Freitag, Juni 24, 2005

Just an observation...

When I started this blog, I wrote a really long screed on sophism and its relevance to the modern political realm, but never posted it because I didn't feel that it was read for prime time. Add to that the fact that I started voting as a Democrat - voted for Carter in my first election since I disliked the Nixon pardon of Ford and thought that a DC outsider would be a change for the better (woops), I wanted to get this down pat.

With the current continuing meltdown of the Democratic party in the US - and I can't see it being anything but that - I thought I'd posit the following:

The driving philosophy behind the current incarnation of the Democrats is sophistry.

Let's take what sophistry first meant (this is all taken from Wikipedia, so don't blame me for the interpretation: I am also very loath to get into any sort of academic discussion on whether angels are discorporeal but human or whether they are instantiations of the divine spirit, if you get my drift):

The meaning of the word sophist (gr. sophistès, meaning "wise-ist," or one who 'does' wisdom; cf. sophós, "wise man") has changed greatly over time. Initially, a sophist was someone who gave sophia to his disciples, i.e., wisdom made from knowledge.

Remember Kennedy and the Democrats of the day? Of MacNamara and the Whiz Kids that he brought on? We're talking about some of the brightest and best minds that the US ever had to offer, and this is what I grew up believing that the Democrats embodied.

And this is still what the Democrats believe: that they are the clever ones, that they are the ones with the wisdom and knowledge to deal with the challenges of the day. That's been the thrust of the Kerry campaign, it's been the thrust of the demonification of Bush, Rove and the Republican party. Democrats are supposed to be the clever ones.

In the second half of the 5th century B.C., and especially at Athens, "sophist" came to be applied to a group of thinkers who employed debate and rhetoric to teach and disseminate their ideas and offered to teach these skills to others. Due to the importance of such skills in the litigious social life of Athens, acclaimed teachers of such skills often commanded very high fees. The practice of taking fees, coupled with the willingness of many practitioners to use their rhetorical skills to pursue unjust lawsuits, eventually led to a decline in respect for practitioners of this form of teaching and the ideas and writings associated with it.

Here we have the first inklings of the problem: the emphasis came to be less on the content, the what of what is said, and more value was laid on the how of how it was said. A simple mistake: of assuming that it's not what is said that is important, but how it is said. Generating original thought in the political realm is extraordinarily difficult. Generating lovely rhetoric without any regard whatsoever for its content is a skill that most intelligent people, if so trained, can master relatively easily.

The essential claim of sophistry is that the actual logical validity of an argument is irrelevant; it is only the ruling of the audience which ultimately determine whether a conclusion is considered "true" or not. By appealing to the prejudices and emotions of the judges, one can garner favorable treatment for one's side of the argument and cause a factually false position to be ruled true.

Isn't this exactly what is meant by "accurate though fake" of RatherGate fame? Isn't this the case when politics is driven not by ideas and how to implement them, but rather by slavish addiction to polls and interest groups?

Now, from another source:

The Sophists taught men how to speak and what arguments to use in public debate. A Sophistic education was increasingly sought after both by members of the oldest families and by aspiring newcomers without family backing. The changing pattern of Athenian society made merely traditional attitudes in many cases no longer adequate. Criticizing such attitudes and replacing them by rational arguments held special attraction for the young, and it explains the violent distaste which they aroused in traditionalists.

Now if this doesn't describe what happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the western world, I don't know what does.

From the same source:

It is fairly clear, however, that the Sophists did concentrate very largely upon man and human society, upon questions of words in their relations to things, upon issues in the theory of knowledge, and upon the importance of the observer and the subjective element in reality and in the correct understanding of reality.

In other words, a very, very strong cultural relativism: sound familiar?

This emphasis helps to explain the philosophical hostility of Plato and Aristotle. Particularly in the eyes of Plato, anyone who looks for the truth in phenomena alone, whether he interprets it subjectively or relativistically, cannot hope to find it there; and his persistence in turning away from the right direction virtually amounts to a rejection of philosophy and of the search for truth. Many a subsequent thinker for whom metaphysics, or the investigation of the deepest nature of reality, was the crowning achievement of philosophy has felt with Plato that the Sophists were so antimetaphysical that they have no claim to rank as philosophers. But in a period when, for many philosophers, metaphysics is no longer the most important part of philosophy and is even for some no part at all, there is growing appreciation of a number of problems and doctrines recurring in the discussions of the Sophists in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the Sophists were considered charlatans. Their intellectual honesty was impugned, and their doctrines were blamed for weakening the moral fibre of Greece.

Now my take on this is simple: for the sophists, ideas as such don't really matter: there is a contempt for classical societal conventions that gives them an aura of moral superiority when in fact it is based on the rejection of objective truths.

The charge was based on two contentions, both correct: first, that many of the Sophists attacked the traditionally accepted moral code; and second, that they explored and even commended alternative approaches to morality that would condone or allow behaviour of a kind inadmissible under the stricter traditional code.

Isn't this clear in the fact that the Democratic party embraces those whose behavior is inadmissable under traditional mores? Piss Christ, anyone?

The Sophists, in fact, were attempting to explain the phenomenal world without appealing to any principles outside of phenomena. They believed that this could be done by including the observer within the phenomenal world. Their refusal to go beyond phenomena was, for Plato, the great weakness in their thinking.

This provides the basis, to a large extent, of situational ethics, of the rejection, for instance, that a member of one societal group can ever understand the problems of a member of another societal group: according to this doctrine, they can't. Isn't this the basis for any sort of -study, where fill-in-the-blank is a minority of one kind or another? This is fundamentally anti-intellectual and from what I've seen often prevalent in academia.

A second common generalization about the Sophists has been that they represent a revolt against science and the study of the physical world. The evidence is against this, inasmuch as for Hippias, Prodicus, Gorgias, and Protagoras there are records of a definite interest in questions of this kind. The truth is rather that they were in revolt against attempts to explain the physical world by appeals to principles that could not be perceived by the senses; and instead of framing new “objective” explanations, they attempted to explain things, where explanation was required, by introducing the perceiver as one element in the perceptual situation.

Hoo boy: ever wonder why the number of American PhDs in the hard sciences have been in such a decline and why there is such a dislike of polticians who actually discuss their beliefs?

Enough for now: suffice to say that for me the parallels cannot be lightly dismissed: ideas matter, transcendental concepts matter, and there are objective truths out there. All concepts that many liberal intellectuals hold in disdain and therefore reject: unless you're a minority, you're not allowed to comment on what is happening and has happened to minority families. It's the perversion of lofty ideals, it's a corruption of intellect.

But not like the Democrats, at this point in time, would understand that if you walked up to them and hit them on the head with a salmon to make the point.


Freitag, Juni 03, 2005

NGO Extortion at its best...

Now this is really amazing and blatant. I'm surpised that not more have taken up on it.

This from Bob Geldorf's current attempt to do good: he is attempting to extort services from a private company for his own needs and goals.

O2 refuses to handle a planned 70 million SMS messages for free. Bob and his buddies want them to do it for free. O2 drops the price and it's not enough:

Phil Willis MP, the head of the all-party mobile communications group, called for the company to give all the money to Live8.

"It seems wherever there is a buck to be made there is always a mobile company willing to do it. They are trying to cream off an exorbitant fee for what is a very simple service. There is no reason they could not simply donate their systems for free," he said.

Now what he is really saying is that the reason that they are not doing it - corporate responsibility to their shareholders comes to my mind immediately - doesn't meet his expectations of what he wants them to do.

The government, who is tied of course into this, has no compunction with using other people's money, or actually simply not taxing the lottery in question:

The news emerged as Gordon Brown today threw his weight behind the Live8 campaign by promising to write off its £500,000 tax bill.

Isn't that nice: Brown is simply willing to forego income from taxes on the results of the lottery: this they equate with actually bearing the costs of the mechanism of the lottery. They are comparing cherries with watermelons.

But politicians today described O2's decision as "disgraceful" and urged the company to follow the Chancellor's example.

Fine. O2 should simple say that they won't impose any additional surcharges. That's what a tax is: it is imposed. What the politicans want is for O2 to take a significant financial hit to pay for what is fundamentally a political stunt that will probably see more harm done than good.

And the chancellor doesn't work in a commercial environment.

And now the best part of the article from This Is London:

"We are charging 10p per entry to cover our administration costs, and we have no plans to waive that fee. This is a huge operation and we will still be making a loss," said an O2 spokesman.

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said: "O2 have actually lowered the rate of the text message, but I think given the massive number of texts being sent, obviously economies of scale come into play.

"If you do the sums, it does seem they could make a big profit. I think it's reasonable that they cover their costs and make a modest profit, but nothing more than that." O2 refused to bow to the pressure today.

I've added the emphasis.

Linday Boswell is the Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising, the lobby of the fundraisers in Great Britain. He's ex-army and has been in social work since, so I won't impune his bonafides since they appear sincere.

I just checked their on-line financial statements and wasn't able to get his salary, but they spend over 600.000 Pounds Sterling on 20 people, and two of them were earning more than 60.000 each. So his sincerity certainly pays.

But he is, I think, obviously clueless when it comes to understanding economies of scale when applied to telephone networks.

Here is the first clue: telephone networks of any kind do not benefit from economies of scale, nor do they recognize it. Telephone network economics operate on the basis of the number of people attached to the network: the marginal cost of any, literally any service on the network simply doesn't exist.

Telephone networks have very high investment costs and minimal operating costs. You only make money when people use it intensively, and people only use it when they feel that the value offered is higher than the marginal costs of using the network. Once set up, the major operating costs are administrative, and that is where O2 is, IMHO, absolutely correct in refusing to act as a mattress.

They have already indicated that they will lose money, not earn any.

And when you think of it, this sort of muddled thinking is part of the whole NGO problem: they want to maximize their income by using existing, commercially and government financed infrastructures but are unwilling to accept that there are costs involved.

Tragedy of the commons indeed.

The Chancellor today outlined his agenda for Gleneagles, where he hopes to persuade the leading industrialised nations to back his ambitious plans for a "new deal" for Africa.

Describing the programme as a "modern Marshall Plan" for the developing world, he set out proposals to grant 100 per cent debt relief to the poorest nations.

Great. What he is proposing here is a massive abdication of responsibility which at the end of the day will be extraordinarily destructive.

First, debt relief means that you will reward corruption and incompetence. Nothing more, nothing less. This is the wrong approach: what these countries need is to go after those who squandered the millions and billions in question and to punish them for having done so. He rewards, actively, corruption, and will reinforce the current conditions which have led to corruption and waste: lack of responsibility and lack of real, meaningful sanctions not on countries and the defenseless, but rather sanctions on the corrupt and incompetent.

Mr Brown's four-point plan would also see the financing of a mass immunisation and vaccination programme designed to save five million lives by 2015, a doubling of international aid to £27.5billion and improved trade agreements with developing nations.

Oddly enough, no problems here: just that he will end up increasing poverty, destroying local infrastructures that are desperately needed for local economic independence and will further the interests not of the local nations, but rather the interests of the EU.


Mr Brown also backed plans for a million-strong demonstration in Edinburgh to coincide with the G8 summit at Gleneagles.

"We want to get some big decision out of the Gleneagles summit-that people can say 'look, what we have done has some enduring purpose, it's going to change the world, it is going to make it better," he told GMTV.

In other words, distract people from their own problems and interests. If you want to change the world, then by all means go out there and actually do something to change it: but going to a demo is nothing more than emotionally satisfying intellectual masturbation. "Some big decision": what he means is that it'll look great on his resume that he got the G8 to do "something". Doesn't matter what they do, just do something.

But being there is probably a great way to meet chicks.

Scottish police have expressed concerns about the scale of the march through Edinburgh, fearing it could pose a security problem. But Mr Brown said the demonstration should go ahead.

He also insisted he would push ahead with the International Finance Facility (IFF) - his favoured scheme for raising £27.5billion of aid - despite US reservations.

In a challenge to the Americans, he said: "When many have suggested to me it is a demand too large, a programme too ambitious, my reply is that it is not a time for timidity nor a time to fear reaching too high."

Sheesh. Of course it's going to turn into a security nightmare and will attract all sorts of loonies from the left and right, as well as the usual mob of luddite globalization opponents coupled with anarchists who will probably end up doing the usual massive property damage and through activist-instigated riots - and that is where the anarchists have so much fun - so that Brown and all the other fine, nice upstanding socially active and politically correct fellows can feel so good about themselves.

Makes me wanna puke.

Want to do something good in Africa?

For a start, kill subsidies for agricultural products being exported there. Stop destroying local industries by price dumping. Expose corrupt politicians for what they are, parasites; reinforce local rule of law. Remove import restrictions.

Want to do something personal?

Go there and teach. Not sociology or political science - as an institute, the Sorbonne has probably done more damage in the 3rd world than most colonial wars - but engineering, math, literacy.

You don't need much of an infrastucture to teach literacy and math. You need books and patience, coupled with time and food for both teachers and students.

But thinking that getting a really, really neat rock concert together and going to Edinburgh to meet girls is actually doing anything is, for me, intellectually dishonest and politically opportune. It's the exploitation of the poor for specific political gain. And it's something I fund really, really repugnant.


First the election...

Hi -

First a comment on the election results in France and in the Netherlands.

It's simple why the voters rejected the election results: they didn't want it. Don't buy the MSM sell of "protest" votes.

I've actually taken the time - it took three full evenings - to read through the now failed constitution. It's, as I've said elswhere, a constitution not of, by and for the people, but one of, by and for the technocrats.

Who are the technocrats?

Simple: they are the ruling elite of Europe, trained in nuance and subtlety of interpretation. They have been indoctrinated from childhood on the inherent superiority of their ways; have gone to university to learn the complexities of the tools that they use to confuse and obfuscate; have gone to work and entered into the incestuous relationship between government and business and punched their way to the top of their respective fields.

And they are clueless, with a rare technocrat who has been outside the sandbox. It's a glorious life, discussing subtle changes to law to attempt to achieve some sort of transcendent social justice; enjoying extensive expense accounts and reimbursements schemes that the taxpayer pays; and most fundamentally enjoying a nice, safe, socially statused existence without really having to worry too much about adding value to people's lives.

Of course they were shocked and amazed that the unwashed masses wouldn't simply accept yet another scheme to screw over the common man. They don't understand the comman man in Europe and never will.

Why not? Because they don't want to. The challenges facing Europe are hard and there is no simple solution: the core of the European system of social nets must be dismantled, demystified, debugged and deloused to get the vermin out.

Demographic problems of nightmare proportions must be addressed and solved. The fundamental core of European political systems has failed, failed fundamentally, and must be restructured. These are all extraordinarily difficult tasks, yet the politicians in Europe are in active denial that any of this needs to be done at all.

These last two decades will go down in history as having been frittered away, with massive consequences.

Why this refusal? It has a lot to do with a fundamental failure of the political system: it is not a critical system. Now all the LWL are going "Huh? Socialists are always critical of the existing system!!!"

But not when you are dealing with dogmatic "criticism" that is nothing more than catechism writ large. I've studied in both the US and in Germany, and in general the German students were less critical than US students.

Now I'm gonna propose something so radical that it's heretical: that Americans are vastly more critical of their system of government and social support than Europeans are. That Americans don't go out on the streets in massive numbers to protest the idea that you should maybe work more than 35 hours a week - HAH! - isn't an indicator that Americans aren't critical, but rather the fact that Americans are too pragmatic to worry about such a completely and totally addled idea of having the government decide how long I should work.

Social inequality issues are DOA in the US because you don't, as an American, generally worry about how everyone else is doing: you worry about how YOU are doing, it's called self interest and is a perfectly normal and human pattern of behavior. And it works.

And ignoring human nature is what got the Eurocrats in trouble: the rejection of the constitution shows that. It's why democracy is the best damn form of government around: it's the only way that you can say NO.

And the French (The French! The French!!! Oh, the glorious irony of it being the French!) and the Dutch populace have told their keepers to well and proper frell off, that the constitution and the politics that have accompanied it - expansion of the members (to dilute and divide the political opposition) and the bureaucracy - are not in their, the people's interest.

And of course the technocrats don't understand that. They obviously think: How dare these people do anything but agree with us, we're the ruling elite. Quelle absurd!

What these ruling elites don't understand is that they are at the very, very beginning of the process of European unity: but where oh where are the European philosopher-politicians of the caliber of the authors of the Federalist Papers? The debate is so desperately needed.

Given the current caliber of European politicians and the politically correct environment that actively suppresses critical and independent thought that passes for politics in Europe - I'll be once again heretical and suggest that Haider and theFPÖ in Austria were so castigated not because of right-wing leanings but rather because he was a successful challenge to the Holy State - this means that there won't be any sort of political awakening as a result of the vote.

Which means that the Europeans will continue to muddle through.

Continue to deny the problems.

Continue to avoid the problems.

Continue to get deeper and deeper into the hole, digging furiously.

Continue to play on the deck of the Titanic.