Through the lens of state-formation

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

James C. Scott likes to second-guess structures that prop up the powerful:

He has written a classic study of peasant resistance, Weapons of the Weak, and another on the “moral economy” of village life, where neighbors live by a system of values that derive neither from the market nor from the state. In Seeing Like a State, he explained how the modern state imposes schematic visions on the world. To administer a territory and population, it needs to standardize reality, to make it measurable by ensuring that there is one system of property ownership, one currency in circulation, a naming practice that enables bureaucrats to keep track of people (first name, last name), and so forth. What you cannot measure and monitor, you cannot rule, and so the world must become orderly and legible. This ambition can become a kind of administrative mania. Bureaucratic modes of administration — from Le Corbusier’s vision for Brasilia’s streets to Prussian state agriculture to Soviet collectivization — have run roughshod over the complexity of actual life on the ground. Such governance can be tyrannical but also ironically fragile, as the state’s selective blindness makes it a stumbling giant.

Scott’s 2009 book The Art of Not Being Governed examined Southeast Asia from the standpoint of the highland regions that have evaded imperial authority up to the present day. Whereas most stories about empire tell how the dominant power expands and asserts itself, Scott emphasizes the places where people have retained their freedom by moving up mountain valleys, staying mobile, and practicing livelihoods that are hard to track or tax. From the highlanders’ perspective, the empires lapping at their edges are peripheral, fallen places. The effect is often like reading a fantasy novel, in a very good sense: Scott leaves you with the feeling that the world is packed with more ways of life, more stories, and different kinds of heroes and villains than you encountered in history class. Although Against the Grain is not a large book, it is a kind of thematic summa of Scott’s work so far, as it reworks the entire canvas of history by reconsidering its origins through the lens of state-formation.

The conventional story of human development, he shows, is based on faulty chronology. It turns out that cultivating grain — long thought to be the crucial step from roaming to civilization — does not naturally lead people to stay put in large settlements. New archaeological evidence suggests that people planted and harvested grain as part of a mix of food sources for many centuries, perhaps millennia, without settling into cities. And there were, in fact, places where people did settle down and build towns without farming grain: ecologically rich places, often wetlands bordering the migration routes of birds and animals, where foraging, fishing, and hunting made for a good life in all seasons. There is nothing about grain that fastens humanity’s foot to the earth, as President John Quincy Adams put it in one of the innumerable retellings of the standard story.

Grain is special, but for a different reason. It is easy to standardize — to plant in rows or paddies, and store and record in units such as bushels. This makes grain an ideal target for taxation. Unlike underground tubers or legumes, grain grows tall and needs harvesting all at once, so officials can easily estimate annual yields. And unlike fugitive wild foods, grain creates a relatively consistent surplus, allowing a ruling class to skim off peasant laborers’ production through a tax regime of manageable complexity. Grain, in Scott’s lexicon, is the kind of thing a state can see. On this account, the first cities were not so much a great leap forward for humanity as a new mode of exploitation that enabled the world’s first leisured ruling class to live on the sweat of the world’s first peasant-serfs. As for writing, that great gateway to history, Scott reports that its earliest uses suggest it was basically a grain-counting technology. Literary culture and shared memory existed in abundance both before and after the first pictographs and alphabets — consider Homer’s epics, the products of a nonliterate Greek “dark age” before the Classical period. Writing contributed a ledger of exploitation.

Scott’s retelling, however, goes deeper than scrambling the chronology and emphasizing the dark side of early institutions. Life in cities, he argues, was probably worse than foraging or herding. City dwellers were vulnerable to epidemics. Their diets were less varied than those of people on the outside. Unless they were in the small ruling class, they had less leisure, because they had to produce food not just for their own survival, but also to support their rulers. Their labor might be called on to build fortresses, monuments, and those ever-looming walls. Outside the walls, by contrast, a fortunate savage or barbarian might be a hunter in the morning, a herder or fisherman in the afternoon, and a bard singing tales around the fire in the evening. To enter the city meant joining the world’s first proletariat.

The result is monotony and boredom

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

The Harvey Weinstein episode revealed two generational truths about Hollywood culture, Victor Davis Hanson argues:

One, the generation that gave us the free-love and the anything-goes morals of Woodstock discovered that hook-up sex was “contrary to nature.” Sexual congress anywhere, any time, anyhow, with anyone — near strangers included — is not really liberating and can often be deeply imbedded within harassment and ultimately the male degradation of women.

[...]

Two, Weinstein reminded us, especially in his eleventh-hour medieval appeals for clemency by way of PC attacks on the NRA and Donald Trump, that mixing politics with art was, as our betters warned, always a self-destructive idea.

Hollywood ran out of original thought about three decades ago, and the people noticed and so keep avoiding the theaters. How many times can a good-looking, young, green progressive crusader expose a corporate pollution plot, or battle a deranged band of southern-twangy Neanderthals, South African racists, or Russian tattooed thugs, or a deep-state CIA cabal in sunglasses and shiny suits? How many times can the nth remake of a comic-book hero be justified by updating him into a caped social-justice warrior from L.A.? Ars gratia politicorum is suicide.

The ruling generation in Hollywood is out of creative ideas mostly because it invested in political melodrama rather than human tragedy. It cannot make a Western, not just because Santa Monica’s young men long ago lost the ability to sound or act like Texans in 1880, but because its politics have no patience with the real world of noble people who are often doomed, or flawed individuals who are nevertheless defined by their best rather than worst traits, or well-meaning souls who can cause havoc, or courageous men who fight for bad causes.

Political correctness has become Maoist: All art must serve progressive struggle, defined in Hollywood as good race and gender warriors pitted against bad racists and sexists. The result is monotony and boredom. All the cleavage, flexed biceps, cheap obscenity, rap-music scores, and car crashes cannot hide that lack of an idea.

Class-struggle just didn’t work as a generator of loyalty

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

The genius of Leninism was in building a ruling class from scratch and making it cohesive by explicitly choosing people from low-status groups, Spandrell explains, ensuring they would be loyal to the party given they had much to lose:

It worked so well it was the marvel of the intellectual classes of the whole world for a hundred years.

Meanwhile, what was the West doing? The West, that diehard enemy of worldwide Communism, led by the United States. What has been the American response to Leninism? Look around you. Read Vox. Put on TV. Ok, that’s enough. Who is high status in the West today? Women. Homosexuals. Transexuals. Muslims. Blacks. There’s even movements propping up disabled and fat people. What Progressivism is running is hyper Leninism. Biological Leninism.

When Communism took over Russia and China, those were still very poor, semi-traditional societies. Plenty of semi-starved peasants around. So you could run a Leninist party just on class resentments. “Never forget class-struggle”, Mao liked to say. “Never forget you used to be a serf and you’re not one now thanks to me”, he meant.

In the West, though, by 1945, when peace and order was enforced by the United States, the economy had improved to the point where class-struggle just didn’t work as a generator of loyalty. Life was good, the proletariat could all afford a car and even vacations. Traditional society was dead, the old status-ladders based on family pedigree and land-based wealth were also dead. The West in 1960 was a wealthy, industrial meritocratic society, where status was based on one’s talent, productivity and natural ability to schmooze oneself into the ruling class.

Of course liberal politics kept being a mess. No cohesion in a ruling class which has no good incentive to stick to each other. But of course the incentive is still out there. A cohesive ruling class can monopolize power and extract rents from the whole society forever. The ghost of Lenin is always there. And so the arrow of history kept bending in Lenin’s direction. The West started to build up a Leninist power structure. Not overtly, not as a conscious plan. It just worked that way because the incentives were out there for everyone to see, and so slowly we got it. Biological Leninism. That’s the nature of the Cathedral.

[...]

The Coalition of the Fringes, Sailer calls it. It’s worse than that really. it’s the coalition of everyone who would lose status the better society were run. It’s the coalition of the bad. Literal Kakistocracy.

Their status will fall as fast as a hammer in a well

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Feudalism is a natural form of government, Spandrell notes — it’s basically transposing the hierarchy of a conquering army into peacetime — and it tends to maintain loyalty, but it doesn’t get things done. Feudalism led to absolutism, and absolutism led to liberalism:

Liberal states were strong, had armies of bureaucrats and tax revenues that feudal states could only dream of. But while they were effective, they were a mess. Feudalism is good at generating loyalty. Liberalism is awful at that. And loyalty is very important. The fundamental problem of politics is the distinction between friend and foe, said Schmitt. A friend is someone who is loyal.

The 19th century, which destroyed the Ancien Regime in Europe, was an economic and scientific golden era, but politically it was a mess. A revolution every decade, governments which lasted months, huge scandals every week. Elections were a violent and chaotic affair. If anything got done at all it was because the political chaos gave way to economic freedom, and the private sector got things done. A lot of things done. But the intellectuals weren’t cool with that. Intellectuals are always the reserve army of the bureaucracy. They want the government to get things done.

With all the scientific advances of the last centuries, the 18th and 19th century intellectuals were just brimming with excitement with all the things they could get done. All those plans of social engineering. Utopia on earth! It just seemed so feasible. And yet they could never pull it off through the political process. They just couldn’t pull it off. The politicians and bureaucrats just weren’t loyal enough. Constant factionalism and infighting made any real reform impossible.

Until Leninism, that is. Now Leninism is most likely mislabeled. Lenin did indeed found the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But Lenin died in 1924. And the Soviet Union was still a huge mess in 1924. It was Stalin, general secretary of the CPSU since 1922 who, through the means we all know, really built the Communist Party and stabilized the Soviet government. Stalinism is used to refer to his brutal purges and his approach to criminal justice, but it would be more accurate to use Stalinism to refer to what we today call Leninism; the structure of rule of single-party Communist regimes.

Say what you will about the Soviet Union: the Communist Party was loyal. They got things done. Every crazy and stupid thing that the Politburo approved got done. Yes, it took a while to achieve that result. Stalin had to kill a lot of people. But it wasn’t through sheer terror and cruelty that the Communist Party worked. The Communist Party had a system. Which worked. It still works today in China. You might have noticed how people in the West today talk about China in these same terms. China gets things done, it does them fast and cheap. China got the world’s biggest high-speed rail system in the time that it takes to dig a tunnel in Boston. And for not that much more money. That’s not a coincidence. That’s Leninism at work.

Any country has a ruling class. What I call “loyalty” you could also call asabiya; the coherence of the ruling class as such. Their ability to stick with each other and gang up, keeping the structure of rule stable. Feudalism got that; the nobility was the ruling class, they formed a society very much separate from that of the peasants, and they took much care that their rule was never contested. The destruction of that world by enlightened liberals resulted in a ruling class which was orders of magnitude less cohesive and orderly. You might be a libertarian and think that is a good thing, and you may have a point. But any organization wants to fight entropy and ensure its stability and reproduction. Liberalism historically has shown itself incapable of that. Leninism was the first solution to that problem.

Leninism is, of course, applied socialism. Socialism was huge before Leninism was even a thing, and that Marxism was and is still popular is not due only to Soviet patronage. Socialism works by hacking the Social Calculus Module that humans have in our brains. Remember, humans care deeply about status. Status is what drives human behavior. Everybody works to achieve more status, and to avoid losing status. Socialism of course sells egalitarianism. It tells people with low status that they can get some more.

[...]

What did Lenin do? Exterminate the natural aristocracy of Russia, and build a ruling class with a bunch of low-status people. Workers, peasants, Jews, Latvians, Ukrainians. Lenin went out of his way to recruit everyone who had a grudge against Imperial Russian society. And it worked, brilliantly. The Bolsheviks, a small party who little popular support, won the civil war, and became the awesome Soviet Union. The early Soviet Union promoted minorities, women, sexual deviants, atheists, cultists and every kind of weirdo. Everybody but intelligent, conservative Russians of good families. The same happened in China, where e.g. the 5 provinces which formed the southern Mongolian steppe were joined up into “Inner Mongolia autonomous region”, what Sailer calls “consolidate and surrender”.

In Communist countries pedigree was very important. You couldn’t get far in the party if you had any little kulak, noble or landowner ancestry. Only peasants and workers were trusted. Why? Because only peasants and workers could be trusted to be loyal. Rich people, or people with the inborn traits which lead to being rich, will always have status in any natural society. They will always do alright. That’s why they can be trusted; the stakes are never high for them. If anything they’d rather have more freedom to realize their talents. People of peasant stock though, they came from the dredges of society. They know very well that all they have was given to them by the party. And so they will be loyal to the death, because they know it, if the Communist regime falls, their status will fall as fast as a hammer in a well. And the same goes for everyone else, especially those ethnic minorities.

An important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The Wayne Manor Holiday Food Drive has become an important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times:

A classical historian assesses World War II

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Thomas Ricks picked up Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars with some trepidation, because the subject was outside Hanson’s area of expertise:

To my surprise, I found it lively and provocative, full of the kind of novel perceptions that can make a familiar subject interesting again. It wouldn’t make a good introduction to World War II, but it may win readers already familiar with the conflict’s events.

Much of the book is written at the level of the strategic overview. Hanson notes, for instance, that both Germany and Japan probably would have won the war had they stopped early in 1941 and consolidated their gains in Europe and the western Pacific, without Germany attacking Russia and Japan pulling the United States into the conflict.

One of Hanson’s running themes is that the Allied victors mainly killed German and Japanese soldiers, while the Axis focused more on killing civilians. Over all, in its accounting of the global carnage, this book amounts to an ode in praise of deterrence and against appeasement and isolationism.

Hanson is most original and enjoyable when he uses his professional background in ancient history to illuminate 20th-century war. He writes, for example, that, “like Spartans, Wehrmacht soldiers were effused with militarist doctrine, chronically short of men, brilliantly led on the battlefield — and often deployed for imbecilic strategic ends.” The Red Army’s powerful new T-34 tanks “shocked the Germans, not unlike the manner in which unfamiliar Parthian mounted archers flummoxed supposedly superior Roman Republican legions.” The Allied landings on D-Day in 1944 amounted to “the largest combined land and sea operation conducted since the invasion of Greece by King Xerxes of Persia in spring 480 B.C.” In fact, the book might have been better called “A Classical Historian Assesses World War II.”

Engineers at Caltech have created a stable ring of plasma in open air

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Engineers at Caltech have created a stable ring of plasma in open air using just a stream of water and a crystal plate:

“We were told by some colleagues this wasn’t even possible. But we can create a stable ring and maintain it for as long as we want, no vacuum or magnetic field or anything,” says co-author Francisco Pereira of the Marine Technology Research Institute in Italy, a visiting scholar at Caltech.

The stream of water is an 85-micron-diameter jet blasting from a specially designed nozzle at 9,000 pounds per square inch that strikes the crystal plate with an impact velocity of around 1,000 feet per second. For reference, that’s a stream narrower than a human hair moving about as fast as a bullet fired from a handgun.

Stable Plasma Torus at Caltech

In their study, Gharib and his team experimented with both crystal plates of quartz and lithium niobate, each of which can induce the triboelectric effect—in which an electric charge builds up because of friction with another material. When the jet hits the crystal, the water creates a smooth, laminar flow of positively charged ions across the negatively charged surface. At the shear region, where the stream strikes the surface and flows outward across it, the triboelectric effect triggers a high flow of electrons through the water to its surface. This flow of electrons ionizes the atoms and molecules in the surrounding gas near the surface of the water, creating a donut, or torus, of glowing plasma that is dozens of microns in diameter and visible under a microscope.

Gharib and his team fired the water jet at surfaces of different textures and found that the smoother the surface, the clearer the structure of the plasma ring. The ring is stable, and as long as the water continues to flow, the ring maintains its shape and size.

In addition, engineers working with the plasma noticed that their cell phones encountered high levels of radio frequency noise—static—while they were in the same room as the experiment. It turns out that the plasma ring emits distinct radio frequencies. “That’s never been seen before. We think it’s because of the piezo properties of the materials that we used in our experiments,” Pereira says, referring to the materials’ ability to be electrically polarized through mechanical stress—in this case, the flowing of water.

The problem is energy density

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Long-haul trucking is an odd choice for Tesla. The problem is energy density:

Batteries take up far more space and weight for a given output of energy than gasoline and diesel. That issue is becoming irrelevant in lighter vehicles like cars and smaller vans because they don’t require much power. But it looms large when it comes to the heavy-duty longer-distance trucks that consume about half of road freight fuel, and are expected to see the biggest demand growth.

Energy Density

Take a look, for instance at Daimler AG’s Urban eTruck, the first fully electric heavy-duty vehicle to go into production earlier this year. The 2.5-metric-ton battery alone on this beast weighs as much as a Chevrolet Suburban, one of the largest SUVs on the road. Furthermore — as the name indicates — it’s only intended for deliveries within cities, with a maximum range of 200 kilometers. That’s not going to do much damage to long-distance routes: A typical semi-trailer can carry enough fuel to travel at least five times that distance.The specifications emerging for the Tesla Semi suggest it may be able to improve on that, with a range of about 800 kilometers when carrying a 36-ton maximum load. There’s no word yet about the weight of the Semi’s battery, but it would have to be colossal to achieve those sorts of specs. That’s probably not the best route to energy efficiency, given that about 25 percent to 30 percent of the time trucks are driven empty. A significant slice of the Semi’s energy will be spent hauling around its massive power plant.

That explains why the numerous competitors to the Semi already out there are mainly focused on shorter-range urban logistics networks. It’s going to require technological breakthroughs — such as the development of commercial lithium-air cells, which could have gasoline-style energy densities — for batteries to really eat into the oil consumed by long-haul trucking and aviation.

Floating cities are no longer science fiction

Friday, November 17th, 2017

The New York Times is willing to describe floating cities as no longer science fiction:

Mr. Quirk and his team are focusing on their Floating Island Project in French Polynesia. The government is creating what is effectively a special economic zone for the Seasteading Institute to experiment in and has offered 100 acres of beachfront where the group can operate.

Mr. Quirk and his collaborators created a new company, Blue Frontiers, which will build and operate the floating islands in French Polynesia. The goal is to build about a dozen structures by 2020, including homes, hotels, offices and restaurants, at a cost of about $60 million. To fund the construction, the team is working on an initial coin offering. If all goes as planned, the structures will feature living roofs, use local wood, bamboo and coconut fiber, and recycled metal and plastic.

Consciousness began when the gods stopped speaking

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Julian Jaynes presented his (in)famous theory of consciousness in his 1970 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind:

The book sets its sights high from the very first words.  “O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind!” Jaynes begins. “A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries.”

To explore the origins of this inner country, Jaynes first presents a masterful precis of what consciousness is not. It is not an innate property of matter. It is not merely the process of learning. It is not, strangely enough, required for a number of rather complex processes. Conscious focus is required to learn to put together puzzles or execute a tennis serve or even play the piano. But after a skill is mastered, it recedes below the horizon into the fuzzy world of the unconscious. Thinking about it makes it harder to do. As Jaynes saw it, a great deal of what is happening to you right now does not seem to be part of your consciousness until your attention is drawn to it. Could you feel the chair pressing against your back a moment ago? Or do you only feel it now, now that you have asked yourself that question?

Consciousness, Jaynes tells readers, in a passage that can be seen as a challenge to future students of philosophy and cognitive science, “is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of.” His illustration of his point is quite wonderful. “It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”

Perhaps most striking to Jaynes, though, is that knowledge and even creative epiphanies appear to us without our control. You can tell which water glass is the heavier of a pair without any conscious thought — you just know, once you pick them up. And in the case of problem-solving, creative or otherwise, we give our minds the information we need to work through, but we are helpless to force an answer. Instead it comes to us later, in the shower or on a walk. Jaynes told a neighbor that his theory finally gelled while he was watching ice moving on the St. John River. Something that we are not aware of does the work.

The picture Jaynes paints is that consciousness is only a very thin rime of ice atop a sea of habit, instinct, or some other process that is capable of taking care of much more than we tend to give it credit for. “If our reasonings have been correct,” he writes, “it is perfectly possible that there could have existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems, indeed did most of the things that we do, but were not conscious at all.”

Jaynes believes that language needed to exist before what he has defined as consciousness was possible. So he decides to read early texts, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, to look for signs of people who aren’t capable of introspection — people who are all sea, no rime. And he believes he sees that in The Iliad. He writes that the characters in The Iliad do not look inward, and they take no independent initiative. They only do what is suggested by the gods. When something needs to happen, a god appears and speaks. Without these voices, the heroes would stand frozen on the beaches of Troy, like puppets.

Speech was already known to be localized in the left hemisphere, instead of spread out over both hemispheres. Jaynes suggests that the right hemisphere’s lack of language capacity is because it used to be used for something else — specifically, it was the source of admonitory messages funneled to the speech centers on the left side of the brain. These manifested themselves as hallucinations that helped guide humans through situations that required complex responses — decisions of statecraft, for instance, or whether to go on a risky journey.

The combination of instinct and voices — that is, the bicameral mind — would have allowed humans to manage for quite some time, as long as their societies were rigidly hierarchical, Jaynes writes. But about 3,000 years ago, stress from overpopulation, natural disasters, and wars overwhelmed the voices’ rather limited capabilities. At that point, in the breakdown of the bicameral mind, bits and pieces of the conscious mind would have come to awareness, as the voices mostly died away. That led to a more flexible, though more existentially daunting, way of coping with the decisions of everyday life — one better suited to the chaos that ensued when the gods went silent. By The Odyssey, the characters are capable of something like interior thought, he says. The modern mind, with its internal narrative and longing for direction from a higher power, appear.

Elon Musk is not a robot sent from the future to save humanity

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Over the course of nine months of reporting, Neil Strauss determined that Elon Musk is not a robot sent from the future to save humanity, but he may be the most successful and important entrepreneur in the world:

It’s an easy case to make: He’s probably the only person who has started four billion-dollar companies — PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City. But at his core, Musk is not a businessman or entrepreneur. He’s an engineer, inventor and, as he puts it, “technologist.”

Most of Strauss’s piece is about Musk’s broken relationships — with ex-wives, with his recent ex-girlfriend, and with his “ruthless” estranged father.

Musk tries to do useful things:

Think of the other names that one associates with innovation this century: They’re people who built operating systems, devices, websites or social-media platforms. Even when it didn’t start out that way, the ideology in most cases soon became: How can I make my company the center of my users’ world? Consequently, social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter use a number of tricks to activate the addictive reward centers of a user’s brain.

If Musk’s employees suggested doing something like this, he’d probably look at them like they were crazy. This type of thinking doesn’t compute. “It’s really inconsistent to not be the way you want the world to be,” he says flatly, “and then through some means of trickery, operate according to one moral code while the rest of the world operates according to a different one. This is obviously not something that works. If everyone’s trying to trick everyone all the time, it’s a lot of noise and confusion. It’s better just to be straightforward and try to do useful things.”

He discusses building a permanent moon base, and further funding SpaceX by creating passenger rockets capable of traveling to any city in the world in less than an hour, a form of transport he calls “Earth-to-Earth.” I ask if there’s anything that he believes works that surprises people.

“I think being precise about the truth works. Truthful and precise. I try to tell people, ‘You don’t have to read between the lines with me. I’m saying the lines!’”

He enjoys the usual pop-culture geek favorites: The Onion, Rick and Morty, South Park, The Simpsons, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Good guys with guns saving lives

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

John R. Lott shares some recent stories of good guys with guns saving lives:

It is only too bad that someone with a concealed handgun permit wasn’t already at the [First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas]. We may never have heard of the shooting — national news stories are virtually never done on permit holders stopping mass public shootings.

An article at Fox News this past week mentions four such cases. It talks about a 1997 shooting at a high school in Pearl, Mississippi; a 2007 church attack in Colorado Springs; and a Chicago Uber driver who in 2015 shot and wounded a man who opened fire on a crowd. The most recent case was a 2017 church shooting in Antioch, Tennessee. But those cases just skim the surface.

[...]

There are countless examples of people using guns in self-defense at their homes or workplaces. But I want to focus on a much narrower set of cases where permit holders stopped public shootings. Here are 10 additional recent cases.

Arlington, Texas, May 3, 2017: A police spokesman stated that the concealed handgun permit holder “prevented further loss of life.” A Dallas Morning News headline read: “‘Hero’ stopped mass murder by crazed bar patron who was armed to the teeth, police say.”

Lyman, South Carolina, June 30, 2016: Just a couple of weeks after the Orlando massacre, 32-year-old Jody Ray Thompson opened fire on another nightclub. Fortunately, permitted concealed handguns were allowed in South Carolina bars. Thompson was able to shoot three people before the permit holder fired back and wounded Thompson in the leg. Fox 5 in Atlanta reports: “At least one South Carolina sheriff are crediting a man with a concealed carry permit with preventing further violence at a nightclub this past Sunday.”

Winton, Ohio, July 26, 2015: A man started shooting at four people who were walking outside on a summer’s evening. Fortunately, a concealed handgun permit holder fired at the attacker, giving the four people a chance to escape into their home.

Conyers, Georgia, May 31, 2015: A man killed two people at a liquor store and continued shooting at others until a permit holder ran inside and exchanged fire. The killer then fled the store. “I believe that if Mr. Scott did not return fire at the suspect then more of those customers would have [been] hit by a gun,” said Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett. “So in my opinion he saved other lives in that store.”

New Holland, South Carolina, May 5, 2015: New Holland Fire Department volunteers were hosting a children’s day event with ice cream and fire truck rides, when a man started shooting. Fortunately, two firemen were permit holders and were able to stop the attack.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 22, 2015: A 40-year-old man started shooting at people in a barber shop. A permit holder who heard the gunfire ran inside and shot the attacker. “The person who responded was a legal gun permit carrier. He responded and I guess he saved a lot of people in there,” said Philadelphia Police Captain Frank Llewellyn.

Darby, Pennsylvania, July 24, 2014: Convicted felon Richard Plotts killed a caseworker at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and started shooting at Dr. Lee Silverman. Fortunately, the doctor had his own gun and returned fire, critically wounding Plotts, who still had 39 bullets on him. “Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives,” said Yeadon police chief Donald Molineux.

Chicago, Illinois, July 7, 2014: Gang members started firing at four people who had just left a party. The attack started because one of the four people removed a cup of liquor that had been placed on top of her vehicle. Luckily, one of the four people — a military member — had a permitted concealed handgun and was able to wound the primary attacker.

Portland, Oregon, January 11, 2014: Convicted criminal Thomas Eliot Hjelmeland was ejected from a nightclub but returned 30 minutes later wearing a mask and carrying a gun. He shot the bouncer who had ejected him, and shot at others. Two others were wounded, and Hjelmeland was shooting all around the club. A concealed handgun permit holder who worked at the nightclub then fatally shot Hjelmeland.

And here are just two more cases from 2000 to 2013 — the same period that the FBI claims only had one instance of a permit holder stopping a public shooting. Again, law enforcement say that permit holders saved lives in both of these cases.

Plymouth, Pennsylvania, September 9, 2012: William Allabaugh shot at people as he walked down the street in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. He wounded one and killed another. Permit holder Mark Ktytor fatally shot Allabaugh. “Mr. [Ktytor] then acted, taking him [Allabaugh] down. We believe that it could have been much worse that night,” said Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino.

Spartanburg, South Carolina, March 2012: Jesse Gates kicked open a door to a church and pointed a shotgun at the pastor and congregation. Parishioner Aaron Guyton, a concealed weapons permit holder, got the drop on Gates and held him at gunpoint. Sheriff Chuck Wright called Aaron and others at the church “everyday heroes.”

Permit holders haven’t just stopped public shootings. They have stopped everything from public knife attacks to vehicle attacks.

I haven’t found a single case where gun control advocates’ fears were borne out by the facts. In not one of these cases did a permit holder accidentally shoot a bystander, or a police officer accidentally harm a permit holder.

There are many more of these cases.

Important if true

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

A book can be great without being correct:

Max Weber, the north German economist, proud reserve officer in the Kaiser’s army, literal dueler with academic opponents, and co-founder of modern sociology, sits on every college reading list for his 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. If you didn’t read it in college, it’s time to turn off the TV, Google it, and do so. It’s a stunning performance, one of my top 100 nonfiction books of the 20th century. The book is brilliant, readable, short. (By the way, henceforth you should exhibit your sophistication by pronouncing his name correctly. It’s “VAY-ber,” not like the “WEB-er” hamburger grill you’ve just put away for the year. You get extra points for saying “Max” in echt deutsch: “Maahx,” not like “Mad Max.”)

Others of the stunning 100 include Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), and Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983). If you don’t know such books, you don’t know much, and you really need to get going.

But that a book is “great” does not mean it is correct, or is to be taken as good history or good economics or good theology. Marx’s Das Kapital is indubitably a great book, one of the very greatest of the 19th century, as I say to annoyed friends of libertarian or conservative bent. But then I say to my left-wing friends, annoying them too, that Marx was wrong on almost every point of economics, history, and politics. Which is why I haven’t got any friends.

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So Weber was mistaken. But his is still a great book. Culture, wrote the Victorian critic Matthew Arnold, “is a study of perfection [which] seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere.” Even the best may be found after a while to be mistaken.

Hobbes’ Leviathan is mistaken, claiming centrally that “Covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. Geist expressed in words does indeed bind and secure people. But Michael Oakeshott properly classed Leviathan as the greatest (and “perhaps the only”) work of English political philosophy.

Another Victorian, a witty atheist, used to suggest that every church door have a large sign declaring “Important if true.” The Protestant Ethic is important though false, an instance of imperfect perfection.

That witty Victorian was Alexander Kinglake, according to Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes:

KINGLAKE, Alexander William (1809–91), British writer.

  1. A skeptic by nature, Kinglake suggested that all churches should bear the inscription: “IMPORTANT IF TRUE.”

Protesting has become a progressive tradition

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Protesting has become a progressive tradition:

The grievances of progressivism are now like Boomer Christmas, stuck in time, repeating the same old songs over and over again, recapturing the youthful days of a generation long gone by. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real problems to be solved, it just suggests that’s not why the majority of people do it.

We failed in the direction of truth

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

Razib Khan is excited to read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, because he’s looking for a little hope:

At this point, I am very pessimistic as to the prospects for the Enlightenment project.

This is pretty obvious to anyone who reads me closely. I’ve been writing and discussing with people on the internet, and in private, for many years now, and have come to the conclusion most people are decent, but they’re also craven and intellectually unserious outside of their domain specificity when they are intellectual. Many of our institutions are quite corrupt, and those which are supposedly the torchbearers of the Enlightenment, such as science, are filled with people who are also blind to their own biases or dominated by those who will plainly lie to advance their professional prospects or retain esteem from colleagues.

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n psychology, much of the replication crisis was simply due to personal self-interest (more publications). But some of it was obviously political (see stereotype threat). Similarly, look at the fiasco in nutrition science. Some of it was personal, but there were also political demands from on high that there be something done. So “scholars” set some guidelines that people followed for decades, even if later they were shown to be totally ineffective. I’m not even going to get into the travesty that is modern biomedical science, with professional advancement and institutional interests combined in a deadly cocktail.

Also, I enjoy science popularizing (or did, I don’t read science books much anymore) as much as the next person, but isn’t it interesting how much of modern science confirms the mainstream elite cultural norms of ~2020? Curiously, if you read science popularizations in newspapers in 1920 they would also confirm the elite cultural norms of 1920…. But this time we’re right!

Other institutions aren’t doing better. The media is going through economic collapse, and journalists and their paymasters are reacting by pandering to their audiences. Instead of illuminating, they’re confirming. That’s what the audience wants, and I’m sure it’s more satisfying to journalists anyway. But can you blame them with the economics that are before us?

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People have always been biased and subject to motivated reasoning. We’ve had our disputes whatever our ideology, whether it be conservative, moderate, or liberal. But the Enlightenment perspective of critical rationalism, which took philosophical realism seriously, meant that ultimately people who disagreed often assumed that fundamentally they were trying to converge on the same facts, the same reality. Reality existed, and you couldn’t just wish it away. Discussion might forward two individuals to a convergence!

We’re not there anymore. Whether it be Bush-era contempt for “Reality-Based Community”, or the rising crest of “Critical Theory”, the acid of subjectivism is eroding the vast edifice of aspirational realism which grew organically in the wake of the Enlightenment. This isn’t a Left vs. Right phenomenon, it’s a human dynamic, because for most of human history what is true has been determined by what the tribe dictates to be true, and what the tribe dictates to be true has often not been based on a critical evaluation of facts and theories. What the tribe dictates to be true is computationally less intensive than thinking things through yourself, and, it’s often right-enough.

The reality is that this cultural cognition and conformity has always held. It’s just that it seems that for a few centuries substantial latitude was given in public to a relative amount of heterodoxy from broad tribal visions. And it was always a work in progress. But there was a goal, and an ideal, even if we habitually failed. We failed in the direction of truth.

We live in a post-modern age now. Feelings are paramount, facts must bow before them. But the curious fact is that the post-modern age is just the pre-modern age. When I first read the Christian author Alister McGrath I literally scoffed at his contention that atheism would fail before the ascendancy of post-modernism. Ten years on I will admit that I now believe he was right and I was wrong. Though I don’t think the New Atheism failed miserably, I do think that the problems it is encountering from the cultural Left are due to its cold modernist baggage.

No truth, no liberalism. No liberalism, and democracy become the mob. The passions of the mob do eventually fail, and its wake a more oligarchic and hierarchical system will emerge. We may simply be seeing the end of the liberal individualist interregnum, as history reverts to its despotic collectivist norm.

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Finally, understanding that most people don’t need to be right or utter the truth, but simply need to win, has made me much more cheerful and less sour observing everyday stupidities. It is no great insight to observe that I’ve never been one who has had much esteem for the admiration of my peers. I like to do my own thing. But tribal acclamation must be the best of all things for most humans, and now I understand why they fight unfairly and stupidly with such ease and naturalness: their aim not to be right in the eyes of nature, but to rise in the esteem their fellow human. That is the summum bonum.