March 30, 2004


Admiral Bilbar.jpg

So here we are at Point 'A,' otherwise known as 'the present.' And all of us want to get to Point 'B,' a land of freedom and safety and peace, where our children can play out in the flowers with the bunnies and the baby deer.

The arguing starts when we begin to plot a course from Point A to Point B.

Okay, so we buy all the maps we can, lay them out on a table and set sail. But before we are out of the harbor, we see that some maps have channels marked for clear sailing, while others have horrible reefs and shoals in exactly the same place.

It reflects no great credit on us as a species when we come to the sorry realization that most people would rather just sit in the chartroom and argue about the maps than actually navigate to safety. This tendency to believe social theory over practical observation has cost the lives of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people -' every one as unique as that wonderful and charming you.

People will sit in the chartroom, and argue about their maps, while the ship of history rips out her keel -' it has happened so many times that it is beyond counting, and is, indeed, why so many very bright people -' people like Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain -' seem to lose all hope and are left with nothing but their bitter humor to point out how pathetic and futile it all is.

Well, maybe.

But as the arguments rage hither and yon down in the chartroom, as maps and cartographers are bandied back and forth like trading cards and people come to blows over mapmakers dead a century or a millennium before, there does remain one small, unassuming little token of hope. Not much really, just an action so simple and obvious that we overlook it time and time again.

What can we do to end this arguing about which way to sail and on what map? How can we tell where the reefs and channels really are? Dear God, is there nothing we can do to get an answer among all these authorities?

Bueller? Anyone?

Yes, you -' the eager kid in the front row -' you say we should what? Go on deck and look outside?

How na've! How unsophisticated! How lacking in nuance! How'American. It can't be as simple as that.

Oh, but it can, bucko. It really can be: Just. That. Simple.

I know that it is not common practice to read standing up; however, if you are reading this while standing I urge you in the strongest imaginable terms to sit down right away, because what you are about to read in the very next sentence will so invert your preconceived notions that you may experience dizziness, nausea and end up taking a very nasty fall, and I don't wish to be responsible for that -' so here goes:

I was kind of a dork in High School.

No, it's too true. How dorky was I? I was dorky enough to be on the Debate Team, and worse, I was dorky enough to be good at it.

I learned two important things in High School Debate:

1. There are no cheerleaders for Debate.
2. Authorities are worthless.

At least, the idea of appeal to authority is worthless. Let me demonstrate with an amusing anecdote'

High School Debate -' at least its 1977 variant -' had nothing really to do with debate. It was nothing more than four pimply-faced kids standing in front of a room of bored adults trying to see who can read the most index cards in the shortest period of time.

You see, each year, the Debate Fairy set a national topic: in my senior year it was Prison Reform. One team, the Affirmative team, would try to make the case that even as we sit in the classroom waving evidence cards, vast armies of super-human, pumped-up, rage-addicted Uber-prisoners were at this very moment breaking into the judges' houses and eating their precious children with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Something must be done! The other team, the Negative team, would try to make the case that things are swell and we don't need prison reform -' in fact, any prison reform whatsoever would cause the moon to fall out of its orbit and crash into your very house crushing your precious children, plus your supply of fava beans and nice Chiantis, even as we speak. It ain't broke so don't fix it!

Now all this would be nothing more than a six-year-old's game of Cowboys and Indians with all the accompanying 'I-got-you-no-you-didn't' nonsense, except for the presence of one critical element: evidence.

Now here comes the transcendental moment for those of us who were paying attention: neither team knew until moments before the debate whether they were going to be affirmative or negative. What that means is, at any given tournament, we had to have tons of evidence and countless index cards with sources like US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT and studies from places like EMORY UNIVERSITY and HARVARD SCHOOL OF LAW' and we had to have this mountain of evidence for both sides of the argument.

If we were Affirmative, we might have written a neat little case outlining the critical and extremely urgent need for... oh, let's say conjugal visits. (We perpetually horny high school dorks really seemed to like arguing that case waaaay beyond its effective shelf life.) We had card after card after card of evidence citing things like an Authoritative Study done at Florida State University that showed unequivocally how Conjugal Visits reduce the incidents of prison violence to negative numbers and cause prisoners to start lending libraries and donate their cigarette money to Battered Women's Shelters. However, if we randomly ended up as the Negative team, and sat facing other dorks who claimed that conjugal visitation reduce the incidents of prison violence to negative numbers and cause prisoners to start lending libraries and donate their cigarette money to Battered Women's Shelters, then we would have to pull out card after card after card showing that an Important and Thorough Investigation carried out by The University of Florida proved conclusively that Conjugal Visitation had in fact no measurable effect at all, or, better, caused prisoners to murder guards by hanging them by their own entrails due to their aroused, inter-conjugal libidos.

Now you can follow this absolutely truthful farce to its logical conclusion: namely, that since both sides had evidence and experts out the wazoo, then the only way for the poor hapless judge to be able to determine a winner was to see who could get the most evidence out in the smallest span of time. And so debate, which I had hoped and assumed would be the art of persuasion by argument, had long before devolved into 'flow charts' listing what expert said what, which was then countered by a study contradicting his findings, followed by an investigation into the methodological flaws in the contradiction, followed by revelations that the expert who found the methodological flaw in the contradiction to the original study actually owned a motor home dealership which rented space for'prison conjugal visitation.

Now when my partner, Willie, was first affirmative, he made the case -' and when he was first negative he attacked the case. I presented or attacked the plan. We -' I should say Willie, as this was pre-Google and one had to go to the library -- started the year with a small box of index cards. An arms race soon developed, as we started to meet teams with two or three boxes of index cards, so we raised them a briefcase. They responded with two or three briefcases, and before we could counter with a convoy of wheeled filing cabinets, I began to realize that all of the cards and briefcases were essentially nothing more than props. These props gave us the illusion of credibility -' three briefcases of evidence cards! Wow! These kids know their shit from their Shinola!

However, once the Very Important Authority genie was out of the bottle, I no longer had any faith in it whatsoever. And so when I did my plan attack, I would appear to thoughtfully and with great consideration grab three or four random cards -' preferably one from each case -' and then I would get up in front of the judges. And instead of rattling off flow charts and evidence like the other countless drones they had heard all the long, long , loooong day, I would sit back against the table, look them in the eye, and smile. Then I'd say, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, our opponents have their evidence'' ' gesture ' 'and we have ours.'

At this point I would wave the random cards.

'So I'm going to just put these cards down'' -' awesome -' 'and just ask you to think about this plan of theirs. Just use your common sense. This idea of letting serial pedophiles go out daily -' unsupervised -- to grow sunflowers in Child Care centers in order to raise their self esteem and provide valuable sunflower-growing skills'does this really seem like such a good idea to you, despite what Dr. Willoughby Cardigan-Ross of the Yale University Sunflower Enrichment Center for the Cessation of Prison Violence has to say?'

We won a lot of debates that way.

We won a lot of debates that way because, contrary to what the self-appointed elite believe -' and what they are trying mightily to convince you to believe -' the fact remains that the common person both here and abroad is not stupid at all.

This is terrifying to the elites. They see themselves as Baron Frankenstein, and us as the unruly mob armed with pitchforks and torches.

I see us both that way too.

Common people may not have access to as many evidence cards; that is true. But as I said, those cards cut both ways. You don't have to take my word for this: in fact, the whole point of this book is to urge you not to take anybody's word for anything without challenging it. So ask yourself: How many of these endless debates bring out endless experts and endless studies to endlessly try to convince you of an outcome you have already experienced just through the act of living and working out in the real world -' so-called because that is where reality lives? What does your experience tell you? Because experience -' that is, experimental results -' are worth a thousand theories. When you use your common sense, your experience, you are opening the window and seeing whether or not the map matches the coastline. If it does not, then it doesn't matter how credentialed or tenured or respected the cartographer is or was -' he is wrong. He says river delta; there sits a waterfall. Wrong.

Next map!

These people, down below, arguing endlessly in the chartroom -' they have a word for themselves that they find flattering. They call themselves intellectuals. I considered myself one, and believed all manner of mental pudding until I got a little experience, and as a result of opening that window on life, I am far less intellectual and immeasurably more intelligent.

It's sad but true: there are people who are deathly afraid to go up on deck, face the sunshine, and realize that the maps they have so lovingly and painstakingly crafted over decades are essentially worthless pieces of crap. They are so wrong, in so many places, that they are far worse than no maps at all. They draw all manner of hazards where there are none, and disasterously, they show open seas and smooth sailing in the most treacherous and deadly places. Such maps are not merely worthless; they are dangerous.

There was a time when intellectual meant someone who uses reason and intellect. Today, people who call themselves intellectuals are in a form of mental death spiral: they search for, and find, those index cards that support their world view, and clutch little red books like rosaries in the face of all external evidence. They are ruled by appeals to authority. Their self-image and sense of emotional well-being trumps any and all objective evidence to the contrary.

How many students today believe what they believe because they met someone who knew a guy whose girlfriend turned him on to an article by Noam Chomsky? Noam Chomsky predicted, in his even, intellectual, authoritative, tenured manner, that if the US went to war in Afghanistan after 9/11, the result would be 3 million Afghan casualties. How many of these students who worship St. Noam independently ask themselves why he has, to date, come up 2,999,500 bodies short? Noam is not wrong by a factor of one or two; Noam is not wrong by an order of magnitude. Noam is not wrong by a factor of a hundred to one. Noam is wrong by more than three orders of magnitude. Noam is wrong by a factor of 6,000 to one. Noam says the reef is ten feet off the port bow; when in fact it is more than three miles away. That's six thousand to one. Noam says the ocean is six thousand feet deep when in fact the keel has been ripped out and is sitting on the sandbar back yonder: that's a 6,000-to-one error. Extrapolating this accuracy rate, if Noam writes 6,000 pages on the evil of the United States, how many pages of truth might there by in such a twenty-volume set?

Does this mean that everything Noam Chomsky writes is nonsense? Not at all. He is a professor of Linguistics. I am not qualified to say how accurate the work in his field of expertise is. I can however make a stab at how accurate he is in the field of US foreign policy, and if you have a handheld calculator at home, you can make the same comparison and achieve the same results.

The same goes for Michael Moore. Are all of his maps incorrect? No, just almost all of them. While he is demonstrably wrong about the contours of the American Character, I'm sure he has the route to his bank well worked out, and his triangulation of the location of nearby donut shops has attained GPS-like accuracy.

And I never claimed I would never take cheap shots; only that I have a strict quota that I abide by religiously.

Intellectualism, as it is practiced today, is a trap.

It is not a palatial hall of great minds looking for answers and then testing them in the real world; it is a basement in your parent's house filled with lazy and filthy hippies eating your leftovers and drinking the last of your milk. Intellectualism is certainly not the same as intelligence, and more and more, it is becoming antithetical to intelligence. When well-off people who call themselves intellectuals drive their SUV's to march in support of Marxism, you can see the chasm between intellectualism and intelligence in full flower. When elitists who fancy themselves brighter and more compassionate than the rest of us choose to support the Taliban, with its stoning of women and execution of homosexuals in football stadiums before mandatory audiences, over a representative democracy with unparalleled structural protections of minorities and freedoms of expression, then self-styled intellectuals have abandoned intelligence altogether, as well as morality, reason, compassion and indeed sanity.

Likewise, when coffee-house intellectuals dictate their worldview according to non-existent pipelines or supposed theft of oil revenues where no evidence of such theft can be produced but deposits into Iraqi national accounts can, then one has to ask one's self if this intellectual badge is worth the mud it's printed on.

There are two other salient qualities that seem to define the modern intellectual, and neither of them reflect glory upon the title.

The first is a preening arrogance. This goes well beyond the larval, poseur stage; otherwise known as the Coffee-shop intellectual. These are the profound ponderers with the round glasses that have no prescription lenses -' but they certainly do make one look serious and deep -' and that is the important thing. They carry obscure books by French intellectuals which they pretend to read in the original French.

They are emotional eleven year olds trying to look adult by smoking cigarettes; as with eleven year old smokers, one does not know whether to laugh or cry. In any case they are harmless and can be safely ignored. Far more dangerous are people who manage to worm their way into positions of influence, usually in bureaucracies or university faculties, and then can inflict tremendous damage -' although not through bold action, for action is anathema to today's intellectual set.

No, it is a slow, corrosive process, and one has only to look at the language of deconstructionism and post-modernism to realize that the goal of the professional intellectual is to take any problem or issue that might exist in the real world, and try to reduce it to language. Once this troublesome reality can be corralled into nothing more than a linguistic debate, they are in their sole area of competence and actually have a chance to win something for once in their lives. This is why some people see bad men doing bad things that must be stopped, and others see disadvantaged individuals victimized by cultural and economic paradigms of inequality that force them into involuntary self-destructive behavioral modalities that are predicated on and the result of external dynamics beyond their control or cognitive abilities, resulting in behavior modification protocols that are aimed at recovering basal self-esteem levels while providing the disadvantaged individual skill sets essential to their reintegration into the community and a return to standardized norms of societal interaction.

These are the bastards on Central Planning Committees who have never been to a machine shop, but who think they know more about running a machine shop than the person who actually runs the machine shop because they have a masters degree in economics.

Arrogance, thy name is Starbucks.

The second disturbing and disgusting trait of modern intellectuals is their transparent use of argument and appeals to authority as a means to camouflage their moral and physical cowardice and complete inability to act. These are the Uruk-hai of modern degenerate intellectualism; people who use the endless supplies of evidence cards and dueling authorities to argue and debate and extemporize and orate and rationalize and discuss and criticize so long as one never, ever actually has to do something.

That is why so many of these groups like Not in Our Name or Actors United to Win Without War are so appealing to intellectuals: it allows them to take a position as champions of Peace and Compassion without having to do something.

Not in Our Name is against the war in Iraq. Fine. Saddam was killing perhaps 20,000 people a year, and forcing millions to live in terror that exceeds that of having your screenplay put into turnaround; that in addition to all of the geopolitical turmoil. What about those people? What about those -' wait for it -' children? And how do we 'win without war' against a regime like that? More Sanctions? No sanctions? Just let him buy as many people shredders as he can afford by stealing his nation's oil wealth, and send Strongly Worded Letters the next time he decides to launch another lunatic war somewhere? You don't want war -' fine. Neither do I. But clearly, somebody has to do something. Just exactly how do we 'win' without'

Hello? Hello?

These 'intellectuals' are cowards. Action, and the consequences of action, completely paralyze them -' it literally strikes them loquacious. They become so afraid of doing something that they are reduced to a non-stop, really quite pathetic jabbering. The French, in particular, have made this into an art form that has religious overtones for them. They seem to really believe that as long as you are talking, nothing bad can happen to you. Their historical vision stretches back less than fifty years. And they say we are the unsophisticated ones, the adolescents.

Ah, oui monsieur, I can see from your very fierce expression that you intend to rape my young daughter. Well, she is quite charming, one must admit, but I could not help but notice, monsieur, the very fine quality of that trench coat you are wearing'is that a Belgian tweed? No, of course, c'est bon, but you will admit monsieur that it does appear unseasonably wet for this time of year'please, Martinique, do not struggle; Papa is trying to have a conversation with this charming gentleman' mon dieu! What a remarkable physique you have, monsieur! You must frequent the gymnasium quite regularly, do you not, mon ami..?

This is not nuance; it is not sophistication; it is not noble or refined or admirable. It is cowardice. It is fear of taking action when action needs to be taken, and the main goal of modern intellectualism is to convince people that taking action when action is called for is the mark of an idiot, a philistine or a child.

Listen, I'm all in favor of reading and studying all manner of philosophy and literature. And while social studies evidence cards cut both ways, there were not too many expert physicists out there claiming objects fall up off the table and into the air. Both intellectual study, and expert opinion, have their place. It is only when they are used beyond their limits that problems come thick and heavy.

So far, not one book or one author has seemed to write the definitive manual on how people behave and why. They in themselves have little or no predictive value whatsoever. They are useful lighthouses to mark distant positions, and they open our eyes to new viewpoints and new experiences. But one book, or one philosopher, or one revolutionary has not yet been able to pen a work that will tell us how people will behave. And yet, among these so-called elites, there are many who take the word of, say, a German expatriate, living in Britain, at the dawn of the Industrial Age, as a guide for living in an Information-Age culture dominated by an explosion of freedom and prosperity brought about precisely by ignoring what that individual wrote and doing exactly the opposite.

Don't take my word for this. Let's not sit down in the bilge arguing about whether Karl Marx or Adam Smith had the best course to freedom and happiness. Let's just go up the stairs, open a hatch, go out on deck, get out the telescope and have a look at what actually happened.

We are not blind, and we are not crippled, and the world is not a novel or a treatise or a theory or a manifesto. It exists. We can go look for ourselves. And on the way up, when those desperate elitist bastards start clutching at your ankles and implore you to stay below where it's safe and argue some more'be sure to kick those sons of bitches right in the teeth. Their blind obedience to their Big Ideas have killed more people in history than anything except disease. Boot to the the teeth, I say.

But that's just me. You've been around. You're no sap. What do you think?

Is learning to think this way really very difficult? Does it require nuance? A Ph.D? A French accent?

No, it is much simpler than that. It is so simple, in fact, that today's intellectuals are completely incapable of understanding it. It is, like the Universe, elegantly simple. E=mc2 simple.

Socialist intellectuals will tell you that Cuba is a model nation: universal free health care, near total literacy, and essentially no gap whatsoever between the rich and the poor. They call it an island paradise where brotherhood and compassion reign in stark contrast to the brutal inequalities of the heartless and racist capitalist monster to the North, ruled by it's Imperial Nazi King, who is the devious mastermind of all manner of Conspiratorial Wheels and also a moron.

Capitalist intellectuals -' and there are not many, since most of these people have jobs -' argue that Cuba is a squalid, corrupt, poverty-ridden basket case, a land of oppression and secret police and torture chambers run by a megalomaniac who practices the most idiotic, inhuman and degrading economic system ever invented.

So here we sit in the chartroom, with our competing maps. What to think?

Well, we can agree that the act of giving up your home, your friends and your family must be traumatic, especially since you will face prison, or worse, if you are caught trying to vote with your feet. And I think all can agree that placing your infant daughter and your aged mother on a raft of inner tubes would be a trifle more traumatic and horrifying than not getting enough whole cane sugar in your grande frappucino at Starbucks.

So, is Socialism a better way to live, or is Capitalism? Leave the armies of experts and intellectuals down in the bilge where they belong.

Go up on deck, get out the telescope, and answer one simple question for me and for yourself:

Which way are the rafts headed?

(To the early arrivals: I woke up with a head full of paragraphs. The middle of the chapter has some new material since I posted it late last night. Salud!)

Posted by Proteus at March 30, 2004 1:52 AM

Welcome to the Eject! Eject! Eject! commenter community. Please read and understand the following:

1. This is not a public square. This is a dinner party on personal property. Good conversation is not only tolerated but celebrated here. But the host understands the difference between dissent and disrespect, even if you do not. Louts will be ignored until the bouncers can show them the door.

2. This is a voluntary online community. Your posting of any material, whether in comments or otherwise, grants to William A. Whittle, Aurora Aerospace, Inc. and their affiliates, a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, sublicense, reproduce or incorporate into other material all or any portion of the material posted, for commercial or other use.

3. If a comment does find its way into a main page essay, print, or other media, every effort will be made to credit the individual making the comment. So chose your screen name accordingly,!

Now let's see some distributed intelligence and basic human decency! Don't make me come down there every five minutes!


I believe the correct navigational term for this is dead reckoning. And I believe you are dead on correct.

I look forward to chapter 3.

I pray I can get my pinko-wannabe sisters to read this from start to finish. And mom, too.

Exceptional work as always. I look forward to the next chapter.

Scary. You just described 1970's era catholic school to a "T".

Just think how much fun debates and/or homework would have been if we had Google back then....

Excellent read as always - this shouls be mandatory reading in every High School in sunny Calif...for the students, too!

> Just. That. Simple.

Hoo, that got me all wistfully sentimental over the absence of Rachel Lucas - still linked here but sadly an empty set. I wish I had archived some of her work while it was available.

As a recovering liberal I recognize an element in this piece that I encountered in the late '70s when I first fell into the writings of Bucky Fuller. That is, the attitude of forsaking aphorism for reliably afforded experience. It's funny how a rebellious teen armed with a "Question Authority" t-shirt can stumble into critical thinking (as opposed to criticism). It also strikes me funny the sincerity of the war-protesting left comes from a natural longing to live without the inevitable hazards of the real world. It's funny to me because I can allow validation of the human emotional impetus (since I believe that is one thing that might possibly be universally shared) yet like all perpetually adolescent protesters the emotion is out of balance with the intellectual tools needed to actually effect positive change. They just don't have the facts, or rather, they have the facts only defined by one briefcase. Another Bucky saying pops up to mind, something like 'information is our number one most polluted resource'. It is indeed a great challenge for anyone to sift through all the nonsense and get their bearings well enough to steer their ship.

What I get from Bill is an integration of the emotional drive with common sense and a repect for those preceeding us on whose actions of integrity (and despite their failures) we build our ongoing todays and tomorrows. Thank you Bill for speaking your mind.


You got index cards?!

Uh, that is, well said! Except that the reef is more than ten miles away.

I just ran across an appropriate quote in Dan
Boorstin's The Discoverers.

"Would to God your horizon may broaden every day! The people who bind themselves to systems are those who are unable to encompass the whole truth and try to catch it by the tail; a system is like the tail of truth, but truth is like a lizard; it leaves its tail in your fingers and runs away knowing full well that it will grow a new one in a twinkling."
- Ivan Turgenev to Leo Tolstoy (1856)

Intellectual, schmintellectual I know, but it just screams Student Socialist Worker's Party to me...or was that Socialist Worker's Student Party?
Working Socialist Student's Party?

Whee, a new essay!

Nice work again, Bill. I especially like your reference to elegant simplicity in the last section. Antoine de St. Exupery got it right: "You know you have achieved perfection [in design], not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Beautiful concept -- one I manage all too rarely to achieve in my work. (I'm a computer programmer).

As Steven Macklin said (above) this is Dead Reckoning, and I agree with your premise and your point of view.
However, I've delt with these chartroom efficianados, namely my mother and my best friend. What astounds me is they can look at the same real-world evidence and see something completely different. Their perception of the world before their face is distorted and refracted just as light changes angles as it cuts through the water. It makes an oar seem to cant off at an agle, and makes the bottom of the sea look deceptively shallow. Can we blame them for insisting the water is too shallow to cross BEFORE we tear out our keel? We have to show them the index cards from the UF physics department (as a Gator, I thank you for using my alma mater in your examples, by the way!) showing that water distorts vision and you have to MEASURE the depth. They will still insist they can SEE it is shallow and we are fools to try to cross.
Besides, they have logic on their side... Cheney worked for Haliburton, and has rich and powerful friends on their side. Both Presidents Bush are deeply involved financially in the oil industry and so are their friends. Iraq is a major exporter of oil THERFORE invading Iraq MUST BE specifically about the oil. Gas Prices are at peak levels, THEREFORE this MUST BE a Bush/Cheny/Haliburton conspiracy! It's clear as the water of the Carribean! How can you refute that? Don't dazzle me with FACTS because has rooms full of index cards refuting your facts!

Mr. Whittle, once again you have knocked the ball out of the park. I have several people in mind who are going to read this, if I have to lead them to it kicking and screaming. (That's actually a lot of fun if you do it right.)

"I was kind of a dork in High School."

Man, it's a good thing you warned me to sit down before I read that. I pictured you as a former jock for sure. Of course, since I was a band geek myself, an AV nerd, a member of the Chess Club, and the co-founder of the two-man "Cygnus Astronomical Society" at age 17 (we almost had three members, but Bill wouldn't join), a Master Debater like yourself really WAS a "jock" by comparison.

Or maybe it was just the Captain Bill "Strapping Buck" McWhittle photo-insert up there in the top-right corner.

But you were a dork? Really? Shattered all my allusions.


But seriously folks -- great essay (or is it technically a "chapter?"). This ought to spark some interesting counter-arguments -- like, "what if you're up on-deck, checking out the passing shoreline, and you see some "mounds" in silhouette (the sun's setting behind them, let's say), and no observational or experiential evidence can tell you whether those are low hills close-up, or huge rounded mountains in the distance -- maybe they're landfills, or just a couple of circus tents where the Democratic Convention is being held (kinda' the same thing, I guess) -- you just can't tell. So, do we HAVE to jump overboard and swim to shore every time just to find out for sure, or are there times when it's okay to just accept the most popular map's depiction? Especially if it's details about an area where you'll never be making landfall anyway."

(I'm not sure how much longer we can "sail" with this map-reading analogy either)

Can't wait to see where this goes in the next chapter.


Bill -

Little did I know, back in the previous comments thread, I was getting a free preview of Chapter II. I like the form of a collection of serial essays each building upon the other. Is that your plan for the entire book? Also liked the metaphor of "evidence cards". We all have our box full of evidence cards. Sometimes those evidence cards are good, even necessary things. I take Quantum Physics mostly on faith. While almost anyone can see the Standard Model's predictive power, few of us have the mental horsepower to actually work out the underlying math and prove it (there's only so many minds of the caliber of Richard Feynmans or Stephan Hawking; unfortunately I ain't one of them).
But sometimes those evidence cards are dangerously wrong; for instance "The Federal government invests my Social Security taxes in a trust fund, which will provide for me in my old age." Replace "Federal government" with "Enron", and "Social Security taxes" with "401k contributions", and the statement would be equally valid.

Warning - stretching metaphor to near elastic limit.

We don't have to swim out there every time. But we can sometimes send out an inflatable motor launch. Or we can calculate distance & height by triangulation. If we bring a surveyor with us, maybe we can fill in the spots on the charts that are empty but for apocryphal warnings like "Here there be monsters"


I hate to pick fights with the previous commenters but dead reckoning navigation is the exact opposite of looking to see where you are. In dead reckoning you simply draw a line on the chart according to your indicated course and indicated speed. Dead reckoning ignores headwinds or crosswinds, currents and tides. It tells us where we would be absent any real-world conditions.
My car has a speedometer, compass and clock. Theoreticly I don't ever need to look out the windshield. My map tells me that I'm 22 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart and it's southeast. How about I paint over all the windows and windshield and let's convoy to Wally World? Better yet, how about you dead reckoning fans try being pedestrians?

Or, we can mark the spot, have several people look for themselves, and as our perspective changes with the forward motion of our craft, we can all take a deep breath and say, "Oh, those are just sandbars," for example.

You're right. This metaphor is getting stretched. My point is about applying shared perspective. Reality isn't relative. It is what it is, no matter how much other people may want it to be what they wish. (Reminds me of Bill's essay, "Magic," when he shared the anecdote about being able to point out that the "UFO's" were nothing more than a flock of geese.)

Hey hey, Jumper... I'm big on parallax effects too, and I've lived a whole lifetime based on actually DOING just about everything I've ever had a curiosity about. So "experience" sits REAL high on my personal priority list. But sometimes the combination of having an intense experience, while skipping the inconvenience of digging up all the relevant "maps" ahead of time, can lead one to some pretty odd conclusions. Or does it?

We discussed this in the comment stream for "MAGIC" (man, we need to get those old comments turned back on again), about the "experiential EVIDENCE" behind firewalks and crystal pendulums and UFOs and whatever else fell out of the woodwork in that discussion. And while we don't need to dredge all that stuff up again, I have to admit that, despite my experiences to the contrary, there's a lot to be said for having some well-researched "maps" before venturing into those convoluted river deltas (yeh, still toying with the mapping analogy here).

That's kinda' what I was feeling out in that previous post -- just how reliable a determiner IS personal experience? Just 'cause you SAW it or touched it or DID it, does that mean it's what you think it is? How much misinformation or naivete did you bring INTO that exploration with you? And if you're going to include a little "research" before you take the plunge, what or who is the official TRUE SOURCE for that research? What baggage or bias do THEY bring with their conclusions?

Sounds like however you approach anything, you're still just weighing odds, or maybe just pros and cons -- how much do you believe this source, this "map?" And how valid is a personal experience, if its conclusions are based on a complete ignorance of the subject?

I mean, to use a tired old example, if you didn't know any better, based on personal experience alone, why WOULDN'T you believe the "authorities" who claimed that the SUN went 'round the EARTH? Looking at it yourself, wouldn't that claim make more sense than the reverse? Wrong choice of "authority," wrong conclusion from "evidence."

And politically speaking, just because history shows that some system didn't work the first time it was tried, does that mean that it COULDN'T work?

(I'm not arguing on behalf of any of these points here -- just throwing them out as kindling)

Whatcha' think?



A tiny nit to pick in an excellent piece of writing. In the first sentence of your seventh paragraph, you use the words "a millenia". The word millenia is plural, meaning multiple thousands of years. The earlier part of the sentence makes it clear you actually mean "millenium."

And you thought you were a dork?


If there are any other policy debate wonks out there, you'll appreciate this one- my hapless partner proved totally unable to indict the Affirmative's case, and while we had presented a Counterplan, they shredded it with evidence of the horrible disadvantages that would occur if it were adopted. With no evidence and nothing left to do, I calmly rose, turned to the judges, and said "We concede that our counterplan would result in the horrible consequences noted by our opponents. We refer you to their arguments that their plan is far more effective than ours. Therefore, adoption of their plan would bring even worse disadvantages. Thank you."

We lost, but they gave me points for going down in style.

If there are any other policy debate wonks out there, you'll appreciate this one- my hapless partner proved totally unable to indict the Affirmative's case, and while we had presented a Counterplan, they shredded it with evidence of the horrible disadvantages that would occur if it were adopted. With no evidence and nothing left to do, I calmly rose, turned to the judges, and said "We concede that our counterplan would result in the horrible consequences noted by our opponents. We refer you to their arguments that their plan is far more effective than ours. Therefore, adoption of their plan would bring even worse disadvantages. Thank you."

We lost, but they gave me points for going down in style.

To Peter, thanks for pointing out my error. You are correct about Dead Reckoning. I believed the previous poster without any evidence as to his credentials. I guess I learned nothing from Bill's chapter! ;)
To GHS, I'm buying your arguement as well (geeze! I guess I'll never learn!) If someone has a good chart you can reference, why march off blindly on your own instincts?
One of the biggest frustrations of my life is that I was one of those dorks in high school that listened to the teacher, worked hard, stayed out of trouble, got decent grades, went to college, got a degree, got a decent job, have 2.5 kids and a house with a 2-car garage and I'm generally content. I go to church every Sunday, in one of those "established religions" so I guess that makes me one of those religious conservatives!
I'm constantly bumping into people who hated school, rejected authority, did drugs, didn't finish school, don't go to church, can't stay in a stable relationship, hate their parents, and are generally miserable people. And THEY lecture ME about how wrong I am and how morally bankrupt my point of view is! THEY are the enlightened ones because THEY are walking their own path, charting their own course. They don't "march in lock step" like us conservatives! Oh, THANK YOU for pointing out the error of my ways! CLEARLY your lifestyle is superior!

Nice piece as always Bill.

I like Mark's use of 'recovering liberal'--as soon as I commit to recovery, I'll adopt it. Are there meetings?

I was a dork too, but it helps with the use of analogy (and metaphore, simile, yada yada yada)

Seems to me when I'm out boating, you often get glare reflecting from the sun on the water, kinda like the blindness of following celebrity endorcement. Wear your polaroids and consider the source!

Variances in the atmosphere can lead to disturbances that produce fog and mist, kinda like the difficulty I have in hearing liberal views from the college atmosphere (I work with instructors and students from 6 schools) and then hearing the views expressed here. Awefully hard to see through the mist. *Note to self, develop rhetoric radar.

The pendulum effect tells us public view will swing back and forth on a topic, the serverity dependent on the pressures too and fro, much as the waves in the ocean are produced (mainly) by the winds. Must be a good idea to make sure the boat is level when doing your measurements.

Carry a good star almanac; guaranteed to be one of the most accurate maps for used in making your own terrestrial one.

Any suggestions for me on a good star atlas? Metaphorically speaking?

The technical term for navigating by looking out the window is Pilotage. Look out window, find landmarks, compare to map. Very simple. Particularly when the alternative is to crash-land in a forest.

Which is the problem. Take a look at the psuedo-intellectuals on the left, and you will find that they are lacking in any sort of studies that require real rigor. Custard-heads study Education, Literature, Philosophy, and Communications, maybe Economics and History. Because they can't handle Mathematics, or any of the hard sciences. Infinitely less Engineering. As ADM Rickover said, "Technology has a discipline all its own." And discipline is something the pseudo-intellectuals can't handle.

I just awoke with a headful of unfinshed argument. There is an entirely new section about two-thirds of the way down for all of you fast responders.

Mike got it exactly right -- looking out the window to see where you are is indeed "pilotage." That's what we should eb teaching.

"Dead Reckoning" is actually short for "deduced reckoning" and it is what you use when there are no recognizable landmarks. (Kansas should change their mascot from the Jayhawks to the Dead Reckoners)

You people are a credit to this website. What a sharp, polite and bright bunch of dorks you are.

Oh, and I fixed "millenia." Thanks!

Here's what you said rephrased from a scientific viewpoint:
Robert Heinlein (throughout his work) makes the useful distinction between scientists and scholars. Scholars ("button sorters" in Heinlein's pithy words) preserve, correlate, publish, and debate the works of authorities. Scientists design and conduct experiments. In a better world, the two are complementary and need to feed off each other. The danger for scholars is that it's easy to replace experiment with more scholarship and detach from reality altogether. Once the cocoon has closed around such a group, the rest follows from simple economic and political self-defense: reality (through scientific experiment) can burst your bubble, but if we "deconstruct" it, it can't contradict our scholarship anymore...
Once we get past the anger, it's important to remember that good scholars are valuable. They just need to be anchored by facts, by data, by - uh - reality. It's only when the chart-keepers turn medieval - debating the perfect words of Aristotle rather than the world around them - that we need to thrown them out. Hard.

-- perry

Welcome back Mr. Whittle. I had come to fear over the past several that a good mind that had been doing good work had been distracted. This is your medium and I hope that you will again use it to develop and spread your thoughts. You are a perceptive observer and have an uncommon knack for cutting to the core of issues. And then you top it off by explaining yourself in terms that command attention. Keep building good widgets and taking care of your customers - the rest will come.

You know I have alway disliked the term "Intellectual" and those whom adopted it for themselves. Personally, I prefer the term "A thinking person." Your basic intelligence is only useful when you use your common sense as a fulcrum and your experience as a lever. Then, you can use your intelligence to move the load.

An intellectual , it seems to me, tries to move the load without the use of lever or fulcrum. Some can do it. Many cannot. Most won't even try. Mr. Moore, it seems, would waddle [my very own cheap shot] away quickly from the idea of work. From my readings of the biluous Chomsky, I find that he wishes merely to talk the load into shifting. Quite a trick, if he can do it. But I feel it is more like 600,000, not merely 6000. You can see six thousand feet away, but not 600,000. I don't think he can even spot reality when it jumps out and bitch slaps him.

Frankly, I'm on the edge of my seat, waiting for Chapter III. Keep up the fire, sir!

Damn fine work, Bill.

The fact that you were in Debate doesn't surprise me in the least. Each of your essays, tangents and all, is constructed in such a way as to emphasize or prove one particular point. Moreover, they are well crafted to acheive that end.

I would not be good at debate, and unfortunately it took me until after college to truly understand why. (Maybe someday I'll write a post about it.) Which makes me grateful that there are writers such as you to whom I can point people and say, "He says it better than I ever could."

[...]there's a lot to be said for having some well-researched "maps" before venturing into those convoluted river deltas.

That's kind of what I was trying to suggest by saying that some "evidence cards" are good, or even necessary. I don't have the mental horsepower to solve the equations of the Quantum Mechanic's Standard Model. But it predicts that a semi-conductor will work, whereas classical physics predicts that it won't. My computer works, ergo, I accept Quantum Mechanics as a reliable map in the realms where it's shown to be effective, in spite of the fact that it suggests things that are totally nonsensical based on our everyday experience, (such as cats that are neither alive or dead, but in an indeterminate state). In the subatomic realm, I gladly yeild to the authority of Hiesenberg, Shroedinger, Feynman, et al.

With the motor launch, we can have a couple of guys scoot out ahead and see if the way is copacetic, whether or not our maps are correct without risking the entire ship. Analagous to the point man on patrol, or the vangaurd of an army scouting out ahead, so that if there's trouble, the entire army doesn't stick its head in a meatgrinder. That's one of the beauties of Federalism (the way the founders understood that word). California can try every new fad that comes down the pike. The rest of the country can watch, and pick up the useful ideas, and laugh at the ones that don't work so good.

based on personal experience alone, why WOULDN'T you believe the "authorities" who claimed that the SUN went 'round the EARTH?
A mental model of a earth-centric universe successfully predicts the movement of the sun and moon (and even the planets, if your measurements aren't too precise). Such a theory can tell you when to plant your wheat, when to plant your onions and cabbage, when to dig up the turnips, and when to hide from the dead because it's Sam Hain (Halloween). It's an effective theory. It correctly describes your universe.
Now if you invent telescopes, and astrolabs and such things, and you start making detailed observations of the motions of the planets, suddenly you find your model no longer predicts the motion of the planets. The old earth-centric theory's become incomplete, because it doesn't account for the newly observed retrograde motions of the planets. So it's modified to state that the planets move in irregular little micro-circles. Then one day, somebody realizes that this complex and inexplicable combination of motions can easily be described by a simple system of the planets in elliptical orbits around the sun, regardless that it's not the simplest description of the world visible to the naked eye alone.

Lacking perfect information, we have to settle for a best-fit.


I was also a debater and remember well the topic in question. Prison overcrowding.

We also scored numerous wins by playing the common sense card.

A great topic.

Mark and russ v,
you're not alone. I've been using that moniker since last October, and the crowd here's been very congenial and understanding about my lapses.

pleased to see you join the fray so quickly (c:

This is why I believe the term "political science" is a misnomer. The study of humans, their society, and their government can certainly be at least a soft science- but political science as it is currently studied is lacking HALF what it needs. Namely, it is all theory. And what's really ridiculous is that there is already a built-in system of study for its experimental branch- we call it "history".

If poli sci people had to spend as much time on history as science students have to spend in the lab, we might see a significant uptick in the quality of university output on the subject.

Heavy duty, dude.

Awesome as always Bill! APPLAUSE APPLAUSE!

I also see that you either frequent or you are just a Star Wars fan from way back - or perhaps both!

More, more, please!

Where can I send my money for the book :)

Re: Political Science

A senior member of my department once said, "Have you ever noticed that anything that calls itself a science, isn't?"

I'm in computer science.

BTW, yet another "Good Job, Mr. Whittle," as if you needed to hear it again.

Another one knocked out of the park! I'd point out that when academics have a good description of reality, ie. physicists or engineering professors, they love interacting in the real world. It's when they have a very bad description that their ventures into the real-world leave a bad taste in their mouths.

Col. John Boyd gave an excellent treatment of the concept of mental models of reality in his essay "Creation and Destruction", to focus on how intelligent beings keep in touch with reality, and how they get fooled ont he battlefield, among other things.

The key idea is that you have a mental map of something which may or may not conform to reality. If your map is wrong new sets of observations tend to just make it more and more complicated, with more and more exceptions and alterations piling up (entropy builds). The map overall makes poor predictions about the real world, and becomes a collection of ad-hoc fixes.

A smart person, when confronted with evidence that their mental model (or worldview) is inadequate, tears it apart and tries to assemble the pieces in a structure that can better explain reality. Emperor Misha and I were discussing this over some beers, and the question becomes "How can we get other liberals to undergo this "destruction" process so they can move on to "creation" and rebuild a worldview that bears a resemblence to actual reality?

The socialist worldview was literally created by a guy who didn't do any form of work, and didn't even like workers. Marx was the prototypical wackc-job who holes up in a cabin somewhere and writes a manifesto, without a single reality-check anywhere. Engles had to translate Marx into something half-way understandable, which just made it stupid instead of both stupid and unreadable.

With this concocted fantasy as the scaffolding, the liberals have build a bizarre and complicated model that leads them to make predictions like Chomsky's, usually off by several orders of magnitude. Yet whenever one of them rejects the model and adopts a mental model corresponding to conservatives, which has good predictive value, they are dismissed by those remaining on the left as a capitalist hack, sell-out, and anti-revolutionary traitor, the only characterization available in the Marxist model, since it doesn't include the possiblity that it might be wrong.

It reminds me a bit of those on the left who keep insisting that people should finally try socialism, as if it hasn't been tried over and over in countless countries, always producing abysmal failure. Part of Marx's message was that his system was "new, perfect, yet untried". That was back in the 1800's. They should get an update for goodness sake.

Apologies for the long comment. I just got on a roll.

My mother took debate in high school. She told me not to take it because, "The only thing they teach you is how to win an argument. They don't care if you're right or wrong."

Another aviation comparison:

"Partial Panel"

Flying based on reference to instruments gives information on where you are, where ou are going, how fast, etc.

Like a bad map, instruments can give wrong information. This requires the pilot to fly using only the instruments that are determined to be working (hence, partial panel).

This requires a living, breathing, thinking human to evaluate all of the available data and determine what data is garbage and what is true. Identify, adapt, overcome. One then must place large post-it notes over the bad instruments and keep going.

Trust, but verify!

Great as ussual. By the way... who says being on a high school debate team is dorky! (Never mind the fact that that I am on it right now). One of the mottos in my program at school is that the jocks will work for the nerds some day. (Or when we're President)

- Potus36

Excellent work of real-life thought.

I like the Admiral Ackbar thing...straight from Return of the Jedi.

Excellent, a still life of the frozen 'elite' mindset.

Loved it!

Nicely writ, Bill Whittle.

Your observations reduce to the kind of pound-my-head-on-the-desk simplifications by which the world progresses in fits.

What really bothers me about the self-proclaimed intellectuals, is their tendency in the face of actual paradigm-busting data to try to figure out a way to save their theory instead of accepting it's fallacy and turning their efforts towards something productive.

They want to convince us that the rafts are merely off course, or full of naive people who don't realize how evil the U.S. really is and how good they had it back in their mud huts.

It is thoroughly frightening, the belief that the only problem with Socialism/Marxism/Communism is that it just hasn't been done RIGHT yet. If "I" was running it, things would be perfect.

And they say the Left is anti-religion. I guess I could agree in a certain respect: Blind Faith isn't really religion. It is the abidication of choice, and the enslavement of the soul.

Keep up the good work Bill. You and the large group of dorks... er.. thoughtful posters.. help reassure me that there are other people out there carrying rational debate to our less fact-checking aquaintences.

Damn Whittle, you actually brought a tear to my eye.

Good stuff.

You had a better topic. Mine (in HS) was increased regulation of the media.

But I was on the leading edge in college. Used the UPI newswire on "The Source" for extemp. That pissed some coaches off.

The jocks will work for the nerds "some day"?

Unless they're that exceedingly rare uberjock that is good enough to have a career in professional sports, the jocks generally start working for the nerds out of high school or out of college, depending on how rich their parents are- or how smart they are under the outer layer of jockiness.

As has been pointed out, high school is not a remotely accurate representation of adult reality, it is a world unto itself- and its rules not only don't apply to adult life, they are often directly counter to what adulthood will really be like. This is why people whose lifetime high point was high school generally will never go anywhere at all except down.

Thanks Bill, nicely written - this is going somewhere...

As to "So far, not one book or one author has seemed to write the definitive manual on how people behave and why"

Yes she has. "Atlas Shrugged", Ayn Rand.

Thanks Bill, nicely written - this is going somewhere...

As to "So far, not one book or one author has seemed to write the definitive manual on how people behave and why"

Yes she has. "Atlas Shrugged", Ayn Rand.

Well, now I'm not so P.O.'d about not being able to sleep. Well worth the loss of a few hours of shuteye to be able to read this hot off the presses, so to speak.

Bill, I admire your writing skills more than I can say. Ditto to your reasoning abilities and to your optimism. But I'm afraid that our Ship of State has spent the last sixty years or more neglecting essential maintenance and sailing through shallow seas, grinding over reefs. We've robbed vital systems of essential components in order to build devices that serve no function but to amuse or pacify the passengers. We've yanked up deck planking to feed the boilers not to make way, but to keep the people in steerage warm. The crew has gotten surly and superior, forgetting that their purpose is to serve the ship, not themselves. Now we stand likely to run aground and break our keel because the idiots at the helm and down in engineering wouldn't bother to look out the ports or listen to those of us up in the crows nest. They were too busy arguing over the charts. It almost doesn't matter who's at the helm now, because it barely answers. I cannot be as optimistic as you are.

And to Michael J, as pertains to Rand, her perceptions as to people's behavior is largely accurate, but I'd like to quote another blogger concerning her:

Perhaps the biggest mistake an intellectual can make is to try to parlay his one brilliant insight into a unified theory of existence. Ayn Rand made this mistake with Objectivism. Objectivism was useful for thinking in certain limited realms, but Rand sought to apply Objectivist thinking to every aspect of the human experience, including love. The result is a sterile philosophical landscape, extending out of sight in all directions.

Tellingly, Rand was unable to live according to her ideals. This is part of what makes Rand so disagreeable; the almost hysterical denial of subjectivity's inevitable, essential role in our lives. And it makes her not only disagreeable, but wrong. - Dipnut from IsntapunditClose, but no ceegar.

"Which way are the rafts headed?" Brilliant, sir!

I always thought "dead reckoning" meant that if you reckoned wrong, you were dead (RAH, I believe).

Thanks for Chapter 2- great work.

Another in a long line of excellent essays.

It's amazing how they just keep getting better and better.

Keep it up Mr. Whittle.

And let us know when you're coming to Chicago.


Amazing. And excellent.


I think things are much worse than merely having an incorrect map: the _methods_ by which people make their maps are wrong, thus guaranteeing that any accuracy in their maps is just blind luck.

To put it in more technical terms, politics today is a mess because the ideas forming the foundation of it are a mess.

The principles for the proper behavior of individuals who choose to live in societies (politics) depend on the principles for the proper behavior of individuals as such (morality). That in turn depends on the principles for acquiring knowledge (epistemology), which depends upon the basic nature of the universe as a whole (metaphysics).

Politics today is a mess because the underlying morality is wrong, and that because the underlying epistemology is wrong, and that because the underlying metaphysics is wrong.

This, unfortunately, applies equally to the left _and_ the right. We will not see any real improvement until the left throws out their subjectivism, and the right their religion.

As Bill's essay says, checking our maps against reality is essential. That won't help, however, if one's "vision" is clouded. That is most certainly the case today on the left _and_ the right. That is what explains why we get socialism in the U.S. regardless of whether we have Bill Clinton or George Bush in the White House.

Mark Peters

P.S. - Regarding what "Dipnut from Isntapundit" said about Objectivism: that shows conclusively that he has no clue what that philosophy actually means. Based on 24 years of experience with it, I know that it is anything _but_ sterile.

The so-called "hysterical denial of subjectivity's inevitable, essential role in our lives" is in fact a _legitimate_ denial of the validity of subjectivity as such. That this fellow would write that merely shows he doesn't even know what "subjectivity" is, let alone what Objectivism's answer to it is.

This isn't a forum for discussing Objectivism, however, so I won't say anything more. I just can't stand idly by while the words of an ignorant man slander the philosophy I live my life by.

I really enjoyed your anti-intellectual screed, but it occurred to m that only intellectuals will be reading it. A good definition of an intellectual might be "somebody who enjoys reading screeds!"

Perhaps the same observation could be made about intelectuals as has often been made about lawyers: ninety-five percent of them give the rest a bad name...

I think Bill gives the left too much credit by calling them "intellectuals". The left stopped being intellectual in any important sense of that word decades ago, and if the full meaning of that term is kept in mind, centuries.

Somebody who lives only in his head is not an intellectual, he's just an inventor of fantasy worlds. Somebody who lives only outside his head is just a piece of meat.

A true intellectual recognizes that reality is what it is, independent of the human mind, that the mind is a means of awareness and understanding of reality, that it works in a specific way and not others, and that human life depends upon discovering that way and using it. He takes all of that _seriously_ and looks at reality (including humans), figures out its nature, conceptualizes it, and then guides his actions by the results - on principle.

Drop any part of that, and a person ceases being an intellectual. The left is built entirely on the premise that reality either doesn't exist at all, or humans create it rather than figure it out. That premise makes the left inherently *anti-intellectual*.

When politicians wear lapel buttons reading "Reality is negotiable", or say "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." they're not kidding.

Mark Peters

twin to picked nit: both the singular and the plural form of the word millennium have two n's.

Great essay. Two quibbles with some of the commenters:

Not all the intellectuals of the left are unable to handle Mathematics: Chomsky did some nice work in categorising rewrite systems for languages which is actually useful in computer science. Look-up "Chomsky normal form" or "Chomsky hierarchy". That said, I thought he was a dingbat when I knew him in the early 60's, and my opinion of him has gone down considerably since then.

As to the difference between other peoples maps and your own experience, recall the blind men and the elephant. You need to balance other people's maps with your own experience. Excessive reliance on either is dangerous.

Unlike some of my fellow dorks, I have no corrections for either spelling or grammar.

Great work, again.

Thanks, Bill.

Great Work, Bill . . . Keep it coming!

"Coffee house intellectuals..."

I've been using that description for 15 years and I always got a weird look. They are out there...throw in a clove cigarette, a black beret and you have your stereotypical coffee house intellectual. On sunny days, since they aren't used to the light, what with all the time spent reading books about philosphy in their dark, philisophical rooms, they wear John Lennon glasses. And they love to say this line: "Why do you think they call it "HIS' story?" Oi vey, someone stab me in the neck right now.

Anyhoo...Bill, you have written, again far more eloquently, something I have been trying to get across for a very long time. It doesn't have to be that complicated. I have noticed that people LOVE to throw out their 10 dollar words they memorized out of the dictionary and thesauruses....(thesaurusi?)...and how they love to point to passage or quote after passage or quote and announce author after author...on and on and on...blah blah blah...when the answer is really, REALLY simple and if they would just get past it all they could see that.

There is definitely something to be said for reading a lot and being book smart.

But there is also something to be said about life experiences and lessons.

I don't understand why so many push aside a life experience to be less than something they read out of a book.

Sometimes I wonder if you have put any thought into how you are going to market this book so that people who need to read it, will. I'll tell you right now, if I EVER catch a coffe house intellectual reading this book...I will have new, refreshed hope for some people in this country.

Does anyone have a citation for the Chomsky's assertion that a war in Afghanistan would result in "3 million Afghan casualties?"

I've been lurking for some time, and this is my first post. Thank you for taking the time to provide such powerful insights.

I wonder how many left-wing bloggers were jocks in high school.

Was anyone aware that the word "dork" actually means "penis?" Heh.

Seriously. Take a look.

Wow, keep it coming.

On Rand - She saved me from going insane from the bunk I was feed in the L.A. and Fairfax County school systems in the 70's and the Liberation Theology smoking Jesuits who abused method and good intentions as they tried to deconstuct history for me as a college student. I knew something was wrong, was it me? No, it was just that the life experience and views of the son of a Navy Master Chief were a little more grounded in reality. She was a liberating breath of fresh air, as was the essay.


From what you've written I would guess you have already read Paul Johnson's marvelous book "Intellectuals". If not, you should do so at the first oppertunity. It would add a lot to what you've said here, and you won't be able to put it dowm.


I mean WOW

oh my god - you put into words what I was thinking, and with great clarity

I mean this is a GREAT explanation of what's going on nowadays with intellectuals

You should think about publishing this

also, submit it to

I'm going to keep this essay and hold on to it, maybe forever

Also, I like the way you pointed out that Capitalism works better and that socialists are, well, just plain stupid

by the way, what did you mean about the central planning board/machine shop/economist thing? do you not like economists? economics (and it's PROVEN concepts - it's not just stupid theories) shows that capitalism works and socialism doesn't, so I find it kind of funny that anybody can be socialist. I mean, you only need to know the littlest bit of econ to realize that socialism (and Marx) are just plain stupid.

Have you ever learned economics? you'd like it. It's what you were talking about - no obfuscated theories that don't match reality, it's just plain, un-watered-down reality - you can whine and complain and theorize all you want, but you can't refute the simple realities presented. "Principles of Economics, Third Edition" by N. Gregory Mankiw or "Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell are good starter econ books.

Very well said!

I would throw in Milton Friedmans "Free to Choose" as mandatory reading -I am requiring my offspring to read the book before they will be graduated. I recall waking up late Sunday morning following a bender, I flipped on the local PBS station and watched most of the series "Free to Choose" (this was before the series was banned). I was hooked! There is a series that should be required viewing of every person that consider themselves educated.

Nice work, Bill.

I was a debater as well -- collegiate level. In high school I competed in oratory and poetry.

In debate you quickly learn that emotion will not win you anything at all. You have to have logic and facts and a coherent argument. Perhaps this is why debaters are so often conservative. Liberal thought isn't thought at all -- it's emotion. And it won't get you that champion trophy.

Brilliant as usual! Great work. I can hardly wait for the next segment.

The waist-high had ceased also, giving place to a sensation of soaking, temporary rest

Bill, you've yet again reached your high standards. Well done!

Spot on, as usual. Great essay, and it clarifies what I had already suspected.

BTW, this is exactly why 'intellectuals' are spittin' mad at GWB. He may not have had the best GPA at Yale, and he may not know how to pronounce 'nukular', but here is a guy who knew to throw open the hatch after 9/11, take a look around, and order a major change in direction. Not intellectual, but definitely smart, like all those red states that the blue states just canNOT comprehend.


To Kevin Baker, good analogy extension. However, I would say we got a new captain and some new officers, but the crew is planning a mutiny. The passengers are happy burning up the decking and are mad at the new Captain who wants to keep the decking to walkon (the nerve!) Now someone is floating mines in our way, threatening to sink the boat. We can't keep sailing blindly along anymore. We need to do some piloting and have a diligent watch keeping an eye out for those mines.
That's one less crewman to pander to the passengers, but they could be a bit more self sufficient anyway!

Wonderful, except.....
The Uruk-hai (Tolkien) never debated anything, they existed only to pillage and destroy. I think you mean the Bandar-Log (Kipling), the monkey tribe who tore things down with every intention of building something better, but somehow never got round to it. The Bandar-Log, like most Socialists, were incapable of a two step process.

Forgive me if I'm displaying my ignorance (I'm better-versed in the famines, massacres, and nuclear disasters they perpetrated than with their thinking), but didn't the Soviets, like the early 20th century anarchists, beleive that as soon as they successfully abolished personal property, and killed anyone with too many possessions, a miracle would occur, or mankind would evolve, or something to that effect?
They didn't need to think about step two. It would just happen. Human character would change once property was abolished.

Quote Source Please: (Thanks)

Noam Chomsky predicted, in his even, intellectual, authoritarian, tenured manner, that ". if the US went to war in Afghanistan after 9/11 the result would be 3 million Afghan casualties."

I'm here at UCLA (history major), where Chomsky is worshiped, I could use some help.


Bill, I commend your discovery of the Chomsky Coefficient.

Another fine one, my friend.

I find it truly amazing that someone who claims to be intelligent doesnt know the difference between socialism and communism. Cuba is not a socialist state.
Is there any country in this world that is a true capitalist state? despite what you think the US is not a true capitalist state.
You are a good writer Bill but sometimes it is good to know the facts before you write.


Correct. And hence the famous Winston Churchill quip “If you're not a liberal when you're in your 20’s you haven't got a heart; if you're not a conservative by the time you're 40 you haven't got a brain"

Dear Lars,

It is my experience that no Communist country ever officially referred to themselves with that term, as in the Union of Soviet Communist Republics. Socialist is a flattering term they apply to themselves, and I am doing them the courtesy of referring to them as they wish because doing so tars the horrible (Cuba, Soviet Russia, China) and the bland (Sweden) with the same awful brush.

It is true that the US in not a completely capitalist state; just very likely the MOST capitalist state, although pre-takeover Hong Kong may have surpassed us in this regard.

I don't see either of these cases as an ignorance of the facts, but then, that's just me talking.

You are right. No "intellectual" has ever done it, but a "doer" has.

"Men will ultimately do only that which they perceive to be in their own self interest."

George Washington - in a letter explaining to the Continental Congress why they should get off their buts and pay his soldiers.

Whenever I wonder how people will react, this is the maxim I apply. I have not been surprised for a long time now.


"Noam Chomsky predicted, in his even, intellectual, authoritarian, tenured manner..."

I suspect that you meant "authoritative," but "authoritarian" works equally well for people like Chomsky.

I'm looking forward to the publication of your book.

Wooooo Hooooo!!!! That was truly awesome!!!

I have long noted the tendency of leftist intellectuals to engage the opposition with bromides inside of molassas wrapped in double sided sticky tape, but I think you're right on that this is a property of intellectuals in general.

While most of these intellectuals can be safely left alone to their shadow-boxing, there are a subset that pose real dangers. Noam Chomsky, for example, with his cohort of socialists from the tenured jet set, used the aftermath of Vietnam to help spin a web of inaction around Pol Pot. How many thousands of dead can be laid at his feet?

And though there is no proof that it was done intentionally, how many Chomskys are out there doing this to similar effect in the service of dictators?

Sorry, bad couple of days, didn't mean to bring the mood down.

WoooHooo !!!! Great article, your blog is in my daily rotation.

Excellent, excellent.

Fixed! Thanks Paul. I did indeed mean "authoritative." Must've been a Freudian...

There are the economic theories socialism, communism, and capitalism, and then there are the political realities. It is generally understood that their meanings alter in context of theory and reality, which is what this essay is about.

I could argue that nothing shorter than 700 nm is actually "red" and nothing longer than 400 nm is actually "violet", but that's not actually useful when you don't have a laboratory and a spectrometer on hand.

Relativism is the opiate of the intellectual.

Once again you are awesome! As for Chomsky, I can say with confidence, yes, there are high-powered professors of linguistics who have issues concerning his pronouncements on what's supposed to be his area of expertise. Check out Dr. Miyake's site at:

A little point. The French girl struggling against a raper cannot have "Martinique" as her first name. This is the name of an island probably from the last name of the discoverer or from the general/admiral who conquered it. I ner heard of a girl named like this, however "Martine" is a common first name for girls.

Another point: someone compared Marx to Chomsky. Marx has been wrong in nearly everything but when he heard of American Civil War he called the Socialists to support the Union because whatver his qualms about capitalism in the North he thought slavery abhorrent. Period. And I really think that he would have supported the liberation of Afghanistan and Irak. In that time the left could be wrong on many things but it still cared about people.

What would Chomsky have told if he had lived during the Civil War? He would have said it was all about coooooooooooooooootton, he would have told that it was just the Northen capitalits wanting to get the cheap labor from freed slaves and he would have done his utmost to undermine Union's will to fight. And he wouldn't have cared about the fate of slaves: deep at heart these kind of people, the Chomskys, Fondas, Kerrys are deeply racists who use Blacks, Afghans, Vietnamese or Cambodians as tools to get publicity and to satisfy their hate. The tens of thousands afghans who would no longer die from hunger, lack of medicines or plain taliban repression din't interest Chomsky, just as the hundreds of thousands Vietnamese murdered by the communists, the millions of Cambodians slaughtered by the Red Khmer Rouge didn't interest him or any other of the limousine liberals. Blacks, Afghans, Cambodians or Vietnamese are not people in the eyes of present days leftists.

you were on the debate team, weren't you? very persuasive piece of writing.


isn't there a bit of reactionism at work here? Intellectuals are not all evil, lazy, useless creatures. Nor are intellectual pursuits useless and meaningless - even those ones you scorn so fully. True, idealist notions of human interaction are rarely supported in the Real World. But do you think that there is no room for improvement in our current socio-political system? Or that you can simply 'look out the window' to find that flower-filled paradise? We live in a complicated world with complicated problems. Many of which, I feel, arise from the LACK of intellectualism at work in our society. It is quite easy to dismiss scholars as "pinko-wannabes" or "pseudo-intellectuals" (see posts above), but people who study media/ literature/philosophy/linguistics, etc. are people who are very interested in and concerned with the same problems you are. (I find it very interesting when people claim that those pursuits are less valuable and/or require less intellect. What influences and controls more people, television or the Hubble telescope?)

Here's the thing - while I agree that constant study and no action is not a good thing, neither is the converse: while some things have to be taken care of Now, research and study wil help us do it the best way we can at the moment while working to figure out an even better way in case we find ourselves in a similar situation.

Put another way: ideologies are just sets of beliefs. Most ideologies get some things right and some things wrong. Even Communism, even Capitalism. Marx was an intellectual who got some things wrong - but, as much of the world believes, some things (like socialized health care) were right. Capitalism got a lot of things right but most people will agree that rampant destruction of the environment or child-labor are things that are wrong with the basic capitalist paradigm.

And because I can't resist your metaphor: The maps may not be perfect, or perhaps they are maps of other places, from other times. But your cartographer may be able to advise you on, say, which kind of shorelines tend to have reefs instead of sandbars. She might be able to point out trends in tidal patterns or teach you how to find your location using the stars. He could, in fact, have very useful knowledge despite believing in the wrong map.

And a side note to Micheal J - Atlas Shrugged has great philosophy, except for equating female sexual pleasure with debasement and rape, failing to draw a female character who had any actual skills besides beauty and a (wasted) intellect, and completely ignoring the concept that some people do need and deserve help (where do disabled people, for example, fit into Rand's ideas?).


Child labor didn't start with capitalism, it was ever present in agricultural societies and even in medieval shops. It is true that the beginnings of capitalism brought a new kind of child labor: one who was very bad for health like work in mines but don't think preeindustrial child labor was nice and wholesome: many child died from exposure to bad weather, specially since in preindustrial ages clothes were expensive and bad quality.

And in fact, even in the beginnings of the industrial revolution in the era of bad wages and child labor the fact is that the standards of life for the working classes raised. To begin with there were no longer famines since the industrial revolution helped to increase agricultural productivity through better tools and better transports so regions were no longer forced to produce wheat or potatos locally when soil or climate was unsuitable.

The problem was not an empoverishment of the working classes but that it was visible in cities (where writers are) instead of hidden in farms

cd3 -
I find it very interesting when people claim that those pursuits are less valuable and/or require less intellect.
It's not necessarily that a comprehensive and worthwhile study of these topics requires less intellect, but that so often times we see less intellectual vigor being applied to those fields.
The reason people from feilds of tech and the hard sciences tend to look down at the soft sciences is that we see little or no appreciation for or adherance to scientific method. We see too many experiments that are poorly controlled, and designed to merely express, not test the authors' theory. This is not research and study, but intellectual self-gratification.

What is scorned is the practice of destroying lives and wrecking nations and peoples attempting to implement demonstrably wrong policies that are based on how someone thinks the world ought to be... Everyone ought to give as much as thay can, everyone ought to take only what they need, and the commissariat and the Party ought not be corrupt. Unfortunately, political systems that depend on altruism don't work. It fails every time it's tried. And then the Party calls out the guys with guns and truncheons and torture rooms to make the system work. And since the system is based on goodness, and altruism, there is no limit to the lengths to which they will go. And they'll call it good.

The foundation of Marxism is that I am not entitled to the result of my labor. I must work where and when and for as long as I am ordered. In return, I will receive only what someone decides I "need". Attempting to leave and find better circumstances will get me shot or imprisoned. I can think of few more effective definitions of slavery.

But your cartographer may be able to advise you on, say, which kind of shorelines tend to have reefs instead of sandbars...
True to a point. I'd hire a Marxist geologist. But never a Marxist economist.

Howdy cd3. I appreciate your efforts to keep the other side of the argument in sight while we're cheerily carrying Bill off on our shoulders and rallying around his standard. But, while point-for-point I think you're correct, I don't think Bill's overall point here (only the beginning -- the FOUNDATION -- of which has been laid in these first two essays) necessarily conflicts with yours.

It's not the maps or the cartographers who surveyed and drew them that he takes issue with. Nor is it even so much a total revulsion with those who would debate the efficacy of different maps -- we all do that, even Bill, AS A MENTAL EXERCISE. Pondering over philosophical and political issues can be a fun way to pass some leisurely time, as long as you've GOT that time.

The problem comes when that penchant for intellectualizing everything is ALL you do, when haggling over the correct way to read the correct map is the ONLY method you use to determine your course, even when you have to shout to be heard over all the squealing and banging sounds coming from the keel of your ship. Inaction at a moment when action is NEEDED can mean death -- like arguing over whether scratching the car's paint on the barbed wire you'll have to drive through is worse than pranging up the front-end alignment by slamming through that ditch on the other side, all while your car is hurtling straight at the tree in between. Sometimes you've just got to ACT. And sometimes -- USUALLY -- ugly experience and precedence is a more reliable determinant than wishful thinking and idealistic dreaming. Those are best applied when you've got the time and the security and the wherewithal to dabble and experiment, not when there's a tree lunging at your windshield.

Without knowing where his forthcoming chapters are going to go with this, I get the impression that that's Bill's overall message here. This chapter was just part of the foundation, trying to show just how much weight a "list of authorities" should really have in your thinking -- in your own self-determination. In other words, don't JUST recite your favorite idealogues when trying to direct national policy... look outside the window every now and then YOURSELF. Look at history, look at people, look at reality YOURSELF, and figure out what should WORK, not just what would be ideal.

I'm not arguing with you here, because again, I think, point-for-point, we're in agreement. I'm just watching where I think Bill is ultimately going with this train of thought -- and this is just step 2 out of probably a dozen or two.

He summed up THIS chapter's point pretty early on in it, when he said...

"What can we do to end this arguing about which way to sail and on what map? How can we tell where the reefs and channels really are? Dear God, is there nothing we can do to get an answer among all these authorities?

Bueller? Anyone?

Yes, you – the eager kid in the front row – you say we should what? Go on deck and look outside?

How naïve! How unsophisticated! How lacking in nuance! How…American. It can’t be as simple as that.

Oh, but it can, bucko. It really can be: Just. That. Simple."

Hee-HEE! I can't wait for Chapter 3.


cd3 said Atlas Shrugged has great philosophy, except for equating female sexual pleasure with debasement and rape, failing to draw a female character who had any actual skills besides beauty and a (wasted) intellect...

There was much more Dagny than that, much more.

Also, Rand didn't "equate" female sexual pleasure with debasement and rape, or rather she didn't create that link. That equation -- BDSM (bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadomasochism) -- existed long before she started writing. Many folks agree that as long as the activity is safe, sane and consensual, it isn't negative, and its presence in the novel doesn't decrease the story's value.

And now, back to the on-topic discussion by the rest of y'all...

Ack, engage brain, Hooper -- "There was much more to Dagny than that..."

Count me as person number three who would like to see a source for Chomsky's three million estimate. I've been Googling for it without success.

I am not out to defend Chomsky. On the contrary, a citation makes for a stronger attack.

As Bloodthirsty Warmonger earlier, I have "issues" with Chomsky's "linguistics," to put it mildly. Although many who subscribe to his linguistics do not agree with his politics, and vice versa, I do see both as products of his "intellectualism" (in the negative sense of the word).

His linguistics is based on the premise that the grammars of diverse languages are "really" nothing more than "trivial" variants of a single English-like "universal grammar" that only he and his followers can perceive, and any differences between actual grammars and his invisible "underlying" grammar are "explained" away through "transformations" that (again) only he and his followers can perceive. You can't independently verify the existence of his "universal grammar" or the "transformations" that change its invisible forms into the actual ones we see and here. You can only choose to believe him, and too many do.

Using the same kind of "reasoning," I can claim that all weather is "really" like that of Hawaii (my home state), and that any another sort of weather is merely a "surface" distraction from the "true" warmth, snowlessness, etc. that only I can perceive. You can't see it, but just BELIEVE me!

People assume that Chomsky is profound because he combines simple conclusions with shiny verbal packaging. Once you struggle through his words, you attain epiphanies like:

- all languages are ultimately the "same" (i.e., like English)

- all that is wrong in the world is ultimately America's fault

English and America are at the center of Chomsky's tiny universe. Reality is far more complex than that. But many prefer deep-sounding reductionism to true depth, which is far harder to attain.

Those who want to read a little more about what is wrong with Chomskyan "linguistics" should check out my article at Right Wing News:

For many more arguments, I have compiled links to 19 anti-Chomsky posts in this post which adds new fuel to the fire:

Marc Miyake, PhD (linguistics)
Professor of Linguistics
University of Hawai'i

I am pretty far from anti-intellectual. Anti-intellectualism and the deep distrust of intelligence that seems to be endemic among a broad section of conservatives (Florence King called them Gumplicans) is one of the main reasons I'm still an independent rather than a registered Republican. I am quite fascinated by history, psychology, politics, anthropology, and other studies of human nature.

However. When I first got to college, I would have been thrilled if I'd been allowed to take ten classes a semester, because everything looked fascinating. Liberal-arts distribution requirements? Great, which of these courses do I want to try first? Two years later I held a perpetual grudge that I was not allowed to stay in the science departments alone, because I had found so much fertile intellectual ground in these fields to be left fallow. I think sociology was my most depressing experience. So much data out there, all totally ignored in favor of ever-more-baroque theoretical construction. I've always been a bad student in English classes as well, despite the fact that I love to read- I could never countenance the worship of high-strung neurotics like Thoreau (who had a near-breakdown in the face of actual wilderness when he was brought to Mount Katahdin, and concluded that all men's lives must be ones of quiet despair because he couldn't stand the idea of getting a real job), or preening narcissistic obscurantists like Joyce.

Oh, and speaking of history as the experimental wing of politics, socialized medicine wasn't a good idea either. Canada's health care system is so badly broken that those who can afford it have begun treating America as their private hospitals, and Britain's isn't that much better. (It's not uncommon for three hundred people to be in line the morning after a dental practice announces it will be taking on some new patients.) France's is probably the most spectacular failure; in what should be the epitome of organized public health, 15,000 people died in a simple heat wave. Those are third-world death tolls, and they are absolutely inexcusable, because there is nothing about France that makes it different from other temperate regions experiencing an unusual heat wave- except their public health system.

"I believe the correct navigational term for this is dead reckoning. And I believe you are dead on correct."

Nah, we pilots know that what he is describing is called "pilotage".

duhhh, and if I had had my coffee would have realized that many people would probably have already pointed that out....

GHS is right of course about all thought and no action being a bad thing. And I bet he would agree that all action and no thought is also bad. Even combining thought and action, in my view, is no good unless the action is based on the thought and the thought is based on reality.

If one is in a situation where there is no time for thought, where one just has to ACT, that is covered by the concept "emergency". Emergencies aren't the essence of life, however, and to survive them requires that one has already done all of the thinking necessary to know what principles apply. Human life is inherently a long range thing, not a short range thing.

The problem with politics today is that such thinking is completely _absent_ from the scene, and has been for decades, if not centuries. Neither the left nor the right today has principles that they got by properly conceptualizing the facts of reality (no "map" in Bill's terms, and I say it ain't a map if it doesn't come from reality). As a result, their actions are not _principled_ actions but merely pragmatic ones. In essence, politics today is just short range, emergency oriented posturing aimed at getting reelected and not much else.

All of the problems we have today, both domestic and international, are problems precisely because of the lack of principled thought and action from our politicians going back for decades.

Yes, it should be blazingly obvious to anyone who looks that socialism is false and hence leads to bad results. Bill is right about that. But where is a _principled_ alternative being offered?

We live in an age where even the supposed defenders of freedom, the conservatives, think that "democracy" is a political ideal, when the Founders, to a man, regarded it (rightly) as tyranny by the majority, and so reserved their most biting criticisms for it. These same people call themselves capitalists, but have just presided over the largest expansion of the welfare state since Medicare/Medicaid, and a massive increase in spending on public schools, both socialist ideas.

If there is a principle underlying all of that, I sure as heck don't see it.

Mark Peters

Bob! My parochial training was a tad earlier than that, and my how we kept track of our INDEX CARDS! One thing I still do - take notes and keep them in three ring binders. And I still use dead reckoning, BTW. What I cannot fathom (another nauticul term) is why these folks keep goin' over the Portside rail without their PFDs. But then I got to thinkin', the clueless are goin' down fast, whilst the rafts are bein' launched off the Starboard. Why is that?

amritas and whomever else:

I did a google search on Chomsky's prediction and found this. I don't know if this is what you were looking for.

It frankly looks like a really good intellectual, a professional level one, is able to say things in such a way that everyone knows what the meaning is, but no one has any proof.

jdm thanks for the link to Chomsky's quote info. What is quite enlightening here is that this linguist somehow states a figure, several times, which he has quoted from several sources, but somehow makes it clear this is neither fact nor opinion. Amazing! This man is a genius!
He states a premise, which the White House clearly does not agree with (that there will be massive starvation if the Coalition attacks Afghanistan), then criticizes the US for attacking anyway. When shown that his premise is demonstrably wrong, he defends his logic!
It's been a few years since I took formal logic, but essentially this works out like:
if p is true then q is true (Chomsky's arguement)
p is false ("Millions" did NOT starve in Afghanistan)
then q must not relate to p
I'm sure some of my scientific friends here will correct my syntax, but not my logic.

I'm confused. Is your cartographer male or female (or both)? Or are you practicing that tired, confusing PC practice of intentionally mixing gender pronouns to avoid showing gender bias?
Why do people insist on confusing or diluting communication for the sake of a perceived over sensitivity of the audience?

A few "Commie" quotes:

Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff.
Frank Zappa (1940 - 1993)

Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908 - )

Communism is like one big phone company.
Lenny Bruce (1923 - 1966)

Communism is like prohibition, it's a good idea but it won't work.
Will Rogers (1879 - 1935), Weekly Articles (1981), first published 1927

Chompski is correct, he said nothing using lots of words. This gives him plausable deniability, at least in his twisted logic that is a shape-shifting moving target that which when grasped, vanishes.

He could have saved himself much energy in his reply by cutting to the chase: "I was talking out my arse, like always"

I'd rather listen to the practicle linquist Zappa rather than the theoretical Chompskey.

Here's the Chomsky interview in detail:

The telling quote:
After the first week of bombing, the New York Times reported on a back page inside a column on something else, that by the arithmetic of the United Nations there will soon be 7.5 million Afghans in acute need of even a loaf of bread and there are only a few weeks left before the harsh winter will make deliveries to many areas totally impossible, continuing to quote, but with bombs falling the delivery rate is down to ½ of what is needed. Casual comment. Which tells us that Western civilization is anticipating the slaughter of, well do the arithmetic, 3-4 million people or something like that.

My topic was "Gays on the Los Angeles Police Force" chosen because I'd used it as my English Disseration subject, and it was a doozy.

I was assigned the "con" side of the argument and we lost. Sweet failure if there ever was one.

But I was not a dork! I was a Theatre Arts major. Thespians were forever excluded from the dork label.

JFM wrote:

Marx has been wrong in nearly everything but when he heard of the American Civil War he called the Socialists to support the Union because whatever his qualms about capitalism in the North he thought slavery abhorrent.

Proving once again that even a broken clock can be right twice a day.

Oh, here's something somewhat off topic but fellow aviation buffs might enjoy it: The other day I saw a BMW with a vanity plate that read "V1 ROT8". It's taken in Minnesota, but there are at least 49 other people who can snap it up.

Actually, "dead reckoning" is a process whereby all physical factors that can be measured and/or estimated (heading, log of speed in water over time interval, set and drift, leeway, etc.) are factored into an estimate of current chart position with respect to a prior fix (i.e., a position known reliably). That is -- you're never free of reference to the chart. "Pilotage" typically refers to skill in using visible landmarks to correct DR positions and achieve running fixes. So it's also chart-based.

I think what you're talking about is called "eyeball navigation." That's when you have someone stand on the bow, shade their eyes, cast the lead if necessary, and point out the coral heads and shoals that have grown up in the channel, since it was surveyed 50 years ago for the charts. Any sailor who wants to survive for very long knows that eyeball evidence is the final arbiter of any navigational dispute, despite what charts, misguided captains, or expensive instruments may or may not have to say.

Charts are, nevertheless, essential. And there's nothing wrong with them. Though sometimes inaccurate, most have the virtue of having been produced by a more or less meticulous process of direct measurement, by people who had a vested interest in their accuracy and utility. So they're no less, or more than records of someone else's "eyeball survey." Not at all equivalent to social theories, which grow only indirectly from observation, are impossible to test, and are often passed on, thoughtlessly, as memes.

In any case, your metaphors are close enough for jazz -- sensible readers get your drift. And I agree with much of what you write.

What scares me a little is condemnation of intellectuals, per se. There's nothing wrong -- indeed everything right -- with encouraging people to think through issues on their own; to join in the global process of reason, and to act on their conclusions. But to label intellectuals effete is a classic trope of both right- and left-leaning totalitarianism, and leads to ugly housecleaning.

Bah ! Intellectualism means you know how to insert complexity into a simple process.

1. Mr. Whittle, when you are done with your brain, may I use it?

2. As an intellectual who also was in the most results-oriented occupation known to man, intellectuals are not always useless, just 95% of the time. The problems arise when the intellectual starts to believe his/her own hype. i.e. thinks he is brilliant, surrounds himself with people who agree with the brilliant part, and proceeds to get diarrhea of the mouth, with much the same end product. Much of what passes for intellectual thought these days is merely mental masturbation... fun at the time, but no real long term results. The few intellectuals who are actually conservative tend to plot their course by what those of you who are actually doing experience... to continue the (stretched to the breaking point) analogy, conservative intellectuals find out what the conditions of the ship are,(wind, hull condition, crew training, provisions,etc.) and plot a course which will get the ship, crew and all, to it's destination, with risk minimized if possible, and with as much efficiency as possible. If efficiency and risk are in opposition, then a decision has to be made, and then the do-ers, do.

3. I have to disagree with your belief that no one book can predict human behavior. The Bible has for over 5000 years.

4. I was such a geek that I used to get wedgies from the debate team.

I had a one eyebrow Spock style reaction to "The Bible predicts human behavior." Prove that odd assertion, as it makes no sense to me.


I have only this to say to you:



I have to admit -- though it's against my better judgment to do so HERE -- that despite all that I agree with in this essay/chapter, the "which way are the rafts headed" methodology for determining the efficacy of political concepts seems to have one fatal flaw. And that is that it's past tense! It's an examination after-the-fact, like looking back at the wake of your ship -- all full of floating debris from your gutted hold, bubbling with hemorrhaged oil, and steadily rising to eye-level as your vessel goes down -- and saying, "See, I was right... there's a reef there!"

I think I'd like a more timely navigation device than looking BACK.

I absolutely agree that looking OUTSIDE the chartroom is superior to endlessly intellectualizing (i.e.; "Is too!" "Is NOT!" "Is TOO!") about which map is "righter" than the other. But, as with that Socialism-vs-Capitalism example that Bill cited, what was the better "experiential" database -- what "visible shoreline" -- that could have been used at the START of Castro's reign? BEFORE there came a need to build rafts, not AFTER, when the straits between Cuba and Key West were choked with floating refugees. The "which way are the rafts headed" question is great ammunition if you're arguing TODAY about whether Cuba is actually an island paradise or not. But if, back in the late fifties, you were debating over whether Castro's very popular movement was a good idea or not, those rafts weren't available as an indicator yet.

The same thing with Marx's little experiment in human nature, well-intentioned as it may or may not have been. A century's worth of 20/20 hindsight was not available at the turn of the LAST century, when Communism, as a concept and a movement, was starting to find favor in Russia and many European capitals. And, theoretically speaking, was it really so wrong to attempt to build a social system based on the nobler aspects of human nature -- the self-sacrificial, non-greedy, betterment-of-all ideals of a world of suffering peasantry, looking for a better, more secure future for themselves and their families?

I certainly agree that it's NOW obvious what REAL human nature will do with such a concept. But back then, BEFORE the rafts and the mad dashes through the barbed wire and the tunneling under the walls, just how clear WAS that "shoreline," even from up on deck? Even the best available maps and charts just said "Here there be dragons" along that edge of the known world. And up on deck, there was hardly an island in sight.

And much the same could be said about another little "experiment in human nature" that occurred back in the 1770s on THIS side of the Atlantic. Giving so much freedom to regular old Joe Citizens? So much power, self-sufficiency, and control over national policy? How dangerously dependent on good intentions and natural altruism is THAT? Or at least, how dangerous must that have seemed AT THE TIME?

Well obviously, time and a comfortable aftward perspective have shown us which ship will sink and which will sail. But at the STARTS of these two voyages, when the maps AND the visible shorelines were so vague, what was the better determinant of future success? You could hardly do anything BUT intellectualize over it. It wasn't like there was a lot of precedent in either case. You could debate over which way human nature might be likely to veer over time, but it was a real coin toss as to what history would ultimately show.

I don't know -- I'm kinda' mulling this over as I go. I'd like to THINK that any reasonable examination of human nature (forget political precedence) would have made the historical outcomes obvious. But... I don't know. Hmmm.

So what bold new evolutions in human nature might we be misjudging right NOW? Or do we now have sufficient precedents to safely predict everything?

I have a feeling this will be addressed by Bill at length in upcoming chapters/installments, but, what can I say... it was on my mind NOW.

Sorry about the (inevitably) over-long post, folks. Keep up the good work.

I KNEW this was going to be a good comment stream this time.


Okay, inquiring minds want to know: is the "It's a trap!" Ackbar meme gacked from or Something Awful?

Impressive, Bill, impressive essay & very impressive circle jerk of libertarian & conservative commenters looking down their noses at, gasp, intellectuals, who are 95% rotten, & liberals, er, I mean, socialists, pant, who are 100% rotting. Aside from the fact that the contempt set forth in your thought-engenders-cowardice thesis and in the liberalism-defies-reality comments is precisely that of which you accuse intellectuals/liberals, everyone here, too, appears to be engaging in the sort of generalized abstraction that you all profess to abhor.

Let's start with your essay. A few months back, den Beste composed a similar piece drawing upon the happy coincidence that there has existed a rough philosophical divide between Anglophone thought and Continental. Broadly speaking--and that is what we're all doing here--the divide distills to the inductive/deductive distinction in the forms of reasoning. Beginning with Bacon, skipping Hobbes, but through Locke, Hume & the Common Sense philosophers, there has certainly been a Anglophonic tendency towards the inductive method: begin with experience and move outward to theory. And to be sure, Continental thinkers, from Descartes through Jung, Hegel & Marx (ooh, that horrid name) have been more attracted to deductive reasoning: create a theory by which to sort experience. Both forms of reasoning are essential to--hell, inherent in--science, I might add.

Similar to you here, Den Beste utilized the science/humanities distinction (hey, another way to create us and them, cool) to demonstrate that it is the inductive, scientific Anglophone worldview that is best able to cope with the modern geopolitical terrain. So screw Old Europe, and its intellectual fellow travellers infesting our universities, plus French brands would be all over the WMD in Iraq. (A book recommended in the comments above, Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, does make a similar argument, with an additional thesis being that thinkers like Rousseau and Tolstoy never practiced in their lives what they preached in their books.) Of course, den Beste completely ignored the demonstrable fact that the neo-cons pushing the Iraq war are among the most blindered ideologues on the planet, whose real-world experience consists in rarely having been taken seriously by prior administrations. (It certainly wasn't combat experience.)

Now, most any historian of ideas without a polemical or political axe to grind would say that such broad generalizations regarding the British/Continental philosophical divide should be made with care, and that to extrapolate these generalizations to modern international affairs is well-nigh treacherous. Something in your essay tells me that you should agree with this skepticism of broad outlines--perhaps its the map analogy, for the larger the map, the less detail is can show--but you obviously don't for some reason, or you wouldn't be engaging such abstractions yourself, all the while calling those who do, cowards.

As to your commentors, one group, the libertarians, are adherents to an ideology so patently unrealistic that it has never been tried, nor never will be. Sure, the world has endured periods of laissez-faire, as new industrial-capitalistic aristocracies have managed to game the system at times, but the inevitable excesses of capitalism run amok have invariably needed to be curtailed due to the squalor and misery put upon those not predisposed to play the game. And all the talk here of captialism (yea) v. socialism (hiss) appears to miss the fact that in the real world the dialectic does apply. One is meaningless without the other, for just as pure socialism is unworkable, so is pure capitalism. As for Rand herself, well, let's just say that she should have her own chapter in Johnson's book.

As for your conservative commenters, it is hard for me to take seriously any supporter of the current administration who chides me for being unrealistic (and cowardly): Iraq, no realistic plan for the occupation and reconstruction, only flowers & oil to pay for it; the economy, tax cuts that foist our obligations on our children, while providing insufficient stimilus to the ecomony, and fudged numbers for everything; and the environment, the promise of cleaner skies by rolling back the regulations that have demonstrably made our air cleaner. And don't even get me started on the Bushies' disdain for science. Sound science, clean skies, the Laffer Curve, PNAC, all newspeak for the apparently deluded.

Perhaps it is courageous to act and the consequences be damned (however obvious they may have been to the cafe crowd), but here's another distinction for you, it's a fine line between courageous and foolhardy. And the only way not to cross that line is to think about it.

Thank you, Bloggerhead, for your extensive application of the fine arts of attacking points that were not made and everybody's favorite fallacy, the false dilemma.

1)No one has said, not Bill, not the commentors, that thought and reason are bad. They have said that theory divorced from practical experimentation is bad. When your theory is applied in real life and nothing works out as predicted, the theory is bad. The difference between the sciences and the humanities is that when theories from the latter turn out to be wrong, you get to keep your job and write about how people were doing it wrong, whereas if the bridge built off your theory of physics dumps a thousand people into a river, you lose your job. Every discipline suffers when there is a lack of internal policing; the humanities are not inherently less worthy of thought and study than the sciences, but the lack of intellectual rigor that has accompanied the post-modern trend is very bad. Do you wish to contest that there is such a trend or do you merely wish to attack the much more vulnerable point that "thinking is worthless", which was not made?

2)There are more political positions than pure liberal, pure libertarian, and pure conservative. I consider myself more libertarian than anything else, but I fully admit pure libertarianism is unworkable, and admitting this does not require having a few fingernails pulled out first. Since you apparently were reading the essay in an alternate reality, I will point out that in this reality the point of it was that PURE THEORY WITH IGNORANCE TO PRACTICALITY IS BAD. Not "Our pure theory is better". With respect to capitalism versus socialism, there may be no pure version of either, but the impure versions that have been tried are certainly different enough from one another to be termed "capitalism" or "socialism", and in terms of economic success and human rights measures capitalism has succeeded more on the experimental ground of political theory, history. Do you wish to contest this or are you merely intent on pointing out the blindingly obvious fact that we favor one over the other?

3)The rest of your post amounts to "I know you are but what am I?". It's not any better an argument when more words are used. Please confine yourself to attacking specific points if you wish to get anywhere. I currently suspect you're more interested in flinging scorn at the knuckle-dragging stupidhead neocons, but I'm certainly open to being pleasantly surprised.

Welcome back Mr. Whittle.

I am greatly indebted to you for this fine piece. You see, I live in the SF Bay area and am surrounded by Chomskites. My former roommate, a PhD from MIT in materials science, took Noam's word as gospel. My roommate, like many others, fail to realize that talk is fine but action gets the job done.

On a final note, as a former Naval Officer I was going to correct your readers about Dead Reckoning but someone beat me too it. Here is the Coast Guard's definition:

I will, however, note that you are mixing metaphors so to speak. If you speak of maps you are referring to references to land. Charts are the equivalent of the water so you should say,

"So here we sit in the chartroom, with our competing charts." rather than "So here we sit in the chartroom, with our competing maps."

A minor bit a quivering on an otherwise outstanding piece. Again, welcome back and I wait for more of your work with great anticipation.

LabRat, you are a goddess.

Now if we could just agree on the WWF...


I love you, LabRat. (In a spiritual, non-sexual way.)

Being so popular with men is unprecedented for me. ;)

GHS- I find that wrestling is immensely improved with a dirty mind and beer in quantity.


Not to stray too far off topic, but I would certainly quibble with the assertion that libertarianism hasn't been tried. I think that if you look more closely at the settlement of the US you will indeed find that for all intents and purposes it was an an-cap society. In a vast country with a constantly expanding frontier (pre-railroad and pre-telegraph) the US had a government "in name only" (and, in the case of the territories pre-statehood, not even that) for hundreds of years.

I think it is impossible to deny that the unprecedented success the US has enjoyed since its founding is attributable to the relative absence of government. Today that's all over, of course: we are now just coasting on the momentum of past success. But if you don't buy this explanation, then to what do you attribute the US's stunning material success over the past 400 years? Or perhaps you subscribe to the "blessed by God" theory we hear so much about. This IS reputed to be God's country, you know . . .

Well LabRat, the "dirty mind" I've got. It's the "beer link" that I've been missing all this time. That explains it, I guess.

In the meantime, from now on, whenever someone posts a comment that needs contesting, I think I'm just going to wait until you respond, and then say, "Yeh... what SHE said."

Either that, or I'll just go on bloating the bandwidth like I've always done... one or the other.

Now... back to "Flight Simulator 2004"


Aw, come on GHS, don't do that. I'm a lazy little bitch and I love it when someone else does my job for me if I'm not feeling up to a game of whack-a-mole when I first read it.

All this discussion of maps, charts, etc. reminds me of a story I read somewhere about a curious incident during World War II.

In the spring of 1942, a tide of Japanese conquest rolled over Burma. One of the people caught in this tide was a Gurkha sergeant.

This sergeant had come straight from the hills of northern India with no education to speak of. But he had the brains, guts, determination, and leadership abilities to win his rank in one of Britain's elite Gurkha regiments, and he wasn't going to let a minor detail like the Japanese Army keep him away from safety. And besides, he had a map. He had seen how the British officers used maps for guidance, so he was confident that he could find his way.

The sergeant began to travel westward through the Burmese jungle. He stole food as needed - preferably from Japanese supply dumps. He knifed sentries as opportunity offered, and avoided detection by larger numbers of Japanese troops. Each hill, each river, each town that he encountered was carefully checked off on that map. He invented a system of marks for the map, which he used to indicate the Japanese positions that he encountered. Each morning found him a bit further westward, until eventually he slipped through the final Japanese positions and returned to British India.

The Gurkha sergeant promptly turned his map over to British Military Intelligence, for he knew how valuable his information on Japanese positions could be. He carefully explained his marks, and the intelligence officers listened patiently, congratulated him for his successful escape, and thanked him for the information.

But they never used any of that information in military operations.

Because it was a map of the UndergrounD - the city of London subway system.


I can derive several morals from this story:

-- The correct appraoch is to interpret the map to match the terrain, instead of vice versa.

-- If you have a good longer-term goal, and an idea of how to move toward it, and if you make sound immediate tactical decisions about things like avoiding reefs or Japanese sentries, then even the poorest map cannot lead you astray.

-- A map that appears to be a clear guide to one person may be nonsensical gibberish to somebody else.

Nice story Professor! I love the Gurkha spirit. I even have one of their blades in my collection. It's wicked sharp and my experiments convince me of it's limbing efficacy.

Labrat: I couln't have written a better response to Bloggerhead. Really. No way I'd have come up with anything so eloquent. I'd have probably just called him a lazy little bitch. hehehe

Bill Whittle: I read one of your essays every few days. I am very impressed. Keep up the great work.

funny thing with these hippies --- it's not always the best idea to get them on the deck of a ship to take a good look. ---- "ooooh seals."

sometimes it's more effective to ask them to close their eyes and think reeeeeal haaaard. then punch'em in the beak.

you are my favorite writer.

What is this foolishness about "pure" libertarianism not working? what exactly is "pure libertarianism?" Anarchism? Anarcho-Capitalism (privatization of the Law) ? Those aren't libertarian. They are largely strawmen. Those few who adhere to them are as deluded as socialists.

Perhaps you would prefer if I call myself a classical liberal? I do not wish to be associated with Anarcho-Capitalism.

Also, after much searching I have yet to find an argument that coherently and convincingly refutes Rand's ideas. I have seen nothing but ad hominem attacks upon her (occasionally troubled) life and wildly exaggerated accusations of sexual perversion in Atlas Shrugged.

I'm not going to defend if you just chase windmills. If you want to bitch at me, you're doing it well. But if you want to be taken seriously, give me an argument, not just a statement.

If you're not up to that, my dear Bloggerhead, then I have my opinion, derived from much thought and research, and you have yours.

Regarding "experiments in human nature" called Communism and America, GHS asked the question "But at the STARTS of these two voyages, when the maps AND the visible shorelines were so vague, what was the better determinant of future success?".

The Founders asked essentially this question, but with a much broader scope: "Out of all the forms of government tried in the history of man, why were the bad ones bad and the good ones good?". Building upon the work of thinkers who preceded them, and adding their own observations of history, the Founders were also able to _answer_ the question, and their answer is one that everyone on this blog ought to know already: freedom made the good ones good, and the lack of freedom made the bad ones bad.

The Founders didn't have a fully explicit grasp of why freedom necessarily leads to good results, nor even of what freedom actually is (nobody did at the time), but the key elements of it were fairly clear to them. Those key elements were all philosophic: reason as man's means of knowledge (epistemology), individual lives as ends in themselves rather than as a means to some other end (morality), and individual rights as the means for creating freedom (politics).

Reason, individualism, and rights were the philosophic foundation of America, and they are the foundation of _all_ good governments. Regarding this, the Founders did not think that the "visible shorelines were so vague". Instead, they saw from history that a cause and effect relationship exists between those three philosophic fundamentals and human success. They didn't know of Communism, but they would've told you that it was doomed to failure if they had.

GHS also asked "So what bold new evolutions in human nature might we be misjudging right NOW? Or do we now have sufficient precedents to safely predict everything?". My answer is that it isn't anything new or evolutionary in human nature that people misjudge today, and it isn't even necessarily misjudgment so much as just plain ignorance. People today are ignorant of or misjudge the philosophic foundation of America, and the fully explicit validation of it that was discovered in the 20th century by a certain thinker who isn't very popular today, and whose philosophy has been labeled as "sterile" in opinions quoted in this comments stream.

We _can_ "safely predict everything" ... in _principle_. We can predict with certainty that to the extent that individual rights are respected, human life will flourish; to they extent that they are not, it won't. To see why this is the case requires seeing the connection between rights and the facts of reality (including human nature). For that, gaining a real understanding of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is essential.

Mark Peters

As always, an excellent read. You have the ability to cut through the smoke and go directly to the heart of the matter.

Thank you.

I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

A slightly different, perhaps grumpier approach to answering the question:

On the purely practical level, the founders looked at their surroundings and at history and realized that a significant percentage of human beings are venal, and the rest are imperfect and corruptible. Therefore, they reasoned that power must be strictly limited, and that those holding power must be held accountable for their actions. One of the founders’ primary intents was to limit the evil that men could do to each other with the big stick of government. That’s why it worked.
The founders saw government as a necessary evil. Given that it’s necessary, you got to pick someone to run the thing. You want to select the “best”: ideally the most competent, and most ethical. The founders rejected the old method (selective breeding), and decided to use another method.
Despite all the prattling about “democracy” today, at a practical level, the right to vote isn’t a goal, merely a tool to select good people for government, and then hold them accountable. Limiting the right to vote to those who pass some kind of competency test might exclude the stupid and the incompetent, but it has the potential for those who pass the test to continually re-write the test until the vote belongs exclusively to an ever-smaller, ever-more homogenous group. Universal suffrage limits the ability of a small group to run the system for their own personal good instead of the common good. It also gives the idiot and the crackpot the same voice as the rational thinker, and allows the middle of the bell curve to out-shout the exceptional end. Pat Buchanan’s vote has the same force as Thomas Sowell’s.

Re Objectivism, from what little I’ve read, I find myself in agreement with a great deal of it, but one thing sticks in my throat. Perhaps Objectivism has not been presented to me properly, but Rand seems to have totally rejected any form of benevolence.
A simple question: Why should I risk my life, health, and (highly arguable) good looks rushing into a burning building to save a baby? Under Objectivism, the only reason I should do so seems to be that after rationally weighing the risks and benefits, I conclude that the risk of injury is less than the potential value of the adulation, esteem and praise I might receive for attempting a heroic rescue. If two of my own children were in that burning building, would Rand’s calculus tell me to save the teenager and ignore the infant because I have over a decade of time and effort invested in the teenager, and (with the help of my wife of course) I can easily make another infant?
I’m not trying to disparage Rand, I’m trying to find out whether I have an honest disagreement with one aspect of Objectivism, or a misunderstanding of it. I’m sure there’s more than a few posters on this thread that can help me out. (And before anyone says “read Atlas Shrugged”; it’s on my to do list, along with the rest of Shakespeare, Swift, re-reading the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers…)

As a student at MIT I learned an important lesson about life (through engineering).

One professor--a freshman calculus teacher--refused to grant partial credit on any quizzes or exams. "Answers are right or they're wrong--there is no in-between," he would say. If you performed all of the calculations correctly, for example, but somehow got the sign wrong (+/-), your answer was simply wrong. "If you get the sign wrong on a airfoil, your plane will crash." In other words, you could have all of the theory correct--use the correct progression of formulae, apply the mathematical theory correct, make the correct assumptions--and get the problem wrong in practice.

I had a similar experience in a senior mechanical design class. The first half of the class was devoted to theoretical design; we learned theory, and then made drawings of solutions. The mid-term project was like this, but with a twist. After completing the drawings, and receiving a grade, we were to go into the mechanical design shop and meet with "Tiny", a 300-lb machinist, who would review our designs.

This was an exercise in humility, let me tell you. Tiny would laugh out loud at the +/- 0.001" tolerances on support brackets or the stainless steel spec for bolts. It's not that our designs were bad, per se, but that they were impractical. "What good is a machine or design if no one can build it or use it? Then it's just art."

I don't mean to disparage art, but it is what it is--a means for visual, acoustical, or other enjoyment. Much of social "science" is indeed "art" to its practitioners--not intended for actual, practical use, but for enjoyment, for discussion.

The last assignment of that same design class was to build a machine to achieve a particular task. You were graded on how well your machine worked--not how well it ought to work, not how attractive it was (or you were), but how well it actually performed the task at hand. And so we spent hours (days, weeks) in the machine shop, building and refining our machines--disgarding any fanciful notions of violating the laws of physics or of 0.001 tolerances.

The last day of class we brought out our last, best solutions. Talk about creativity! While the machines tended to fall into general categories of solutions, there were, overall literally hundreds of different solutions to the same problem at hand--nearly all of them viable, working solutions.

Then we had a contest to see which solution was best.

Too often we fail to approach social "tasks at hand" with that same, unflinching focus on the desired result. We talk about the problem, We analyze and debate and reason. To be blunt, we intellectualize. Some of that is useful--surely no one in our design class went into the shop Day 1 and just started banging on parts and machines. But there comes a time when more discussion/debate/analysis adds nothing, and something must simply be tried.

The genius of our government is a sum of all of these things. There was rigorous debate and analysis--in a closed room, away from the public, no less. In the end, though, they did the best thing they could have done. "We've thought it through, now let's go do it." And then they provided for the ammendment process to fix whatever they had forgotten. Genius.

This is what I take away from Bill's excellent essay. Analyze. Review the charts (and maps). Gather all relevant information. Then act, boldly. Course correct, if necessary. Gather more information. Then act again. Acting on hopes that you won't fail where others have failed is folly--use the data that's there! But act you must, and those who choose to review, analyze, debate and intellectualize away problems will always end up on the wrong side of the solutions.

Kind of sorry that Bloggerhead meandered off. Same with cp3 - I was hoping that anyone with sufficient intestinal fortitude to show up and disagree with the herd might have enough to actually stick around.

More fool I.

At any rate, just as a side note, Hong Kong still beats us all hollow in terms of being a more capitalist society than the US.

Much of Africa is way more capitalist than the US - they just lack the underpinnings of the rule of law to hold the whole contraption together.

Showing up and disagreeing with "the herd" with no intention of coming back requires no greater fortitude than agreeing. Either way your actions won't have intimidating consequences.


I would like to reply to your question regarding Ayn Rand's answer to the "baby in a burning building" example you gave. I don't think it would be appropriate, however, to post my reply here, since it isn't relevant to Bill's essay.

My email address is in the header, so send me an email if you're interested in my reply.

Mark Peters

Excellent, excellent essay Bill.

It reminds me of the book Patton's Principles. One of the principles he held can be summed up in two words: Assumptions Kill.

As much as possible, you must always be certain of the facts you're basing your plans on. If you're not SURE of how many tanks you have operational, go find out. If you're not sure where your gasoline supplies are, go find out. If you're not sure what the weather forcast is, go find out. Get the facts. Look out the window.

I work with computerized business informations systems, primarily accounting and inventory control. Think of how many times have you been in a store talking with a salesman and he says something to the effect of, "The computer says we have two on hand. Let me call the warehouse and make sure they're actually available." That's another example of the same approach of actually looking out the window and confirming your maps.

For those who have discounted religion as being invalid, you are making assumptions that ALL religions are false because it's obvious that not all of them can be true. (Remember, Assumptions Kill)

Consider this: Religions are all maps which are intended to provide guidance to both this world and the spiritual world. They can be tested by comparing their map of this world with what we can observe.

For example, in my area there is a company which makes fabulous, highly detailed book sized maps of counties which list every single street existing at the time the map was created. I do not have time to check every single street to verify the accuracy of the maps. However, every instance where I have used those maps has shown them to be accurate. Therefore, I can trust the maps to be accurate in areas which I have not yet visited.

If the map provided by a religion does not match what can be observed, then you can conclude that it is faulty. However, if that map matches the observable world--especially in areas that humans could not have known about at the time of their writing--it can be concluded that the map/religion/worldview is indeed trustworthy.

Shiva Archon,

If one were to read the Bible cover to cover (which I am in the middle of), one would find descriptions of how people will react to the truth. Especially intruiging is 2 Timothy 4:3-4
"for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." In modern English, it says that some people will not listen to the truth, but will seek out people to tell them what they want to hear. Sound familiar? That was written almost 1900 years ago. Jesus also predicted how Christians would be treated, before Christians even existed! Every other religious leader in history has told their followers that things would go splendidly for them if they did what the leader said, but Jesus told his disciples and followers that they would be persecuted for their beliefs. Paul also told his followers that they would be persecuted for their beliefs. The Bible predicted the creation of the country of Isreal, and what events would lead up to it, around 2000 years before it occured. I could go on, but the Bible is shorter than my explanation would be. In short, applying my Pragmatist/Ockham's Razor philosophy, the Bible accurately describes what we have seen and what we currently see, so I see no reason not to believe it will predict what we will see.

On religion: I am not religious not because I believe the Bible is worthless. I think it is, as two people have pointed out, one of the oldest and best paintings of human nature there is, and why shouldn't it be? Religion has been deeply central to community life for thousands of years, and I would be highly disappointed in any religious text that got human nature WRONG.

I am not religious because I do not believe in a deity that takes a personal interest in the affairs of humanity. (And I'm not a deist because I find no practical difference between believing that God set up natural law and left and believing that natural law simply is.) It's logically fallacious to state that because the Bible gets human nature right- something directly observable and central to everybody's experience- it must therefore be right about God and Christ being the son of same. That requires a leap of faith, one which I will not make but don't begrudge others.

I suppose I hold a stricter standard to the idea of "predicting human behavior". If the Bible is to be considered a predictive tool, it should
A) Be right 100% of the time (otherwise it's just a guideline, one of Bill's lighthouses)
B) Be applicable all the time, or at least state when it is not a valid predictive tool.

I'll note that while Christians were persecuted for their beliefs at first, they have been dominant (and even oppressors) for a much larger chunk of their history. Is this predicted? As for predicting the events which lead to the creation of Israel, I'm not sure what it refers to. Are you referring to WW2 and the Holocaust?

I tend to focus much more on individuals rather than trying to make sweeping generalizations on humanity as a whole. While the Bible accurately describes some parts of human nature (stubbornness was your example), individuals are notoriously unpredictable. In the context of Bill's essay, the Bible does not tell us tell us how people will behave, it merely explains some aspects of human nature (the "useful lighthouse"). It cannot tell us how certain nations will respond to being attacked, for example. It will not predict whether or not Iraqi's will accept American occupation of fight it.

As it cannot be applied to any kind of specific situation, I would not call it a valid predictive tool of human behavior. Analysis of recorded history seems to be the best way to take a guess at how people will behave now, but even that is unreliable.


Your standard "A" is an impossible thing to live up to. Quantum physics allows for phenomina like quantum tunneling, and granted, the likelyhood that a macroscopic object will suddenly tunnel over six inches is so low, that it would take much longer than the lifetime of the universe to observe such a phenomenon. However, it is still a non-zero chance. So in applying that standard to any kind of predictive tool is to raise the bar so high that nothing can function effectively as a predictive tool.

B is a bit better, but alos raises the problem that often times one doesn't know when a predictive tool fails to function until it actually does. For instance, Newtonian physics works well in every-day applications, but it took several hundred years for it to be augmented by quantum and relativtistic physics. In other words, we didn't have any good notion of when it could be used and when it would fail for quite some time. This approach of throwing out the baby with the bath water in selection of predictive tools lends itself to another set of problems. This chain of thought would suggest that since quantum physics doesn't operate well at the microscale any more than relativistic physics operates at the microscale, and that Newtonian physics operates well at the every day scale, but fails at both the micro and macro levels, that none of the three models should be used. Even if you argue that you can use all three in conjunction, your criterion that once should be able to "state when it is not a predicitve tool" - this too is not altogether that easy. Many times we can only note that it fails when it does - if we knew in advance when a predictive system would fail, then we would never make inaccurate predictions.

Very well, I'll elaborate. I'm aware of heisenburg uncertainty and the like. However quantum effects on macroscopic objects are so ridiculously low that they are neglected in every single analysis of a large object. For example, I would confidently state that the laws of thermodynamics are right 100% of the time. No, if you really want to nitpick with quantum effects, they aren't. I don't consider an effect which is neglected in every single analysis to damage the predictive abilities of a theory.

Gotta go to class, back defending my B point in a bit.

I use the quantum effects as an example, but one might also consider the good ole PV=nRT equation. Again, another case of something with less than 100% predictive ability and no binary "won't work here" status of accuracy. But still good enough.

The bar you set is too high for even the physical sciences, let alone engineering. It is much more appropriate to the purely abstract and conceptual realms of things like mathematics.

Applying such rigorous standards to anything whatsover that deals with spectacularly messy humans is goody, insofar as you pretty much guarantee that no predictive system will be good enough to lend insight into the human creature.

Here's Chomsky himself:

Since it's written, one would suspect it easier to understand than an interview, but that is not the case. I tried to extract the 3 million figure directly to replicate the comment at April 2, 2004 03:56 PM, but my head hurts trying to understand Chomsky. Excuse me while I go up above for a breath of fresh air.

Dear Bill,
Its not a trap, its a con game. Philosophy is one of the oldest con games in town.
Look at Plato's Republic and the Philosopher King. And come on, you didn't really think Rousseu really meant all that crap about "noble savages" did you?
Both the King and the Noble Savage will need an adviser. Its the best gig in the world. All the authority, if only indirectly, and none of the responsibility. If things go to the dogs, well, its the King's fault. Not his loyal adviser. The old king just ignored the good advise he had been given. Besides the new boss will need assistance in putting things back together after the revolution.

Concerning Rand. I understand, (or rather think I do) why she is a bad girl in philosophy. She was a witness for the prosecution in the (in)famous House UnAmerican Affairs Committee hearings on Hollywood. She gave a protrayal of at least one of the films as pure Soviet propaganda. She was a former Soviet citizen who left, found a new life here in America, and LOVED it.

There are points in her philosophy that I disagree with, especially her atheism. However, I find that it is an irrelavant point. Whether God exists or not, capitalism still works. It works far better than communism or socialism or really any other economic theory that I have seen.

I find very little to argue against in her works on epistemology, or her metaphysics, with the exception of her theology. I think she made a declarative statement that is neither refutable nor verifiable, which I also think is contrary to the rest of her philosophy.

In morality, she has done much to put morality on a more rational and firm basis, with her rejection of both Kantian altruism as well as Neitszchean selfishness.

Economics and politics, I see many of her points as valid. She did not have much good to say about Libertarians, but she backed up her views with fact and logical argument. Her arguments against communism are superb, and almost rank to the level of Hayek in my opinion.

The fact that a "cult of personality" has grown around her work, I think is stifling, and hilariously ironic. Since this is something that she argued against in the strongest possible terms.

As to her views on art, I don't really feel I can judge. I see art as appealing primarily to the subjective, to the consciousness. While I can't say I am too fond of artists whose work looked like something from a kindergarten class, I do see this as a matter of taste, style, and ultimately subjective.

As for the burning baby scenario, WHO CARES WHAT RAND SAID? Of for that matter any other philosopher or speaker in all history? You do what you think is right and that action will have consequences. If you can live with the fact you let a poor innocent baby burn to death, fine. You are the one that has to live with it. If you think the risk of burning yourself is low enough, or the expected outcome great enough, (in your perception) you save the baby. Rand, Kant, Neitzsche, Rousseu or Marx, not even Plato and Aristotle are going to be standing with you in the final court. You live your life.

You don't treat these guys as unerring authorities, nor do you hand any kind of responsiblity to them. You are the one who has to live with your consequences.

You want an unerring map, you are going to have to draw it yourself. And that means opening the hatchway and looking outside, yourself. It means some amount of thinking, but the thinking is really secondary to the actions. If you screw up, it does not matter if you thought too much, too little, about the right things or the wrong things. None of the consequences involved have anything to do with your intentions or your reasoning, (or lack thereof) Your actions will get the baby saved. Your actions will steer the ship.

Granted your actions are based on your thinking, but it is your actions that are important. Your thinking may be the source of those actions, but it is the actions independent of your thinking that generate the changes to reality you have to face.

"Which way are the rafts headed?"

Indeed Mr. Whittle, that's the veritable hammer strike on the proverbial nail's head.

The gentleman who argues that these rafts were too late an indicator of whether Fidel Castro's popular movement was a good idea or a bad idea, and that the discussion in the late fifties would not have taken under consideration the movements of these rafts, fails to realize that the rafts began moving North from the instant that El Comandante seized power. No doubt the early rafts were more luxurious, carrying the cream of Cuban society, the doctors, the lawyers, the aristocracy.

But the rafts moved north nevertheless.

Whether Castro’s movement was a good one or not was never truly the question for those more "in tune" with the issue; Castro began working for the Soviet Union in 1943, and to those "in the know", he was clear and present danger.

Those rafts are evident today elsewhere Mr. Whittle, they’re headed north out of Caracas, Baranquillo, Barquisimeto, Maracaibo, and La Guaira. First, la sociedad, next the working class, then finally, los campesinos on foot across the Andes.

But then again, the rafts have always headed the same way, haven't they?

They sailed from Tralee, Cork City, and Cobh.

They sailed from Hamburg.

They sailed from Haiti.

"Which way are the rafts headed?"

The same way they've always headed Mr. Whittle.

Toward that "shining city upon a hill", that truly does exist just beyond the waves.

Thank you for a truly memorable and inspiring website.


Luis Gonzalez
The Banana Republican

There is a question that follows directly from Bill's application of observation and logic, and that I am sure many here have asked themselves as I have. In a country that affords these so called "intellectuals" with the same rights and political power as those with common sense and reason on their side, how do the reasonable use the power of government to encourage and promote reason?

Rand's answer, which applies to a fictional extreme case is for the reasonable to withdraw from society and rebuild once the "intellectuals" have destroyed themselves. While Rand provides a great answer, it is as I said an answer to a fictional and extreme case.

So then, what is the answer for our relatively mild affliction of "intellectualism"?

I expect that many people would say there is no panacea for this problem, and the goal of the reasonable should be to contain it, and limit it where possible. While I agree with this, I am hoping for something more. I have spent some time trying to reason through a solution, but have only been able to come up with a policy of containment.

Any here have any ideas?

Of course in Bill's fashion I will not be taking these responses as fact. I am merely curious what people have to say, to see if anyone here has any theories that seem to fit with what I have observed.

Let’s face it; the usefulness of money is over

It is obvious; we have allowed the use of money to control our way of life. We are no longer a free people. The following link will direct you to an essay addressed to President Bush. It proposes a way of life without money. Yes, I believe the USA should become one big kibbutz similar to the ones which now exist in Israel:

John Steinsvold

The Human Race has improved everything except the Human Race.
Adlai Stevenson

I think things are much worse than merely having an incorrect map: the _methods_ by which people make their maps are wrong, thus guaranteeing that any accuracy in their maps is just blind luck.