Thursday 23 November 2006

Fewtril #145

When a man proceeds rationally from his values, he must always guard against a fallacy that often arises therewith: that those values are made rational by the procedure thereafter. This fallacy waits upon all those who would like to wear the impressive raiments of rationality but who are barely able to dress themselves.

Fewtril #144

It is yet to be seen whether civilisation can defend itself against a horde of morons armed with degrees in political science.

Fewtril #143

When a man stands against the spirit of the age, it is often said that he is a fool who has misunderstood it; and this very well highlights the ignobility of those who cannot imagine that a man may both understand the age and stand against it, for such persons cannot imagine that a man would not sell his soul for a ride on the wave of the future.

Monday 20 November 2006

Fewtril #142

In the movement of the Golden Age from the past to the future, the carrot has been dangled before Man, and just so that he does not dally, it has been found useful to employ a stick.

Fewtril #141

Who wouldn’t be virtuous if it were effortless and ever profitable?

Fewtril #140

It should not pass our notice that almost all of our so-called iconoclasts are not so bold as to smash the idols of this age, in whose presence they are wont to grovel, but rather are only so bold as to make great play of pulverising the already smashed idols of another.


Nowhere in Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles for the effective and ethical conduct of the police does it state that the police should try to alter the public’s perception of crime and disorder. In one’s old-fashioned and thoroughly outdated head, one could be forgiven for believing that such an attempt ought not to be within the remit of any institution of the state. But one would reckon without the progress of the modern world, wherein such nineteenth-century concerns have no place. One hears, for instance, that Essex Police have initiated a “Proactive Essex Police Youth Strategy (Pepys)”, a programme of media-training for young criminals which “would help to tackle ‘misperceptions’ among adults about young people and anti-social behaviour” and “improve the public’s perception” thereof [1].
.....One can imagine that the chief-constables and commissioners of this land read the Peelian principles aloud to one another over drinks, and snigger at their quaint, old-world charm.
.....“Listen to this, Clive. It says here that The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”
…..“And I can’t find the word ‘proactive’ anywhere.”
…..“What about ‘strategic partnership’?”
…..“Not a trace.”
…..“My God! One can’t run an efficient, twenty-first-century police force without using the words ‘proactive’ or ‘strategic partnership’. Surely he stresses the importance of acronyms?”
…..“Sadly not. Just bangs on about the basic mission of the police’s being the prevention of crime and disorder, and how we’re not meant to usurp the powers of the judiciary.”
…..“Heh-heh. Another brandy?”
…..“It’d be a crime not to.”

[1] Ben Leapman, “Police give teenage tearaways lessons in handling the media”, The Sunday Telegraph, 19th November 2006.

Wednesday 15 November 2006

The Philosopher of Loquacity

For many years, the pragmatist-philosopher Richard Rorty has been telling us that the world outside the mind — or outside a community of minds — is unknowable. Unlike his less sophisticated brethren, however, he has never claimed to know so; rather he has always maintained a “liberal irony” towards the view. That he remains committed to so bold a view only through this liberal irony, however, speaks not only of a very odd mind, but also of the poverty of the arguments formed in favour of that view, arguments so poor that they cannot persuade even the philosopher of pragmatism who proposes them. A typical example:

[O]nce you have said that all our awareness is under a description, and that descriptions are functions of social needs, then ‘nature’ and ‘reality’ can only be names of something unknowable. [1]

Here is the argument in a clearer syllogistic form:

All awareness is under a description,
All descriptions are functions of social needs,
All descriptions (of “nature” and “reality”) are names of something unknowable.

The conclusion does not follow. Furthermore, the premises are far from established; for nowhere is there to be found any compelling evidence for the view that all awareness is under a description or that all descriptions are functions of social needs. Indeed, for Rorty and his kind, there could be no evidence, and therefore they are forced to feed themselves on a diet of fanciful theories:

To say that everything is a social construct is to say that our linguistic practices are so bound up with our other social practices that our descriptions of nature, as well as ourselves, will always be a function of our social needs.[2]

Naturally, in the slough of his liberal irony, Professor Rorty himself wouldn’t claim to know that all awareness is under a description or that all descriptions are functions of social needs. Such would presuppose what he sets out to deny. Thus, he sets his argument upon premises in whose truth he claims not to believe, in order to establish by a non sequitur a conclusion in whose truth he claims not to believe, in favour of a view in which he is far from being compelled to believe by the impress of his everyday life. One might well wonder why he bothers. Professor Rorty, however, is rather keen to “keep the conversation going”. [3] He is the old fishwife of the philosophical world.

[1] Richard Rorty, “A World without Substances or Essences”, in Philosophy and Social Hope (London: Penguin Books, 1999), p.49.
[2] Ibid., p.48.
[3] Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 377.

Radical Constructivism in the Slums

There is a thumb-rule which states that any journal of philosophy that publishes contributions from graduates or lecturers in Film Studies or somesuch fluff is a journal unworthy of serious attention. The rule serves to remind us that, for the sake of precious time, one had better attend to more important matters — to weeding the garden, to cleaning the lavatory, to seeing how many mints one can balance on one’s tongue — than to reading such likely piffle. As with all thumb-rules, however, it has its failings; after all it is possible that a serious journal of philosophy will one day publish a contribution from a graduate or lecturer in the aforementioned studies that is worthy of serious attention, a contribution which we would miss if we were to cast the journal out of hand with a flick of the figurative thumb.
.....On a day in which I find myself at a loose end without mints and in the avoidance of work, I have persevered with the written work of one Nick Redfern, postgraduate in Film-Studies and proponent of the doctrine of Radical Constructivism, published in the soberly named journal Essays in Philosophy:
Radical Constructivism does not deny the existence of a reality independent of the mind of the historian, but states that, as the historian is limited by his or her experiences, such a reality cannot be known. [1]
.....Now, it does not follow that because a man is limited by his experiences, he cannot know a mind-independent reality, unless one defines experiences as those things which preclude knowledge of a mind-independent reality, in which case one begs the question. One might suggest — quite unradically — that not all experiences are limitations that keep one away from a mind-independent reality, but rather that at least some of them are informed by a mind-independent reality. It is after all a strange conception to view experience as a prison, in which the mind is locked away from all contact with the outside world, indeed so strange and counter-intuitive that one might expect to find a stronger argument to account for its acceptance. Yet one does not.
.....The argument brought forth by Mr Redfern is a variation of an old one that has found many forms throughout the ages, an argument that is at least as old as the bones of the Sophists. The modern forms of the argument are usually a little more sophisticated – or, at least, they usually take up more space on the page – but the argument is essentially the same: since one knows the world only in relation to oneself, one knows nothing of the world outside of oneself. But as already stated, the argument is either non-sequitous or question-begging. It would be more honest, therefore, if its proponents would drop it in favour of an open declaration of a besetting doubt. Mr Redfern is in no such mood, however:
The key to evaluating competing knowledge claims, therefore, is not to seek to compare them to a mind-independent reality that cannot be known, but to assess their cognitive viability or functional fitness. [2]
Thus, Newton’s contention that the gravitational field of a body is proportional to the body’s mass and varies inversely with the square of distance from the body is a claim that is best evaluated not by observation of a mind-independent reality, which, as any lecturer worth his weight in academic pap will tell you, cannot be observed, but rather by its “cognitive viability” or its “functional fitness”; or, in other words, we should evaluate all claims to knowledge only by how well they fit in with whatever we already believe.
.....One shouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that this man is a proponent of a radical politics that requires a radical constructivism for its defence, whereby he can continue to believe what he likes.
[1] Nick Redfern, “Realism, Radical Constructivism, and Film HistoryEssays in Philosophy: A Biannual Journal, Vol. 7:2, June 2006. Original emphasis.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday 9 November 2006

Fewtril #139

Many have given us their conceptions of Hell for which they have envisaged less the foulest tortures than the eternal submission to annoyances. In this fine tradition, I present my own: Sitting for eternity listening to people discussing novels. Even a red-hot poker would come as a relief.

Anachronism in the Circumstantial Sense

There are two senses in which a thing may be said to be anachronistic: firstly, in the historiographic sense, in which a thing is not set in its correct historical time, as contained, for instance, in the view that Sir Isaac Newton was a member of the Automobile Association; and secondly, in the circumstantial sense, in which a thing does not fit in well with a state of affairs, or is found to be almost useless therein, as contained, for instance, in the view that aristocracy does not fit in well with our modern ideas of social justice, or in the view that it is almost useless to bring a sword into battle against a jet-fighter.
.....The fact that a thing does not fit in well with a state of affairs or is almost useless therein, however, does not necessarily speak ill of that thing or well of that state, except as a practical concern; for that state can be determined by all manner of human choices, right or wrong. It is even possible that a state of affairs could obtain in which moral scruple itself is anachronistic, being that it does not fit in with, or is almost useless under, a technical and rationalised order that sees it as a bar to progress. We have even caught a glimpse of this in some of the political movements of the twentieth century, wherein moral scruple was typically dismissed as an anachronistic expression of “bourgeois morality” — a “lower stage” of social progress. Despite this, some still feel it is sufficient argument against the goodness of a thing to say that it does not fit in well with the present state of affairs, when really they ought to be judging the state just as much as the thing that is out of place in it. This, I suppose, is the triumph of pragmatism over moral principle.

Tuesday 7 November 2006

The Coldest of All Cold Monsters

When old Friedrich opined that the “State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters” [1], he was reacting, we may presume, against the increasing development of the impersonal and rationalized form of government which grew apace in his day. Nowadays, despite all the hindsight that history may provide, but perhaps because of the growth of this State, we find many who are of almost the opposite opinion: that the State is the name of the benign deity that will secure our salvation. One such is Polly Toynbee of The Guardian, for whom few developments in State-power would be unwelcome, and for whom talk of despotic tendencies is the talk of delusion:
It takes a delusion of some grandeur to imagine that an all-seeing eye really cares what you are up to every minute of the day. But it’s one that seems to be shared by the vociferous campaigners against ‘the surveillance society’.
ID cards is the issue these fears coalesce around. . . . [T]he threat to fundamental civil liberties somehow eludes me. [2]
That something eludes Ms Toynbee should not surprise us. It should alarm us, however, that she, and many like her, are so deluded as not to have noticed the many and diverse ways in which the State has grown ever more watchful, and are so lacking in thought not to have considered that the “all-seeing eye”, if not a practical possibility, is nevertheless the logical end of this development. But then, I suppose, since this development has happened over centuries, one could be forgiven for having come to regard it as part of the natural order; for indeed therein lies not so much a conspiracy—though no doubt some have conspired for greater power—than a development of the natural desire to overcome insecurities. In a similar vein, Leszek Kolakowski remarks:
Many technical, demographic, and social circumstances conspire to devolve the responsibility for more and more areas of life onto the State. We are accustomed to expect from the State ever more solutions not only to social questions but also to private problems and difficulties; it increasingly appears to us that if we are not perfectly happy, it is the State’s fault, as though it were the duty of the all-powerful State to make us happy. This tendency to bear less and less responsibility for our own lives furthers the danger of totalitarian development and fosters our willingness to accept this development without protest. [3]
Ms Toynbee and her kind, however, are bearers of a faith that allays such fears, namely, the cod-panacean faith of democracy:
[F]or as long as the state remains democratic we can decide what use is made of it and how we are protected from possible abuses. [4]
Such baby-talk befits the age, wherein too the mother-talk of demagogues babbles soothingly into countless heads the belief that “we the people” contains to any significant extent “I the person”, and that the rulers and the ruled are in essence one and the same. But as Hans-Hermann Hoppe tells us:
[W]ith a publicly owned government . . . [t]he distinction between the rulers and the ruled as well as the class consciousness of the ruled become blurred. The illusion arises that the distinction no longer exists: that with a public government no one is ruled by anyone, but everyone instead rules himself. Accordingly, public resistance against government power is systematically weakened. While exploitation and expropriation before might have appeared plainly oppressive and evil to the public, they seem much less so, mankind being what it is, once anyone may freely enter the ranks of those who are at the receiving end. Consequently, not only will exploitation increase, whether openly in the form of higher taxes or discretely as increased governmental money ‘creation’ (inflation) or legislative regulation [but also] the number of government employees (‘public servants’) will rise absolutely as well as relatively to private employment, in particular attracting and promoting individuals with high degrees of time preference, and limited farsightedness. [5]
By such tendencies, illusions, and limited farsightedness, it may even be that democracy is more perfectly suited to totalitarianism than any other form of government. Against this view, one might suggest that public opinion would secure us against the worst excesses of State-intrusion; for it is true that public opinion determines to some extent the direction of the democratic State. Again, however, we do not escape, since the government that depends upon public opinion for power tends to shape it towards its own ends, as Lord Acton noted:
[A] government entirely dependent on [public] opinion looks for some security what that opinion shall be, strives for the control of the forces that shape it, and is fearful of suffering the people to be educated in sentiments hostile to its institutions. [6]
The situation would be all the worse if the State were to grow even more powerful than it already has; for the greater its power, the greater its power to shape public opinion in favour of the maintenance and growth of that power, even to the end that one day the democratic-totalitarian State would be able to proclaim quite truthfully that it really does represent public opinion.
.....Now, whilst we ought to suppose — in harmony with our humility — that human life is messier than our logical and empirical abstractions thereof suggest, we ought nevertheless to pay due heed to such insights as they provide, so as to have eyes for the actual tendencies towards the logical consequences of those abstractions, and so as not to fall into the complacency and ideological faith that so often pass for sound judgement and fact amongst the rag-scribblers and their followers.
[1] F.W. Nietzsche, “On the New Idol”, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Part One), in The Portable Nietzsche, tr. & ed. by W. Kaufmann (New York: Viking, 1976), p.160.
[2] Polly Toynbee, “CCTV conspiracy mania is a very middle-class disorder”, The Guardian, 7th November 2007.
[3] Leszek Kolakowski, “The Self-Poisoning of the Open Society”, Modernity on Endless Trial (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p.173.
[4] Polly Toynbee, op. cit.
[5] Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “On Monarchy, Democracy, and the Idea of Natural Order”, Democracy: The God that Failed (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001), p.48.
[6] J.E.E Dalberg-Acton (Lord Acton), Review of Sir Erskine May’s Democracy in Europe, in the Quarterly Review 145, January 1878, reprinted in Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Vol.1: Essays in the History of Liberty, ed. J.R. Fears (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985), p. 57.

Monday 6 November 2006

Fewtril #138

From what we see around us, we may deduce that the fear of seeming stuffy surpasses that of appearing boorish.

Friday 3 November 2006

A Regret

To my regret, I am not a man of leisure and independent means who sits all day in his dressing-gown in the morning-room of his country retreat and scribbles such little trifles as these. Rather, every day I must go to a place of work, where I am employed as a monkey performing for peanuts — for which predicament I am entirely to blame. The tedium has been relieved, however, by the opportunity to blog, for which purpose I have my note-book and the vast resources of the internet. My boss, however, has begun to notice my less than enthusiastic undertaking of the job for which I am employed, and has understandably suggested that I stay offline. So, now that I have been rumbled, with an official eye to be kept on me, blogging is going to be more difficult. I shall, of course, endeavour to continue for the sake of my sanity, but I suspect blogging will be even lighter than it is at present. Then again, the preservation of sanity might just dictate that I throw caution to the wind, that I continue as normal, and that the consequences be damned.