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Mike Rowe denounces reductive grumbling (and so do I)

I haven’t yet found or invented the exact right phrase to describe it, but I know it when I hear it and I do not like it. “Reductive grumbling” is the best I can do to describe what I am getting at, until such a time as a better description of the thing presents itself to me. I’d been meaning to blog about this very bad mental habit for quite some time, and I have now been jerked out of my torpor by the fact that someone else has just now also been denouncing this way of thinking and talking. Which means that I can now do a more meaningful blog posting with a link to this denunciation, as reported by Kaitlin Collins of The Daily Caller, and with quotes from this denunciation:

“It’s easy to make anything feel small and silly by reducing it to its chemical composition or its various component parts …”

… provided the person on the receiving end of your reduction doesn’t see through the trick you are trying to play, as Mike Rowe does.

Rowe is responding to a woman who had complained about Mike Rowe’s objection to people burning the US flag. Rowe doesn’t argue that burning the US flag should be forbidden by law, but he doesn’t like it.

“But if you really believe our flag is nothing but a ‘mere symbol,’ equally suitable for flying or burning, ask yourself if you’d be comfortable if the people you work with suddenly started coming to the office in pointy white hats fashioned from bedsheets? Would that be a problem for you? Or how about The Rainbow Flag, favored by the LGBTQ community? Would it be OK if people started burning that? If not, why not? I mean, it’s only a symbol, right?”

I myself wrote about this syndrome, over a quarter of a century ago now, in this Libertarian Alliance rant which I still remember fondly and which was provoked by a P. J. O’Rourke rant about an epic trip he once made across America, in a Ferrari. Even though the technology I ranted about (compact discs) was pre-internet and now pretty much obsolete for all but compact disc dinosaurs like me, my ranting still works, for me anyway.

But you won’t go looking for the bit I am particularly thinking of (to be found on page 4 and in column 1) unless I quote it again, so I will now do this:

The basic error made by the anti-materialists, it seems to me, is that they speak about materials and about “spiritual values” as if these things occupied different universes. But they inhabit the same universe, and the materials are all shaped the way they are in order to tune in to the spiritual values, the way a radio tunes into a radio programme. When I listen to Mozart on my CD I’m not listening to the plastic, I’m listening to Mozart!

In a free world, one is necessarily surrounded by a mass of objects whose true meaning is not clear, and whose mere physicality is thus all that is there to be experienced. This is because although these things each mean a great deal to someone, they mean nothing to you. If you care nothing for music, then my CD collection is nothing but a meaningless collection of plastic circles with holes in the middle and with pointless ink marks on. But just because their materialness may be all that you see, you should not for a moment suppose that this is all that concerns me. I am no plastic fetishist. It is the “spiritual” world to which the plastic disks are my entry tickets that concerns me, not the material from which the tickets are made or the words on the tickets.

Right now, I am listening on my latest CD player to Vladimir Ashkenazy play Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (aka the 48 Preludes and Fugues), which he plays on a piano, which is another material object of great significance to many people, me most definitely included.

Later (page 4 column 2):

It is, for me, an essential part of the meaning of the word “adult” that an adult understand such things, and does not spend his entire life yearning for his preferred meanings to be enforced upon everyone else, for everyone to be made to like the things he likes, and to be forbidden from indulging in any of the things he doesn’t like. In short, adults are content to live in a world stuffed with “mindless materialism”.

I also mentioned in this old piece that a crucifix is a symbol, as does Mike Rowe. It is not necessary either to revere the US flag or to adore the music of Bach or Mozart, or for that matter to worship the man on the crucifix, to get the point that Mike Rowe, and I, are making.

What I did not clarify in my piece, but which Mike Rowe nails, is that this reductive grumbling is often based not on mere ignorance or unimaginativeness, but on deliberate dishonesty. Such reductionists are often not at all ignorant of the meanings that others see, but are, on the contrary extremely well aware of these meanings. They just don’t like them. Those who, to go back to Mike Rowe’s example, burn the US flag, are acutely aware of what that flag means to all of those who adore it. That’s why they burn it.

So, next time some ass complains to you about a piece of mechanical or material kit or stuff or process that you possess or partake of and which you (or someone) greatly values, like an exercise bike or a book of cooking recipes or a car or a camera or a firework display or a sporting event, by reducing it to “its chemical composition or its various component parts” (just a bunch of guys kicking a leather sphere around on a patch of grass, blah blah blah), I hope that you will be that little bit more alert to the wrongness, and not infrequently the dishonesty, of such talk, and that you will yourself respond by saying something like: “Hah! I know what you’re doing. You’re doing reductive grumbling. I, or someone, is seeing a meaning. You don’t see it. Or worse, you say you don’t see it but actually you do, and this is your way of attacking this meaning because actually criticising it coherently is beyond you.”

Better yet, you will use a better phrase than “reductive grumbling” to describe this annoying thing, and you will also attach this better phrase of yours to this posting, in the comments.

Above all, don’t indulge in reductive grumbling, or whatever else we call it, yourself. It’s fine to say that all you see, in some material thing, is its constituent parts or its chemical composition, so long as you are clear that you know that there is more to be seen, if you truly get whatever it is. That’s fine. That’s you failing to see something that you acknowledge to be there, and to be real and meaningful. But do some more very careful thinking before you say that the reason why you can’t see any meaning in some contentious object or process is that such meaning is not there.

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85 comments to Mike Rowe denounces reductive grumbling (and so do I)

  • Jib Halyard

    I’d call it “red-pilling”, but I think that one’s taken

  • Runcie Balspune

    I get your point Brian, but all you are doing is arranging pixels on a computer screen, really.

  • Natalie Solent

    The most innocent use of “reductive grumbling” is for humour. There are many good jokes based on, for instance, your example of “bunch of guys kicking a leather sphere around”. I liked someone or other’s dismissive remark about horseracing, “I already knew that one horse could run faster than another”.

    But the humour arises from pretending not to see a meaning that is actually obvious. I’m not disagreeing with your main point.

    I am guilty of using that style of argument myself, e.g. I’m sure I’ve said somewhere that laws against burquas or burkinis were ridiculous because they were just laws about which pieces of cloth you are allowed to drape on your body. What I was getting at was that a burkini is not in principle different from a wetsuit, but next time I might try to phrase it more precisely.

  • NickM

    Symbols matter. They are how we understand things. The “chemical argument” is interesting. Of course you can cost the human body in terms of elements and it is tuppence but if you look into synthesizing all the complex biochemicals then it is very expensive.

    But then again there is a much easier, free and enjoyable way to make a human 😉

  • Alisa

    I don’t think I have heard of him before – his response to that woman is brilliant.

  • If a flag did not matter, what would be the point of burning it? Might as well just burn a pile of old rags and watch the pretty flames. People burn a flag to offend, and some people in this world are in serious need of offending. I would be delighted to see Rainbow flags burned, not because I have hostile thought towards faggots (dangerous or otherwise) but because the point needs to be made that no group should be entitled to not have their sensibilities affronted. I am all for burning the Koran for the same reason. And the stars-and-stripes too, just to remind patriotic American God-fearing Republicans the same applies to them.

  • Kevin B

    That’s all very well Brian, but it still leaves us with the problem of Tracy Emin’s unmade bed.

    Leaving aside the possibility that I may well have contributed some of my hard earned cash towards paying for this pile of unwashed laundry, reductive grumbling towards those who may assert that it is a work of art seems the least ‘offensive’ reaction.

  • rxc

    It is a combination of deconstruction and Alinsky’s strategy. You take apart your enemy and identify the most vulnerable parts, and they you target them for ridicule. You focus on that part/person/idea and develop a narrative that is easily understandable to people who don’t understand what you are doing. The progressives have been doing it for over 100 years – applying the technique to the parts of Western society that they don’t like.

    It is very effective, until you run up against someone who uses it against you. Then the heads explode.

  • Boxty

    I bet you could burn a flag on any university campus without repercussions. But burn a Koran and you’ll be dragged before the campus thought police.

  • I was in one of those “I don’t see what’s wrong about that” arguments some years ago. The subject was the piece of ‘art’ called “Piss Christ”.

    I replied “Piss Buddha”. “Piss Indian”. Suddenly she got the point. Same thing as inquiring about the burning of Rainbow Flags. Of course, that’ll cause many to rage — but then you can point out that’s the sort of thing symbols do, so it’s better to tread respectfully around them.

  • William O. B'Livion

    What I was getting at was that a burkini is not in principle different from a wetsuit,

    It is entirely different in principle, which is the reason behind wanting to ban one and not the other.

  • Ferox

    If it were only about burning a scrap of material, that could be done in the privacy of one’s own home anyway, and no-one the wiser.

    It is the act of destroying the symbolic object represented by the material that people find objectionable. And that’s the point of burning a flag in the public square, right? To attack the object of the flag’s symbolism. To pretend that it is the material, rather than the symbolic object, that is being attacked is to miss the point entirely.

  • NickM

    I think burning Old Glory is offensive but that is partly because I love the USA. I mean where did I honeymoon? But offensive and illegal are not the same.

  • Laird

    Mike Rowe (whom I very much like, by the way) commits the same error that he attributes to his interlocutor. If a flag is a tangible representation of “mere ideas” (which it is), then the burning of that symbol is a rejection, or refutation, of those same ideas. Waving it and burning it are equally expressions of ideas; neither action is more or less meaningful than the ideas it represents. But Rowe’s rejection of flag-burning is an entirely emotional response (couched though it is in seemingly logical terms). Indeed, that is why flags and other symbols are so potent: they short-circuit logic and directly evoke strong emotional reactions. Desecrating such symbols thus has deep meaning and carries great power (and Rowe rose to the bait). But if we’re to have a society which supports (even purports to celebrate) “free speech”, and the unfettered expression of ideas, then we have to accept that we’re not always going to agree with the ideas expressed. (I suppose this is where I should insert that famous line attributed to Voltaire.)

    Indeed, if there is anything about this topic which I find offensive it is the conflation of symbols with ideas. If burning a flag upsets you, terrific: I’ll do it some more, until I can get you to understand that it merely represents ideas and we can then engage in meaningful discussion about them. Symbols such as flags are an impediment to reasoned discourse, and it helps to remove them. Thus I favor, indeed affirmatively support, burning flags (whether national or symbolic of some other cause, such as rainbow), desecrating religious iconography (burning the Koran, Piss Christ), burnings in effigy, etc., even when I disagree with the sentiments expressed. Symbol desecration exposes mindless herd-following for what it is. I know that I am not going to be able to have a rational discussion about the perfidies of our government with someone who has a visceral reaction to something a fundamentally silly as burning a flag.

  • ed in texas

    One of the more massive ironies associated with US flags burned in demonstrations is that the approved method of disposal of the flag is by burning.
    (See http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/FAQs/Faqs.aspx, Q3)

  • Alisa

    But Rowe’s rejection of flag-burning is an entirely emotional response (couched though it is in seemingly logical terms).

    No, even if his reaction is emotional – and I see nothing wrong with that, although I sensed nothing visceral in his response – he explains (not couches) it in perfectly logical terms. Which is the way it is supposed to be done.

    To your main point Laird, the way I read the guy is that it is not the desecration of the material symbol that upsets him, but the intention behind it – i.e. the attack on the ideas behind the symbol. Even if his interlocutor has no such intentions herself, he is doing her a service by explaining to her that other people often do, and that some ideas are worth defending, including through the display of relevant symbols, as well as through peaceful objection to their desecration.

    What you seem to be calling for is to do away with symbols altogether – which is fair enough, but others may object and think that symbols serve a useful purpose.

  • bobby b

    Several years ago, I was at a July 4th (Independence Day) celebration in a medium-sized South Dakota town. Some friends of mine in the local veterans’ org had set up the picnic/fireworks/memorial dedication festivities. These were mostly younger Gulf war vets who all tended be be very hoo-rah kinds of guys – Marines, SF types, not a file clerk among them.

    Word got out that a local band of folks were coming to burn American flags to protest . . . whatever they felt needed protesting. Sort of brave in this rural, very conservative setting. Sort of foolhardy, too.

    So, that day, with maybe a thousand people partying, they showed up, gathered on one edge of the crowd in the multi-soccer-field area we were in, and commenced their fires while the press shot their pics.

    The vets were organized. Thirty or so of them, in uniform, immediately rushed out to that same edge of the crowd, set up alongside of the protesters, and began burning three of their own American flags.

    Then they unfurled their banner, that said something like “we fought so that you have the right to do this.”

    I thought that was classy.

  • Mr Ed

    Q1 ‘Do you believe in equal treatment of all by the law?’.

    Q2 ’Should it be illegal to burn a US flag that you own on land where the owner consents to your presence in doing that act?’.

    Q3 ’Should it be illegal to burn a koran that you own on land where the owner consents to your presence in doing that act?’.

  • bobby b

    “If burning a flag upsets you, terrific: I’ll do it some more . . . “

    Amen.

    If you choose some concrete physical thing as a symbol of your philosophy, you’re essentially daring others to desecrate that thing, and you ought not be surprised when they do.

    If you’re one of those “others”, what faster shorthand exists with which to say “I disagree with your philosophy.”

  • Laird

    Alisa, as I read Rowe’s response, he was not replying to the intention behind the flag-burners; he was objecting to the physical act itself. “What I failed to do, is quietly accept behavior I don’t care for.” He talked about ideas, but in the end it was the behavior to which he was objecting. Which, as I said, is precisely the same error as was committed by his correspondent.

    Mr Ed, my answers to your questions are yes, no and no. If the flag, or the Koran, or any other symbol, is your property (i.e., not stolen) you are entitled to do with it whatever you please.

  • Alisa

    “What I failed to do, is quietly accept behavior I don’t care for.”

    Laird, like I said, I’m not familiar with the guy, and since you are, you may be the one reading him more correctly than I am. But on its face alone, that bit does not seem to color his entire attitude to the matter. We all get emotional when our sensibilities are offended, but it does not mean that we are necessarily slaves to these emotions – it just means that we are human.

  • Alisa, as I read Rowe’s response, he was not replying to the intention behind the flag-burners; he was objecting to the physical act itself

    I think you have that wrong Laird. He is clearly aware of the idea involved, and understands their flag burning is expressing that idea, and that idea is one he dislikes and thus he saying so. I think it is that simple.

  • Mr Ed

    Laird,

    I suppose that our problem boils down to so many not accepting at least one of the ‘Yes, No, No’ as answers, and adopting that mentality across their existence.

  • I agree with Perry de Havilland (London) December 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm, also with Alisa – so not with Laird. A flag is a representation of an idea. So is a word. Suggesting people are wrong to object verbally (i.e. not legally) to flag burning (or flag waving) would be like saying they should not object (verbally, not legally) to the words someone said.

    However the main point seems to me to be the one Brian’s OP praises Mike for making: that ‘reductive grumbling’ is often dishonest. Acts of reverence or irreverence to such symbols are intentionally meaningful. Doing them because of that, then defending them by denying that, is dishonest.

  • Gene

    Indeed, if there is anything about this topic which I find offensive it is the conflation of symbols with ideas. If burning a flag upsets you, terrific: I’ll do it some more, until I can get you to understand that it merely represents ideas and we can then engage in meaningful discussion about them.

    If you really live your life this way you must be exhausted, due to spending all of your time in conflict with other people. And I’ll second Niall’s remark that words are symbols as well.

    If you are in a crowded public place burning flags you’ll never have the opportunity to have that meaningful discussion with everyone there. IOW, most of them will go home never having met you and some portion of the group will do so believing you’re a jackass. (BTW this does not mean I believe you are one, of course.)

    Like it or not human beings are emotional creatures (and the role of emotion in the way we make decisions, even decisions we believe to be purely rational, is substantial at the least and probably indispensible). Ginning up strong emotional reactions among people as a way of making your arguments is sometimes effective and sometimes catastrophically counterproductive.

  • CaptDMO

    Feh, I promote flag burning about semi annually.
    BIG ones. You see, the problem is after a while, the wind frays the edges, they rip down their length, such that they become unserviceable.
    I give them to uniformed men, MOST who have had experience killing others who didn’t quite agree with what the flag…you know.. symbolized, and who are KNOWN to retire such flags by burning in a dignified ceremony.
    Usually on (US)Flag Day!
    It gets worse. I’m such a Chauvinist that I insist on buying the replacement
    “all weather” flags from a USA manufacturer!

  • PersonFromPorlock

    The problem is that the materialist has no option but to define everything as its parts, and nor do we, if we take the standard model seriously. Once all the quanta have twitched, there is nothing left to explain. Even our objection to the idea that there is nothing left to explain is the product of random twitches.

    This is (subjectively) obvious nonsense, but absent a metaphysics which supports both physics (which produces very good engineering results) and mind as an efficient source of behavior, it is also inescapable. Simply rejecting it is, so to speak, holistic grumbling.

  • Flubber

    Does anyone think you could publicly burn a Koran with impunity?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    You can burn a Koran with impunity, IF you choose your site carefully! Pyongyang would be one such place, and I think anywhere in Japan would be good, unless some laws about pollution are breached.

  • Eric

    And the stars-and-stripes too, just to remind patriotic American God-fearing Republicans the same applies to them.

    I’m not sure how other Americans see it, but it bothers me a lot more to see my countrymen burning the flag than other people. I couldn’t give two shits if Iranians are keeping American flag makers in business stocking up for their annual Death To America day. But I really do wonder about people who live in a country burning the flag of that country. When the proverbial Shit Gets Real are those people going to cut a deal with foreign powers for their own advantage? I don’t see how anyone could trust ’em.

  • Alisa

    Yep, Eric, feel the same.

  • decnine

    St Augustine, in the 5th century described a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’

    Flag burning is an example of the violation of a secular sacrament. It’s purpose is to weaken the ties that make us a Community. As such, it is much more pernicious than mere ‘reductive grumbling’ and demands a much more negative name.

  • Marcher

    Flag burning is an example of the violation of a secular sacrament. It’s purpose is to weaken the ties that make us a Community.

    A national flag is the symbol of a state, which I wouldn’t describe as a ‘community’, unless you mean it in the sense a prison is also a ‘community’. If I burn the national flag, I’m burning the symbol of the institution that massively over-regulates my life and takes half of my money. If that upsets you, well too bad.

  • Marcher

    But I really do wonder about people who live in a country burning the flag of that country.

    Read the comment above and wonder no more. I might have my life messed with one day by a foreign state. But probably not. But every day I can’t so much as fart without the people who are represented by that fucking flag I want to burn coming up with some way to regulate and tax that fart.

  • Alisa

    A national flag is the symbol of a state

    That is highly debatable, to say the least. As a general rule of thumb, a symbol is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Watchman

    Personally I have a burning desire to set light to a qu’ran wrapped in an American flag. I think that might win me the Turner Prize (as well as a lot of enemies)…

    I should probably follow up by burning a talmud wrapped in a Saudi flag, and a bible wrapped in a North Korean flag.

    Art aside (and yes, if I did that it would be art – there’s no other reason for doing it (attracting attention and being stupid is art…)), can I point out that a flag is both the symbol of a state and a community, depending on how you interpret it. As a properly-brought-up Englishman (who even uses hyphens when gramatically appropriate even when it looks silly) I would not dream of flying or adorning myself in a flag, but I still have an emotional connection with a flag flying at an Olympic medals ceremony for example. Burning a flag is generally an attack on only one of its meanings (if only because most people who burn flags also seem to approve of burning books, and that gives you an idea of their intellectual standing), and it is not always clear which one.

  • Watchman

    decnine,

    Burning a symbol such as a flag does not weaken a community unless the community is only linked by that symbol, in which case you may want to consider the value and viability of that community. After all, even the Belgians are linked not only by a flag but by a religious identity (not always practiced), a royal family, a commitment to good beer and a paranoid fear that any other government might try and limit their portion sizes…

    Furthermore, surely burning the symbol of a community is more likely to unite that community.

  • Alisa

    Not silly at all, hyphens are grossly underused (and no, that one does not call for one).

  • Alisa

    Burning a symbol such as a flag does not weaken a community unless the community is only linked by that symbol

    True, but the point seems to have been about the intent, not necessarily the result.

  • That is highly debatable, to say the least. As a general rule of thumb, a symbol is in the eye of the beholder.

    I would say the former is only mildly debatable 😛 , but the latter is undeniable. That said I would agree with Marcher for the most part that a national flag is primarily a symbol of state in my neck of the woods. That also said, in the USA it often used as a ‘social’ symbol in ways that would often seem bizarre over here (and due to my god-like powers, I can see that Marcher has a “co.uk” e-mail address). Indeed here, the flag of England has a far better claims to represent non-state community that the Union flag, which most of the time people really do see as “state”: “England” neither taxes nor regulates anyone and I see more English flags in England than Union flags (whereas Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales do both). Even the Queen has her own standard that is separate from the Union flag.

  • Personally I have a burning desire to set light to a qu’ran wrapped in an American flag.

    Total mind-fuck. I like the way you think.

    I think that might win me the Turner Prize (as well as a lot of enemies)…

    True and lots of enemies is a feature not a bug. If you do not have enemies, you are clearly not getting your point across 😎

  • bobby b

    A flag is shorthand.

    Go sit in a Lutheran church and listen to the congregation recite the Apostles Creed. This is a succinct litany of all of the core beliefs of that particular religion.

    Its information content is high, but it’s a bit unwieldy to serve as a quick rallying point for its adherents.

    Try to draft a similar creed that encompasses all of the core beliefs that go into, say, American patriotism. When you are trying to gather everyone of similar beliefs around you for a fight, that American creed would be logical focal point, but it would take you too much time to shout it all out.

    So, transfer all of that creed-meaning into a symbol, like a flag. Wave it, and you’re waving all of those beliefs in the air, and creating enthusiasm and a bond amongst your followers.

    But that flag isn’t your beliefs or values. It’s just a shorthand way of representing them that everyone recognizes.

    A flag that becomes one of those values itself loses itself in confused messaging. When that happens, we view flag-burning as a huge offense. And that only empowers those people who oppose the actual beliefs and values that we symbolize through the flag.

    That’s why someone committed to the values symbolized by that symbol can comfortably burn that symbol in service to their beliefs – they’ve not made the simple-minded mistake of mistaking the symbol for what it represents.

  • Watchman

    Alisa,

    If the intent of burning a flag is to weaken a community, but this is not a real effect, what is the concern? It’s simply a performance with as much effect as my (now Perry-approved) plan of burning things as art for art’s sake. It is a perhaps a declaration that the burner rejects the perceived rules of that particular community (or more likely is adhering to a counter-culture that is really still part of the community – just as most of us are…), but the community as a whole is more likely to be hurt by the rejection of it by that individual than the physical act of burning a flag – social ruptures are more dangerous than symbolic ones most of the time. Indeed, I would suggest that if there has been a case of flag-burning that has ever had any real effect (anyone?) it was likely the social repurcusions of the perceived transgressive activity that caused this than the actual action.

  • Watchman

    Perry,

    I’m not sure collecting enemies is that great an idea – I prefer to leave a trail of slightly irritated and confused (and ideally drunk) people in my wake. But then my political philosophy switches between libertarianism, anarchy and democracy as suits my sense of humour, so developing absolute enmity to me requires a firm belief in totalitarianism. Or perhaps a commitment to opposing burning holy books wrapped in flags.

  • Alisa

    No concern whatsoever on my part, Watchman. People can burn whatever they like (as long as it is their own property), and I can form my opinion of them and of their intentions based on those actions, among others.

  • Marcher

    When that happens, we view flag-burning as a huge offense. And that only empowers those people who oppose the actual beliefs and values that we symbolize through the flag.

    I oppose the state taxing the hell out of me and fencing in my life. A belief in unwarranted control, that’s the actual beliefs and values I see symbolised in a national flag. If you choose to skate over that bit ok, but then don’t act as if I’m symbolically burning just the good stuff you like to imagine that symbolises when you look at the national tea cloth.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, December 12, 2016 at 12:47 pm :

    You speaketh but the truth. :>)))

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby b, December 12, 2016 at 1:37 pm :

    Excellent, excellent analysis, paras. 1-6. Lucid, cogent, precise, correct.

    .

    But the penultimate para. only partly so. I agree that the (symbolized) message and the symbol itself come to seem as one to many people. But let us look a little deeper. A word, for instance, is a symbol. It’s a symbol of a concept. Now the human mind is so constructed as to use the word as if it were the concept, both in one’s own head (in thinking) and in communication with others.

    As an example, consider Miss R’s reaction to what she saw as misuse of the word “love,” which for her symbolized a concept of the “highest” valuation one person could give to another, or to a state of affairs, or to a “thing” (a business…an activity…an experience). To use “love” in the meaning of “a bandage for dirty sores” she saw as what a religious person might consider blasphemy, sacrilege.

    But “love” (the word itself) is just a symbol. Use it as if it were chimp poop all you like. –Do you see what I mean?

    As for your final conclusion, I very respectfully disagree. Look again at the “love” example. Remember that to misuse it is, for Miss R, to fling chimp chips on the concept proper, not just on the word. It is to “disappear” the very meaning of the word. Has she confused them? Do I? I think not. But the word evokes an emotional response of love for the ideal, of love-the-concept, and also the emotion of love for all of that which one loves.

    The point of the defilement of the symbol is to manipulate the concept so as to become perverted (correct word!) in the mind of the hearer, reader, observer. The Left are past-masters at this. See Orwell on this. And any number of others. “He who controls the language controls the discourse” in many, many ways.

    So, for many of us, the flag strongly evokes the Ideal of America as a place where one is “free” (politically free) and sovereign over oneself, and also as a place where a great many people have cooperated to serve and protect a certain set of values that each held individually, in his own head.

    Just as with love, to denigrate the Flag is to denigrate those values: That’s the very purpose of trashing the flag. It’s the same as when Chomsky or Zinn trashes the best of the ideals of America. “But they’re only words on paper.” Yes, but the symbols that are words are strung together so as to constitute chimp chips.

    So far from conflating the symbol and the thing it represents, then, I think it requires doublethink to pretend they are distinct not just technically (of course they are!), but also in what happens within the minds of observers and participants when one or the other is used or misused in a certain way. This sort of thing also occurs when long practice inures a person to the commission of horrible acts, though he began as a person with a normal sense of the humanness of others and able to relate to their pain and wish it were not so for them.

    Although, note: I CAN in fact “tolerate” flag-burning in the sense of not going bananas over it; nor do I believe it should be illegal, within the private-property constraints of course. I simply think the burner and I s/go outside for a frank exchange of views *grin*. Depending on context, of course.

    Thus my opinion, anyway.

    .

    But again, except for those two paragraphs, congratulations on an excellent comment. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago

    decnine — December 12, 2016 at 9:23 am

    St Augustine, in the 5th century described a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’

    Flag burning is an example of the violation of a secular sacrament. It’s purpose is to weaken the ties that make us a Community.

    Agreed.

    . . .

    Alisa — December 12, 2016 at 11:21 am

    “A national flag is the symbol of a state”

    That is highly debatable, to say the least. As a general rule of thumb, a symbol is in the eye of the beholder.

    Right on. 🙂

    As a matter of fact, I don’t see the Stars-&-Stripes as the symbol of a “State,” but of the best of Americans’ shared outlook, customs, cultures, beliefs, history.

  • Paul Marks

    The old distinction between “crimes and sins” – an action may be immoral, but that does make it illegal.

    Burning the flag or going to work with a “Death To Black People” t.shirt is immoral – but it should not be illegal.

    Both the “Puritan” right and the “Critical Theory” left seem to be unable to understand the distinction between immoral acts and crimes (i.e. the violation of the body or goods of another).

  • DP

    @ bobby b December 11, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Then they unfurled their banner, that said something like “we fought so that you have the right to do this.”

    Win-win.

    DP

  • Maximo Macaroni

    Context is everything. What is a military uniform but pieces of cloth expressing detailed principles? Yet many men have been shot for wearing the “wrong” uniform so they could spy. Similarly, when German soldiers invaded Poland in 1939, does anyone doubt that they burned or destroyed any Polish flag they came across and shot anyone carrying or wearing such a flag?
    Was that not a highly intentional act? Did anyone not understand what it meant?
    And how about a flag of truce – pure white and expressing no idea but “don’t shoot”? Wave a white piece of cloth in wartime so you can get closer to your enemies and then open fire on them and you will experience dramatically the power of intention.
    Awareness of the power of these symbols in wartime gives them meaning generally.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Good point, MM.

    .

    To point up Paul’s observation (illegality vs. immorality), I quote DP — December 12, 2016 at 7:10 pm:

    @ bobby b December 11, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Then they unfurled their banner, that said something like “we fought so that you have the right to do this.”

    Win-win.

    DP

    Well, yes. But here that word “right” can be taken two ways (pertinent here, that is).

    They fought so that everyone would have the legal “right” to burn the flag; that is, so that people would be able to express their beliefs, nonviolently and non-violatingly of course, without fear of the law.

    But they did not fight so as to support the idea that their countrymen would be in the right to burn the flag.

  • Alisa

    Excellent points, Julie.

  • bobby b

    Marcher – December 12, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    “A belief in unwarranted control, that’s the actual beliefs and values I see symbolised in a national flag. If you choose to skate over that bit ok, but then don’t act as if I’m symbolically burning just the good stuff you like to imagine that symbolises when you look at the national tea cloth.”

    A totem has a shared meaning among its circle of adherents. That’s the communal bond that makes it into a rallying point.

    Outside of that circle, that same symbol can have many disparate meanings, or none at all. That doesn’t matter; the totem serves its adherents only. To others, it’s merely a symbol of whatever qualities they perceive in those adherents.

    Like P.J. O’Rourke said, burning a flag is indeed speech, but it’s a most imprecise, muddled speech. You’re letting those totem-believers know that you’re unhappy with some aspect of their common cause, but not which one.

    Burn my flag, and I have no idea if you’re mad about taxation, our treatment of Puerto Rico, McDonalds opening in Paris, or the winners of the Golden Globes not being gay. I just know that you’re unhappy, and willing to be disrespectful in expressing it. It tells me more about you than your ideas.

  • This post I wrote 12 years ago on the death of Alastair Cooke happens to include a discussion of flag attitudes in the UK and US.

    I agree with Julie from Chicago (December 12, 2016 at 6:18 pm) that “The point of the defilement of the symbol is to manipulate the concept so as to become perverted (correct word!) in the mind of the hearer, reader, observer. The Left are past-masters at this.”

    This is often the intent (that is then dishonestly denied with claims that ‘it’s just a symbol’, as per the OP and my earlier comment at December 11, 2016 at 8:17 pm).

  • You’re letting those totem-believers know that you’re unhappy with some aspect of their common cause, but not which one.

    Like Maximo Macaroni wrote above, context is everything. An anti-war protester burning a flag is almost certainly objecting to a state’s participation in some war. A separatist burning a flag is probably objecting to their inclusion of the state’s notion of nationality. A bunch of privacy advocates burning a flag in the aftermath of some new panoptic encroachment? Take a guess. A bunch of SJW’s burning a flag? Who the fuck knows.

  • bobby b

    Julie:

    First, thanks!

    Next, I think I understand your main point – still working it over in my mind – but one quick (ETA: ok, forget “quick”) response.

    Miss R was speaking of communications back and forth that were all in one language, by speakers of that language. Certainly, if you co-opt all of my power-words, you co-opt my speech. I don’t think we have that situation here.

    As I said above, a totem has one shared meaning among its adherents, but outside of that circle it’s powerless. It represents the creed of its adherents only to those adherents.

    When I see an American flag, that creed comes to my mind. But I am always aware that, when someone who deas not share that creed sees the flag, they see something else entirely – something that I cannot see without being able to share their experiences and viewpoint.

    In our language, the term “motherf***er” has a very loaded meaning – it’s the original “fighting words” example. If I am called this by a speaker of English, I’m likely to become annoyed.

    But if I hear it from someone who speaks no English – from someone who most likely doesn’t know its meaning other than “this’ll insult him!” – I’m not going to be nearly as upset, because they’ve not actually impugned my mom. They’ve just tried to be insulting.

    When I see a flag burned by someone who I know does not subscribe to the American flag as a totem of values, it’s as if they are speaking a different language, and their intended insult is meaningless to me. They’re not doing anything deeply insulting to me, because they don’t ascribe the same meaning to that flag that I do.

    They’re burning what is, to them, a piece of cloth and trying to insult the totemic value I place in that piece of cloth. They can’t take it any further than that because we speak a different language through that piece of cloth. There’s no shared Chomskyan symbolism in that piece of cloth because it speaks to adherents and non-adherents in different languages.

    That’s why we could burn our own flags in the comment I made way up above. We were in no way burning our own totem; we were speaking their language, not ours, and so our burning was the same meaningless act as theirs.

    (We were disempowering their symbolic act, and we were also keeping them from becoming martyrs to their cause by getting the . . . uh . . . stuff . . . beat out of them (because, after we burned our flags, it would seem silly for all of those farmers to beat them up for burning theirs.) We took all of the air out of their sails, and we did it in service to our own values.)

    They can burn as many pieces of cloth as they want, but I can still look to that flag as a totem – a symbol – that expresses my values, and be secure in the knowledge that they did no damage to those values.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    If a flag is a tangible representation of “mere ideas” (which it is), then the burning of that symbol is a rejection, or refutation, of those same ideas. Waving it and burning it are equally expressions of ideas; neither action is more or less meaningful than the ideas it represents. But Rowe’s rejection of flag-burning is an entirely emotional response (couched though it is in seemingly logical terms). Indeed, that is why flags and other symbols are so potent: they short-circuit logic and directly evoke strong emotional reactions. Desecrating such symbols thus has deep meaning and carries great power (and Rowe rose to the bait). But if we’re to have a society which supports (even purports to celebrate) “free speech”, and the unfettered expression of ideas, then we have to accept that we’re not always going to agree with the ideas expressed. (I suppose this is where I should insert that famous line attributed to Voltaire.)

    Indeed, if there is anything about this topic which I find offensive it is the conflation of symbols with ideas. If burning a flag upsets you, terrific: I’ll do it some more, until I can get you to understand that it merely represents ideas and we can then engage in meaningful discussion about them. Symbols such as flags are an impediment to reasoned discourse, and it helps to remove them. Thus I favor, indeed affirmatively support, burning flags (whether national or symbolic of some other cause, such as rainbow), desecrating religious iconography (burning the Koran, Piss Christ), burnings in effigy, etc., even when I disagree with the sentiments expressed. Symbol desecration exposes mindless herd-following for what it is. I know that I am not going to be able to have a rational discussion about the perfidies of our government with someone who has a visceral reaction to something a fundamentally silly as burning a flag.

    Laird nails it here except for two things:
    1.”symbol desecration exposes mindless herd-following for what it is” should read:
    “mass hysteria in response to symbol desecration exposes mindless herd-following in one case”

    Since desecration of symbols does not necessarily lead to mass hysteria; so even if we assume that causing mass hysteria through the desecration of symbols is a desirable outcome (questionable, see #2) supporting the desecration of symbols as a general policy seems misguided since many of these cases lead not to mass hysteria.

    2. Society needs the sacred cows represented by symbols. Humans crave, require, spiritually beg for irrational assumptions upon which they can base their frame of reference towards the world. Man needs these false beliefs as they constitute much of the lens through which he interprets and understands the world. False beliefs are the glue around which polite society congeals.

    Burn symbols to your heart’s content, but realize that no matter how many his reasoning cracks man must by nature always live within a shell of ignorance. Always.

    It’s all, as King Shlomo once said, vanity.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    But symbolism is highly personal! An upside-down crucifix can be taken to be a satanic symbol, or it might be seen, by Catholics, as a reference to Saint Peter, who is supposed to have been crucified upside-down. What is seen as a Nazi symbol could be a Buddhist symbol, as shown in the film ‘Angels and demons’. So you always need context.

  • Laird

    I accept Sholmo Mairtre’s correction #1, but not (unequivally) his #2. No doubt some humans crave “irrational assumptions”, but certainly not all and perhaps not even most. Although there might be an element of projection in that comment; as I recall Shlomo himself subscribes to the ultimate irrationality of religion. Or am I remembering wrong?

  • bobby b

    Humans crave, require, spiritually beg for irrational assumptions upon which they can base their frame of reference towards the world.”

    Hence, second marriages.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I accept Sholmo Mairtre’s correction #1, but not (unequivally) his #2. No doubt some humans crave “irrational assumptions”, but certainly not all and perhaps not even most. Although there might be an element of projection in that comment; as I recall Shlomo himself subscribes to the ultimate irrationality of religion. Or am I remembering wrong?

    I could write a book in response, I assure you. But here are 4 points:

    1. Everyone assumes various bullshit notions as a matter of course. The following examples are subjective, false, not falsifiable, or some combination thereof:

    “my friends genuinely like me” “I am a good person” “I made the right decision to eat pasta instead of steak” “democracy is good” “monarchists are crazy” “my life matters” “IQ tests don’t mean anything” “nature is beautiful” “Toy Story 3 is a better movie than Crash” “my job matters” “my country is good” “fossil fuels are evil” “my children are successful” “I made the right decision to break up with my ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend”.

    2. The foundation of authority – the mark of sovereignty – is in theory reason but in reality irrational belief.

    Though there is not much reason to think the best method of government is simply selecting the progeny of the current ruler to rule, France’s system of hereditary monarchy survived for over sixty monarchs for over a millennium (the Capetians alone ruled continuously from 987 to 1792) and then devolved into a series of dysfunctional republics when the French decided to make the matter of ruling rational. Hereditary monarchy is irrational and essential to the success of the nation.

    The soldier kills the innocent and is praised, commended, while the executioner kills the guilty and is regarded with contempt, revulsion. And yet – elevation of the soldier is irrational and essential to the success of the nation.

    Enduring human institutions, from the Catholic Church to social norms to systems of government, are irrational. Why? Because reason corrodes, denigrates, destroys. The irrational survives the test of time.

    3. Is genuine belief in religious tenets irrational? In most cases it is – at least in certain ways. And religion is generally beneficial for society – and this is partly by virtue of its irrationality. And Judaism is true.

    4. Laird, I must confess that I doubt you believe even yourself to be entirely free of irrational beliefs. After all, the fool thinks himself wise and the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    “Hereditary monarchy is irrational and essential to the success of the nation. […] And yet – elevation of the soldier is irrational and essential to the success of the nation.”

    Should say:

    Blind belief in hereditary monarchy is irrational and beneficial to the nation. […] Blind belief in the goodness of the soldiers of one’s nation is beneficial to that nation.

  • “Toy Story 3 is a better movie than Crash”

    Clearly the sign of a madman 😛

    The irrational survives the test of time

    Many bad ideas are built to last, that is true, and moreover there is no stopping a bad idea whose time has come (the Peace of Westphalia being one of the worst ever, right up there with the fixed quality of wealth fallacy in sheer awfulness). And irrationality surviving the test of time is which is why for most of human history, the vast majority of humans have lived one failed harvest from starvation whilst some vermin in ermine with armed food collectors sits in his castle. We are living in the first era in which that is no longer true, which is nice.

  • Paul Marks

    As for “Reductionism” generally…..

    Efforts to “explain” the human mind have tended to become efforts to “explain AWAY” the human mind (the reasoning “I” – agency, Free Will).

    This did not use to be the case – after all the word “psychology” was invented by Ralph Cudworth (the arch ENEMY of Thomas Tyranny Hobbes) in the 17th century, and right up to the time of Noah Porter and James McCosh in the late 19th century the very foundation of “psychology” was Free Will – the reasoning “I” (the “being” in “human being”). Then William James came along in the 1890s with his Harvard psychology text – saying the subject must “assume determinism”. Which students of the subject from Ralph Cudworth to James McCosh would have said destroys-the-very-subject-matter of psychology. It was also odd because in his general writings William James opposed determinism – and (correctly) described “compatibilism” as a hollow fraud leading to a “quagmire of evasion”, just a Kant had before him. Either people can choose to do other than we do – or we can not. If the latter is true (if our choices are not really choices – if they are predetermined) then talk of “morality” or “moral responsibility” is absurd, as humans would not beings at all (we would just be flesh robots – acting entirely in a predetermined genetic inheritance and environment way).

    Alexander of Aphrodisias dealt with this in “On Fate” almost two thousand years ago. Just as Ralph Cudworth dealt with Thomas Tyranny Hobbes, and Thomas Reid dealt with the determinism and compatiblism (a distinction without a real difference) of David “Euthanasia of the Constitution” Hume and (by implication) the philosophy of Jeremy 13 Departments of State controlling most aspects of life Bentham.

    Humans are beings – we can choose to do other than we do. We are responsible for our crimes because we could have chosen (with a real effort) NOT to commit them. If determinists (and “compatibilists” – again a distinction without a real difference) do not like this – they can lump it. Efforts to “explain” the human “I” (moral agency, the moral agent) via reductionism are both silly and evil. Although, if true, such claims would mean that there is no such thing as moral good and moral evil – as the very existence of these concepts depends upon Free Will.

    For example…..

    If I choose to burn a flag it is quite different from me burning a flag by accident. And if I choose to wear a T.shirt with “Kill All Black People” written upon it, it is quite different from me putting on this shirt without knowing there are these words upon it (say I am blind – or I can not read).

    The difference is choice. And efforts to “explain” choice must not fall into efforts to “explain away” choice. Choice (the very word itself) means I could, with a real effort, choose to do OTHER than I do.

  • The soldier kills the innocent and is praised, commended, while the executioner kills the guilty and is regarded with contempt, revulsion. And yet – elevation of the soldier is irrational and essential to the success of the nation.

    No, a soldier is not praised for killing, he is praised for risking his own life to protect or advance his community. It is the same reason we praise lifeboatmen & firemen, and they kill no one. How is that irrational?

    An executioner risks nothing. We tend not to praise butchers or house painters either.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course the “soul” in the Aristotelian sense may not be a religious concept – Alexander of Aphrodisias held that the soul died with the body, as did Ayn Rand in our own day. But that does not mean that the “I” does not exist – or can be “explained” away.

    Nor did attacks upon the “I” (upon Free Will – the moral agent) start with Thomas Tyranny Hobbes – as Ralph Cudworth pointed out they go back to the Ancient World. They also appear in mainstream (Sunni – but perhaps not Sufi Sunni) Islam and in the theology of Martin Luther and others (hence the war of words with Erasmus over Free Will, the capacity for moral choice, and Mr Luther’s hatred of the Jews – Jewish theology being based upon Free Will).

    “Here I stand, I can do no other” sounds to British ears like a wonderful statement of moral conscience – but the British are “hopelessly Pelagian” according the German-Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Of course if the words “Here I stand, I can do no other” are meant literally (which it later, see the war of words with Erasmus, turned out that they most likely were) they are not a statement of moral conscious at all – they are actually a denial of the existence of moral conscience (of the moral agent – of Free Will). What is being said (if the words are meant literally) is “I am flesh robot – preprogrammed to stand here and make these noises”. The “freedom” being offered is the “freedom not to be free” – the freedom to have no moral responsibility (no “crushing moral burden”) for one’s actions (as they are not really chosen).

    Not just a conflict of academic philosophy, it is actually a very practical matter. For example, it is (at bottom) what those men in the Spitfires and Hurricanes on one side, and ME109s on the other, were really fighting about over the skies of this island in 1940.

    However, for those of us who accept that burning a flag or wearing a shirt with “Kill All Black People” upon it is a CHOICE – not an “illusion of choice” or whatever, this still does not make a burning a flag or wearing a shirt with “Kill All Black People” upon it a crime – although both things are VILE (wicked) things to do.

    A crime must be a violation of the body of goods or others – see Frederick Bastiat’s “The Law”.

  • Laird

    Shlomo, I don’t claim to be “entirely free of irrational beliefs”; it was your use of the word “crave” to which I objected.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    oh come on

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Added: I have now reached an age where the exact word sometimes eludes me, and another of the slippery little buggers sneaks into its place. Thus, where I wrote:

    Once all the quanta have twitched, there is nothing left to explain. Even our objection to the idea that there is nothing left to explain is the product of random twitches.

    I should have written:

    Once all the quarks have quirked, there is nothing left to explain. Even our objection to the idea that there is nothing left to explain is the product of random quirks.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    It’s primarily better tech that drives huge efficiency gains and thus societal wealth overtime. Humans don’t become less innately irrational overtime so implying that such a phenomenon could cause the use of better agricultural techniques is silly. Let’s not confuse more knowledge for less irrationality. Human nature is human nature; it does not change.

    It’s not primarily irrationality that caused people to live one failed harvest away from starvation. It’s primarily bad technology that did so.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    It’s true that a soldier risks his life to protect the community, but a soldier kills innocents; a fireman or lifeboatman does not. Nations, borders, war are irrational and yet entirely integral to human nature.

    An executioner is frowned upon and regarded with revulsion typically. A butcher and house painter is not even though the executioner’s function is critical to society – indeed the bedrock of social order.

  • Indeed, but I am just pointing out that your comparison between soldiers and executioners is flawed. And many object to executioners (such as myself, for example) because they do not trust the state with the power of capital punishment over its own people.

  • It’s primarily better tech that drives huge efficiency gains and thus societal wealth overtime.

    Technology and better networks. And both developed rapidly after the Enlightenment, as monarchy fell from favour and the power to act in your own interests became more widely attainable.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Technology accelerates exponentially so naturally the government form that predominates “now” – whenever now is – will appear to correlate with greater technological growth. I think tech grows more rapidly under monarchy than democracy, all else equal. We see the efficiency-draining effects of democracy all around us – warping capital market incentives through artificially low interest rates, warping incentives to plan long-term through false promises to get elected, warping incentive to work with growth of welfare state, and sapping capital from R&D growing rapidly all around us in forms such as welfare, free college, free/subsidized healthcare, housing, etc.

    The capacity to act in one’s self-interest is in no way contingent on the form of government.

    Human nature does not change. More knowledge is not the same less irrationality.

    Hereditary Monarchy is perhaps irrational but it leads to more beneficial results for society than alternatives like democracy/”constitutional republics”.

    Irrational social institutions last largely by virtue of their irrationality.

  • I think tech grows more rapidly under monarchy than democracy, all else equal.

    Evidence? Indeed it seems that as monarchy faded, technology exploded. These two things may not be directly related, but clearly less monarchy was not an impediment. You do not have to sell me very hard on the baleful effects of excessive democracy, but convincing me that monarchy is the solution will prove rather more of a challenge.

    The capacity to act in one’s self-interest is in no way contingent on the form of government.

    That may be the single daftest thing you have ever written.

  • Alsadius

    Your linked discussion of CDs I find interesting, given how many people have gone back to records in recent years. I think they’re nuts, myself, but they seem to be popular nuts.

  • Paul Marks

    “A soldier kills innocents” – if that is done deliberately then the soldier should be punished.

    “War is irrational” – people who take that attitude tend to lose. War is a choice (hopefully made for good reasons) and to be successfully concluded war must be conducted by the mind as much as by the body. For example shooting randomly (rather than aiming) is an error.

    “Irrational beliefs” – Karl Popper dealt with this, there is nothing “irrational” about “metaphysical” beliefs (for example belief in moral responsibility, Free Will, in which Karl Popper firmly believed). The Logical Positivists were just WRONG when they said things were “science or nonsense” – nonscientific things are NOT “nonsense”. As James McCosh pointed out in his “Examination of the Philosophy of Mr John Stuart Mill” there is nothing “irrational” about supporting foundational (and universal) principles. On the contrary – the most important concepts are concepts of this sort (A is A, I exist, and so on). Things that are nothing to do with “scientific proof” in terms of the methods of physical science. Indeed it was Thomas Reid, an experienced physical scientist, who understood this and David Hume and J.S. Mill (neither of whom ever did any real physical science work in their lives) who did not, at least at certain times did not.

    Of course there are irrational things – “compatibilism” is a example of something that is irrational (wildly so). Kant may have made many mistakes, but he was clearly correct in describing compatiblism as a “wretched subterfuge” mere “word jugglery” which tries to dishonestly pretend that one can reconcile determinism with moral responsibility – with such things as the criminal justice system. A just executioner does not execute someone who could not have chosen to do otherwise than they did (the “guilty mind” CHOICE is central to any just criminal justice system). To say that an executioner is (or should be) “irrational” or “outside morality” is not just stupid it is actively evil – and someone who comes out with such evil should be shunned. Yes SHUNNED.

    William James also may have made many mistakes in his life and work, but he was certainly making no mistake when he said that “compatibilism” leads to a “quagmire of evasion”. Of course it does – indeed it is meant to, that was the game that David Hume and co were playing. It is quite deliberate – it is an effort to use the human mind to deny the human mind (the self aware, choosing “I” itself), to use “cleverness” (in the bad sense of that word) to confuse and befuddle the audience, like a huckster at a fairground. “Can I make people believe something that is obviously untrue? If I can achieve that, it will prove that I am very clever”, that is what the game is. Sadly the children of Plato (academics) are often very keen on this sort of game – but not all of them, some actually try and find the truth rather than use their cleverness to “prove” that black is white, water is dry, and that slavery is freedom.

    Like William James I prefer “hard determinists” such as Martin Luther – who do not shrink from such “harsh words” as “Bondage of the Will” “predetermination”, “necessity”, “slavery” and so on. Not because they are correct, of course they are not correct, but at least they do not seek to “obscure the issue” with a lot of verbal tricks and slight of hand.

    Human beings can, with effort, tell moral right from moral evil – and human beings can (again with effort) choose to do what is morally right against our “passion” to do what is evil. Those who deny this earn themselves just contempt and shunning – and if they put their denial into practice (by mass murder and so on) then they should be put to the sword – and that is neither unjust or irrational.

    This is the war, the basic war, behind World War II and other wars – and one is on one side or the other.

  • Paul Marks

    How is monarchy different to tyranny? According to Aristotle the difference is that a monarch obeys the fundamental laws (which derive from the principles of natural justice) – and a tyrant does not.

    But how does one enforce the fundamental laws? For example in 877 the King of France formally admitted that he did not have the legal power to take land from one family and give it another family – that it would be unlawful for him to try and do this. But what if some later King of France declared that he (like some late Roman Emperor or Oriental Despot) could take land from one party and give it to another?

    The basic point of “Feudal” law was to prevent such things. To ensure that the contractualism was two way – not just the duties to the King, but duties of the King. Estates General, Parliaments and so on were about this also – that is what they were for, to LIMIT the King. To make sure that the monarchy was contractual – Constitutional.

    Absolute Monarchy was a later fashion – perhaps a throwback to the Roman Empire (especially the late Roman Empire – from Diocletian onwards) and an imitation of Oriental Despotism (for example the ruler who sat in Constantinople).

    The idea that, for example, the supporters of the innovations of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) of France, or Frederick “The Great” of Prussia were “conservatives” is absurd.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Alsadius
    December 14, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Your linked discussion of CDs I find interesting, given how many people have gone back to records in recent years. I think they’re nuts, myself, but they seem to be popular nuts.

    I have a goodish audio system with both CD and LP sources, and some LPs have an airiness about them that CDs don’t. They’re a pain in the butt otherwise.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I think tech grows more rapidly under monarchy than democracy, all else equal.

    Evidence? Indeed it seems that as monarchy faded, technology exploded. These two things may not be directly related, but clearly less monarchy was not an impediment. You do not have to sell me very hard on the baleful effects of excessive democracy, but convincing me that monarchy is the solution will prove rather more of a challenge.

    Monarchy puts all the “supposed” power or “presumed” legitimacy of sovereign action into the hands of one person. Any alternative is “democratic” to varying degrees. Oligarchy is more democratic than monarchy. Constitutional republic is more democratic than monarchy. Dictatorship is more democratic than monarchy because the dictator came to power and rules by virtue of support of others (often some portion(s) of the aristocracy or military, courts, people, etc) All white men voting is more democratic than monarchy. Universal suffrage is more democratic than monarchy. The baleful effects of democratic modes of government are magnified, all else equal, insofar as the government form strays from monarchy. Notwithstanding the extensive sample size from human history, which, though plagued by virtually infinite confounding variables, generally corroborates my assertion, my “evidence” is revelation.

    Also, again, technology accelerates exponentially so naturally the government form that predominates “now” – whenever now is – will appear to correlate with greater technological growth.

    The capacity to act in one’s self-interest is in no way contingent on the form of government.

    That may be the single daftest thing you have ever written.

    I suspect that you are confused about the term capacity. A prisoner with 1 hour of daylight per day has the capacity to act in his self-interest just as you do. Capacity is a basically binary thing and the capacity for one to act is not contingent on external factors, such as the form of government.

    Getting back to the point at issue, though – while one may BELIEVE he has more power to act in his own self-interest by living in a democracy instead of a monarchy, people tend to benefit far more by the greater order rendered by monarchy over democracy than by the supposed power to act in one’s self-interest that democracy apparently affords. Property rights are better protected in monarchy; contracts are more consistently enforced in monarchy; taxes are lower in monarchy; oppression born of misguided sanctimony is far less prevalent in monarchy; de facto free speech is far more extensive in monarchy; cultural mores are far more stable and proper in monarchy.

    And in any case, depending on how one defines “power” it is far from clear that democracy affords individuals more of it anyway.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    How is monarchy different to tyranny? According to Aristotle the difference is that a monarch obeys the fundamental laws (which derive from the principles of natural justice) – and a tyrant does not.

    Monarchy is a form of government. Any form of government can be tyrannical. Most specific instances of government have been tyrannical – to varying degrees. Some are barely tyrannical; others have been extremely so. Monarchy tends to be less tyrannical than other forms.

    But how does one enforce the fundamental laws?

    Paul you’re almost asking the right questions! Congratulations! Monarchy does not tend to work well because the monarch enforces “the fundamental laws”; monarchy tends to work well because the incentives of monarchs tend to align with the interests of the nation he rules. So what you should be asking is: how does one enforce written constitutional laws? Through the Supreme Court? Good luck!!!!

    For example in 877 the King of France formally admitted that he did not have the legal power to take land from one family and give it another family – that it would be unlawful for him to try and do this. But what if some later King of France declared that he (like some late Roman Emperor or Oriental Despot) could take land from one party and give it to another?

    What if (and I’m just imagining here) a group of people rebelled against a King because he taxed tea and trade and other stuff in exchange for protecting them from others and then they went about taxing themselves at a far higher rate within decades? What if that country went on to accumulate $20 trillion in debt thereby effectively enslaving future generations to debt slavery? What if that country decided it could give the land owned by Indians to Christians just, you know, because? This is America.

    And you have zero proof eminent domain was more prevalent in monarchies on average than democracies on average in history. I strongly suspect that it’s more common in democracy.

    The basic point of “Feudal” law was to prevent such things. To ensure that the contractualism was two way – not just the duties to the King, but duties of the King. Estates General, Parliaments and so on were about this also – that is what they were for, to LIMIT the King. To make sure that the monarchy was contractual – Constitutional.

    Just because something was designed to do X does not mean that that something did X.

    The idea that, for example, the supporters of the innovations of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) of France, or Frederick “The Great” of Prussia were “conservatives” is absurd.

    The limits of understanding are those of its nature.

    Like William James I prefer “hard determinists” such as Martin Luther – who do not shrink from such “harsh words” as “Bondage of the Will” “predetermination”, “necessity”, “slavery” and so on. Not because they are correct, of course they are not correct, but at least they do not seek to “obscure the issue” with a lot of verbal tricks and slight of hand.

    I guess “obscuring the issue” is what it looks like to someone who cannot comprehend an idea. I don’t think I’ve experienced that before. You certainly have my sympathy.

  • my “evidence” is revelation

    Um, ok, not much I can stay then.