Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tomb of Aristotle Discovered? I doubt it.

Several people have pointed me to the so-called "certainty" of Aristotle's tomb being discovered.  Given the evidence put forward so far, I don't think we can conclude with any certainty that Aristotle's tomb has been discovered.  It makes me even more skeptical since we've been told that it's "almost certain" by someone who has put forth circumstantial evidence compatible with any number of other explanations.

See Forbes and the Greek Reporter.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Book I Just Finished

I'd never read anything by Thomas Sowell other than popular pieces at online journals before this book.
In Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, Thomas Sowell, one of the foremost conservative public intellectuals in this country, argues that political and ideological struggles have led to dangerous confusion about income inequality in America. Pundits and politically motivated economists trumpet ambiguous statistics and sensational theories while ignoring the true determinant of income inequality: the production of wealth. We cannot properly understand inequality if we focus exclusively on the distribution of wealth and ignore wealth production factors such as geography, demography, and culture.
There are plenty of reviews online for anyone interested.  Sowell's main thesis is that economic inequalities result from a wide array of factors beyond the typical ones cited such as "systemic racism," public policy, a lack or abundance of natural resources, etc.  The chapter titles should give anyone interested an idea of Sowell's project:

Chapter 1: Issues
Chapter 2: Geographic Factors
Chapter 3: Cultural Factors
Chapter 4: Social Factors
Chapter 5: Political Factors
Chapter 6: Implications and Prospects

Sowell criticizes economic theories which are deterministic in favor of a more holistic approach which allows for causal influence short of determination.  Taking geographic factors as our example, some tend to explain the economic success of a nation in terms of its natural resources.  To demonstrate that this is false, Sowell gives historical examples to show that some countries low on natural resources have had excellent economies whereas some with plentiful natural resources have had poor economies.  The book contains a wealth of statistics.

A couple examples from Chapter 2:

Harbors.  Africa lacks a lot of natural harbors, thus throughout its relatively early history its geography was such that the mercantile industry largely avoided it.  Though it is sometimes cited as having many miles of navigable waterways, many are only navigable by canoe and others by larger ships only for part of the year during monsoon seasons.

Mountains.  People who live on mountains tend to be less intelligent and poorer.  Part of the explanation is that such people are isolated from trade and new ideas even from relatively nearby villages.  However people who live on the side of the mountain that gets rain have access to travel by waterways and agriculture due to a large amount of rainfall.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Trans Movement Trumps Feminism?

There are several corollary take-aways to the present moment. First, we have learned that the trans movement trumps feminism, just as Europe’s reaction to the mass Muslim sexual assaults this New Year’s Eve revealed that multiculturalism trumps feminism. Given the constant caterwauling about “rape culture” by campus feminists, one would have thought that feminists would have opposed males’ use of facilities frequented by unclothed or otherwise vulnerable females. But apparently the claim that college campuses are awash in serial rapists waxes and wanes in salience depending on context. It now becomes merely another sign of redneck bigotry to suggest that a heterosexual male (i.e., a rapist in waiting) or a sexual pervert may take advantage of the new trans rules. Wellesley and Smith colleges have twisted themselves into knots deciding whether the “trans” category trumps the favored status of females. They concluded that being trans cancels the disability of being male and in fact elevates the trans “female” to the highest rank on the victim totem pole.
Whether the trans movement actually trumps feminism of course depends on how "feminism" is defined.

Friday, May 13, 2016

More on Culture and Multiculturalism

Malcolm Pollack has an excellent piece on the error of multiculturalism here--a must read.  I reproduce most of it below.  I will add only this.  Some people conflate being against multiculturalism with advocating a society with a single race and with being against a "melting pot" with a total freeze on immigration.  That is a strawman.  One shouldn't confuse culture with race, ethnicity, and country of origin.  I say some things about that here.

The error of these [multicultural] beliefs [such faith in "human universalism"] is that they overlook both the origin and importance of culture. To be harmoniously embedded and contextualized in one’s own culture is, as everyone everywhere seems to have understood until the latter half of the last century, the foundation and bedrock of normal human experience, and is generally a precondition for individual happiness and flourishing. Furthermore, the variety of human cultures is not a superficial fact, nor is it a matter of contingent historical accident; cultures do not simply fall from the sky and land, haphazardly, upon whichever human population happens to be passing below. I believe they are best understood, instead, as what Richard Dawkins has called “extended phenotypes."

The idea is a simple one: a biological organism has both a genotype, which is the sum of its genetic information, and a phenotype, which is the physical result of the expression of the genotype — the term “phenotype” usually being understood to refer to the organism’s body. Dawkins’s fertile insight was that the phenotype extends beyond the body, into the wider world.

For example: a beaver has a beaver genome. This expresses itself in the usual beavery way: big front teeth, webby feet, and a broad, flat tail. But the “extended” phenotype is much more than that: it consists of felled trees, a dam, a lodge, and a pond. In this view, that pond is as much a part of the beaver’s gene-expression as its teeth. Bird’s nests, spiderwebs, and honeycombs — things in the world that themselves contain no genetic information — are as much a manifestation of genomes as wings and stingers.

In H. sapiens, the social animal par excellence, the extended phenotype quite naturally includes culture. And just as we see variation among subspecies for, say, bowerbird nests, we should expect to see that long-isolated human populations, whose genomes have been subject to widely varying selection pressures throughout their history, will create different, often very different, cultures — cultures as distinct as their physical appearance. And so we do.

In an earlier post, Culture and Metaculture, I quoted Lezek Kolakowski on the impossibility of genuine multicultural synthesis, which creates a problem that worsens in proportion both to the number of cultures to be blended, and their dissimilarity. An extended-phenotype model — which understands culture not as something contingently and exogenously grafted onto individuals and populations, but rather as an endogenous, organic, and wholly natural expression of the innate characteristics of a distinct subpopulation — should make even clearer why high levels of “diversity” lead so reliably to faction and strife.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

More Democratic Diversity

Time magazine: Satanist for state Senate.

"That's Not Science"

A Scientist Who Regularly Engages in Philosophy Without Realizing It
As I've written before, arguably some creation science is science.  But even if it's not, seldom is it heuristically a good move to label something as not science in borderline cases for two reasons: (1) It tends to be an argument stopper.  Instead of considering the evidence for the claims advanced, the debate ends.  (2) If the one claiming that the other side is not doing science is a scientist, the claim is philosophical and generally beyond the expertise of the scientist making the claim.

Consider two similar examples.  Imagine a Christian, instead of engaging with the arguments of a Buddhist or Astrologist saying, "That's not religion.  Religion is Christianity."  Or suppose a Democrat were to say to a Republican advancing an argument against national minimum wage laws: "Get off it.  What you're saying is not politics."

This is not to say that there aren't clear cases where something is or is not science.  Riding a bike ain't science nor is painting.  Though there is a demarcation problem regarding what counts as science, some particular areas of science such as biology, chemistry, and physics are well defined areas of inquiry.

Help End Sexually Transmitted Diseases!

Only have sex with one virgin.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Either Philosophy or Indoctrination

A teaching and learning environment is either philosophical or indoctrinational.  To be philosophical is to follow the argument wherever it leads, to be prepared to question and challenge one's basic assumptions and to have a spirit of unbridled inquiry.  Motto of the Philosopher: Question everything including that you should question everything!  (Or do you disagree?)

With indoctrination there is no serious debate. Many questions are off the table.  There is a received body of (at least alleged) knowledge or wisdom--the dogma--to be learned by repetition, rote memory, or unquestioned methodology.

A teacher can, of course, be both a philosopher and a dogmatist (in the sense of someone who indoctrinates) depending on the subject and the purpose of the discourse.  One can switch back and forth.  Some scientists, for instance, are more philosophical than others.  No one is purely philosophical though many are mostly dogmatic.

There's nothing wrong with dogmatism and indoctrination, per se.  We'd be lost without it.  Most disciplines at the university are dogmatic and most students learn by indoctrination.  Biology, Chemistry, Math, Greek, Latin, Computer Science---all are mostly dogmatic.  There's little to no serious debate in a course in how to read and write Latin.  You learn paradigms and memorize words.  A biology class might veer off into philosophical speculation on whether science is compatible with the book of Genesis, but biology qua the science of biology passes on a received body of knowledge through textbooks, lecture, and methods of tried and true experimentation.

Where there is a great deal of rational disagreement and uncertainty is where one typically finds philosophy; and where there is a topic of wide disagreement discussed in a university is where one should find philosophy.  Religion, politics, death, taxes, justice, (social "justice")...all should be approached philosophically, at least for part of the time, that is, if one thinks that where there is rational disagreement one should not treat the issue dogmatically.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Multiculturalism is SOCIETAL Suicide

Hillary Clinton@HillaryClinton 1 hour ago                     
Preguntamos a varios neoyorquinos sobre Donald Trump—y estas fueron sus reacciones.
Photo published for 12 neoyorquinos reaccionan ante la idea de Donald Trump como presidente
Hillary Clinton Tweet

No argument is promising that English is an intrinsically better language than Spanish or vice versa. And each seems to serve its purposes equally well.  Further, there is no reason why the U.S.'s main language for most of its history must have been English.  It is English because of the historically contingent events which lead to the nation's creation; the same is true of course with (e.g.) Spanish in Mexico.  But a common language helps promote a common culture, and a common culture facilitates economic transactions, political transactions, racial diversity in churches, and less strife and more commonality between people groups in a nation.  As one who embraces federalism, I would oppose a national law mandating a national language.  Nonetheless, it seems to me foolish of the Hillary Clintons not to encourage the use of English in political discourse in the United States.  Sending Tweets and other messages in Spanish only encourages the balkanization of people groups and the lack of a common culture (the same would be true of a politician in a Spanish speaking country not speaking in Spanish).  Without a common language, a common culture is very unlikely.  And without a common culture, a society is fragmented.  Unity in some diversity should be the motto, not unity by diversity which is one of the incoherent maxims of progressivism.  Diversity for diversity's sake is entirely worthless.

More on Multiculturalism:
[M]ulticulturalism takes people seeking a new start and, indirectly, tells them it’s okay to harbour old habits, beliefs and grudges from their homeland. Multiculturalism says it’s acceptable to live in ethnic and linguistic communities cut off from the mainstream. It gives official encouragement to ghettoization over integration. That’s because it is politically incorrect to suggest that our own culture is superior in anyway or has anything to offer newcomers.

If this is the case – that our [British] culture has no claim on superior political values – why is immigration largely a one-way street: from there (wherever there is) to here?

But increasingly, multiculturalism also encourages (and even funds) the formation of radical ideologies. While the Internet seems to be the #1 recruiter of Muslim youth into radical causes, the funding [in Britain] of Muslim centres, schools, newspapers and websites contributes.

Extremists will use our own tolerance against us. As a libertarian, I would not ban intolerant views from designated religious or cultural groups. But, like David Cameron, I see no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize radical groups and ideologies. If you are made to preach jihad and Sharia law on your own dime, you will find it very slow going, which is a good thing.

Read the rest on "Britain's Bold Stance Against Squishy Multiculturalism"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Preston Sprinkle's Non-Violence Argument Summarized and Critiqued

Preston Sprinkle has a concluding blog post where he summarizes his pacifist argument.  It's a good, clear, summary, free from unnecessary polemics and distractions.  It gets to the heart of his Biblical case for pacifism.

Much of what he says is a summary of his book which I responded to and critiqued at great length in a series of posts already.  Anyone who hasn't read that series in its entirety might want to do so because I will not be repeating myself at length.  (I address almost all of his current arguments and others, including the Sermon on the Mount in the link above).

But I'll try to respond to some of the propositions he advances which go beyond the book or are central to his case.

Sprinkle: There is a certain logic to stuffing every murderer and pedophile and thief in a gas chamber, and this might lessen crime and make society a better place. But this doesn’t mean it’s the Christian thing to do. The whole “love your enemies” nonsense pretty much throws a wrench in that engine.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why I Don't Use the Term "Social Justice"

[We have a new major on campus: social justice.  Here's a post from a couple years ago.]

Why would anyone be opposed to social justice?  Who doesn't want to live in a just society?  I certainly do.  It's not that I oppose social justice--or justice for that matter--it's that (a) it's not clear to me what "social justice" means and (b) I'm leery of adopting a phrase which now is significantly owned by the left.

To understand social justice we must first have a handle on justice simpliciter.  So what is justice?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Preston Sprinkle on the Killer at the Door

It's hard to follow the logical structure in this latest post.  It's not clear what the central issue is that is being debated between Sprinkle and Wilson.

Sprinkle says that his main problem is with militarism:

My main problem is with the underlying spirit, which believes that power and violence is the way that evil is overcome. A spirit which proclaims:
      Of course we should carpet bomb terrorists.
      Of course we should kill people on death row.
      Of course we should take out the bad guys with as much force as necessary.
      Of course Christians can kill other people if it’s in war. (American Christians, that is.       Christians in other countries don’t get the same pass.)
It’s not our reluctance to use violence as a lesser of two evils—which acknowledges that it’s still evil. Rather, it’s the eagerness with which we think that violence is the best way to deal with evil, which is exemplified in American Christianity’s fascination with military might. The bigger, the badder, the better. Military historian Andrew Bacevich recently said: “Were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this…country becomes inconceivable.” 
The issue is with militarism--the underlying spirit of militarism.  But it's not clear to me to whom Sprinkle is referring or his intended audience.  The series of "of course" statements suggests he's referring to people who are confident in the claims that follow.  I would be one of those (depending at least on how one disambiguates those somewhat ambiguous statements).  I'm confident, because I've thought about the issue a decent amount, and the evidence against doesn't outweigh the evidence for.  I've never seen a good argument for pacifism and not for lack of trying.  But what's wrong with being confident based on your evaluation of the evidence?  Sprinkle too seems pretty confident.  One can be confident that it's sometimes permissible to use violence while thinking that violence is a last resort; one can think that violence is to be used as a last resort only when one has good evidence that it would be worse not to use violence in the particular situation.

But perhaps it's not confidence with the issue but eagerness.  Eagerness to choose violence as the best way to deal with evil.  Here again I wonder who in particular he has in mind or how many in his audience thinks this way.  Of course we know hotheads who have a penchant for violence, but how many are reading his blog?  I don't know any politician on either side of the aisle who thinks that violence is always or even usually the best way to deal with evil.  (He occasionally talks about the death penalty--which I've discussed before--but the death penalty is rarely used).  Like most issues, it depends on the circumstances.  Very few think that it's better to use violence if an equally good non-violent solution is present.  The debate, then, is over the empirical facts and whether violence in such-and-such circumstances is the best, final option rather than alternatives.  For example, would it be better to let ISIS continue to implement its destructive will on its defenseless victims, or does justice call for military action by the U.S. and/or NATO?  If the latter, will airstrikes be enough to stop the spread of Isis combined with strategically places special forces units, or must there be another ground invasion?  Failure to act could result in at least as much destruction.  Reasonable people can disagree about the likely outcomes.  The answers aren't always obvious.

Then the discussion takes an odd turn:
You want to use violence to defend your family in the rare (yet real) case that someone breaks into your home preprogrammed solely to massacre your wife and kids? Fine. Heck, in the heat of the moment, maybe I would too. But this isn’t the main problem. [my emphasis]The problem is that our posture toward our enemies and method of dealing with evil looks no different than the world’s. How we think about taking care of the person busting down our front door is only the tip of the iceberg.

In any case, let’s go ahead and dive into the well-known scenario thrown at pacifists to see if its ethic is worth its salt. My friend Nicolas Richard Arndt will stand in for our questioner who wants to show that pacifism doesn’t work in the real world. His name is really long, so we’ll just go with his initials (NRA). 
What would Sprinkle do if someone attacked his family?  Maybe defend his family.  Okay, fair enough.  It's not always easy to say what you would do.  (Though, I know what I'd do--defend my wife and defenseless kids with whatever force is necessary).  Then he switches back to posture--matters of the heart so to speak.  So what's at issue?  What Preston would do or matters of the heart? Or the morality of pacifism?

What follows after that is a long hypothetical conversation between Sprinkle and an NRA friend where Sprinkle changes the scenario.  It's again about what Sprinkle would do.  He'd use nonviolence to stop the attacker.  He doesn't have a gun.  What if he did?  He's shoot the gun out of his hand (maybe).  He'd pray. And so forth.

What is the point of this dialogue?  Is it to help us see what Sprinkle would or would not do?  He already said he might use violence in the heat of the moment; I see no reason not to take him at his word.  So what's the point of the long dialogue?  It looks like an extremely long red-herring fallacy.  It appears to serve no purpose other than to distract the reader from the issue of what one should or should not do if a violent criminal invaded one's home and mortally threatened one's family.

Finally, he wraps up the discussion by saying:

I don’t live in a theoretical world; I live in a world turned upside down by a God who justifies the ungodly and calls us to love our enemies.

What would I do if someone tried to harm my family? I’ll disembowel him before I slit his throat with a dull knife. But the question isn’t what would I do, but what should I do. 

So he would use violence.  Or is this tongue-in-cheek?  At any rate, what he would do does not matter.  The question is what he should do.

I agree!  (Then what was the point of the long dialogue?)  What one needs to get clear on is what should be done.  That way if one does find oneself in a similar situation, or finds oneself drafted in the military, or finds one's kid inquiring into whether he should go into law enforcement, one isn't having to think about what one should do in the heat of the moment and one is mentally prepared to do what one thinks one should do or refrain from doing what one thinks one shouldn't.

Sprinkle says he doesn't live in the real world.  He doesn't like this hypothetical scenarios of unlikely situations.

Of course we all live in the real world--the actual world.  But we also think about hypothetical situations, many of which never become actual.  What should I do if I flunk out of college?  What should I do if I ask this girl to marry me and she says no?  Who should I vote for if it's Trump vs. Hillary?  What should I say to my son if he wants to enlist in the Army?

Most cops and military personnel never fire a single shot in combat.  But they prepare both mentally and physically to do what they should and avoid what they shouldn't in the event that they are called upon to do so.  The relative unlikelihood only makes a difference in how much thinking and training are to be invested.  If a situation is very unlikely and not very important, less thought and training is to be invested; the more likely and important, the more thinking and training should be invested.

Matters of life and death are important.  Some thinking and weighing of arguments is a worthy investment even if the situations being thought about are unlikely. The stakes are high whether you act or refrain from acting.

Here's a real life situation, not a "theoretical" hypothetical (whatever that is): An impressionable student reads Sprinkle's book on nonviolence and pacifism.  He has a Christian father and relatives who are police officers.  They are sensible folk with no spirit of militarism.  They think that their calling is to bring salt and light into the police force.  They seem to be above average policemen.  The student, though, starts to question whether his relatives are Christians or at least good Christians.  Would the police force be better without them?  Should they find a new career?  Were they wrong about their calling?  How should he now relate to them?

These are questions worth thinking about.  Arguments for and against are worth weighing.  I find Sprinkle's discussion on the matter of police unclear.

For more on the issue see my post on Sprinkle's chapter on the attacker at the door.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Kids Should Have Guns

...if they're like this kid.  Nice job, Chris! 

Chris Gaither was home alone “petting the dogs” on Wednesday morning when he heard a noise upstairs.
The 11-year-old boy from Talladega, Ala., told NBC affiliate WVTM-TV that he was scared, so he grabbed a knife and steadied himself.  Chris said that a man appeared on the stairwell, but when confronted, he ran back up upstairs. When the man reappeared moments later, the boy told WVTM-TV, the individual was holding a gun.
“When he was coming down the stairs, that’s when he told me he was going to kill me, f-you and all that,” Chris said.
Instead of running, Chris told the station, he upgraded his weaponry, picking up a 9mm handgun that was in the home.

Read the rest.