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A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.
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Monday 17 March 2003
Friday's contretemps at the Magistrates Court was a fizzer. The matter was adjourned by the magistrate, so Stan managed to waste an afternoon not earning revenue. Having come prepared, The Git read some of his history Recommended Readings and some of Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations. The Git was asked by the magistrate if he had evidence for the non-completion of the plumbing and The Git told him that he had photographs and an audio tape. The magistrate suggested that Stan and The Git negotiate rather than returning on another occasion. We did that and The Git expects Stan to contact him later.
As the changes to the servers hosting this website have now been completed, the plan to experiment with Movable Type for generating these pages can commence. Unfortunately, gardening is so weather dependent, The Git spent most of the weekend murdering "innocent" weeds. There were quite a few as the recent rain had germinated many weed seeds.
The slow part of thoroughly mixing the sand with the original silty clay soil is now some 70% complete. In the beds where that has already been done, zipping through with the Coleman hoe is perhaps 2-3 times as fast as before, as well as taking less effort.
Sorry, Mr. Franklin, "We're All Democrats Now"
HON. RON PAUL OF TEXAS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES January 29, 2003
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin told an inquisitive citizen that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gave the people "a Republic, if you can keep it." We should apologize to Mr. Franklin. It is obvious that the Republic is gone, for we are wallowing in a pure democracy against which the Founders had strongly warned.
Madison, the father of the Constitution, could not have been more explicit in his fear and concern for democracies. "Democracies," he said, "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their death."
If Madison's assessment was correct, it behooves those of us in Congress to take note and decide, indeed, whether the Republic has vanished, when it occurred, and exactly what to expect in the way of "turbulence, contention, and violence." And above all else, what can we and what will we do about it?
The turbulence seems self-evident. Domestic welfare programs are not sustainable and do not accomplish their stated goals. State and federal spending and deficits are out of control. Terrorism and uncontrollable fear undermine our sense of well-being. Hysterical reactions to dangers not yet seen prompt the people -- at the prodding of the politicians -- to readily sacrifice their liberties in vain hope that someone else will take care of them and guarantee their security. With these obvious signs of a failed system all around us, there seems to be more determination than ever to antagonize the people of the world by pursuing a world empire. Nation building, foreign intervention, preemptive war, and global government drive our foreign policy. There seems to be complete aversion to defending the Republic and the Constitution that established it.
The Founders clearly understood the dangers of a democracy. Edmund Randolph of Virginia described the effort to deal with the issue at the Constitutional Convention: "The general object was to produce a cure for the evils under which the United States labored; that in tracing these evils to their origins, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy."
These strongly held views regarding the evils of democracy and the benefits of a Constitutional Republic were shared by all the Founders. For them, a democracy meant centralized power, controlled by majority opinion, which was up for grabs and therefore completely arbitrary.
In contrast, a Republic was decentralized and representative in nature, with the government's purpose strictly limited by the Constitution to the protection of liberty and private property ownership. They believed the majority should never be able to undermine this principle and that the government must be tightly held in check by constitutional restraints. The difference between a democracy and a republic was simple. Would we live under the age-old concept of the rule of man or the enlightened rule of law?
A constitution in and by itself does not guarantee liberty in a republican form of government. Even a perfect constitution with this goal in mind is no better than the moral standards and desires of the people. Although the United States Constitution was by far the best ever written for the protection of liberty, with safeguards against the dangers of a democracy, it too was flawed from the beginning. Instead of guaranteeing liberty equally for all people, the authors themselves yielded to the democratic majority's demands that they compromise on the issue of slavery. This mistake, plus others along the way, culminated in a Civil War that surely could have been prevented with clearer understanding and a more principled approach to the establishment of a constitutional republic.
Subsequently, the same urge to accommodate majority opinion, while ignoring the principles of individual liberty, led to some other serious errors. Even amending the Constitution in a proper fashion to impose alcohol prohibition turned out to be a disaster. Fortunately this was rectified after a short time with its repeal.
But today, the American people accept drug prohibition, a policy as damaging to liberty as alcohol prohibition. A majority vote in Congress has been enough to impose this very expensive and failed program on the American people, without even bothering to amend the Constitution. It has been met with only minimal but, fortunately, growing dissent. For the first 150 years of our history, when we were much closer to being a true republic, there were no federal laws dealing with this serious medical problem of addiction.
The ideas of democracy, not the principles of liberty, were responsible for passage of the 16th Amendment. It imposed the income tax on the American people and helped to usher in the modern age of the welfare/warfare state. Unfortunately, the 16th Amendment has not been repealed, as was the 18th. As long as the 16th Amendment is in place, the odds are slim that we can restore a constitutional republic dedicated to liberty. The personal income tax is more than symbolic of a democracy; it is a predictable consequence.
By Bruce E. Johansen
Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolution
Immersion in the records of the time had surprised me. I had not realized how tightly Franklin's experience with the Iroquois had been woven into his development of revolutionary theory and his advocacy of federal union. To understand how all this had come to be, I had to remove myself as much as possible from the assumptions of the twentieth century, to try to visualize America as Franklin knew it.
I would need to describe the Iroquois he knew, not celluloid caricatures concocted from bogus history, but well-organized polities governed by a system that one contemporary of Franklin's, Cadwallader Colden, wrote had "outdone the Romans." Colden was writing of a social and political system so old that the immigrant Europeans knew nothing of its origins -- a federal union of five (and later six) Indian nations that had put into practice concepts of popular participation and natural rights that the European savants had thus far only theorized. The Iroquoian system, expressed through its constitution, "The Great Law of Peace," rested on assumptions foreign to the monarchies of Europe: it regarded leaders as servants of the people, rather than their masters, and made provisions for the leaders' impeachment for errant behavior. The Iroquois' law and custom upheld freedom of expression in political and religious matters, and it forbade the unauthorized entry of homes. It provided for political participation by women and the relatively equitable distribution of wealth. These distinctly democratic tendencies sound familiar in light of subsequent American political history -- yet few people today (other than American Indians and students of their heritage) know that a republic existed on our soil before anyone here had ever heard of John Locke, or Cato, the Magna Charta, Rousseau, Franklin, or Jefferson.
Full story [Warning: this is a book and not a short read]
Thought for the day:
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!
Robert Wyatt -- Little Red Record
Tuesday 18 March 2003
If you haven't read Our World-Historical Gamble By Lee Harris, you are missing out on one of the better commentaries on the forthcoming war.
...the problem with trying to grasp such events -- they are utterly without precedent, and this means that it is impossible to evaluate them prior to their actual accomplishment in historical actuality. Or, more precisely, it is impossible to evaluate them adequately, because the proper concepts for even describing the new situation have yet to be constructed. Such world-historical innovations transcend the conceptual categories of the old world, call into existence an entirely novel set of categories.
But what happens when you a[re] playing chess with someone who refuses to accept the rules of the game? How do you respond if your opponent begins to jump his knight in all sorts of bizarre zigzag patterns, so that you cannot predict where he will land or what piece he will seize?
In a game of chess the answer is obvious: You stop playing with the madman and go your separate way. But this, unfortunately, is not an option in dealing with genuine conflicts arising in the real world. That is why the supposed realism expressed by the concept of Realpolitik can only be of value in a world comprised exclusively of rational actors.
This is what gives so much of the American public discussion of the present crisis an almost surreal air. For if we in fact lived in a world where concepts like self-determination and Realpolitik could be applied, there would be no crisis, since there would be no Saddam Hussein in Iraq, nor terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, nor conflicts like the Israeli-Palestine conflicts -- for in such a world the players would all be limited to making rational calculations and pursuing predictable policies: their undesirable actions could be deterred through the traditional methods of deterrence, and there would be no fear that a player might suddenly undertake risks that any realist would know to avoid. Everyone could be counted on to consult his self-interest in a way that was generally recognized, even by his most bitter opponents, as realistic. For a sense of the realistic, unlike one's taste in music or physical beauty, is not a culturally specific construct, but transcends all such bounds. It embodies, so to speak, the fundamental rules of play between different cultures, even those cultures that, on other counts, may be bitterly opposed in any number of other ways.
But that precisely is the nature of the crisis we are facing. The liberal world system has collapsed internally: there is no longer a set of rules that govern all the players. And here I do not mean ethical rules, for that cannot be expected, but what Kant called maxims of prudence, those regulatory principles that enforce a realistic code of conduct on all the participants in a well-ordered system, and which allows us to know for a near certainty what the other players will not even conceive of doing. Such rules, once again, are trans-cultural, and must be trans-cultural if they are to permit all the players to participate in them. They constitute the precondition of any politically stable system, for without them there is the danger of cognitive anarchy -- a situation in which no one can any longer predict with confidence what the others will do. And that is the gateway to disaster. For when you do not know what to expect, it becomes prudent to expect the worst; but when all expect the worst, the worst is bound to happen.
When people are forced to create their own material world through their own labor, they are certainly not setting out to achieve a greater insight into the nature of reality -- they are merely trying to feed themselves, and to provide their children with clothing and a roof over their heads. And yet, whether they will or no, they are also, at every step of the way, acquiring a keener grasp of the objective nature of world. A man who wishes to build his own home with his own hands must come to grips with the recalcitrant properties of wood and gravity: he must learn to discipline his own activities so that he is in fact able to achieve his end. He will come to see that certain things work and that others don't. He will realize that in order to have A, you must first make sure of B. He will be forced to develop a sense of the realistic -- and this, once again, is a cultural constant, measured entirely by the ability of each particular culture to cope successfully with the specific challenge posed by the world it inhabits.
But all of this is lost on the man who simply pays another man to build his home for him. He is free to imagine his dream house, and to indulge in every kind of fantasy. The proper nature of the material need not concern him -- gravity doesn't interest him. He makes the plans out of his head and expects them to be fulfilled at his whim.
If we look at the source of the Arab wealth we find it is nothing they created for themselves. It has come to them by magic, much like a story of the Arabian nights, and it allows them to live in a feudal fantasyland.
What Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have in common is that they became rich because the West paid them for natural resources that the West could simply have taken from them at will, and without so much as a Thank You, if the West had been inclined to do so. They were, by one of the bitter paradoxes of history, the pre-eminent beneficiaries of the Western liberalism that they have pledged themselves to destroy. Their power derives entirely from the fact that the West had committed itself, in the aftermath of World War II, to a policy of not robbing other societies of their natural resources simply because it possessed the military might to do so -- nor does it matter whether the West followed this policy out of charitable instinct, or out of prudence, or out of a cynical awareness that it was more cost effective to do so. All that really matters is the quite unintended consequence of the West's conduct: the prodigious funding of fantasists who are thereby enabled to pursue their demented agendas unencumbered by any realistic calculation of the risks or costs of their action.
Of course it's not just the Islamicists who are fantasists. We must include with them the colonialist and imperialist powers that created the situation in the first place. What did they imagine children with the wherewithal to purchase grownups' toys would do? What else can we call people who believe that by purging the English language of gender we will achieve equality between the sexes? That pillaging the wealth of the middle class to finance idleness in the rich and poor can continue to escalate indefinitely?
From Mike Pepperday:
I was flabbergasted by the quote from Robert Manne you reproduced on March 4.
"There was a time when the claims of individuals against the community, tradition, government or conformity were strong. The sixties represented that kind of absolute break-out of radical individualism on all sorts of levels, both against conformity and against tradition..."
The sixties was a break-out against conformity and tradition all right, but it wasn't individualist. Quite the opposite. It was communitarian -- the freaks getting together, forming communes to live in cooperative harmony. "Flower power" means no power. No power means everyone's equal. The sixties thing was egalitarian communitarianism. The new generation was taking over from the Beats, rebelling against the emphasis on money and security that so absorbed their Depression- and WW2-scarred parents. Emphasis on money is very close to the core value of individualism (which is self-reliance); emphasis on security is the core value of tradition.
He continues "...and at that time I was, in regard to the sixties revolutions, a feeble fellow-traveller."
You can't be an individualist fellow-traveller. It's an oxymoron.
He goes on "At this particular moment in the culture I think radical individualism, both in the economy and in private lives, is the problem."
I wouldn't disagree but Robert Manne was, is, and always shall be, against individualism. He's made that way. Quadrant's hiring of him as editor was an extraordinary mistake and couldn't possibly work. His egalitarian worldview was fundamentally incompatible with the individualistic ethos of the mag. Now these quotes show he himself is under the delusion he was something of an individualist. Maybe that somehow explains how it occurred. The relationship blew up and the Quadrant board (or whoever it is) replaced him with Paddy McGuinness who IS an individualist. Turned the mag on its head, of course. Manne, meanwhile, fled to that great refuge of egalitarians, academe.
Manne then goes on to say that he has no criteria for making judgements, that he relies on moral instincts. "I don't have criteria in general -- indeed, that's not the way I think about anything. I take it issue by issue." That's another remarkable revelation of (lack of) self-knowledge and a remarkable thing for a political scientist to say about political standpoint.
As I have it figured out, for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, there have been three streams of pro-active political thought. Political science would generally call them individualism, conservatism/hierarchy, and egalitarianism. In 1789 the three philosophies were neatly immortalised with the words liberté, fraternité and egalité. We could these days call them the new right, the old right and the left. Political scientist Daniel Elazar called them individualism, traditionalism and moralism (the last is not a good term) and built a career and a considerable academic industry on them. Call them Types 1, 2 and 3 to save vocabulary quibbles. Then:
Type 1 is Locke, Adam Smith, Thatcher, Robin Hood, James Bond, Alan Bond, Dick Smith, Commercial media, Protestantism, Paddy McGuinness, Hayek, Milton Friedman, Banjo Paterson.
Type 2 is Plato, Confucius, Edmund Burke, Menzies, Lee Kuan Yew, bureaucracy, Catholicism, Sir Humphrey Appleby, Bruce Ruxton, Henry Newbolt.
Type 3 is Christ, Rousseau, Marx, Veblen, DH Lawrence, Chomsky, Ehrlich, the ABC, any sect, Robert Manne, Tim Flannery, Keynes, Galbraith, Henry Lawson.
They are, respectively, the world-builders, the keepers of order and the public conscience; they are the doers, the rulers and the stirrers; the entrepreneurial, the regulatory and the didactic; they are independent and interact, or interdependent and intervene, or soliticitous and interfere; the rudes, the prudes and the prigs.
The 1s want recognition, wealth, influence; the 2s want authority, hegemony, empire; the 3s want frugality, concord, permaculture. If one viewpoint gets the upper hand we get 1: laissez faire, social disintegration, warlordism; 2: fascism, slavery, war; 3: PC, Jonestown, Pol Pot.
Over the last couple of hundred years there has been been a mighty struggle between the 1s and the 3s mediated by the relatively ideology-free 2s who actually run everything (notice there aren't any Type 2 economists). The can-do, gung-ho, go-getting, self-regarding, self-reliant opportunists are locked in a fight with the bleeding heart, greenie, feminist, vegan, whistle-blowing, socialist chattering class, while the pragmatic, rule-bound, reactionary, secretive, hierarchical communitarian control-freaks placate both in order to wield power. In place of the 1s' ambition and the 3s' complaining, the 2s emphasise patronage, pride, loyalty, courage and honour.
The restless 1s create wealth and combat parasitic, oppressive bureaucracy and soft-headed, insidious egalitarian trouble-making. The proper 2s keep control, organise defence and infrastructure so commerce and education can flourish, and protect the environment and dispense charity. The critical 3s raise consciousness by exposing greed and privilege, thus preventing exploitation and victimisation from wrecking society.
The three viewpoints are, obviously, profoundly at odds. All three (not just the egalitarians) can and do moralise though each does not recognise the others as moral. These philosophies are not only political but affect lifestyle (profession, grooming, recreation) and the way people relate to each other both informally and institutionally.
The sixties was a youthful 3-ist break-out against conformity and tradition. It faded as it achieved some success and as the baby boomers matured and mostly turned into 1s (which is what happened to McGuinness) or 2s. Manne is one who kept his 3-ist political culture and it influences whatever he takes on. And, apparently, he is blissfully unaware of it.
Do you still reckon there's any "consistent human morality"? Or have I convinced you there are at least three of them?
Cheers, Mike Pepperday.
I believe that there are at least three (probably four) ways to interpret what it means to be human. Four, not because of any mystical reason, but ever since Descartes we seem to produce pictures with two axes to show the variables. A recent example here was the Authoritarian/Libertarian axis and the Left/Right spread of politics. The reality is in any such analysis is that there are not three, or four groups, but as many individual points of view as there are individuals. Perhaps more given my propensity for changing my viewpoint based on new data and reappraisal of old data. Kolb's Learning Cycle is another, and parallel, example of this method of analysis.
It becomes quite clear when you analyse any individual, as David Williamson does so well in his plays, that there's a lack of congruence between belief and behaviour. We are very good at fooling ourselves. As my mother put it many years ago, a Tory in public will nearly always turn out to be a Liberal at home and vice versa.
In my long years of thinking about the nature of what it all means, I have very much come to the point of view that there's not much else other than points of view. For this, I am labelled as a moral relativist. Whatever that really means. What I mean is best illustrated by a piece of basic physics. We can view a "fundamental" particle such as an electron as a wave, or as a particle. What the particle appears to be doing depends entirely on the experiment/observer. I don't believe for one instant that the electron is a wave during a wave experiment or is a particle during a particle experiment. The electron is an electron and that's all there is to it. And our current view that it's a wave/particle/quarks is liable to change is we change our models of reality.
So, the question arises: "Is The Git fooling himself?" Almost certainly. The process of unfooling (hey, did I just invent a word?) can be ongoing and presumably only needs to end with death. The Greeks seem to have asked many, if not most, of the pertinent questions and the answers have varied considerably during the ensuing centuries. My conclusion is that since there's such a wonderful variety, why don't we just enjoy that and be happy about it, rather than believing we can solve all the ills of the world.
Thought for the day:
The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.
John Cale -- Music for a New Society
Wednesday 19 March 2003
Ever since 1973, The Git has been engaged at least part of the time in a search for truth. Early on, he thought it was a search for Truth (note the capital) but it became obvious that since there are often several stories about something that conform to, or correspond with reality, it's better to reserve judgement and give competing truths an informal rating out of ten. Much to The Git's pleasure, our Geology lecturer asked us whether we wanted an alternative viewpoint on Plate Tectonics, to which the students assented. We are to hear another lecturer's interpretation of facts. Is this not how universities are supposed to work?
Much of The Git's previous education at the hands of Educators was of very different form. For example he was taught that all electric current consists of a flow of electrons and this is almost exactly wrong. Electric current is a flow of charge, and might consist of electrons, protons, or charged atoms (ions). We are supposedly in the midst of the most science-fixated period in history and neither teachers, nor press can get even the most basic scientific ideas across accurately. Scientific facts should be easily checked by consulting to a reference, but all too often the writers of basic science texts merely copy each other, so preserving idiocies such as "Clouds may look like cotton wool but they are really made of water, and when they have too much it falls out as rain" (BBC2 broadcast).
For a comprehensive look at the teaching of scientific lies to children, "Science Myths" in K-6 Textbooks and Popular culture has many, many examples.
If something like science can fail so badly to convey its messages accurately, how much more so other disciplines where hypothesis and theory testing is often less rigorous? People like The Git who find themselves confronted with easily falsifiable explanations frequently refer to themselves as sceptics. Sceptics are those who habitually doubt accepted beliefs. Karl Popper proposed a rather more practical approach than mere uncritical doubt of accepted beliefs. He proposed a process he called Critical Rationalism.
Many interesting ideas/theories/models are interesting because they make predictions and so their accuracy, or measure of truthfulness can be tested. Many arrive at this point and then merely seek confirmatory data. You might believe all swans are white and count all the swans in UKLand, thus providing plenty of confirmatory evidence. If you come to Tasmania, one of the first things you will notice is that the swans here are black, disproving the original hypothesis. The Critical Rationalist actively seeks out information that might disprove ideas. A sceptic merely disbelieves accepted opinion. To be consistent, a sceptical scientist would then have to disbelieve accepted science.
Informal as in the sense of "Not officially recognized or controlled", like my friend Informal.
The Git's son Thomas, who is at the beginning of his Computer Science degree had a lecture the other day where the lecturer attempted to demonstrate centring text in Word. Unfortunately, the lecturer had forgotten which button to click, to the great mirth of the students. The Git pointed out that if the lecturer had really known what he was doing, he would have invoked the context menu with a right-click of the mouse. Thomas then said that he was showing them how to use Styles, which meant that the demonstration wasn't in the Styles dialog where there are no buttons available for text justification. Clearly, the lecturer doesn't understand Styles, not just the basics most beginning Word users learn.
Note: Before writing to me about the shortcut method of style creation/modification in Word, bear in mind that most beginning users become utterly confused when confronted with this method. Not to mention that it doesn't allow you to use one of the most powerful aspects of styles in Word -- the basing of a style on another style. Many word processors require a complete and autonomous definition for each style. Tedious to create and even more tedious to modify.
In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington asked: “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humour, or caprice?” As an Australian, The Git wonders why Prime Miniature Howard has entangled our peace and prosperity in the toils of American ambition. Now that George Bush has started a recruitment drive for Islamicist fanatics, we might expect a wave of suicide bombings here. We can hope not, but only time will tell.
The House of Steel had a visitor the other day:
This is the tale of two ageing people who found a new purpose for life in their "golden years." We anticipated that our last years on Earth would be full of the joys of sharing the work in our Hobart garden that we dearly loved. We also hoped to have lots of time to travel and see all the wonderful gardens around the world that in the past we had never found the time to do. The gold was to turn very quickly into a veritable rainbow of colours. The simple idea changed to a grand folly and the easing down of the pace of life developed into hours of heavy planning and enormous physical strain. And we loved practically every moment of it.
Gay Klok, the author of this piece, was our marriage celebrant on June 30, 1984. The ceremony took place in her wonderful garden in Sandy Bay.
Thought for the day:
The essential difficulty of pedagogy lies in the impossibility of inducing a sufficiency of superior men and women to become pedagogues. Children, and especially boys, have sharp eyes for the weaknesses of the adults set over them. It is impossible to make boys take seriously the teaching of men they hold in contempt.
Pink Floyd -- The Wall
Friday 21 March 2003
Back around when The Git was born, English writer George Ewart Evans was living in a Suffolk village. He recorded the oral history of the pre-machine life of the villagers, creating an astonishing series of books: Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, The Horse in the Furrow, From Mouths of Men and others. They are among my favourite books, recalling a dramatically different life than that imagined by most people born in the latter half of the last century.
One aspect of these accounts has particularly fascinated The Git -- some of the stories that George Ewart Evans recorded clearly go back to Roman times. How can this be? Many events that occurred far more recently are uncertain because the written records have been lost. Oral history persisting better than written history appears paradoxical at first glance.
The problems with the written record are that once an story is committed to paper, there seems little reason to commit the story to memory. Paper is readily devoured by a number of living things, both animal and vegetable, not to mention fire. There is even a disincentive to read older works. The Git has been reading Bishop George Berkley's Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous. George Berkeley was born in County Kilkenny in Ireland in 1685 and the language he used is very different to that of today. It is an effort to extract meaning when words are used so very differently. Words have changed, word meanings have changed, sentence structure has changed.
Orally transmitted stories on the other hand are modified by their memorisers and retransmitted to the next generation with any current modifications to speech and usage included. Books are static -- oral history ever changing and flexible. The Internet appears to contain elements of both. Some of us are creating static web pages, while there is an intense interchange of often very old ideas and concepts in email and to a lesser extent newsgroups. The Git's prediction is that the stories circulating in email will live far longer than those that are part of static content.
The Git's favourite dictionary, Chambers Twentieth Century published in 1972, rather fell apart over the years of constant use. His friend Dennis Muscovitch took pity and rebound the book -- it was a properly stitched volume. Once more it has stout board covers protected by cloth. Dennis took the liberty of altering its title:
Thought for the day:
Sustine modicum: rurilocolae melius hoc norunt. [Wait a bit: Let us ask the country folk.]
InformalMusic -- Cyanogen
Saturday 22 March 2003
The Git's philosophy lecturer, Phil Dowe is researching the area of time travel. Since The Git is eager to ask Renée Descartes (1596 - 1650) a couple of questions, he has emailed Phil a request that he organise a field trip.
Before dismissing time travel as an impossibility, consider Dick Feynman and John Wheeler's work at Princeton. In an effort to understand the infinite self energy of a classical point electron, they imagined that:
"the return action by the charges in the absorber reaches the source by advanced waves as well as by the ordinary retarded waves of reflected light, so that the law of interaction acts backward in time, as well as forward in time"
Lo, they came up with a formula to calculate radiation resistance in radio aerials that worked. Does this mean that positrons are electrons travelling backwards in time? Does it matter, so long as the equations work? The latter question was answered by Feynman:
"One might still like to ask: 'How does it work? What is the machinery behind the law?' No one has found any machinery behind the law."
The history of natural philosophy appears to be a continuous discovery of "machinery behind the law". Planetary and stellar motion was once explained with angels. Feynman again:
"The next question was -- what makes planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inward."
Each new explanation for what we observe is replaced by yet another as philosophers continue to ask: "What is the machinery behind the law?" Perhaps the machinery is our minds, driven by the urge to tell each other stories. The trend during Greek times, particularly during the period of the Ionian school of philosophy, was for logical stories. Until the rebirth of this method as science in the seventeenth century, the favourite stories were revered for their being traditional rather than rational.
Given some recent email correspondence originating in the US, it seems the urge is to return to the telling of traditional, or orthodox stories, rather than interacting with the stories by criticising them. Opinion is based on feelings rather than rational thought. When premise1 + premise2 does not lead to the conclusion, one is told: "that doesn't matter -- it's only an opinion". Conclusions that can be drawn from the premises are dismissed as "conspiracy theories".
Perhaps this is the coming New World Order. We look back in horror at the Inquisition burning heretics at the stake, yet some think nothing of the US starving, burying and burning hundreds and thousands of "heretics". All for the collective good of course.
Thought for the day:
You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think.
Gong -- Angel's Egg
Sunday 23 March 2003
The Git's first history essay:
The Petition of Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers
Gerrard Winstanley's petition to the Parliament was in response to the arrest of the Diggers at George Hill in the parish of Walton, Surrey. The Diggers, or True Levellers as they called themselves, had moved onto land that had been commons, on All Fools' Day 1649 and commenced digging and manuring that land to grow crops: parsnips, carrots and beans. The response of the local lords of the manor, under the instigation of Parson Platt, was to have Gerrard Winstanley's Diggers arrested. Many modern writers interpret this episode as some sort of communist uprising.
Winstanley's plea that the Diggers be set free and allowed to return to tilling the commons and wild places is based upon several arguments. The first is that while in the army, they had been fighting to remove the Norman yoke that had enslaved the common Englishman: "...the land of England is the land of our nativity... and all of us by the righteous law of our creation". This yoke, Winstanley claimed, was imposed by conquest, and therefore not in accordance with God's will. He further claimed that when called to arms by Parliament to fight the Royalist army, that a National Covenant had been made between them and the soldiers "with joint consent, to endeavour the freedom, peace and safety of the people of England". Further: "...let the common people have their commons and waste lands... If you establish not this... you will be the first that break covenant with Almighty God."
Gerrard Winstanly correctly surmised that in order to be successful, any plea had to be an appeal to be faithful to the inerrant Word of God. He further bolsters his case, not by arguing for the establishment of some new and radical form of society of equals, but to one that he claims existed prior to the Norman Conquest some six hundred years before. In a further appeal to common cause, he enlists the aid of the land-owners: "You of the gentry, as well as we of the commonality, all groaned under the burden of the bad government [of] the late King Charles, who was the last successor of William the Conqueror".
From reading this document and The True Levellers Standard Advanced, it's difficult for this reader to understand modern historians' characterisation of Gerrard Winstanley as a communist, theoretical communist, or crypto-communist. While he clearly advocates land reform, extending the franchise to all (including women), his writing makes several things abundantly clear. He was primarily motivated by his Christian convictions, the belief that the Almighty God had given dominion over the earth and its fruits not to "Landlords, Teachers and Rulers...Courts, Sizes, Sessions, ... Justices and Clarks of the Peace, so called, Bayliffs, Committees", but to all of mankind. He refers to England as Israel and the setting of all men and women free as fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
Winstanley's replacement of rule by the Norman oppressors advocated three actions: word of mouth, the written word and, more importantly, by dint of finding unused land to grow food and build shelter for the Diggers. The Diggers were poor people in need of food and this latter seems an eminently practical, rather than theoretical response to the Parliament failing to keep its side of the bargain. The dissemination of Digger ideas by word of mouth and written word would appear to make the claim of "crypto-communists" (secret-communists) equally difficult to sustain. Further, Winstanley specifically advocates that no violence, or forced dispossession be used. He believed that appeal to the Rationality given to man by Almighty God would suffice. Modern communists, in contrast, seem to have had a penchant for violent overthrow of capitalist regimes, not to mention autocratic rule, rather than a belief in individual freedom.
The modern political movement with which the Diggers seem to have most in common is that of Libertarianism with its similar emphasis on individual freedom. It is certain that the Levellers influenced Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the other founders of the United States Constitution, a document that employs the concept of natural rights of man based on a rational argument. The Diggers can be seen equally as interested in asserting the natural rights of man, though biased more toward their particular interpretation of the Bible. It is difficult to credit to the same movement the inspiration for the world's most notably capitalistic state, the USA, as well as the opposing communist states.
The petition of Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, 1649 as cited in Bennett, M (ed), The Impact of Europe, 1640-1780, Selected Readings.
The True Levellers Standard Advanced Jerrard Winstanley et alia, http://www.bilderberg.org/land/truelevellers.doc, 23 March 2003
The Portable Thomas Jefferson, ed Peterson, MD (Viking Penguin, 1975)
Aylmer, GE, The Struggle for the Constitution (Blandford, 1965)
Friedrich, CJ, The Age of the Baroque (Harper & Rowe, 1962)
Hill, C, The Century of Revolution (Thomas Nelson, 1961)
Picton, JA, Oliver Cromwell: The Man and His Mission (Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1882)
RH Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Penguin, 1938)
Thought for the day:
The free man is the man who is not in irons, not imprisoned in a gaol, not terrorized like a slave by the fear of punishment... it is not a lack of freedom not to fly like an eagle or swim like a whale.
Genesis -- Selling England by the Pound
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