I Guess I’m English

Here is the Z Man passing some thoughts about John Derbyshire’s speech at the Mencken Club, in which he makes some comments about science.  This riled up Vox Day and his people (here is a 200+ comment post that boils down to, “they’re Smarter Than You, because they (claim to) have read Karl Popper”).  And here’s the original speech that set the whole thing off.

Turns out I’m English, I guess, since this is the way I feel about pretty much all philosophy, not just ideology and “science:”

The rest is Englishness. We English don’t do ideology. We leave that stuff to our more erudite continental neighbors. In matters social and political, we default to compromise and muddle. The nearest thing I have to an ideological hero is George Orwell, whose ideological position could fairly be described as reactionary-Tory-patriotic-socialist.

There’s some overlap between the last two paragraphs. I have utmost difficulty following any kind of ideological script. Sooner or later I always bang my shins against the boundary fences of ideological orthodoxy.

Science, like any other abstract system of thought, quickly runs aground on the rocks of Reality.  You can play endless language games with it, enough to where most people will simply throw their hands up and say “whatever.”  I get to that point sooner than most people, because I’ve read my Marxists.

The whole point of Dialectical Materialism is to find “contradictions” in nature, so as to destabilize all the old certainties.  Guys like Plekhanov were great at it.  For instance, they liked to point out that, at some point and by some mysterious process, “quantity” becomes “quality.”  Like so:


Does Sonny Crockett here have a beard?  It’s very hard to say that yes, he definitely does, because it’s mostly stubble.  But you can’t definitely say that he doesn’t, because look, there’s all that stubble.  At what point does stubble become a beard?  Follicle length?  A certain number of hairs?  Visibility?

Moreover, IMDB.com says Don Johnson is 5’11”.  Is he tall, would you say?  Says here the average height for a white American male is 5’10”.  Don Johnson is an inch taller than that, but I doubt most people would consider that “tall,” hands down.  Yet most everyone would say Shaquille O’Neal — 7’1″ — is tall.  How many inches would Don Johnson have to grow before we say yep, he’s tall all right?  And what about Yao Ming (7’6″), or Gheorghe Muresan (7’7″)?  Put Don Johnson, Shaq, Yao, and Gheorghe in a room, and Shaq isn’t tall at all, right?  Or is he?  How do you know?  It’s all, like, relative, man.

You can even do this for things like math, for pete’s sake.  1+1=2 isn’t a scientific propositon, in Popper’s sense, because it’s not “falsifiable” — it’s an axiom, true by definition.  Put two identical things together and you have two of that thing.  Or maybe not… first, there are no two identical pencils in the world, and if there were, wouldn’t that be two parts of the same pencil?  One meta-pencil, as it were?  Plus, when you break it down, a pencil is a collection of atoms, an atom is a collection of quarks, quarks are…. something, who knows, they seem to blink in and out of existence, and….

You see where this is going?  (By the way, for those keeping score at home, the Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna wrestled with all this 2,000 years ago.  He said that because there’s no such thing as pencil-ness — a “pencil” is just a collection of stuff that individually has no inherent existence — therefore there is nothing real at all).  There’s a reason you don’t find too many working scientists doing Philosophy of Science.  (It’s the same reason that the folks who do do Philosophy of Science generally have humanities degrees and failed Calc I).  You can Plekhanov that shit until everyone throws up their hands, says “whatever,” and kicks you out of the lab… or you can just keep the lab door locked in the first place.

I know, I know, I’m ignorant of some basic stuff, and Stupid, and have no business even linking to astonishing superintelligences and their astonishingly superintelligent jock sniffers.  But whaddaya gonna do?  Me, I’m off for some fish’n’chips down at the pub, mate, wot wat?  Cheerio, and Bob’s yer uncle.

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13 thoughts on “I Guess I’m English

  1. Nate Winchester

    Guys like Plekhanov were great at it. For instance, they liked to point out that, at some point and by some mysterious process, “quantity” becomes “quality.”

    The technical term for it is the Sortie’s Paradox. It also works for baldness or lifting infinite grains of sand.

    It basically comes up whenever there is a continuum of things. So you have two extremes which are very clear: Bald vs Hairy. But the two extremes grow muddled as they get closer together such that you can’t ever define a clear distinction between them like your tallness example.

    Still this gets into Morgan’s frequent point about needing definitions. If we want to talk about things, we’ll have to have a label just because nobody has enough time in their life to hold a conversation where every subject and verb is classified down into their most minute technical detail. The problem comes from leftists who want to extend out the muddy middle of the continuum to overwhelm the extremes and essentially render language useless.

    That’s what’s most frustrating thing about this game. Let’s say baldness was a political issue. Any time the Right wants to do whatever about baldness, the Left then likes to run up and start muddying the water with “what is baldness” until eventually people get tired of the conversation and the Right’s efforts are stymied. It’s a method of filibustering the public discourse.

      1. Severian

        Yep. The Left have had, by rough count, exactly two new ideas since the French Revolution.

        The problem comes from leftists who want to extend out the muddy middle of the continuum to overwhelm the extremes and essentially render language useless

        As I wrote up there, the whole point of this stuff is to destabilize all the old certainties. Remember, the commies go from “how many follicles are in a beard?” to “however many Glorious Leader says there are!” in about 5 minutes. Then as now, the Left’s favorite word was “science,” but their supposedly scientific philosophy is the most elaborate fantasy ever constructed.

        And that’s why they’re so definition- and detail-phobic. Knowing as they do that their philosophy rests on it, they know a Sorites Paradox case when they see it. They’ll never define “rich,” for example, because that leaves them wide open to an SP counterattack — “so $200,000 per year is rich, but $199,999 isn’t? How does one lousy dollar make you ‘rich’?”

        1. Nate Winchester

          And that’s why they’re so definition- and detail-phobic.

          And that’s their greater paradox. Because they love to use the law. THE PROBLEM is that the law rests on one fundamental, very important definition and detail: guilty or not. From there, all other definitions and details flow as you must define what makes a person guilty.

          Which is probably why leftist revolutions always fail. Once you’ve revolted, eventually you have to sit down and start making your definitions (which our Founders were kind enough to do). But if you think definitions are the problem, of course the guillotine will follow.

  2. Clayton Barnett

    As a Gabber who reads Vox Day’s site, I guess I’m a standard deviation to the left of Torba’s & Beale’s IQ to understand their pissing contest.

    Ideological purity is a luxury of regimes in power, not bloggers & small business owners.

    Best an old man as I just keep out of the fray and scribble on my next book.

    1. Severian

      I read Vox Day’s site too. He’s fighting the good fight, BUT:

      He’s first, last, and always a troll. He’s a great troll, truly epic… and he spends about as much time trolling his own fans as he does trolling everyone else. They’re the only ones who can suffer that whole “I am history’s greatest uber-genius” act.

      You want to attack politicized “science,” great, I’m right there with you. Please, make fun of credentialism every day, and twice on Sundays. But there simply isn’t ONE epistemology. Pretending to argue about Karl Popper is just spergy bullshit. Throwing spergy bullshit at your own side is beyond counterproductive.

      1. Altitude Zero

        The worst thing about Vox are his acolytes. I’ve seen them hysterically attack commenters, not for disagreeing with Vox, but for agreeing improperly, or not wholeheartedly enough. It’s creepy borderline Maoism. Vox himself, while, let’s just say, not lacking in ego, is a lot more reasonable.

        1. Severian Post author

          Yeah, that whole crew is a hoot. As I say, he spends as much time trolling them has he does trolling the Left, and none of them ever see it…

          Symbolic gestures are still important. We were right to get upset when Obama bowed to the Saudi king. We are a nation of free men; nobody is “your majesty” to an American — even when the title is just “conventional;” even when it’s “bad manners” not to say it. Sure, it’s just a little bow, two little words, but they go against American-ness in a fundamental way.

          So, too, with calling someone your “Dark Lord” and calling yourself a “minion.” No self-respecting person should do that, even in jest, even if it’s “ironic.” Because look what happens — acting like you’re “ironically” in a cult ends up with you, you know, actually being in a cult.

          1. Nate Winchester

            Which is funny because often that same crew says “fake it ’til you make it” when it comes to the game stuff and dating.

            So you’d think they realize that if acting alpha eventually gets you to be somewhat alpha then… ;);)

  3. Stan Erickson

    What on Earth is this all about? You are talking about mapping a continuum into a set of discrete points, and you can decide in advance where you want the boundary. Height is a continuum, and the words tall and short are discrete bins, so you can put the boundary anywhere you like. It depends on what you want to do with the definition, as there is nothing without a use choice. If tall means: requires extra-long shirts, then you can do it, maybe using arm length instead of height or in conjunction with it. Without a choice as to what you do with a word, the utility of a precise definition is likely zero. This is all so trivial, what is the point of writing about it.

    1. Severian

      You’ll have to follow the links for the context. I write about it because this is how Marxists argued. It certainly wasn’t trivial to them!

  4. nightfly

    Another Englishman, CS Lewis, wrote about breaking down the idea of boundaries, of normality – it was one of the mental conditioning punishments used by the evil organization, N.I.C.E., in That Hideous Strength. A character is locked into a room with subtle irregularities in the wallpaper, on the ceiling, there are what he comes to call “poisoned pictures” on the walls where there is something willfully off about the subjects. Even the lighting is unwholesome. Nothing is openly in revolt against taste, but it always willfully frustrates one’s sense of aesthetics and proportion.

    The book moves slowly but it’s well worth the time, as is the rest of the Space Trilogy (this book is third).

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