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The Wizard and the Prophet

Norman Borlaug

 

I like books that go to the root of things. Charles Mann has written one such. He is the author of 1491 and 1493, which explored, respectively, the world of the Americas immediately before the European discovery of America by Columbus, and the world after it. We continue to live with the consequences of that discovery.

Mann is not afraid to tackle large subjects. In his latest, the Wizard and the Prophet, he writes of the contest of views between the original ecologist and catastrophist, William Vogt, and the original optimist-scientist improver, Norman Borlaug. The latter man was the author of the Green Revolution. The former is the proponent of the view that we must all live within the limits imposed by Gaia, and that we are abusing the planet’s carrying capacity.

Canada cannot get a pipeline built, in part because our Liberal government inclines more to the Vogt position than the Borlaug position. Society is in turmoil because of fears of catastrophic global warming, overpopulation, and ocean acidification because of the views propounded by William Vogt and his catastrophist successors.

Charles Mann has done us a great service by laying out the debate and the values behind the debate about the good life that each man, Vogt and Borlaug, embodied.

The Wizard and the Prophet resembles another great book, Arthur Hermans’s The Cave and the Light, which treats of the continuing unresolved and unresolvable conflict between the approaches to reality expounded by Plato and Aristotle. The two books are lively, high level, and important, and to read them is to gain an education in something of supreme importance in the struggle of ideas.

Unfortunately we live in an era when people seek to win arguments by preventing argument from happening. “We shouldn’t even be discussing this” is the motif of the mindless hordes of the PC brainwashed. “It is settled science”.

With respect, no, it is not settled and cannot ever be settled, because the issue is not the science, it is a choice between experiment, innovation, risk and growth, on the one hand, and conservatism, control, stagnation, and the management of greater poverty, on the other.

Yes I am a rational optimist. I chose to get out of the Club of Rome catastrophism in 1976, while a huge swath of the intelligentsia seem to be still stuck there.

And hence we cannot get pipelines built. Ideas have consequences.

 

 

 

Scruton on what conservatism is

 

“The goal of the intellectual conservative  is to articulate the real reasons  why you should not have reasons.” At minute 5 of the interview.

“The initial instinct on the Left is outrage at the state of affairs, that things are wrong,  but the only solution for the Left is to seize power. But once you have got power, the negative is still there in your heart, because it’s driven you all along.”

“Without the concept of truth, there is no real exchange between people”

“Power is not a lens through which to see things, it is a corneal transplant” {Hamza Yusuf}

“The typical conservative finds things that he loves and wants to preserve them; the typical person on the left finds things that have gone wrong”

“Language is the evolved gift of previous generations”.

“It’s absolutely true that grammar is elitist, because it makes a distinction between the people that know it and the people that don’t. And that’s the kind of distinction we’er all going to need if we are to survive as a civilization and as individuals too”.

“We mustn’t be too pessimistic about everything”.

Hamza Yusuf is the first Muslim I have heard who makes sense, and explains what is good about Islam. Double bonus.

As Scruton says to Hamza Yusuf, “we are agreeing about too much”.

 

 

The universe is entirely mental

“The universe does not exist outside our consciousness”.

“Consciousness is the only carrier of reality.”

“The brain is the second person perspective of the first person experience.”

“The universe is the second-person perspective of someone else’s first person experience”

“Life is the image of dissociated processes of mind”.

“The universe does not exist outside of our consciousness of it”.

 

Bernardo Kastrup

Bernardo Kastrup is a physicist who has broken from materialism as the basis for understanding the nature of the universe. Materialism is the doctrine that there is nothing in the universe except matter and its motions. Hence explaining how something so immediate, mental, weird, and undivided as consciousness arises from a material process becomes the “hard problem” of consciousness.

By contrast, Kastrup has become a thorough-going radical “idealist”. Not as in someone who is driven by ideals, but someone who considers that mind is the fundamental constituent of the universe.

An introduction to where his views have led him is found in this Scientific American article:

 

The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles. This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness. The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life.

I have been reading Kastrup’s Why Materialism is Baloney to my considerable satisfaction. His writing is clear as water, but what he is asking you to imagine is that how you have been educated causes you to misperceive the world. It is not his language that is difficult. It is in seeing the world through fresh eyes.

He is the author of seven books.

Kastrup is the antidote to the Harris/Dennett/Hitchens school of radical materialist atheism.

Watch out for Kastrup; the man is taking the battle to the reigning gods of drivel.

A great contrast

I was struck by the most obvious aspect of the debate posted on youtube. The first is a radio show of Jordan Peterson with two orthodox British feminists. The second is a discussion among Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro and JP.

In the radio show, Peterson had just finished discussing how, in Scandinavia, men and women pursue different interests because of equality of opportunity (same as is made in the Norwegian TV series Hjernevask -Brainwash). Clearly this line of discussion could not be allowed to continue, because it would draw attention to the glaring hole in feminism, which is that men and women naturally prefer to follow different interests. The hostess switched the topic to Trump as fast as she could, to  prevent the topic from wandering into the forbidden zone of biological differences.

In the discussion among men – and I mention their sex advisedly – the topics concern psychedelic drugs, Judaeo-Christian morality, myth, truth, mind, and large issues.

One is an example of what really smart men get into, and the other is an example of why there needs to be a revolution against the tyranny of stupid women who think they are smart.

 

 

 

Pinker versus Taleb

 

Rebel Yell has said that a communist can live with a national socialist as long as they have the same ideas of cleanliness and tidiness. I incline to agree, and it is in this irenic spirit that I declare my willingness to live with Steven Pinker, but NOT agree with him. We are not as far opposed as two totalitarians, but we have our issues.

I have just read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game; they make a fascinating contrast in styles. The issue between them concerns two different and largely incompatible ways of knowing the world.

I had heard that Taleb had written incendiary reviews of Pinkler’s previous work, The Better Angels of Our Nature, wherein Pinker argues that we have entered an era of declining losses by death in war, the Long Peace, following World War 2. Taleb thinks this is nonsense; the post world war 2 peace is just an artifact of not having had a serious war in 70 years, which will most assuredly come, says Taleb, we know not when, but we had better not bet against it.

Pinker is a Montreal-born professor of psychology who teaches at Harvard. He opposes political correctness, disparages the blank slate idea of mind, upholds the reality of group IQ differences, regards Islam with a baleful eye, and rightly considers that we are living in and age of unprecedented, widespread and increasing prosperity. His main axis of attack is against the prevailing catastrophism and cultural negativism at universities and in modern culture more generally. His books demonstrate that the world is getting better for everyone, rapidly. So far so good.

Taleb says in effect, not so fast, dude. On the main contention of The Better Angels of Our Nature, that human propensity for violence is declining, Taleb maintains:

we as humans can not be deemed as less belligerent than usual. For a
conflict generating at least 10 million casualties, an event less
bloody than WW1 or WW2, the waiting time is on average
136 years, with a mean absolute deviation of 267 (or 52 years
and 61 deviations for data rescaled to today’s population). The
seventy years of what is called the “Long Peace” are clearly
not enough to state much about the possibility of WW3 in the
near future.

Pinker’s cheerful reasonableness really grates in Taleb, and I can see why. Taleb comes from the Dark Side: his formative experience was growing up in Lebanon’s never ending civil war in the 1970s, whereas Pinker’s folk came from the Snowdon-NDG side of Westmount Mountain in Montreal, where hard working Jewish immigrants rose the ladder of success after escaping anti-semitic persecution in Tsarist Russia.

So one guy in his youth experienced the world going to shit, and the other experienced the pleasant rise from Yiddish-speaking working class to  professoriate in two or three generations of Anglo-Montreal. And then off to Harvard where, through a stellar intelligence and hard work, he has written a series of highly successful books, most of which attack contemporary nonsense.

Yet Pinker manages to go off the rails in ways that send me and Taleb crazy. He accepts that the world will on average experience a 1.5C rise in temperature by the end of the 21st century, and perhaps by 4C or more. (Many reasonable people think so too, though I think the higher figure of a 4 degree C rise in a century is rubbish.) In any case the projections of increase are beside my point.

It is the proposed solution and his treatment of it that crosses over into well-reasoned insanity. It concerns planetary engineering by cloud seeding to lower the intake of solar energy.

Pinker writes:

For all these reasons, no responsible person could maintain that we can just keep pumping carbon into the air and slather sunscreen onto the stratosphere to compensate. But in a 2013 book the physicist David Keith makes a claim for a form of climate engineering that is moderate, responsive and temporary.“Moderate” means that the amounts of sulfate and calcite would be just enough to reduce the rate of warming, not cancel it altogether…. “Responsive” means that any manipulation would be careful, gradual, closely monitored , constantly adjusted and, if indicated, halted altogether. And “temporary” means that the program would be designed only to give humanity breathing space until it eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and brings the CO2 in the atmosphere back to preindustrial levels.

How many heroic assumptions are made in this paragraph?

  • that we know enough to calculate the amounts of particulates to dump into the atmosphere when we cannot even measure an average global temperature when no such thing as an average global temperature exists – and that is just the beginning of the heroic assumptions along this path of reasoning.
  • that there would exist an institutional opposition strong enough to call a halt to the engineering, when all our experience to date shows that opposition to measures to control global warming are treated as a combination of treason and heresy.
  • that we can reduce CO2 to preindustrial levels without engendering the very poverty that burning fossil fuels extracted us from.
  • That we should reduce CO2 to preindustrial levels, when the evidence points to the greening of the planet under the influence of more CO2, which had sunk in the last ice age to levels so low (140 ppm)  that vegetation was starving for the CO2 it craves.

No engineering of the planet can by its nature be moderate, responsive or temporary. Can you imagine the shit storm if someone challenged the idea that global cloud seeding was not merely working, but plunging us back into the next ice age? That sea ice was expanding, glaciers descending and climate season shortening? Is there the slightest chance that the current toxic debates on climate change would be less dangerous when we have a world wide program of “moderate”, “responsive” and “temporary” cloud-seeding?

I kept hearing that Nassim Taleb was contemptuous of Pinker. He referred to him as a “higher level journalist” in his recent book, Skin in the Game. Then I read Pinker’s modest proposal, in the light of Taleb’s analysis of risk, and I understood. The tails of the distribution curves are always longer and fatter in reality than they are in the pure Gaussian bell curve, says Taleb, and gambling the planet on some wanker’s idea of “moderate, responsive and temporary” planetary engineering struck Taleb as the kind of idiocy only a Harvard professor could believe. As David Keith is also a Harvard professor, the two of them are drinking each other’s bath water, and I am sure both are splendid chaps, but they do not understand risk, and I think Taleb does.

Then, in Pinker’s final chapter on religion and humanism, Pinker comes up with this sort of gem:

“If the factual tenets of religion can no longer be taken seriously, and its ethical tenets depend entirely on whether they can be justified by secular morality, what about its claims to widsom on the great questions of existence?”

I keep wondering whether Pinker has connected the dots between religious decline and the raging SJWs he confronts at Harvard. Does he not see a link between empty rage, the confused, deeply unhappy people, and the fact they have been raised on a monoculture of “secular morality”: that the students he opposes and who try to shout him down are the products of a culture in decline from right understanding of man’s place in the universe? In short, the products of secular humanism?

The content of secular morality is a weak reed; it changes with every passing fancy, it denies the objective nature of truth. The difference between Islam and western concepts of political correctness is that Islam has fixed its “political correctness” for all time, ours changes with the week, into ever more insane attempts to explain inequality by every device other than that people, cultures, and religions are unequal, in fact, objectively unequal.

In short, in matters of what is central to happiness, the modern student is a shorn lamb in the wind, and people like Pinker are the sheep shearers, though they do not know it. Pinker wonders why their environment is so ideologically extreme and anti-enlightenment. Here we pass over into Jordan Peterson territory. Peterson has been dealing with the little savages from suburbia and has drawn direct links between secular values, post modernism, and the absence of religion.

Nevertheless, I warmly recommend both Pinker and Taleb. Pinker knows the world by facts and book learning and discussion; the other knows it by taking big risks with money and surviving, and by working out heuristics, which is Greek for rough and ready rules. The man who wrote the Black Swan and made a fortune betting against the real estate boom which crashed in 2007 is not to be trifled with. Taleb’s defence of religion is a remarkable insight into its value. He comments that God put Jesus into fully human form to show He had skin in the game.  Taleb is full of insights into bullshit detection, and his view of Pinker is that the professor is a higher form of BS. This may be true, it is certainly uncharitable, but Pinker can be read to profit regardless.

I know whom I would trust in a bar fight, both to see it coming and to get out in time, and to have enough tough friends to make an attack on us a painful waste of time.

I doubt that Pinker has seen the inside of the kind of bar where men can be seen wearing reflective outerwear from working on the roads, and where the men drink American domestic beers. But he would make an excellent dinner guest, as long as we could avoid the topic of religion and global warming.

Science is superior to native traditional knowledge. And no, I am not sorry.

 

 

Science is a procedure of verifiability, or if you prefer, falsifiability. It is not a racial or cultural trait. If you cannot establish a proposition that is capable of being shown to be untrue it is not science, it is belief, it is conjecture, it is myth, it is “traditional knowledge”

On the other hand, science – by the post modern (racialist) definition – is “white” by accident of being derived from Europe. I am not asserting racial superiority here, but I am asserting that neither Hindu, Islamic or Chinese civilizations managed to develop this form of knowing the world, the one that has produced the greatest improvement of the state of most people in the world in the last 400 years.

In the current environment of insanity, it is dangerous to suggest that there might be conflicts between assertions of traditional knowledge and science. It is a ‘racism of intelligence’.

A Quebec civil servant raised a ruckus when he pointed out that a conflict could arise between science and “traditional aboriginal knowledge”. Bad man! Outrage proceeded from the professionally outraged.

Quoting the National Post article in question:

Bill C-69, which received first reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 8, would require that before a project subject to a federal assessment is approved, “traditional knowledge of the Indigenous peoples of Canada provided with respect to the project” be taken into account — though it provides no definition of “traditional knowledge.” The bill further states that when traditional knowledge is provided in confidence, it “is confidential and must not knowingly be, or be permitted to be, disclosed without written consent.”

A federal law of general application to the assessment of projects would establish, or fail to establish:

  • no definition is given of “traditional knowledge”, and
  • if presented in confidential format, no disclosure of it is required in open court.

The civil servant quite reasonably observed that

“to systematically place Indigenous knowledge on equal footing with scientific data “could prove problematic in cases where Indigenous knowledge and science are found to be in contradiction.” He said criteria should be established to evaluate the accuracy of the traditional knowledge.”

If I were an aboriginal, by these provisions I would be  enabled – for example – to submit to the Court confidentially that the Great Spirit has vouchsafed us a knowledge that He would be wrathful if a pipeline went across our “traditional” territories. It would be “traditional knowledge” if we said it was, and hence its contents would be unverifiable; indeed their contents would be unknown to the parties in the proceeding, they would be undiscussable, and the reasons of the court could not be made available if they relied on it, without written permission of the aboriginal group. So we could have a system of legal review that could not review the reasons for a government decision. A court could not rely on the accuracy or completeness of a record of a proceeding.

Anyone familiar with the trial of Galileo knows that he asserted that the earth went around the sun, that some of the moveable stars, as they were then known, like Jupiter, had their own moons, and that the surface of the moon was pockmarked with craters. The Church held that Aristotle was right, and that these three points were contradicted by the Great Philosopher. Yet in the case of Aristotle, the Church asserted a known, public doctrine.

So the position of the future Galileos in Canadian society is even worse in a way than it was for Galileo. Because you will be brought to trial for offending a traditional doctrine without knowing what that doctrine was, unless the Aboriginal band decided to make it public. To the uncertainty of what will arouse the wrath of Social Justice Warriors will be added secret doctrines, known to the initiates of tribal customs, and unknown to all others.

If you doubt for a moment it will soon be a hate crime to contest traditional knowledge, observe the accusation by the Ottawa law professors against the Quebec civil servant, Mr. Beauchesne, of “racism” for favouring science in a ‘hierarchy of knowledges’.

When I heard Jordan Peterson say that the social constructionist attack on knowledge will soon attack biology for contradicting what the Left says about race, sex, and other biological facts, I thought he might have been extrapolating reasonably. It has become my clear conviction that the days when “white science” will be attacked as racist, sexist, homophobic etc. is already underway.

First they call you a ‘settler’. Then they call you a ‘scientist’.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts of a reactionary

 

A short biography and a compendium of Don Colacho’s aphorisms is found here. His real name was Nicolas Gomez Davila.He was a Colombian, wealthy, and broadly educated. It shows.

From the biography:

 

If Gómez Dávila’s brand of reaction was different, what then did he actually stand for? For Gómez Dávila, the reactionary’s task in our age is to resist democracy. By democracy he means “less a political fact than a metaphysical perversion.” Indeed, Gómez Dávila defines democracy as, quite literally, “an anthropotheist religion,” an insane attempt to rival, or even surpass, God. The secret of modernity is that man has begun to worship man, and it is this secret which lurks behind every doctrine of inevitable progress. The reactionary’s resistance, therefore, is religious
in nature. “In our time, rebellion is reactionary, or else it is nothing but a hypocritical and facile farce.” The most important and difficult rebellion, however, does not necessarily take place in action. “To think against is more difficult than to act against.” But, all that remains to the reactionary today is “an impotent lucidity.” Moreover, Gómez Dávila did not look forward to the establishment of a utopia; what he wanted was to preserve values within the world. For this purpose, not force but art was the more powerful weapon.

 

 

Materialism: the assumption that proves itself

As Thomas Nagel once said, materialism is a vast limiting assumption about what is real, and whatever could be real. I bought a book by a famous professor, Robert Sapolsky, called Behave. (As you may have gathered, I read people with whom I do not agree). Sapolsky was speaking in an interview recorded in MacLean’s Magazine:

 

You’ve written a lot about neurology and the law. You’re not really impressed with the concept of free will.

Nah. I used to be polite and say stuff like I certainly can’t prove there isn’t free will. But no, there’s none. There simply is nothing compatible with a 21st century understanding of how the physical laws of the universe work to have room for some sort of volitional little homunculus crawling around in our heads that takes advice from the biological inputs but at the end of the day goes and makes this independent decision on its own. It’s just not compatible with anything we understand about how biology works. All that free will is, is the biology we don’t understand yet. If you’re willing to look at the trajectory of what’s happened with knowledge, anything that still counts as free will we’re going to have an explanation for at some point soon.

Observe how what is assumed is consequently proved. Since we are nothing but a meat machine (a purely material occurrence), free will “cannot be compatible with anything we understand about how biology works.” Ipso facto.

 

 

If your understanding is materialist, your understanding is materialist. He starts  from his out of date understanding of physical laws: quantum indeterminacy has not been discovered in the Sapolsky view. Then he writes a huge promissory note on the future. “Anything that still counts as free will we’re going to have an explanation for at some point soon.”

In other words, if we cannot explain free will and consciousness, do not worry. We will do so soon. In the meantime take my materialist notions on, what would you call it? – faith.

And this guy has a McArthur Foundation genius grant?

From the Wikipedia article on him:

Sapolsky describes himself as an atheist.[5][6] He stated in his acceptance speech for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, “I was raised in an Orthodox (Jewish) household, and I was raised devoutly religious up until around age 13 or so. In my adolescent years, one of the defining actions in my life was breaking away from all religious belief whatsoever.”[7

At least his materialism is consistent, unproven, and thorough. Assuming the truth of his assumptions, there can be no free will. Bully for him

Books I am reading now

 

Utopia is Creepy, and other provocations, by Nicholas Carr

A series of excellent blog posts of essay quality by the former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. If you feel as I do that most of what passes as novel and revolutionary in Silicon Valley is twaddle, and is heading us into a totalitarian state, this is your book. Internet 2.0 – remember that? If yes, you now know it meant nothing. If no, you cannot remember Internet 2.0, it illustrates the importance of not paying much attention to buzzwords out of the Bay area. Carr was the guy who first saw contributors to Facebook as “digital sharecroppers”, where the only person to reap the economic value of everyone working for free was Mark Zuckerberg. It is a better book than I have described here.

 

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

This book deservedly won the Pulitzer prize. Here we have found a true son of the English language in this Vietnamese emigré. A biting satire about a South Vietnamese secret police officer of cultivated tastes who reports to his bosses in the North, after the escape from Vietnam to California. Droll, ironic, high-spirited, and scathing, though it never ceases to be funny. Quite an accomplishment.

Russia at War (1941-1945) by Alexander Werth

Alexander Werth was a British journalist of German-Russian origin. I recall Professor Vogel praising it back in 1968 at McGill, and I finally came across a copy. It fulfills every expectation of history and good reportage. The book contains many first hand accounts of what he saw, or was allowed to see, of the Russian front. Though Werth was a left-wing journalist, you will not be led astray by his hopes for the Soviet Union, or by what he recounts. That the Russians raped their way through Germany at the end of the war will become better understood if you read this dreadful account.

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s forgotten theory of mate choice shapes the animal world, and us, by Richard O. Prum

Everyone acts as if Darwin had devised only one theory of evolution when in fact he devised two: natural and sexual selection. I cannot tell you much about it yet, but if it turns out to be half as good as Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind of 2001 or Jared Diamond’s Why is Sex Fun?  of 1998, the book will be important. My theory of sexual selection is that Darwin found that natural selection could not explain the speed or directedness of human evolution: why we got so smart, so fast, and bravely set out to explain how that could have come about by mutual choice of each sex for certain characteristics in the other. My brief glimpses into Prum’s book assures me that he disposes quickly of some contemporary rubbish about sexuality.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky

Too soon to tell, but it looks to be a powerful work of a wide-ranging intellect and great writing style.