Senior educated white male.

Senior educated white male.

Henry VIII and Trump

I was listening to the British historian David Starkey on the subject of Henry VIII about whom, says Starkey, “he is the only monarch of England whom everyone can remember by his shape”.

Image result for henry viii of england

Professor David Starkey refers to the English Reformation as England’s first Brexit, in as much as England departed the Roman Catholic space, dominated by the Hapsburgs, and found its modern self in the political construction of “the King in Parliament”. The Reformation led to the discovery and assertion of national sovereignty.

Now I do not wish to exaggerate the similarity, but I am persuaded that our Dear Leader Trump is despised and hated by the political elite because he is leading the United States into its own Brexit, a Brexit of a psychic kind. It is withdrawing the people from the power of the opinion elites, whether in the United States or Europe, who stand in relation to the contemporary public as the Roman Church stood in relation to the lay-people at the time of the Reformation. This relationship was of the dominator to the dominated.

Politics has been replaced by credal beliefs. Error is no longer tolerable because dissent is heresy. David Starkey is well worth listening to, and I do not intend to try to improve him by summarizing.

“The Universe made me do it”

John Horgan interviews mathematician and blogger Stephen Woit on his views about the emptiness of a lot of physics these days. The problem is that “string theory”, which invokes 13 dimensions to explain what is observed, has made no predictions that can dispute or confirm it, in thirty years of theorizing.

A sample of Woit’s approach:

Horgan: Are multiverse theories not even wrong?

Woit: Yes, but that’s not the main problem with them.  Many ideas that are “not even wrong”, in the sense of having no way to test them, can still be fruitful, for instance by opening up avenues of investigation that will lead to something conventionally testable.  Most good ideas start off “not even wrong”, with their implications too poorly understood to know where they will lead.  The problem with such things as string-theory multiverse theories is that “the multiverse did it” is not just untestable, but an excuse for failure.  Instead of opening up scientific progress in a new direction, such theories are designed to shut down scientific progress by justifying a failed research program.

Horgan: What’s your take on the proposal of Nick Bostrom and others that we are living in a simulation?

Woit: I like quite a bit this comment from Moshe Rozali (at URL http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3208#comment-1733601): “As far as metaphysical speculation goes it is remarkably unromantic. I mean, your best attempt at a creation myth involves someone sitting in front of a computer running code? What else do those omnipotent gods do, eat pizza?”

I noticed that the normally astute Dilbert guy, Scott Adams, believes we are in a simulation. My reaction to that is the same as Woit’s. What would be the difference between a being powerful enough to create the simulation and a being powerful enough to create the universe as we see it?

Back to Woit’s interview by Horgan.

Horgan: Sean Carroll has written that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for distinguishing science from pseudo-science? Your response?

Woit: No one thinks that the subtle “demarcation problem” of deciding what is science and what isn’t can simply be dealt with by invoking falsifiability. Carroll’s critique of naive ideas about falsifiability should be seen in context: he’s trying to justify multiverse research programs whose models fail naive criteria of direct testability (since you can’t see other universes).  This is however a straw man argument: the problem with such research programs isn’t that of direct testability, but that there is no indirect evidence for them, nor any plausible way of getting any.  Carroll and others with similar interests have a serious problem on their hands: they appear to be making empty claims and engaging in pseudo-science, with “the multiverse did it” no more of a testable explanation than “the Jolly Green Giant did it”.  To convince people this is science they need to start showing that such claims have non-empty testable consequences, and I don’t see that happening.

Woit is not the first person to be highly critical of the string theory movement. You can read more about it here in Woit’s blog called “not even wrong”.https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=5358

There is also Lee Smolin’s book, The Trouble with Physics (2006) for more on this issue.

Eric Weinstein said of string theory on the Rubin Report that it was an employment program for baby-boomer mathematicians. He did not mean it unkindly.

Summer daze/ Styles of Pessimism

Dalwhinnie is on vacation and Rebel Yell is cycling around Ottawa a lot. The world continues to go to hell at its accustomed pace and there is little we can do about it. For my part, I am trying to spend fewer hours at the computer. A vacation involves the lessening of worldly concerns, and the Internet is a relentless nag about being concerned. I do not really care about any Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 2020. Donald Trump will crush the one eventually chosen and only wilful blindness will prevent people from seeing it and the media from saying so.

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An interesting article appeared in Quillette regarding styles of pessimissm. “Four Flavours of Doom: A Taxonomy of Contemporary Pessimism” examines the issue well. The author, Maarten Boudry, identifies four kinds of doomism. I am guilty of at least one kind.

The Nostalgic Pessimist

In the good old days, everything was better. Where once the world was whole and beautiful, now everything has gone to ruin. Different nostalgic thinkers locate their favorite Golden Age in different historical periods. 

The “Just You Wait” Pessimist

Some are prepared to admit, unlike the nostalgists, that the world has improved considerably over the past two centuries. But, they maintain, this cannot possibly last. The hubris of modern man, with his naïve belief in progress, must be punished sooner or later. I call this the “Just You Wait” school of pessimism

The Cyclical Pessimist

This kind of pessimist will agree that things are going pretty well at the moment, but he doesn’t think our current run of luck is historically exceptional. Humankind has experienced periods of relative prosperity and peace before, but all have come to an end sooner or later. The course of history, for the cyclical pessimist, comes and goes like the tides or the seasons

The Treadmill Pessimist

The treadmill pessimist accepts the reality of some objective measures of progress (more wealth, less violence, longer and healthier lives), but maintains that—despite everything—we haven’t really made advances where it truly matters. Like Alice and the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, we have been running ourselves ragged only to find, when we take a breath and look around, that we are still in the same place where we started

Beaudry concludes:

Of course, we are not living in the “best of all possible worlds,” as Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss believed, but we may well be living in the best of all hitherto available worlds. If we want to create a better one, thus proving Dr. Pangloss wrong once again, the methods of science, free markets, and liberal democracy provide our best hope of succeeding. When will Westerners regain their belief in progress?

I am not an eco-doomist I am a cultural declinist and concerned about Islam’s invasion through adventitious exploitation of our lack of cultural antibodies.

Choose your doom. You can talk about one (ecological carbon fixation) but you cannot talk about the other (educational decline and islamic invasion). Why is this? Whose interest is served?

Stones, early and late

The thing I noticed when I compared two Stones clips of them performing “No Satisfaction” was that, in the fifty years since it was first performed in 1965, the audience had been trained, had evolved, had been forcibly evolved, as it were. Nowadays, everybody knows now how to behave at Stones concert. Then, hardly anyone had a clue. Let’s start with the 1965 clip.

The audience is still jacketed and tied, for the most part. The Stones look like they are performing to a convention of car salesmen. The Stones have not yet gained the power to choose their venue, and their audience. Its playing was nothing as good as it is today. The audience, for its part, has not yet learned to get its ya-ya’s out, to shake their fists above their heads and to whoop and holler. Wrong context. No social licence yet to go nuts.

Fifty years of the band and its audience interacting has resulted in a co-evolution of behaviour. The band is better, the riffs tougher, they look more like people you don’t want around your daughter, no matter how wealthy they are.

Stones at Glastonbury 2013: Look at all the happy people

“Good evening Mr Dalwhinnie. This is Florence Eversham speaking. I am Sir Mick Jagger’s personal assistant. He would like to take your daughter out to his chateau in France for a couple of weeks. He hopes you will accept the offer of a ski vacation all expenses paid in Gstaad this December, as a recompense for your inconvenience. Or perhaps you would prefer Maui in February?” Yeah, dream on.

Base, common and popular

There is an exchange in Shakespeare’s Henry V where Pistol, a soldier of the King’s, asks him who he is, as they await the dawn that will bring on the battle of Agincourt .

Pistol: Discuss unto me: art thou officer or art thou base, common, and popular?

The King: I am a gentleman of a company.

“Base, common and popular” – were terms of insult. Just as “populist” is today. The same snobbery applies. What the people want cannot be disparaged too much these days by the elites: a return to prosperity, reasonable controls on immigration, and end to attacks on white males and conservatives for the crimes of being white, male and conservative. See the previous article today on George Will’s deep distaste for Donald Trump, which amounts to no more than the belief that Trump is too vulgar, too base, too common, too popular. The term “popular” has mutated to “populist” because today we think that it is good to be popular. In earlier times they did not bother to pretend.

The French knights were already dividing the spoils of the English army in the night before Agincourt. We all know how that turned out. I expect to hear more boasting of the same nature this summer from American Democrats.

George Will freaks out

George Will is a deservedly famous American political thinker. His latest book, the Conservative Sensibility, is a meditation on the meaning of the American founding. He sees an eternal opposition between the limited government ideas of James Madison, and the progressive vision of Woodrow Wilson, who thought that the US Constitution was obsolete conception of the state. I largely agree with his negative assessment of Woodrow Wilson, who was a kind of Obama before his time: detached, aloof, pompous, and a progressive. Wilson failed to secure the support of the Republicans for the post World War 1 settlement and much blame for what followed could be laid at his feet in consequence.

George Will has been the most prominent never-Trumper, and he has not ceased his disparagement. As the election approaches, he seems to be demented on the issue. On ABC’s television show “The View” he said that:

“They think the country is angry. I don’t think Americans are angry. I think those who watch certain cable channels are angry, but that’s a small slice of the country. I think most Americans are sad and embarrassed and exhausted.”

He added, “They’re sad because they’re embarrassed and they’re exhausted because of the constant embarrassment that is inflicted on them by a president that never sleeps. The American people don’t want transformation. They want restoration. They can get the transformation later, but they would like a period of normality.”

Trump annoys many conservative people because he reminds them of everything that is over-amplified, vulgar, and incessant in American society. They feel that the job of the Republican President is to be the adult in the conversation. Trump offends them because their idea of a Republican is someone like George Herbert Walker Bush or Mitt Romney, someone who keeps the noise down across American society. The job of a conservative President is to uphold a certain decorum. Taxes and immigration are secondary issues in this view.

Conservatives are right in their desire for a society with more decorum; but they will not be able to get it. The Democrats have flown free from reality. When you assert, seriously, that when a man may declares himself to be a woman, that we are to be forced to treat a person of one sex as if he belonging to another, and that the full force of social opprobrium and coercive enforcement will fall on those too slow to adjust, you are not dealing with reality any longer. You cannot have decorum in this era of radical contestation.

Trump reminds me of the person who in a crowded cocktail party points out that the dog has just shitted on the carpet. Some people are more offended at the observation being made than that the dog has misbehaved. If only we could all go on pretending, we could all be happy in our ignorance, and besides the staff can deal with the problem anyway.

I find George Will’s taking against Trump to be of that order. I wonder how he would feel about Alexandra Occasio-Cortez as President? Would he be more tolerant?

In the meantime I urge you to read The Conservative Sensibility. It is very good. Try to ignore Will’s harrumphing about Trump. Trump will crush the Democrats at the next election, and they know it.

Graduation exercises

I was present at the University of Ottawa’s graduation exercises yesterday for its arts faculty. In the tedium of watching 1,000 unrelated young people receive degrees, there is little to do but notice the sex, ethnicity and nationality of the graduates. Here are my observations:

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  • It was 80% female, not 70% female. One in five arts graduates were male. Whether this portends a disaster for male status and income is a topic for another blog.
  • Africans and Haitians. There was a large contingent of African and Haitian young women graduating. Clearly we need have no fear that African immigrants to Canada are problematic; they are climbing the ladder of success as fast as they can.
  • I might have counted two Jews out of 1000. Where are the Jews? When I attended McGill in the sixties, about 75% of the arts faculty was Jewish. Have they gone to better universities? Other universities?
  • Muslims were far fewer than Africans, who seemed about one in ten graduates, though they were probably fewer in fact.

There you have it. Expect more educated African-Canadian women in your workforce, and fewer males of all races and ethnicities.

Rupert Sheldrake is brilliant

Rupert Sheldrake is the British biologist who has been taking a stick to the materialist assumptions of modern science. He does so because he thinks we have conflated materialism with science – the former being a doctrine about whatever could be real with a method of inquiry for determining fact.

His point is that science is blocked because it has been in the grip of materialist doctrines, of the kind that the High Priest of materialism, the Selfish Gene theorist, Richard Dawkins, relentlessly promotes. Sheldrake holds that the universe is not limited to material forces and that it is radically evolutionary.

I have corresponded with Sheldrake on occasion, read his books, and am convinced that he is correct. Regardless, Sheldrake has maintained his composure and conducted himself with civility while being constantly savaged by zealots of materialism. It is one of his amazing strengths.

Sheldrake will not persuade materialists that a) they have a doctrine and b) that it is limiting their science. They would assert that their doctrine is in fact reality and their science is impeccable, because materialist. Speaking of intellectual phase locking.

Sheldrake’s website is here.

It takes a Catholic

A Roman Catholic is best suited to slag the current Pope. David Warren rises to the occasion.


Pontification

Allow me to agree with Pope Francis that Holy Church owes the world some “outreach.” Of our 266 popes (plus or minus), I mention that one in particular because he has had more to say about politics than, possibly, all the rest combined. His views on social class, income distribution, imperialism, colonialism, general oppression, environmental issues, anthropogenic climate, immigration controls, and many other topics not traditionally considered to be any of the Church’s business, are broadcast constantly. Moreover, his neglect of her primary mission — the salvation of souls through propagation of the faith — has underlined this by contrast….

Best dinner guest ever!

Stephen Fry reveals himself to be the most learned, the most entertaining, the most humane dinner guest you could ever have. Here he appears with Mr. Selfish Gene. Fortunately Stephen Fry does most of the talking, generally about Greek myth and philosophy, with great panache. He calls it “being alert and playing gracefully with ideas”.

Best dinner guest ever, and I am not talking about the twerp on the left.