Egalitarian Pickpocketing

23 December 2023
Google NGram chart of “material inequality” and “material equality” for the years 1901 through 2019

Google Ngram chart of economic inequality and economic equality for the years 1901 through 2019

During my lifetime, the notion that material inequality, as such, is an ill has been made a dogma of the mainstream narrative.

Before this proposition was a dogma advanced from the commanding heights of our culture, I seldom encountered any argument for it; and, when I did encounter an argument, it was just one of two.

The less infrequent argument was one of a crude utilitarianism. Like any utilitarianism, it assumed that utility were a quantity (or measurable by a quantity) commensurable across persons, the interpersonal sum of which quantity ought to be maximized; the argument further assumed that the marginal utility of wealth diminished at rates sufficiently close between any two persons that one could be assured that, by playing Robin Hood, one would generally increase that interpersonal sum. This argument could not have won the day, because its distinctive assumptions wither and die as they are dragged into the light.

The remaining argument was that material inequality impeded growth or even caused economic decline. Still less discussion was provided as to how material inequality brought-about these effects on growth; but, when discussion was provided, that discussion was characterized by confirmation-bias in the interpretation of correlation, by an unstated presumption that unconsumed wealth tends just to be warehoused (rather than invested), and by hand-waving.

However, instead of relying much upon these two arguments or upon some alternative, journalists and others increasingly began treating the idea that material inequality were bad as if it were obvious and unquestionable and in no need of argument; indeed, it was not explicitly stated, but insinuated, in expressions such as the problem of rising economic inequality. I expect that, if pressed and unable simply to dismiss a challenger as wicked or as stupid, the typical subscriber to this egalitarianism would grope his or her way to the old utilitarian argument or something very much like it, or would grab with relief at the claim that inequality undermines growth. But the typical subscriber simply is not pressed; she is in a bubble in which the proposition is just not challenged, and not even stated so that she might imagine challenge.

Locked Down and Probably Out

18 December 2023

Facebook has locked-down my account, claiming suspicious activity, and demanding that I send an image of identification (such as a driver license) in order to regain access.

The claim of suspicious activity may be genuine. Some days ago, my account was one of various to which an outside party got access. Some of the victims were using two-factor authentication, and I'd done nothing that would give others access to my password, so we may be sure that Facebook itself was cracked, again. Those who broke into our accounts did not move to take control away from us, and acted in a manner that would alert us to the cracking, so the effort seems to have been a demonstration of an ability to crack into the system. (When this 'blog was hosted by Midphase, the server itself was cracked, but the crackers did no worse to the users than to leave a non-executable file in our directories. By the way, Midphase sought to gaslight me when I discovered the cracking, claiming that every damn'd victim had been individually at fault.)

I simply won't provide Meta (qua Facebook or qua Instagram or otherwise) with an image of any identification document. Such an image would present data to them that I do not want them to possess. They have been both fools and knaves, about personal information and in other ways. (I was not using two-factor authentication with Facebook exactly because I didn't want them to possess my phone number or somesuch. Prompted by a suggestion from Ray Scott Percival, some days ago I ordered a YubiKey, which is due to arrive to-morrow. I will be using it for various other accounts, and would have been using it for Facebook.)

A few years ago, I found my account similarly locked-down, but the condition was cleared after several hours, without my providing the demanded information. However, I do not expect such a reversal in this case. So I will probably forfeit my account. I will not create another.

If you have found your way here from Facebook, and want to contact me, you can find an e.mail address at the bottom either of the sidebar (when viewing the desktop version of the site) or of the hamburger menu (when viewing the mobile version of the site). That e.mail address is presented as a graphic (to impede 'bots). The address is an alias of one with the user ID Mc_Kiernan, so if you use a white-list to screen your e.mail then you might want to effect a substitution.

A Timely Term

24 May 2023

Tavish Cordero Kelly has offered the term Bayesian gaslighting for surreptitious updating of a narrative.

On Arguments from Authority

29 April 2023

Most people who claim that argument from authority is fallacious would, perversely, argue for that claim by reference to the authority of common knowledge or of what were often taught. A fallacy is actually shown by demonstrating a conflict with a principle of logic or by an empirical counter-example. A case in which an authority proved to be wrong might be taken as the latter, but matters are not so simple.

When one normally makes a formal study of logic, that study is usually of assertoric logic, the logic in which every proposition is treated as if knowable to be true or knowable to be false, even if sometimes the study itself deliberately treats a propostion as false that is true or a proposition as true that is false. In the context of assertoric logic, an argument from authority is indeed fallacious.

But most of the propositions with which we deal are not known or knowable to be true or false; rather, we find that some propositions are relatively more plausible than others. Our everyday logic must be the logic of that ordering. Within that logic, showing that a proposition has one position in the ordering given some information does not show that it did not have a different position without that information. So we cannot show that arguments from authority are fallacious in the logic of plausibility simply by showing that what some particular authority claimed to be likely or even certainly true was later shown to be almost certainly false or simply false.

Arguments from authority, though often not recognized as such, are essential to our everyday reasoning. For example, most of us rely heavily upon the authority of others as to what they have experienced; we even rely heavily upon the authority of n-th-hand reports and distillations of reports of the experiences of others. And none of us has fully explored the theoretic structure of the scientific theories that the vast majority of us accept; instead, we rely upon the authority of those transmitting sketches, gists, or conclusions. Some of those authorities have failed us; some of those authorities will fail us in the future; those failures have not and will not make every such reliance upon authorities fallacious.

However, genuine fallacy would lie in over-reliance upon authorities — putting some authoritative claims higher in the plausibility ordering than any authoritative claims should be, or failing to account for factors that should lower the places in the plausibity ordering associated with authorities of various sorts, such as those with poor histories or with conflicts of interest.

By the way, I have occasionally been accused of arguing from authority when I've done no such thing, but instead have pointed to someone who was in some way important in development or useful in presentation of an argument that I wish to invoke.

The Vision of Metropolis

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 laborers 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

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.

Inkscape Union Thwarted by Singleton Groups

22 September 2022

I encountered a rather odd problem when using Inkscape, a vector graphics program. I was unable to create unions joining two paths because each was in a group with only one a member. I could think of nothing that I'd done that should have created any group, and a group with only one member is an odd thing in any case. I only discovered the grouping because I had eliminated the other possible reasons that the paths should not form a union.

Each of the two paths was originally a text object, entered separately from the other. Perhaps in recent versions of Inkscape text is always in a group, even with just one character.

What We Imagine to Be the Territory Is Usually Another Map

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

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

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.