Postmodern Labyrinth

I watched the video, What Makes us Postmodern, and its predecesor, What Makes Us Modern, and I immediately discounted any attempts to synthesise Modernism and Postmodernism in some Hegelian manner, Hegel’s approach being somewhat Modern at the start. One can pair the essential dimensions and perhaps arrive at some moderate position, but, firstly, this is a Modern perspective; secondly, Moderns are not likey to abandon their position.

There may be a resolution, but it seems that it will require a paradigm shift—a different perspective still.

Ancient Greek mythology gives us the story of the Labyrinth. As I am not interested in analysing this from a Jungian perspective, we can safely ignore the Minotaur. The story of the labryrinth is a story for Moderns. It’s a teleological story based on the metanarrative that suggests that one can find order in disorder, if only they have the key.

As the story goes, the labyrinth is an unsolvable puzzle. However, at least one person knows how to solve it, or at least knows how to beat the system. Depending on the source version, Ariadne either assisted Theseus with a thread or jewels.

In a tl;dr version of the story, Theseus is tasked with killing the Minotaur. I’ve recently discussed his ship. Exposition informs us that the Minotaur is mortal, thus killable, but there is no escaping the maze—for reasons. However, Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth, told Ariadne that there was one way out. If someone were to record their ingress, with say, a thread or jewels, they could then follow these to egress. Definitely not a plot device. Hansel and Gretel took this to heart and marked their ingress with breadcrumbs—or stones, depending upon which version you’re reading.

What Makes this Modern

Though the story of the labyrinth and the Minotaur comes from a pre-modern era, it remains an apt metaphor for modernity.

There is a deliberate underlying structure. In fact, it has been architected by Daedalus. This mirrors the Intelligent Design narrative favoured by Christians.

There is a definitive solution to the puzzle. The story is teleological. If one follows the plan, stays on the path, they will prevail. Go off-script, and perish.

This is a story about structure, about order, about adopting and conforming to the rules. Even though it’s also about gaming the system with cheat codes in more modern parlance. Nowadays, I’d turn off clipping and collision detection, but Ariadne didn’t know these codes. I digress.

Postmodern Reaction

This is not a story for Postmoderns because it starts with a design. For moderns, there is a design. It’s either a vestigial god or science. The belief is that everything has structure. Even if that structure is yet unknown to us. If only we had enough time, we could suss it out. Perhaps it’s past time to re-task Shakespeare’s infinite monkeys.

Reconciliation of this teleological belief is intractable. Rather, it can likely only be solved with rhetoric. Moderns love rhetoric, which explains why they have so much faith in Aristotle and classical philosophers, who still provide a foundation to much philosophy of the Moderns. It’s intractable in the same way that converting someone with some religious conviction to no longer have that conviction.

Modernism is about faith. It may have shifted from faith in gods to faith in logic and reason, science and technology, or organisation and progress. Postmodernism points out that whilst these are possible solutions, they are not the only solutions. Moreover, these have unintended consequences and create collateral damage. They also rely on a privileged perspective. Perhaps I’ll create a segment to illustrate this point using the disruption of COVID-19 as a backdrop.

In the end, Modernism relies on teleologies. The end may not be known, but we can divine a vision and lead people in that direction anyway by employing rhetorical devices. Postmodernism knows that any such narrative is fiction. A postmodern may emotionally buy into the narrative, but they never forget that it’s still fiction.

Modernism relies on order and control to maintain that order. This doesn’t mean that all Moderns are top-down authoritarians. But it does mean that they need crowd control and compliance. The United States are probably mostly Moderns. They like to claim they are individualists, but they are more typically either keeping up with the Joneses or competing with them. Most individuality is trivial at best. “I’m an individual because my BMW is purple.” Quite. And Moderns don’t like much non-compliance. They may want change, but if someone expresses this need for change through civil disobedience, the Modern may viscerally agree, but they will also rationalise that the civil disobedients should have used the admittedly broken system. Moderns like what they call progress, but they can only accept change in small doses at a slow pace, so there’s a friction.

Finally, there’s power. I am not going to rehash Nietzsche or Foucault, but this is a schism. Moderns want order and control. Power structures assist this, but then they don’t like the current actors. If only there were better actors. Nietzsche noted that the masters and the herd had different interests and moralities. Moderns know this on one level but think they can remediate this dichotomy. Because of course, they think they can bring order to everything—Second Law of Thermodynamics notwithstanding.

In the end, these schools will likely attempt to coexist. As for me, I’m a nihilist and somewhat of an existentialist. Yet, I am also a pragmatist as I still have to operate within the world I’ve been thrown into, as noted by Heidegger.

Here to Help

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Ronald Reagan

This sentence just crossed my mind. People of a certain age may remember film actor Ronald Reagan’s quip: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. Libertarians seem to be enamoured by this. Perhaps smug captures it better. For them, this is about the ineptness of government, that bloated bureaucracy that couldn’t get it right if it tried, and certainly not efficiently. If the government comes a knocking, view it as you do with stranger danger: Don’t get in the van with the guy with the puppy and candy. I get it. But let’s shift perspective to see how it renders from a different perspective.

Let’s start from the start with a small disclaimer. I am not an apologist for government. In fact, I am not a fan of bureaucracy. One of the more successful propaganda-slash-marketing campaign in the sphere of public opinion is that private enterprise is somehow superior in all manners to the public version. Let’s be clear here. If one is making sweeping generalisations, then start here. All bureaucracies are created equal.

Echoing Tolstoy, “Bureaucracies are all alike; every bureaucracy is unhappy in its own way.” I may have misremembered how this opening line goes. Poor Anna. Let’s keep going. Government bureaucracy is no better or worse than corporate bureaucracy. There is no correlation. For every efficient corporation—not a thing, but bear with me—there is an efficient government agency—also not a thing, so, I think you’re realising my point. Bureaucracies are practically by definition recipes for mediocrity. They are meant to produce repeatable processes at scale. They aren’t designed to be innovative or nimble, although you can buy many books and training materials on how to achieve this if you’ve got nothing better to do with your money. Let’s return to the main concept: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.

I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.

What’s the problem with this? We need to ask, why has the government shown up at our doorstep, to begin with. The answer, private markets have failed. There is a hole in the social fabric. Perhaps the private sector does provide the needed good or service, but it is clearly not affordable. Hence the hole. Clearly, the private sector has dropped the ball. So when the government attempts to intervene, the response is to cry foul. “Those people can’t afford to pay for a solution, so they shouldn’t get one. Perhaps those people should work harder or get more job training so they can afford to pay us.”

“What? Urgent medical care, you say? They should have thought ahead.”

“What’s that? She’s an infant? I suppose she should have picked different parents who thought ahead. Why do people reproduce when they can’t afford to raise a child in the first place. There ought to be a law.”

And so it goes.

Not only doesn’t the private sector not want to serve a population if it can’t profit. It’s decided that if it can’t profit from a person in a circumstance, then that person doesn’t deserve assistance. Even shoddy assistance as is suggested by the quote.

I recall another adage: something is better than nothing.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. The unstated objection is that government will provide the good or service, and it will be as good if not better than the private sector offering and it will cost less to provide. This would reveal the private sector apologists to be the charlatans they are. I am not claiming that this is some foregone conclusion. But it’s an eventuality the private sectorists don’t want exposed.

A prime example of this is the provision of healthcare and insurance. The world over provides these services cheaper and with superior health outcomes, and yet a common refrain by profit mongers is that you don’t want those other services with better health outcomes, not only provided for a lower cost, but also provided for a lower cost to you.

There is nothing inherent in this quote about the government being here to help that it is attempting to supplant some successful private sector business model.

“Why don’t we get into the yacht-building business?”

When government intervenes, it is usually due to market failure. So then why do we so often see the government trying to intervene? Availability bias aside, it’s because the market fails often, so the government has to play MacGyver time and time again. Markets are fragile. Capitalism is fragile.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics relates to entropy. Capitalism and market systems are not self-sustaining. Entropy consistently dissipates energy in these systems, hence economic busts. This isn’t even addressing the issue of misappropriation of resources from this system, which only serves to exacerbate and accelerate this natural decline. If external capital weren’t injected into this system, it would have collapsed under its own weight ages ago.

As a parting shot, it’s interesting to me that for a cohort loathing government assistance, these same blokes seem to have their hands out begging, or at least accepting, this same government assistance. The help the eschew on behalf of others is often welcomed with open arms. Where I come from, we call this hypocrisy. Hypocrisy Now. I’ve got an idea for a film.

Counting on Grammatical Gender

This wall of words was posted in a Facebook that the AI thought I would be interested in. I’m not, save for the rhetorical and grammatical structure. I am not interested in the veracity of the claim or the sentiment it is meant to provoke.

May be an image of text

The author purportedly had a conversation with a former student, who identified as being a member of another race—black, I suppose; African-American in the current vogue; negro and coloured in bygone days.

Notice the head-fake. A conversation with an individual person quickly morphs into a generalisation. This individual, in the mind of the author—or at least the conveyance—was now the representative mouthpiece for this so-called race. But that’s not what I question.

They and them are now considered to be acceptible singular forms if a person identifies as such. I’m not sure I am equiped to comment on identification to a grammatical element, so I’ll side-step that and focus on the outcome.

Perusing this or something similar, there is a sense of undeserved weight—an inclusion from the perspective of a single person. Some people actively promote themselves as spokespeople for a group, whether race or something else. But this person did not necessarily claim to speak for anyone beyond him or herself—perhaps some small, immediate group of collegues who shared this perspective.

I am wondering how this will play out as a device to intentionally deceive the reader.

Another thing…

I was in Philadelphia yesterday, and a black associate of mine was commenting on what he deemed to be 150 neo-Nazi skinheads parading in the rain, a point eliciting more pleasure than perhaps it deserved. His assessment is that race was not a problem, that he held no illwill toward any race. His contention was with ‘motherfucking racists’. Unfortunately, there is no scientific racist litmus. There are only actions and perceptions. This is where Popper’s paradox of tolerance pops into mind. And so it goes

Hopeful Rhetoric

My base belief is that what people believe is their truth, and rhetoric is a primary way to convince them. Part of the rhetorical mechanism is to introduce evidence, but this, too, is shrouded in rhetoric.

I’m not talking about the evidence that ‘standard’ water boils at 100°C at sea-level. This is tautological. Water is defined as H₂O. Literally, 100°C is the definition of where water boils under these conditions.

But things that cannot be repeated in controlled environment with the ability to alter parameters within the environment rely on rhetoric. This is why Newton’s laws seemed som compelling until a new narrative (somewhat) supplanted it. Still, this is not the point I want to make. I want to concentrate on the socio-poliotical domain.

I feel that given two equally viable explanations, the one offering more hope will prevail. Donald Trump knows this. This is why in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he railed at a presser how he chastised a reporter for questioning his (false) narrative of hope. Politics relies on more than one rhetorical thread, and many already have the disposition of reviling Trump, so any messages from him are discounted at the start.* But, ceteris paribus, if a person assesses two equally probable outcomes—a typical door number 1 or door number 2 scenario—, and (for whatever exogenous reason) hope is associated to particular door.

In a survival scenario, perhaps you are one of three people lost in a cave and there are two possible paths forward. One person asserts that s/he feels that—without evidence—the left path is best way out but adds logically there is no way to tell, that you might as well flip a coin. The other person confidently conveys that s/he knows—without evidence—that the right path is the path to salvation. Being otherwise indifferent, you are likely to acquiesce to the second person, the one who offers hope over logic.

I fully admit that this is 100 per cent fabricated whole cloth from thin air, but the reason I come to this point is when you compare atheists to theists, anarchists to statists, nihilists to Existentialists, and any such analogic pair, the right side gets more traction and requires much more evidence to sway people to the left.

So when Occupy Wall Street (effectively anarchists) made demands, the status (read: the general population) asked ‘Who’s your leader?’ When the media-industrial complex broadcast this, the public was immediately sympathetic to the structured system. This is slightly different in that it’s not necessarily hope, rather a comfort zone—an endowment effect. It’s a benefit accruing to the incumbent.

My point is: hope floats. It acts to buoy otherwise rhetorically equivalent arguments. Or perhaps hope is simply an employed rhetorical device, so it’s unnecessary to call it out. Now, I’ve convinced myself to adopt this position.

* This is why ad hominem attacks can be effective, as persons swayed by the attack discount messages delivered by this person despite there not being a necessary connection between the grounds for debasement and the claim being asserted.

The Truth about Truth (Third Amend)

Please note that this content has been subsumed into the originating article: The Truth about Truth.

THIRDRhetoric is a primary driver to fashion our sense of how close or distant we are from reality. Rhetoric shapes and focuses the frame.

War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength

1984, George Orwell

I’ve already commented at length about the primacy of rhetoric. To recap for the purpose of this disquisition, the only meaningful arbiter of truth is rhetoric—the ability to persuade the larger populace to accept something as true.

Here, I’d expect someone to counter with, ‘Just because people are convinced that something is true doesn’t make it so’, and they’d be right. However, as we cannot access the underlying reality accept through our admittedly fallible senses, who’s to argue?

Moreover—going off on a tangent—, we know that other lifeforms—let’s stick with the animal kingdom—have different senses than humans, and some humans perceive things differently to the normie (if I may adopt a spectrum term) .

Sharks have electroreception (re: The Ampullae of Lorenzini), which allows them to perceive small changes in electrical fields as well as what’s termed a lateral line ( mechanoreceptor function), which allows them to recognise changes in environmental pressure. Other known sensory adaptations are echolocation in bats and dolphins and chemoreceptors (notably in insects and snails).

We are probably also aware that different animals have differing degrees of sense acuity compared to humans. Dogs hear frequencies above the human threshold and have better olfactory discrimination. Birds of prey have superior vision. Women typically have a broader colour vocabulary.

Bees see in ultraviolet; snakes can ‘see’ in infrared; owls have night-vision.

And then there’s synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. A person with synesthesia may perceive sound as colour (chromesthesia) or perhaps taste.

Given concepts of normality, we presume we are synesthesia are normal and these other people are somehow not, but for all we know, we normies are evolutionary dead ends, soon to be displaced by synesthesiacs. (Is that even a word? It is now.)

But I digress.

Perception is reality. If one can convince you of something, e.g. Donald Trump is a good president, then it’s ostensibly true to you. If one can convince an entire population that something is true, e.g. the plot of Orwell’s 1984, or The Matrix, then who’s to say otherwise.

The Truth about Truth

The notion of Truth is not as cut-and-dry as it might appear at first glance. As a non-cognitivist, I don’t believe in the notion of objective Truth, so I am not entirely sure why it matters enough to me to continue to talk about it. I suppose I’m an Emotivist and Prescriptivist, if these terms capture the essence of my feelings. The Emotivism is what attracts me to an issue whilst Prescriptivism is why I feel the urge to transmit my beliefs. I’ll also suppose, if I adopt an evolutionary survival framework, that people do this to enhance probability of survival by minimising otherness. It also identifies me to those with a similar perspective. The inherent risk is that this attempt at community-building also broadcasts my potential—and let’s be real here, actual—otherness.

In practice, I’d venture that most people simply take the notion of truth for granted, and given an inquiry would defend it with an ‘of course it’s true‘ response with no need for additional justification. But as with human language more generally, Truth is an approximation of a notion. I like to categorise it as Archetypal.

The issue with Truth and other virtues (and pretty much everything else not analytically tautological), is that people don’t seem to believe that they operate asymptotically. They believe there is a truth, it’s objective and accessible, with enough inquiry, can be discovered.

I am self-aware that employing the language of maths and science is a problem adopted for many in philosophy, as they attempt to legitimatise a position by explaining it relative to the currently adopted metanarrative framework. I also know that by adopting this frame, I (or anyone in a similar position) am (is) twisted into convoluted knots. This is how science had been forced into retrograde motion models to explain a geocentric model of the universe, but when the paradigm was shifted to a heliocentric model, these off behaviours fell by the wayside. I suppose a superior approach would be to redefine the language and deposition the frame, but that’s easier said than done.

Graph: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Asymptotic Curve)

The common assumption is that, over time, scientific inquiry will lead us closer to the truth. Correspondence theory supports the notion that more observations and perspectives will lead to a closer approximation, and eventually tools at our disposal will lead to more granular definitions, until we reach a point that and differences in the tangency to reality will be insignificant, a veritable rounding error. But there are several problems with these assumptions.

FIRST

We have no idea how close or far we are from Reality on the Y-axis, representing Truth.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is truth-correspondence-1.png
Graph: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Asymptotic Curve)

Assuming for the time being that there is an approachable truth, we have no reference to understand how close to reality we might be. In practice, we seem to operate on a basis of always being within some level of statistical significance of where Truth = Reality, and when new information is introduced, we say, “Hooray for Science!” Aren’t we glad that science is self-correcting. Empiricism has its own issues.

Historically, we’ve had ‘wrong’ correspondence between Truth and Reality, but then we got it ‘right’—until we didn’t. Rinse and repeat.

We may all be familiar with the story of how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics. What Einstein did is to create a new narrative—a synchronous shift of paradigm and rhetoric—, which has been accepted into a revised orthodoxy. In our mind, this feels like progress. But how close are we to the real truth?

Taking our understanding of gravity as the fabric of space-time, we still have no idea what’s going on or how it operates, but this doesn’t prevent us from accepting it as a black box and making pragmatic predictions from there. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘truth’ mechanism is less important than the functional relationship, just as I can tell time on a watch I have no idea how it operates.

SECOND

We have no idea if any changes to our perception move us closer to or further from Reality.

Rather than being asymptotic, perhaps the relationship to is polynomial (or the result of some stochastic function). See the graph above. As we move into the future (in red) and look back, we may perceive that we’ve reversed against some notion of progress. Common wisdom is that progress is directly, positively related to time. But is it?

In my first amendment, I reference how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics, but in the future, this could be shown to be wrong. In our minds, what had seemed like progress may in retrospect turn out to have been a false assertion.* Moreover, we’ll dutifully accept this updated notion of truth if the rhetoric is sufficient to fit our concept of evidence, especially given humans’ propensity for pareidolia.

I am no true Sceptic, but neither do I accept the prevailing meta-narrative whole cloth. Unfortunately, I am in no better position than the next person to discern proximity to the underlying structure of reality.

THIRD

Rhetoric is a primary driver to fashion our sense of how close or distant we are from reality. Rhetoric shapes and focuses the frame.

War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength

1984, George Orwell

I’ve already commented at length about the primacy of rhetoric. To recap for the purpose of this disquisition, the only meaningful arbiter of truth is rhetoric—the ability to persuade the larger populace to accept something as true.

Here, I’d expect someone to counter with, ‘Just because people are convinced that something is true doesn’t make it so’, and they’d be right. However, as we cannot access the underlying reality accept through our admittedly fallible senses, who’s to argue?

Moreover—departing on a tangent—, we know that other lifeforms—let’s stick with the animal kingdom—have different senses than humans, and some humans perceive things differently to the normie (if I may adopt a spectrum term) .

Sharks have electroreception (re: The Ampullae of Lorenzini), which allows them to perceive small changes in electrical fields as well as what’s termed a lateral line ( mechanoreceptor function), which allows them to recognise changes in environmental pressure. Other known sensory adaptations are echolocation in bats and dolphins and chemoreceptors (notably in insects and snails).

We are probably also aware that different animals have differing degrees of sense acuity compared to humans. Dogs hear frequencies above the human threshold and have better olfactory discrimination. Birds of prey have superior vision. Women typically have a broader colour vocabulary.

Bees see in ultraviolet; snakes can ‘see’ in infrared; owls have night-vision.

And then there’s synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. A person with synesthesia may perceive sound as colour (chromesthesia) or perhaps taste.

Given concepts of normality, we presume we are synesthesia are normal and these other people are somehow not, but for all we know, we normies are evolutionary dead ends, soon to be displaced by synesthesiacs. (Is that even a word? It is now.)

But I digress.

Perception is reality. If one can convince you of something, e.g. Donald Trump is a good president, then it’s ostensibly true to you. If one can convince an entire population that something is true, e.g. the plot of Orwell’s 1984, or The Matrix, then who’s to say otherwise.

FOURTH

Intent in communicating perception does not get one closer to some corresponding reality. It merely converges perception.

This fourth entry is a response to this comment by Landzek from The Philosophical Hack regarding the notion of intended truth in communication.

Extending the simple asymptotic function from the first section, we might see (in Graph 4a) a slight variation in interpretation due to the insufficiencies of language—providing us with a close enough for the government approximation to some shared perception. People in this group will tend to agree on some perception, say, that the earth is spherical.** The average distance from perception to reality is the same for all in-group members, give or take some small variance that I’ll dismiss as an insignificant rounding error.

Graph 4a: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Simplified in-group concurrence)

Graph 4b, however, illustrates two opposing perceptions of reality. In this example, I show proponents of orthodoxy (group O), who claim the earth to be roughly spherical, arbitrarily closer to reality than proponents of an alternative theory (group A), who claim that the earth is flat.

Each in-group has some variance from the mean notion, but ex-group members are orders of magnitude apart, as measured by the blue and red bars to the right of the chart. If we assume some binary condition that the earth is either spherical or flat with no other options, one of these might be considered to be right whilst the other would be wrong. We can establish this situation relative to the ex-groups, but, still, neither of these is comparable to Reality™ .


Graph 4b: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Simplified ex-group concurrence)

The intent of each group may be to promote the perspective of the group—each claiming to be closer to the truth than the other. It is easy to imagine a situation where both claimants are equally distant from the truth:

Imagine two groups, each making opposing claims:

  • Tarot is superior to Astrology in predicting the future.
  • Astrology is superior to Tarot in predicting the future.

I’ll go out on a limb here and create a reality where the future is not predictable by either measure, irrespective of what each in-group believes.


* I am not versed well enough in the history of science, but I’d be interested to know which, if any, scientific advances have been a step ‘backward’, that a belief had overtaken a prior belief only to have reverted to the former.

I am aware of the slow march of science and the ignorance of possibly valid assertions simply because the rhetoric was not strong enough or the PR just wasn’t adequate. An example might be the debate of theoretical Democracy versus Communism: which is better than the other. Of course, there are too many dimensions to consider, and the adoption or exclusion of one dimension over another might be enough to tilt the outcome.

In the real world—see what I did there—, the US spend billions upon billions of dollars to interfere with Communism—and I am not taking a position whether it would have succeeded or failed on its own terms—, just to be able to knock down the strawman some century later though propagandising and disinformation campaigns.


** I understand that the earth being an oblate spheroid is primarily an analytical distinction, so is tautologically true, but I am using a simplification of a commonly accepted fact.


DISCLAIMER: In order to keep generating new content (or even content) on this blog, I will occasionally adopt a new approach of publishing unfinished thoughts instead of waiting to complete the thought. This means, I may be editing pages in place to correct my position and alter narrative flow, of not the narrative itself.

EDIT: I’ve included my amendments in line above, though I’ve retained links to the original content.

Body Self-Governance

One topic I hear often, and most often from Libertarians, is that people ‘own’ their body. These people espouse body autonomy and self rule. In fact, this is a starting point and they extend it out to some imaginary boundary of limited government.

This sentiment is captured by pithy statements like

Your right to extend your fist ends at my nose.

Some guy

This all sounds well and good, yet there is no objective case that defends body self-ownership. Taking this position is simply latching onto normative, emotional rhetoric.

Personally, I like the idea that I should have some control over decisions leading to what happens to my body, but save for the idea content, I am under no delusion that this is self-evident or otherwise guaranteed. By extension, there is no reason in particular why sovereignty can be defended except through mutual contract and the tacit (and sometimes explicit) violence and the threat thereof, as I’ve commented on before.

Hopeless Hubris

There’s a dangerous arrogance to hopelessness… Total hopelessness assumes that we know everything there is to know.…
When we think we know everything, we preclude opportunity.

James McCarthy

In a recent panel discussion on Climate Change, James McCarthy played Enlightenment standard bearer as he derided the hopeless. Steven Pinker, whom I’ve mentioned in this vein plays to the same tune.

Whether realistic, simply optimistic, or Pollyannas remain to be seen. Future history will be the final arbiter, but I want to touch on the relationship of arrogance to hopelessness.

McCarthy is right to make the equation, but what’s left unsaid is the hubris on the other side, of the Scientists, who put more faith in possible solutions than is, perhaps, warranted. This, too, is arrogance:

We gotten here from there, so we must be able to continue from here to the next there… along our next journey to progress.

It reminds me of the one about the person falling to their death from a tall building. At the fifth floor, in response to the question, ‘How’s in going?’ says, ‘So far, so good‘.

This is missing the perspective that we could already have situated ourselves into some evolutionary dead end, just awaiting the inevitable ground splat.

I’m not a pessimist. I am merely pointing out the arrogance of both vantages. In fact, I see it as a line curved so as to bend back upon itself.

Hubris Circle

Whilst one said may be correct, it is not through knowledge but through ignorance and emotion they arrive at their position. It’s primarily temperament and opinion. It’s certainly not science, save the blind faith variety.

I don’t really have much to say on the subject at this moment. I just wanted to share my reaction.

Moral Pragmatism

It appears you are interested in the workings of morality from a practical perspective.

This statement occurred in a discussion thread on The Philosophical Hack.

I don’t feel there is another perspective. It is a human construct of language, but, in particular, it’s a social construct. By definition, language is arbitrary (though not capricious), any anything within language is necessarily arbitrary, too.

Morality and its cousin, ethics, are essentially normative rules of conduct, so they are, foundationally speaking, pragmatic: what is the best system for a society to flourish. This implies some goal or goals. In essence, this becomes an optimisation problem that involves systems thinking, and humans are particularly poor at systems thinking especially when faced with complexity. Along our evolutionary path, managing complexity was not a huge survival factor. Kahneman and Tversky identified two systems: System I is the sort of automatic reflexive system and System II is for advanced functions. System II requires a lot of energy and upkeep. For most humans, it’s not well-developed or maintained,and System I appears to be the arbiter and has right of first refusal, so it attempts to solve heuristically something that should be assessed analytically.

Why the ramble? Morality is a complex system with boundary conditions and dynamics: precisely what humans are poor at. Just defining the boundaries is a challenge. Perhaps this is why some people simply attempt to define the boundary as universal, but this creates its own challenges. And many reject universal morality, opting for smaller moral domains—nations, states, municipalities, communities, schools, churches, families, peer groups, couples. To Hegel and Nietzsche, the main concern is authenticity for the individual. And Nietzsche didn’t feel that there was any one-size-fits-all morality to begin with. I could operate with different moral imperatives than you. This was most evident in his Master-Herd distinction.

But since I reject the notion of objective morality, it is necessarily normative or relative or subjective. Here, we end up trying to optimise an equilibrium model, but the trick is what to optimise.

In the modern age, the consensus is to maximise happiness or utility, but, as I’ve mentioned before, we are still left in a quandary: do we optimise personal happiness or group happiness, and what group? A nationalist might choose to draw a boundary around the nation. This will maximise happiness within the borders without concern of whether ‘people are starving in Africa’.

Of course, there are multiple dimensions to any morality. If there are two people and one has $100 and the other would feel happier to take it, in a utility optimisation model, there is nothing to defend not taking it. Prospect theory within behavioural economics provides some rational insomuch as humans tend to value loss over gain, so the $100 received is perceived as having less value than the person losing it. This is further complicated if the person receiving it is poor—perhaps s/he has no money—and the person relinquishing it is Jeff Bezos, to whom it is nothing more than a rounding error.

I mention these because we could have a positive sum game (borrowing from game theory)—the gain to the poor person would outweigh the loss leading to a net positive gain—, and yet Pareto optimisation disallows this. Of course, happiness and utility cannot be measured in the first place and they are not persistent in the second place.

My point in all this is to argue that humans are woefully ill-equipped to grasp these topics, and so most of this is not much more substantial than mental masturbation. And this leads me full circle to me original contention that morality and so-called moral truths are nothing more that rhetoric, the ability to persuade that your position is the truest truth.

Death of the Metanarrative

Until I recently read Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge I never quite understood why Moderns accused Post-moderns of being anti-science. I’d heard Jordan Peterson complaining, and I’d read forum and blog posts with the same attacks.

As it happens, postmodernism eschews the meta-narrative or is leery of it. This includes the meta-narratives underlying science and the Enlightenment more generally. If you’ve read my posts over the years, you’ll see that this is a common complaint of mine, that everything is a human construct. Although Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition, I only read it this week.

To be fair, I sought it out. I have been attempting to find some other philosophers who have asserted that Truth (and other notions like Justice and Progress) are nothing more than the result of a rhetorical victory. And although Lyotard does not come out and say this (at least not in this book), I feel that he would not disagree with the notion. I may have to read some more of his work.

The least one can do is find the underlying narrative. Feel free to operate day to day as per usual, but be aware. The inscription at Delphi was not exactly right. There is no self to know, and narratives change, but to ‘know’ the prevailing narrative of the day seems it might at least allow one to better assess what’s happening above ground. The Matrix trope may be overplayed, but it’s a fitting metaphor for seeing what underlies. There is no Truth, but for what it’s worth, there’s another data point.

We live on the map, but the terrain is inaccessible. The postmodern doesn’t hate science or progress. We merely question the veracity. One cannot assess progress without a vector, without velocity and direction, so we contrive stories to serve as a foundation.

The founding of these stories don’t need to be sinister or nefarious. They can grow organically. But the ones who understand the rules, Wittgenstein’s language game, can wrest power, and s/he who can bend the rules through convincing rhetoric, perhaps as Locke and Rousseau, can change to course of history. But this course can be changed again. When Marx tried to change the narrative, it threatened the status quo, so they try to delegitimatise it at every turn—primarily through the dissemination of disinformation in a sort of corrupt meme machine. Marx tried to embrace and then co-opt Capitalism, but the Capitalists were not ready to cede power. One hundred and fifty-odd years later, they still aren’t. And it might be that a different narrative is adopted before Marx’s vision is even able to take root.

I was a bit confused by Lyotard’s quip about utility being the arbiter under modern Capitalism in lieu of Truth, as I am not sure how many postmodernists embrace the notion of some objective Truth. To be clear, I don’t.

Lego Blocks

In the end, I feel it is better to deconstruct the concept of a knowable reality. The trick is not to try to reconstruct something from the pieces. It’s like deconstructing a Lego model and rebuilding a different model from the pieces whilst making the claim that this reconstitution is the true manifestation when in fact any construct is as ‘good’ as the next, but good cannot be determined until you’ve defined a context. Such is the role of the metanarrative. Once you define an end, you can then evaluate utility in light of it, but there is nothing to assess the choice of one end versus some other ends save by preference. And of course preference can be manipulated by rhetoric.