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Adam Smith

Economics Posted on Sun, March 01, 2015 21:47:31

The Wealth of Nations (1776) discussed.

On Thursday, 19 February 2015, Melvyn Bragg and his guests, Richard Whatmore, Donald Winch and Helen Paul, on In Our Time, radio 4, discussed Adam Smith’s celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations (1776). I will say what each speaker approximately said then add a few comments of my own. This method hardly reproduces the programme as it was but it does report the substance of it.

Bragg said that Smith was one of Scotland’s greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory, whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Scotland was way ahead of London intellectually for this was the time of the Scottish Enlightenment and Smith was one of the major thinkers of that phenomenon.

As a boy, Adam Smith was a scholar who did well at Grammar school then later at the University of Glasgow but he found the University of Oxford way below par. However, he used his time there to do a lot of reading. He went to France and met Voltaire, amongst many others. His 1776 book was based on his careful consideration of the transformation that was wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and it looked at how the result contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in nations around the world, so the book outlined a theory of wealth, and how it is accumulated, that has arguably had more influence on economic theory than any other book so far. Bragg said he rather liked the fact that Adam Smith was willing to let the seat of the British Empire move from London to Philadelphia to preserve it.

Richard Whatmore, the Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St Andrews said the book was basically against the state regulation of markets. The Wealth of Nations (1776) came out of the Enlightenment in general and the Scottish Enlightenment in particular. Adam Smith was born in 1723into a Scotland full of problems, not least the divide between the Highlands and Lowlands. David Hume saw that commerce needed to be taken seriously by the state, but owing to early losses the rulers in Scotland agreed to the Act of Union with England in 1707 on the promise of compensation, or full replacement of the losses, so many thought that “Scotland was bought and sold for English gold”. But despite those fears that it might be bad for Scotland, the free trade zone that 1707 introduced seemed soon to be a success. But there was the upset of the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, so all was not harmony.

Commerce was seen as the basis of society so the state needed to be concerned with it. As the basis of society commerce was new, though commerce itself was old. The new society needed to be justified. In the past commercial cities had been defeated by agricultural or shepherd states, as Rome had beaten Carthage for example.

Commerce was not so good at war, so commercial societies did not tend to last long. But in Europe, by the eighteen century, commerce had become more stable. Why? This needed to be both explained and justified and this is what Smith set out to do in his book.

Smith found that part of the explanation was that ordinary men saw that, if they saved a bit, they could soon make conditions for themselves and their families a bit better by working on the market system in some specialised job.

Adam Smith was a very historical writer and he held that an economist would need to be an historian too. He held an account was needed from the fall of Rome up to modern times and he planned a big book to show the rule of law was needed but he burnt the notes for this third book on not getting round writing them up, but he revised his two main books repeatedly till the end of his life. The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was not just an early stage that he later abandoned but rather central to his life’s aims.

The invisible hand metaphor is used in The Wealth of Nations (1776) once but in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) a few times. Adam Smith saw himself as a moderate between mercantilists on the one hand and the physiocrats, or complete free traders, on the other.

Adam Smith did not expect this book to have much influence. One of his major ideas was unintended consequences. Tom Paine loved book III and IV of the 1776 book. But Edmund Burke also loved The Wealth of Nations too. But his major book on law was not begun but rather he burnt the notes for it.

Donald Winch, the Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex said that Adam Smith’s father had died early and his mother became very close to her son, who soon attended the local Grammar School, in Kirkcaldy. At the age of 14, the boy went on to the University of Glasgow and he was good at both the school and the college. At the college he had Francis Hutcheson as his teacher. Hutcheson was one of the first not to lecture in Latin but rather in English. All the teachers he had at the college were full professors.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) was revised till Adam Smith’s last days. He burnt his notes and plan for his big third book. He was against the egoism of Thomas Hobbes. He favoured social rather than selfish activity.

By Smith’s time, England no longer had a peasantry, though other nations still did and they also retained other aspects of feudalism too. But in England all had become partly merchants, as Smith noted. His 1776 book was in five books. “Greed is good” but Adam Smith did not say so. But he held that each can make things somewhat better by saving for the future.

Mercantilism was the very opposite of what Adam Smith wanted, as it was the inverse of liberalism.

Smith delayed publishing The Wealth of Nations for three years to see what happened in America. He lived in London away from his beloved Kirkcaldy home owing to his concern about the fate of British Empire. He held that mercantilism was no good so the colonists were right to reject that aspect of the British Empire.

Smith was against corporatism. Beware of businessmen when gathered together as they might well be in a conspiracy against the public, he warned.

Helen Paul, a Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton said that Adam Smith was against both the mercantilists and the physiocrats. Mercantilism was old but the politicians in Smith’s still largely held to it. This old paradigm held that trade was zero-sum.

Adam Smith used the example of the pin factory where one man could not even make a single pin a day on his own but with about eighteen others with distinct tasks on the division of labour then thousands of pins might be produced.

He did work that led to the current knowledge we of the price system but he worked before that was completely achieved.

As he thought that shipping should be protected as it aided the problem of defence he was not quite fully in favour of free trade.

COMMENTS: The three experts did not do too badly. They might have said that Joseph Butler was the big influence in David Hume to get him to reject Thomas Hobbes on egoism and Butler also said there is not enough self-love too. Hume adopted both in his ethical writings and later Adam Smith did too in the 1759 book.

Clearly, Smith’s main idea of the division of labour gears all who join it to serve others as a by-product whilst doing their best for themselves and thus the metaphor of the hidden hand, as it is usually interpreted, is quite superfluous.

Richard Whatmore was right to note that trade rarely fits well with war for trade is aimed at service rather than with abusing people but the state sets out to rule the people, rather than to serve them, and its coercive governing can soon spill over into war, especially when state meets state.

Richard Cobden saw that free trade crowds out war, a thesis he found in The Wealth of Nations (1776).

Why the progress of liberty has been slow

Liberty Posted on Fri, January 30, 2015 16:43:47

What is liberalism? And, if it is so good, as the liberals say, then why has it not made far more rapid progress?

Whether pristine liberals are conservatives depends only on how much liberty there is in the current status quo. Presumably, the T.H. Green-like neo-liberals from the 1870s, and the Labourites too, are conservatives today. As liberty has been ebbing since 1860, today’s liberals will look radical, or maybe reactionary as they want to revive liberty that many might feel is to try to revive the past but the aim is liberty not trying to revive the past which is never likely to be an aim of anyone and would be futile if ever it was. Liberals today simply want more social liberty, not only the liberty lost since 1860 but much more still. Indeed, many liberals want to get rid of the state altogether. Whenever they do, then they will become conservatives. Whether we are conservatives depends on what we want to conserve.

Liberalism is clearly part, some even think the whole, of basic morality, so there is a sense that nearly everyone the last 3000 years, or more, were partly pristine liberal, and had the basic idea that they should not impose on others without consent, but they do not vie this idea with many other ideas that rival it, or even see that many of those ideas are in competition, if not logically clash, so most people do not see a need to vie our ideas for overall coherence, that many people today might even think is an odd, or an extreme thing to do, if we are not philosophers, and in this case, where we would have an extreme result of suggested anarcho-liberalism, or, at least, that we cut back the state about as much as we can, for many of the rival values held in current common sense today are not compatible with social liberty, or even with basic morals, but indeed they clash with morals. They are allowed only by tacit or unwitting licence or even with quite explicit privilege. This privilege is often thought to be realistic if not quite ideal.

The LA members basically do vie their ideas, and they throw out statism as a result, as it is based on this special licence and privilege e.g. to kill and plunder in war. The LA wants to get all people to do likewise.

Pristine liberalism is just the quest for social liberty, which is just the ideally civilised respect we all ought to have for the liberty of all rather than just our own individual liberty, that we tend to have naturally. This is basically just respect for all persons. I think we do know the basic rules best here whenever boy meets girl, for that is where the proper way we should treat others has received most attention in literature and song over the last few thousand years.

We all like our own liberty, to be free to do what we want to, and we all, more or less, tacitly know this, so being too bossy when boy meets girl will rarely be used by either side during courtship. Savage individual liberty is doing what you want regardless, but social liberty additionally incorporates a civilised respect for the liberty of all others.

If ever bossiness emerges, from one side or the other, when boy meets girl, later on, well after the honeymoon period in marriage, say, then it will usually be seen as a fault, though the side at fault might not openly admit to it, even when it is realised. We are often reluctant to admit that we are at fault. The husband who attempts to dominate too much may well admit it as a fault as may well the wife who nags too much after a time. Tolerance is needed and this tolerance of others, especially of their liberty, is pristine liberalism; tolerance is a candidate for the top liberal idea. But an important liberty is that for either side to reject the other person when we no longer want to tolerate that person, or to never to begin a relationship at all in the first place. All this is social liberty, both sides being free.

So as we all accept the liberal idea as part of our basic universal morals then a pristine liberal movement should be like going downhill, as the people are all partly liberal already. It is in our basic morals. Moreover the liberal idea is not only part of basic morality but is haply the leading, or top, value in morality. Social liberalism is merely showing consideration for the liberty or persons of others. Why, then, have the liberals not, long since, won out? And then why did it decline after 1860, [oddly, by evolving into almost its opposite of statist neo-liberalism by extending the political power of the state] instead of continuing with the steady progress with increasing social liberty up till that time? Those are two interesting questions. I will attempt to give the core answers to both below; but I suppose a whole book might be written on either or both.

The answers to both have two aspects, first of desirability and second of practicality. On desirability, liberalism may be the top idea, but is it all that we want we want? Today, most people would say not but the liberals tend to say it is.

The main answer to the first of the lack of speedy progress has already been given: most people do seriously not vie or mesh their ideas explicitly for consistency and coherence; they are rarely energetic philosophers, but they do tacitly and naturally indulge in such thought a bit. But the reason this explicit vying of ideas needs to be done is because, despite the liberal idea being the top moral idea and the fact that aware moral ideas normally trump rival non-moral value memes, or ideas, liberalism has many rivals: indeed he whole political outlook is full of them. As already said, vying for consistently is seen as extreme and current common sense holds any extreme to be error. But that is a clear fetish, as many extremes are welcome by all e.g. extreme good health is just one example.

Most of the rivals to liberalism are old, as is the state and politics. Tradition and conservativism are strong in any society as they represent what has survived trial and error. So this gives most people to settle for a common sense mix of ideas rather than rejecting the ideas that clash with the liberal idea as the LAers do.

Standing as traditional is almost on par to successful standing up to reason, as it is often thought to contain quite a bit of actual testing by reason. This will be the tacit natural thought that most people will have given whilst being mainly interested in other things that they are doing. What ideally would be the case would be for most people to look at the main enemy of social liberty, the state, with their undivided attention to see if it is beneficial, as current common sense holds or whether it is anti-social as the doctrinaire or ideological liberals hold to be the case. The liberals say that main result of vying our ideas explicitly will be to reach liberalism, will be an anti-statist stance that clashes with the state, which has a long tradition that stands as a defence. This anti-state conclusion is a bit too radical for most people, at least at first. They are interested in doing other things.

But even the statists, or politicians, also feel there is too much apathy in society, or rather people are keen to do other things rather than look on the whole, that they tend to think neglect being keen on the good things they suppose the state can do. The local vicar thinks most are not keen enough on religion too. Why is this? One major reason is that society has long since been based on the division of labour that tends to train us to mind our own business and we tend to do this in terms of play as well as work. Only philosophers tend to look at the wood for even in science they are usually looking at mere trees. This means that most people are not often interested in other things.

But few people do vie their ideas anyway. Philosophers do tend to do so, but philosophy has ever been popular, though we all indulge in doing a bit of it; even if it is not realised to be such.

So most people settle for not being extreme liberals; but they, nevertheless, do retain the liberal idea as their top moral value. Such people accept the common sense idea that the state is basically good, so the fact that, in politics, or overall state administration, the state employees can not only do immoral things but that it might even be, given current common sense realism, their duty to do such things, as they are due to do so as part of their work for the state, and the state is accepted as needed and good, is widely accepted as merely being realistic. That politics clashes with liberalism is seen to be just the practical limits of liberalism.

Common sense therefore allows different standards for the state; the state is given license or privilege. Few think it odd that the fictional spy, James Bond, is licensed to kill, for example, despite holding that murder for the ordinary person is about the most immoral act that could be done. The ideological liberal, who does vie his ideas, will think this distinction very silly, as well as downright immoral. Why privilege the state or politics? The pristine liberal sees no reason as to why. But most people today do. They feel it is only practical to do so. It is practical politics but is it morally right? Is politics itself right? Pristine liberals tend to think not.

There are many other ideas that liberals oppose that current common sense, whilst agreeing that the liberal idea is at the top, or at least very nearly so, nevertheless, thinks the doctrinaire liberal ideology of the LA is being way too extreme to use this top idea to negate as being actually immoral. That, it is commonly thought, is to be so extreme that it is almost descending into being mad.

This is the sort of thinking, that most people hold today, is what helps to keep the pristine liberal movement at bay as being wildly extreme and so slows its progress; or even fosters opposition to it. The state is thought to be highly desirable, as tradition suggests it is so. Why? Because the state is still here; we still have the state. That is enough to get tradition on side for why did they not get rid of the state before if it is as bad as the liberals say it is. It was thought to be desirable in the past so maybe it is, on the whole, today. But only a few philosophers, or quasi-philosophers, are willing to look at the whole and to also explicitly vie their ideas.

Then there is the problem of practicality. Even the LA itself is not completely an extreme anarcho-liberal group but rather it is an alliance between anarchists and limited statists. The latter doubt if we even can dispense with the state. Most liberals in the past have been like that, indeed they have held that the state is basically good, but that the market can do some things, maybe most things, better. Many LA members are still like that, as well as nearly all the pioneers of modern liberalism since about 1500. But since about 1700, actual anti-statist liberalism first emerged that saw the state as evil rather than good, but still thought it a necessary evil. Tom Paine said it was a necessary evil in Common Sense (1776), as it was needed to deter and punish crime from those who do not respect other people. Ideally the evil of punishment would never arise but as some criminals are highly likely to offend, then this necessary evil will be needed to deter them.

In the nineteenth century, some anarchist-liberals, like Josiah Warren, emerged who greatly influenced J.S. Mill, who was a candidate at being top economist and the top philosopher, not only in the UK but even in the world, as well as being the top liberal in his heyday.

The LA has all three types of liberals but not the statist neo-liberals who emerged after 1860, though the enlightenment paradigm propagandists often welcome them still calling themselves liberals as they are critical of pristine liberalism, laissez faire but, oddly, not so often of free trade; though both terms mean the same thing, i.e. liberty from the state, but some authors, especially academic historians, have attempted to say there is a difference, as they say that free trade is between nations whereas laissez faire is liberty within the nations; they feel that means two distinct types of liberty! The neo-liberals do often think they retain the liberal idea in their democracy, and they explicitly do in their moral criticisms of others [indeed, in their basic morals] in being against rape, and the like, but their rampant statism even within their democratic ideal, shows up that they also have many delusions and inconsistencies in their statist “liberal” creed.

Anyway, the pure liberal idea is rejected by most people on the idea that its practicality is severely limited, especially in its main opposition to the state.

Despite such common sense objections, liberalism made steady progress up till the 1860s, but then, within liberalism itself, there was a reaction. The Liberal Party never had accepted the anti-statist meme within liberalism and when it formed a government, or an administration, that aspect of liberalism not only seemed extreme but also quite perverse to almost any member of the House of Commons [MP].

Many novelists and historians had earlier felt there was more to the top Tory authors like Thomas Carlyle, his epigone Charles Dickens, and his disciple John Ruskin who wrote against the commercial society and the idea of free market or its utilitarian bourgeois outlook, especially the chief utilitarian propagandist, Jeremy Bentham. This Tory outlook was part of a wider Romantic reaction was against the very idea of Enlightenment, that is associated with the liberal idea. J.J. Rousseau began this Romantic reaction against the French Philosophes but soon Edmund Burke made this movement more substantial with his attack on Richard Price and Burke soon converted many of the 54 authors that wrote against him, like the poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, to Romance. One result of all this was a lot of diverse propaganda that was always effectively, if never quite explicitly, against liberty. Many in the Liberal Party tended to agree with the MPs that more politics was needed to counter this heartless laissez faire. As the pristine liberal MPs got older, or died off, the switch from classical liberalism to statist neo-liberalism was all but complete by 1900, with, maybe, the sole exception of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.

A factor in this was the rise of the Fabian Society from the mid-1880s onwards, that made the idea popular that socialism was to the left of liberalism, to exploit the sense of progress that the early pristine liberals like James Mill and Francis Place won from about 1800 on for the liberal idea, and the Fabian had success with this idea to the extent that, today, the modern mass media call pristine liberal free market ideas right wing! Why? Because they oppose statism! This very successful propaganda group, the Fabian, followed up Joseph Chamberlain in his generational case against Gladstone to replace pristine liberal ideas with the newer statist ones. This was yet another clever emotional move to suggest that the future lay with statism and imperialism.

However, in 1886 Chamberlain left the Liberal Party over Home Rule for Ireland, but, by then, nearly all the younger MPs that he left behind were statists. Joseph Chamberlain’s innovation of statist neo-liberalism was home and dry. The pristine liberal idea was in abeyance till its slow revival beginning in the 1950s, but this time mainly as a moral movement to get the public to think seriously about anti-social politics.

BBC radio on Democracy day.

Current Affairs Posted on Tue, January 27, 2015 14:52:49

At the House of Commons with Democracy Day due 20 January, the BBC yesterday got the moral and political philosopher, Professor Michael Sandel, to spur an audience to apply some critical thinking to democracy that was broadcast at 8:30am on Tuesday 20 January 2015. Michael Sandel presented this special BBC Democracy Day edition of The Public Philosopher, recorded in the Palace of Westminster with an audience of MPs, peers and the public the day before.

Sandel lead on a few issues, beginning with J.S. Mill’s rather futile idea of giving many votes to the educated, as if even a hundred votes could have anything like a hundred times the affect, or even any effect at all of note, on the result in a very large electorate.

Few people want to think about democracy. 1) The audience wanted, on principle, an equal vote, so there was a mass rejection of Mill on more votes for the educated. Each vote should count the same. Yet the consistency arrangement tended to rule that out. Many, as thoughtless as Mill, thought that some system of PR might rescue the affect that a vote might but clearly a vote or many votes in a large electorate is bound to be insignificant. This seemed not to be noticed at Westminster. 2) They also wanted accountability to the public, as if that could be had in Representative Democracy [or in Delegative Democracy either] where the experts make up long diverse manifestos that few can find time to read and where any single issue, or topic, is basically well obfuscated. It might as well not be there. 3) They wanted to do what is right [suggested by Sandel to be what is Politically Correct {PC} but soon adopted by the audience of MPs and others as obvious too] even if against the majority [they do not even notice that this PC meme is not one whit democratic, but rather sees it as a duty to go against it on capital punishment; and indeed on any PC issue, if ever it is rejected by a majority] so they reject referenda too, as it will not do the right thing i.e. be PC. They all like the PC privileges on race and sex.

Students do not like to be blamed for not registering to vote. Blame itself is nasty and against PC. PC is against judgement. Indeed, they were all far more PC than democratic. So when democracy clashes with PC it is held to be wrong but they still want to say they are not ruling in favour of PC as they feel PC is part of democracy in a way.

They conflate the two but not only does democracy clash with PC, but with liberty too. But as democracy is always an attempt at proactive coercion against others, so it is always somewhat illiberal. It is intrinsically against liberty but, again, the audience conflated democracy with liberty too; as do many in the mass media and even in political philosophy departments in the colleges.

Many in the audience held to Mill’s idea that voters needed to be educated, even if they rejected his more-vote solution. They hinted at a solution of being paid to spend time finding out instead, and many of the audience suggested special days off to be educated before each pending General Election, an getting paid for educating themselves about it from general taxation.

Some MPs feel that marginal seats are tails that wag the dog in claiming all the attention of all the political parties and that some form of PR might solve that imbalance, they said.

Democracy can be used by liberals to negate the negation, to vote for rolling back the state or for full privatisation and that is like reactive or defensive voting rather than a proactive attack on others.

The reformation of Islam

Liberty Posted on Thu, January 08, 2015 14:38:38

The long swansong

Satire is the chief enemy of Islam in those swan song days of its prelude before its “death” in the form it has been hitherto, but, its new life, after this “death”, a new life as a normal bourgeois religion is slowly emerging before our eyes.

This normalisation is what its adherents have long dreaded, and many Muslims still dread it today, but most of Islam’s younger members, especially the males have already been there since about 1970. It was clear that many teenaged males, and also older males, in their twenties, were drinking beer on par with the UK natives in public houses, or pubs, by the late 1960s, yet that alcohol consumption is a great departure from Islam, even though mosques were, back then in the early 1970s, springing up as though the creed was growing rather than ebbing.

Most of the many UK mosques, maybe, date from the early 1970s; a lot certainly do. But by 2070, they will most likely be closing UK mosques more rapidly than they are the forsaken Christian churches in the UK today.

This normalisation of Islam is a cultural tide that many Muslims still wish they could roll back. That is what the Rushdie affair of the 1980s was about and it is what the attack on the magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris yesterday, Wednesday, 7 January 2015, was about too.

Twelve people were killed in the attack on the magazine offices to get revenge for targeting Islam in their cartoons. Eight were journalists and four others, including two policemen were also killed. Eleven others were injured; a few were reported by the BBC as badly so.

The reaction will only enhance the felt need for most Muslims to conform to French normality. A few more Muslims might join the jihad to try to protect Islam as it still is, but way more will want to conform to religious normality as a result. So, ironically, the cultural tide they seek to resist will be boosted by their resistance. Such jihad resistance can only effectively score own goals, even if they do also recruit a few to aid them in the short run.

Cherif and Said Kouachi are said to be the main two attackers on the magazine yesterday. They are now on the run, but still armed. Cherif Kouachi was sentenced to three years in gaol, back in 2008, for recruiting jihadist fighters to go to Iraq from Paris. Yesterday, Hamyd Mourad, 18, on hearing his name on the news, handed himself in to a police station in Charleville-Mezieres. So he is already keen to conform. That indicates that even the very committed may soon drop out, owing to this sort of activity.

The magazine’s office had been earlier firebombed in 2011. It had been a long running aim of the staff of the magazine to deliberately normalise Islam.

Bystanders yesterday reported that the gunmen shouted in the street as they made their getaway, saying “we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” , “we killed Charlie Hebdo”, and “God is Great” [in Arabic] too, but if they have killed off this particular magazine, many new ones are highly likely to arise to further satirise Islam. The aim of Charlie Hebdo staff to normalise Islam looks unstoppable, even if the magazine itself now folds up.

What is Politics?

Politics Posted on Sun, January 04, 2015 10:56:23

Why do people think politics are a sign of concern but the market is not? Most people seem to have no idea of what politics is. Many people, especially many students, feel all we do is political but this is a de facto, if unwitting, totalitarian outlook.

So when the state spreads into fresh aspects of life, like trying to stop people smoking, or to slim down, the de facto totalitarians feel those zones were/are political already, as all that we do is somehow political. So they feel the state need not be limited.

Politics is state action in the main, though the state has a few rivals, like the coercive bodies that we call Trade Unions. Politics is not just free decisions that affect others but rather it is forceful or coercive action against others. Coercion is the realistic threat of force or open violence; not mere speech about imaginary force. The state has it. Some Trade Unions have it. Firms usually lack it entirely. But a few firms in the past, maybe, had the use of coercion and thus they were political.

A free market can only emerge once the state ceases to exist. Many hold we cannot have a free market. A lot of the LA members are such, as were most classical liberals; but no anarchist agrees to that. Most liberals thought the state was a good thing but they held that it is best to keep it to doing only a few things, like keeping law and order.

The market gives the people way more control than politics ever could but not over but rather in society. It is not central control that most might first think of but rather it is polycentric control over our own affairs. David Ricardo erred badly in comparing the use of money to votes, an inept comparison that is still used in economics books today. If money was like votes we would all be dead. Churchill was haply right to say that democracy was the best form politics but it is still crass politics thus it is still illiberal coercive action against other people. Thus politics is anti-social, not caring for others, as fools feel to be the case. It is the jackboot, even when on the feet of basically well-meaning people.

Many free decisions do affect other people but they have no threat of force or violence, so they are not political. Politics is about using force against other people. Politics is gratuitous hostility towards others. It is thus very unfriendly.

Many might say that free actions can be worse than violence might be in their impact. One foreman, at a firm I worked for in the 1960s, used to often repeat that he would sooner hit a man than sack him, and it was said that he had acted on this idea, often, in the past, before I arrived, but I never saw anything like that from him; though he was over six foot three inches tall and clearly physically fit enough to repeat it again. In fact, he was a friendly chap but he did repeat his maxim often. I used to reply that the sack might be better for them, but it is easy to imagine some men who might agree with him.

This could be liberal if he put the choice to the victim beforehand so that he could choose, but if he assumed it, without consent, then it would be illiberal; but sacking a man is no more illiberal than a man deciding to leave the firm. But if he is the best worker in a small firm then it could cause the firm to decline. I recently watched the 1950s film Hobson’s Choice (1954) that featured that in its story line.

Most of society [i.e. human interaction; this post is part of my society, for example] is effectively free of coercion, thus it is apolitical. It even was such in the late USSR; as Michael Polanyi realised, despite the mythology surrounding that state.

There never was a mixed economy or a state centrally planned driven economy either. It is quite true to say there never was a free market too, but some, not all, in the LA think the latter will be achieved some time in the future.

Monopoly is a reason for expecting dysfunctional activity and the state is the sole cause of actual monopoly, and near-monopoly too. Liberty is vital for human welfare.

Where we go, how we make a living and the like, is best left to the individuals concerned. The state should keep out of it. That is the basic pristine and anarcho-liberal creed. But even well before we get rid of the state, money needs to be privatised, so the 2008 financial mess can be dodged that fools on the mass media tend to think was caused by free market values. One man more than any other who was for loose money was Keynes and a great liberal propagandist [as even Keynes was once] who aided the process , especially around 1970, was Milton Friedman. Those who the mass media speak of as free marketers are often in favour of state regulation. The USA is in a mess today owing to the national monopoly of money. That alone would rule out a completely free market.


History Posted on Sat, December 27, 2014 11:56:14

It is with sorrow that I learn of the death of Allen Phillips Griffith, or Griff as we all knew him as, in the department of philosophy 1979-’82, at the University of Warwick; though some LA members attended as philosophy students later than those dates. Griff was the Professor of Philosophy there from about 1965, when the University officially opened, till the early 1990s.

Griff was an admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein, whom he thought had improved philosophy greatly, allowing many things to be said way more aptly and concisely than before this seminal philosopher had made his contributions, as well as allowing later philosophers to express many new insights.

Griff used to deliver an annual lecture in the spring of every year to the students homosexual society to share a bit of Wittgensteinian wisdom with them viz. that they never could quite fall in love, as there was no option of marriage, a societal institution that, alone, allowed romantic love to have a full meaning. I did recently wonder whether this lecture might have been, finally, rendered defunct by the resent legislation, but I never did ask Griff if he thought that was now the case.

After his, to me at least, surprise conversion to Roman Catholicism in the mid-‘80s, he exclaimed, echoing a celebrated question of Wittgenstein, when I went to see him to ask why he had converted from atheism, that it was no different metaphysically. I always thought, and I still tend to do so, that the world would look very different if it did happen to have a caring creator. It would then not look as it does now.

Griff was not very much impressed by recent Continental Philosophy and the day after hearing Jacques Derrida give an evening talk in London, in the early 1980s, he expressed his disapproval to an early morning philosophy class that he took back at the University of Warwick the next day.

Griff attended a few of the student’s University of Warwick Debating Society’s lunchtime and also the evening debates, and also he gave a talk at one LA meeting in London in the late 1980s at the LSE, before he retired. However, he felt that it was too far to travel from Nottingham, where he moved to on retiring from the University in the early 1990s, to once again address the LA in London.

Griff found a home in the Tory, or the UK Conservative, Party early on, but he often said that he was a Tory anarchist, maybe being influenced by some of Edmund Burke’s early writings in imitation of Robert Harley.

For a long time, Griff championed the writings of Joseph Butler in ethics.

It is sad to think that Griff is no longer with us.

Science is never settled

Science Posted on Mon, October 20, 2014 16:58:01

Science will never be settled.

This “defence” of science by Jonathan Bines is often very bigoted and quite stupid. Science needs no actual defence, as common sense accepts it as a vital corrective, but what this rather stupid fool feels about science is not very realistic. He is in the right day job as a comic; at least in the short run. But his real quest is not really to defend science but to get his readers to think it right to adopt Green policies on Global Warming, or otherwise we reject the whole of science he concludes, but that is simply silly as science never can be about any policy but only about the external facts; or the way how things are. As the Stoics saw 2500 years ago, no policy follows from how things are.

Many people credit science for what technology does, but technology will not wait for science, any more than science will wait for philosophy. Science remains nearer to philosophy than to practical technology, but technology would destroy society with white elephants if ever the price system did not tame or control it. This comic needs to thank the market for many things he feels science grants the human race.

Indeed, scientists have been wrong in the past and thus should not be trusted now. Science is about testing our ideas rather than trusting them. Trust belongs to dogma and religion. Trust is about values rather than the external facts.

Indeed, scientists are biased by personal prejudices that they might call assumptions or hypotheses. Bias does risk error.

Financial incentives and costs aid science as well as technology to remain realistic. Common sense is bigoted about money, a far great invention than fire or the wheel. The compulsory educated bigot has trouble with this, as daft religion rejects this world for silly reasons.

Scientists often do aim at personal or professional success. But success is not always in term of money. Some scientists have been secretive as they feel in dire competition or in a race with other scientists, but many have not been such. Most presentations of the discovery of oxygen holds Joseph Priestley as naïve in showing Lavoisier the experiments where he discovered de-phlogisticated air, that Lavoisier later called oxygen, but Priestley felt he needed to aid anyone to test the experiments as soon as possible, that science was team work and that his own prestige did not matter very much.

Scientific ideas are always threated as if suspect. To be in science is to be re-tested. Science is never settled.

Particular scientists often feel quite certain. Science seems far more of a flux than it actually is, as there is a diversity of ideas in science. Scientific journals, like Nature, reflect this diversity far more than science, as a whole, making progress or moving on.

We do not have to accept science. We are free to discount it if we wish to do so; but most of us will not do that consistently.

Science is more like organised or disciplined common sense than another way of knowing that should be given primacy over other rival ways, such as intuitive knowledge or personal experience. Any scientist will use intuition or personal experience if it looks scientifically useful, of course.

Most scientists disagree with the consensus view in some things or to some extent and there is no way to assess who is right when two scientists both have a good case. Such deputes can continue for decades. But often evidence emerges that refutes a strong theory like phlogiston and then the refuted theory gets universally rejected. But this may be reversed later on. Science is never likely to ever be an ended quest for the truth but rather a quest that continues, as Popper said. Consensus simply does not matter very much. This is a fact about science that makes the recent attempt to abuse science by the backward Greens look silly. The democratic theory of truth is not one iota scientific.

Technology has aided science way more than science can ever hope to aid technology.

Politicians make many dysfunctional suggestions that tend to waste wealth. The state needs to be rolled back or even dissolved entirely. State policy is anti-social.

A critique is a criticism limited to the terms of the target but most criticism will never be so limited, nor need it be. The fashionable abuse of the word “critique” is very silly. It is a sign of an ignoramus i.e. of someone who needs to master his brief.

“Science works”? What does that mean? It looks like a solecism. My best guess is that the fool means that technology works. Science is nearer to literature than it is to technology.

We are told that science explains things but that looks like a personification of science. Only persons explain. Sure, enquiry often leads to knowledge but that is not really informative. Scientific enquiry is a pleonasm. Any enquiry can be, roughly, called scientific.

Our author gets better on science as a process of re-testing thus:

“Science is able to achieve its results by following a rigorous method of investigation involving the creation and testing of hypotheses against observational evidence. At every stage, these hypotheses are subjected to intense challenge. First, they are tested through the process of scientific research. Then through the process of publication and peer review they are subjected to challenge by the larger scientific community. After publication, they continue to be challenged, corroborated, modified, or refined by new research and new hypotheses. Science that has withstood this onslaught of skepticism is seen to be accurate and trustworthy, and consequently it earns the backing of a consensus of practicing scientists.”

That is not too bad. The process of testing never ends, though we are told that it does. But then it declines into the following:

“Because science is based on such a strong foundation of evidence and analytical rigor, anyone who would challenge science, particularly well-established science such as that on evolution, climate, or vaccines (or, for that matter, gravitation and quantum mechanics), rightly faces a very high burden of proof, a burden which most science skeptics fail even to acknowledge, much less satisfy. “

But as the author told us, scientists will be forever re-testing the ideas that remain within science. Ideas can only escape reconsideration by being rejected by science. There is no store of established science, free of future re-testing thus there is no real foundation in science. Nor is science ever really finally established or settled. Scepticism always re-enters science.

Our author continues:

“Science cannot be refuted by appeals to intuition or personal experience, attacks on the character or motivations of scientists, accusations of institutional bias, or by “cherry-picking” a particular authority figure, alternative theory, or research study.”

Ad hominem attacks on mere persons are out but cherry picking is not, nor is intuition. They will just need to be presented as hypotheses, that is all. They will face attempted refutation, of course.

“It cannot be denied because it is inconvenient, or because one dislikes the policy implications. “

Science can never have policy implications. Science is about facts, not values.

“It cannot be dismissed on supernatural grounds or through suggestions of conspiracy.”

Not within science, but this is often done by the various Christian groups.

“It cannot be undermined by dreaming up alternative hypotheses (unsupported by strong evidence), or by pointing to remaining uncertainties in the established theory.”

There is no epistemological support. No true observation can amount to anything stronger than a mere assumption; nor can valid argument. So no hypothesis has ever been supported by any evidence the last 2500 years, nor is the next 2500 years likely to find any supporting evidence either.

“All these are utterly inconsequential as refutations — not because scientists “know better” than the rest of us — but simply because they fail to convincingly meet the burden of proof.”

Proof is best left to geometry and logic. A true counter example refutes. The acceptability of that fact by qualified scientists is not one whit germane to the de facto refutation. Scientists are free to deny the facts. If they are ignorant then they might well do exactly that. The status of the observer does not matter to any fact. And science cannot make or change facts, nor is scientific consensus germane to any fact. Scientists face what the philosophers call the epistemological problem, which is dire, so that is why the scientists never stop testing in their unended quest for those facts that, by their current enquires, they consider to be germane.

Science is not about the acceptance of anything, it is about testing as best as we can.

Jonathan Bines continues: “Science works, and so we accept its findings — not because we have “faith” in them or because they are perfect — but because in an uncertain world, we wish to use the best available information to solve our problems, improve our condition, and understand our situation.”

But most of the general public do not know what current science holds on this or that, and even many scientists do not know other aspects of science that are outside of their own domain all too often. The division of labour makes experts of us all, but also laymen of us all too. There is no end of things that we should know, and quite a few that we once did know, but have forgotten. Science works but it continues to work, it does not even settle factual accounts beyond future revision and remains utterly indifferent to policy and politics.

Jonathan Bines is right that there is no faith in science and I would say there is none in religion either, as the mind re-thinks much as science does, but subjectively, tacitly and without the open public testing and attempted replication by different teams which is attempted refutation too.

Ideas are never sacred in science, or they should not be, but they are in religion but then religion is about what is valued as sacred rather than what is believed or thought to be the case. By contrast, science is profane; so is the reality principle that is human belief. Loyalty is alien to belief and it should be to science too. Loyalty is for people not for mere ideas. Some people may, or they may not, accept the findings of science. It is not going to affect science any more than science can affect the facts.

But what about the funding of science, who will fund it? Science cannot affect the facts but the funding of science might be neglected if it becomes unpopular, and there has been a lowering of the prestige of science with the recent controversies like mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease [vCJD] a human variant of bovine spongiform encephalopathy that the cows had that spread by prions that were jinxed proteins that had the ability to spread their jinx to the ordinary proteins of first some cows then later some humans too.

Science lost public prestige in that vCJD affair and it is being repeated in the current Global Warming affair too but it is not likely to lead to a permanent lack of funding in science for more research, as some Greens have told me they fear will be the case, for enquiry will always be needed, whether science is popular or not. Charities and firms will most likely provide funds if the state does not. That might be better than state funding. It would be freer for sure.

But Jonathan Bines feels that science means we all ought to accept this or that: “ This means, in the year 2014, accepting the current scientific consensus that vaccines are well-understood, safe, and effective. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that humans are causing the climate to change through the emission of atmospheric carbon and other greenhouse gasses with results that will almost certainly range from bad to catastrophic. It means accepting the current scientific consensus that evolution through natural selection is the theory most likely to describe observed biological diversity at all levels from DNA to species, including human beings.” But most of that is what they used to call “academic” in the 1960s, so most people are completely indifferent to it and it simply does not interest them. Does that mean that science is not working as far as Jonathan Bines is concerned or is it rather that it hardly affects science much whether most people know about it or not. The latter looks to be basically the case.

But Jonathan Bines wants science to have way more authority than it ever did have in the past and he seems to overlook, too, that science, since the founding of the Royal Society, in the 1660s, wants to reject authority not to crave after it. The scientific motto is “take nobody’s word for it.”

But then Jonathan Bines changes his tune. He says:

“Certainly, we should maintain a ‘healthy skepticism,’” but then he immediately changes again thus: “but we should focus that skepticism, not on the science, but rather on the claims of those who profess to be in possession of some special knowledge or authority outside of the formal scientific process.”

Traditionally, science welcomes scepticism on the science too. But any idea, sceptical or otherwise, is good enough to go on with. But to get it tested in science it needs to be testable. If it is not capable of being tested it is not yet scientific. But to test is to attempt to eliminate false ideas. Science is out to reject ideas as false. But it is particularly not the case that if it passes a test then we must thereby accept it. Instead, science will test it again.

Science rules out religion in hypotheses to be tested but not religious adherents in science. Their religious opinions do not keep the religious out of science, so the various religious groups can, often, get qualified scientists to join them, and to occasionally speak for them.

A public indifference to science is not to reject science but simply not to accept it. This has not harmed science much up to now, but the comic, Jonathan Bines, seems to be more of a Green than a scientist, and the Greens, even if they are right, have been abusing science of late and that is what Jonathan Bines is doing in his pretended defence of science. He is attempting to get it to endorse Green policy.

He concludes: “ To do otherwise would be to deprive ourselves of the greatest tool for human advancement mankind has ever known, at exactly the time when such a tool is needed most.” But, clearly, despite the public being more sceptical of what they roughly think of as science than ever, owing to the vCJD affair and the like, science is not in trouble today, let alone being abandoned. What Jonathan Bines seems to want is a Green agenda but no policy agenda whatsoever could ever quite be scientific.


The ad hominem meme of a denier

Psychology Posted on Tue, October 14, 2014 16:38:22

The fact that humans are always free to deny any fact or collection of facts, but not even one person is, ever, free to believe whatever they like.

This article is basically a reply to the blogger Mark Hoofnagle on deniers that is at the end of the link above. It is an attempt to dismiss those he disagrees with without giving whatever they say any proper consideration. He seems to have it in for propagandists, as so many people do, but especially those he calls deniers. But this concept is an excuse not to debate with those he wants to dismiss.

We can say what we like but never quite believe as we like. Belief is not a human action but rather it is an ephemeral state of mind. Belief is only of the live mind, so it is not like knowledge in that respect. We may know something that we cannot immediately recall but that we might recall in about an hour, or maybe even a day later, but belief is what we think is the case just now, at the present moment, and it involves a fresh take, or a fresh judgment, on the world. Thus all belief is a slight test of what there is out there.

There is not ever any stable belief i.e. there is nothing even remotely like Popper thought was faith. Popper was utterly deluded on that rather stupid idea of mental stability. What allows people to reproduce contents similar to their past beliefs in their current beliefs, now, is the common external world itself moreso than the dendrites in our brains, though the latter have some input too. The air we breathe in is similar in content to earlier air we used, owing to what is external too, but there is more input of our assumptions into any belief than there is in the air we breathe in.

However, no actual belief can last longer that a fresh in-take of air. As we use air to refresh the blood so we, similarly, use belief, mainly in current action, or activity, that needs to be re-checked by our senses to check how we are managing with anything that we attempt to do, but any ephemeral belief-take will also spill over into theoretical abstract things too. Belief is to do with activity but many things we believe, most of which we suppose is on the horizon whenever that is in view, for example, might never be acted on by ourselves. However, any belief is going to be mainly used up in doing whatever we do e.g. we need to refresh it, by use of our senses, just to see whatever we are doing at any one time. Anyone blind person will be clearly handicapped in that respect, in all they do, for they will not be able to check whatever they want to do by the use of their eyes.

Some authors that Mark Hoofnagle is concerned with have written books denying the link between HIV and AIDS but I have not read any such book.

Karl Popper was right to hold that mere belief was not really germane to science, though he did, unwittingly, allow it in when he went on about honesty in science, which he associated with rationality.

Popper might also have noticed that belief is an excellent heuristic. Also, he might have noted that conjectures, also are not automatically right, no more than are our automatic beliefs, which also have the logical status of mere assumptions, so both equally risk error. However, the rule of assumptions in logic is that any assumption will allow us to make a beginning. Mistakes in the logic can only arise later. But the assumption might well be false, of course. Logic is about validity rather than directly about the truth.

However, Popper was roughly right to try to keep belief largely out of science; that science was to do with the objective account [that he called world three, or W3, which is objective] rather than only of what we have in mind [that he called world two, or W2, which is subjective]. Popper was right to attempt to shun subjectivity. He was also right that belief in pseudoscience is not germane to science either. Any conjecture will do to begin from. Science is ideally open to one and all. It tends to ignore the Irishman who says: “If I were you then I would not start from here!” We can start from almost anywhere. It hardly matters where we are coming from.

However, like DRS, I am very keen on belief. I think most people tend to conflate beliefs and values. The English language conflates those two aspects of the mind. In the philosophy of religion, the difference is made in a common distinction between “believe in” [i.e. value] and “believe that” [i.e. think is the case]. Beliefs are only just what seem to be the facts to the believer at any one time.

It is our values that mainly motivate us. We act mainly on our values but belief serves the passions but yet it is not quite the slave of them, as Hume said, for our beliefs have no fear of our values and what we believe never flatters us.

However, I think Hume was basically right.

Oddly, David Hume was the one author that Marx was not very hostile to, and that is what led me to read Hume in 1968. I found him roughly right then, as I still do now, but his terminology seemed exceedingly inept, especially as Locke, Berkeley and Hume himself mainly had only a verbal difference in their revision of what Thomas Hobbes said in his 1651 book. The terminology still does look to be very inept. In particular, what Hume calls irrational looks most rational to me, including all our automatic beliefs. The daft dogma that rationality requires choice, that Hume seemed to have adopted, seems to obfuscate reality for anyone at all who adopts it.

My prelude above is to the consideration of what Mark Hoofnagle says on the quite false meme of denialism, false as it holds that humans can decide whatever they believe when no animal, let alone no human, ever can. Belief is a reality principle in animals, as it is practical feedback from the world as to whether the animal is safe, or not, as well as being a practical need for whatever the animal wants to do. Belief cannot flatter, nor can it be controlled. Natural selection would have soon seen off whimsical choice in belief. It would have crowded out the need we have to see what we are doing, as well as if we are out of likely danger from predators at any one time. A reality principle, such as belief, will be a prerequisite of any animal activity.

But backward psychology seeks to serve what Francis Bacon called false idols [i.e. pigheaded memes, like denialism, that seems to satisfy the holders as an end rather than enlightening them about reality; they are basically expletives that refer to nothing real: constituted blanks] rather than looking at how humans actually are. Brain science is very similar.

Popper held that science was about testing. This looks, on the face of it, the opposite of trust, but Mark Hoofnagle is moaning that those he calls deniers lack trust. But what has trust got to do with it? We need to test theories rather than to trust people in science. It does not really matter much if ever we lack trust. We test ideas as if we do not trust them at all.

We are told that conspiracy theories are down to a lack of trust on the part of the people who adopt them; that such people also suspect a plot on the part of the authorities against the public.

That there may be such plots would not surprise me but I would not normally expect them to be effective. I do not doubt that corruption is fairly common, but presumably most organisations check for it. So most corruption fails to have much special or particular impact, though it will be a factor in the normal costs of firms, I suppose.

The idea that conspiracy theorists are paranoid looks not only false but also quite inept. I have spoken to many such propagandists since 1968 and I have never seen a sign that any of them were even slightly paranoid. That latter is a very personal disposition but conspiracy propagandists seem to adopt an external paradigm that is not at all related to the type of person they happen to be but rather to the world as their theoretical account would have it.

Ideally, any such conspiracy theories would boost science but in fact it seems that not many conspiracy theorists follow up the theory as much as one might expect them to do. Nor do those people they talk to seem to study science, or history, or whatever, as a result. In that, the conspiracy are propagandists not like the normal religious or political propagandists, who more often do seem follow up their ideas in reading books on the topics in question a bit more, even if those people they speak to still do not usually bother.

But paranoids do not think to ever be fair to their imagined enemies at all but rather feel as sure and as fearful of them as a normal person would be of an escaped tiger from the local zoo.

This analogy of conspiracy theorists to actual paranoids by Mark Hoofnagle looks completely inept to me. He seems to want to abuse the propagandists rather than to try to explain them with this analogy.

I ought to confess that I am a propagandist myself. I never did feel they were abnormal, no more than those who like going fishing or who indulge in any other intellectual interest or hobby; though I suppose that most propagandists would feel what they do is way more important than just a hobby. I became one in 1968 but I guess I did like them way before then. In 1962 I discovered that I not only did not believe in the Catholic creed of my parents, and the adults in general during my first ten years, but also that I never had believed it. I was just confused on belief in my early years. To say I believed in the Catholic creed seemed to be the correct answer when questioned but I never checked my actual beliefs prior to giving that supposedly correct answer. I have ever since tended to think since that most, if not all, of the nominally religious no more believed it than I ever did.

However, I never did like the creed very much in my early years and most of my peers, from 1962 onwards, seemed to value the creed more than I ever did. But not one became a propagandist for it, as far as I know. I immediately became a minor propagandist against it but I was keener on athletics than on propaganda up till 1968. All athletics are enthusiasts, or fanatics. I transferred my enthusiasm for exercise to reading in 1968.

Whenever Bertrand Russell runs down fanatics, as he repeatedly does in many of his books, I always tend to think that the author himself was also something of a fanatic. Surely they are only dangerous if they aim to do dangerous things. Most athletes are harmless despite being quite fanatical, for example. Most murderers do not seem to be fanatical but they do seem to be out to be harmful anyway.

Paranoids do tend to think they are way more important to other people than a normal person would do, especially to their imagined enemies, but they do not, particularly, claim special knowledge any more than most people do. Mark Hoofnagle seems to simply err there, in claiming that they do. We all do assume we know some things that others do not, and much of what we say to others is exactly to share some of this information with them, but Mark Hoofnagle attempts to say this is a paranoiac trait, and to then smear the conspiracy theorists/ propagandists with being paranoid. David Shpairo is cited as holding similar ideas, but there is no safety in numbers whenever one simply gets it wrong.

No one at all can willingly, or deliberately, overlook facts. No paranoid, even remotely, attempts to do that, even though they feel, quite strongly, that those individuals who they have supposed to be their enemies truly are their enemies. Paranoids do not, usually, think that everyone is out to get them. Nor do they often show disrespect for the authorities. If anything, they are unusually trusting, the very opposite of what our blogger, here, wants to say about the propagandists who are called deniers. Mark Hoofnagle writes as if he does not know much about paranoids.

Some propagandists might lie about theoretical issues but, as it is so clearly futile, my guess is that very few, if any, do, but, anyway, no one ever believes their own lies. Self-delusion is as unrealistic as the pet meme of denialism is, and for the same basic reason viz. we cannot choose whatever we think is the case.

We do make assumptions to make out whatever there is out there in the world but that is not quite the same as deliberately manipulating the opinion that we happen to have of the world. Mark Hoofnagle gives an unrealistic spin to the reality of how people are when he writes:

“Denialists exhibit suspicious thinking when they manipulate objective reality to fit within their beliefs. It is true that all people are prone to fit the world into their sense of reality, but the suspicious person distorts reality and does so with an uncommon rigidity.”

No one has rigid beliefs. No one wilfully forms beliefs. Instead, the actual beliefs that all people have change quite automatically as they look at the world. Our five senses revises, and re-creates, our beliefs by the moment, as about as often as we inhale and exhale air. We use our beliefs to do whatever we decide to set out to do and we need to revise them to do almost anything that we do, whilst we do it, be it to go for a walk or to make a cup of tea or whatever.

Our belief-take is revised by the second and this is a sort of weak test on any earlier belief. The animal belief system is a bit like Popper’s philosophy of science, like making assumptions and then testing with a fresh panoramic assumption-take after some activity; or conjectures and attempted refutations, or trial and error.

What Mark Hoofnagle finds compelling in what David Shpairo says does not look one whit realistic to me. But as I have seen others, like Joseph Agassi, on self-deception, another myth, as both memes say equally silly and unrealistic things, so both do seem to reflect some popular theories about human irrationality [W3 memes] rather than the anything real about the human mind [W2].

Mark Hoofnagle then says a few things in favour of tolerance that I can agree with. He says the deniers are not liars in the way that they are often said to be. They are not evil plotters; that they err rather than they deliberately lie.

But then he says they are not worth arguing with! Why not? Because they are trapped in their own denialism! How can that happen? We do not seem to be told. But we can guess that he is not going to be adequate on most of this fallacy of his sheer ad hominem fallacy dismissal of the supposed deniers. The whole idea seems to be to attempt to dodge reasoning on Mark Hoofnagle’s part. Why does he prefer it to just dealing with the so-called deniers openly in debate?

I think I have said enough above to expect the theory of deniers to be false, if ever we were told. But most of the rest of what is written by Mark Hoofnagle on probability seems to have little, if any, bearing on this topic of supposed deniers.

Mark Hoofnagle repeats that deniers are of a certain personality type. But the conspiracy theorists, who he says they are very similar to the deniers, do not seem to be of any particular personality type. Nor do the religious and political groups I have looked at since 1968, from within the organisations that I joined and also from without with the many various rival groups to the ones that I joined. The various propaganda organisations seem to attract all sorts of persons; both within their branches [usually based on locality] and as to biases between branches. Some members within a branch are more extraverted, say, than others, and some branches are extraverted than others too, and in personality types all paradigms seem to attract all the various psychological types that we can find in the wider society.

I have also joined some non-ideological educational bodies, from about 1975 onwards, and they too seem to be no different from the ideological groups just because there is no overall ideology. I have yet to meet a single person in such groups that regard themselves, personally, as especially wrongly treated by others or by society as a whole as Mark Hoofnagle imagines the deniers do. They just never seem to talk about such things. With the ideological groups, the ideology has always been held as being quite impersonal.

Christian groups have been creationists, of course. Mark Hoofnagle says those do have a different style, as he says do the Global Warming deniers. It is ideology rather than personality that distorts their outlook with them, he says. He seems to be, as Thomas Kuhn was, proud to find excuses not to argue with people; thankfully Kuhn was often willing to break this bigoted principle.

I suppose this anti-debate meme, of which the meme of denial is one amongst many excuses for, is the main reason why human progress is slowed down. I do not like any protectionism in any case, but rather I prefer free trade but this anti-debate outlook of Polanyi/Kuhn and it is about the acme of protectionism. It holds progress back.

However, free speech should be free. We should not follow up recommendations if ever we do not want to do so. We have no duty to look into all issues that a propagandist feels to be important. The propagandist can be content with those who do want to follow up whatever he recommends. If he does his job well, there should be enough of them on any progressive issue.

Mark Hoofnagle feels it is wise not to argue with a propagandist, any of which he seems to feel is going to be a crank-pot in any case. He says: “To argue with a Dale would only make you look like the fool” where a Dale is just some fanatical propagandist, or an enthusiast, as they might have said in the eighteenth century. But if any such Dale makes us look silly then maybe that is because he does know a bit more than we do on his pet topic.

As Popper said, we should learn from rather than to fear our errors. We are all fools anyway. A fool, I presume, is someone who ought to know better than he actually does. Well, we are all always like that anyway. We all remain ignorant to some extent. We all should know at least a bit more than we do. What merit is there in hiding that fact? Mark Hoofnagle does not show any merit in his keenness to cover up the fact that he can often look silly. That is the sort of thing that we all need to tolerate, in ourselves and in others too. But this denier meme is intolerant rather than tolerant of others.

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