Saturday, September 11, 2021

Snorri Sturluson, Egil's Saga


Opening Passage:

There was a man named Ulf, the son of Bjalfi, and of Hallbera, the daughter of Ulf the Fearless. She was the sister of Hallbjorn Half-troll from Hrafnista, the fater of Ketil Haeng. Ulf was so big and strong that no man was a match for him; and he was still only a youth when he became a Viking and went raiding. His companion was Kari from Berle, a man of high birth who had the strength and courage to perform great deeds. Kari was a berserk. He and Ulf shared all they owned and were close friends. (p.3)

Summary: Ulf Bjalfason, often known as Kveldulf (Night-Wolf), has no problem with kings but no allegiance to them, either. He refuses to swear loyalty to King Harald Fairhair, which leads to a sticky situation; the situation is temporarily defused by Kveldulf's handsome and generous son, Thorolf, joining the king's retinue. This will lead to Thorolf's death by nefarious men who are in the king's favor; Kveldulf demands compensation from the king, and when he does not receive it, he and his other son, the ugly but talented Grim, usually known as Skallagrim (Bald Grim), will kill the killers, in the process destroying one of the king's ships and two of the king's cousins. After Skallagrim, who is something of a poet, sends a taunting poem to the king, they flee the king's wrath to Iceland. Kveldulf will die on the way. Skallagrim will have two sons, Thorolf and Egil. Thorolf is handsome and charming, while Egil is ugly and somewhat brutish, but from the earliest age Egil shows signs of immense potential both as a warrior and as a poet, since by the age of twelve he can often outperform grown men at games relevant to either. The two brothers will make their way to Norway to make their fortunes. Thorolf will befriend Prince Eirik Bloodaxe; due to the connection, Egil will make acquaintance with Arinbjorn, the son of the prince's foster-father, who will become his closest and dearest friend.

The fundamental problem with Egil is that he is unable to find the line at which to stop. He is in many ways a Viking ideal. He is huge, and essentially unbeatable in battle; he has a wolfishness, inherited from his father, that makes him seem more than human. He speaks exceptional poetry as easily as he breathes. In a society that idealizes both warrior and poet, these are not small things. But Kveldulf had had a kind of wisdom in his deliberate efforts to stay out of the ways of kings, because he knew one thing that Egil will never learn: no matter how talented you are, it is a hard thing to match your luck agains the luck of kings. Egil sees no reason why he should adapt himself to others, and therefore guarantees continual conflict with kings, a breed of powerful men who demand but one thing, that others adapt their ways to the kingly preferences. By his mocking poetry, by his inevitable slaying of anyone who tries to start a fight with him, Egil will make powerful enemies, which will lead to his killing of powerful people, which will lead to his flight from the wrath of the king, who is now Eirik Bloodaxe. Egil can handle anything the king throws at him, but the fact of the matter is that you really shouldn't convince a king named 'Eirik Bloodaxe' that you are deserving of death. This is something to keep in mind if you are ever in a similar situation. 

Egil will have to flee to England, where he and Thorolf will take service with King Aethelstan; as Aethelstan is engaged in a series of wars with his northern neighbors, and as nobody is as well-suited to battle as Egil, he will have the most successful period of his life there. Thorolf, however, will die in battle. This will embroil Egil in an inheritance dispute on behalf of Thorolf's widow, Asgerd, and the combination of 'dispute' and 'Egil' will mean here, as elsewhere, that somebody is going to die. To be fair, Egil, good, solid Scandinavian, makes every effort to resolve the problem legally, but Egil has powerful enemies who tip the scale against him, leading to a heightening of the feud between Egil and the royal house. Egil is declared by King Eirik a full outlaw -- literally, i.e., he is no longer protected by the laws; in a massacre, Egil kills the man who tried to seize his brother's property, and all the men on the king's farm where the man has taken refuge, and, as it happens, King Eirik's ten-year-old son Rognvald; he crowns his vengeance with a poem so scathing it curses the reign of King Eirik, and, because he is as pre-eminent in poetry as he is in battle, the curse of his poem has real effect.

As a result of the curse, King Eirik loses control of Norway and is succeeded by his brother Hakon; Eirik has to flee to England, where he is made king of Northumbria by Aethelstan. Visiting England, Egil is captured by Eirik, but Arinbjorn, Egil's old friend, steps in and, putting his whole property and perhaps his life on the line for Egil, manages to convince Eirik to spare Egil's life in return for a poem of praise. Again, it's a society that puts a high value on poetry, and that sees the fortunes of king as tied to his ability to inspire poetic praise that resounds through the ages; given Egil's undeniable poetic skill, even Eirik cannot entirely dismiss such an offer. He agrees, Egil praises him, and although the poem is hyperbolic enough that we can tell that Egil is in fact being partly sarcastic, it is skillfully enough done that the king can't really complain about it. So he lets Egil go on the condition that he never be in Eirik's presence ever again.

To finish the matter over Asgerd's inheritance from Thorolf, Egil ends up back in Norway, where he fights several duels with people who try to claim the land.  He stays with Arinbjorn, who burns what little credit he has with King Hakon in a failed attempt to resolve the dispute in Egil's favor by legal means; Hakon has less reason than Eirik to hate Egil, but no reason at all to love him or to consider him anything but a danger. Arinbjorn gives Egil a large amount of money to compensate him for the part of the property he cannot get back. They then go on Viking raids together in Saxony and Frisia, and end up helping a number of people in the process, including, indirectly Hakon himself. Arinbjorn will become advisor to Earl Harald the Young in the semi-independent province of Orkney, and Egil will go back to Iceland, where he will live to old age, eventually becoming blind and dying of illness. 

Egil's Saga is, in a sense, a tale of the last great hurrah of pagan Scandinavia. Except for good looks, Egil has everything one could admire about that age. He is unbeatable in battle, and in more than one way: he is stronger than others, he is more skilled than others, and he has in him something of his father's wolfishness, which comes out here and there. Any one of these would make him almost unstoppable. But he is also all of the poetry of pagan Scandinavia in one man, a man whose words are living flame as his spirit is unquenchable fire. He has the honor. (One of the humorous spots of the story is when Egil and a number of men are robbing someone, and as they are getting away, Egil basically stops and says something along the lines of, 'Wait, this is wrong. He won't know that we're the ones who robbed him. I have to go back and make sure he knows that we are the ones who robbed him.')  He has, despite his often finding himself outside the law, the Scandinavian respect for law itself. He has the independence of spirit, which does not quail even in the face of a king. He has the admiration of honesty, loyalty, and generosity. He also has all the faults of pagan Scandinavia. His own generosity has that paradoxical element of obsession with property. He is ruthless and has the wolfish willingness to do anything to win, including at one point the wolfish willingness literally to bite someone's throat off to win a duel. But on Egil-sized scale you can see why people might have sometimes admired those things, too. But Egils are no more. We see after Egil's death that the younger generations are all Christianizing, and the life of an Egil is thenceforth only a matter for folktale. There's no question that the union of the Scandinavian realms under the Christian kings -- since unitary kingship and Christianity largely come on the scene together in Scandinavia -- is a better kind of society; but even someone in such a society can look back with fondness at something admirable that was lost in the improvement.

The saga could almost be called the Saga of Egil and Arinbjorn; while Arinbjorn isn't on stage much, the friendship between Egil and Arinbjorn, two very different people who are nonetheless willing to go to the limit of their abilities for each other, makes for some of the best parts of the book.

Favorite Passage: This is part of a poem that Egil made for his friend Arinbjorn; it plays on his name (Arinbjorn = hearth-bear, the hearth with its fire being the land the birch fears) and his circumstances at several points.

The stuff of my praise
is easily smoothed
by my voice's plane
for my friend,
Thorir's kinsman,
for double, triple
choices lie
upon my tongue.

First I will name --
as most men know
and is ever borne
to people's ears --
how generous
he always seemed,
the bear whose land
the birch fears.

All people
watch in marvel
how he sates
men with riches;
Frey and Njord
have endowed
with wealth's force.

Endless wealth
flows to the hands
of the chosen son
of Hroald's line;
his friends ride
from far around
where the world lies beneath
the sky's cup of winds. (p. 181)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Egil's Saga, Bernard Scudder, tr., Penguin Books (New York: 2004).

Friday, September 10, 2021

Dashed Off XX

This ends the notebook completed in November 2020.

 the Constitution as a document vs. the Constitution as a legal entity

A tyrant is a mob of one, one with a mob's power to damage.

populism as an artifact of means of communication (e.g., mobile internet)

The earliest known historical pharaoh of Egypt is Iry-Hor, whose existence was only independently confirmed in 2012. He reigned during the early 32nd century BC and was entombed in the Umm El Qa'ab.

Financial systems often arise out of religions, and change over time when religions change.

All politics is an interweaving of physical force and shed religion.

The seed of the market is found in the oversight of the gods.

inference as mediate experience

Sin eats away at the aptitude for receiving grace.

What capitalism does very well is incentivize cooperation with strangers.

What people call intelligence is often either easy of memory or ease of imagination.

Bostrom's argument is like a trilemma:
(1) extinction before ability to simulate
(2) disinterest after ability
(3) living in simulation highly probable
It's not a real trilemma; all these are tendentiously expressed (e.g., they are deliberately framed on assumption that the relevant ability is a real ability, despite the fact that we have no idea what would have to be done to simulate everything we think and experience). But it also assumes that we have reason to think there is another civilization besides our own (poss. simulated) one -- i.e., it's really an argument that there exists a particular kind of technological civilization other than ourselves. But it does so purely on hypothesis: Suppose this civ. exists at some point, then what is the prob. that we are not really its past and that it would simulate us. It then tries to draw a probability of our actually being a simulation of this purely hypothetical civilization. It is a variant of an ontological argument: you could rewrite it with God (e.g., cp. Whitehead's objective immortality) instead of a tech. civ.

origination of power, translation of power, and division of power as sources of authority (the same can be done for wisdom and goodness)

realist and anti-realist accounts of karma

Planning for problems, including natural disasters, etc., is essential to the maintenance of freedom, since problems are what provide cover for restrictions of freedom.

Openmindedness is always the result of a process.

consent vs. consent appropriate to human dignity

Desires are often only completed as desire in their expression. As one often doesn't fully specify one's view until expressing it, so one often doesn't fully specify one's want until expressing it.

the Church as evangelistic sign to the world vs. as sacramental sign to the faithful

All scientific discovery depends on patronage; the only questions are whether this patronage is personal or institutional, whether it is concentrated or diffuse.

Communities form not around ideas of communities but around actual shared goods.

conclusive inference as Diamond-reduction; reorganizing inference as Diamond-neutral; problematizing inference as Diamond-expansion

noetic effects of sin (Canons of Dordt): blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in the mind

"The Testimony of the Holy Spirit is simply the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner, by which he removes the blindness of sin, so that the erstwhile bland man, who had no eyes for the sublime character of the Word of God, now clearly sees and appreciates the marks of its divine nature, and receives immediate certainty respecting the divine origins of Scripture." Berkhof

the sublime in the humble as the central aesthetic concept of Christianity

memorial, spiritual presence, physical presence accounts of testimony of Spirit

Most forms of utilitarianism require an ever-expanding central management of what originally would have found its own equilibrium, the takeover of ecology by calculation.

Studying questions by looking at possible answers is like studying premises by looking at possible conclusions.

Every set of premises can be interpreted as a question ('What is true if/given such-and-such is true?'), with the conclusions as the answers.

14th Amendment: four ways American citizenship has priority over state laws (origin, privileges and immunities, due process with respect to life liberty and property, equal protection); but note that due process and equal protection are not confined to citizens

The corruption in any government tends to be proportionate to the incentive people have to look the other way.

the analogical angels,
like an anagram,
combine and ever  combine in holy choir

1 Thess 1:6-7 transitive imitation

Mt22:15 sets a pattern that will continually recur: trying to entangle the bearer of the gospel with his own words

icons as a way of giving to God what is God's, in symbolic form

To call a man a coward is to say he falls short of a dignity that should be his.

Test results matter less than results persevering under testing.

Berkeley's account of units makes sense if you assume no intrinsic ends -- then you need an extrinsic end to unify.

finality - transcendental totality - quantitative totality

No sense can be made of verification without natural classification.

Unearned good has priority of a sort over earned good, as mercy has priority over justice; but some unearned good has the purpose of making earned good possible.

God as uniquelly unique (Vallicella)
-- Vallicella holds that this implies that God transcends the distinction between kind and instance, and thus must be simple.

marks of createdness: change, composition, finitude, being in a genus, contingency, deficiency

Albert's account of the image in the mirror: it is an accidental form in the mirror that acts on the vision, but the form has spiritual (representative, not presentative) being in the mirror; it therefore has quantity only intentionally.

The complications of casuistry arise because reasons matter for morality, and reasons are rich and varied.

divine primacy in being, in life, and in thought (cp. Liber de causis)

The good of the whole cosmos is the best part of each of us.

God is the necessity that is the possibility of all.

Whewell's Five Ideas as ways we work for the common good

common good as including humanity itself: benevolence
common good as including mutuality of good: justice
common good as pertaining to intellect: truthfulness
common good as reflected in and as end of self: purity
common good as the end of society: order

Eternal law is that law which is most rational, most concerned with what is most properly common good, from the one who most properly has care for what is common, and most promulgated.

Every society is eventually poisoned by an exaggeration of itself.

Aquinas suggests the likeness between God and creatures is like the likeness between act and potency or between substance and accident (De Pot 3.4 ad 9).

Better is always relative to a whole.

States and governments do not, as a general rule, go around justifying their rule, and this is as true of liberal states as any others.

probability in casuistry as advisability

redundancy for preservation, for confirmation, for simplification

The world is but a whisper
in a canyon deep and wide,
bottomless with echoes up a steep and craggy side.

Paranoias come in pairs.

Human movement is a movement in both spacetime and possibility, taking explicit account of both.

original presence of Christ -> sacramental presentation -> indirect personal (ecclesial) presentation ->final presence
original presence of Christ -> memorial representation -> invocational compresentation -> final presence

Human beings are civil-society animals; human life is civil-society life.

The world is revealed to us as a world of services. These services involve serviceables, whose serviceability can be considered both broadly and narrowly (more specific ends). Physics concerns bodies and the like in a very broad degree of serviceability.

inherent, causal, and systemic signs
inherent, causal, and system-fitting evidence

An entire language is justified by one excellent poem.

'Violence' requires deviation from an appropriate mean; it is not 'violence' forcibly to restrain a murderer.

the self-organization of evidence in a cognitive medium

All struggle between factions becomes the ground for struggle within factions.

"A piece of apparatus for performing a physical or chemical experiment is also a reasoning machine, with this difference, that it does not depend on the laws of the human mind, but on the objective reason embodies in the laws of nature." Peirce

order-to vs order-in-light-of

The family is the first bulwark against totalitarianism.

"Bonds ought not to be imposed when there is no manifest law to impose them." Benedict XIV

PSR as a postulate of aporetic method

Those who do not come before Christ's court of mercy will come before his court of justice.

"Perhaps the excellence of aphorisms consists not so much in the expression of some rare and abstruse sentiment, as in the comprehension of some obvious and useful truth a few words. We frequently fall into error and folly, not because the true principles of action are not known, but because, for a time, they are not remembered; and he may therefore be justly numbered among the benefactors of mankind who contracts the great rules of life into short sentences, that may be easily impressed on the memory, and taught by frequent recollection to recur habitually to the mind." Samuel Johnson, Rambler 175

Every inquiry is structured by its starting points, its object, and its motivating impulse.

Most employment is in practice semiproductive social interaction involving an implicit negotiation as to the threshold of productivity acceptable for the pay. But the 'most' is important; across many enterprises, the lion's share of result is due to people doing more work than the lesser amount they could get away with, for no real and commensurate reward from the employer, but only the motivation of interest, of benevolence, or of honor.

Lived experience is not the inner light; it's just the living that we strive to articulate.

Evidence is the relation between appearance and reality.

Tuor's faithful acceptance of the word of Ulmo contrasts with Turin's willful attempt to master fate, and is the reason why Tuor plays the man of hope to Turin's man of despair.

We experience ideas deriving from impressions, i.e., impressions introducing new ideas.

We can only recognize ideas as copies rather than as just new impressions of the same kind by recognizing them as effects in needs of causes.

There are three relations between ideas and impressions in Hume: succession, derivation, and representation.

The idea of substance is derived from each impression considered as action, and from impressions together considered as wholes; substances are a kind of acting as a whole.

Every sense conveys kinds of unity.

Hume's criticism of substance just makes imagination the only known substance, by giving all the functions and actions of substances to the imagination.

Hume takes the representative relation of ideas to impressions to be wholly resolvable into resemblance. (A strength of Peirce is his recognition that this is inadequate.)

The particular length of a line is distinguishable from the line because we can in fact still consider that length without the line; measurement of length depends on this, and in particular on the fact that two different things may have the same length in common.

The reference of an idea to an object is not reducible to extrinsic denomination.

It is impossible to form the idea of a mountain not bigger than me; it doe snot follow from this that I can't form the idea itself unless the idea is bigger than me.

Hume's alternative to abstract ideas effectively just replaces them with customs that do exactly the same thing. (The analogy to the decimals and to the use of terms merely underline this.) You could go around Hume and replace 'custom' with 'abstraction', and it would all work.

Whatever is infinitely divisible is susceptible without limit to constructions dividing it into finite parts.

Deep neural nets work the way they do because they happen to parallel some of the logical structure of classification through their layered connection-strengthening.

Presidential candidates visit states (1) to drum up voters for themselves (2) to shore up legislative races (3) to fundraise.

Identity politics is what people do when they don't have much of a culture.

Landy on Shepherd
(1) Beginning, or coming into existence, is an action.
(2) An action is a quality of an object.
(3) If an object can come into existence uncaused, its beginning can only be a quality of that very object itself.
(4) If an object can come into existence uncaused, its beginning is a quality of an object not yet in existence.
(5) An object not yet in existence cannot have its qualitied determined.
(6) Thus a nonexistent object must both have qualities and not have qualities.
(7) Therefore no object cannot come into existence uncaused.

We can imagine an imagination coming into existence with no other cause than our imagining it; and this leads to the illusion that we can imagine an imaginable coming into existence without a cause.

'Everything capable of infinite division has infinite parts' is a claim that Diamond implies True.

''Tis certain we have an idea of substance distinct from that of a collection; for otherwise, why do we talk and reason concerning it?'

Anger, fear, etc. contribute to our sense of being in space.

SBN 37: 'fiction' is making an idea represent objects or impressions other than those from which it is derived

Geometrical equality is derived from the circle.

Note SBN 51's discussion of the supposition of a deity, which anticipates the Humean response to occasionalism.

logic with a finite archive (e.g., linear logic)
logic with an infinite archive (e.g., classical logic)
logic with multiple archives (modal logic)
logic with an infinite library of archives

We take the external world into us in sensation, in food, in drink, in sex and kiss, and in breath.

To reflect on something and to reflect on it as existent are clearly different.

T. 1.2.6 on the idea of external existence; T 1.4.2 on the belief in it.

the illusion that philosophical reasoning can be done without an archive

zombie as horror trope  = pandemic + animate corpse + cannibalism
-- different approaches to zombies emphasize different elements

vampire as horror trope = spiritual desecration + animate corpse + blood-drinking

(1) Find real-person problems.
(2) Find charitable solutions, even if imperfect.
(3) Repeat.

Nothing so perfectly depicts human dignity as the calendar of saints.

the zoomorphism of human expressions

The imperfection of analogical inference is itself valuable; one learns from the failures.

The brain
is a hurricane,
swift with wind,
thick with rain.

Hamlet is a play about interpretation. (cp. MacIntyre)

Descartes gives epistemology a properly narrative character; he was not widely followed in this particular aspect.

rectification of names as the repairing of tradition

Our ideas of objects are all ideas of them as able to have effects.

The most simple phenomenon which can be accounted for from the qualities of an object as it appears to us is their appearing to us.

We often reason justly without understanding perfectly the idea concerning which we reason.

It is quite clear that *in sensible experience* many causes and effects are not contiguous; rejecting action at a distance requires abstract reasoning.

It's notable that Hume himself recognizes that ordering cause and effect by temporal priority is controversial.

Correlative ideas are distinct but not separable.

An object that exists absolutely without any cause is not its own cause; but this is not the same as to speak of an object that begins to exist without any cause.

Given how Hume defines causation, it seems that in the supposed case of the thing that begins to exist with no cause, you could in fact argue that 'nothing' could be counted as a cause: it is prior, we are speaking of nothing in the vicinity of what comes to be, and ex hypothesi there is a necessary connection. If you absolute exclude this as a cause, it can only be with a different notion of a cause; if you keep the notion of cause in this sense, the nothing in such a scenario is obviously a relative nothing, not pure nothingness, and relative nothing seems necessary to make sense of beginning.

Free choices guarantee unequal outcomes.

"The paradigmatic example of the possible is the actual." MacIntyre

The sense of beauty facilitates our identification of, and memory for, patterns.

the sense of health as essential to the practice of medicine

campaign, litigation, transition: the three parts of the American election

All our sensible impressions arise from the object, are produced by the creative power of the mind, and are derived from the author of our being, all at once.

Communication works not merely by presenting patterns but by excluding them.

Hegel on phrenology & the nature of lived experience

Lot was saved from Sodom not because he was saintly but because, being enmeshed in a corrupt society, one with which he was complicit, he sincerely tried to the decent thing.

oral history as central to a society's treatment of the elderly

strategy as coordinate of partial plans

natures as the intrinsic providentia of things

Llull & combinatorial transcendentals

Neh 8 and the role of the domestic church in renewal

means to an end with respect to an interpretant

Campaigning by its nature is biased toward the urban because it's easier to campaign in areas in which you can reach a lot of people easily.

the Electoral College as a jury system

The Christian is in the Church and only in and through the Church does he understand himself as Christian.

the theological anarchism of the modern academy

We think in but also beyond signs.

To rely on one another, we must rely on many other things.

Philosophy is unavoidable, for the cogito is in itself philosophical.

Everyone believes beyond their experience.

election as authority ritual

The expressiveness of natural scene is of fundamental importance to cinema.

The human body is an organized, self-ordering, expressive, interpretable agency; thus the Church as the Body of Christ is also an organized, self-ordering, expressive, interpretable agency.

What physics studies is constraint on potential, but this constraint is not absolute. Physical constraints limit what can be a bridge in given circumstances, but they do not guarantee the bridge itself, nor this particular version rather than that. So too with the human body and its physical movements.

Formation of a clear idea of something requires reasoning and proof.

The existence of most objects we know implies the existence of other objects. The existence of books implies the existence of readers; the existence of lungs implies the existence of something breathable; the existence of a watch implies the existence of time-tellers; the existence of a green leaf implies the existence of light; etc. etc. It is difficult to make sense of anything that exists without getting immediately into what other things its existence would imply.

The same reasoning that leads Hume to conclude that belief is a manner of conceiving should have led him to conclude that immediate inference is a manner of conceiving.

the synthetic a priori as implying the rejection of the distinction-separability rule

Popular elections need to be sanitized because they are inherently messy; this is done by official counts and certifications.

The free press is the whole people as a publishing people.

The primary difficulty for challenge-arguments is that the woods are always empty for bad hunters. Challenge is concerned with know-how, and thus its quality and answerability are related to considerations of skill.

Given that everything has some analogy to everything else, the future necessarily has some resemblance to the past.

From frequent experience we gain a better understanding of possible relations among possibilities.

Probabilities are not predictions.

Half of destiny is hope.

Expectation and preparation should not be confused.

That voting proceed in a manner established by law is essential to rule of law.

Types of experience linking natural sublime and religious
(1) I view the natural sublime and it resembles what would be made by God.
(2) I view the natural sublime and it arouses in me feelings as of being before God.
(3) I view the natural sublime and, introspecting because of it, I find God in myself.
(4) I view the natural sublime and infer God as its cause.
(5) I view the natural sublime and imagine it as from God.
-- all of these seem both possible and reasonable.

music as virtual terrain (Charles Nussbaum)

A World Governed by Middle Management

 I have to do undergo a regular set of online trainings for my job -- currently the trainings are Title IX, ADA Awareness, Discrimination and Harassment, and Cybersecurity -- and one thing that has been very noticeable is that they have greatly deteriorated in quality over the past ten years. The reasons for the deterioration are quite easy to identify, since the trainings are both longer and much less informative than they used to be. There are two related reasons for this:

(1) We used to have trainings that were specifically for the college; they have been replaced by more polished but more schlocky pre-packaged "learning experiences" that were very obviously designed for corporate contexts. They are highly generic to begin with, and they also waste a lot of time with scenarios that have nothing whatsoever to do with being a professor, or for that matter, with being at a college even in an administrative role. The Title IX training is the least bad because it is at least designed for Generic University; but it's pretty obvious that they are always thinking of a big state school and not a community college. The Cybersecurity training the past several years has been almost hilarious because it is so generic that it never gets more specific than 'your organization', and outside the sections on email deals with situations that assume we are working in corporate offices in close proximity to trade secrets.

(2) The trainings used to be quite tedious, but they went into considerable detail about legal requirements, school policies, procedures to use in various situations. Now they are still tedious but barely talk about these things at all. Instead we get extended powerpoint-level discussion of buzzwords. Once we got a lot of discussion of what would legally count as sexual harassment and how to report it; now we get one inserted slide of that, but pages and pages (and videos and videos) of vague psychological advice about how to be in the right frame of mind for not being a mere bystander. They are like a bunch of PSAs punctuated by an immensely dull afterschool special. It's less about how to do something and much more psychological, and indeed a lot of it consists of poorly explained vocabulary discussions ultimately deriving from psychological and psychiatric contexts -- things like bystander effect and implicit bias and microaggressions and privilege. The implicit bias stuff was all completely outdated, and if you didn't already know what a microaggression was, you would never be able to figure it out from the vague, rambling discussion, and you certainly would never know what to do about it. Vague discussions of jargon-words like 'power' and 'privilege' do not actually help you address real discrimination and harassment problems; for that you need the boring stuff that used to be the bulk of the training, tedious as it was -- what are the policies, what are the procedures and when are you justified in using them, what are the legal requirements, what are your protections and rights. You don't empower people by giving them additional vocabulary; you empower people by giving them ways to do things. The ADA trainings were the least bad, and I think that this is largely because the current fashion in disability rights -- person-centered discourse and practice, i.e., treating the persons rather than the disability as what primarily matters -- is, despite its jargonish framing, a purely ethical idea that is highly defensible in its own right, rather than a therapeutic idea that is out of place or an idea from psychology that ignores all the recent evidence from the field. But that training still does have many of the same problems.

The overall effect is that of the college shirking its actual responsibilities -- all of the trainings are essentially about how it's really your responsibility to get yourself into the right mindset to handle discrimination, harassment, etc., and not the administration's responsibility to provide a framework that gives actual means for handling them. I suppose this fits with the middle-management style of them; they are created not to address any problems but so that a corporation can point to them and say, "Look, we did what we were supposed to do."

I think this is very much a metaphor for the state of the world today, a world governed by middle management, a world in which using the right buzzwords is treated as a proof of success. It is self-defeating and destructive, since it means problems never actually get addressed properly, people never actually get tools and procedures they can use, and systemic problems are treated as if they were really problems with someone's character. And it is poisonous, because institutions framing matters as if any failures were due to individuals and not to the limitations of institutional process is one of the situations that breeds ethical abuse.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

The Lunatic Approach to Public Ethics

 Parker Crutchfield, professor of medical ethics at WMU, has given some thought to the question of how we can better arrive at cooperative solutions to pandemics, and after some deliberation has come up with an answer: drug people.

My research in bioethics focuses on questions like how to induce those who are noncooperative to get on board with doing what’s best for the public good. To me, it seems the problem of coronavirus defectors could be solved by moral enhancement: like receiving a vaccine to beef up your immune system, people could take a substance to boost their cooperative, pro-social behavior. Could a psychoactive pill be the solution to the pandemic?

The answer to this question, my dear readers, is No.

Crutchfield's idea is that if you drug people with oxytocin or psilocybin, this can make them more 'cooperative': "Then, perhaps, the people who choose to go maskless or flout social distancing guidelines would better understand that everyone, including them, is better off when they contribute, and rationalize that the best thing to do is cooperate."

I notice throughout that it never occurs to Crutchfield that cooperation is a two-way street. It never occurs to him, for instance, that someone might say that he is the one who needs psilocybin so that he will learn to cooperate with people who have objections to his preferred medical policies. In reality, we know from other medical campaigns more or less what works to increase participation in things like vaccinations: make it free, make it locally accessible, bring it to those who need it rather than expect them to come to you, have doctors sit down with people who are hesitant to clarify any concerns they might have, get feedback from people to find the conditions under which they would be willing to take it and adapt accordingly, don't lecture, be patient, have a clear and stable source of information for any questions people might have. The number of people who reject things like vaccination and masking as a matter of pure principle are very few; if you are getting a large amount of resistance, you can be quite sure that the reason is that either you are being very confusing (so they are defaulting to what they know better about), or you are making it very difficult for them (so they are refusing to make the effort you keep demanding), or you are being a jerk to them (so they are digging in their heels in response, since nothing makes people so stubborn as being provoked and attacked). Cooperation is something you and other people do together; it's not making other people comply with your preferences. But everything Crutchfield talks about is concerned with getting people to comply, not with getting people to cooperate

Crutchfield does consider two possible objections someone might make to his proposal:

(1) We don't have drugs that are effective enough yet. He concedes this, which seems to be a bit of problem for his plan. Granted, Crutchfield is primarily talking about what might be done in future pandemics, but, first, it's not clear that any such drugs would ever properly do what he wants; second, it is not clear that a drug that does what he wants would not have seriously bad side effects; third, it's not clear whether widespread distribution would actually be feasible. None of these things are clear because the drugs don't exist, and we don't know exactly what they would be or how they would work.

(2) People who are unwilling to get vaccines are perhaps not going to sign up to be drugged into compliance. Never fear, Crutchfield has a solution to this:

As some have argued, a solution would be to make moral enhancement compulsory or administer it secretly, perhaps via the water supply.

I sometimes wonder if you need to be certified as a horrible and villainous person in order to be a bioethicist. It does seem to be a field that collects a lot of people who tend to advocate villainy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Two Poem Drafts

 Cape Sounion

The Aegean is a godlike sea;
Poseidon chose it well to grace his crown.
His temple stands in gleaming white upon a hill
above a sapphire floor that shines in sun.

It once was painted brightly in prayer and hue;
it is now museum-marble, ancient trace
of what was once a salted fountain clear
of sailors' hopes and merchant's profit-race.

This world no temple knows; it has no fear
of gods, and never prays, for it is bland
with stone unpainted by the festive priest;
yet still it stands in awe, and stays demand
before the aging temple-stones that still survive.

It does not understand, but it yet is moved,
for ancient root and sun and splendid sea
still a high sublimity have proved,
and still touch hearts with something like a hymn,
so still we stand upon that hill in awe.

The Aegean is indeed a godlike sea.

Human Lot

We may resolve never to do
a deed we nevertheless will;
a man may be angry at maiden or country
and yet may love them still.
A man may run from God in Heaven
in searching for the God from whom he flees;
we may speak in voice of resounding command
what in truth is only a plea.
We may seek the glasses now perched on our heads
and find what we never did seek;
a man may throw down the fiercest of foes
by turning the other cheek.
A man who seems invincibly strong
might slit his very own throat;
and we may well lose the battle and war
in the midst of our victory-gloat.
A dream sometimes guides more surely to truth
than ever experience will,
and they who decline to indulge their desires
may find desires fulfilled.
To sacrifice everything you have ever held dear
may give you a dearer reward.
To seek a reward may lose you the prize;
to gain it may leave your mind bored.
A man may wander in wild ways
and always be civilized there,
or walk in a city and learn the hard way
of its savageries to note and beware.
The thing on its surface may not be the thing,
and the person may not be the face,
and sometimes you choose that you may avoid
and sometimes stand still for the chase.
Never in life become such a fool
that you only the surface regard;
sometimes the lowest suit in the deck
will trump as the wildest card.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Incomparable "Fest"

A Labor Day Lyric
by Arthur Gordon Burgoyne

Labor Day, Labor Day! Incomparable "fest" 
When Labor rightly revels in a period of rest,
When pleasure takes the place of sordid travail and turmoil.
It surely is a blessing to the honest sons of toil. 

Ask any individual that doesn't have to spend
His days in hard and grinding toil that never has an end
And ten to one he'll tell you that there's nothing quite so fine
As the spirit shown by heroes in the horny-handed line. 

He'll tell you that, if not deterred by other stern demands,
He'd love to cultivate a crop of horns upon his hands
And that he'd feel exalted if he only had the time
In manual pursuits himself to roughen and begrime. 

The politician, if he is an adept in his art,
Will speak of loving Labor from the bottom of his heart.
He'll pose before the toilers as their true, unselfish friend
And bind himself their interests to champion and defend. 

And other kinds of publicists with axes to be ground
Will glorify the workman as a sort of king uncrowned.
They'll talk of giving him his rights and glowing pictures draw
Of his future, if they only had the making of the law. 

Now Labor in this kind of guff small consolation sees.
'Twould cheerfully swap places with the class that lives at ease.
And Labor Day on other days has certainly the call
Inasmuch as then the toiler doesn't have to toil at all.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Evening Note for Sunday, September 5

 Thought for the Evening: Development of Philosophical Systems

Philosophical systems change through time; this means that it is of some interest to be able to distinguish between cases in which systems adapt and cases in which they are replaced, as well as between cases in which they are developing and cases in which they are deteriorating. Very little serious work has been done on this, but there is a notable exception: John Henry Newman's Development of Doctrine.

Newman's interest is primarily in the development of Christian doctrine, but it is essential to his argument that he not be applying any principles ad hoc. Thus, in order to talk of the development of Christian doctrine, he has to set it in the context of a general account of the development of ideas in general. This begins from the very first paragraph:

It is the characteristic of our minds to be ever engaged in passing judgment on the things which come before us. No sooner do we apprehend than we judge: we allow nothing to stand by itself: we compare, contrast, abstract, generalize, connect, adjust, classify: and we view all our knowledge in the associations with which these processes have invested it.

All of these actions -- comparison, contrast, abstraction, generalization, connection, adjustment, classification -- are ways in which ideas do not stand still when the human mind takes them seriously. Some of the results of these actions are quite transient, like opinions we soon discard, some stick around by a kind of accident, in that nothing disturbs them for a while, others achieve a real and lasting durability. But we consider ideas in light of all these different actions of mind because they are rich; you can't really reduce a single idea to a single stable proposition. You have to consider it in lots of different ways. In this sense, we can say that ideas are 'alive', that they have a 'life' in the mind. All of these things continue to be true if we are considering groups of interacting people; indeed the change and 'life' are even more obvious when we do. It is in this context that Newman describes what he means by 'development':

This process, whether it be longer or shorter in point of time, by which the aspects of an idea are brought into consistency and form, I call its development, being the germination and maturation of some truth or apparent truth on a large mental field. On the other hand this process will not be a development, unless the assemblage of aspects, which constitute its ultimate shape, really belongs to the idea from which they start....Moreover a development will have this characteristic, that, its action being in the busy scene of human life, it cannot progress at all without cutting across, and thereby destroying or modifying and incorporating with itself existing modes of thinking and operating. The development then of an idea is not like an investigation worked out on paper, in which each successive advance is a pure evolution from a foregoing, but it is carried on through and by means of communities of men and their leaders and guides; and it employs their minds as its instruments, and depends upon them, while it uses them.

Some kinds of development -- as in mathematics, which depends so much on demonstrative proof -- are resistant to corruption (the deterioration of the 'life' of the idea); others -- like political developments -- are highly irregular and sensitive to historical accidents and contingencies. But others are in between these extremes, and in these cases we need a robust idea of how ideas, doctrines, and systems can change while in some sense remaining the same. The essential question of Development, in fact, is how we can distinguish such changes, i.e., developments, from corruptions, changes that are breaking down the system. He develops a sketch of various diagnostic marks on the basis of an analogy between living ideas and living things. These are the notes of development, and they can be applied to philosophical systems as well as to Christian doctrine.

(1) Preservation of Type: There has to be some correspondence between the earlier and the later. Thus, there many different forms of Neoplatonism, but however different they may be, the later forms have identifiable essential parts that are analogous to, and historically linkable with, identifiable essential parts of the earlier forms.

(2) Continuity of Principles: Particular doctrines or positions have abstract features related, again abstractly, in various ways. These abstract principles can be considered in themselves. For instance, Neoplatonism has certain general recurring principles that are shared by Neoplatonists both early and late: the primacy of the one over the many, the primacy of the intelligible over the sensible, the primacy of the mind over the body. These are shared principles, but the continuity has to be not in the bare affirmation of the principle (which could be just perfunctory), but in the principle's showing up in actual doctrines and positions in similar ways.

(3) Power of Assimilation: Living things adapt. So do living ideas. These adaptations are not random happenings; rather, they are actual responses and reactions. An objection arises, the objection is dealt with. A confusion is discovered, the confusion is clarified. But most importantly, and most relevantly to the question of development, ideas that are relevant to the system are drawn in and subordinated to it. "An eclectic, conservative, assimilating, healing, moulding process, a unitive power, is of the essence, and a third test, of a faithful development." Thus Neoplatonism draws in Aristotelian, Stoic, and other ideas insofar as they are useful for handling problems, but in every case these ideas are 'Neoplatonized', adapted into a form that can be more easily united to the principles and positions of Neoplatonism.

(4) Logical Sequence: Obviously deductive and probable argument play a significant role in the development of any philosophical system, as we simply draw out the consequences of our starting-points. Sometimes the positions of a later stage of a system can be seen to be logical consequences of positions in an earlier stage.

(5) Anticipation of the Future: Sometimes an idea or a hint or a hypothesis is thrown out early in the history of a philosophical system that can be seen to be an early gesture in the direction of something that came later. Thus Thomas Aquinas has some comments here and there about signs, but not a fully developed account of signs; if we compare it with the account of signs in John of St. Thomas, the latter goes well beyond anything St. Thomas himself says, in part because he sometimes has to deal with very different concerns; but for most of what John of St. Thomas says about the subject, you can find anticipations in St. Thomas, and thus, despite going beyond St. Thomas, John of St. Thomas's account can be seen definitely as Thomistic.

(6) Conservative Action upon its Past: Developments are often new in the sense that they provide new illustrations, new corroborations, new examples, new defenses of what older stages had. Thus much of what is new in Mencius is the use of new arguments or illustrations to explain or defend positions and ideas he gets from Confucius and his students.

(7) Chronic Vigor: Systems that deteriorate too much collapse or are obviously repudiated; so a development can be distinguished from the opposite by its energetic endurance. Hamiltonian theory of predicate quantity, while it could be a viable part of a different logical approach, is a corruption of the systems of algebraic logic before it; it springs up like a weed and passes like a weed, because it is not very suited for what one does with systems of algebraic logic in general. Peano notation, on the other hand, is a legitimate development of the predicate calculus, as witnessed by its consistent and enduring usability.

Thus we may say of a philosophical system what Newman says of Christian doctrine: "To guarantee its own substantial unity, it must be seen to be one in type, one in its system of principles, one in its unitive power towards externals, one in its logical consecutiveness, one in the witness of its early phases to its later, one in the protection which its later extend to its earlier, and one in its union of vigour with continuance, that is, in its tenacity."

Previous Evening Note on Philosophical Systems

Philosophical Systems as Adaptive

Various Links of Interest

* Nick Riggle, Toward a Communitarian Theory of Aesthetic Value (PDF)

* Reza Rezazedah, Thomas Aquinas and Mulla Sadra on the Soul-Body Problem: A Comparative Analysis (PDF)

* Brendan Hodge, How the USCCB gets its money -- and where it goes

* Charles A. Coulomb, Who Lost Afghanistan?

* Jacqueline Broad, Catherine Trotter Cockburn on the virtue of atheists (PDF)

* Richmond Kwesi, Metaphor, Truth, and Representation (PDF). This is an excellent paper on the subject.

* Ljiljana Radenovic, A Post-Enlightenment Ethics of the Desert Fathers

* Jordana Cepelowicz, The Brain Doesn't Think the Way You Think It Does. A truth that substance dualists never had a problem with, but which keeps tripping up materialists. I've noted before that there's a reason why so many great neuroscientists in the history of the field have been substance dualists opposed to materialism -- it removes most temptation to pre-interpret the brain in terms of thought, and lets you just study what the brain actually does.

* Recently discovered parchment fragments give us some of the earliest manuscript versions of parts of the Merlin legend.

* Irami Osei-Frimpong, Families Under Siege: A Left Defense of the Nuclear Family

* Louis Larue, A Conceptual Framework for Classifying Currencies (PDF)

* James Chastek, Starting with potential being

Currently Reading

Egil's Saga
Ishikawa, Silversein, Jacobson, Fiksdahl-King, & Angel, A Pattern Language
JeeLoo Liu, Neo-Confucianism
Vladimir Soloviev, Russia and the Universal Church
Mary Midgley, The Myths We Live By
Angela McKay Knobel, Aquinas and the Infused Moral Virtues