San Diego bishop calls for purge of homophobia

which can, ultimately, only mean a purge of homophobes.

Neuhaus’ Law:  Where orthodoxy is optional, sooner or later orthodoxy will be proscribed.

No matter how tolerant someone says he is, ultimately everyone believes in the law of non-contradiction.

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Who owns the dead white men?

The mainstream progressive position, as I infer it, is subtle.  It’s not contradictory, but the balance is delicate.  On the one hand, racists/sexists/etc are losers.  They’re dumb; they’re ugly; they have low-status jobs.  Progressives are not just right; they’re superior people in every way.  Therefore, great men of the past were surely proto-liberals. If they had lived today, Plato and Shakespeare would surely have voted for Hillary Clinton.  On the other hand, Western civilization is so irredeemably racist/sexist/etc that all its ideas, institutions, and cultural products are tainted.  This includes, of course, the works of our geniuses, and the fact that they are thus corrupted shows how wicked our civilization is to its very core.

So, insofar as the dead white men were genuinely accomplished, they belong to progressivism, rays of light that shown in spite of, and in no way because of, their white, Christian, European context.  Insofar as they held unprogressive beliefs or their creations reflected such, they belong to the West and add to the list of things that lower class whites should be ashamed of.  To sum up, we get all of the guilt, but none of the glory.

In the past, liberals wisely focused on the first first point.  Denying racists/sexists/etc any proud heritage was the most important thing.  Now I’d say the balance is shifting.  An insecure high-status man wants to show that he’s the same as other high status men.  A secure and ambitious high-status man wants to show that he’s different.  Progressives are secure in their status as monopolists of morality and feel no further need to associate with dead white men.  So I see more articles on how Feynman was a sexist, Watson and Crick were racists, Puccini was a fascist, etc.  I’m all for this.  If every great scientist, artist, and composer can be cast as a deplorable, it’s going to be very hard to keep up the pretense that we’re all losers.

The Mystery of Consciousness

The Mystery of Consciousness
by John Searle
(1997)

This is a collection of essays by philosopher-of-mind John Searle, each one critiquing the writings of some other thinker who has waded into this difficult field.  Searle is well-known as the creator of the Chinese Room thought experiment, the point of which is to highlight the difference between syntax and semantic content.  A computer can manipulate symbols without giving them meaning, so it’s not an adequate model of the mind.  In fact, when you think of it that way, it’s hard to understand how semantics, and thus real consciousness, could emerge from any kind of machine.  Searle admits we have as yet no model for how this could work even in principle.  And yet, clearly it does, since we are thinking machines of the biological sort, so Searle is confident that once we’re done banishing our Cartesian misunderstandings, what is left is just a biological problem:  we know that the brain causes consciousness, but how does it do it?

A couple of mischievous asides, mischievous because I don’t necessarily disagree with any of the above, but feel the need to poke fun anyway.  First, how is “the brain causes consciousness but we have no idea how such a thing could work even in principle” better than the infamous “interaction problem” of Cartesian dualism?  If only poor Descartes had thought to appeal to the “c” word!  Second, the idea of an emergent property–which is not a big part of Searle’s thesis but always haunts these discussions–seems to have several pieces, not all of which are equally well argued.  Neurons firing is the small-scale reality; a brain thinking is the large-scale reality; these are not two realities but one considered on different scales; both are real, but the small-scale reality is ontologically prior and thus enjoys the status of “cause”.  That last bit seems to have a lot of metaphysical baggage in it.  Sure, it seems more natural to say that neurons firing causes me to think than that me thinking causes neutrons to fire, but in these days of metaphysical parsimony, are we really allowed to rank these two realities at all?

In most of the essays, I agreed with Searle, who overall has a pretty balanced perspective on these issues.  Unfortunately for him, for the two essays that I found most interesting, I found myself siding more with his opponent, and those are the ones I’m going to talk about.

In Chapter 4, Searle discusses Roger Penrose’s argument that consciousness cannot be algorithmic and thus cannot be modeled on a computer.  His argument is based on Godel’s theorem, which proves that there are true statements in mathematical systems which cannot be proven within those systems from their axioms.  The fact that these statements can be recognized as true by us proves that we are not limited to the set of “knowably-sound” theorem-proving procedures.  Searle grants that a computer program couldn’t model a mathematician’s thoughts using such procedures, but he suggests that the mathematician’s brain could still be modeled, just not as a disembodied infallible theorem-proving machine, that we could just drop the requirement of definite soundness and let the model make the same sorts of mistakes mathematicians make.  It seems to me that this solution carries a large price:  that mathematical statements that seem certain to us might actually be mistaken.  Grant that, and we are in danger of more general skepticism about our reasoning powers.  Godel and Penrose were motivated by a belief in Platonism; the desired conclusion is that our minds must somehow have access to the Platonic realm of mathematical truths.  But how?  Penrose realizes that if brains are subject to the laws of physics as we know them, then they must ultimately be algorithmic, so he proposes some new physics involving deviations from quantum mechanics must be happening in our brains, and our neutrons just amplify this to macroscopic scales.  Here I think Searle does make a very valid criticism, in that it’s not clear how one can explain something like consciousness even by rearranging the laws of physics in any imaginable way.

Searle’s belief that consciousness is an irreducible phenomenon material sentient beings will sound similar to property dualism, but John Searle is not a property dualist.  His hostility toward property dualism comes out in his chapter 6 attack essay on David Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind.  The property dualist will find himself confronted with a couple of bizarre consequences of his theory, and Chalmers apparently decides to accept both of them.  First, if qualia can’t be reduced to material properties, then it’s not clear how they can causally affect the material world; consciousness (in the fully mental, rather than physical functional sense) cannot even affect human behavior.  Anybody who accepts the idea of zombies must grant this; a zombie will plead until he’s blue in the face that he has qualia.  Second, if brain states find their “echo” in this whole other realm of properties, it’s natural to wonder if this is a property of matter more generally.  Perhaps all material configurations possess psychic states, although usually more rudimentary than what our brains and those of animals produce.  (I should note that in the correspondence between the two, Chalmers claims that Searle misrepresents his position on panpsychism, which he’s open to but doesn’t endorse.)  Searle is appalled by these conclusions, but doesn’t really give any arguments against them.

 

becoming a white supremacist Nazi without noticing it

It’s a funny thing.  I became a “white supremacist”, and probably a “Nazi”, without even noticing it.  My own beliefs never changed.  I didn’t go to the label; it came to me.

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More smart people problems

Vox Day finds an article by a high-IQ woman lamenting the terrible loneliness and unhappiness endured by intelligent people because of their inability to communicate with ordinary people.  Like Vox, I’m skeptical.  Communication, and the related arts of rhetoric and pedagogy, are intellectual challenges like any other:  how to get a person of given capacities from prior understanding A to subsequent understanding B.  There’s no reason high IQ should not be an asset in solving this problem, if a high IQ person is willing to apply his or her intellect to it.  If you’re not willing to make the effort to imagine yourself in the other person’s mental place and think through how to get an idea across, then the failure of communication is your fault.

Anyway, I don’t buy this idea of a “communication range”.  True, most of us are in the middle of the IQ distribution and ex hypothesi would seldom encounter our either edge of such a range.  However, even not knowing my IQ, I can know that I’ve successfully communicated with people across a more than 4SD range.  Data point #1:  I have often communicated verbally with children between the ages of 2 and 7, successfully exchanging information on a wide range of topics and having enjoyable social interactions.  If an adult had the mental capacities of a child in this age range, that person would have a low IQ.  Data point #2:  I have read, and (so far as anyone can tell) successfully comprehended, essays, public addresses, or books by several undoubtedly highly intelligent people:  Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Immanuel Kant, James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, Richard Feynman, Roger Penrose, etc.  So, no matter what my IQ is, the hypothesis of a communication range is disproved.

Everyone’s entitled to gripe about their problems from time to time, so why do I bring this up?  Because self-pity by the intelligent is a dangerous indulgence in our time.  In fact, high IQ people have no right to feel put upon by society at large.  It is not true that people are treated badly for being smart.  Dumb kids are just as bored in school as smart kids.  Nerds are unpopular not for being smart but for being socially awkward and physically weak.  An intelligent person can always choose not to draw attention to his or her intellect.  On the other hand, people are teased for being unintelligent.  “Stupid” is an insult, one with real sting.  And it is generally much harder to hide stupidity than to hide intelligence.  I doubt any high-IQ person would trade his social isolation from those he regards as inferiors (an isolation ultimately of his choosing) for the humiliation a low-IQ person endures for not being able to keep up with everyone else.  Even if this humiliation weren’t worse, the low-IQ person will often have unemployment or poverty added to it.

In today’s world, moral status comes from victimization.  I’m afraid high-IQ people have convinced themselves that they are somehow a persecuted minority, and thus entitled to behave toward the mass of mankind not as an aristocracy with a sense of noblesse oblige but as a victorious conquerer enacting righteous punishment.  Please, if you are smart, don’t feel sorry for yourself about it.

Seventeenth, the greatest of centuries, and exploratory vs. critical ages

When did each of the major civilizations achieve it’s peak greatness?  For the Muslim world, I’d say the Abbasid Caliphate, for India the Gupta Empire, for China the Song Dynasty, for the West the seventeenth century.  It’s the obvious choice:  Shakespeare, Cervantes, Milton, Racine, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Newton.  In terms of intellectual and cultural output, what century before or since could match it?

Two other notable things.  First, the West achieved its greatest peak as a collection of separate sovereign monarchies, often “absolutist” (the age of Richelieu and Louis XIV).  Whatever the Habsburgs may want to believe, Warring States periods are the rule for us, not an anomaly.  Empire is not our characteristic form.

Second, the story one often hears, that the West advanced as “religion” retreated, is clearly untrue.  the 1600s were not only peak Western creativity, but also peak Christian zeal.  The 17th century enjoyed the fruits of the 16th century reforms, both Protestant and Tridentine, giving a better catechized laity and a better trained and disciplined clergy than ever seen during the “Age of Faith”.  It was a heroic missionary age, with Matteo Ricci in the Chinese imperial court, the Japanese martyrs, the Jesuit Reductions.  H. Daniel-Rops in his multivolume history of the Church calls this, the century of Francis de Sales, Vincent de Paul, Fenelon, and Bossuet, “the age of spiritual grandeur”.  It was also the time of the West’s most terrible religious war.  When peace came to Europe, it owed nothing to secularism or religious indifference/tolerance, whose partisans were still about a century in the future, but to the eminently realistic Westphalian system of clear dominance of one sect in each state.

Should we then speak of two 17th centuries, a religious and philosophical?  There is no historical justification for doing so, since the great minds of this age were often deeply involved in the religious currents of their time (e.g. Pascal’s pro-Jansenist polemics, Newton’s fascination with Biblical prophesy).

Even clearer is the contrast with the 17th and 18th centuries.  Religion declined under the assault of the Enlightenment, but scientific progress also markedly slowed.  We don’t notice this only because the philosophes have successfully taken credit for the accomplishments of the previous generation.  (Self-promotion was their one area of undoubted genius.)  Now, one could say that whatever followed Newton’s Principia was bound to seem like a slow-down, but the relative scientific and literary slowdown of the 18th century is notable compared to both the 17th and 19th centuries.  Both the 17th and 18th centuries evince a restlessness of the Western mind, but the 17th century was an age of exploration, while the 18th century was an age of criticism.

The exploratory spirit rests on the belief that there is an identifiable body of knowledge, often newly recognized, that mankind does not yet possess but that it is now in a position to acquire.  Galileo’s quantitative study of constant acceleration puts him in an analogous position to the 17th century as Columbus was to the 16th.  We’ve always known that heavy bodies fall, but thinking about exactly how things move, position as a function of time, opens up all sorts of new questions.

Critical thinking is quite different from the exploratory spirit.  The critical thinker presumes to already have settled knowledge on all the major issues, to be in a position from which to attack and discredit whatever he takes to be the unjust established order.  (Critical thinking always has a predetermined enemy and a pre-determined outcome.)  For men like d’Holbach, Helvetius, Diderot, or Voltaire, all the problems of mankind were quite simple:  just exterminate Christianity, especially Catholicism, and everyone will be happy, free, and rational.  The French Enlightenment accomplished nothing nothing notable because as far as it was concerned there were no outstanding questions.

The philosophes got to try out their ideas, and the rule of Reason brought Terror in Paris, genocide in the Vendee, and war throughout Europe.  By the early 19th century, the critical spirit that had been suffocating Europe, having so spectacularly discredited itself, began to subside, and the West had its second great exploratory epoch.  We might perhaps start this around 1800 with Dalton’s atomic theory and the 1801 Concordat and end it in the mid-1960s.  To this period belong the great discoveries of electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, the evolution of species, quantum mechanics, and genetics, as well as most of the English, French, and Russian novels most people know of as classics.  Even the critics had a sort of exploratory spirit, as with the (bogus) claims of Marx and Freud to have uncovered new sciences.  Again, it was a time of terrible wars, and again it was a time of great Christian vitality.  Constant secularist attacks make this period no one’s idea of a Christian golden age, but the clergy were even more impressive than before, the age yielded a crop of saints and martyrs to match the Patristic Age, and there was another great effort of worldwide evangelization by Protestants as well as Catholics.  Then began another critical age with the “spirit of Vatican II” Christian implosion, and there have been no really great works of art or scientific breakthroughs since.

All I have noted above is a correlation:  the historical facts show that Western creativity is positively correlated with Christian vitality, not negatively correlated, as many have carelessly asserted in spite of the clear evidence.  I have not argued that Christianity deserves all or most of the credit for these great ages of creativity.  The 17th century was a thoroughly Christian affair, but the achievements of the 19th–early 20th century were shared by Christians, Jews, and atheists in comparable measure.  And, of course, Christianity had already been the religion of a civilization for a millennium before this spectacular burst of creativity.  (This is not to deny that Christendom from Theodosius to Copernicus was more culturally impressive than often acknowledged, nor that the 17th century built on its accomplishments in many ways.)  Nor have I given an argument that Christianity is therefore a good thing.  From the same evidence, Western creativity is also positively correlated with major wars.

It is possible that the two phenomena of exploration vs. criticism and religious zeal vs. skepticism are correlated because they share a common cause.  Indeed this seems probable to me.  The smug self-confidence of the new atheist is not the sort of attitude that leads to great breakthroughs.  We have none of the great ambitions of past ages.  The most impressive thing we can imagine doing is tearing down our own inheritance.

Bishop Dukes’ good idea and the reason for segregation

The report:

Bishop James Dukes, pastor of Liberation Christian Center, said he wants the statue gone, and he wants George Washington’s name removed from the park.

Dukes said, even though Washington was the nation’s first president and led the American army in the Revolutionary War, he’s no hero to the black community.

“There’s no way plausible that we would even think that they would erect a Malcolm X statue in Mount Greenwood, Lincoln Park, or any of that. Not that say Malcolm X was a bad guy; they just would not go for it,” he said. “Native Americans would not even think about putting up a Custer statue, because of the atrocities that he plagued upon Native Americans. And for them to say to us ‘just accept it’ is actually insulting.”

The pastor also said President Andrew Jackson’s name should be removed from nearby Jackson Park, because he also was a slave owner. He said he’s not necessarily asking the city rename the parks altogether. He suggested Washington Park could be named after former Mayor Harold Washington, and Jackson Park could be named after civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson or singer Michael Jackson.

Dukes said he’s not trying to erase history. He said black people should be able to decide who is and is not honored in their communities.

“I think we should be able to identify and decide who we declare heroes in or communities, because we have to tell the stories to our children of who these persons are,” he said.

He said parks, statues, or other monuments honoring Presidents Washington and Jackson might be appropriate elsewhere, but not in black neighborhoods.

This is a humane view.  One expects each community to honor its own heroes and ancestors, rather than others’.  And given the way history works, one group’s hero might be another group’s villain.  Nothing wrong or unusual about this.  Having distinct communities allows multiple collective memories to endure, each in its own place.  It follows that if whites wish to continue honoring their own heroes and their own past, they must not allow negroes into their communities in any significant numbers.  Conversely, blacks should not allow whites to colonize their neighborhoods.  That the members of the other race are friendly and law-abiding is irrelevant to this.

Today, public places in the American South are transitioning from white-controlled to black-controlled, at least in terms of whose collective memory is publicly acknowledged.  A certain amount of friction is inevitable in such a process, but it is exacerbated terribly by the failure to distinguish the public space from white and black communal private spaces.  Of course, this is because we’re not allowed to identify white-owned spaces.  But look what opportunities for conciliation arise when one does grant the existence of distinct ethnic spaces, as Pastor Dukes does above.  We move from the plane of moral absolutism to legitimate cultural pluralism.  Of course black-controlled public spaces will have statues of Malcolm X rather than Robert E. Lee.  It follows that statues of Lee should be transferred (in location and ownership) to white spaces, where whites can continue to venerate their hero.  That’s not going to happen.  Leftists are too wedded to their white-demonizing totalizing.  However, even if whites are completely eradicated, the problem of cultural pluralism will remain, and considerations like this will have to be made.