizen fall under the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races, except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves. The old mythologer would seem to have been right in uniting Ares and Aphrodite, for all warlike races are prone to the love either of men or of women. This was exemplified among the Spartans in the days of their greatness; many things were managed by their women. But what difference does it make whether women rule, or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same." So, yes, I do believe the less savory aspects of Athens are swept under the rug and, conversely, that the virtues of Sparta are entirely ignored since they are considered just a belligent martial culture of no possible virtue.

Of course this is true. But I wasn’t counting numbers of words, I was saying when we use an Arabic word that would suggest we got that concept from Arabia. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

It was perfectly clear and I meant the same thing myself. By showing how few words we get from Arabic and contrasting with how many we get from Latin and Greek, I hoped to indicate the relative paucity of concepts we have received from the Arabs.

The Arabs were a great empire. They play to the Muslim world the role that both Athens and Rome play to Western civilization. Between the eighth and fourteenth centuries, they were almost surely the most advanced science in the world, outstripping both the West and China. What is puzzling is why they didn't have a scientific revolution that would later occur during the Renaissance.

My own impression is that they did: and that they even took over Arabic accusations of heresy against him. That his continuation of Galen, Plato, etc (which is what I assume you mean by his "original" philosophy) turned out to be a lot less useful is another matter.

A little research indicates that you're correct. There were many in the Scholastic tradition who devoted themselves to Averroes. I was thinking more of Aquinas and Scotus.

Hmph. And everybody keeps on about the Iberians, but what about Sicilly? Or the large Moslem populations in Eastern Europe?

Sicily's a good point, but I wasn't referring to Muslims in Eastern Europe because I've been talking about the Arabs. The Islamic caliphate spread from Iberia to India, but never came close to Eastern Europe.

Phil Masters said...

I’m sure that’s true, but the two arguments aren’t necessarily at odds. If your aim is to scare out the aid workers and create a fundamentalist regime, it makes ‘sense’ to start with the female ones...

Sometimes, the religious (or other ideological) impulse is useful for tactical or realpolitik purposes, or can be bent round to something convenient with only a very little doublethink. (I imagine that many neocons were quite sincere about the wish to bring democracy to the Middle East - but mysteriously enough, the place where the project was initiated was the place which had arguably cost Shrub's daddy the presidency, and which was sitting on quite a lot of oil.) That doesn't make the impulse any less religious/ideological, though; it just makes the smell of hypocrisy round some people a little bit stronger.

Steve3742 said...

So, yes, I do believe the less savory aspects of Athens are swept under the rug and, conversely, that the virtues of Sparta are entirely ignored since they are considered just a belligent martial culture of no possible virtue.

I suppose it depends who you talk to. In Victorian times you can see, especially amongst military types, an admiration of Spartan military prowess and a certain despite of soft, democratic Athens. Us liberal democrats tend towards the opposite point of view, but the boy in us that used to (or still does) play with toy soldiers still has a certain admiration for the Spartan military.

The recent film "300" and the (far better) comic on which it was based is an example of this, presenting the Spartan point of view as the only one and implying that the Spartans won the war almost single-handed at Thermopylae. This ignores history. Thermopylae was a defeat, however brave a stand it was, and all it did was delay the Persian army for three days. The rest of the Spartans were busy fortifying the isthmus that led to the Peleponnese and refused to advance from it. But their fortifications would have been useless because the Persian army was also accompanied (and supplied by) one of the largest fleets the world had ever seen. What do you do when faced with a wall? You go round it, like they did at Thermopylae in the end. The Peleponnese would have been easily taken, Spartan military prowess notwithstanding, had the Persian fleet not been destroyed at the battle of Salamis. And that was largely an Athenian victory, and one the Spartans did nothing but hinder due to jealousy.

The stand at Thermopylae appeals to our schoolboy nature. The less glorious victory at Salamis was, however, far more significant.

The Arabs were a great empire. They play to the Muslim world the role that both Athens and Rome play to Western civilization. Between the eighth and fourteenth centuries, they were almost surely the most advanced science in the world, outstripping both the West and China. What is puzzling is why they didn't have a scientific revolution that would later occur during the Renaissance.

It is puzzling. And similar things could be said about the Chinese. Perhaps our Scientific revolution wasn't as inevitable as hindsight makes it out to be?

Andrew Rilstone said...

A Pedant Writes

Are me making the perenniel mistake of confusing "evangelical" with "evangelist".

"Evangelist" = One who seeks to win converts, to Christianity or by extension to any faith

"Evangelical" = One who believes in a conservative Protestant form of Christianity, emphasizing the Fall of Man, the Cross, Salvation By Faith and demphasizing the sacrements.

Most evangelicals are evangelists, but not all evangelists are evangelicals.

(And of course, the word "evangelist" in a phrase like "The Church of St John the Evangelist" simply means "The One Who Wrote the Gospel, As Opposed To The One Who Wrote The Book of Revelation.")

But I can talk: as I result of this thread I've discovered that I've spent 20 years saying "Logical Positivist" when I really mean "Empiricist." How incredibly embarassing!

Having read "The Pilgrims Progress", which I take to be about "puritans" I tend to feel that Bunyan would be reasonably at home in most modern evangelical churches.

"May I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word (puritan) is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life."
The Screwtape Letters



Currently embroiled in a review of the Season 4 boxset. Russell T Davies so needs a slap.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
We are rapidly running out of disagreements.

Please say it ain’t so!

Marx was a peculiar mix of German philosophy, French politics, and English economics.

He lived in all three countries so that’s quite possible.

It is easy to see why Marxists saw Marx as determinist. His philosophy of history largely comes from Hegel and Hegel was a determinist.

Well, capitalist thought is often deterministic in itself. How many times have you heard the market referred to as a ‘mechanism’ when it’s clearly nothing of the kind?

However, I do think there is much in Marx which indicates that he believes that technology is more or less the only deciding factor in a culture.

It’s generally accepted there’s a difference between early and late Marx. Unfortunately late Marx (the guy who wrote Kapital) is the one most people read to find out what he was on about! It was early Marx who wrote the previously quoted line about history being the result of class struggle. He would almost certainly have said that technology was merely the result of class struggle, rather than the determinant of it.

A classic example would be something like the Fordist production line, Previously, cars were built by craftsmen who were quite unionised and resistant to regulation. Their skills gave them at least a degree of autonomy. By transforming production into a series of mechanised, skill-free steps Ford was able to create a regulated skill-free workforce who he could hire and fire at will.

I'm not sure I see your contradiction even if we grant that the two arguments are made by the same people, though. Human nature could easily be constrained enough to admit the one, but not so constrained that it obliges the other.

This is really missing my point. What you say might be arguable, but then of course you’d have to argue it! My point is that ‘human nature’ is trotted out as a kind of unarguable clincher. If you question it, you’re merely told that “everybody knows” that. It’s mystification masquerading as common sense.

People who live in a capitalist society tend to behave as though they do. My workmates don’t very often say “hey, why don’t we try some hunter gathering today?” (Or at least if they do, they don’t invite me.) Whereas people who don’t live in a capitalist society tend to behave as though they don’t. ‘Human nature’, insomuch as it means anything at all, is completely beside the point. I’m continually amazed by the amount of people who have trouble with that.

I do believe Puritanism had a profound influence on the American left.

I’m sure this is right. The English Revolution really pushed the idea of ‘citizenship’ for the first time, which is both an American and a Mainstream Left concept. At the same time, perhaps the relationship was also rather enforced. After the Restoration in England, dissent took a religious rather than political form (nonconformism) largely because it had to in order to survive. (‘Tolerance’, or the idea you had a right to privately worship how you wanted got itself established through the Revolution.) The frequent waves of anti-leftist repression that characterise US history up to the early part of the 20th Century produced a similar result. Call your headquarters a Church, and the cops might be slightly more reluctant to raid it.

Also, doesn’t evangelicalism have a similar (if more convoluted) relationship to the left? Both the anti-slavery and Civil Rights movements had connections to evangelicalism, after all. This is quite odd to think from a British perspective, as our thinking tends to go non-Anglicanism = evangelicalism = Christian Coalition = don’t holiday abroad.

So, yes, I do believe the less savory aspects of Athens are swept under the rug and, conversely, that the virtues of Sparta are entirely ignored since they are considered just a belligent martial culture of no possible virtue.

Spartans weren’t “really Greek” by popular conception. Whether you praised or denigrated them was really secondary to that. But then, in the era of city states, how much of a conception of ‘fellow Greek’ was there? Is it a modern piece of retconning? (Disclaimer: No idea if this is true. Just throwing the idea out.)

I wasn't referring to Muslims in Eastern Europe because I've been talking about the Arabs.

After my earlier gag about Kilroy-Silk, I found that in his screed he really did refer to Iranians as Arabs! This is probably illustrative of a general tendency for Northern Europeans to consider Arab a catch-all term for (if you’ll forgive the phrase) “domestic darkies.” Similarly in the Balkans ‘Muslim’ can refer either to anyone of the Muslim religion or of more Southern origin.

Andrew Rilstone (aka A. Pedant) said...
Are me making the perenniel mistake of confusing "evangelical" with "evangelist".

Umm.... yes.

But in our defence there is a connection! As said earlier, many Puritan sects ruled out any form of evangelism. (Though the degree of veracity here goes down as well as up, depending upon which sect you’re talking about.)

Having read "The Pilgrims Progress", which I take to be about "puritans" I tend to feel that Bunyan would be reasonably at home in most modern evangelical churches.

I tend to think of a key feature of evangelicalism being ‘heat’ and fervour, and Puritanism coolness and dispassion. The English Puritans chiefly came from urban areas, and rather than emphasising the social aspects of religion they chose to downplay it. God is found by reading the Bible, or other forms of silent contemplation. The Evangelicals were (at least originally) frontiers people who saw religion as both a way to get together, and an acceptable means by which they could get what is technically known as ‘all excited’. Showmanship also found its way back into religion.

Pilgrim’s Progress is almost classic here, where Bunyan presents his own emotions as outward forces which beset him and must be beaten off.

Why don’t we get those Wikipedia links right out in the open?

Phil Masters said:
I imagine that many neocons were quite sincere about the wish to bring democracy to the Middle East - but mysteriously enough, the place where the project was initiated was the place which had arguably cost Shrub's daddy the presidency, and which was sitting on quite a lot of oil

Bugger, we really are running out of disagreements. Does anyone want to volunteer to be a Flat Earther, so the rest of us can hurl abuse at them?

Andrew Stevens said...

I agree entire with the comments of Phil Masters and Steve3742. Obviously Frank Miller is an exception to the modern distaste for Sparta. And, equally obviously, there were many reasons why the neo-conservatives chose Iraq for their "democracy in the Middle East" project. (Although, I am puzzled by Mr. Masters's comment that Iraq cost Bush Senior the Presidency. There was almost universal approval of Bush Senior's foreign policy, including the Iraq War. He lost because of economics and because he broke his "no new taxes" pledge. Perhaps you're implying that the Iraq War caused the 1990-1991 recession? There is some plausibility to that, due to the 1990 spike in oil prices, almost certainly a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.)

I should say that I wasn't even aware of Mr. Rilstone's distinction between evangelical and evangelist, so I greatly appreciate the pedantry. (I always thought they were called evangelicals because they evangelized. Whereas, it turns out the opposite is true. The word evangelize comes from evangelical, not vice versa.) Since the key point of the definition appears to be "sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible," it is probably the case that the Puritans would be quite at home with the evangelicals generally (just not the Holy Rollers). I do agree with Mr. Burrows's contrast. I think evangelicals tend to be skeptical of the mind and reason, usually citing Saint Paul ("fools for Christ's sake"). The Puritans also believed that natural reason was incapable of salvation, but still tended to emphasize the head over the heart.

No need to be embarrassed over the logical positivist/empiricist confusion. Logical positivism (which, in Britain, often called itself "logical empiricism"), which at least conceded rationalism for logic and mathematics, was probably more correct than the thoroughgoing empiricists. Does anybody believe in the tabula rasa anymore?

Well, capitalist thought is often deterministic in itself. How many times have you heard the market referred to as a ‘mechanism’ when it’s clearly nothing of the kind?

Market mechanism is a term of art in economics. From Wikipedia, "In sociology a mechanism is a set of rules designed to bring about a certain outcome through the interaction of a number of agents each of whom maximizes their own utility."

This is really missing my point. What you say might be arguable, but then of course you’d have to argue it! My point is that ‘human nature’ is trotted out as a kind of unarguable clincher. If you question it, you’re merely told that “everybody knows” that. It’s mystification masquerading as common sense.

People who live in a capitalist society tend to behave as though they do. My workmates don’t very often say “hey, why don’t we try some hunter gathering today?” (Or at least if they do, they don’t invite me.) Whereas people who don’t live in a capitalist society tend to behave as though they don’t. ‘Human nature’, insomuch as it means anything at all, is completely beside the point. I’m continually amazed by the amount of people who have trouble with that.


I don't know particularly what to make of this argument. Surely, the argument for capitalism and against socialism rests principally on empirical evidence and not on views of human nature? (The latter are merely attempts to explain the theory behind the evidence.) I don't deny that you are, in fact, meeting people who are arguing the theory rather than the evidence, but I don't think very many of even those people are particularly persuaded by the theory rather than the evidence.

As for human nature, I regard its existence as more or less proved by the evidence (see my above comment on the "tabula rasa"), including Noam Chomsky's linguistic theory, Darwin's evolutionary theory, empirical research on the behavior of infants, etc. I don't think there is particularly good evidence of a human nature of economic behavior, though I wouldn't wish to rule it out as a possibility.

I am here reminded of debates I often have about the Efficient Market Hypothesis. (I only defend the weak-form version which disallows technical analysis, i.e. using past stock prices as a way to predict future stock prices.) Many people have said to me "Well, that sounds good in theory, but. . ." and then go on to criticize the theory. I.e. they will say that people do not behave rationally, etc. But A) it's not the theory which persuades me, but the empirical evidence and B) the EMH does not need everyone to behave rationally - all it needs is "no unexploited profit opportunities." That is, as long as there are people finding arbitrage opportunities and exploiting them, they make the market efficient. (By the way, many people have criticized the EMH as a tautology. I.e. we're trying to predict the market, and so, of course the market is always right. I totally agree with this criticism. The EMH cannot be used to defend a claim like "markets are great because they're always right." They are always right only by definition. The EMH is useful only in the context of whether and how one can go about predicting the market.)

Spartans weren’t “really Greek” by popular conception. Whether you praised or denigrated them was really secondary to that. But then, in the era of city states, how much of a conception of ‘fellow Greek’ was there? Is it a modern piece of retconning? (Disclaimer: No idea if this is true. Just throwing the idea out.)

Certainly there was no concept of Greece as a nation. That doesn't come about until Greece is ruled by the Turks. But it is not merely a retconning. The Greek city-states shared a common language, a common religion, and a roughly common culture (the Homeric epic handed down by the Mycenaeans, particular forms of drama, etc). While adherence to one's own city-state was very common and they frequently warred against each other, the Athenians definitely saw the Spartans as more akin to them than the "barbarians," who couldn't speak Greek. (The origin of the term barbarian is interesting. It's a Greek word and is onomatopoetic, since foreigners said unintelligible things which sounded like "bar-bar" to the Greeks. I.e. barbarians are, literally, babblers.)

Bugger, we really are running out of disagreements. Does anyone want to volunteer to be a Flat Earther, so the rest of us can hurl abuse at them?

That's just about the only thing which would unite Mr. Rilstone's disparate commenters, isn't it?

Kurt said...

(I always thought they were called evangelicals because they evangelized. Whereas, it turns out the opposite is true. The word evangelize comes from evangelical, not vice versa.) Since the key point of the definition appears to be "sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible," ...

I have apparently lost track of the sources some of you are drawing on; for instance I can't trace the origin of the quote about inerrancy.

But anyway, is there anyone posting here, besides me, who knows about evangelicalism first-hand, from the inside? Because most you speak of it as you would of a foreign culture. Nothing wrong with doing that, but I'm just curious.

Gavin Burrows said...

AndrewStevens said:
Although, I am puzzled by Mr. Masters's comment that Iraq cost Bush Senior the Presidency.

He didn’t have to be President again because he achieved all his goals in the first term. It was in The Simpsons.

I think evangelicals tend to be skeptical of the mind and reason, usually citing Saint Paul ("fools for Christ's sake"). The Puritans also believed that natural reason was incapable of salvation, but still tended to emphasize the head over the heart.

Good point, which I’d probably make more strongly. The Digger writer Gerard Winstanley used to refer to God as Reason (“the Great Creator Reason”). With the Diggers on the fringes of the Revolution and (from a Leftist perspective) ‘good guys’, people don’t always see them as Puritans, but I think that view is mistaken.

However, the crucial distinction is that the Puritans emphasise private, ‘inner’ conversion and the Evangelicals outer or public. Reason merely comes in as the ancillary of that.

Of course I agree some Puritan sects later morphed into Evaneglical ones, such as the Baptists. But I persist in believing there’s a strong distinction between the two!

Market mechanism is a term of art in economics.

I am probably being dense but do not follow you here.

I don't know particularly what to make of this argument. Surely, the argument for capitalism and against socialism rests principally on empirical evidence and not on views of human nature?

Andrew, you are making of this argument what I wanted you to! Empirical arguments for or against capitalism are salient, in that they at least present a case that has to be answered.

As for human nature, I regard its existence as more or less proved by the evidence (see my above comment on the "tabula rasa"), including... Darwin's evolutionary theory

Excuse my taking your examples out of order! Does not evolution prove the very reverse, that in fact we have the ability to change and adapt?

Noam Chomsky's linguistic theory...

Well, that’s a nicely contentious one! Chomsky’s linguistic theories are that as humans we contain the innate capacity for language? That sounds like something of a contradiction with the guy you cited in your very last example to me! Of course Chomsky even insisted apes could not learn language, leading to the infamous case of Nim Chimpsky, one of the very few chimps to have his own Wikipedia page. (Though I don’t think he proofs the page himself much.)

They would also seem somewhat at odds with Chomsky’s political beliefs. And of course Chomsky gets round that by... refusing to. He refuses to discuss any parallels whatsoever, even though he frequently discusses the use of language in the media when wearing his political hat. I admire Chomsky the political analyst, but think Chomsky the linguist to be pretty much bonkers.

In general I don’t really subscribe to any ‘hard wiring’ or semiotic accounts of language. It seems clear to me the roots of language are onomatopoeic. That’s how children first pick up language, after all. And speaking of which...

empirical research on the behavior of infants, etc.

At the risk of appearing sarky there has been more than one set of empirical research on infants. Were you thinking of any in particular?

But perhaps more to the point, if we were to accept ‘human nature’ exists, how does it manifest itself? And what limits does it set us? Even if we can’t trace it to is source, we should surely be able to tell it by its effects?

Kurt said...
But anyway, is there anyone posting here, besides me, who knows about evangelicalism first-hand, from the inside? Because most you speak of it as you would of a foreign culture.

It seems pretty much a foreign culture to me. Perhaps that’s just a British perspective.

Andrew Stevens said...
That's just about the only thing which would unite Mr. Rilstone's disparate commenters, isn't it?

Umm... I really admire Russell T Davies for the neat and unexpected ways he finds to get the Doctor out of those cliffhanger moments. Takes real skill, that.

Kurt said...

It seems pretty much a foreign culture to me. Perhaps that’s just a British perspective.

Within the Church of England, I think N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, would be considered an evangelical writer by American standards, though not a fundamentalist.

Andrew Stevens said...

Kurt, I'm the descendant of Puritans. My parents were Congregationalists, a religion which is now principally a social club. So, no, I certainly don't know evangelicalism firsthand. I have many friends who are evangelicals and I discuss theology fairly often with them, but I also discuss Sikhism with my Sikh friends (well, friend), and Marxism with my Marxist friends. They're all foreign religions to me.

Sorry about springing "sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible" without sourcing it. My source is the American Heritage Dictionary which defines evangelical as "Of, relating to, or in accordance with the Christian gospel, especially one of the four gospel books of the new Testament. Of, relating to, or being a Protestant church that founds its teaching on the gospel. Of, relating to, or being a Christian church believing in the sole authority and inerrancy of the Bible, in salvation only through regeneration, and in a spiritually transformed personal life." It also includes "Of or relating to the group in the Church of England that stresses personal conversion and salvation by faith." I don't mind if people wish to quibble with this definition. I certainly don't regard it as having sole authority or being inerrant.

Good point, which I’d probably make more strongly. The Digger writer Gerard Winstanley used to refer to God as Reason (“the Great Creator Reason”). With the Diggers on the fringes of the Revolution and (from a Leftist perspective) ‘good guys’, people don’t always see them as Puritans, but I think that view is mistaken.

Not terribly familiar with the Diggers. There was a rift in the Scholastic tradition over which was prior - God's will or God's intellect. Aquinas took the view that God's intellect was prior (so God wills the good because it is good) while Duns Scotus took the opposite view. So Scotus did not believe that questions of morality could be answered by Reason, but by Will. Not that anybody cares what an atheist thinks of the debate, but I would side with Aquinas. Scotus's view, however, is more prevalent in modern Christianity.

I am probably being dense but do not follow you here.

I'm just saying that references to the "market mechanism" does not mean anybody thinks it is literally a mechanism. Moreover, "market mechanism" refers to the process by which people interact with each other (that they buy, sell, trade, etc. rather than handing it all over to the government and then having some of it handed back) and not to what they actually do.

Andrew, you are making of this argument what I wanted you to! Empirical arguments for or against capitalism are salient, in that they at least present a case that has to be answered.

My own argument against socialist theory (rather than the empirical evidence) has nothing to do with human nature. I argue for the virtues of competition. Competition, on its face, appears to be inefficient. Wasted effort goes in to developing ideas which ultimately do not work out. Is it logical, some socialists will ask, to have five hundred firms all trying to do the same thing? Wouldn't just one firm (i.e. the government, the only entity with the power to enforce its monopoly) be more efficient? I believe the answer is no. While there is loss and wasted effort in a competitive market, the gains outweigh them. If you have only one firm, that firm had better do everything right in order to match the efficiency of a competitive market and there is much less scope for innovation. It is easy, in retrospect, to say, "Well, obviously IBM was the most efficient firm, so if the government had just done what IBM did, we wouldn't have had the wasted effort of all of IBM's fallen competitors." It is much harder to say, a priori, that IBM's business model was going to be the best model.

If you buy my argument on competition, then I believe some form of capitalism "falls out." Moreover, we should fear government monopolies of an industry for the same reason as we fear corporate monopolies of an industry. (More of a reason, really, since the government can counteract a corporation, but nobody has the power to counteract the government.) I.e. they can easily use it to enrich themselves. For example, many Third World countries enforced government monopolies on communications (telephones and the like) and then treated them as cash cows, charging far more than a competitive market would. Of course, this is only a critique of socialism. In the current political campaign, Obama is being attacked for "socialism" when what he is really advocating is wealth redistribution. The latter is something else entirely and is much more defensible, in my opinion. Now, in wealth redistribution arguments, human nature may be more prone to center stage. (I.e. how do you get people to work without either carrots or sticks?)

Excuse my taking your examples out of order! Does not evolution prove the very reverse, that in fact we have the ability to change and adapt?

Nobody denies we have the ability to change and adapt. I believe that we can end this (essentially) nature/nurture debate pretty quickly. Nobody believes that genetics is all there is - otherwise identical twins would live identical lives. Nobody believes that environment is all there is - otherwise we could teach calculus to a horse. The rest of the debate is now arguing over boundaries. How much of human nature is inborn and how much is not? Since most people I debate this with do not quantify their position, the argument tends to go around in circles.

Well, that’s a nicely contentious one! Chomsky’s linguistic theories are that as humans we contain the innate capacity for language? That sounds like something of a contradiction with the guy you cited in your very last example to me! Of course Chomsky even insisted apes could not learn language, leading to the infamous case of Nim Chimpsky, one of the very few chimps to have his own Wikipedia page. (Though I don’t think he proofs the page himself much.)

They would also seem somewhat at odds with Chomsky’s political beliefs. And of course Chomsky gets round that by... refusing to. He refuses to discuss any parallels whatsoever, even though he frequently discusses the use of language in the media when wearing his political hat. I admire Chomsky the political analyst, but think Chomsky the linguist to be pretty much bonkers.


Whereas I admire Chomsky the linguist and find Chomsky the political analyst to be almost entirely insane. (This is not to deny that there is much truth hidden in his rhetoric.) There is the germ of a thesis here: people who don't go insane over religion will go insane over politics and the smarter a person is, the more insane they will likely go. I think a lot of atheist believe that since there is no God, that means there is a vacancy and set out to reshape the world in their own image.

Clearly it can be argued that the innate capacity for language can be an evolved trait for humans, so I see no contradiction. I'm not sure why Chomsky would immediately rule out that any other animal has the ability, but nobody has falsified him yet. (Nim Chimpsky, of course, was ultimately used in support of Chomsky's thesis. Herbert Terrace concluded that Chimpsky did not show any meaningful sequential behavior like human grammar. There was a great quote on Nim Chimpsky's Wikipedia page by Thomas Sebeok: "In my opinion, the alleged language experiments with apes divide into three groups: one, outright fraud; two, self-deception; three, those conducted by Terrace. The largest class by far is the middle one."

As for Chomsky's actual argument, I regard his poverty of negative stimulus argument to be an excellent one and well supported. We could discuss which of the premises of his argument you think is false. I regard only one of his premises as questionable - whether language can be learned without negative stimuli, though I do believe he is right. But, of course, I easily buy his grammatical theories since I believe logic and mathematics cannot be explained except innately. Again, this is an evolved trait. Logic and mathematics were useful to us. However, by giving us access to them, evolution ensured that our brains were enormously overpowered for simple survival on the African savannah.

At the risk of appearing sarky there has been more than one set of empirical research on infants. Were you thinking of any in particular?

Many such. Since infants cannot communicate, we can only figure out what they're thinking by seeing what they look at. We find that (virtually) all newborn infants look at human faces longer than anything else. Similarly, infants can apparently do elementary arithmetic. If you put one object behind a screen and then another behind a screen and then remove the screen to show one or three of the objects, infants will look at them longer than if the screen is removed to show two objects. The simplest explanation for this phenomenon is that they are surprised to see a number other than the two they saw enter and are staring at it to try to "figure it out," if you will.

I also believe there is very strong evidence that infants and children "seek out" learning activities, in much the same way as the young of other mammals. Moreover, they appear to be biased towards particular types of learning - language, numbers, physical and biological concepts, causality, and perhaps others.

But perhaps more to the point, if we were to accept ‘human nature’ exists, how does it manifest itself? And what limits does it set us? Even if we can’t trace it to is source, we should surely be able to tell it by its effects?

Many scholars have put together works on human universals, structures which all known societies share. Of course, this doesn't necessarily prove innate behavior. We can go back to the Victorian idea that there was once a "superculture" and primitive modern tribes are merely degenerated versions. I find this hypothesis unlikely, but possible.

However, your general point is quite correct. Both sides of the nature/nurture debate normally concede that their view is not 100% correct, but then proceed to argue as if it was. This does not generally serve the debate. It is far better to ask the correct questions.

Kurt said...

Andrew: I think most people who self-identify as evangelicals but not fundamentalists and are aware of the distinction between "inerrant" and "infallible in matters of faith and practice" will embrace the latter description of scripture but resist the former. Also there are plenty of Catholics and (even more) Eastern Orthodox whom most American evangelicals would consider fellow-travelers. The bit about mistrusting reason has a better chance of being fair as a characterization of fundamentalists than of non-fundamentalist evangelicals. "Most evangelicals are evangelists" is something that perhaps *should* be true but surely isn't. Emotionalism and conservative politics might be true of lots of evangelicals, but a careful person will hesitate to make overbroad generalizations here, and in any case the connections must obviously be contingent, i.e., emotionalism and rightist views aren't logically part and parcel of evangelicalism.

You might bounce these assertions off your evangelical friends, esp. the older ones, and see whether they agree.

Not blowing off the rest of the discussion, but I don't feel qualified to enter the fray except on this point about what "evangelical" means.

Phil Masters said...

I am puzzled by Mr. Masters's comment that Iraq cost Bush Senior the Presidency.

That was, I confess, a brief and probably essentially wrong statement of what I meant. "Sadam Hussein still has his job; do you still have yours?" probably cost Senior a few votes, but the point there was doubtless more about the economics than the foreign policy.

The point is still that Senior was perceived to have left the job unfinished. A glorious march into Baghdad would have looked so much better than just, well, stopping things at the border. I strongly suspect that this - the sense of things left undone - rankled with Junior, and (at the risk of getting a bit too Freudian) maybe induced an urge to surpass Daddy by pulling off said glorious march.

But I don't pretend to know what went on in White House cabinet discussions, let alone inside Junior's head, obviously. I'm just guessing at motives here.

(The fact that Senior's restraint may well have been strategically wiser, however ignoble or politically unfortunate the motives, is another matter again.)

Andrew Stevens said...

Kurt, actually I did not mean to equate evangelicalism with fundamentalism. And I do not regard "inerrancy of the Bible" to equate to "literally true on all counts." (I.e. I was always prepared to accept that it encompassed the second part of your distinction only.) Also, when I said "mistrusting reason," I did not mean to imply that such people are pigheaded morons who don't trust book-larnin'. I simply mean that they are skeptical of the efficacy of reason in arriving at the right conclusion on big issues. Arguably, this is true of any epistemology which has a role for faith. I.e. Martin Luther wrote, "Reason in no way contributes to faith. [...] For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things." (There are other views, of course, within Christianity.) I actually admire the refreshing honesty of the anti-rationalist approach and I don't wish to sound too disparaging of that school of thought even though I obviously don't agree with it.

The point is still that Senior was perceived to have left the job unfinished. A glorious march into Baghdad would have looked so much better than just, well, stopping things at the border. I strongly suspect that this - the sense of things left undone - rankled with Junior, and (at the risk of getting a bit too Freudian) maybe induced an urge to surpass Daddy by pulling off said glorious march.

I doubt there were many people who wanted Hussein overthrown who decided to cast their lot with Bill Clinton instead. On the other hand, Ross Perot had a not insignificant effect on the '92 race and some Iraq hawks may have defected to him, so the argument is not implausible. (But exit polling showed that Perot drew pretty equally from Clinton and Bush, despite Republican claims that Perot acted as a spoiler.)

I certainly had no sense at the time that Iraq caused Bush to lose any votes at all. Clinton was able to make a strong (and correct) case that he was more knowledgeable about and interested in domestic policy and Bush's social and fiscal moderation depressed conservative turnout. The end of the Cold War meant that Bush's foreign policy credentials cut no ice with voters. In a sense, Bush was the victim of his own success. By managing the collapse of the Soviet empire so adroitly, Bush may have doomed himself by convincing the electorate that they need not pay attention to foreign policy. And until 2001, nobody really did.

Gavin Burrows said...

Kurt said...
I think most people who self-identify as evangelicals but not fundamentalists...

While I’d agree with your warning against “overbroad generalisations”, surely it’s significant here that ‘fundamentalist’ is most often used as a pejorative term and ‘evangelical’ not. (At least not necessarily.) This is going to distinctly muddy sorting people into the two groups. (Being something of a cynical type, I can’t help wondering whether you’re defining fundamentalists as ‘bad evangelicals’, but am willing to stand corrected there if proved wrong.)

...and are aware of the distinction between "inerrant" and "infallible in matters of faith and practice"

Something I’m certainly not aware of! At a guess... “The Bible is very good at the things the Bible is meant for. But if you ask the Bible how to make the budget balance or devise a decent exit strategy from Iraq and don’t get a very good answer, don’t go blaming the Bible.”

emotionalism and rightist views aren't logically part and parcel of evangelicalism.

My working hypothesis is currently rightist views no, but emotionalism yes.

Incidentally, what are the limits of our working definition of Evangelicalism? The English evangelist groups most likely to knock on your door early on a Sunday morning are the Mormons and the Witnesses. While they may base their pitch emotionally (“could we interest you in an eternal paradise?”), both seem too ‘cool’ to me to qualify as capital-E Evangelical. Some of my relatives are Witnesses, and I can report the only person who spoke in tongues at my cousin’s wedding was me after one too many swigs at the reception.

Andrew Stevens said:
...your general point is quite correct. Both sides of the nature/nurture debate normally concede that their view is not 100% correct, but then proceed to argue as if it was. This does not generally serve the debate. It is far better to ask the correct questions.

Bugger, we’re agreeing again! Is there anything else where...?

I have many friends who are evangelicals and I discuss theology fairly often with them, but I also discuss... Marxism with my Marxist friends. They're all foreign religions to me.

Aha! The motherlode is struck, the duelling glove felt across the face and the perpetual motion machine discovered... all in one neat little package. (Apologies to all who find this sort of thing not to their interest. Please just scroll down and we’re sure to get back to the fanciability of the Doctor’s assistants later.)

I'm just saying that references to the "market mechanism" does not mean anybody thinks it is literally a mechanism.

Of course not, in the sense of something with gears which needs occasional oiling. But the phrase is surely chosen to convey the idea that the market functions rationally, as if it were a mechanism, and so can be left to self-regulate. You know, banks aren’t just going to go bust. That sort of thing.

It is much harder to say, a priori, that IBM's business model was going to be the best model.

Did you mean IBM or Microsoft? I’m going to assume the latter, as they so dominate the market, and you can tell me if I’m wrong. But also because, if you are, you’re really making my point for me! No-one outside of their direct employ really pretends Microsoft’s computers were the best models. Their success was down to the success of their business practices , not their product. Many (albeit not all) of these came down to ‘bundling’, which meant once you’d done some kind of deal with Microsoft the only logical consequence was to keep going as nothing else really cross-connected. Many of these practices were later found to be anti-competitive by the Feds, but (like I say) later. (And even there Dubya came along and did his best to reverse these decisions.)

The real innovation in personal computing was the GUI (Graphic User Interface), which allowed non-tech-heads like myself to navigate systems using a series of icons to tip us off what’s going on. Apple could lay a claim to inventing that, as could Xerox. Windows was merely an ersatz copy of them.

But of course if you ask people what the really big innovations of recent history are, they usually say the internet. An innovation which of course wasn’t generated by business at all, but a combination of academia and the military!


Innovation is a frequent totem in these sort of arguments. Admittedly it’s a more cogent term than ‘human nature’, but it remains a totem. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said it to me. I’ve asked all of them whether they are encouraged to innovate when they’re at work. As yet, nobody has said yes. Big, sprawling centralised institutions spawn stifling bureaucracy. Whether they’re governmental or business makes no difference to this.

Going back to the Microsoft thing, in a similar way not all clothing companies will choose to manufacture in sweatshop conditions in the Third World. But the ones that don’t will simply go to the wall, as their profits will never match their competitors. The only exception will be in small niche markets where people choose to avoid sweated-labour products, and have the spare cash to enable that.

we should fear government monopolies of an industry for the same reason as we fear corporate monopolies of an industry... Of course, this is only a critique of socialism.

Well yes, it’s not really got much to do with anything Charlie said.

It’s also very much an American perspective. Microsoft’s predatory practices got them into trouble in the US and the EU, but never in the UK. The amount of times the Government in the UK acts to keep corporations in line is minimal. When people use anti-free-market arguments as a form of anti-Americanism, I like to point that out. Some people have gone so far as to argue that the American economy isn’t free market at all, but ‘military Keynesian’. (Social spending is actually massive, but merely disguised.) In which case ours might now be the most free-market economy in the Western world. Lucky us.

how do you get people to work without either carrots or sticks?

If people saw the fruits of their labour (personally, collectively or preferably both), perhaps they might find that a stimulus?

Clearly it can be argued that the innate capacity for language can be an evolved trait for humans, so I see no contradiction.

Andrew, please remember I am slow on the uptake! You can’t evolve an innate trait. Do you mean the predisposition could be innate, but the development evolutionary?

Nim Chimpsky, of course, was ultimately used in support of Chomsky's thesis. Herbert Terrace concluded that Chimpsky did not show any meaningful sequential behavior like human grammar.

I have to admit partly going for Nim Chimpsky for the cuteness! Successive experiments have been more clear-cut, especially (IIRR) with bonobos and orang-utangs. I’d also tend to define language functionally, ie if you can actually make communication it’s a form of language, however rudimentary. But even if we’re going to accept that (for want of a better term) ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’ can’t be considered language, the quote you cite could be answered on the same Wiki page in the Objections section. (The labour-saving joys of Wikipedia. We can just cross-post links at each other! We’ll have done away with surrounding comments before November comes.)

And anyway Chimpsky one said:

"Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you."

...which is more coherent than most of the last Oasis album, and catchier too.

Phil Masters said:
I strongly suspect that this - the sense of things left undone - rankled with Junior, and (at the risk of getting a bit too Freudian) maybe induced an urge to surpass Daddy by pulling off said glorious march.

But, to get a bit less Freudian, the plan to invade Iraq didn’t start with Junior at all – it was a NeoCon project. And the NeoCons only gained his ear after S11, when (in an argument made with great urgency and a correspondingly sized lack of logic) they persuaded him the invasion was a fitting response.

There’s two cogent reasons why Senior might have chosen not to invade Iraq. The first you give, (“Senior's restraint may well have been strategically wiser”). Once Saddam’s regime is impoverished he will by necessity have to act a bit tamer, so why go to the bother of overthrowing him? He was a former ally after all, strengthening the argument he just needed kicking back into line.

There were also the popular uprisings against Saddam which were sparked by his misadventure in Kuwait. These started with the Iraqi army deserting en masse, to which the US command responded by massacring huge numbers of them regardless. (Former troops have now gone on public record stating this happened.)

But there were also uprisings in the cities. If left alone, they might result in the sort of Iraq wanted by Iraqis – clearly a disastrous consequence. But to send the troops further into Iraq and against civilians might jeapordise international support and result in... well, pretty much the situation we’re looking at now, come to think of it. But how about you keep Saddam, weakened but kept just strong enough to put down the uprisings? He had plentiful past experience for the job, after all.

The most likely answer is some synthesis of the two, though we may never know what the exact blend was.

...then Andrew Stevens later reappeared to say...
Bush was the victim of his own success. By managing the collapse of the Soviet empire so adroitly...

Didn’t he just strike lucky? The Soviet Union collapsed (as you say yourself), it wasn’t knocked down by Bush or by anyone else. Even the anti-colonial uprisings (the sort of thing I veritably yearn to ascribe effect to) were met with astonishingly little counter force, especially when compared against ’56 or ’68. People risked their necks in demonstrating, and some were killed, but overall... (Arguably the Russian empire is rebuilding nowadays, but that’s a whole other thing.)

Kurt said...

FUNDAMENTALIST VS. EVANGELICAL. The former term does carry pejorative overtones, and the latter has begun to, as well, at least in the US. But I mean both of them descriptively, although I do disagree with the fundamentalist teachings of the church I grew up in. This article treats fundamentalism and evangelicalism as disjoint subsets of Christian conservatism, but I’ve been treating fundamentalism as a subset of evangelicalism.

I would say evangelicals believe in Jesus’ deity and bodily resurrection and believe that he is some sense the only source of salvation. They take the Bible to be divinely inspired and uniquely authoritative among written texts, and to be more or less accurate in its factual reporting of historical events. They also place high value on proselytizing. I think those are the key ingredients, all rooted in the idea that the first four books of the NT contain world-changing “good news” (= Gk. “euangellion”).

Christian Fundamentalism gets its name from a set of propositions first promulgated at a 1910 conference, and in a number of ways goes beyond my generic description of evangelicalism. Regarding the Bible, Fundamentalists take it to be absolutely free of error (theological, historical, scientific) in the originals although subject to corruption in transcription and translation. In the US, the word “inerrant” is the customary label for this view, in contrast to “infallible”; thus, on a church’s website one can look for either of these words in the statement of faith as a gauge of the church’s theological stance.

Fundamentalists, more than other evangelicals, are likely to believe in a young earth and a literal seven-day creation. Partly I think (now editorializing) that this does trace back to a belief that human reason, like the human will, is tainted by sin and not to be trusted, and that in consequence one must try to read scripture in a fashion that leaves as little room as possible for interpretation. Other evangelicals take a less-dim view of human reason and are less likely to believe that there can be such a thing as reading without interpreting.

EMOTIONALISM AND SPEAKING IN TONGUES. Speaking in tongues is characteristic of Pentecostalism, a US-born movement that today is fast-growing in Africa and Latin America. In the US there’s no doubt a fair bit of cross-pollination and outright overlap between Pentecostalism and fundamentalism, so that lots of fundamentalist churches nowadays feature a sometimes-emotional style of worship, while Pentecostal churches I think often read the Bible pretty literally, especially with regard to the End Times (Revelation).

However, there’s a built-in tension between the fundamentalist tendency to trust only in the Bible and the Pentecostal tendency to accord authority to the voice and the moving of the Holy Spirit in one’s private person. A Pentecostal is liable to say “The Lord told me something a few minutes ago,” and the average fundamentalist is apt to reply, “Err, fine, but what does Scripture tell us?” Of course Pentecostals read the Bible and of course fundamentalists will testify to having a sense of God’s leading them this way or that way. But as I say, there’s a tension, and there are lots of fundamentalists who mistrust emotionalism the same way they mistrust human reason, and they get uneasy around the more dramatic manifestations of Pentecostalism, like speaking in tongues and dramatic public healings.

Since its start in the early 1900’s, Pentecostalism has produced more than its demographic share of showmanship-oriented mass evangelists, ranging from Aimee McPherson to Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, who by default shape a lot of people’s image of American Protestantism.

Andrew Stevens said...

Aha! The motherlode is struck, the duelling glove felt across the face and the perpetual motion machine discovered... all in one neat little package. (Apologies to all who find this sort of thing not to their interest. Please just scroll down and we’re sure to get back to the fanciability of the Doctor’s assistants later.)

Sorry about that, couldn't resist needling you a bit.

Of course not, in the sense of something with gears which needs occasional oiling. But the phrase is surely chosen to convey the idea that the market functions rationally, as if it were a mechanism, and so can be left to self-regulate. You know, banks aren’t just going to go bust. That sort of thing.

What I said about "term of art" above is that the word "mechanism" comes from sociology in general and not to the market in particular. See this link, for example. I don't think there's anything sinister here.

Re: Microsoft

I chose IBM in particular, in part because their success later collapsed, showing how fragile even a successful business model can be. Once upon a time, IBM was the one people were eying for anti-trust suits. As for Microsoft's success, lots of people are willing to defend that they, at least at one time, had the "best" products. Best in the sense of being able to steal Apple's user-friendliness from them (the GUI), which allowed Grandma to be able to use their OS. (We all freely grant that Microsoft "stole" the GUI from Apple just as Apple, IBM, and Dec "stole" it from Xerox.) It is certainly the case that computer software is a "serial monopoly" business, due to the desire for standardization, and Microsoft is currently the monopolist of the operating systems. However, the people who really oppose Microsoft are of two types: 1) computer techies who don't care about user-friendliness and 2) artists who don't care about business software applications. If you care about both, I am perfectly willing to defend Microsoft (right now) as the best on the market. (Before the techies jump on me, I concede that I am not an expert on the issue, though my second major was computer science, but I was always more a mathematician.) However, even Microsoft's great defenders don't love their products. Windows is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. It has to be in order to be the operating system and this causes it very real problems.

In any event, I do deny that Microsoft was a "market failure." I deny the same about the QWERTY keyboard. This isn't to say that I deny all market failures.

Innovation is a frequent totem in these sort of arguments. Admittedly it’s a more cogent term than ‘human nature’, but it remains a totem. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said it to me. I’ve asked all of them whether they are encouraged to innovate when they’re at work. As yet, nobody has said yes. Big, sprawling centralised institutions spawn stifling bureaucracy. Whether they’re governmental or business makes no difference to this.

You're talking to the wrong people. I am asked to innovate fairly frequently. So are many people I meet. In any event, the innovation doesn't normally come from corporations who are maintaining their business models nor does it normally come from huge government bureaucracies. It normally comes from entrepreneurs. There are exceptions to this. It takes corporate or government money and organization to put together innovation on a massive or highly technical scale (the Internet, the atomic bomb, space travel). This is why the Russians were pretty darn successful (in fact, remarkably so) at such endeavors and caused the United States to fear being overtaken. They were, shall we say, somewhat less successful at all the rest.

It’s also very much an American perspective. Microsoft’s predatory practices got them into trouble in the US and the EU, but never in the UK. The amount of times the Government in the UK acts to keep corporations in line is minimal. When people use anti-free-market arguments as a form of anti-Americanism, I like to point that out. Some people have gone so far as to argue that the American economy isn’t free market at all, but ‘military Keynesian’. (Social spending is actually massive, but merely disguised.) In which case ours might now be the most free-market economy in the Western world. Lucky us.

Yes, we have two century-long traditions in this country: crony capitalism and trust busting. I am not a fan of either. Why I'm opposed to the first is, I hope, obvious. Unfortunately, both political parties in the U.S. are (for the most part, but not entirely) crony capitalist parties. When Republicans are in power, they give money to their buddies in the oil and gas industry and when the Democrats are in power, they give money to their buddies in banking and on Wall Street. And anti-trust laws are probably a good idea, but in their current form they do more harm than good. People think anti-trust laws are aimed at huge companies who charge high prices. In fact, in the U.S., they're normally aimed at small companies (i.e. the only hardware store in town) charging prices their would-be competitors see as too low.

I think there is much to be said for the UK as the most free-market economy in the world. However, I think the UK suffers from other restrictions and the most free market economies are probably Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, and Australia. (New Zealand and Switzerland would be in there somewhere.) Throwing in the U.S., which is certainly up there, we can note that all but Switzerland are spin-offs from the British Empire.

If people saw the fruits of their labour (personally, collectively or preferably both), perhaps they might find that a stimulus?

I'm not sure I get this. A sewer worker gets to see the fruits of his labor in either a capitalist or a socialist/communist country. I can't say I see where you're going with this. I must confess that I've never understood what Marx was banging on about with his whole "alienation" thing. Lots of corporations try to encourage their employees to take collective pride in their work. Most people view the whole "pride" thing as pretty cheesy. The corporate response to the Marxist criticism is, apparently, bonuses and stock options. This seems to work much better.

Andrew, please remember I am slow on the uptake! You can’t evolve an innate trait. Do you mean the predisposition could be innate, but the development evolutionary?

How can anything innate be the product of anything but evolution? Innate means in-born. All our innate traits are evolved. I innately have two hands, two feet, two eyes, etc. Chomsky is saying that I also have an innate grammar. I would argue that we have an innate logic and an innate ability to grasp mathematics. If you're asking the epistemological question of how we can evolve the ability to grasp really existing abstract concepts, I would argue the same way that we evolved the ability to see, hear, and touch really existing external objects.

I have to admit partly going for Nim Chimpsky for the cuteness! Successive experiments have been more clear-cut, especially (IIRR) with bonobos and orang-utangs. I’d also tend to define language functionally, ie if you can actually make communication it’s a form of language, however rudimentary. But even if we’re going to accept that (for want of a better term) ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’ can’t be considered language, the quote you cite could be answered on the same Wiki page in the Objections section. (The labour-saving joys of Wikipedia. We can just cross-post links at each other! We’ll have done away with surrounding comments before November comes.)

I am going to argue that the Objections section may well be right, but note that no successful experiment which contradicts Terrace is cited. Chimps, orangs, and bonobos can all be taught to use sign language as a code, we agree. Helen Keller, in her biography, wrote "We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honey-suckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me." Previously, Keller had used the signal for water in order to get something to drink, but did not know that the signal actually meant water. I.e. she was using language the way animals do, but not the way humans do. During the rest of that day, Keller learned the spelling of thirty words and learned language with astonishing rapidity. The reason Keller is such an interesting case is because most of us solve the mystery of language when our brains are not yet developed to really comprehend what it is we're grasping. Due to Keller's disabilities, she was seven years old before she figured it out. In contrast, Nim Chimpsky's "sentence" sounds more like he's putting signs together which have previously worked to get him food. "Give," "eat," and "orange." I doubt the chimp understands that "give" means "give," "eat" means "eat," and "orange" means "orange." However, I'm not denying that some animals might be able to grasp language the way humans do, just that nobody's demonstrated it to my satisfaction yet.

There’s two cogent reasons why Senior might have chosen not to invade Iraq. The first you give, (“Senior's restraint may well have been strategically wiser”). Once Saddam’s regime is impoverished he will by necessity have to act a bit tamer, so why go to the bother of overthrowing him? He was a former ally after all, strengthening the argument he just needed kicking back into line.

Also, remember, that George Bush Senior was speaking of a "New World Order." The message kicking Iraq out of Kuwait sent to the rest of the world is, "Do whatever you want within your own borders, but don't even think about leaving them." I think Bush really believed in this new Pax Americana. Invading Iraq itself, given that his coalition of 90 nations or whatever had never authorized such a thing was an entirely different kettle of fish. Bush Senior wanted Hussein overthrown. He encouraged the Kurds and Shi'ites to resist Hussein, but Bush didn't want to have to do the dirty work himself.

Didn’t he just strike lucky? The Soviet Union collapsed (as you say yourself), it wasn’t knocked down by Bush or by anyone else. Even the anti-colonial uprisings (the sort of thing I veritably yearn to ascribe effect to) were met with astonishingly little counter force, especially when compared against ’56 or ’68. People risked their necks in demonstrating, and some were killed, but overall... (Arguably the Russian empire is rebuilding nowadays, but that’s a whole other thing.)

Even if we give some credit to Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II for the toppling of the Soviet empire, certainly George H.W. Bush didn't have anything to do with it. That was certainly luck. However, it was by no means obvious that the Cold War would end "not with a bang, but a whimper." Bush deserves credit for his refusal to "dance on the Berlin Wall," which convinced many Russians that they could abdicate their empire and not end up crushed by the United States, and, I believe, he played a major role in toppling the 1991 coup. Bush knew through U.S. intelligence that the Soviet military was not supporting the coup and Bush took the unprecedented decision to share that intelligence with Boris Yeltsin, boosting Yeltsin's confidence in opposing the coup. I think this was a key step. The coup would almost certainly have collapsed anyway, but it might have collapsed to the Soviet military rather than to Boris Yeltsin. The fact that Yeltsin selected Putin as his successor and things aren't perfect now is not, in my opinion, Bush's fault.

Gavin Burrows said...

Will reply to Kurt now and Andrew S later...
Regarding the Bible, Fundamentalists take it to be absolutely free of error (theological, historical, scientific) in the originals although subject to corruption in transcription and translation

Reminds me of a link I was once sent to a particularly die-hard Fundy website, which warned against translations of the Bible and warned to only read it in English!

Speaking in tongues is characteristic of Pentecostalism, a US-born movement that today is fast-growing in Africa and Latin America

In case it wasn’t obvious, the ‘speaking in tongues’ thing was just a gag! This is far from my area of expertise, but even I know not all Evangelicals speak in tongues!

However, there’s a built-in tension between the fundamentalist tendency to trust only in the Bible and the Pentecostal tendency to accord authority to the voice and the moving of the Holy Spirit in one’s private person.

Yes, that’s a very good point! I was struck by the similarities between the Great Awakening and shamanic religions. Both, for example, see sickness as something to be purged out by ceremonial acts by the priest and congregation. But most of all it’s the emphasis on the experiential aspect of religion – the act over the word. Again I find this interesting because partly because it skews expectations. Counter cultural types (if not the Old Left) tend to venerate shamanic religion.

I don’t know if anyone else UK-based saw Simon Schama’s American Future episode on religion last night. (If not you can watch it for the next few days from here. It has some interesting stuff but... It seemed to start to suggest the emotionalism of white evangelicalism came from black evangelicalism, then sort of shied away from it. Of course that could be a factor, but at the time of the First Great Awakening I doubt black culture had the capacity to influence white culture much.

It also very much laid out a line where black evangelicalism = progressive and white evangelicalism = reactionary. Again, there may be much truth to this. After all, the biggest supporters of apartheid in South Africa were the poor whites. But it seems to me too sweeping. The Wikipedia page on The First GreatAwakening suggests slaves were allowed to preach (!!!), while the Second involved “prison reform, temperance, women's suffrage, and the crusade to abolish slavery.” Perhaps Evangelicalism alone merely precludes you from separating your politics from your religion. The form those politics take may be down to other causes.

Gavin Burrows said...

Reminds me of a link I was once sent to a particularly die-hard Fundy website, which warned against translations of the Bible and warned to only read it in English!

Repetition of warned. Okay, I've lost the subject and it's someone else's go...

Andrew Stevens said...

The Quakers were the driving force behind abolition in both the U.S. and in England, the earliest and loudest voices. Vermont (mostly Congregationalist) was the first U.S. territory to abolish slavery, but the first state to do so was Pennsylvania, which had been founded by the Quaker William Penn. However, evangelical support was crucial. E.g. Wilberforce was an evangelical as was John Brown (who never officially joined a church after breaking with his native Congregationalism, but is known to have had a very conservative evangelical personal religion). Parenthetically, it is a pity that Brown's reputation is that of a madman. Unlike most abolitionists, Brown actually believed in equality among races as well as equal rights for women and humane treatment of American Indians and also worked closely with Jews and atheists. He was at least fifty years ahead of his time.

It is difficult to know in advance how culture and religion will manifest itself in politics. Thomas Frank spent an entire book, called What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America trying to figure out how Kansas went from being a 19th century Republican stronghold to being, well, a 20th century Republican stronghold. This is, apparently, quite puzzling to him. But, of course, one of the few times that Kansas voted for a Democrat for President was in 1896 when the Democrats put up William Jennings Bryan, now most famous for prosecuting John Scopes. (By the by, no need to feel sorry for Scopes. He had never actually taught any evolution. He just offered himself up as a test defendant for the ACLU and urged three of his students to testify against him.) Most Kansans' particular brand of Christianity, once quite progressive, is not so much now that history has marched past it. The Republican Party hasn't really changed much in the last 150 years. It was the Democrats who moved from being pretty far to the right of it to being somewhat to the left of it. I suggest that the same is true of religion. Religion is one of the great preservers of beliefs from one generation to the next.

Kurt said...

In case it wasn’t obvious, the ‘speaking in tongues’ thing was just a gag! This is far from my area of expertise, but even I know not all Evangelicals speak in tongues!

I have unintentionally illustrated the relative nature of "obvious." Probably not for the last time.

Religion is one of the great preservers of beliefs from one generation to the next.

That can be seen either as a bug or as a feature, depending on one's point of view!

Andrew Stevens said...

That can be seen either as a bug or as a feature, depending on one's point of view!

I see it, like most things, as both a bug and a feature.

Gavin Burrows said...

My responses to Andrew S. Yes, I know I should be struck out for repetition. But then, if I was going to be struck out, it should have been for deviation ages ago. In the vain bid to actually get somebody to read this, I’ll add something about the fanciabiity of Doctor Who assistants again...

What Charlie said...

You're talking to the wrong people. I am asked to innovate fairly frequently.

Fair enough, I’ll adjust my stats accordingly. They’re still leaning heavily one way, though.

I must confess that I've never understood what Marx was banging on about with his whole "alienation" thing

Andrew, is it possible these two comments could be connected? This isn’t merely needling you for having a middle class career. I have a middle class background, and I imagine so do most people reading this. (If anyone is left reading this!) But the majority of the world’s population aren’t. Marx thought that worth taking an interest in, and so do I.

In general, it seems to me the rise of the McJob has meant jobs have less and less social value. If you fall unemployed in Brighton, the jobs they will try to push you into are not only call centre jobs but the lowest kind therein. It sometimes amuses me when I hear people saying everyone should get a job in order to contribute something. Then the same people get annoyed when they’re cold-called to see if they want double glazing.

But that doesn’t mean I consider alienation only exists for working class people, merely that they have a stronger sense of it than others. You could say life in capitalist society is like eating a shit sandwich, more bread will make it taste better but you’re still eating shit.

The corporate response to the Marxist criticism is, apparently, bonuses and stock options. This seems to work much better.

And if you’re in a bad accident the Government works out an according level of compensation. That’s all we’re really talking about here – compensation. Work is the blackmail of survival, as they say.

Best in the sense of being able to steal Apple's user-friendliness from them (the GUI), which allowed Grandma to be able to use their OS.

Stealing the competitor’s ideas doesn’t suggest to me either ‘best’ or ‘innovative’! And I’d claim Microsoft swiped the GUI but dropped the user-friendliness during the getaway. (But that’s maybe another argument.)

It is certainly the case that computer software is a "serial monopoly" business, due to the desire for standardization

Standardisation doesn’t equal monopolisation, surely the conventions that underpin the internet prove that. Ideas work best when shared, otherwise they’re just neuron connections in your head. And of course ideas are cumulative. HTML coding wouldn’t have been a lot of use before electricity. But corporate control encloses and prevents the free flow of ideas.

Worse, the kind of things corporations can control is expanding all the time. There’s a type of cell women can develop, which is a warning sign of breast cancer. But they’re rarely tested for, because the corporation that owns them keeps the prices high. They don’t own the test, they own the actual cells.

A similar case is when privatisation of water was forced upon Bolivia in exchange for much-needed World Bank loans. Bechtel immediately raised prices beyond what the poor could afford, and tried to prosecute people for collecting rainwater-which they claimed was their property!

It would be wrong, regardless, to imagine that all forms of innovation are for the general good. Sometimes they’re researched and create for corporate good, but that ain’t necessarily the same thing. Already given the Fordist production line example. But also the longlife light bulb has been available for at least a few decades. It hasn’t appeared before now because it means the manufacturers sell less light bulbs. (A third example might be GM products, but that might be more contentious and open up another side argument!)

People think anti-trust laws are aimed at huge companies who charge high prices. In fact, in the U.S., they're normally aimed at small companies (i.e. the only hardware store in town) charging prices their would-be competitors see as too low.

Andrew, you know the American situation better than me but... are you sureabout this? The shop with the town monopoly decides to set prices unnaturally low? Is this Alice’s Hardware Store in Wonderland?

the most free market economies are probably Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, and Australia. (New Zealand and Switzerland would be in there somewhere.) Throwing in the U.S., which is certainly up there, we can note that all but Switzerland are spin-offs from the British Empire.

I don’t think this follows. The ‘Dollar Commonwealth’ nations were all highly corporatist for decades, more than the UK and certainly more than the USA. And I’ll add to Ireland the other big I from the British Empire – India. India had one of the most protectionist economies going for the majority of the last century. India and Ireland definitely embraced the free market in order to embrace America.

Nowadays most countries are working like mad to match up to China. For example, they way they’re all incarcerating more people, then setting them to work in prison factories.

Bush deserves credit for his refusal to "dance on the Berlin Wall," which convinced many Russians that they could abdicate their empire and not end up crushed by the United States.

This wasn’t really much different from what happened to Western Europe at the end of the Second World War. The most important thing was to keep the area open for political and economic influence, to send in troops wasn’t necessary for this and might even prove counter-productive. American companies invested heavily in Russian markets after the wall came down.

The fact that Yeltsin selected Putin as his successor and things aren't perfect now is not, in my opinion, Bush's fault.

Russia’s problems didn’t start with Putin. In fact, Putin’s popularity came as he could be seen as a fixer for all the problems in the Yeltsin era. After the Soviet collapse, economic ‘experts’ were clamouring to outdo each other with talk that the Russian economy would boom and people gain a lifestyle similar to the US. Of course the opposite happened, jobs disappeared, benefits were withdrawn and (while a small handful of oligarchs got mega-rich) incomes collapsed. Sometimes college professors resorted to selling cabbages by roadsides. A large part of Putin’s popular appeal is in promising the old days are back. One of his main rivals claim he hasn’t taken things back enough. (There’s a similar picture in many former Eastern Block countries.)

I’ve been wondering how the financial collapse fits into this argument. Anyone remotely sensible a long time ago gave up claiming unregulated markets make people richer, and started pointing to the length of the boom to prove it had made things more stable. Well now... guess what?

But I’m not sure how that fits in with a debate about Charlie. So far it’s forcing governments to go back to being hands-on with the banks, with Labour ministers even mentioning Keynes by name again! Sales of Kapital are reportedly up (!!!), but how Marx fits into it isn’t clear. Unless this crisis brings bout the absolute end of capitalism, which may be possible but doesn’t necessarily seem likely. (Please remember for the English understatement is the same thing as sarcasm.)

Talking to monkeys:

Okay I’ll take your chimp and raise you an orangutan.

However, I’m not sure I like the role of defending these experiments because it leaves out the effects on the animals in question. Not just their treatment in captivity, but some have said it impedes their ability to re-adapt to the wild. (Admittedly this is not a simple question and doesn’t necessarily result in you saying they shouldn’t happen at all.)

I was also curious – is there a reason not to regard the roots of language as onomatopoeic? Other explanations seem to me quite fanciful when a simple one suffices.

Religion –

Religion is one of the great preservers of beliefs from one generation to the next.

Isn’t this a slightly odd way to end a paragraph on how important religious forces were in abolishing slavery? Of course if you want to portray religion as tradition manifested as ideology, you won’t have to look too hard to find examples. But there are plenty of opposite examples. When you earlier expressed surprise there was a genuinely religious element to the English Revolution, could it have been these lines you were thinking along?

Turn “because I said so” into “because God says so” and maybe more people toe the line. But equally they might turn around and say “that’s not what he told me!”

Doctor Who assistants –

Carole Anne Ford was exceptionally good looking, but anything interesting about her character was forever being skirted over.

Andrew Stevens said...

Andrew, is it possible these two comments could be connected? This isn’t merely needling you for having a middle class career. I have a middle class background, and I imagine so do most people reading this. (If anyone is left reading this!) But the majority of the world’s population aren’t. Marx thought that worth taking an interest in, and so do I.

I don't have a middle class background, though I certainly do have a middle class career. I worked full-time unloading trucks on a dock while putting myself through school full-time simultaneously for four years. (I am reminded of the famous crack about Marx and Engels that two young men who had never worked a day in their lives claimed to speak for the "working man.") My father's schizophrenia when I was a small child plunged my family into poverty. (My mother put food on the table frequently by availing herself of the canned foods provided by our local church.)

I should have said that I do understand what Marx meant that artisans and craftsmen were more attuned to the products of their labor than modern mechanized society. But, given the latter, which we must maintain for efficiency reasons, I do not see that Marx offers any solution which would not have similar alienation.

Workers' control is an interesting dream, but the worker-owned firm founders on the need for capital diversification. (If you think you're threatened when your job goes away now, imagine if all of your wealth was tied up in the firm as well, as it is with the worker-controlled firm. Important advice: do not have too much of your portfolio locked up in your own company's stock no matter how cheaply it is willing to sell it to you.)

By the way, I yield to no one in my concern for the world's poor. For me, however, this doesn't begin here in America. Our first priority should be lives which can be saved very cheaply. I'm talking about AIDS prevention in Africa, malaria prevention, and malnutrition. This is not to deny that there aren't serious problems with America's poor. Too many of them still live in crime-ridden, drug-ridden neighborhoods and there are far too many children in terrible situations. But I don't have any solution for that and I don't believe anybody else does either. But here where I live, the masses knocked off toiling a long time ago. Call center jobs might be distasteful, but it's not like breaking your back working in a factory or in subsistence agriculture.

And if you’re in a bad accident the Government works out an according level of compensation. That’s all we’re really talking about here – compensation. Work is the blackmail of survival, as they say.

Now, that is certainly true. An ideology which has a realistic means of eliminating work can sign me up. As it is, we have a society which requires quite a lot of work to function. I believe the best way to get people to do this work is to bribe them rather than to force them. I realize that Marx thought that we'd evolve to want to do work, and perhaps that's possible in some sort of world-wide worker's revolution (though I doubt it), but I don't see it happening any time soon.

A similar case is when privatisation of water was forced upon Bolivia in exchange for much-needed World Bank loans. Bechtel immediately raised prices beyond what the poor could afford, and tried to prosecute people for collecting rainwater-which they claimed was their property!

I'm not sure there are many people left who defend the World Bank (or the IMF). Most economists are openly hostile to them. Their theory might be sound - that small national governments are often too incompetent and/or too corrupt to do anything right. This was certainly true in Bolivia whose government was both incompetent and corrupt. While the World Bank's solution was highly questionable, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with markets. Privatization didn't open up any markets in Bolivia. It just transferred one monopolist for another.

It would be wrong, regardless, to imagine that all forms of innovation are for the general good. Sometimes they’re researched and create for corporate good, but that ain’t necessarily the same thing. Already given the Fordist production line example. But also the longlife light bulb has been available for at least a few decades. It hasn’t appeared before now because it means the manufacturers sell less light bulbs. (A third example might be GM products, but that might be more contentious and open up another side argument!)

The production line has greatly increased efficiency, making automobiles far more affordable than without them. Long-life light bulbs simply weren't cost-effective previously. Consumers were never going to be willing to pay the high costs for the new light bulbs with their expensive filaments until just recently. That latter example, by the way, or things like it, I hear all the time. If, in fact, cost-effective long-life bulbs could be sold, the company would be happy to rake in the profits now, go out of business when everybody had their "eternal" light bulbs, and invest the profits in something else. It is only ignorance of discount rates that causes people to argue otherwise. If profits are lower on the long-life bulb, it can only be because it's not cost-effective and that means consumers won't buy it. (Why bother putting a light bulb on the shelves which lasts ten times as long if I have to charge twenty times as much?)

Andrew, you know the American situation better than me but... are you sureabout this? The shop with the town monopoly decides to set prices unnaturally low? Is this Alice’s Hardware Store in Wonderland?

Not at all. Happens all the time. How do you think they became a monopoly and stay a monopoly? By charging lower prices than competitors through greater efficiency. Why do you think Wal-Mart is taking over the U.S. retail business? It is certainly the case that a monopolist can charge more for its products (or restrict supply) and there are plenty of examples of this in history - usually government monopolies or government-sponsored monopolies. However, they rarely arise in a competitive market (but can in a "natural monopoly" situation, which certainly doesn't describe hardware stores, but does describe privatized water companies). In the anti-trust suit against Standard Oil, apparently Standard Oil threatened a rival supplier that they would lower their prices below cost to drive him out of business. They didn't actually do this, mind you, because he correctly argued that he would just shut down his business and see how long it took for them to go bankrupt. However, this theory about companies charging "too low" a price in order to drive competitors out of business and jack up the prices later is a central theory in how U.S. anti-trust law is enforced, despite the lack of empirical support for the theory. There is one U.S. company which built itself a true monopoly in a competitive market - Alcoa. Alcoa actually never had very large profit margins, though, since it still had competitors, primarily recycled aluminum.

I’ve been wondering how the financial collapse fits into this argument. Anyone remotely sensible a long time ago gave up claiming unregulated markets make people richer, and started pointing to the length of the boom to prove it had made things more stable. Well now... guess what?

There aren't any sensible people in favor of "unregulated markets" that I'm aware of. Nor do we have anything like an unregulated market, as you pointed out yourself. The modern economy is inevitably and deeply government regulated, particularly banks and financial firms. By the way, I would probably argue that, contrary to your argument, more unregulated markets probably would make people richer, but at the costs of huge instability. Massive booms and busts were a feature of the more unregulated markets of the 19th century, but included absolutely amazing growth. (I freely grant that it is questionable whether we could get that kind of growth in modern times, but I don't see why it would be impossible.) Due to this massive instability, we created the modern mixed economy, with a very large role for government and central banks.

The current crisis shows that our attempts to "smooth out" the booms and busts of capitalism have proven to be inadequate in this case. It should be pointed out, though, that 2001-2007 was the greatest global economic boom in the history of the world. The current crisis doesn't really tell us anything about whether we need more regulation or less regulation. What we need is the right regulation. (E.g. regulation has played its own role in these failures. When a government rating agency downgrades a firm's credit rating, like Lehman Brothers, this forces many companies to sell their bonds, because, by regulation, they must carry only investment-grade bonds. This makes it impossible for Lehman Brothers to borrow money and causes a "death spiral" in a firm, which may have simply been having short-term problems, which it would otherwise have recovered from, had it not been forced into bankruptcy. However, there are also certainly cases where regulation would have been helpful. Derivatives bought for speculative purposes rather than hedging purposes, for example.)

I don't know anybody who argues for no regulation. E.g. George W. Bush signed the biggest re-regulation of the financial markets in 70 years when he signed Sarbanes-Oxley. The era of deregulation (1970-2000) ended almost a decade ago. The biggest deregulators in the U.S. were Reagan and Clinton. And neither were in favor of no regulation.

But I’m not sure how that fits in with a debate about Charlie. So far it’s forcing governments to go back to being hands-on with the banks, with Labour ministers even mentioning Keynes by name again! Sales of Kapital are reportedly up (!!!), but how Marx fits into it isn’t clear. Unless this crisis brings bout the absolute end of capitalism, which may be possible but doesn’t necessarily seem likely. (Please remember for the English understatement is the same thing as sarcasm.)

We should all hope it isn't the end of capitalism, since it's not like we have anything to replace it with.

Isn’t this a slightly odd way to end a paragraph on how important religious forces were in abolishing slavery? Of course if you want to portray religion as tradition manifested as ideology, you won’t have to look too hard to find examples. But there are plenty of opposite examples. When you earlier expressed surprise there was a genuinely religious element to the English Revolution, could it have been these lines you were thinking along?

I don't know what you're driving at with your question, so I can't answer it. My point was that religion is an ideology and when it is successful at imposing its ideology, it then becomes in favor of the tradition it has created. Thus, the evangelists who were once progressive are now conservative. Not because their thinking has changed, but because it hasn't. The 19th century Kansas populists that Thomas Frank so admired got their way on virtually everything. Agriculture prices are now propped up by the government, the railroad monopolies were smashed, and they got far more than merely unlimited coinage of silver. The rest of the Populist Party's platform called for a graduated income tax (done), direct election of Senators (done), civil service reform (done), a working day of eight hours (done), and government control of railroads, telephones, and telegraphs (done and then undone, but nobody today is complaining about telephone prices). Frank assumes that they should go on to support his agenda now which is mostly about income inequality, but inequality is an intellectual abstraction and not an issue for most people. People care very much about injustice and material privation, but only a small minority care about inequality. The populists didn't hate the robber barons because they were rich, but because they were robbers and barons.

Carole Anne Ford was exceptionally good looking, but anything interesting about her character was forever being skirted over.

She's certainly unique looking. I'm not sure I'd say good looking. Verity Lambert, at the time, was better looking than any of the actresses she hired, in my opinion. I believe The War Machines ushered in the era of attractive companions. (I suppose Steven was pretty good-looking, but I couldn't care less.) And, by the by, some free advice for Steven Moffat - William Hartnell with Polly and Ben would have made the perfect Doctor/companion mix had it been done right. Older Doctor, two stunningly good-looking companions - one male, one female. It's a pity they introduced Jamie so soon after and cluttered up the TARDIS. Davies almost got there when he added Mickey to the crew, but he had already fouled it all up with the Doctor/Rose love story he was trying to write.

Andrew Stevens said...

By the way, I can't resist since you mentioned Keynes and Marx. Here's Keynes on Marx:

"How can I accept the [Communist] doctrine, which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete textbook which I know not only to be scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world? How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia, who with all their faults, are the quality of life and surely carry the seeds of all human achievement? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the red bookshop? It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values."

Gavin Burrows said...

If anyone else is left following this extended debate between myself and Andrew S and want to skip the arguments about light bulbs, they can just scroll down for more Doctor Who stuff!

I don't have a middle class background, though I certainly do have a middle class career.

Sorry if I was misreading your family situation. I had a middle class background but lack the middle class career, so I guess this another think where we’re chalk and cheese! (It’s been a while since I had to load a truck, though.)

I am reminded of the famous crack about Marx and Engels that two young men who had never worked a day in their lives claimed to speak for the "working man."

Did they say this? Maybe they did, I certainly haven’t read everything they wrote. But it’s not something I’ve come across, and seems to me out of character.

While the World Bank's solution was highly questionable, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with markets. Privatization didn't open up any markets in Bolivia. It just transferred one monopolist for another.

My argument is that this will always be the result of a free market system. There’s no freedom to it! This used to be implicitly understood. Whoever was economically powerful (for example, the British Empire) would argue for free markets, while whoever wouldn’t would struggle to resist them. It’s only recently where this argument has taken on an ideological fervour, where people will claim the benefits are self-evident. In most cases, people are merely repeating something they heard.

There aren't any sensible people in favor of "unregulated markets" that I'm aware of. Nor do we have anything like an unregulated market, as you pointed out yourself.

I would argue that it’s the same as the ‘human nature’ scenario. Proponents accept in theory some degree of regulation is necessary, then in practise will only ever argue against it. The same thing for taxation, few people say they want to see zero taxation but they always want it driven down further and further.

The first casualty of the banking crisis in the UK was Northern Rock, chaired by Matt Ridley. A relative of the pioneering neoliberal Tory MP Nicholas Ridley, he had frequently campaigned for less regulation – pointing to the Rock’s ‘success’ as evidence. Of course, as soon as it went insolvent he went asking for a State bailout! In a black sort of way, it’s very funny...

I’m not quite sure what info you’re drawing from over the Government credit rating thing. I’d understood the crisis’ cause had been the collapse of inter-bank loans. Certainly here in Britain regulation not only could have prevented the domestic crisis, but at one time would have done. The amount of money which could be lent was capped, a restriction abandoned by the Thatcher government in the Eighties. (Though of course we would have still got the knock-on effect from other economic regions.)

George W. Bush signed the biggest re-regulation of the financial markets in 70 years when he signed Sarbanes-Oxley.

Yes, but this came on the back of the Enron scandal where he had little choice. And it bucked previous trends. One of his first acts in government was swingeing tax cuts for the super-rich. These cuts were so excessive that protest adverts were taken out in the press – by members of the super-rich who were intended to benefit from them!

If, in fact, cost-effective long-life bulbs could be sold, the company would be happy to rake in the profits now, go out of business when everybody had their "eternal" light bulbs, and invest the profits in something else. It is only ignorance of discount rates that causes people to argue otherwise. If profits are lower on the long-life bulb, it can only be because it's not cost-effective and that means consumers won't buy it. (Why bother putting a light bulb on the shelves which lasts ten times as long if I have to charge twenty times as much?)

This argument only really works if we take your ‘twenty versus ten’ ratio as read. It’s like you started with your conclusion, then did the working-out backwards... actually, I’m not even sure it works then! Considering how many light bulbs we must buy over an average lifetime, it would have to be well over twenty times as much to be equivalent in terms of profit – perhaps even a few hundred.

It also seems to overlook economies of scale. Of course these aren’t the only arbiter of price (long life bulbs probably are intrinsically costlier to produce than short life), but in mass production conditions they have a huge effect. It’s a common trick to compare the price of a prototype to an established production-line item, but the comparison is nonsense.

A further example would come from the recent documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Concerned that forthcoming legislation in California that a small percentage of vehicles sold would have to be zero-emission, General Motors devised an electric car, building and road-testing some examples. But when they were able to quosh the proposed legislation, they set about trying to burn their own product!

Not at all. Happens all the time. How do you think they became a monopoly and stay a monopoly? By charging lower prices than competitors through greater efficiency. Why do you think Wal-Mart is taking over the U.S. retail business?

Sorry, Andrew, but you’re losing me here! I thought your earlier point was that anti-trust laws were used to whack small-scale enterprises, like Mom ‘n’ Pop hardware stores. How did we get to Wal-Mart?

What you say about them is true enough (though ‘efficiency’ might be regarded as an euphemism for another e-word). But I’ve never heard of Wal-Mart ever being hit by anti-trust laws, even when they’re in a local monopoly situation. In fact quote the reverse, they’re classic crony capitalists!

However, this theory about companies charging "too low" a price in order to drive competitors out of business and jack up the prices later is a central theory in how U.S. anti-trust law is enforced, despite the lack of empirical support for the theory.

Perhaps they should look over here! For example, the bus company Stagecoach reduces fares if a competitor sets up in the area until they drive them out, then put them back up again.

My point was that religion is an ideology and when it is successful at imposing its ideology, it then becomes in favor of the tradition it has created.

Sorry, I wasn’t with you because I didn’t get the time element! But I think my point still stands. Once you try to trump a political argument by deferring to God, there’s no bar on someone else doing the same to you further down the line.

"How can I accept the [Communist] doctrine, which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete textbook which I know not only to be scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world?”

Could you call Communism a religion? ‘Orthodox’ Communists certainly treat Kapital as a kind of holy book, but to me that just suggests their inability to understand what it was all about in the first place. (I’m reminded of Andrew R’s comments about fundamentalists trying to read the Bible without understanding what a parable is.) How can you claim to be a historical materialist and then hold up an old book as a fount of all wisdom? This may have been the sort of thing Marx was thinking about when he famously insisted “I am not a Marxist.”

This of course becomes something of a bone of contention for people in the Autonomist and Situationsit currents, who responded by decrying all forms of ideology as inherently reactionary. Perhaps the Situs put it the most pithily – “Theory is where you have ideas. Ideology is where ideas have you.” Their emphasis was upon your experience as a subject of capitalist social relations. If you were to compare it to religion, you could claim they were like the evangelicals against the fundamentalists – they were pro-experience and anti-doctrinal.
And last but not least... Doctor Who!

I believe The War Machines ushered in the era of attractive companions.

Funnily enough, I’d just got to War Machines in my great watch-through. It’s certainly the point where Doctor Who gets introduced to the Swinging Sixties, so perhaps the ‘attractive companions’ come in there. More, Polly is presented as a reasonably strong character, independent and not deferring to any adult authority.

But how long she might stay like that is another matter. Susan starts as quite a splendid character, a space-age adolescent who mystifies her elders. Carole Anne Ford’s ‘unique’ looks (you’re right there!) certainly enhance this. But she lasts for precisely one episode, then they replace her with a screaming schoolgirl. Oddly, this new character not only seems to have the same name but is even played by the same actress...

dagonet said...

Andrew Stevens wrote:
"Sicily's a good point, but I wasn't referring to Muslims in Eastern Europe because I've been talking about the Arabs."

... & I was not shouting incoherently at you, just the internet.

ibid:
"But I don't have any solution for that and I don't believe anybody else does either."

A bit more socialism? Not a perfect solution, perhaps, but (bravely ignoring the risk of Burrows labeling me as "ideological") solutions do not have to be.
This world is not, after all.

As for it being flat, that is a silly Victorian fundementalist (even though "fundementalism" seems to be an - puritan - 20 century invention) idea, and quite out - of - touch with modern e - lunacy.
Planet x, on the other hand...
http://www.exitmundi.nl/Planet-X.htm
the way things are going, the Drs going to be exploring it with Gillian Anderson soon.

Oh, and yes, there are certainly people still reading your entries. You two are charmingly transatlantic.

Andrew Stevens said...

I'll give a quick reply to Dagonet. I may not be able to reply to Mr. Burrows for a few days.

A bit more socialism? Not a perfect solution, perhaps, but (bravely ignoring the risk of Burrows labeling me as "ideological") solutions do not have to be.
This world is not, after all.


See my above distinction on socialism and wealth redistribution. Socialists are either for A) collective ownership of the means of production or B) government ownership of the means of production. I.e. the U.K. has a socialist health care system; Canada does not. (It has a publicly funded health care system.) I assume you're talking about wealth redistribution, i.e. giving more money to the poor.

I'd actually be fine with this, though I have other priorities first as I said previously (the poor in Africa and Asia have much more serious problems which can be solved much more cheaply). I am highly skeptical that more money will solve the problems of the poor in the United States. For one thing, I am in general very skeptical that a lack of money is the real problem in poor communities. I think the belief that giving people money will cure the crime and drug problems that exist in poor communities is based on the highly questionable assumption that poverty causes these crime and drug problems. I doubt this very much. For one thing, this appears to be a simple slander on poor people who are not generally criminals or drug users. E.g. the people of 200 years ago were, in the main, much poorer (in absolute terms) than the poor in the U.S. today, but the country was not riddled with crime and drug use, not even to the extent that poor communities are today, nevertheless much worse (as it ought to have been if the theory is correct). Moreover, very little crime is committed of the nature which could be explained simply by poverty (shoplifting of food or clothing, for example). My mother was quite poor after she lost my father and was thrown unprepared into the job market with four children (and, for a few years, a husband) to support and she didn't start holding up liquor stores or snorting cocaine. I'm sure there is good evidence that drugs and crime are, in fact, correlated with poverty, but I'm guessing that either the causation goes the other way (people become poor through drug use or criminal activity) or there are other factors which cause both crime and drug use and poverty.

Some tentative possible solutions:

We could experiment with drug legalization. This would make the drug problem worse (which is bad), but it might be the case that the war on drugs is even worse than drugs themselves. There is evidence for this belief: to wit, the spike in violent crimes during Prohibition.

Another possible solution would be a better educational system. But again, I don't really have any solutions to offer on that front. Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that we have a bunch of adolescents socializing each other. The notion of education through age segregation seems to me to be highly questionable, though it is rarely questioned. (I do understand the argument for it on efficiency grounds, of course.) Also, there is currently zero emphasis on personal finance education and I believe this might do a lot of good.

And, finally, a quick response to Mr. Burrows on Doctor Who companions.

But how long she might stay like that is another matter. Susan starts as quite a splendid character, a space-age adolescent who mystifies her elders. Carole Anne Ford’s ‘unique’ looks (you’re right there!) certainly enhance this. But she lasts for precisely one episode, then they replace her with a screaming schoolgirl. Oddly, this new character not only seems to have the same name but is even played by the same actress...

Polly doesn't stay interesting for more than that one story. She is relegated, more than any other companion, primarily to making the tea. Hartnell/Polly/Ben weren't actually a well-realized team, but I believe a team like that is perfectly suited for a modern audience. I'd even go so far as to make the Doctor a fairly peripheral character, though the show would still center around him in many ways.

If you've seen the original pilot of Doctor Who, you'll know that Susan was even more interesting in that than she was in the aired pilot. Carole Ann Ford's rapid disillusionment with the part is easily explained when one realizes what role she really signed on to play compared to the role she actually got. I blame Carole Ann Ford's descent as a character on Sydney Newman who famously wrote "Need a kid to get into trouble, make mistakes." Sadly, Susan got saddled with the part and I believe Carole Ann Ford got the rawest deal of any actor to appear on the show with Colin Baker the only possible exception. When you look at Newman's original conception for the programme, it was half genius and half ridiculous cliches. A science teacher and a history teacher indeed. Partly, of course, that was because Newman took the BBC's educational remit seriously and thought Doctor Who should be used as a vehicle for that (and criticized the programme frequently after he left the BBC since he didn't believe it was educational at all anymore).

Gavin Burrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gavin Burrows said...

dagonet said...
A bit more socialism? Not a perfect solution, perhaps, but (bravely ignoring the risk of Burrows labeling me as "ideological") solutions do not have to be.

The other way up. It’s people who claim to have an all-embracing Answer To Everything I see as ideological. (Or possibly just plain delusional.)

Andrew Stevens said...

I may not be able to reply to Mr. Burrows for a few days.

Fair enough, especially if it results in a reply less ridden with terrible typos than mine was. (General Motors buried those cars, not burnt them, as you probably guessed. Well, actually they crushed them if you want to be pedantic about it!) In such a spirit, I’ll refrain from commenting on your comments to Dagonet. (Who wants to talk about drugs anyway, when you could be discussing the price of light bulbs?)

(Slightly ironically after saying that, I bugger up my first attempt to post this!)

Polly doesn't stay interesting for more than that one story.

I feared not. The impression I’m under is that for every new girlcompanion they vow to beef her up a bit, then revert to screaming after the first story.

If you've seen the original pilot of Doctor Who, you'll know that Susan was even more interesting in that than she was in the aired pilot.

I have, I do, you’re right.

I'd even go so far as to make the Doctor a fairly peripheral character, though the show would still center around him in many ways.

Andrew, you just love that early Hartnell era!

When you look at Newman's original conception for the programme, it was half genius and half ridiculous cliches.

As a point of pedantry, wasn’t Newman mostly just marking other people’s conceptions? Over which I’d say he did a fairly decent job overall. Bunny Webber devised a series of increasingly daft ‘secret of Doctor Who’ memos, all thankfully vetoed by Newman. (And the quote you mention was over whether there was a Susan character at all, he wasn’t watering down a more interesting conception.)

And doesn’t Doctor Who stay “half genius and half ridiculous cliches” for ages? Right up until... umm... well, let’s see what Moffat does to change things!

dagonet said...

Andrew Stevens wrote:
"I assume you're talking about wealth redistribution, i.e. giving more money to the poor."
No, i was talking about goverment owning some, though certainly not all, means of production. As you yourself have pointed out, some things goverment does better, just as some things are bested solved through private enterprise (part of the problem of megacorps is that they combine the worst of both worlds).
ibid:
"the poor in Africa and Asia have much more serious problems which can be solved much more cheaply"
So, socialism is good enough for us helpless improvished forringers, eh?
I assume you are thinking in terms of personal donations, by the way?
Ibid:
"For one thing, I am in general very skeptical that a lack of money is the real problem in poor communities."
Much as the lack of legs is not the real problem ib 1 - legged communities?
Mind you, there is other kinds of unfairness that keep people in the ghetto (I understand that, in the states, speaking Spanish is considered a racial trait?)
ibid:
"Another possible solution would be a better educational system."
Healthcare & education (applied with any degree of efficiency) seem fairly obviously worth the money; they help people with things that they often, themselves, have little control over, and makes them more valuable taxpayers/consumers. But that requires a long - term perspective "pure" capitalism, especially the post - modern sort, just does not have.
Gavin burrows wrote:
"The other way up. It’s people who claim to have an all-embracing Answer To Everything I see as ideological..."
but I am ideological: i am a social liberalist. I even support my ideology with general metaphysical statemenents.
As far as I can see, the ideologies you refer to equate "ideology" with "utopianism", "romantic idealism"...

"....(Or possibly just plain delusional.)"

...or possibly just "being wrong". A wonderful rethorical weapon against outsiders, but perhaps less useful when it comes to constructive criticism of ones own ideology, sorry, direct perception of Things In Themselves.
(One is reminded of the attitude held by some of ones fellow christians; that religion is bad & wrong: but that christianity, being good & right, thus is not a religion).

Gavin Burrows said...

dagonet said...
As far as I can see, the ideologies you refer to...

I was referring to people as ideological, not systems of thought in themselves. If people engage sympathetically but critically with ideas, they aren’t behaving ideologically but are merely thinking. If they are only consuming ideas, my suggestion is to step away.

Of course it’s true certain systems are more ready-wired to become ideologies than others – fascism, fundamentalisms of all stripes etc. But other ideas get atrophied into ideologies, irrespective of whether this does violence to them.

It would be simplistic and reductive to claim Soviet tyranny was down to communism being turned into an ideology. But that would be an element...

but I am ideological: i am a social liberalist. I even support my ideology with general metaphysical statements.

I shall try not to hold it against you.

dagonet said...

gavin burrows wrote:

"I was referring to people as ideological, not systems of thought in themselves."

And I was referring to the Autonomist and Situationist ideologies.
Given common usage of the word, it is common sense to talk about good & bad ideology (in the sense that they do not undermine themselves): but re - defining ideology into just another variant of "bad" is verbicide, which tends towards non - sense.
Ibid:
"Of course it’s true certain systems are more ready-wired to become ideologies than others – fascism,...

according my usage, fascism is a lot less ideological than, say national socialism.
but even going by your usage, I would contend that facism was an "bad" (that is, amoral) ideology right to begin with - partially because it ignores such ideological (in my sense) activities as thinking about ethics. of course, both it and national socialism insisted that they were "pure action", unlike that communist/jewish abstract thought ideological stuff.
ibid:
"....fundamentalisms of all stripes etc."

fundementalist is yet another word that has suffered verbicide: as became clear when it started being used to imply moslem revolutionary ur - umma utopians derived their ideas from American presbytarians. (One of the reasons one really should find another word for "moslem fundamentalists" - no, wait, people just call them "moslems" now)

"But other ideas get atrophied into ideologies, irrespective of whether this does violence to them."

but it they keep on not working according to plan, perhaps changing the ideas might be in order? Or at least ones expectations of them?
Rather than, say, just pretending all ideas are bad.

"I shall try not to hold it against you."

Er... this is where you are supposed to imply that I am a secret, on a good day even unwitting, tool of reptiloid imperialist plutocracy.
hmph. people who talk about marx without sniggering are not what they used to be!

early who had the advantage of being, well, early: they had no tradition to work with. Current who making the same, or worse, mistakes, is simply degenerate. (see, burrows? opening for accussations of crypto - fascism there!)

Gavin Burrows said...

Dagonet, would it be too much to ask that you respond to things I actually said???

And I was referring to the Autonomist and Situationist ideologies... just pretending all ideas are bad.

Of course there’s people who have taken up Autonomist and Situationist currents ideologically. Why wouldn’t there? The notion that they were so pure as to be innoculated against all that would in itself be ideological!

To reiterate, what makes ideas into ideologies is the way people respond to them. Guns can shoot people, but it takes someone to take them down from the shelf and pull the trigger.

Given common usage of the word...

I’m not sure semantics has got a lot to do with it. The worst you’re going to say is that my comments were incorrectly labelled. But if you’re desperate to talk about it...

‘Logos’ of course derives from the Greek for ‘to speak’ or ‘to tell’, but we regularly use it in a reified and religious context, as in for example Christ the Logos.

people who talk about marx without sniggering are not what they used to be!

I don’t talk about anything without sniggering! Particularly not someone who upbraids me for not using words commonly, then throws in a term like ‘verbicide’! I gather you don’t actually mean “the murder of doing words”, but it took me a while to guess that.

dagonet said...

Burrows;
Sorry, theres that "shouting at the internet incoherently, not you in particular" thing again - I have tried discussions anti - paradimatists before & really ought to know better.
I hope we can agree that the Autonomist/Situationist definition of "ideology" is something of a specialist one?
One Marxist concept I happen to agree with: "everyone is ideological" (well - Autonomist/Situationist Marxist): and that people who pretend otherwise are, at best, misguided (I recall your own criticism of "human nature").
Anyway, sorry, too, about using tecnical terms myself: "murder of words" has become a lot less common (as a word, unfortunatly not as a practice) since Professor Lewis times.
I do not snigger at Marx myself, by the way, being somewhat ideologically reactionary (that is, I sometimes go back to old political ideas if they seem worth it).
Good point, by the way, that ideology really ought to mean "the study of ideas".

dagonet said...

Er, make that "pre -Autonomist/Situationist Marxist"

Gavin Burrows said...

dagonet said...
I hope we can agree that the Autonomist/Situationist definition of "ideology" is something of a specialist one?

You might say specialist, I’d just say special, ; )

One Marxist concept I happen to agree with: "everyone is ideological"

Equally, everybody loses their temper sometime or other. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try not to. (I think by that Marx was partly just countering people’s claims to be ‘apolitical.’)

These guys probably did develop their distaste of ideology through hanging out in Leftist circles, which meant continually running into people who’d claim on the one hand to be materialist then on the other to have a privileged level of insight deprived to others. Holy doublethink, Vladimir! Nevertheless, I think its an insight which can be applied more idely.

Gavin Burrows said...

...umm... widely.

dagonet said...

Burrows wrote:
"Equally, everybody loses their temper sometime or other. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try not to."

Yes: I seem to have been first to activate Godwins Law
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwins_law
so, even if it was just fascism I compared nazism with, you win.
Truely, here's nothing a Social liberalist can't do if he doesn't know whether he believes in anything or not!
Ibid
"(I think by that Marx was partly just countering people’s claims to be ‘apolitical.’)"

Wonder what he would have made of the current trend of simulating ethical/political awareness through ‘values’?
Democracy looks disturbingly vulnerable to drive - by verbicide right now.

ibid
"These guys probably did develop their distaste of ideology through hanging out in Leftist circles, which meant continually running into people who’d claim on the one hand to be materialist then on the other to have a privileged level of insight deprived to others. Holy doublethink, Vladimir!"

So, you noticed too.
Its not the claim to special insight that bothers me - Herr Marx clearly knew more about economics (not to mention picking upp fancy Berlinerinnen) than I ever will. It is more the confusion of, say economics with philosophy that sets me off. Of course, it was Hegel who started it - an abstract idealist really has no buisness idealizing someone like Napoleon just because dictators are so dashingly violent (though it is sadly predictable that abstract idealists would do just that).

Ibid:
"Nevertheless, I think its an insight which can be applied more widely."

Just like Memeology, I suppose - which I just supported by quoting Godwin.
>sigh< Stevens is propably laughing at us now, on top of a big pile of wicked American money.
Which reminds me; Stevens, how does "Liberal Socialist" sound to you? I know usage of "Liberal" in the states would propably mean more attention for us, something we apparently need more of, in spite of being right all the time.

Oh, and would it be to late to vote for Freema Agyeman as Most Attractive Companion? (obviously acting capacity is not considered relevant in this context: otherwise Id go for Caroline John)
She certainly is the first Persian one!

dagonet said...

... and that would be "memetics".
A big evil tax free pile, to be sure.

Gavin Burrows said...

Oh, and would it be to late to vote for Freema Agyeman as Most Attractive Companion? (obviously acting capacity is not considered relevant in this context)

I don't think I'm being distracted by the cuteness of Freema's eyes when I say this, but...

I don't think there was anything wrong with her acting ability. The problems were all with Martha as written. As I think Andrew R said in one of his earlier posts, she was all defined in the negative - lots of list-points as to how she wasn't like Rose, scant corresponding consideration as to what she actually was.

dagonet said...

Mz. Agyeman was certainly game enough when she appeared in the awefull Torchwood, even though it was apparently considered fitting that we found about her tummy tatoo (is it just me, or is there something a bit spooky about wikipedia articles keeping careful track of celebreties various bodily details? But not, mercifully, for Agyeman)

Andrew Stevens said...

Fair enough, especially if it results in a reply less ridden with terrible typos than mine was.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to take more time to compose my response, but because personal issues came up which needed to be dealt with. But I'm back now.

Sorry if I was misreading your family situation. I had a middle class background but lack the middle class career, so I guess this another think where we’re chalk and cheese! (It’s been a while since I had to load a truck, though.)

I'm sure this is probably part of our empirical disagreement. Dedicated radicals (in the U.S. anyway) seem to come principally from middle class backgrounds and seem to gravitate to the arts, though I hesitate to ascribe any causes to the correlation. And, of course, it's hardly shocking to see a poor boy who makes good supporting the system he made good in. I don't believe that this is the overriding reason for my support of capitalism (I supported it long before I ever made good, but you could easily argue that this was because I was able to predict my own future success). I believe I have excellent arguments and empirical evidence on my side. However, part of my general philosophical thesis is that the majority of people have irrational reasons for their politics and I cannot exempt myself from this thesis.

Did they say this? Maybe they did, I certainly haven’t read everything they wrote. But it’s not something I’ve come across, and seems to me out of character.

I don't think the joke is thinking of a particular quote. However, Marx was selected for the First International as a representative of German "working men."

My argument is that this will always be the result of a free market system. There’s no freedom to it! This used to be implicitly understood. Whoever was economically powerful (for example, the British Empire) would argue for free markets, while whoever wouldn’t would struggle to resist them. It’s only recently where this argument has taken on an ideological fervour, where people will claim the benefits are self-evident. In most cases, people are merely repeating something they heard.

Again, the empirical evidence is what most people regard as self-evident. Capitalist countries, be they lightly regulated and taxed or heavily regulated and taxed, do far better than socialist ones. There have been two paths to success in the modern world - markets or sitting on a vast amount of a commodity when commodity prices are high. Liberalizing markets has lifted millions of Asians out of poverty.

As for monopolies in capitalist countries, there are gradations. E.g. most commodities have close to perfect competition (e.g. all suppliers are price-takers). At another extreme, there are government granted monopolies and certain quasi-monopoly market situations (I mentioned software earlier and there are surely others). Most markets are dominated by monopolistic competition, where companies compete on product differentiation at least as much as on price (McDonald's v. Burger King, Coke v. Pepsi to use American examples). However, these companies are rarely fixed. Of the twelve companies which first made up the Dow Jones Industrial in 1896, only one (General Electric) is still part of the average. And I'd be willing to bet that it won't be in twenty years. So I'm not sure where you're going with your "no freedom to it" argument. (I'll deal with this more when we get to Wal-Mart which can be used as a surrogate for many other companies.)

I’m not quite sure what info you’re drawing from over the Government credit rating thing. I’d understood the crisis’ cause had been the collapse of inter-bank loans. Certainly here in Britain regulation not only could have prevented the domestic crisis, but at one time would have done. The amount of money which could be lent was capped, a restriction abandoned by the Thatcher government in the Eighties. (Though of course we would have still got the knock-on effect from other economic regions.)

I'm not quite sure I follow here. What exactly do you mean that lending used to be capped? Are you talking about allowed leverage ratios for banks? If so, U.K. banks are allowed pretty much the same leverage as the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we allow far less leverage and we still had banking problems. I should also add that it's all well and good to blame it all on Thatcher, and that may well be right, but Labour's been in power for more than 11 years. Surely, they've had time to change it by now if they wished to. And, in any event, most nations have had some sort of problem with their banks. There seem to be a couple of exceptions here and there - Canada, Australia, etc. But if we don't get off this track soon, we'll be talking about implementation of the Basel II Accord and put everybody to sleep.

The one thing I always want to impress on people is that they don't really understand the cause of the crisis, no matter what they've heard from talking heads on the radio, newspapers, or TV, since those talking heads don't understand it either. I am an expert on many of the matters currently being discussed, and I don't understand what exactly went wrong or why it went wrong. To a large extent, the root cause is certainly because stockholder equity acts as a call option since losses are limited to what is invested and this encourages riskier projects than is optimal (an expropriation of bondholder wealth for the shareholders). However, even this is inadequate to really explain it. Most companies are significantly more risk-averse than investors would like (due to agency problems) and yet risk management at a wide variety of disparate companies clearly failed to get the job done.

In any event, all of this has to do with the current regulatory structure. Stock exchanges aren't a necessary part of capitalism, nor is fractional reserve banking, or most of what makes up "finance capitalism" today. The current crisis in finance capitalism probably will cause a crisis in industrial capitalism, as has happened time and time again in history, but most of my argument for capitalism and for markets is for industrial capitalism, not Wall Street.

Yes, but this came on the back of the Enron scandal where he had little choice. And it bucked previous trends. One of his first acts in government was swingeing tax cuts for the super-rich. These cuts were so excessive that protest adverts were taken out in the press – by members of the super-rich who were intended to benefit from them!

Tax cuts don't have anything to do with regulation. Bush's instincts may be as a tax-cutter, but, like his father, his instincts are for more government control of the economy through regulation, not less. Reagan and Clinton deregulated. Neither Bush did. You can look through Bush's speeches - he never uses the word "deregulation" and has never favored it.

This argument only really works if we take your ‘twenty versus ten’ ratio as read. It’s like you started with your conclusion, then did the working-out backwards... actually, I’m not even sure it works then! Considering how many light bulbs we must buy over an average lifetime, it would have to be well over twenty times as much to be equivalent in terms of profit – perhaps even a few hundred.

This is true. I did reason backwards and for a rather obvious reason. You need a theory to explain why companies can make more profit off of the shorter-lived light bulbs even though consumers would prefer the longer-lived bulbs. You seem to be looking at bottom-line revenues, but this is not the way companies view it. They're looking at profit percentage. What you seem to be saying is that they can either A) invest $100,000 in short life bulbs and get $120,000 back or B) invest $20,000 in long life bulbs and get $35,000 back. And then, you're concluding they'd prefer A to B because the $20,000 profit is greater than the $15,000 profit. I can assure you, however, that they'd prefer the 75% return on investment of B (and then find something else to do with the $80,000 they don't have to spend) than the 20% profit on A.

However, there is a theory on why an established company would opt for A (given that they are already doing it) rather than B. Managers do not act merely in the best interests of investors; they also act in the interests of employees and suppliers. The change-over to B would probably necessitate layoffs and perhaps bankrupt some of their previous suppliers, so there is a certain amount of status quo bias, but I doubt this is what you were thinking of.

It also seems to overlook economies of scale. Of course these aren’t the only arbiter of price (long life bulbs probably are intrinsically costlier to produce than short life), but in mass production conditions they have a huge effect. It’s a common trick to compare the price of a prototype to an established production-line item, but the comparison is nonsense.

This is absolutely true, of course. But I wasn't overlooking economies of scale. I assume that they exist in both models.

A further example would come from the recent documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Concerned that forthcoming legislation in California that a small percentage of vehicles sold would have to be zero-emission, General Motors devised an electric car, building and road-testing some examples. But when they were able to quosh the proposed legislation, they set about trying to burn their own product!

Now this is a more interesting argument. First, however, former CEO Rick Wagoner said that axing the EV-1 was "the worst decision of his tenure." GM's R&D chief has publicly stated that it was a terrible decision. I.e. never attribute to malice what can easily be explained by incompetence. I can find no official explanation for GM's desire to have all the prototypes destroyed or deactivated, but I assume it's because of fears about other companies stealing their ideas. (This is inevitable if there is a general public release, but not if they can keep control of it.) More importantly, the reason for this is that GM showed a lack of foresight. Given the low price of oil in the 1990s, the electric car probably wasn't cost-effective. Consumers didn't care enough about fuel prices to be willing to shell out the extra money for the car. Given the high cost of oil until just recently, the market has changed, making the product much more viable. I.e. I am going to argue that GM was both right then and wrong now, due to changing market conditions. GM was counting on a breakthrough in battery technology which didn't occur in the '90s (and still hasn't happened today).

However, the general argument about electric cars does point to a well-recognized market failure - the free rider and commons problems. I do not wish to pooh-pooh or minimize these genuine market failures. We would all be better off if we all spent more money on cleaner transportation, even though each of us wants transportation as cheaply as possible.

What you say about them is true enough (though ‘efficiency’ might be regarded as an euphemism for another e-word). But I’ve never heard of Wal-Mart ever being hit by anti-trust laws, even when they’re in a local monopoly situation. In fact quote the reverse, they’re classic crony capitalists!

Wal-Mart is now a classic crony capitalist company because you have to be when you get that big (as Microsoft learned, which used to spend almost no money on lobbying, but now spends millions). They have actually been hit with a few anti-trust suits, in Wisconsin most notably (settled).

Wal-Mart is an interesting story. Sam Walton was born the son of Oklahoma farmers and went to work as a management trainee at J.C. Penney's (at the time, the titan of retail) before opening his own department store with a loan from his father-in-law when he came back from the War. Wal-Mart differed from Penney's in three key ways: 1) instead of offering rotating "sales" every one out of eight weeks, Wal-Mart was going to offer their best price all the time, 2) squeezing suppliers in order to make their margins and passing on most (but not all) of the gains to the customer (when Wal-Mart has been accused of antitrust activities in other countries like Germany or Mexico, this is why), and 3) "big box" locations instead of anchoring shopping malls.

Whether Wal-Mart is good or bad, I'll leave up to you to decide, but the rise of Wal-Mart and the decline of J.C. Penney's is an example of the dynamism of capitalism. (Similarly, J.C. Penney once worked for Sears Roebuck, whose catalogue model he eventually supplanted.) That the United States and other capitalist countries are, in large part, ruled by plutocrats, I regard as essentially true. That this plutocracy is static or hereditary I regard as obviously false.

Perhaps they should look over here! For example, the bus company Stagecoach reduces fares if a competitor sets up in the area until they drive them out, then put them back up again.

Could you give me a source on this? Because I'm very curious about it, but was unable to find anything about it in my perfunctory search. All I could find was Stagecoach operating Magicbus lines in heavy competition areas in order to undercut prices, but no citable evidence about raising prices again when a monopoly was reached. (Of course, in some of these markets, Stagecoach was running its own line on other routes, but that's something else.)

Could you call Communism a religion? ‘Orthodox’ Communists certainly treat Kapital as a kind of holy book, but to me that just suggests their inability to understand what it was all about in the first place.

Communism didn't start out as a religion, of course. At this point, I think there aren't many but the religious remaining, present company excepted of course.

As a point of pedantry, wasn’t Newman mostly just marking other people’s conceptions? Over which I’d say he did a fairly decent job overall. Bunny Webber devised a series of increasingly daft ‘secret of Doctor Who’ memos, all thankfully vetoed by Newman. (And the quote you mention was over whether there was a Susan character at all, he wasn’t watering down a more interesting conception.)

Sure. I agree it was really Newman's committee rather than Newman himself. However, the committee was trying to get Newman's approval so I think he deserves most of the credit for the eventual shape of the programme. Unlike Star Trek, Doctor Who doesn't really have a "creator," but Newman's the closest thing.

Also agree that Newman was suggesting the character of Susan. They then made her more interesting and Newman pushed her back into his original model when he reviewed the pilot and suggested revisions when they reshot it.

No, i was talking about goverment owning some, though certainly not all, means of production. As you yourself have pointed out, some things goverment does better, just as some things are bested solved through private enterprise (part of the problem of megacorps is that they combine the worst of both worlds).
ibid:
"the poor in Africa and Asia have much more serious problems which can be solved much more cheaply"
So, socialism is good enough for us helpless improvished forringers, eh?
I assume you are thinking in terms of personal donations, by the way?


I do agree with your comment about megacorps, by the way. My support of capitalism does not mean that I'm a supporter of big business. I think there are real problems with running companies the way Wall Street dictates and my instinctive preference is for small businesses and sole proprietorships, which are more accountable than the modern corporation (a legal fiction created by governments).

I was not, as it happens, thinking about donations, though I'm certainly in favor of those. I was actually thinking about George W. Bush's massive increase in aid to Africa, the best decision of his presidency, in my opinion. I think there is a very serious problem with inefficiency in international charity and that, therefore, some collective action is called for.

As Adam Smith said, "Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own."

I am, in fact, arguing that this is exactly what is happening with the political left in modern industrialized countries. In this country, the political left talks a great deal about poverty, but they are not talking about the genuine poverty of the world, but of the "poor" in America, who have it better than the vast majority of people on the planet or, for that matter, who have ever walked the planet. Why? Because they vote?

"For one thing, I am in general very skeptical that a lack of money is the real problem in poor communities."
Much as the lack of legs is not the real problem ib 1 - legged communities?
Mind you, there is other kinds of unfairness that keep people in the ghetto (I understand that, in the states, speaking Spanish is considered a racial trait?)


As I've said, I don't believe the poor in America are poor in any meaningful sense of the word. I grew up poor in America and, so long as you've got your health, American-style poverty is no hardship. We call them poor because the bottom 10% will be defined as poor, even if they live in mansions. As I've said, there are certain communities in America which face large non-poverty-related problems such as crime and the ravages of drugs (and/or the drug war). But this doesn't really have anything to do with lack of money.

As for the comment about Spanish speaking people, I honestly have no idea what you're talking about.

Healthcare & education (applied with any degree of efficiency) seem fairly obviously worth the money; they help people with things that they often, themselves, have little control over, and makes them more valuable taxpayers/consumers. But that requires a long - term perspective "pure" capitalism, especially the post - modern sort, just does not have.

The real question is how to give them "any degree of efficiency." Everybody agrees that they're good things, of course.

>sigh< Stevens is propably laughing at us now, on top of a big pile of wicked American money.
Which reminds me; Stevens, how does "Liberal Socialist" sound to you? I know usage of "Liberal" in the states would propably mean more attention for us, something we apparently need more of, in spite of being right all the time.


I am indeed doing a small amount of laughing on top of my big pile of wicked American money. Though half of my portfolio is in international equities, so I can laugh on top of a big pile of virtuous European, Asian, and Oceanic money as well. As long as the money is in my big pile, I don't ask too many questions about where it comes from.

Liberal socialism strikes me as a contradiction in terms. Arguably, however, the word "liberal" has been used in so many different ways in so many different cultures, that it has ceased to have any sort of coherent meaning. So in order to judge such a philosophy, I would first have to ask what country, past or present, was, in your opinion, actually governed on liberal socialist lines? This would help to determine if its proponents really are "right all the time." (Alas, I doubt it.) If you can't name such a country, then I have no real interest in utopian theorists who believe they can solve all the problems of the world if only they were in charge. I find most such people are often barely capable of organizing their own lives, which leads me to doubt that their political philosophy is very much better.

dagonet said...

Stevens (glad to see you got over... "things"?)
wrote:
"Capitalist countries, be they lightly regulated and taxed or heavily regulated and taxed, do far better than socialist ones."

Wouldnt that be "democratic" versus "communist" ones? After all, the UKs current goverment is socialist Ohahahaha.
No, but, joking aside, we have had actual socialist goverments before without going Cuba, or deposing Her Majesty, even.

ibid:
"Communism didn't start out as a religion, of course. At this point, I think there aren't many but the religious remaining, present company excepted of course."

I take it you use the term "religion" in much the same way Burrows uses "ideology", then?

Ibid:
"In this country, the political left talks a great deal about poverty, but they are not talking about the genuine poverty of the world, but of the "poor" in America, who have it better than the vast majority of people on the planet or, for that matter, who have ever walked the planet. Why? Because they vote?"

Why, yes: a well - educated, economically independant (which relatively poor people never are, even in the most "pure" capitalist state) US electorate is far less likely to nuke me. And correspondingly more likely to give & afford foregin aid.

Ibid:
"As I've said, there are certain communities in America which face large non-poverty-related problems such as crime and the ravages of drugs (and/or the drug war). But this doesn't really have anything to do with lack of money."

That would be Wall Street then?

"As for the comment about Spanish speaking people, I honestly have no idea what you're talking about."

That odd & wonderfull US phenomena, hispanics.

"The real question is how to give them "any degree of efficiency." Everybody agrees that they're good things, of course."

Well, US healthcare (generalizing horribly) is nearly non - existant by Western European standards, so there ought to be room for SOME improvement.
Think about it: you & your mother both seem to be intelligent, motivated people. Would it not be better, also for society, if you both did not have to waste so much time being down & out?

Ibid:
"Though half of my portfolio is in international equities, so I can laugh on top of a big pile of virtuous European, Asian, and Oceanic money as well. As long as the money is in my big pile, I don't ask too many questions about where it comes from."

Asian money would either "very, very nice" or "auspicious", depending on wether one is a UK or US asian.
Oceanic would be "flaming", I think?

Ibid:
"Liberal socialism strikes me as a contradiction in terms."

Just(now that one has been Godwinned allready)like National Socialism? Which (as an actual political description, rather than the nice way of saying "racist nihillist") seems to be the most common sort of socialism, what with the International Workers Revolution taking a bit of time getting off the ground.

Because both socialists & capitalists tend towards ekslutionist absolutism, so that now Communism "lost" the only natural choice for our poor earth is Objectivism?
Hopefully not.

Ibid:
"So in order to judge such a philosophy, I would first have to ask what country, past or present, was, in your opinion, actually governed on liberal socialist lines?"

Most of the civilized world. Democracy seems to favour us. We ought to call ourselves "conservatives" at this point, really.
But of course, that is part of the problem: we do not really call ourselves anything. We are just what turned out to be the best default position. Even the Social Democrats (a horribly embarressing name, come to think of it) are more visionary than us.

Ibid:
"This would help to determine if its proponents really are "right all the time." (Alas, I doubt it.)"

Silly. Obviously, Liberal Socialism (being the bits from Liberalism & Socialism that seem to work) is the same as "good". Otherwise it would not be Liberal Socialism!

Ibid:
"I find most such people are often barely capable of organizing their own lives, which leads me to doubt that their political philosophy is very much better."

Sir! I can but, with moistened eye, point to the works of your fellow countryman, utopian socialist Mr. H. P. Lovecraft!;)

Administrative abillity is not everything, not even in politics. (Which is why rulers have advisors, even if they are absolutist tyrants: though the latter have a fatal abillity to not listen to them. Fortunatly for the rest of us).

Gavin Burrows said...

I'm sure everyone's dying to hear the latest on the price of light bulbs, but I'm afraid now it's my turn to take a few days to respond.

(For one thing I'm going to have to remember where I read things! It's incredible enough I remembered reading it in the first place!)

Anyway... later!

Andrew Stevens said...

Why, yes: a well - educated, economically independant (which relatively poor people never are, even in the most "pure" capitalist state) US electorate is far less likely to nuke me. And correspondingly more likely to give & afford foregin aid.

Aw, that's so cute. It may have escaped your notice that U.S. adults have 12 years of schooling on average (first in the world), compared to 9.4 for the United Kingdom (14th in the world). The U.S. also spends 5.7% of its GDP on education compared to 5.3% for the United Kingdom. I of course concede that education and schooling are not the same thing and I'm certainly not bragging about U.S. education which is, due to our federalist system, entirely too uneven.

Well, US healthcare (generalizing horribly) is nearly non - existant by Western European standards, so there ought to be room for SOME improvement.
Think about it: you & your mother both seem to be intelligent, motivated people. Would it not be better, also for society, if you both did not have to waste so much time being down & out?


You have perhaps started believing your own press releases. Nobody is denied health care in the United States. What many people lack is a method to pay for it. I do 100% agree that employer-provided health insurance, a model which may have made sense once upon a time, long ago became obsolete due to the modern highly mobile work force. At least 40% of the population is taken care of by public funding, be they elderly (Medicare) or indigent (Medicaid). There is, however, too large a population who must foot their own bills. In extreme circumstances, they deal with this by the tried and true method of not paying their bills. In the worst case, they declare bankruptcy. This isn't nearly as bad as it sounds since U.S. bankruptcy law is extremely liberal compared to Europe. De Tocqueville was famously shocked at how liberal U.S. bankruptcy laws were, thinking it a "strange indulgence" and commenting that, in this respect, "the Americans differ not only from the nations of Europe, but from all the commercial nations of our time."

Because there are many Americans who will delay preventive care in order to avoid paying for it, the U.S. doesn't do particularly well in WHO rankings, ranking 37th in the world in health care (compared to 18th for the United Kingdom). This is only three spots below Denmark and the U.S. ranks 24th in "healthy life expectancy," beating Denmark by four spots, but still losing to the United Kingdom which is about 2 years higher and ranks 14th. This also helps to raise the price of health care in the U.S., which is very far in front of any other nation in health care spending as percentage of GDP (13.4%, with Canada second at only 10% and the U.K. at only 6.6%). This figure is a bit misleading since the United States subsidizes the world in medical research. I do support some form of single payer, but it's not a perfect solution since the U.S. will almost certainly have to cut its R&D budget. (The U.S. is unlikely to nationalize the pharmaceutical industry, but deprived of its most profitable market, it will be forced to slash R&D spending.) Ultimately, I think this will likely be to the benefit of the United States. I do not believe it will be to the benefit of the rest of the world.

Because both socialists & capitalists tend towards ekslutionist absolutism, so that now Communism "lost" the only natural choice for our poor earth is Objectivism?
Hopefully not.


Ayn Rand was about the only philosopher who tried to raise capitalism to an ideology. She was quite the fundamentalist, refusing to justify capitalism on practicality or empirical evidence. Milton Friedman, a great economist, also went a bit off the rails on this point in his capacity as a public intellectual rather than an economist anyway.

Most of the civilized world. Democracy seems to favour us. We ought to call ourselves "conservatives" at this point, really.
But of course, that is part of the problem: we do not really call ourselves anything. We are just what turned out to be the best default position. Even the Social Democrats (a horribly embarressing name, come to think of it) are more visionary than us.


Ah, I see. So it's basically a centrist European philosophy. That's well within the branch of political philosophy I have been defending in this thread.

Gavin Burrows said...

Well everyone’s now moved from Questions to Answers and it might even be that no-one cares about the Marxist theory of light bulbs any more. Apologies for the late response. If Andrew (or anyone else) cares to reply to this reply, I shall definitely read it. However, I make no promises to reply any more speedily. Time was getting stretched for me anyway, before the credit crunch became something more than an academic issue for me. (Taking a break from job application sites right now.) Anyway, all quotes from Andrew Stevens...

And, of course, it's hardly shocking to see a poor boy who makes good supporting the system he made good in. I don't believe that this is the overriding reason for my support of capitalism (I supported it long before I ever made good, but you could easily argue that this was because I was able to predict my own future success).

It perhaps shouldn’t be our main concern to delve into your personal situation, something which might end up being intrusive without becoming illustrative. But I was previously under the impression that your circumstances were impoverished due to your father’s illness. Without wishing to diminish anything you went through (and certainly I’ve had nothing like that), I don’t think that’s the same thing as a rags to riches story.

Middle class people who suffer impoverishment do benefit from a number of factors which allow them to get ‘back on trap’, connections, cultural capital, social expectations etc. This doesn’t mean this inevitably happens to people from middle class backgrounds, but it’s not a negligible factor either.

Capitalist countries, be they lightly regulated and taxed or heavily regulated and taxed, do far better than socialist ones.

We seem to be careering about in our definition of terms here. Are these ‘socialist countries’ North Korea, Cuba or France? Of course I’d argue all modern countries are capitalist (including North Korea), but equally obviously there’s different types of capitalism. I’ve mostly talked about the current trend to neoliberal/ free market capitalism, because that’s what we’re all heading towards the fastest.

That the United States and other capitalist countries are, in large part, ruled by plutocrats, I regard as essentially true. That this plutocracy is static or hereditary I regard as obviously false.

Dubya is surely the classic example for the dysfunction between America’s image of itself and the reality. His projected image was of a ‘regular guy’, whereas really he was a classic feckless rich kid, the runt in the litter of a dynasty. He would surely have starved to death under any actual social Darwinist system, instead he was showered with money and power.

I don’t see political power as lying in Congress or Parliament. It belongs to a class of people. Moreover, this class has become more static and hereditary since the adoption of free market policies – despite them claiming the exact opposite. A British managing director used to earn on average ten times what his workforce did, now it’s nearer a hundred times. Independent reports generally concur that upward social mobility in Britain effectively ended around 1970. (One recent report suggested there might have been an upward blip in the early part of this decade, within an overall downturn.) I’d be interested in an investigation into downward social mobility, it seems fairly clear to me that in real terms most people are getting poorer.

Liberalizing markets has lifted millions of Asians out of poverty.

Again, the exact opposite. I’m not sure which countries you’re thinking of here. (It’s not often you get to say to an American “it’s a big place, you know” but, uh... it’s a big place, you know.) In China all this development has considerably shortened average life expectancy. I grant the picture might be more complex in India where the middle class has grown exponentially. (Effectively, middle class jobs have often been migrated there from the West.) But even there net winners have been matched by net losers. Incomes have stratified – more Indians live in poverty now than ever before.

But even if you were right, that it was a dynamic plutocracy, what difference would that make to us? Firstly, most people would scarcely be in the reserve pool of plutocrats. (Unless you envisage Sudanese peasants suddenly heading multinational corporations.) But more importantly, the market has it’s own logic and sense of ‘efficiency’. In Britain there’s a big issue over companies doing away with final salary pensions. (BT have just done it.) But their defence over doing this is, at least in itself, valid. If they didn’t cut costs that way their competitors would have an economic advantage over them. It doesn’t matter if it’s the same sharks in the tank, so long as there’s sharks in there at all I’d rather be out the tank.

I do agree with your comment about megacorps, by the way. My support of capitalism does not mean that I'm a supporter of big business. I think there are real problems with running companies the way Wall Street dictates and my instinctive preference is for small businesses and sole proprietorships, which are more accountable than the modern corporation (a legal fiction created by governments)...

In any event, all of this has to do with the current regulatory structure. Stock exchanges aren't a necessary part of capitalism, nor is fractional reserve banking, or most of what makes up "finance capitalism" today. The current crisis in finance capitalism probably will cause a crisis in industrial capitalism, as has happened time and time again in history, but most of my argument for capitalism and for markets is for industrial capitalism, not Wall Street....

So in order to judge such a philosophy, I would first have to ask what country, past or present, was, in your opinion, actually governed on liberal socialist lines?


Well, here might be a good opportunity to throw your question back at you. Which countries are these where the family-owned store serves its community unbesieged by WalMart? What do we need to do to have the market system without the plutocrats?

I should also add that it's all well and good to blame it all on Thatcher, and that may well be right, but Labour's been in power for more than 11 years. Surely, they've had time to change it by now if they wished to.

There was a gag about Labour’s return to power, that it was like being on the waiting list for a heart transplant for eighteen years - then they go and put another diseased one in.

But this undersells the scale of the problem. Labour effectively abandoned any Keynesian policies back in their previous administration, in the late Seventies. They imposed a public sector pay cap which, allowing for inflation, was actually a cut. At the same time they brought in anti-union legislation which later became so associated with Thatcher. The cockeyed way these things work, everyone remembers the response to this (the Winter of Discontent) but completely discounts the original trigger.

I’d say it was more like getting your perfectly healthy heart replaced by a diseased one. So you then change doctors who swap it for another diseased one. Your first doctor then spends eighteen years convincing you if you went back to him, he wouldn’t do it again. Finally you do and he does it again. Then it was now.

I'm not quite sure I follow here. What exactly do you mean that lending used to be capped? Are you talking about allowed leverage ratios for banks?

Anyone who knows more about the arcane rules of banking than me should feel free to step in here. But my understanding is just that - there used to be absolute caps on the amounts of money banks used to lend, purely to prevent borrowing getting out of control. (Obviously easier to enforce in the days when banks were more nation-based and didn’t lend to each other so much.)

The one thing I always want to impress on people is that they don't really understand the cause of the crisis, no matter what they've heard from talking heads on the radio, newspapers, or TV, since those talking heads don't understand it either. I am an expert on many of the matters currently being discussed, and I don't understand what exactly went wrong or why it went wrong.

I say to-ma-to. The only surprising thing about the bust is that it took so long to happen. Many people have been predicting it for years. When the banks stop saving money, you don’t need a degree in economics to see how it’s going to end up. Money was lent out far beyond the level where it could ever be paid back. If an individual behaved like that, there wouldn’t be any surprises or fancy terms explaining for it. People would just say they acted like an idiot.

The only real difference is that this was more like a cross between pyramid selling and pass the parcel. Debts would be sold on and on, each time in the hope you could sell it to someone else before the music stopped.

So why did it take so long to happen? Perhaps that’s due to the rate of globalisation of markets, or more specifically the increased rate of borrowing between banks.

This a reasonable and concise explanation.

You can look through Bush's speeches - he never uses the word "deregulation" and has never favored it.

Of course he hasn’t! It’s got five syllables in there! Tax cuts for the wealthy clearly go hand-in-glove with deregulation, as both further empower the wealthy. And Bush certainly did deregulate, for example limiting the damages a litigant could get off a corporation. (Usually to the point where hiring lawyers stopped being worth the candle.) This did have the unintended side-effect of lawyers suddenly becoming enthusiastic fundraisers for the Democrats, but as Bush was able to steal the show this didn’t matter much.

The only way I think you could seriously claim Bush wasn’t a deregulator was that he was too much of a cronyist. Famously, the corporations who most benefitted from the invasion of Iraq were linked to sitting members of his own cabinet. There wasn’t even the charade of any tendering process. Deregulation is at least fair between corporations.

You seem to be looking at bottom-line revenues, but this is not the way companies view it. They're looking at profit percentage.

To look at profit percentages is fine. But I still think you’re doing your working out backwards!

Could you give me a source on this? Because I'm very curious about it, but was unable to find anything about it in my perfunctory search. All I could find was Stagecoach operating Magicbus lines in heavy competition areas in order to undercut prices, but no citable evidence about raising prices again when a monopoly was reached. (Of course, in some of these markets, Stagecoach was running its own line on other routes, but that's something else.)

If I get any time, I’ll look one up! (Incidentally, Magicbus is an intercity service where Stagecoach aren’t anywhere near getting a monopoly. They’re not even the biggest provider, that’s National Express. We’re talking about regional services here.)

I can find no official explanation for GM's desire to have all the prototypes destroyed or deactivated, but I assume it's because of fears about other companies stealing their ideas.

Well the documentary tells quite a different story there! But the key question is surely why they weren’t taken up for production, not what happened to the prototypes.

GM was counting on a breakthrough in battery technology which didn't occur in the '90s (and still hasn't happened today).

The documentary interviews an inventor who claims to have invented the super-battery. But even if that’s untrue, I think such comments ignore the ways R&D happens. Technical breakthroughs don’t often come from eccentrics in sheds, companies decide what they would like to see done and invest in it till it happens. Of course there are limits to this. Cures for AIDS or cancer would presumably be pretty lucrative. And it happens other ways round. (The whole of the internet would be a counter-example, and a fairly hefty one.) But, pretty much, technology doesn’t descend down to us from an ideal realm in a politically neutral fashion. It’s driven much like any other business.

All the above is probably to Andrew’s blog what drum solos were to Seventies rock albums – the punters will indulge it so long before the riff has to come back in. Which of course here is Doctor Who. So without further ado...

Unlike Star Trek, Doctor Who doesn't really have a "creator," but Newman's the closest thing.

Some people might have ended that sentence a little earlier, Andrew. ‘By committee’ is almost a euphemism for ‘characterless’ in the popular mind, but it seemed to work for Doctor Who. I am often drawn to art which feels like its been created by the same type of people who feature in it. And I often imagine the Doctor’s creators as somewhat like him, enthusiastic amateurs whose well-meaning bumbling somehow turns out successfully. (At least most of the time.)

dagonet said...

First, Stevens:
"Aw, that's so cute. It may have escaped your notice that U.S. adults have 12 years of schooling on average (first in the world), compared to 9.4 for the United Kingdom (14th in the world)."

Well, that explains us voting for Blair.

"You have perhaps started believing your own press releases."

Well, if I printed out my blog entries that might just happen-thanks for the warning!

"This figure is a bit misleading since the United States subsidizes the world in medical research."

One rather assumed that would be the case.
Wich nevertheless still leaves me with a rather odd picture of US politics:
"Lets improve the train system"
"you heartless brute! Dont you realize, man, there are people in the third world WITHOUT LEGS?!"

"Ayn Rand was about the only philosopher who tried to raise capitalism to an ideology. She was quite the fundamentalist, refusing to justify capitalism on practicality or empirical evidence."

All the professional philosophers I know refer to her as a "popular writer"
One understands, however, that she belived herself to be pre-eminently oriented towards practicality & emoiricism, rather than an inspired personal reading of Scripture: hence "objectivism". Though the II approaches seem to go quite well together.

"Ah, I see. So it's basically a centrist European philosophy."

By Eruopean, I take it that you mean I am slightly more leftist?
Just in case one should choose to emigrate.
I am also a decentralist, as it happens: one of the problems of the "unofficial" victory of Liberal Socialism is that private & public interests merge more & more, with a corresponding erosion of personal life. I would rather not have the world end up like China.

Burrows wrote:
"Of course I’d argue all modern countries are capitalist (including North Korea)...."

I would very much like to hear how you would argue that?

"I’ve mostly talked about the current trend to neoliberal/ free market capitalism, because that’s what we’re all heading towards the fastest."

My impression is that we are moving towards larger & larger power blocs, in wich very little is free, especially the markets. The current slight socialist countereaction, while quite beneficial in the short run, does not affect this larger trend one way or another.

"I don’t see political power as lying in Congress or Parliament."

Where else should it be? Of course, one can buy that power: just as there is undue unofficial influence in being a politicians spouse, or doctor.
Or the Presidents son.
What worries me is private invovlvement in public administration, & vice versa.

"In China all this development has considerably shortened average life expectancy."

Compared with Mao killing off between 20 and 43 million comrades by starvation? Did not know the organ trade had gotten that extensive.

"Incomes have stratified – more Indians live in poverty now than ever before."

To wikiquote:
"The preamble of the constitution defines India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic."
(which does not help Stevens case much either)

"The documentary interviews an inventor who claims to have invented the super-battery."

There is no need to resort to such examples to illustrate the follies of Big Buisness:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/3488202/GM-Ford-and-Chrysler-chiefs-criticised-for-taking-jets-to-bail-out-hearing.html
especially with the post-common-sense twits running things now.

"And I often imagine the Doctor’s creators as somewhat like him, enthusiastic amateurs whose well-meaning bumbling somehow turns out successfully."

Russell T Davies is the Messiah? Truely, it is in the 21 century everything changes!.

Andrew Stevens said...

I do plan on writing a full response at some time, Mr. Burrows. In the meantime, a quick response to

In China all this development has considerably shortened average life expectancy.

since Dagonet brought it up. This is certainly not true. Life expectancy in China is now 73.2 years old. Considering it was about 40 during the middle of the century, this is an incredible achievement.

I don't know where these life expectancy figures I hear floating around come from. I recently had a Marxist on another site insist to me that U.S. life expectancy is declining, which it most certainly is not.

Of course, when it comes to China, I'm willing to listen to anyone who wishes to insist that China is lying about their life expectancy figures, since I find that plausible, but I know of no evidence that contradicts their official figures other than general (justified) skepticism about the Chinese government.

By the way, the only areas of the world which have actually seen life expectancy decline in recent decades is certain parts of Africa, due to the AIDS epidemic. There is a plausible claim that Russia saw its life expectancy fall six years in the 1990s, which it definitely did according to official figures. However, I think we can be plausibly skeptical of Soviet life expectancy figures prior to 1990.

China, however, has seen a spectacular improvement in life expectancy from about 60 years in 1964-1982 to 70 years in 1990-2000 after Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms. I'm not defending China who I definitely agree are massively exploiting their people, but you can't prove it by life expectancy.

Gavin Burrows said...

Dagonet said:
Burrows wrote:

"Of course I’d argue all modern countries are capitalist (including North Korea)...."

I would very much like to hear how you would argue that?


Wherever there is wage labour and commodity production there is capitalism. See Wikipedia on State Capitalism.

The only weakness of such a theory I can see is that it assumes there wasn’t a private sector somewhere like the USSR. Which of course there was, there was a massive but theoretically illegal black market. This was one of the reasons why things went so tits up after the Soviet collapse. We’re quite used to saying Enron and Halliburton are like the Mafia, there they literally were the Mafia. The consequent asset-stripping was on an insane scale.

Andrew Stevens said...
This is certainly not true. Life expectancy in China is now 73.2 years old. Considering it was about 40 during the middle of the century, this is an incredible achievement. I don't know where these life expectancy figures I hear floating around come from. I recently had a Marxist on another site insist to me that U.S. life expectancy is declining, which it most certainly is not.

Can’t find the piece I read on a cursory search, which is all I have time for now I’m afraid. But it was chiefly about the effects of unrestrained pollution. Here’s something similar from The Guardian, but more about the general trends for Eastern folks to take on Western diets and public health care to get run down. Interesting, but you could say something similar about Japan. When I get more time, I’ll add it to the slew of links I owe you!

In the meantime here’s something I stumbled across looking for it on life expectancy in the US. Sounds similar to what they’re saying here, we should expect life expectancy to start falling as a result of the obesity epidemic. I suppose we could get into arguing about how that relates to capitalism, with industrial farming and the stranglehold of the supermarkets! I’m always amazed how many people think it’s simply all down to overeating. One of the main causes is the poor quality of food.

Gavin Burrows said...

Bugger! It’s late and I ain’t linking right!

For China...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/21/china.jonathanwatts

...and for the US...

http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/08/13/3136

Andrew Stevens said...

The first link does not indicate that life expectancy has fallen in China and the second does not indicate that life expectancy has fallen in the United States. Both are highly speculative and mostly fact-free. The only fact in the second article is that the United States, while still gaining in life expectancy (not pointed out, but true) has fallen behind some other countries who have improved life expectancy even more than the U.S. has.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
The first link does not indicate that life expectancy has fallen in China...

Did we get out of bed on the picky side this morning, Andrew? It indicates that levels of health have fallen. Like I said, it wasn’t the link I was looking for. But if I was an adventurous sort I might rashly suggest a link between levels of health and life expectancy.

...and the second does not indicate that life expectancy has fallen in the United States.

Well, especially not in the graph they provide that shows life expectancy rising, no. But then I never argued it had fallen in the US in the first place! As said, I just came across the link looking for that elusive article on China.

Andrew Stevens said...

Picky because my entire point was that life expectancies in China have not fallen and, in fact, have risen dramatically. This is unquestionably true, based on any figures we have (official Chinese figures, UN, WHO, etc).

For another link on this, see this article, helpfully entitled "China Life Expectancy on the Rise: UN" dated November 21, 2008.

The article you linked to even contained some egregious factual errors, e.g. "As a result, the gains made in life expectancy and infant mortality in the three decades after the Communists took power in 1949 have flattened off, and in some areas gone into reverse." This is unequivocally false. Life expectancies and infant mortality have vastly improved since 1979. Whether Mr. Watts's reporting is so wrong because he's a liar, incompetent, or simply blinded by ideology, I couldn't possibly say, but it's pretty much got to be one of those. (For what it's worth, I favor incompetence as an explanation. Chinese reporters are apparently very hard-working; the same cannot be said for most Western reporters. I doubt Mr. Watts even bothered to consult a single reference work when he was writing his article.)

Deng Xiaoping's reforms have resulted in the largest poverty reduction in the history of mankind, lifting 500 to 600 million Chinese out of poverty. Assuming that the study he does talk about (while he blithely ignores national figures) is accurate, it's certainly interesting that middle class intellectuals are not seeing the health and life expectancy gains that everyone else in the country is experiencing, but it seems like this is mostly due to Chinese lionization of "workaholism" rather than the theories he advances in his article. (This is the only explanation which is specific enough to explain why middle class academics and intellectuals are suffering and everybody else is not.)

dagonet said...

Burrows wrote:
"Wherever there is wage labour and commodity production there is capitalism."

Ah, thought so: you share Stevens "little bit pregnant" approach.
It is interesting to consider, by the way, that one of the most "purely" capitalistic societys today is the area formerly known as Somalia.

"The only weakness of such a theory I can see is that it assumes there wasn’t a private sector somewhere like the USSR."

Not only that, as we have not had the global uprising of the proletariat yet, all attempts at communism have been in an otherwise capitalist/deudual/slave-owning etc economic setting.
One understands that the Soviet Union was dependant on US corn supplies, for example.

"We’re quite used to saying Enron and Halliburton are like the Mafia, there they literally were the Mafia."

They are literally the Mafia a lot of places: that is neo-imperialism for you. (and lets not even get started on Blackwater...)

"Here’s something similar from The Guardian, but more about the general trends for Eastern folks to take on Western diets and public health care to get run down."

Hm, I got the distinct impression when living in Hong Kong that "western" diet & health care, not to mention public health care, is a considerable improvement. apparently, asians being so small (well, non-Hong Kong asians)is a enviromentel rather than heridtary matter.
Anyway, I think that we can all agree that getting to fat is not something someone living in a communist society has to worry about;)

Anyway, lets start making Who!

Gavin Burrows said...

dagonet said...
Ah, thought so: you share Stevens "little bit pregnant" approach

Not sure what Andrew said you’re referring to there but... no.

I’m saying centrally planned economies epitomise a different kind of capitalism. Not that they have a bit of capitalism lurking round the edges, so are guilty by association or something.

Not only that, as we have not had the global uprising of the proletariat yet, all attempts at communism have been in an otherwise capitalist/deudual/slave-owning etc economic setting.

I don’t follow what you mean there.

They are literally the Mafia a lot of places: that is neo-imperialism for you.

Well, yes, but not at home. It was enforced on the Iraqi congress that the occupying forces were exempt from Iraqi law, including all contractors. (Which would apply to Haliburton.) But at home they are subject to some sort of regulation. Inadequate of course, but more than completely consmetic.

Hm, I got the distinct impression when living in Hong Kong that "western" diet & health care, not to mention public health care, is a considerable improvement. apparently, asians being so small (well, non-Hong Kong asians)is a enviromentel rather than heridtary matter.

The Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world.

NB Andrew, I fear things have become strangely sidetracked by what was only ever intended as an interim link. To get back on subject, how about filling us in on which Asian countries you consider to have been made freer and wealthier by free markets?

I’d be happy to debate India or China, but I consider then special cases for obvious reasons. I don’t think you can extrapolate from India to Bangladesh or Nepal, for example.

dagonet said...

Burrows wrote:
"Not sure what Andrew said you’re referring to there but... no."

I just find it quaint that you both seem to insist that socialism & capitalism not only are, by the very nature of things incompatible, but in a life-&-death struggle with only one possible victor. what happened to good old dialectic synthesis?

Mind you, Stevens seems to have decided that I agree with him, & now completely ignores me. (That has nothing to do with thread length, obviously).
>Sigh<. It is not only lesbians who suffer from invisibillity.
http://bad.eserver.org/issues/2001/54/lehner.html
Hm, perhaps "social liberalist democrats tend to support GAY (MALE!)WEDDINGS" might help with that?

"I don’t follow what you mean there."

That even uncounciously Objecitvist Somalis need semi-socialists (such as I) to steal pirate gold from.
By the way, that whole "free" market terminology is something of a propaganda coup: considering that it could more accuratly be called the random market. For one thing, it helps promote the illusion that it has anything to do with accepting responsibillity, rather than the direct opposite.

"Well, yes, but not at home."

That is why it is fun to be an imperialist!

"The Japanese have the longest life expectancy in the world."

Eh? Thought we were talking about x-communist asian countries, & how capitalism forces them to be fat. Why do you suddenly bring up...
(Voice of Christian Slave Morality: "because your instincual hatred of vegans made YOU change the subject)
anyway! Japan ought to be westernized enough by now to give children milk (the actual point I was trying to make)
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6506984.html

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26827110/

...er, lets get back on topic!

"To get back on subject...."

Exactly!
Stevens, if China has actually become more efficent due to their goverment finally admitting to being too incompetent to control their economy, considering (as you yourself have pointed out) the persistant malevolence of same goverment, is that really such a good thing?

Andrew Stevens said...

As I said, I will get back to writing a more complete response, but right now I only have time for quick ones. I haven't forgotten about this thread and I may even have some replies to Dagonet when I get to it. As it is, don't expect anything until at least Thanksgiving, when I'll have a bit more free time.

Gavin Burrows said...

dagonet said...
I just find it quaint that you both seem to insist that socialism & capitalism not only are, by the very nature of things incompatible, but in a life-&-death struggle with only one possible victor.

I don’t. I regard ‘socialism’ as a form of capitalism.

That even uncounciously Objecitvist Somalis need semi-socialists (such as I) to steal pirate gold from.

Sorry, still don’t follow.

Thought we were talking about x-communist asian countries, & how capitalism forces them to be fat

Dagonet, you previously mentioned Hong Kong! Unless you’re arguing there was a sudden drop in average height around 1997...

Japan ought to be westernized enough by now to give children milk

Japan no largely has adopted much of a Western diet and, yes, life expectancy is falling. (Though still higher than anywhere else!)

Andrew Stevens said...
As I said, I will get back to writing a more complete response, but right now I only have time for quick ones

No problem! A slow pace actually suits me right now. It might even give me the time to dredge up those links you asked about...

Andrew Stevens said...

Japan no largely has adopted much of a Western diet and, yes, life expectancy is falling. (Though still higher than anywhere else!)

You're a bit mixed up again. See this link. Japan's life expectancy ain't falling either. It probably is the case that the rate of increase has slowed, which may have been what you meant. Whether this is due to Western diets or due to the fact that you can only increase very rapidly for a limited amount of time is debatable.

Gavin Burrows said...

Ah, but this time I can remember where I heard this! Not a hoax, not an imaginary story! It was an episode of Horizon on the Southern Japanese island of Okinawa, where they have the longest life expectancy even among the Japanese!

The BBC site doesn't seem to keep info on old Horizon episodes any more butthis link is brief but covers some of the basics - including a reference to the younger generation taking up a Western diet and succumbing to obesity and other illnesses. Plus Okinawans migrating to Brazil, taking up the diet there and losing their enhanced life expectancy.

I remembered this programme saying this just epitomised the strongest a general trend in Japan, but perhaps my brain just extrapolated that. Hard to tell without the transcript.

Anyway, we really are getting all over the place! The first thing I read was about Chinese life expectancy being affected by pollution. I doubt that's a huge problem on Okinawa. And Japan scarcely embraced the market recently.

dagonet said...

Burrows wrote:
"I don’t. I regard ‘socialism’ as a form of capitalism."

And Never The Twain Shall Meet.
Quite appropriate for the way this thread is turning out.

"Sorry, still don’t follow."

Or to put it slightly differently, it does not matter much if one has the perfect economy, if the rest of the world does not. Unless one is the Bottled City of Kandor (would like to have used Edo Period Japan as an example, but well, we know how that turned out)

"Dagonet, you previously mentioned Hong Kong!"

1): vegan rebuttal is a vital obligation for all really modern e-citizens
2): Comparing non-communist with communist chinese (or Cantonese, even) would be quite relevant, one should think.
That by 1997, the mainlanders were allready fairly post-maoist just makes things even more interesting.

"Unless you’re arguing there was a sudden drop in average height around 1997..."

Would not put it past the mainlanders to bugger up the Diet Plan: they tend not to be very good at "state capitalism", wich may be why they are giving it up for good old military dictatorship.

As Stevens pointed out, Japanese women, at least, seem to thrive on the extra calcium.