Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

The Vision of Metropolis

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Ninety six years ago, on 10 January 1927, the movie Metropolis premiered. Now-a-days, Metropolis is primarily remembered for its robot and for its depiction of a city of great skyscrapers, elevated roadways, and aircraft. Others will remember it for what they take to be a humanistic message about the relationship between physical labors and thought-workers being brought and kept into harmonious relations by kindness. The ideologic subtext is often unrecognized.

Within the social order depicted in the movie, while money is a feature of the economy, that economy seems to be fundamentally technocratic. The city is under the ultimate control of a single institution, with headquarters in der neuen Turm Babel [the New Tower of Babel]. At the least, this institution controls power production and water delivery. The institution seems to employ the entirety or nearly the entirety of a substantial proletariat, living and working underground. The institution can act as a state in response to a violent uprising by this proletariat. Moreover, the head of the institution, Joh[ann] Frederson, is said to be responsible for the city more generally.

Observable, productive members of society, fall into very few classes. The narration and the female protagonist refer metaphorically to the proletariat as die Hände [the hands] and to a managerial class or to its leader as das Hirn [the brain]. Other classes are nearly irrelevant to the conception. For example, those dismissed from managerial positions are said to descend to the proletariat.

(The managerial class and proletariat are depicted as utterly male. Females employed above ground seem all to be young courtesans; females below ground are shown as living with the wage laborers, but not as employed outside the home.)

The work of the proletariat is terrible; their living conditions impoverished. But the proletariat are lacking in intelligence and self-control. When one, Georgy 11811, is rescued by Freder (son of Johann Frederson) from labor that is overwhelming Georgy, and tasked by Freder with going to an apartment to meet with him later, Georgy instead takes money left in his care and goes to the pleasure district, even as his savior suffers in place of Georgy. (Freder's other disciple, drawn from the managerial class, is unfailingly faithful.) Later, with just the one exception of a foreman, each and every man and woman in the underground allow themselves to be persuaded to destroy the machinery running the city, and then thoughtlessly monkey-dance in the ruins even as their children face drowning when water from the reservoir comes flooding into the residential area. Plainly, one wants no dictatorship of this proletariat, nor to have them make any decisions of import.

But, using that robot, Johann Frederson deliberately had the proletariat agitated to such violence, to excuse his bringing them under more repressive control. He's not merely callous, but quite willing to do horrific things to human beings, in order to realize his vision. He only comes to recognize that he has done horrific things when he discovers that his own son may be amongst those killed.

The resolution is to be a new order in which the classes — die Hände und das Hirn — are reconciled by Freder, das Herz [the heart].

Fritz Lang, who co-scripted and directed Metropolis, was reportedly appalled to discover that the National Socialists loved the movie. Despite assurances that he would not be considered Jewish though his mother had been born a Jew, Lang fled Germany. His wife Thea von Harbou, the other scriptwriter and the author of the novelization, was not appalled, and joined the National Socialist Party after divorcing Lang.

The reason that Lang should not have been surprised is that the popular visions of fascism and of Naziism — and the vision of a better society presented by Metropolis — were of a technocratic order in which class distinctions were natural but classes were brought together in harmony. Yes, indeed, the Nation Socialists in particular wanted to wipe-out a great many people on the way to such a harmonious technocratic order, but still such an order was part of their vision.

The bottom line is not that Naziism was somehow less awful because it had the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is not that fascism is somehow cool because it has the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is that Metropolis has a fascistic vision, and so people should be goddamn'd uncomfortable if they've thought that its vision were cool. They ought to ask themselves Hey, am I, after all, a bit of a fascist?

Most people are. No one ought to be.

Epistemics, Sex, and Gender

Saturday, 15 October 2022

Everyday discussions of epistemics don't require us to discuss foundational epistemology explicitly. Were someone asked how she knew that Johnny and Judy are dating, it would typically be sufficient for that someone to say that Judy were wearing his ring. We don't usually need to ask whether the witness had a false memory or hallucination, mistook someone else for Judy, &c. But it is important always to understand that no one just knows any complex proposition. The only things of which we have perfect knowledge are the things immediately before the mind — such as a feeling of coldness — and then we don't perfectly know their sources. Perhaps some of us are utterly reasonable in constructing models of the world to explain things such as our occasional sensations of coldness; certainly nearly all of us are so convinced of these models that we refer to a major share of their propositions as knowledge. But none of us just knows that Johnny and Judy are dating, that it is cold outside, that his or her eyes are blue, &c. Any reasonable belief in these things is an inference ultimately resting upon primitive experience.

I don't just know how it feels to be a man. I know how it feels to be me; I have memories, which I presume to be reliable, of how it felt to be me; and part of my model of the world (constructed to explain my experience) contains adult male bodies, one of which is my body. And, to that extent, I know how it feels to be a man. When someone else tells me something at odds with my experience of being a man, I don't think Oh, maybe I'm not a man after all! I just infer that the other person is either a man over-generalizing from his own experience or from reports, or is someone who is not a man but engaged in incompetent conjecture. I don't know how it feels to be woman. I don't even know how I would feel if I woke and found that my mind were operating in the body of a woman (which I presume would be different from how I would feel if my mind had for its whole existence operated in a female body). I simply cannot know without the experience. I could, in theory, know that I were unhappy being a man. I could, in theory, know that I wished to have a female body. But I cannot know how it feels to be a woman, and thus in no sense could I know that I somehow had a female mind in a male body. It is impossible for me to know that I am a woman. It is impossible for those who have never had a female body to know that they are girls or women. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are girls or women. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes. And the complement is true of those who never had the experience of being in a male body. They cannot know that they have male minds. It is impossible for those who have never had a male body to know that they are boys or men. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are boys or men. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes.

Hormone treatments are available to make a brain that was supposedly already female be more like an actual female brain and more as if in a female body, or a brain that was supposedly already male be more like an actual male brain and more as if in a male body. But this treatment would be actively absurd if the mind of the subject were already that of the opposite sex. I am not somehow really more a man than my levels of androgen or of testosterone or of estrogen have ever allowed me to be; likewise, I am not somehow really more a woman than my hormones have ever allowed; nor is anyone else. Those receiving such hormone treatments are not of the opposite sex; they are seeking to become more as if of the opposite sex.

If a male body could be made of a female body and vice versa, then it wouldn't matter that the female body had previously been a male body or vice versa. But present technology allows no such thing. A body that has undergone the most extensive reässignment surgery is ruined for purposes of return to its original sexual configuration. What alteration is available is primarily cosmetic, and highly destructive. Testes don't somehow become ovaries or ovaries testes; they are discarded. Breast implants may later be removed, but mammary glands become tissue to be sold or incinerated. The rest of the reproductive system is savaged.

And, if a male body could be made into a female body, or vice versa, then the change would always be something of a leap in the dark. Quite plausibly a great many people would be happy with where they landed, but others would be depressed, shocked, or horrified. With the procedures presently available — with an ultimately irreversible leap — many are indeed depressed, shocked, or horrified, without even the genuine experience of a body with a new sex. I've had at least one friend kill himself because of what he'd had done in trying to be remade into a woman. In the case of children, we are not so much considering leaping in the dark as being picked-up and thrown into the darkness. In ten, twenty, and thirty years, most of those who had been cheering the throwing will speak and write as if society were at fault in the case of those children who discovered that they'd crashed in a terrible place.

Our response to those who have come to desire interaction as if of the opposite sex should not be founded in mystical nonsense; but neither should it be characterized by condemnation or by intolerance. People should not be prohibitted from doing as they will so long as only consenting adults are involved. I think that radical treatments to change an adult's appearance to resemble that of the opposite sex are plausibly the best way for some people to alleviate very great unhappiness. I think that accommodation of such people, treating them as if they are of the opposite sex, is often quite appropriate. However, no one has a right to be treated as something that he or she is not. And, in some cases, very good reasons underlie sexual distinctions and subverting those distinctions is less humane than respecting them.

Much of the discussion of transsexualism has involved confusion — often deliberately fostered — between sex and other definitions of gender. The use of gender to mean sex actually dates to about the same time as it was introduced to refer to the somewhat related but distinct grammatic classification; but, for a time, use of gender in the sexual sense fell away. It began to be repopularized for purposes of euphemism, and continues as a euphemism into the present. The grammatic sense was related to the sexual sense in that things that were male were usually named with words that had the masculine grammatic gender and things that were female were usually named with words that had the feminine grammatic gender; but many things that did not have any sex were named with words having a masculine or feminine grammatic gender even when a neuter grammatic gender was a feature of the language, and some things that had sexes were assigned names with the neuter grammatic gender. Grammatic gender was an often odd social construct.. Grammatic gender and notions of rôles appropriate to each sex each influenced the other. At some time around 1980, the idea began to catch-on of using the term gender not in reference to sex nor in reference to grammatic gender, but to socially or personally constructed notions of those sexual rôles. The scientific and philosophic study of social or personal constructions of sexual rôles is itself very worthwhile; and the analogic appeal of extending gender to refer to such constructions is evident. However, the pre-existing and repopularized use of gender to refer to sex facilitated a hijacking of discourse, which confused sex with a social or personal construct of social rôle, under which hijacking it has been pretended that persons who are masculine are ipso facto male, that persons who are feminine are ipso facto female, that some males are neither male nor female, that some females are neither female nor male, and that any otherwise legitimate distinctions by sex must be replaced with distinctions by personal constructions of sexual rôle.

Of course, more than just grammatic gender or our notions of sexual rôles are here social constructs. Our language and every other language is a social construct, and the taxonomies of biology and of every other science are social constructs. More generally all taxonomies are personal or social constructs. But that does not make propositions subject to falsification by a device of recategorizing things, of exchanging labels amongst categories, or of applying new labels to categories. Rather, with a change of language a proposition is expressed differently; with a relevant change of taxonomy, a proposition involves more or fewer categories. If we adopted the convention of using Earth to mean only the Western Hemisphere, both that and the Eastern Hemisphere would continue as they would under the old taxonomy, rather than the underlying geophysics changing. Propositions about a sex do not become false or true by the device of insisting upon a new definition of man, of woman, of sex, or of gender.

What We Imagine to Be the Territory Is Usually Another Map

Sunday, 18 September 2022

As is often noted, the map is not the territory.[1] But what is usually missed is that, when we attempt to think of how they differ, we most often slip into specifics such that what we really compare is not the map with the territory, but the thing first recognized to be a map with a mental map of the territory.

Our efforts to think about how models differ from reality are usually likewise characterized by comparisons between some model and some other model not recognized to be a model. When we abandon specifics, and attempt to think of reality in the abstract, we almost always think of what amounts not to reality but to a hypothetical, unknown, perfect model of reality.


[1] with Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski being the first to put it just that way

A Note on a Quote

Sunday, 31 July 2022

When Oliver Cromwell wrote, on 3 August 1650 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

he was in fact paraphrasing Richard Hooker,

Think ye are Men, deem it not impoſſible for you to err; ſift unpartially your own hearts, whether it be force of Reaſon, or vehemency of Affection, which hath bred and ſtill doth feed theſe Opinions in you.
Preface [1594] § 9
Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie

(Underscore mine.) In Cromwell's time, and indeed for many years to follow, Hooker's work was widely known and widely respected, and Cromwell had every expectation that his allusion would be recognized for what it were.

Death and Its Complement

Sunday, 26 June 2022

On each side that is allowed a wide audience, public discourse on the subject of abortion is dominated by knaves and by fools. Arguments are offered that don't withstand much scrutiny.

But the overturning of Roe v. Wade will not result in a simple division of states into those that permit abortions in all or in almost all cases and those that forbid it in all or in almost all cases; the supposed dichotomy that has been imposed by insinuation from the commanding heights of our culture will be falsified. While I doubt that the policy adopted soon by any state will be the correct choice, the adoption of a multitude of policies will provoke a larger number of people to think more carefully about the criteria that ought to decide amongst policies.

Confined to the margins of recent discussion has been a very simple and important idea, which is the complement of the concept of brain death. This idea will make its way to the center of discussion.

Sexual [Meta]-Preferences

Friday, 20 May 2022

As I noted in an earlier 'blog entry, I use the words choice and choose simply to refer to selection; and, when I say that someone prefers X to Y, I mean that if given a set of mutually exclusive options that include X and Y then Y will never be selected. Some people try to mean something else by one or both of these terms. In the case of choose, they seldom if ever explain what that something might be. R[obert] Duncan Luce proposed to define preference in terms of probability of selection, rather than in an absolute manner as do I; that difference won't bear meaningfully upon what I have to say here.

One might have preferences about one's preferences. For example, preferring-not-to-prefer simultaneously X to Y, Y to Z, and Z to X for any X, Y, and Z. But note that making choices based upon the preferences that one has is different from choosing to have the preferences with which one makes the choice. Choices about preferences are meta-choices; preferences determining meta-choices are meta-preferences.

In theory, all choices could be determined by preferences, all preferences could be meta-chosen, all meta-choices could be determined by meta-preferences, all meta-preferences could be meta-meta-chosen, all meta-meta-choices could be determined by meta-meta-preferences, &c out to any finite level of meta that you might imagine. But the levelling cannot be infinite. At some point, one reaches a level that wasn't chosen. Varieties of choices and preferences that are turtles all the way down are an impossibility. A class of choices cannot have any members if it is defined such that each member is underlain by a choice of that same class. Likewise for preferences.

And hence I come to the expression sexual preference. As introduced and still generally to-day, it refers to what one sexually prefers; it says nothing about what one meta-prefers or meta-chooses. People said to have sexual preferences are thereby said to choose with those preferences, not to have chosen the preferences themselves. Someone said to have heterosexual preferences is not thus said to have chosen heterosexuality itself, and so too of someone said to have homosexual preferences. And if we deny that sexual preferences can be real because they are not underlain by a choice of sexual orientation, then we must claim that all non-sexual preferences are likewise not real, because it's never turtles-all-the-way-down.

The only people who will be offended by the term sexual preference itself will have confused preferences with meta-preferences — or will be those people who have simply embraced the claim that the term is offensive without much thought as to why it should be so. And a rather large group will not actually be offended, but will rôle-play as if offended, because they observe that this behavior is the practice of their political tribe.

Somnabulism

Saturday, 19 February 2022

[ Three years ago, I posted a version of this entry to Facebook.]

Consciousness is largely a response to surprise. We navigate through life mostly unconscious of what we are doing, but when the unconscious mind encounters something for which it is otherwise unprepared, it invokes the conscious mind.

People are of two sorts about that. For some of them, consciousness is a happier state, and so they are constantly seeking things to make them conscious. For others, it is unpleasant, and they seek always to return to unconsciousness. Perhaps most people fall between these extremes, not always wishing to be conscious nor always unconscious.

Perversely, when people speak or write of raised consciousness, it is often just the opposite; it is the adoption of a set of formulæ that allow one to engage in less conscious thought. And, really, most people who like to style themselves as woke have found a way to sleep still more as they go through life.

Sociopathic Sponsors

Wednesday, 9 February 2022
American Sponsors of the Genocide Games: AirBnB, Coca Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Visa

with permission of Common Sense with Paul Jacob

A Common Fallacy in Advocacy of Dictatorship

Monday, 3 January 2022

Authoritarians and totalitarians of the political left and right, in arguing that they are not authoritarians or not totalitarians, often engage in a bait-and-switch, with little or no awareness that they are doing so. To argue that policy or programme X is justified is not somehow a contradiction of a claim that policy or programme X is authoritarian or even of a claim that policy or programme X is totalitarian At best, the authoritarians are arguing that authoritarianism is justified and the totalitarians are arguing that totalitarianism is justified but it seems that they are arguing that authoritarianism is not authoritarianism if it is justified or that totalitarianism is not totalitarianism if it is justified

Some Common Sense about Common Sense and about Common Sense

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

I often hear or read Common sense isn't common. or, ambiguously, Common sense isn't.

The term common sense refers to variety of things believed or formerly believed to be closely related. In some cases, the term is indeed a description; in others, it is like Common Raven, which began as a description or as an attempt at a description, but names a now uncommon bird.

Consulting the SOED, I find about five definitions of common sense. Archaically, common sense refers to a supposed faculty that coördinated and united senses such as those of sight and of touch to form impressions of the world. The term may refer to ordinary or normal understanding (which must be common). Common sense may also refer to collective judgment across some group of people. Philosophers may use common sense to refer to the power by which generally accepted beliefs are formed in the absence of contemplation and of instruction. Normatively, common sense refers to reliable practical wisdom in everyday matters.

I don't use the term common sense much at all, but I occasionally use it normatively, as when I tell people that an introductory course in microeconomics will start with building-blocks of common sense but assemble them with uncommon care. Now, I suppose that I could use those very same words without normative intent, but I really am hoping that the audience will accept the blocks as themselves reliable. I cannot teach my audience everything, and I shouldn't have to teach those blocks to them.

When I use common sense normatively, the notions that I have in mind are of sound reasoning that is within the intellectual capabilities common to human beings, and of the structures of belief that result from such application. Something that would not be what I were normatively calling common sense would be unsound or outside of the possibility of common understanding. However, I'm more likely to say That should be common sense. than That seems like common sense. I'm even more likely to say That should be obvious.

I'm on the subject of common sense because various people in various groups will treat beliefs as if they are obvious to everyone who is not a fool when they are no such thing. Treating them as common sense — here using common sense normatively — is a form of implicit or explicit begging of the question; it is a violation of the rules of proper discourse. That said, most of those who treat those beliefs as common sense sincerely, thoughtlessly regard most of them as such; these people are not violating the rules willfully.

I've encountered this begging of the question by the political left, by the political right, and by political moderates. But I am at present most concerned by the misrepresentations from the left, because they have control of so much of the commanding heights of our culture. When a strong wind prevails, one leans against it, not against a wind of the past nor against a wind that may come in the distant future.

Examples of propositions that some or all of the left treat as common sense include

  • that greater economic efficiency can often be achieved by replacing markets with state administration based upon centralized collection of relevant information;
  • that material inequality is a social ill;
  • that poverty may be reduced by state-directed redistribution of wealth or of income from the affluent to those of little means;
  • that, if a school system is performing poorly, then some increase in the material resources provided to it would be sufficient to improve that performance, and that any decrease in such resources will be followed by a decline in performance.

Treating these propositions as common sense precludes consideration.

To impel consideration of all that the left distinctly takes to be common sense, we want a concise label for that group of their beliefs. We want an X such that we can say things such as This idea is X; if you're going to treat it as common sense, then you're first going to have to show that it truly is common sense. or such as This idea is X but it is not common sense; if you're going to justify it, then you're going to have to justify it on some other basis. Any label that itself begs the question, in some contrary way, will do little or nothing to promote thoughtful consideration. It will not provoke the left to think, and it will offend uncommitted members of the audience (with whom we should be principally concerned) and otherwise cause them to dismiss the argument as logomachy amongst knaves and fools. An insulting label would beg the question in an especially counter-productive way.

But the label should be used to establish a context of discourse across arguments and conversations in which context the left can no longer simply proceed with its presumptions as such or it will come to seem absurd to the audience and outmanoeuvred to itself. I don't know what the properly effective label should be.