Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cave Paintings of Chauvet

Just about the only magazine I've subscribed to for the last 15 years is Archaeology. I was catching up on back issues and found a fascinating article on the stone age paintings in the Chauvet Cave in France, which was discovered very recently, in December of 1994.

The paintings are twice as old as any found before, and done in two periods, 30,000 years and 35,000 years ago.

This is one of the most significant archaelogical sites ever found. Some of the drawings are just amazingly good even by modern standards, including a pride of lions hunting bison and a herd of horses. Anatomically correct with shading on many many of them like a good charcoal drawing. This link to Archaeology magazine doesn't have the best images, but has the story (note there are links to different parts of the story). A little more information can be found on Wiki.

Think about that -- 5000 years separation, in the same caves. That's older than the Pyramids are to us, today.

The caves weren't habited by humans except when spring came, after the cave bears moved out. Many of the drawings have the claw marks of bears over them, and some were drawn over the claw marks.
But whatever pictures I provide here simply don't do justice to this archaeological site. If you find this interesting you must see the 90 minute documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams". Must. Here is a trailer:

This is the most interesting documentary I have ever seen. (I watched on Netflix instant queue.) The paintings are incredibly extensive through 1300 feet of caves. Stunningly beautiful crystal formations throughout, often growing on hundreds and hundreds of bones of cave bears. Hundreds of very distinct human handprints on the walls, including from one prolific painter than can be identified by a crook in one finger -- his prints span the cave, from one end to the other.

The making of the film was discussed a couple issues ago of Archaeology magazine, if you want to know more. The documentary was also done in 3-D, and given how the paintings took advantage of the contours of the cave walls, I personally would buy a 3-D HD TV solely to watch this documentary again.

One thing interesting about this place -- the study involves so many specialties-- archaeology, paleontology, art history, geology, zoology, and I'm probably leaving some out.

The only thing I apologize for in advance is that the "heavenly" music that comes in now and then is annoyingly hoaky. And three idiotic, meaningless minutes at the end about albino crocodiles and the nuclear power plant 20 miles away. Yes, crocodiles. Don't ask me. A European made this. But the content transcends any of that.

For more information, see http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/chauvet/en/ and go to "visit the cave".

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Postscript for Monument Builders

In 1962, Ayn Rand wrote an essay, "The Monument Builders" (reprinted in The Virtue of Selfishness), where she named the real nature of this special type of parasite:
...Socialism is not a movement of the people. It is a movement of the intellectuals, originated, led and controlled by the intellectuals, carried by them out of their stuffy ivory towers into those bloody fields of practice where they unite with their allies and executors: the thugs.
Think of Occupy Wall Street. But to continue the quote:
What, then, is the motive of such intellectuals? Power-lust. Power-lust —-as a manifestation of helplessness, of self-loathing, and of the desire for the unearned.
Which gets to the subject of monument builders. Rand goes on,
The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit. (By "spirit" I mean: man's consciousness.) These two aspects are necessarily interrelated, but a man's desire may be focused predominantly on one or the other. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the desire for unearned greatness: it is expressed (but not defined) by the foggy murk of the term 'prestige.'

Unearned greatness is so unreal, so neurotic a concept that the wretch who seeks it cannot identify it even to himself: to identify it, is to make it impossible. He needs the irrational, undefinable slogans of altruism and collectivism to give a semiplausible form to his nameless urge and anchor it to reality—-to support his own self-deception more than to deceive his victims. "The public," "the public interest," "service to the public" are the means, the tools, the swinging pendulums of the power-luster’s self-hypnosis.

Since there is no such entity as "the public," since ...the concept is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang’s ability to proclaim that "The public, c’est moi"—and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun.
Think of "We are the 99%".  She continues,
...Greatness is achieved by the productive effort of a man's mind in the pursuit of clearly defined, rational goals. But a delusion of grandeur can be served only by the switching, undefinable chimera of a public monument—which is presented as a munificent gift to the victims whose forced labor or extorted money had paid for it—which is dedicated to the service of all and none, owned by all and none, gaped at by all and enjoyed by none.

This is the ruler's only way to appease his obsession: "prestige." Prestige—-in whose eyes? In anyone's. In the eyes of his tortured victims, of the beggars in the streets of his kingdom, of the bootlickers at his court, of the foreign tribes and their rulers beyond the borders. It is to impress all those eyes-—the eyes of everyone and no one—-that the blood of generations of subjects has been spilled and spent.
Now we come to an interesting essay that appeared yesterday in Pajamas Media, titled Stealing as Policy, from the Iron Curtain to Robert Byrd, by Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Lieutenant General in the Romanian Army.  Pacepa was "the highest official who has ever defected from the Soviet bloc. In 1989 Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu was executed at the end of a trial whose main accusations came out of Pacepa's book Red Horizons (Regnery Publishing, 1987), subsequently republished in 27 countries."

Over a year ago, I wrote a post, Maybe there ARE commies under every rock...  that quoted Pacepa at length, in an interview where he and two other former communists explained old Soviet plans for taking over Western countries using fifth columns of thousands of communist agents burrowed into every government in Europe.  So Pacepa's name caught my eye when I saw the column he penned yesterday for PJ, about how socialists inevitably become monument builders, and how this disease has infected the United States.  For instance, he cites the example of the late Senator Robert Byrd:
"Over his long career in the U.S. Congress, the late Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was able to steal $3.3 billion, with a “b,” of tax money in order to build his West Virginia into a monument to himself. Several transportation projects named after him gained national notoriety. The Robert C. Byrd Highway, also known as the Appalachian Development Highway System, was dubbed “West Virginia’s road to nowhere” in 2009, after it received a $9.5 million earmark in the $410 billion Omnibus Appropriation Act and $21 million more from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. More than 50 buildings erected with tax money stolen by Senator Byrd are now named for him. Here are a few: Robert C. Byrd Community Center, Pine Grove, WV; Robert C. Byrd Federal Correction Institution, Hazelton, WV; Robert C. Byrd Visitor Center, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, WV; Robert C. Byrd United States R Courthouse and Federal Building, Charleston, WV; Robert C. Byrd Academic and Technology Center, Marshall University in Huntington, WV; Robert C. Byrd Auditorium, National Conservation Center, WV; Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, Green Bank, WV; Robert C. Byrd Library, Wheeling, WV."
And this reminded me of Ayn Rand's essay.  For years, I've myself lamented and condemned the proliferation of monuments to public officials — especially living public officials. For instance, we no longer name naval ships after things like "Enterprise", "Kitty Hawk", "Lexington" or "Independence" — we name them after John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, John C. Stennis or George W. Bush.

This habit of politicians has grown so malignant that it's now de rigueur in many of the bills passed by Congress: the real payment for securing funding for some kind of pork is not the votes-- it's the right of a politician to have his name attached to the bridges, roads, buildings, ships, airports, parks, public housing projects and just about anything else that he connived via backroom deals to get funded.

The right to be immortalized for being a looter of the people they pretend to "serve".

The movement is just getting under way for Barack Obama.  As Pacepa notes:
President Obama’s current redistribution of the country’s wealth caused the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating for the first time in our country’s history, but it helped the young president to start transforming the U.S. into a monument to himself. Below is just a partial list of projects and places already named after President Obama.
California: President Barack Obama Parkway, Orlando; Obama Way, Seaside; Barack Obama Charter School, Compton; Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy, Los Angeles; Barack Obama Academy, Oakland.
Florida: Barack Obama Avenue, Opa-loka; Barack Obama Boulevard, West Park.
Maryland: Barack Obama Elementary School, Upper Marlboro.
Missouri: Barack Obama Elementary School, Pine Lawn.
Minnesota:  Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary, Saint Paul.
New Jersey: Barack Obama Academy, Plainfield; Barack Obama Green Charter High School, Plainfield.
New York: Barack Obama Elementary School, Hempstead.
Pennsylvania: Obama High School, Pittsburgh.
Texas: Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, Dallas.
Small potatoes, so far, but these are still the kinds of monuments Ayn Rand talked about in her 1962 essay.  As she said then,
One may see, in certain Biblical movies, a graphic image of the meaning of public monument building: the building of the pyramids. Hordes of starved, ragged, emaciated men straining the last effort of their inadequate muscles at the inhuman task of pulling the ropes that drag large chunks of stone, straining like tortured beasts of burden under the whips of overseers, collapsing on the job and dying in the desert sands—that a dead Pharaoh might lie in an imposingly senseless structure and thus gain eternal "prestige" in the eyes of the unborn of future generations. 
As she notes, our country set itself apart from so many others throughout history:
...The great distinction of the United States of America, up to the last few decades, was the modesty of its public monuments. Such monuments as did exist were genuine: they were not erected for "prestige," but were functional structures that had housed events of great historical importance. If you have seen the austere simplicity of Independence Hall, you have seen the difference between authentic grandeur and the pyramids of "public-spirited" prestige-seekers.
And we come full circle today, to the ideal embraced by Obama:
When you consider the global devastation perpetrated by socialism, the sea of blood and the millions of victims, remember that they were sacrificed, not for "the good of mankind" nor for a "noble ideal," but for the festering vanity of some scared brute or some pretentious mediocrity who craved a mantle of unearned "greatness"—and that the monument to socialism is a pyramid of public factories, public theaters and public parks, erected on a foundation of human corpses, with the figure of the ruler posturing on top, beating his chest and screaming his plea for "prestige" to the starless void above him.
So when you consider the agenda of Barack Obama, contemplate, for a start, the faux Roman forum he had built to celebrate his nomination 3 1/2 years ago--and from that, you may be sure that what he seeks to erect now in this country is exactly what Rand spoke of 50 years ago: monuments to himself, built on a foundation of corpses.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dissecting a Chocolate Pudding

Reading the transcript of a talk by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, it has some interesting statistics concerning the decline in violence throughout human history, but as Twain once said, there are "lies, damned lies, and there are statistics." It starts from the ridiculous assertion that
"The extraordinary 65-year stretch since the end of the Second World War has been called the "Long Peace", and has perhaps the most striking statistics of all, zero. There were zero wars between the United States and the Soviet Union (the two superpowers of the era), contrary to every expert prediction."
He conveniently ignores an awful lot of very bloody wars. Picking a few at random (and including WWII just for reference),
1939-45: World War II (55 million) [note: other sources put the toll at up to 100 million]
1946-49: Chinese civil war (1.2 million)
1946-54: France-Vietnam war (600,000)
1947: Partition of India and Pakistan (1 million)
1949-50: Mainland China vs Tibet (1,200,000)
1950-53: Korean war (3 million)
1958-61: Mao's "Great Leap Forward" (38 million)
1964-73: USA-Vietnam war (3 million)
1965: second India-Pakistan war over Kashmir
1966-69: Mao's "Cultural Revolution" (11 million)
1967-70: Nigeria-Biafra civil war (800,000)
1971: Pakistan-Bangladesh civil war (500,000)
1974-91: Ethiopian civil war (1,000,000)
1975-78: Menghitsu, Ethiopia (1.5 million)
1975-79: Khmer Rouge, Cambodia (1.7 million)
1975-2002: Angolan civil war (500,000)
1976-93: Mozambique's civil war (900,000)
1976-98: Indonesia-East Timor civil war (600,000)
1979-88: the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan (1.3 million)
1980-88: Iraq-Iran war (1 million)
1983-2002: Sudanese civil war (2 million)
1998-: Congo/Zaire's war - Rwanda and Uganda vs Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia (3.8 million)
I have to note that the source for this is so uniformly optimistic as to be ludicrous itself. One should double or triple many of those figures. It lists Stalin's purges, for instance, as 10 million dead, when better figures are at least 20 million, and some are over 30 million.

The way Pinker's thesis works is this: calculate violence on a per capita basis, and violence around the world has dramatically reduced over history; your chance of dying is less today.

Of course, on a non-per-capita basis, the number of deaths from violence has been going way up, and it isn't in the least clear to me whether he's including all the consequences of violence and statism, such as starvation, etc.  How he explains his decision goes like
The denominator here is the world population, not the population size of countries involved in each war. There are arguments for doing it either way. The problem is that you can make the numbers go all over the place depending on the choice of the denominator, whether you choose the country that initiated the war, the collateral damage in other countries, the neighboring countries, and so on. So in all cases I've plotted deaths as a proportion of world population.
So if you're going to make your numbers go all over the place, why not make them go all over toward your thesis?  That is, the epistemology of a self-licking ice cream cone.

As to why there's been "no wars" since WWII, he says,
"Specifically, the number of democracies has increased since the Second World War and again since the end of the Cold War, relative to the number of autocracies...."
I suppose if you consider the Soviet Union and Communist China "democracies".
"...There's been a steady increase in international trade since the end of the Second World War."
More on that shortly.
"...There's been a continuous increase in the number of intergovernmental organizations that countries have entered into. And especially since the end of the Cold War in 1990, there's been an increase in the number of international peace-keeping missions, and even more importantly, the number of international peace keepers that have kept themselves in between warring nations mostly in the developing world."
Again, more on that shortly.
"Nuclear weapons, paradoxically, are so militarily useless that they haven't really affected balance of power considerations. This is not to deny that deterrence has been important, just that the massive amount of destruction that countries like the U.S. and the USSR could inflict with conventional weaponry made each very nervous about the other even if neither side had had nuclear weapons. World War II in Europe didn't involve nuclear weapons, but was a kind of destruction that no one wanted to see again. The theory of the Nuclear Peace is quite popular, but I’m skeptical."
Well, I'm skeptical of a lot, too.  Then there is his statement that slavery has been reduced around the world:
"...just fifty years ago, slavery was still legal in Saudi Arabia... The last countries to abolish it were Saudi Arabia in 1962..."
Even our own State Department might dispute that.
"Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women subjected to forced labor and to a much lesser extent, forced prostitution. Men and women from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and many other countries voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled laborers, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of involuntary servitude, including nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as the withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace. Recent reports of abuse include the driving of nails into a domestic worker’s body... 
...The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.
Again, this report significantly understates the slavery problem in Saudi Arabia; they still hold slave bazaars, albeit no longer for public display. But Pinker's argument is that the slavery is less of the old-fashioned "yes, massuh" flogging variety. I suppose, as long as you don't have nails driven through your palms.

This was all part of a pattern of sophistic argument and presentation that left in me that lingering feeling of E coli poisoning, so I simply had to dissect it. His thesis, to summarize, is that the cause of the historical reduction in violence is: empathy, literacy, the rise of the State, the decline in individualism, and, if you can believe it, the rise in international commerce.

I think the real sub-text to this may be advocacy of a one-world state and some other silly nonsense.  He talks of the rise of the "pacifying force of reason" -- which would be meaningful if he used that term properly -- but he defines it as
"...the cognitive faculties that allow us to engage in objective, detached analysis. ...People will be tempted to rise above their parochial vantage point, making it harder to privilege their own interests over others."
Ie, apart from any self-interest. Keep in mind this is from an alleged psychologist.  If you want to understand where he gets this viewpoint, he makes a confession:
"So what are the immediate causes of the Long Peace [after WWII], and what I call the new peace (that is, the Post-Cold War era)? They were anticipated by Immanuel Kant in his remarkable essay, "Perpetual Peace" from 1795, in which he suggested that democracy, trade and an international community were pacifying forces."
No major surprises there. For anyone who doesn't know what Kant stood for, I offer as exhibit A:  Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Communist China, and most of the deaths in that list up above.

The most curious incongruity in Pinker's thesis is the contention that international commerce (or what he calls the "theory of Gentle Commerce", from Tocqueville) has been a great pacifying force. This is somewhat conventional (a lot of people believe it) but keep in mind we're talking about a Harvard academic who admires Kant. I think the not-obvious but real sub-text here is the conventional Leftist line about the pacifying power of the welfare state, and I go back to my previous statement that he implicitly is advocating for the pacifying power of a one-world government free of individualistic concerns. He is not advocating for Capitalism:
"What were the immediate causes of the humanitarian revolution? A plausible first guess is affluence. One might surmise that as one's own life becomes more pleasant, one places a higher value on life in general. However, I don't think the timing works.
This would seem to contradict my statement that he is implicitly arguing for a welfare state, but I think the difference is what he believes are the causes of affluence. He rejects the Industrial Revolution (the rise of Capitalism) as a cause because the timing "doesn't work", mainly by simply redefining it as a 19th century phenomenon:
"Most economic historians say that the world saw virtually no increase in affluence until the time of the Industrial Revolution starting in the early decades of the 19th century. But most of the reforms that I've been talking about were concentrated in the 18th century, when income growth was pretty much flat."
Well, affluence increased from near-zero to something a lot more than near-zero, if you want to call that "flat", while mortality from disease and starvation declined precipitously and world population grew exponentially.

When he speaks of "commerce" as reducing violence among peoples he seems particularly confused. His definition of commerce is:
"a development of the institutions of money and finance, and of technologies of transportation and time keeping."
Whenever you see someone define a key concept in terms of non-essentials, you have to wonder what essentials they are trying to evade. What makes commerce possible? Possibly—freedom, ie, individual rights, and governments that protect individual rights. On those terms, only some kinds of governments can have commerce. But when you define it in terms of "transportation" and "time-keeping", even a totalitarian state can have "commerce" (so long as there is a capitalist to make the trucks and keep their clocks functioning).

He even says
"The result was to shift the incentive structure from zero-sum plunder to positive-sum trade."
Well, that sounds good, but here is how he interprets trade:
"We will hear more from both Leda and Martin that reciprocal altruism, such as gains in trade, can result in both sides being better off after an interaction."
Putting aside that he feels the need to let Leda and Martin take all the heat for such a ludicrous definition, he is trying to smuggle in the idea that trading is "reciprocal altruism", not self-interested profit. "Positive-sum trade" becomes "positive-sum altruism" for Pinker.

That has implications. My interpretation: his view of a proper government is one which enforces "reciprocal altruism" at the point of a gun, ie, Collectivism.

He says statistical studies show "that countries with open economies and greater international trade are less likely to engage in war, are less likely to host civil wars, and have genocides."

Again, the meaning of his terms is important. Like Kant, I think that, for Pinker, A is not A, reason is post-modern enlightenment ("empathy", "altruism", anti-individualism, etc), commerce is state-controlled, trade is altruistic, etc. The "timing doesn't work" for freedom to have reduced violence, but for him it does happen to correlate with the rise of Marxism and the "Long Peace" after WWII, when (he repeats himself) nuclear weapons were never used.

Never mind that they weren't used because the Soviet Union didn't dare to use them because they faced annihilation by the United States.

He makes other points that sound good superficially, but are really insidious in how they attempt to undermine genuine ideas. He speaks of the civilizing influences of book production, literacy and academic schooling, which gives rise to reason and "the expanding circle of empathy", and he lumps this under the term "cosmopolitanism".
"...literacy gives rise to cosmopolitanism. It is plausible that the reading of history, journalism, and fiction puts people into the habit of inhabiting other peoples' minds, which could increase empathy and therefore make cruelty less appealing."
Curious choice, that. The correct definition of "cosmopolitan" is "worldly". As he argues, the violence declined with the rise of the State, and with fewer warring groups. As he says,
"In the transition from Middle Ages to modernity there was a consolidation of centralized states and kingdoms throughout Europe."
The point is actually more subtly woven into his thesis. He says
"What is the rate of death by violence in people who have recently lived outside of state control, namely hunter-gatherers, hunter-horticulturalists, and other tribal groups?"
"There's the drive toward dominance, both the competition among individuals to be alpha male, and the competition among groups for ethnic, racial, national or religious supremacy or pre-eminence."
He also speaks of the reduction of violence from "fewer interstate wars".  He discusses this somewhat at length, while rationalizing the rise in civil wars as due to the "superpowers," but the implication is clear: fewer groups, less violence; fewer governments, less violence.  To complete the syllogism, one government, no violence.

He also argues that the proliferation of "intergovernmental organizations" was a key factor. In my opinion, again, code for institutions like the U.N. and "one-world government".

What ideology advocates for centralized, one-world government today?

Let's move on.

Pinker argues there are five basic causes of violence:
  1. "Desire for exploitation... seeking something that you want where a living thing happens to be in the way; examples include rape, plunder, conquest, and the elimination of rivals..."
  2. "Dominance... competition among individuals... competition among groups..."
  3. "Revenge... vendettas, rough justice, and cruel punishments..."
  4. "Ideology... which might be the biggest contributor of all (such as in militant religions, nationalism, fascism, Nazism, and communism)..."
That's right, he said there were five, but only listed  four. I might add, "irrationality".

Note a common thread in these: "seeking something that you want", "competition among individuals", "cruel punishments", "ideology". I think the common denominator here is "cruel individuals pursuing their self-interest and exhibiting independent judgment, moral certitude and no ideology."

I know, I know. What a reach. But consider it in the context of everything else. For instance, he says
"...people tend to exaggerate their adversary's malevolence and exaggerate their own innocence. Self-serving biases can stoke cycles of revenge when you have two sides, each of them intoxicated with their own sense of rectitude and moral infallibility."
Then he lists the four factors which inhibit violence: "self-control", "empathy", "moral sense", and "the escalator of reason".

Ah, yes. It's just like going to the shopping mall as a child: we commit violence because of our fear of taking the first step on the moving stairs of reason.
"Reason leads to the replacement of a morality based on tribalism, authority and puritanism with a morality based on fairness and universal rules."
Fairness to whom? According to what universal rules? No answer.

What is "reason" to Pinker? It is people rising
"...above their parochial vantage point, making it harder to privilege their own interests."
So you see he takes his escalator analogy seriously. How are they rising? Literacy that makes them more "cosmopolitan" and prepared to engage in the "gentle commerce" of "reciprocal altruism".
"Why should literacy matter? A number of the causes are summed up by the term "Enlightenment." For one thing, knowledge replaced superstition and ignorance: beliefs such as that Jews poisoned wells, heretics go to hell, witches cause crop failures, children are possessed, and Africans are brutish. As Voltaire said, 'Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.'"
So literacy = reading Voltaire and knowing that Africans aren't brutish.
"Also, literacy gives rise to cosmopolitanism. It is plausible that the reading of history, journalism, and fiction puts people into the habit of inhabiting other peoples' minds, which could increase empathy and therefore make cruelty less appealing. This is a point I'll return to later in the talk."
Back to the four factors. What is "self-control" to Pinker? Not doing violence. What is "empathy"? Following your emotions. What is "moral sense"? Altruism. He implies we're not supposed to exhibit independent judgment or have an ideology, but exhorts us to practice reason...

Hmmmm. In addition to altruism, it sounds a lot like some kind of rationalization for multiculturalism and relativism — sacrifice for other cultures — with a dash of Rodney King to end the violence ("Can't we all just get along?").

Besides the "pacifying forces" of "democracy, trade and an international community", Pinker goes on to say
"Hobbes got it right: a Leviathan, namely a state and justice system with a monopoly on legitimate use of violence, can reduce aggregate violence by eliminating the incentives for exploitative attack; by reducing the need for deterrence and vengeance (because Leviathan is going to deter your enemies so you don't have to), and by circumventing self-serving biases. One of the major discoveries of social and evolutionary psychology in the past several decades is that people tend to exaggerate their adversary's malevolence and exaggerate their own innocence. Self-serving biases can stoke cycles of revenge when you have two sides, each of them intoxicated with their own sense of rectitude and moral infallibility."
I don't know about that "Leviathan" part (Pinker capitalized the "L", not me), but sure, we need government. What kind? He doesn't say. One based on individual rights, or one based on totalitarianism? No direct answer, but his thesis is all about the dramatic reduction in violence around the world because of the emergence of big government--during a massive rise in Marxist and fascist totalitarian governments throughout the 20th century. And the core tenet of his thesis is that if we measure violence on a per capita basis, everyone (including people under totalitarian governments!) is now better off than their historical predecessors.


He also talks of the pacifying force of the "Rights Revolution", which he defines as
"...the reduction of systemic violence at smaller scales against vulnerable populations such as racial minorities, women, children, homosexuals and animals."
He also includes the demise of hunting and the rise in vegetarianism among the potent forces for reducing violance, and argues it comes about from the "Expanding Circle of empathy". (Again, it's not clear why he uses a capital "E"; is the "expanding" part more important than the empathy?)

There is also a bizarre non-sequitur woven into his reasoning as a tumorous, yet benign sub-text. It's repeated so often and is so ineffective that one has to wonder if the Expanding circle of empathy has emptied his brain cavity. To paraphrase, it goes like this: "Worldwide violence has been reduced to historic lows because we no longer have witch hunts, dueling, blood sports, debtors prisons, persecution of gays and animal cruelty in films."

To counter this sort of "reasoning", Pinker does make a pretense of advocating rational ideas,
"In addition, the decline of violence has implications for our assessment of modernity: the centuries-long erosion of family, tribe, tradition and religion by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason and science."
but it's a little like going to a symphony where they intersperse atonal nonsense within a program of melodic pieces from Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff—except the melodic pieces have been moved to an anharmonic musical scale.

It's the method of a con man, and a not very bright con man, at that—a common poseur.

The appropriately named Pinker is little more than another irredeemably post-modern intellectual wanna-bee, steeped in Kantianism, ensconced in ivy-league academia, and incapable of even seeing the general commerce for the trees. If I had to sum him up, I'd say he is anti-capitalist, anti-individualist, anti-individual rights, pro-one-world government, pro-collectivist, and probably some flavor of soft communist, but god knows, it doesn't really matter when your brain has the consistency of pudding.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dupes of the Collective

Reading this article about Nobel-prize winning physicist Hermann Muller (1890-1967), it says
Nobel prize winner Hermann Muller knowingly lied when he claimed in 1946 that there is no safe level of radiation exposure... his decision not to mention key scientific evidence against his position has had a far-reaching impact on our approach to regulating radiation and chemical exposure. 
Muller himself served on the NAS’s Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation (BEAR) committee, through which the linear dose-response approach to risk assessment became firmly entrenched. The two successfully suppressed last-minute evidence from the fruit fly experiment conducted in Stern’s lab by postdoctoral researcher Ernst Caspari, and the rest is history, Calabrese says. It marked the “transformation of a threshold-guided risk assessment to one now centered on a linear dose-response."
...Muller was awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery that X-rays induce genetic mutations. This helped him call attention to his long-time concern over the dangers of atomic testing.
It was a lie that led to many restraints on medical uses of radiation even today, but also bans on the testing and development of nuclear weapons by the U.S. government--so I immediately had to ask myself: was Muller a communist?

Was he doing it on behalf of a Soviet agenda, which frequently manipulated academic trends and science to the end of weakening the U.S.?

For instance, the dangers of nuclear weapons causing a planet-wide "winter" was initially a Soviet "psy-op" to manipulate the Left in this country, with the goal of influencing U.S. policy to halt weapons testing and production, as well as promoting disarmament treaties that would be beneficial to the Soviets (and now Russia).  But when the nuclear winter hypothesis fell apart, it morphed into anthropogenic global warming (AGW), as a means of crippling the economies of Western countries.  (In my opinion, the various attempts to limit CO2 emissions were ultimately Soviet/Russian orchestrated efforts.)

To show that this strategy wasn't limited to nukes, I think there could be credible evidence that Keynesianism was a theory with KGB origins, intended to cripple Western economies--Keynes was an avowed socialist, but he openly admired communism.  For instance, he is quoted here as saying
Until recently events in Russia were moving too fast and the gap between paper professions and actual achievements was too wide for a proper account to be possible. But the new system is now sufficiently crystallized to be reviewed. The result is impressive. The Russian innovators have passed, not only from the revolutionary stage, but also from the doctrinaire stage.
There is little or nothing left which bears any special relation to Marx and Marxism as distinguished from other systems of socialism. They are engaged in the vast administrative task of making a completely new set of social and economic institutions work smoothly and successfully over a territory so extensive that it covers one-sixth of the land surface of the world. Methods are still changing rapidly in response to experience. The largest scale empiricism and experimentalism which has ever been attempted by disinterested administrators is in operation. Meanwhile the Webbs have enabled us to see the direction in which things appear to be moving and how far they have got.1

...It leaves me with a strong desire and hope that we in this country [Britain] may discover how to combine an unlimited readiness to experiment with changes in political and economic methods and institutions, whilst preserving traditionalism and a sort of careful conservatism, thrifty of everything which has human experience behind it, in every branch of feeling and of action.
Keynes was very probably a Fabian--a secret society of communists pretending to be socialists, working to promote communism. (Under Marxist dialectic, socialism is merely a stepping-stone to communism.)  A well-known British political theorist and economist in the 1930's and 1940's, Harold Laski, was publicly a Socialist and much later revealed as a communist Fabian -- he was highly influential, and the architect of post-war Socialist India, as well as the model for Ayn Rand's fictional character Ellsworth Toohey.

So as I read the above story, which says that Hermann Muller's lie led to restrictions on U.S. nuclear weapons development, I had to ask if he was a communist.  Sure enough.  Typing "Hermann Muller communist" into Google brings up this biography, which says
Hermann Muller was born in Manhattan in 1890 and grew into a 5'2" science geek. His father... influenced Hermann with his socialist ideals and a love of science. ...Upon graduation from Morris High School in 1907 at age sixteen, Muller attended Columbia University and was attracted to the emerging field of genetics. 
...In the 1920s, Muller performed his Nobel prize-winning research showing that X-rays could induce mutations and he became instantly famous. Muller used his fame to caution against the indiscriminate use of X-rays in medicine, but despite his warnings, some physicians even prescribed X-rays to stimulate ovulation in sterile women. His warnings angered many doctors and were largely ignored. 
Muller's outspoken views on socialism also got him in trouble with the Texas administration. He helped publish a Communist newspaper at the school, and the FBI tracked his activities. Feeling that U.S. society was regressing during the Depression, Muller left for Europe in 1932.
A move to the Soviet Union in 1934 seemed to have cured Muller of his Communist sympathies, although he always remained a socialist.
Well, maybe.
By the time he left in 1937, several of his students and colleagues had "disappeared" or been shipped to Siberia.
How many people got out of Russia while it was under Stalin, simply by asking to be let out?

So I think we can safely say Muller was not only a communist, but he was working for the Soviet spy apparatus, in some capacity.  In fact, his zeal for the dangers of radiation seemed to grow after he came back to the West, and
World War II forced Muller to leave Scotland in 1940 and he eventually found a permanent position at Indiana University in 1945. A year later, Muller won the Nobel Prize for his work on mutation-inducing X-rays and he used the opportunity to continue pressing for more public knowledge about the hazards of X-ray radiation.
Given that, I would say with very high probability that his lie about the dangers of radiation -- in 1946, one year after the bombs were dropped on Japan -- was part of a KGB operation to scare people in this country away from using anything associated with the word "nuclear".

It offers some insight into how the Soviets operated then, and how Russia operates today, under Putin (who is ex-KGB/FSB). Or possibly how Obama (a closet communist, in my firm opinion) pursues destructive economic policies such as "stimulus", tax increases, crippling regulations, and healthcare laws (a trillion dollars annually when fully implemented) -- all with the object of stressing the U.S. economy to the breaking point.  Or his aggressive pursuit of the new START disarmament treaty, which reduces U.S. nuclear stockpiles by 2/3, while letting the Russians increase their stockpiles.

Muller was also an advocate of government-run eugenics to improve the Soviet breed and eliminate weakness in their people.  See his rather long-winded letter to Stalin, where he seeks to persuade Uncle Joe of the need for such an effort. I greatly condense it, but include portions mainly to show Muller's deep committment to communism and some indication of his naive adherence and philosophical approach, which attempts to unite Marxist theory with practice; ultimately it shows he was little more than a dupe for the Collective:
To Comrade Joseph Stalin,
Secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.,
The Kremlin, Moscow
Dear Comrade Stalin, 
As a scientist with confidence in the ultimate Bolshevik triumph
throughout all possible spheres of human endeavor, I come to
you with a matter of vital importance arising out of my own
science – biology, and, in particular, genetics. The matter is
clearly such that it should be referred to you yourself, primarily.
For, on the one hand, it involves such limitless potentialities of
progress. And on the other hand the passing of judgment
concerning it requires your farsighted view and your strength in
the realistic use of dialectic thought. 
The matter is none less than that of the conscious control of
human biological evolution – that is, the control by man of the
hereditary material lying at the basis of life in man himself. This
is a development which bourgeois society has been quite
unable to look squarely in the face. Its evasions and perversions
of this matter are to be seen in the futile mouthings about
“Eugenics” current in bourgeois “democracies,” and the vicious
doctrine of “Race Purity” employed by the Nazis as a weapon in
class war. These spurious proposals are offered as a substitute
for socialism, i.e., as a decoy to mislead and divide workers as
well as petit bourgeois. 
In opposition to these bourgeois misconstructions, geneticists
of the political left recognize that only a socialized economic
system can provide the material basis and the social and
ideological framework necessary for a really sound policy with
regard to human genetics, for a policy which will guide human
biological evolution along socially desirable lines. They
recognize further that sufficient biological knowledge and a
sufficiently refined physical technique already exist for the
production of very noteworthy results in this field even within
the span of our own lifetimes. And they are aware that both the
immediate and the ultimate possibilities of a biological kind
thus opened up under socialism so far outdistance the
biological aims hitherto envisaged by bourgeois theorists as to
make the latter appear quite ridiculous. True eugenics can only
be a product of socialism, and will, like advances in physical
technique, be one of the means used by the latter in the
betterment of life....

...The science of genetics has made it clear that there is one
means and only one whereby a worthwhile beginning may be
made in the direction of providing more favorable genes. This
is not by directly changing the genes, but by bringing about a
relatively high rate of multiplication of the most valuable genes
that can be found anywhere. For it is not possible artificially to
change the genes themselves in any particular, specified
directions. The idea that this can be done is an idle fantasy,
probably not realizable for thousands of years at least. 
...The process by which such biological progression may be
accomplished artificially, with the minimum disturbance of
personal lives, is by allowing all people who wish to take part in
the production of children that have the best genetic
equipment obtainable, to obtain appropriate reproductive
material, for use by artificial insemination. No doubt this
method would first of all be sought after by women who for
some reason have been forced by circumstances to remain
unmarried. Statistics show that there are regions having a
considerable excess of female population, women who never
have had a chance to marry and probably will never have this
In this connection it should be observed that there is no
natural law which rules that a person instinctively wants and
loves exactly the product of his own sperm and egg. He
naturally loves, and feels as his, that child with whom he has
been associated and who is dependent upon and loves him, and
whom in its helplessness, he has taken care of and brought up....
...True we have today, rooted in traditions from the bourgeois
society in our past, the idea that our child must be derived from
our own reproductive cells.

...These feelings would rest upon a higher and increasingly
strong basis of morality: that morality in which the individual
finds his greatest satisfaction in the consciousness of being
instrumental in making an especially valuable contribution to

...After 20 years, there should already be very
noteworthy results accruing to the benefit of the nation.
And if at time capitalism still exists beyond our borders,
this vital wealth in our youthful cadres, already
strong through social and environmental means, but
then supplemented even by the means of genetics, could not
fail to be of very considerable advantage for our side.
...All the above represents quite the antithesis of the “Race
Purification” and so-called “Eugenics” of the Nazis and their
kin, who set up artificial hierarchies of races and of classes,
branding as inferior those whom capitalism wishes to oppress,
and brandishing against them the knife of sterilization, or
restriction. The social way, on the other hand, is positive, and
works for a surplus reproduction that combines the highest
endowments of every race, as found in a classless society...
Many a mother of tomorrow, freed of the fetters of religious
superstitions, will be proud to mingle her germ plasm with that
of a Lenin or a Darwin, and to contribute to society a child
partaking of his biological attributes. 
...to act upon this recognition is but to
be realists and to unite our theory with our practice. It is
especially important that our practice to right in this field, for
what material is as important to us as our human material? And
it will be acknowledged that in deciding the production of
children, the chief interests are the interests of the children
themselves, and of the children’s children. Theirs is the need,
to which we should give in proportion to our own ability. 
...The above, in brief, is what appears to me to be the dialectic
view of the relations between biological and social evolution,
and a real Bolshevik attack upon the matter will be based on
the full recognition of these relations. In view of the
immediately impending rise of discussion on matters relating to
genetics it is important that the position of Soviet genetics on
this subject should soon be clear. It should have its own
standpoint, the positive, Bolshevik standpoint, to set against the
so-called “Race Purification” and perverted “Eugenics”
doctrines of the Nazis and their allies on the one hand and
against the “laissez faire” and “go slow” doctrines of the
despairing liberals on the other hand. Most liberals take an
attitude of practical hopelessness and impotence with regard to
human biological evolution, declaring that little or nothing can
be done. This is in line with their political individualism and
hopelessness. And even some communists, lacking a sufficient
biological background, or influenced by liberal thought, have
drifted to the pessimistic liberal position. 
...There are of course many important points of principle and
practice involved in these proposals for which the present letter
did not have space. Some of these are taken up in the book
above mentioned, of which I am sending you a copy separately.
I should be glad to go into any further details on these subjects,
if that would be desired. 
With deep respect,
In a brotherly spirit,
H. J. Muller
Senior geneticist of the Institute of Genetics of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, Moscow,
Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States,
Member of the Foreign Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.,
May 5, 1936

Reportedly, Stalin ignored Muller. As the introduction to the previous letter says,
Muller’s letter is an enormously important historical text, and had it been received positively by one man it would undoubtedly have become one of the single most important documents of world history.
Maybe Stalin did ignore Muller--or maybe someone remembered his letter. In 1959, experiments were conducted in Siberia to breed tamer foxes -- and more vicious ones.  (I recommend the full BBC documentary of which the following is merely a clip from The Secret Life Of The Dog.)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Day

      "Who is John Galt?"
  The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum's face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still--as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.
  "Why did you say that?" asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
  The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
  "Why does it bother you?" he asked.
   ...[Eddie] walked on, reminding himself that he was late in returning to the office. He did not like the task which he had to perform on his return, but it had to be done. So he did not attempt to delay it, but made himself walk faster.
  He turned a corner. In the narrow space between the dark silhouettes of two buildings, as in the crack of a door, he saw the page of a gigantic calendar suspended in the sky.
  It was the calendar that the mayor of New York had erected last year on the top of a building, so that citizens might tell the day of the month as they told the hours of the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A white rectangle hung over the city, imparting the date to the men in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening's sunset, the rectangle said: September 2.
This date, and meaning, runs throughout the story of Atlas Shrugged. It's also today, as I write this.
  ...The calendar in the sky beyond the window of her office said: September 2. Dagny leaned wearily across her desk. The first light to snap on at the approach of dusk was always the ray that hit the calendar; when the white-glowing page appeared above the roofs, it blurred the city, hastening the darkness.
  She had looked at that distant page every evening of the months behind her. Your days are numbered, it had seemed to say--as if it were marking a progression toward something it knew, but she didn't. Once, it had clocked her race to build the John Galt Line; now it was clocking her race against an unknown destroyer.
  ...She raised her head, as she finished reading his pages. The calendar in the distance said: September 2. The lights of the city had grown beneath it, spreading and glittering. She thought of Rearden. 
In a few days, Obama (I can't call him "President" — it's too much of a desecration of that title) will be speaking to the nation.
  ...The last event of the day had been a large dinner reception at the home of Senor Rodrigo Gonzales, a diplomatic representative of Chile. No one had heard of Senor Gonzales a year ago, but he had [been described]... as a progressive businessman. He had lost his property--it was said--when Chile, becoming a People's State, had nationalized all properties, except those belonging to citizens of backward, non-People's countries, such as Argentina; but he had adopted an enlightened attitude and had joined the new regime, placing himself in the service of his country. His home in New York occupied an entire floor of an exclusive residential hotel.  He had a fat, blank face and the eyes of a killer.
  ...[He had mentioned] that by agreement with the future People's State of Argentina, the properties of d'Anconia Copper would be nationalized by the People's State of Chile, in less than a month, on September 2.
I'm not saying that's what Obama's speech will be about — except in spirit.
  [Dagny] shuddered and walked faster--but ahead of her, in the foggy distance, she saw the calendar above the roofs of the city--it was long past midnight and the calendar said: August 6, but it seemed to her suddenly that she saw September 2 written above the city in letters of blood--and she thought: If she worked, if she struggled, if she rose, she would take a harder beating with each step of her climb, until, at the end, whatever she reached, be it a copper company or an unmortgaged cottage, she would see it seized by Jim on some September 2 and she would see it vanish to pay for the parties where Jim made his deals with his friends.
But the party can only go on so long before it's over.
  ...On the morning of September 2, a copper wire broke in California, between two telephone poles by the track of the Pacific branch line of Taggart Transcontinental...
  "Copper wire?" said James Taggart, with an odd glance that went from her face to the city beyond the window. "In a very short while, we won't have any trouble about copper."
  "Why?" she asked, but he did not answer. There was nothing special to see beyond the window, only the clear sky of a sunny day, the quiet light of early afternoon on the roofs of the city and, above them, the page of the calendar, saying: September 2.
And from there the effects ripple outward.
  "Ladies and gentlemen!" the voice of the radio speaker leaped forth abruptly; it had a tone of panic. "News of a shocking development has just reached us from Santiago, Chile!
  "...The seizure of the multi-billion dollar d'Anconia Copper was to come as a munificent surprise to the country. [But] on the stroke of ten, in the exact moment when the chairman's gavel struck the rostrum, opening the session--almost as if the gavel's blow had set it off--the sound of a tremendous explosion rocked the hall... The chairman averted panic and called the session to order. The act of nationalization was read to the assembly, to the sound of fire alarm sirens and distant cries.  But more terrible a shock came later, when the legislators called a hasty recess to announce to the nation the good news that the people now owned d'Anconia Copper. While they were voting, word had come from the closest and farthest points of the globe that there was no d'Anconia Copper left on earth. Ladies and gentlemen, not anywhere.
  "In that same instant, on the stroke of ten, by an infernal marvel of synchronization, every property of d'Anconia Copper on the face of the globe, from Chile to Siam to Spain to Pottsville, Montana, had been blown up and swept away.  In place of the golden dawn of a new age, the People's States of Chile and Argentina are left with a pile of rubble and hordes of unemployed on their hands!"
Call it the work of anti-social misanthropes, or just the natural consequence and end-game of looters everywhere.
  [Dagny] saw the glare of the explosion in every face she met through the rest of the day-and in every face she passed in the darkness of the streets, that evening. If Francisco had wanted a worthy funeral pyre for d'Anconia Copper, she thought, he had succeeded.  ...She saw it in the face of Hank Rearden, when she met him for dinner that evening. ...She knew whom he meant, when he said suddenly, his voice soft and low with the weight of admiration, "He did keep his oath, didn't he?"
      "His oath?" she asked, startled, thinking of the inscription on the temple of Atlantis.
      "He said to me, 'I swear--by the woman I love--that I am your friend,' He was."
      "He is."
      He looked away, out at the city. They sat at the side of the room, with a sheet of glass as an invisible protection against the sweep of space and streets sixty floors below. The city seemed abnormally distant: it lay flattened down to the pool of its lowest stories. A few blocks away, its tower merging into darkness, the calendar hung at the level of their faces, not as a small, disturbing rectangle, but as an enormous screen, eerily close and large, flooded by the dead, white glow of light projected through an empty film, empty but for the letters: September 2.
The meaning is a tocsin -- an alarm bell warning of great danger.
  "How could he? How could he?" a woman was demanding with petulant terror. "He had no right to do it!"
  "It was an accident," said a young man with a staccato voice and an odor of public payroll. "It was a chain of coincidences, as any statistical curve of probabilities can easily prove. It is unpatriotic to spread rumors exaggerating the power of the people's enemies."
  "Right and wrong is all very well for academic conversations," said a woman with a schoolroom voice and a barroom mouth, "but how can anybody take his own ideas seriously enough to destroy a fortune when people need it?"
  The muffled scream of a woman across the room and some half grasped signal on the edge of Dagny's vision, came simultaneously and made her whirl to look at the city.
  The calendar was run by a mechanism locked in a room behind the screen, unrolling the same film year after year, projecting the dates in steady rotation, in changeless rhythm, never moving but on the stroke of midnight. The speed of Dagny's turn gave her time to see a phenomenon as unexpected as if a planet had reversed its orbit in the sky: she saw the words "September 2" moving upward and vanishing past the edge of the screen.
  Then, written across the enormous page, stopping time, as a last message to the world and to the world's motor which was New York, she saw the lines of a sharp, intransigent handwriting:        
Brother, you asked for it!  Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d'Anconia 
In one sense, the entire story of Atlas Shrugged is one of contrasts between two numbers:  the number "2" -- and the zero.  The first is a response to the latter.  As John Galt told the world,
   "This, in every hour and every issue, is your basic moral choice: thinking or non-thinking, existence or non-existence, A or non-A, entity or zero. ...You who are worshippers of the zero--you have never discovered that achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.
  "...you can no longer say to me, the builder: 'Produce, and feed us in exchange for our not destroying your production.' I am answering in the name of all your victims: Perish with and in your own void. ...Perish, because we have learned that a zero cannot hold a mortgage over life. 
  "...You dart in panic through the trap of your days, looking for the exit you have closed, running from a pursuer you dare not name to a terror you dare not acknowledge... The purpose of your struggle is not to know, not to grasp or name or hear the thing I shall now state to your hearing: that yours is the Morality of Death. ...you pursue a course of action that does not taint your life by any joy, that brings you no value in matter, no value in spirit, no gain, no profit, no reward--if you achieve this state of total zero, you have achieved the ideal of moral perfection. 
  "A morality that holds need as a claim, holds emptiness-nonexistence-as its standard of value; it rewards an absence, a defect: weakness, inability, incompetence, suffering, disease, disaster, the lack, the fault, the flaw-the zero. 
  "...It is only the metaphysics of a leech that would cling to the idea of a universe where a zero is a standard of identification. 
  "...All actions are caused by entities. ...An action not caused by an entity would be caused by a zero, which would mean a zero controlling a thing, a nonentity controlling an entity, the non-existent ruling the existent--which is the universe of your teachers' desire, the cause of their doctrines of causeless action, the reason of their revolt against reason, the goal of their morality, their politics, their economics, the ideal they strive for: the reign of the zero. 
  "...When a savage who has not learned to speak declares that existence must be proved, ...he is asking you to step into a void outside of existence and consciousness to give him proof of both--he is asking you to become a zero gaining knowledge about a zero...  
  "You who've never grasped the nature of evil, you who describe them as 'misguided idealists'--may the God you invented forgive you!- they are the essence of evil, they, those anti-living objects who seek, by devouring the world, to fill the selfless zero of their soul. It is not your wealth that they're after. Theirs is a conspiracy against the mind, which means: against life and man. 
  "...It is a conspiracy of all those who seek, not to live, but to get away with living, those who seek to cut just one small corner of reality and are drawn, by feeling, to all the others who are busy cutting other corners--a conspiracy that unites by links of evasion all those who pursue a zero as a value: 
  "This idol of your cult of zero-worship, this symbol of impotence-- the congenital dependent— is your image of man and your standard of value, in whose likeness you strive to refashion your soul.  
  "...to help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the ground of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need, as a claim --is to accept the mortgage of a zero on your values. ...Be it only a penny you will not miss or a kindly smile he has not earned, a tribute to a zero is treason to life and to all those who struggle to maintain it. It is of such pennies and smiles that the desolation of your world was made."
The full meaning of the number zero is concretized in the following discussion between Galt and Mr. Thompson, the leader of the country who wants Galt to save everyone from themselves-- but Thompson finds there is no common ground he can offer in trade:
        "Well, what on earth do you want?"
"What on earth do I need you for?"
"What have you got to offer me that I couldn't get without you?"
There was a different look in Mr. Thompson's eyes when he drew back, as if cornered, yet looked straight at Galt for the first time and said slowly, "Without me, you couldn't get out of this room, right now."
Galt smiled. "True."
"You wouldn't be able to produce anything. You could be left here to starve."
"Well, don't you see?" The loudness of homey joviality came back into Mr. Thompson's voice, as if the hint given and received were now to be safely evaded by means of humor. "What I've got to offer you is your life."
"It's not yours to offer, Mr. Thompson," said Galt softly.
Something about his voice made Mr. Thompson jerk to glance at him, then jerk faster to look away: Galt's smile seemed almost gentle.
"Now," said Galt, "do you see what I meant when I said that a zero can't hold a mortgage over life? It's I who'd have to grant you that kind of mortgage--and I don't. The removal of a threat is not a payment, the negation of a negative is not a reward, the withdrawal of your armed hoodlums is not an incentive, the offer not to murder me is not a value."
"Who... who's said anything about murdering you?"
"Who's said anything about anything else?
      ...There was a long pause.
"Well?" said Galt. "What are your orders?"
"I want you to save the economy of the country!"
"I don't know how to save it."
"I want you to find a way!"
"I don't know how to find it."
"I want you to think!"
"How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?"
        Mr. Thompson jerked suddenly into bustling, unnecessary motions, as if he were in a hurry, "I've got to run along," he said. "I... I have so many appointments. ...[He] paused at the door, turned to look at Galt for a moment and shook his head. "I can't figure you out," he said. "I just can't figure you out."
Galt smiled, shrugged and answered, "Who is John Galt?"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dodging the Apocalypse

A friend forwarded this LA Times story about presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, alleging that Bachmann is opposed to the Renaissance and an advocate of the Dark Ages. Well, the Times' story doesn't really support that contention, but that's because their story is such apoor summary (an attempt at a hatchet job, actually) of a much longer story in The New Yorker, which rambles a lot over irrelevancies in Bachmann's past, but it does provide more useful background information for assessing Bachmann, most of it in the latter half of the long article.

To sum up: Bachmann is a certifiable evangelical nut-case (no surprise), an advocate of creationism, former abortion clinic protester, potential theocrat, and former IRS litigator -- but a slacker who stayed home most of the 4 years she worked there because she was on maternity leave. She worked on only six cases and tried exactly one case in court:
...in 1992 Bachmann sought six thousand dollars in taxes from a Chippewa Indian who failed to report three years of income from Youth Project, Inc., a community-organizing nonprofit dedicated to "social justice and peace."
If only she had done the same to a community organizer just getting started in Chicago at that time.

If you read the New Yorker story, you'll see there is evidence for the contention that Bachmann's evangelism extends not only to disdain for the Renaissance, but also leans toward a form of religious theocracy.  The evidence revolves around her admitted respect for an evangelist/filmmaker named Francis Schaeffer, who has been called a key figure in the rise of the Religious Right in politics. According to New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza,
This spring, during one of her trips to Iowa, Bachmann asked the audience if anyone had heard of or seen How Should We Then Live? Many people applauded. She continued:
That also was another profound influence on Marcus’s life and my life, because we understood that the God of the Bible isn’t just about Bible stories and about Bible knowledge, or about just church on Sunday. He is the Lord of all of life. Every bit of life, including sociology, theology, biology, politics. You name the area and walk of life. He is the Lord of life. And so, as we went back to our studies, we looked at studying in a completely different light. Not for the purpose of a career but for a purpose of wondering, How does this fit into creation? How does this fit into the code and all of life that is about to come in front of us? And so we had new eyes that were opened up as we understood life now from a Biblical world view.
Schaeffer “was a tremendous philosopher,” Bachmann told me. “He wrote marvellous books and was very inspirational.” She said that Schaeffer “took Christianity beyond the Bible,” and that he showed “how the application of living according to Christian principles has helped the culture for the better.” She added, “He really tried to call Christians to do more than just go to church...
So what was Schaeffer's film? It consists of
...ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade. In the films, Schaeffer... condemns the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism. 
Well, I can't criticize any criticism of post-modernism, but it doesn't get more obscurantist than that. (Note: a proper definition of "obscurantist" is "opposition to human enlightenment and knowledge", but many on-line definitions are badly corrupted.)
The first five installments of the series are something of an art-history and philosophy course. The iconic image from the early episodes is Schaeffer standing on a raised platform next to Michelangelo’s “David” and explaining why, for all its beauty, Renaissance art represented a dangerous turn away from a God-centered world and toward a blasphemous, human-centered world. 
Well, yes, that was the point, after all.  This is actually old stuff for the creationist/evangelist crowd...   500 or 1000 years old.
...the film shifts in the second half. In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city’s water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs. The final two episodes of the series deal with abortion and the perils of genetic engineering.
So you can see, it starts getting a little weird.  Conspirializingly weird.  Schaeffer died in 1984, but his son said,
“Those first episodes are what Francis Schaeffer is doing while he was sitting in Switzerland having nice discussions with people who came through to find Jesus and talk about culture and art,” he said. But then the Roe decision came, and “it wasn’t a theory anymore. Now ‘they’ are killing babies... 
And weirder yet:
"We had been warning that humanism followed to its logical conclusion without Biblical absolutes is going to go into terrible places, and, look, it’s happening right before our very eyes. Once that happens, everything becomes a kind of holy war.."
And even weirder:
Francis Schaeffer ...was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26 [sic]...
According to the Wiki,
And God blessed [Adam and Eve] and God said unto them, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Genesis 1:28 (KJV)
Christians typically interpret this verse as meaning that God gave humankind responsibility over the Earth, although theologians do not all agree on the nature and extent of that "dominion".
And the same Wiki defines "Dominionism":
...(also called subjectionism) is the tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians, especially in the United States, to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action. 
Lizza quotes a woman named Sara Diamond,
...who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: "Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns."
Lizza continues,
In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed.
Then we get to Nancy Pearcy, another author that Bachmann likes so much:
...in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann what books she had read recently, she mentioned ...Pearcey’s [book, “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity”] which Bachmann told me was a "wonderful" book.

Today, one of the leading proponents of Schaeffer’s version of Dominionism is Nancy Pearcey, a former student of his and a prominent creationist. Her 2004 book... teaches readers how to implement Schaeffer’s idea that a Biblical world view should suffuse every aspect of one’s life. 
In the Wiki link for Pearcy, she disputes being a Dominionist:
Ryan Lizza described Pearcey as a leading proponent of Dominionism and a prominent creationist; Pearcey disputes the label "Dominionist", noting that she had never heard the term before reading Lizza's New Yorker article...
I note that this comment had to appear today -- the New Yorker story is dated tomorrow (August 15). So, clearly Pearcy is keeping tabs on things.  Maybe a little more research into Schaeffer's alleged association with Dominionism is needed.  I note that a search of "Francis Schaeffer Dominionism" turns up many links that dispute the Dominionist label, and blame Sara Diamond for inventing it.  For instance this one picked at random:
Others might bring up Schaeffer’s book, A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1981). For the Dominionist watcher Sarah Diamond, this book, and this book alone, seems to be the reason she labels Schaeffer a Dominionist. But did she read the book with an open mind, or did she just read it as source material for a term that she invented (Dominionism). From reading her writings it seems as though she needed to divide all the people involved with the Christian Right, a political movement, into different categories. I would probably have done the same thing if I had been in her shoes. We need to categorize different political groups so that we have an educated and well informed electorate. But with Schaeffer, it can be proven that she has put him in the wrong category. There has been too much read into what people think Schaeffer was writing about in A Christian Manifesto. For what this book is mostly about is how to construct a Christian legal foundation for fighting abortion. If you want to call Schaeffer a "godfather," don’t call him the "godfather of Dominionism." Call him "the godfather of the anti-abortion movement/Pro Life Movement." If you read A Christian Manifesto from that point of view, things will start to fit together in your understanding of Schaeffer’s Christian Worldview.
True or not, there is certainly a great deal to dislike about Schaeffer, Pearcy and their admirer, Michele Bachmann.  But is there anything to offset these negatives if our choice in the 2012 election becomes Bachmann vs. Obama?

Bachmann believes in charity, being a foster mother:
...the Bachmanns took in twenty-three girls; I spoke with one of them (she did not want her name used), who stayed with the Bachmanns for three and a half years and now lives in Colorado. She said, "I owe the Bachmanns everything. They offered me the structure I needed and taught me how to figure out goals. They really encouraged me to figure out who I was rather than who I was becoming. I turned my life around one hundred and eighty degrees."
That's a lot of girls.  But the weird part (yet again) is that almost all these girls had eating disorders.  Eating disorders?  Go figure.  I wouldn't condemn anyone for charitable acts, and foster-parenting could be a legitimate value to someone for various reasons.

Maybe Michele had an eating disorder and simply wants to help these girls, but suspect the greater motivation is that she takes her evangelizing seriously enough to indoctrinate 23 girls into Christianity.  It doesn't sound like they had to endure too many exorcisms, but personally, I'd take bulemia over Christianity any day, month or year.

What else can we say about Michele?  According to The New Yorker, she and her husband helped start a school with some others. Ostensibly non-denominational, but both Bachmann's left the administration of the place after objections that their religious agenda was violating the school charter. 
I'm running short on good things to find, but here's something, depending on your interpretation of it:  Bachmann's a typical Religious Right in being mixed up about the relation between religion and freedom:
“If there was one word on a motivation or world view, that one word would be ‘liberty,’ ” Bachmann told me in early August, when I asked about her world view. “That’s what inspires me and motivates me more than anything—just the concept of freedom, liberty, what it means. Whether it’s economic liberty, religious liberty, liberty in our finances, liberty in being able to choose the profession we have. That’s what inspired my relatives to come here back in the eighteen-fifties. It was the concept of liberty. That’s what motivates me today as well."
Maybe it's pandering to get the Tea Party vote, maybe not. She appears deeply opposed to slavery,
...the latest Bachmann controversy: an interview with George Stephanopoulos, in which she defended an earlier statement that the Founders worked tirelessly to end slavery. ...In “Christianity and the Constitution,” the book she worked on with Eidsmoe, her law-school mentor, he argues that John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams “expressed their abhorrence for the institution” and explains that “many Christians opposed slavery even though they owned slaves.” They didn’t free their slaves, he writes, because of their benevolence. “It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a living in that economy; under such circumstances setting slaves free was both inhumane and irresponsible.”
Though The New Yorker tries to suggest that Bachmann is actually rationalizing for slavery, I don't buy it.

She seems opposed to Socialism:
In one pamphlet, she wrote that federal education law “embraces a socialist, globalist worldview; loyalty to all government and not America.” In another, she warned of a “new restructuring of American society,” beginning with “workforce boards” that would tell every student the specific career options he or she could pursue, turning children into “human resources for a centrally planned economy.”
But Bachmann in 1976 supported the election of evangelical Democrat/Socialist Jimmy Carter. Go figure.

Etc. I think I've got the picture. It ain't pretty, but is she Count Dracula?  Despite the potential "Dominionism" aspect (I'm just not knowledgable enough about contemporary Christianity to pass judgment on it), I suspect she's more like an evangelical Elmer Fudd. Lot's of passion for killing bunny rabbits, but largely clueless about which end of the gun to use.
We turn to the underlying point to all this. 

I know we can't survive another term of Obama.

It's certainly best to do everything possible to keep her from being nominated and get a secular candidate (though a Mitt Romney strikes me in some ways as a worse candidate), but what if we don't?  You're in the voting booth, the two choices are before you:  Obama or Bachmann? 

You think:  Obama is destroying the economy, eviscerating the military, denuding our freedom, leading us into global war--and he'll complete the job in a second term.  What will Bachmann do?

I'm going out on a limb here and say I'm pretty sure we could survive a President Bachmann -- because anything overtly religious that she tried to impose would be stopped (including any attempt to repeal abortion). The danger of a Christian theocracy is decades from now, not the next election. And in that time, if Objectivism takes hold, the Religious Right will find a much more capable opposition.

Many people I know are arguing that we must vote for Obama instead of any Christian because the Christians will impose a theocracy--but it does no service to the country to exaggerate their danger in the next election. If Obama wins, it is not an exaggeration to say: you can kiss this country goodbye.

I've said it till I'm blue in the face, but since I was the only one to correctly predict how destructive Obama would be, I'll say again just how destructive his second term could be: it may well lead to the complete end of all businesses in America, mass starvation, rampant riots (the riots in Britain are barely a taste), world war and death on a scale you can hardly imagine.

That's the short answer, but it's a reasonably high probability scenario. Maybe not 50%, but high enough.  Do you want to roll those dice?

You say: Robb's going off on his rant again. Someone get him a Xanax.

For those of you who think that, ask yourself: what would you have thought would happen to the world in 1938? I'd bet you would have considered World War 2 and the death of 100 million people in the next 7 years... inconceivable.

To borrow a line from Inigo Montoya, that word may not mean what you think it does.

Re-read Atlas Shrugged. Was Ayn Rand any less pessimistic than I am?

So gauge your decision in that light:  Obama is certain destruction, but Bachmann is potential destruction-- someone who sounds like she might like to impose a theocracy, and doubtless a lot of Christian supporters would be pushing her toward that end.  But can she get away with it? 

In a recent podcast, even Leonard Peikoff has admitted he underestimated Obama's danger to the survival of the country, and advocated voting for Republican's across the board in the mid-term election we just had. His point was essentially the one I've been making for a longer time: it does no good to claim a moral righteousness for opposing religion if you're dead.

You can listen to his comments here if you need proof ("Is religion more dangerous in America than socialism or collectivism", July 20, 2009).

Contrast to his comments on May 17, 2010, only 10 months later ("Given the Obama Administration and your stand on Republicans, will you support a vote for a Republican in November?").

So before anyone gets too wrapped up in demonizing every candidate who ever went to church, spoke in tongues and shouted "hallelujah!", consider the alternative: one candidate is a man who is working by conscious, deliberate intent to destroy the United States as rapidly as he can--Obama.

Then concretize the worst consequences of the worst Christian candidate out there right now -- Michele Bachmann (no, it's not Palin).

One candidate will destroy by malice aforethought, using nuclear weapons (possibly literally). One will stumble forward in a religious ecstasy, erecting random crucifixes, ranting about God, creating a few random programs to advocate for religion, but in the end doing very little that will materially affect your life.

The other will destroy your life.

ON the upside (if there is one), should the prospect of a President Bachmann materialize, I think she will at least buy us a few years time to spread the right ideas, especially among the Tea Party.

I can't say the same about Obama.  Where Bachmann will try to impose some early steps toward theocracy, Obama is already imposing many steps toward a communist totalitarianism.

For another upside, in a certain very important sense, where Obama's election provided the chance to permanently discredit the Marxist Left (when the NY Times turns on you, as they have, you're done) and galvanize the secular Right, there is likewise an argument to be made (I offer it guardedly) that a President Bachmann will discredit the Religious Right and galvanize the secular Left--and that would leave the field open in 2016 (maybe) for someone more rational.  

I'm not saying it is certain Bachmann will be nominated. I very much hope she won't be, and she should be opposed at all costs.  But if she is nominated, how would you decide to vote? That's the issue. Some people I know are campaigning on a platform of "everyone has to vote for Obama instead of any religious candidate from the Right!"

But that's almost a vote of suicide.

In my view, a second Obama term is so dangerous to the existential survival of the country that there's very few candidates I won't vote for. Huckabee would be one, but he's dropped out (for now--I'm betting he fishes for a vice-presidential slot). Maybe I'm underestimating the danger of Bachmann--possibly;  I might change my mind in the coming months.  But if it gets so bad that I have no choice in the coming election for anyone who offers me any advantage over suicide under Obama--it will be time to get out of Dodge.