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Samizdata quote of the day

Nothing progressive is ever falsifiable.

Bobby B

15 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Lee Moore

    I know what bobby is getting at – that progressive propositions are so mushy that there’s nothing to aim at. And there is an element of truth in that.

    But lots of progressive propositions are not falsifiable in a completely different sense. They ARE sufficiently precise to be fired upon…..but by the time you’ve got your rifle out, the proposition has been memory holed. “We never said that !” It used to be claimed that the internet is forever, but that’s not so with Zuckerberg and pals doing their Winston Smith stuff.

    Many progressive things are not falsifiable, because it turns out that progressives never said them. Honest.

  • To take the ‘progressive’ point of view after centuries of market led betterment of mankind indicates a tenuous grasp on reality.

  • bobby b

    Lee Moore
    July 25, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    “I know what bobby is getting at – that progressive propositions are so mushy that there’s nothing to aim at. And there is an element of truth in that.”

    Had a conversation related to global warming the other day.

    Him: Global warming blah blah blah . . .
    Me: But the recent data shows no warming . . .
    Him: Only because our efforts are paying off, but we need more . . .

  • Stephen J.

    The ultimate unfalsifiability: when one demands why masks and lockdowns are still employed despite infection waves continuing straight through them, the answer is always, “But it would have been so much worse if we hadn’t!”

  • Fraser Orr

    But I think there is a reason for that @Bobby, namely that nearly everything they say that is falsifiable proves eventually to be falsfied.

    I remember PdH posted a link to some page that had hundreds of predictions about climate change with the date they are supposed to be evaluated, and all the ones whose date has passed were falsified. Maybe they’ll get a few right in the future.

    One could easily make a similar, if chronologically shorter, list of Covid predictions, or really any policy.

    So the left does make falsifiable predictions, but they tend to avoid it because doing so has often proven so disastrously embarrassing. Thank god for the press to clean up the mess.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr, perhaps a longer quote is better than the shorter one – “Nothing progressive is ever falsifiable to a progressive.”

  • Jacob

    Nothing progressive is ever falsifiable.

    Nothing progressive is ever feasible.

  • The more ideologically-developed progressives deny (sometimes very explicitly) the existence of an objective reality in which anything could be falsified to anyone not in a mood to think it had been. This trend was clear in US ‘pragmatic’ philosophy a century ago and more, was already a very explicit part of mainstream feminist philosophy fifty years ago (“There is no such thing as objective research. There is only sexist research and feminist research.”), and etc., and etc. (I will leave it to Paul Marks to quote, if he wishes, any illustrative sayings of the Frankfurt School of Marxism’s ‘idealist’ – i.e. non-realist – revision of Marxism.)

    So, to expand more on bobby b’s expansion of his own quote,

    “Nothing progressive is ever falsifiable to a progressive.” (bobby b, July 26, 2021 at 8:29 am)

    it is only a neophyte or fellow-travelling progressive who still thinks of the ideology as something they believe because it’s objectively true, let alone merely probable. Those who progress far enough begin to understand its assertions as declarations of intent, extending the old existentialist formula into:

    Nothing is true. Everything is permitted or forbidden by us.

    There is however, an important area of partial exception.

    Nothing progressive is ever feasible. (Jacob, July 26, 2021 at 12:39 pm)

    Progressives seizing power and holding it for some time is quite feasible – because (as Burke noted of the French revolutionaries), when they are pretending good to the public, they are content to let any quack try his nostrums, but when they are seizing power, they often use the old, tried methods “because there they are in earnest”.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    Fraser Orr, perhaps a longer quote is better than the shorter one – “Nothing progressive is ever falsifiable to a progressive.”

    I have been thinking about this comment this morning, and it is, to me anyway, interesting. So “falsifiable” in a scientific context means that it is possible to find evidence that would prove the contention wrong. So “There is a God” is not falsifiable, since no evidence can prove this wrong, but “Oil will not dissolve in water at STP” is falsifiable if you can demonstrate oil dissolving in water at STP.

    The example I was going to use for the second made me think further, I was going to say that this statement is falsifiable: “Things always fall down”. Which is, to some degree, falsifiable if you can demonstrate something falling up. But what is curious about this is that is is strongly dependent on the meaning of the words. What does “fall” mean? What is included in “things” and what direction is “down”. For example, from the perspective of someone at the north pole, and in some coordinate systems, someone at the south pole drops things up. And A helium balloon “drops” up, by some meaning of the word. And of course in space things do not “fall” at all, especially since there is no such thing as “down” in space, unless artificially defined.

    So I mention this because one can deny that evidence shows something false by either changing the meaning of the words, or rejecting the evidence. And so, in a sense, falsifiability because rather harder to quantify. One might accept that it would be possible to prove something false, but put in place various dishonest mechanisms to reject any falsifying evidence, meaning that it is de facto if not de jure not falsifiable.

    In a sense I think we all do this to a certain degree in an attempt to protect our core values. I think the left definitely does this, but on the other hand I think the right and libertarians do it too, I certainly do. Consider for example our attitude to people like Columbus or Jefferson. Many of the complaints the left have about these men are really quite justified, Columbus was a horrible man who did dreadful harm and had absolutely nothing to do with the US; Jefferson was stained black as sin, but did, unlike Columbus, have important redeeming qualities. However, I guess many of us grew up with these men as heroes and so our minds are very resistant to change, very much a similar mechanism to what I mentioned above. And we are horrified when some people question whether there should be statues to these men or schools named for them. Of course we should remember history, and monuments certainly do that, but we would not expect any child to go to “Jimmy Savile High School” and would be rather horrified if, in the name of history, they built a statue to Hitler in the middle of Berlin.

  • Fraser Orr

    It is probably worth mentioning for non British readers that Jimmy Savile was a much beloved radio and TV personality in the 1970s and 1980s who was famous for his charity work, especially with children’s charities, raising tens of millions of pounds and was awarded the OBE for that work. He had a TV show called “Jim’ll Fix It” where people would write in and he would grant them their wishes — often the people writing in were children, often very sick children. So a much beloved person until it was discovered after his death that he had sexually assaulted hundreds of children, and that the BBC, for whom he worked, had covered up the whole sordid affair. When his sins were revealed I think the British people were shocked to the core because in many ways Savile had become an icon of doing good, of kindness to children, even a personification of charity itself. And to find out that the hero was in fact a devil shocked the British people very deeply.

    So to me he is a good comparison to Jefferson who, despite his remarkable and beneficial work, had a horrible stain of sin in his private (and I suppose public life). Let us not be like the slimy BBC and cover up Jefferson’s faults like they did for Savile.

  • Paul Marks

    Sometimes the Progressives make “mushy” predictions – but sometimes their predictions are very clear and totally FALSE.

    But to point out that their high tax, high government spending, endless regulation, and soft on crime, policies have failed in every major city they have been tried is replied to by screams of – RACIST! and so on.

  • Paul Marks

    Still it is not just Democrats voting for crazy people.

    After all how many Wyoming Republicans would have voted for the bizarre Liz Cheney if her name was Liz Smith?

    I suspect that many people are monarchists at heart – they wish to be ruled by hereditary dynasties.

  • Fraser Orr (July 26, 2021 at 7:37 pm, your comparison of Saville to Jefferson seems very strained to me. Jimmy Saville ‘raised’ money for charity – that is, after he had grown too old (and perhaps too well known about in that field) to be famous as hanger-on and compere of the pop scene, he did something he wanted to do – stay in the public eye as a personality – by persuading others to raise money for charity, a job for which the BBC paid him well and during which he got low-grade jollies that were not wholly unknown, though you’d never learn them from the beeb (the nurses who were told off to accompany him round hospitals became well aware and vied with each other to avoid the assignment) as well as other viler jollies that were more effectively covered-up. He seemed quite obviously weird to me from the very start; the “much-loved” was never part of my milieu, just another of the things the BBC told us were true that we had no easy means of disputing before the web. Jimmy never did anything of himself. He was an introducer, an arranger, a fixer – a standard hang-around-the-famous guy who never did anything noteworthy of himself. In discarding him, we lose nothing. The generous people who gave to charity through the medium of a Jimmy-Saville-branded appeal remain generous people and my understanding is that – allowing for generous payment by the BBC and others – he did not in fact steal the money; he exploited the corruption of the BBC and the protection they gave him to be ‘untouchable’ while committing crimes that involved touching.

    There is no comparison to Jefferson. In Jefferson’s case, certain political, mathematical, literary and moral gifts, which he used in important historical events, co-existed with the owning of slaves – and maybe also the abuse of them (I, like you, once thought that was settled but later met intelligent argument that it still was not settled for sure; I have not yet investigated further).

  • I suspect that many people are monarchists at heart – they wish to be ruled by hereditary dynasties. (Paul Marks, July 26, 2021 at 8:21 pm)

    I think, in the US, a lot of it is just name recognition. Names are inherited and so name-recognition can be inherited.

  • Jacob

    I suspect that many people are monarchists at heart
    Of course they are. It is very convenient to believe there is that big guy out there who understands everything and will fix everything for you.
    On the other hand there are the other group who say: we need not any idiot kings. Give us power and we will fix everything.