Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Nullius in verba / Follow-up: Who are the science deniers?

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Checking a detail about the Royal Society on infogalactic, I came across the RS motto, “Nullius in verba”, explained as:*

*Some change to formatting through copy-and-paste and/or for technical reasons. Reference indicators removed.

Nullius in verba (Latin for “on the word of no one” or “Take nobody’s word for it”) is the motto of the Royal Society. John Evelyn and other Royal Society fellows chose the motto soon after the founding of the Society. The current Royal Society website explains the motto thus:

It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

(I note especially “withstand the domination of authority”. Whether “by experiment” is the sole source of verification, even for scientists, is open to dispute, and it is certainly impractical for the layman; however, the general idea of own verification definitely holds, even be it in the weaker form of checking with independent sources for, say, a prospective voter listening to the claims of a political partisan.)

This is a scientific attitude—and the virtual opposite of what e.g. Fauci and various Leftist “Believe the science!” and “We are the party of science!” shitheads try to force upon the world, often while making claims unsupported or outright contradicted by science… I particularly re-iterate my observation that “Science says X!” is no more and no less credible than just “X!”, unless accompanied by actual proof that science indeed says X.

I ask again, Who are the science deniers?—and, again, the answer is “the Leftists”.

(Also see a few other texts on various related topics, including [1].)


Written by michaeleriksson

January 30, 2023 at 7:18 pm

With what right does X claim to be Y?

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Recently, I asked “With what right do[es] various organisations, groups of activists, and similar claim to speak for others? (And do they truly serve the interests of these others?)”.

Similarly, we might ask e.g. “With what right does X claim to be Y?” and “On what basis do others claim that X is Y?”.

Such questions are highly relevant for various political entities, e.g. relating to countries and cities. Take the City* of New York: Depending on point of view, this could be taken to legitimately mean different things, including (a) the buildings and infrastructure that make up the physical city, (b) the sum of all those who live within the city, (c) the area where these buildings, inhabitants, whatnot are located (with or without a prescribed border). What is meant, however, is often something illegitimate, namely “the government [administration, whatnot] of the City of New York” (or something similar). Certainly, politicians very often seem to fail to understand the difference between a city or a country as such and the respective associated governmental organisation(s). Indeed, in many cases, especially on the Left and/or during the COVID-countermeasure era, it seems that many politicians view the purpose of the country-as-such as keeping the government running, instead of the government to keep the country-as-such running, and/or are unable to perceive any difference between the two.** (However, the issue is not restricted to what e.g. politicians think, how politicians use a certain phrase, and similar. Often, the issue resides with the attitudes or language use of others, as will be clearer below.)

*Examples following such a pattern, here to disambiguate with the State of New York, are unusually easy to understand and, often, more “in the face”. However, the overall issue is by no means restricted to mere names. (Note that, in any given case, the official name need not adhere to such a pattern, even when the pattern is used colloquially.) The issue might be larger in Germany, where I have the impression that “Stadt” (“city” or “town”) is often prepended for the specific purpose of pointing to the government of the city, which is idiotic.

**The latter is strongly overlapping with totalitarianism.

This is the more frustrating as governments, beyond a certain and usually long exceeded size, tend to do more or far more harm than good, and as a world with parallel societies might be an improvement.

Particular signs of a faulty attitude on a city level include the nonsense of “twinning”* in the name of the city and excessive city-planning projects** that are often rejected by the citizens, do much damage to them, harm small businesses, would be better left to the commercial sector, whatnot—but years down the line give the politicians a shinier toy to be proud of. Then there is nonsense like “X has no place for racism/intolerance/whatnot”, where a small group presumes to dictate to others, including those who have lived in X for far longer, what they are allowed or not allowed to think in order to remain in X… (Off topic, this is the worse as what is called “racism” usually is not, as intolerance is usually far more common in this small group than among the allegedly intolerant, etc. Cf. any number of earlier texts.)

*This does virtually nothing for the regular citizens, but does give the politicians an excuse to travel, to play at being international “somebodies”, and to show that they are doing something. For my part, I view twinning as proof that the politicians/administrators have too much spare time and too large a budget on their hands. Twinning ties should be severed and forbidden, the money saved be returned to the citizens, and politicians/administrators either be set to do real work or have their positions removed.

**I still think back with horror at the way Düsseldorf tried to commit suicide during my years there, through one of the largest and most poorly planned turn-the-city-on-its-head projects that I have ever seen. The main cost was ultimately carried by the people, including those who had massive delays in their daily commutes for several years and those who ran mom-and-pop stores and found themselves cut off from their customers.

Similarly, consider sports and what organisations have what weight. For instance, yesterday, I wrote of Djokovic’s official return to the top, but what is the implication of “official”?* As long as I spoke of e.g. “official ATP rankings”, this was not a problem, because the ATP can naturally determine its own rankings. When we look at more general “officialness”, however, this fails; and it might even be argued that the idea of “official rankings” (as opposed to “official ATP rankings”) is nonsensical.** There is certainly nothing to stop someone else from posting his own rankings,*** and historically**** many have. It is not even clear what organisation should, in some sense, be considered the main candidate for “official”—the ATP or the ITF. (Similar claims apply to the WTA rankings, the WTA vs. the ITF, etc.)

*The modifier “official” is one of many to drift considerably in meaning over time, to the point that its use often borders on a meaningless filler. However, the most common meaning (or family of meanings) seem to relate to communication/approval/whatnot by some organisation or other, which becomes near pointless when the organisation is left out of the sentence or, worse, takes on something almost mystical when the mental connection to the organisation is forgotten and/or the organisation is implicitly seen as an authority beyond fault, doubt, and differences in opinion.

**This applies equally to e.g. cities: “per official city-government policy” might make sense, while “per official city policy” is nonsensical. (The shift in topic is only apparent.)

***Indeed, my own writings on Djokovic and his artificial handicaps amount to this in miniature, in that I point to him as the true number one—no matter what the ATP claimed at the time. (The “miniature” arises from the sudden end of my “rankings” after awarding the number-one ranking.)

****In the days before the ATP rankings and during the pre-open era in particular. Back then, there was a niche to fill. Today, the ATP rankings and the unification of pros and amateurs has reduced the need. (A case for a continued need might be made on the basis that the ATP rankings do not so much reflect “who is better than whom” as “who has participated with greater success in certain competitions than whom”, which can amount to very different things in some situations, e.g. when one player, like Djokovic in 2022, is unfairly barred from competition and the others are not.)

The ATP rankings still have some degree of “canonicity”, as there are no major other rankings and as the pattern of competition within the sport is so tightly tied to the rankings, but boxing is a different matter—and here we see that there are other ways to handle the issue than through a single, unified rankings and a single, all-important organisation:* Not only are there several competing federations that fill a similar role to the ATP in tennis (e.g. the IBF, WBA, WBC, WBO), which all bring their own rankings, but there are several “unaffiliated” rankings (e.g. by Ring Magazine, BoxRec, and TBRB), which are often taken more seriously.**

*Note that I do not necessarily call this a better way: boxing is a complete mess in terms of champions and rankings, and I would like to see it done much better before recommending the approach. The point, however, is that there are other ways to handle the issue.

**For a variety of reasons, up to and including suspicions that the federation-rankings are sometimes manipulated to achieve certain purposes. More generally, however, it is much harder to rank boxers, as they compete much more rarely than tennis players. A typical champion in boxing might fight once or twice a year; the likes of Djokovic have dozens of matches per year.

Or consider the case of athletics and world records. Looking at e.g. news reporting, it is not uncommon to see claims that this-or-that would or would not be a world record or that this-or-that would be a mere “world’s best”, because no world record is recognized. (Sometimes with, sometimes without our old friend “official”.) Taken literally, this is, again, nonsensical; taken as a short-hand for e.g. “[not] recognized as a world record by the IAAF”, it has some justification. Now, the IAAF* has considerable advantages relative others through its greater resources, great involvement with individual competitions, its status as organiser** of e.g. world championships, and similar, but it simply does not determine what is or is not a world record—only what results it considers to be world records. While there are no competing organisations of a similar type (like tennis; unlike boxing), others have other approaches. For instance, “Track & Field News”, a very notable athletics magazine and collector/supplier of statistics, has its own set of world records, lists of results, and whatnot, that, on rare occasions, deviate from the IAAF’s. (As well as its own world rankings, which often deviate.) Most notably, it did not recognize Randy Barnes 23.12m mark in the shot put, which the IAAF had as a world record for more than thirty years, preferring Ulf Timmerman’s even older 23.06m. (Both marks have since been exceeded without controversy, removing this disagreement as far as the current record goes.) For my part, I do not recognize altitude marks as world records, including Bob Beamon’s legendary 8.90m. Go back in time and there are plenty of marks near-unanimously considered world records that pre-date the very existence of the IAAF… There are also instances where a national federation can recognize a mark and the IAAF not, and similar complications.***

*I deliberate choose not to use the still far less known, too-short-to-be-recognizable, highly presumptuous, and even pretentious “WA” (for “World Athletics”), but I do note that this name appears to reflect exactly the problematic attitude that is discussed in parts of this text. Note how much more descriptive and non-presumptuous “International Association of Athletics Federations” is. (I have an upcoming text on use of names.)

**With reservations for exact terminology and roles. The idea is that it has its own set of world championships and that, to my knowledge, there are no competing world championships within athletics. (With reservations for divisions based on e.g. age groups that do not affect the “main” championships.) However, strictly speaking, and in line with the above, it is slightly sloppy to speak of just “world champion” instead of e.g. “IAAF world champion”.

***According to some recent remark in a forum, the IAAF might currently even refuse to recognize any and all marks not made in a meet on some IAAF-run schedule or calendar. However, I have not looked into this.

Looking further, consider the WEF (and maybe some similar organisations): This highly presumptuous and pretentious “World Economic Forum”, has no true status as anything. It is, for instance, not a UN sub-organisation, not derived from the G8, and not a global parallel to NAFTA and EFTA. Neither is it e.g. an organisation formed by the leading economists of the world, an economic and international parallel to the British Royal Society, an international scientific conference, … In fact, it was originally hardly anything. My suspicion is that Schwab applied the idea of “fake it until you make it”, used tricks like picking a fancy name to give the impression that the WEF was the authority, the “in crowd”, the whatnot, and then waited and hoped that sufficiently many would fall for the trick to make the claim match reality. Unfortunately, he appears to have been largely successful in this regard.

Excursion on the likes of the WHO:
Somewhat similar ideas as for the WEF and some sports organisations might apply to e.g. the WHO, especially in that the WHO appears to have decided that “we are the medical authority and you others should follow our lead—preferably, by law”, something recently pushed very strongly in the wake of the COVID-countermeasure era. (The worse, as a sole organisation taking the lead would increase the risk of global overreaction and reduce the possibility for saner approaches, as used in Sweden.) However, the WHO is a UN-run organisation and it is implicitly backed by or in interaction with most of the world’s governments. While I do not think that highly of the WHO, and while I have a quite low opinion of the UN as a whole, it is fundamentally different from the WEF’s “fake it until you make it”.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 30, 2023 at 6:00 pm

Follow-up II: On the idiocy of reparations to U.S. Blacks

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In early December 2022, I wrote about the idiocy of reparations to U.S. Blacks (cf. [1], [2]).

Since then, there have been repeated reports (e.g. by CNN) that the already ridiculous prior Californian recommendation of 223 thousand USD had been upped to an amount that must be considered utterly absurd, even literally insane—5 million.* (In addition to which there has been talk of separate on-going payments.) To put this in perspective, consider e.g. that (a) 5 million USD is likely to exceed the life-time income of most individuals even** in the U.S., (b) for most, it is outright and immediate retirement money and, with the right investments, it would be enough to live very comfortably from birth to death of old age, (c) there appears to have been almost 22 million millionaires in the U.S. as of February 2022, while there are currently around twice that many Blacks. Looking at (c), far from all of those Blacks would eligible, even should the scheme be made nationwide, but there would still be a very, very major shift in the demographics of millionaires and the proportion of Black quintuple millionaires would be far higher than for e.g. Whites, showing how correspondingly disproportionate the amount would be, even if we were to accept the (faulty) premise that reparations were a good idea.

*In both cases, per Black fulfilling some set of criteria that are in no proportion to the amount at hand.

**The incomes of high-earners in e.g. Germany, let alone e.g. Sweden, tend to be much smaller than in the U.S. (Moreover, international, and to some part intra-national, comparisons must consider factors like local purchasing power.)

Indeed, the amount is so utterly absurd that I see it as near* sufficient proof of a deliberate attempt to implement one of my items in [2], that the amounts are intended to “(a) driv[e] up enthusiasm among the potential recipients, (b) prevent[] reparations from actually being implemented. This will then create a near perpetual Noble Cause, which the Left could milk for decades.”.

*The level of derangement of the Left must not be underestimated and I cannot rule out that some combination of grave incompetence, derangement, and, indeed, literal insanity is the true explanation. Then again, more than one simultaneous explanation is possible.

From another perspective, there are valid causes for reparations to other groups that are never raised.* Consider e.g. the damage done by politicians through flawed COVID-countermeasures, high taxes with disproportionately small benefits, artificially lowered growth, the recent high inflation, and whatnot. A much more worthy action would be to e.g. demand reparations from Leftist voters to non-Leftist voters; from the likes of Biden, Trudeau, Merkel to their respective peoples; from the likes of Fauci, Birx, Ferguson to those who have been left suffering in the wake of their lies or incompetence;** from those who voted in favor of flawed measures in plebiscites to those who voted against;*** etc.

*Also note remarks in [1] on reparations from Blacks to the rest of the population.

**Of course, even the sum of the private fortunes of these would just be a drop in the ocean, but I speak in principle. (Other practical problems often occur, e.g. how to identify who-voted-how with certainty and without unduly violating the secrecy of the ballot.)

***Consider e.g. the Swedish plebiscite on nuclear power, which resulted in the decision to abolish—contrary to what was reasonable even with the knowledge of the time. While this has still not happened, more than forty years later, there has/have been a severe reduction in prior capacity, a failure to add new capacity, a failure to research new and better nuclear technologies, increased energy costs, increased pollution, and similar (relative a Sweden with a more sensible outcome). (Here and below, I gloss over complications like that the ballots arguably were rigged and that Swedish plebiscites are only advisory. Cf. e.g. parts of [3].)

Excursion on voting and security deposits:
An interesting idea is that some types of vote might be combined with a security deposit* proportionate to the stakes involved. This would reduce the number of voters and might skew the voting demographic, but it would also force the voters to put their money where their mouths are and would give the victims of flawed decisions some recompense. Take Sweden and nuclear power (cf. above footnote): With a deposit of (the equivalent of) a thousand modern USD, the decision might have gone the other way; if it did not, there might have been a considerable sum available to reduce the negative effects, to restart nuclear-power programs, and similar.

*To be repaid immediately to those on the losing side of the vote and at some predefined time, when consequences are expected to be clear, to those on the winning side—unless, of course, the consequences are negative, in which case the deposits are used for damage control, reparations, whatnot.

(Beware that this is a spur of the moment idea that would need considerably more thought before any actual implementation attempt. A particular issue is how to prevent politicians from denying actual consequences and from pushing absurd priorities in the face of problems, as Germany has done with nuclear power after Fukushima.)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 28, 2023 at 2:59 am

Activists vs. group members and causes

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Two overlapping backlog items in an abbreviated treatment:

  1. There is a major difference between being opposed to activists for a certain cause/group/whatnot and being opposed to the cause/group/whatnot as such. This in particular as the opposition to the activists is usually rooted in negative behaviors and attitudes by the activists, e.g. hateful rhetoric,* exaggeration or outright lies, language distortion, extreme and/or unfair methods, pushing of “us vs. them” polarization, a continual moving of goal posts, a refusal to consider different perspectives, …** In particular, there are many who are on board with a general cause, e.g. “save the environment”, but are not on board with the variation of the cause proposed by activists, e.g. ideas like “Ban all X within ten years—no matter the cost! Or we will all die!”. Similarly, there is a very major difference between disagreeing with the methods used by some activists and disagreeing with the underlying cause. Consider e.g. the recent attacks on art by environmental extremists, in order to, somehow, by some miraculous effect, achieve some positive effect entirely unrelated to art.

    *A particular annoyance, as this hateful rhetoric is very often based in the claim that others would be hateful, which usually seems to be either projection or an outright lie. Similarly, those who speak of the need for tolerance and condemn alleged intolerance in others are often, themselves, extremely intolerant. Etc.

    **My older writings contain a great many examples involving Feminists.

    In the past, I have repeatedly used the example of how some who oppose Islamism* are condemned as opposing (even “hating”) Muslims. A more relevant example in the current climate is the LGBT-etc.-etc.** movement(s), and especially the trans-mania: For a good many years, this movement and its activists have been obnoxious and destructive—and having a negative attitude towards them is just common sense. This attitude, however, need not in the slightest reflect personal opinion about e.g. gays.*** I, for instance, have no objections to gays, be it as persons or with regard to their private sexual activities and preferences—but I rarely have more than contempt left for those who (in today’s Western world) shout loudly about homophobia, try to force soccer players to wear rainbow bracelets, or whatever might apply. Similarly, how would a preference for using words in their established meanings and pronouns in a grammatically correct manner be transphobic? On the contrary, the insistence by trans-activist that words should be used in incorrect meanings and pronouns misapplied is deeply offensive, irrational, and preposterous. How is it transphobic to not be “gender affirmative” (or whatever the phrase du jour might be) when a young teen wants to take hormones and have surgery? With an eye at history, the contrasting suddenness of the movement, how impressionable teens can be, and how many transitioners are now claiming to regret the transition, it is just common sense, not transphobia, to tread very carefully and to wait for a more mature decision.****

    *Often specifically violent or extreme Islamism, calls for sharia, calls for an adaption of local norms to match those of Islam, and similar.

    **The grouping of these into one single unity is often highly misleading and/or an example of the fellow-traveler fallacy. A case can be made for grouping L, G, and, maybe, B in many contexts, but T is usually of a very different nature, and the “etc.-etc.” part is anyone’s guess—especially as the number of letters is ever changing. Even a mere LG is unlikely to make universal sense. However, for the sake of ease of formulation, and with an eye at the use of very similar methods by various activists, I will ignore this complication.

    ***However, there is a risk that loudmouth activists dominate the impressions of certain groups outside these groups, which can lead to unfair generalizations, effectively transferring a dislike of the activists to the group that the activists claim to represent. In this manner, the activists can, themselves, unnecessarily create the very problem that they protest against.

    ****I am open to the possibility that someone can be born with a brain–body mismatch in terms of sex; however, the low past frequency of documented cases points to this being a very rare occurrence. When very, very many of today’s teens, in a comparatively sudden change, claim to be trans-this or trans-that, the true explanation is more likely to be outside pressure, fashion, insecurity, a search for a solution to various problems, attention getting, or something similar—not a true mismatch. Note that any argument based on a permanency of effects, e.g. that a transition is harder post-puberty, hits equally or more strongly in the other direction, as various measures have permanent effects and many are worse than the effects of inaction. Such arguments cannot be used to overcome the very high likelihood of a false positive.

    Note, similarly, how many groups on the Left seem to transfer personal dislikes into statements about groups. For instance, an attitude of “You don’t want Hillary for POTUS? You don’t want women to have power!” was quite common in 2016, when the true explanation, of course, was that Hillary, personally and specifically, was and is utterly unsuitable for the office. Indeed, many of those who opposed Hillary would have had no objections to a reincarnated Thatcher—and I was, myself, strongly in favor of Merkel until she had proved herself to be more-or-less the opposite of what she had promised to be.*/** For instance, during Obama’s presidency and/or in the campaigns, it was not uncommon to see criticism of Obama painted as “racism”, never mind that the same criticism would have been directed at a White man pushing the same politics. (Does Biden get a free pass from Conservatives for being a White man? Hell no!)

    *By 2016 I knew better, but in 2008 I was simultaneously still (naively) in favor of Merkel and (correctly) viewing Hillary as a disastrous candidate.

    **I have to admit that my experiences with female politicians (and women in leadership positions in general), including how disturbingly many of them seem to be far-Left nutcases, incompetent (even by the standards of politicians), or otherwise unsuitable for power, have made me increasingly sceptical. However, I do not rule out a given woman because she is a woman—but because (if) she is a far-Left nutcase, etc. Vice versa, I would not “rule in” a given man because he is a man and regardless of factors like his political positions.

  2. With what right does various organisations, groups of activists, and similar claim to speak for others? (And do they truly serve the interests of these others?)

    Consider “Autism Speaks”, a self-proclaimed pro-autis[tm] organisation, the very name of which makes it a great example: Many autists* and their relatives have been extremely critical towards the attitude of “Autism Speaks”, often seeing it as outright anti-autis[tm], prejudiced against autists, and/or using autism as a money-generating cause. They certainly do not see it as speaking for them or giving them a voice. On the contrary, I have seen the accusation that “Autism Speaks” would steal the voice that they might otherwise have had.

    *The utterly irrational abomination that is “people-first language” is another reason to despise the type of activist from the first item and I will not engage in this nonsense.

    Similar issues have to be raised with a great many others: Do e.g. LGBT-etc.-etc. activists speak for the actual Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts? Many might claim to do so, but chances are that they just happen to, themselves, be Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts with a certain set of opinions and whatnots that might or, critically, might not be shared by the rest. Worse, some of them might be “allies”, opportunists, general activists, idiots looking for a cause to fill their lives, or whatnot—without even being members of the group at hand. Certainly, any individual group member is likely to have a much wider and more nuanced range of opinions and (political/societal) preferences than the activist movement. Certainly, I hope that a great many find the modern LGBT-etc.-etc. movement(s) as distasteful as I do.

    To what degree does this-or-that “liberation organisation” actually speak for those to be liberated? Do those using bombs and violence to “free” the Northern Irish, the Basques, the Palestinians, whatnot, truly have the support of the respective group—or have they just given themselves the right name and presumed to speak for everyone?

    Of course, the problem could be argued even in regular politics: even a democratically elected candidate or party does not necessarily have the support of a majority of the eligible voters, a unanimous backing is unheard of in elections of non-trivial size, and even many of those who voted in favor might have done so on e.g. a “lesser evil” basis. Nevertheless, the elected often presume to claim to speak for the same people. Worse, Leftist parties/candidates have often displayed an attitude that “if you are X, you have to vote for us”.

Excursion on personal disapproval vs. norm breaking:
A further confounding factor in the area of the first item could be the difference between personal disapproval of some X and awareness that X breaks the norms. For instance, if I watch/read some work playing in the past or otherwise in a society with different norms, I do take notice when I spot some behavior contrary to my perceptions of the norms of the time. This does not imply that I, personally, disapprove of the behavior, but it could well mean that those of the right era would have and/or that the author had some specific intent that must be interpreted in light of the older norms.* Take a woman driving a car: Today, this is entirely unremarkable, but go back far enough and few women had the skills and were sufficiently trusted (or owned their own cars), never mind what women were or were not supposed to do. If, then, a woman of yore jumps into the driver’s seat and takes off, chances are that this has implications for her character, the situation at hand, whatnot, and that we really should pay attention. On a more meta-level, violations of, for instance, the old Motion Picture Production Code are a legitimate reason to take note—even when one does not agree with the code or consider the violation noteworthy by today’s standards.

*Including the possibility that the norm breaking was a wrong (morally, pragmatically, with an eye at consideration for others, or similar) as such, regardless of how sensible the norm was. (Be it in the eyes of the author, because he had a breaking-the-norms-is-wrong attitude, or on a more objective level, because the norm at hand was sufficiently good in context that it should not have been broken. To the latter, I cannot come up with a good “major” example off the top of my head, but consider violations of grammar rules and reasonable etiquett for “minor” examples: such rules might ultimately be arbitrary, but violating them can still do harm.)

Written by michaeleriksson

January 26, 2023 at 7:39 pm

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History is written by the victors—for a time

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Sometimes a saying can come close to the truth and still miss the point.

A good example is “history is written by the victors”, where the truth is that “history is written by those in control” or, more generally, “the X is determined by those in control”. (Where “X” can be e.g. “historiography”,* “narrative”, “debate”; where “control” should be taken in a wide sense; and where the question “Control of what?” can have different answers. Cf. below. For simplicity of formulation and examples, I will focus on the original in this text—notwithstanding that a great many examples of e.g. control of narrative can be found in recent years.)

*See [1] for some remarks on the words “historiography” and “revisionis[tm]”.

Certainly, the victors are usually in control—but only for a time and often with other restrictions, e.g. in terms of geography, risk of subversion, inability to control the narrative, whatnot. Consider e.g. how the WWI victors tried to paint WWI as almost exclusively Germany’s fault, but the “Dolchstoßlegende” still thrived and helped Hitler gain power.*

*That the WWII historiography, even within Germany, went much more strictly down the Allied line is likely a mixture of the far greater control that the victors had over Germany and a greater realisation of the importance of propaganda and control of narrative. (The actual level of Germany culpability for the wars is, while not unimportant, secondary in this specific context.)

More generally, even victors of wars are rarely sufficiently dominantly victorious to have a long-term control over the historiography of the vanquished—and their control over the historiography of neutrals and allies might often only be indirect. At least in the past, the historiography of the same events in different countries could be radically different in light of local perspectives, what served the local regime, who was in local control, etc.*

*A significant upside of this was that those interested could always gain access to more than one take on a certain event or development, allowing them to form their own opinions, to expose fraudulent takes, and to synthesize different takes for a better approximation of the truth/a more complete picture. Today, this opportunity is lessened, especially as the local aspect is replaced by an ideological drive that supersedes the quest for truth and is too often the same in different works and in different countries.

Looking within a country, even victory in a war can be given a different spin over time, as e.g. a new ideological or social group grows dominant or as the perception of what historiography has the greatest pragmatical* benefit changes.** Consider e.g. various views of the U.S. Civil War over time, the apparent systematic campaign by the current U.S. Left to turn every single Southerner of old into an irredeemably evil racist and supporter of slavery; how the issue of secession, and who was in the right or the wrong regarding secession, is increasingly drowned out and ignored; and how the U.S. Democrats were, in that day, the pro-slavery party and, later, the “Jim Crow” party, while the current propaganda line appears to be “we Democrats are pro-Black and anti-slavery—we have always been pro-Black and anti-slavery” and “them Republicans are anti-Black and pro-slavery—they have always been anti-Black and pro-slavery”.***

*Usually, but not necessarily, in the sense of “how do we get the masses to do what we want them to do”.

**It might also change, of course, through a progress in research, but here the big picture tends to change only very slowly, changes are, I suspect, more likely for events further back in time, and this type of change is off topic. However, it seems quite likely that changes to historiography that arise through on-topic causes are presented as arising from a genuine change of scientific understanding—no matter the truth. In the case of e.g. the infamous “1619 Project” the intent appears to be not just to manipulate public opinion through revisionist historiography—but also to remodel the field of history…

***Something not just historically ridiculous, but something offensive even in the now: Firstly, Democrats largely seem to view Blacks as a source of votes and other types of political support—nothing more, nothing less. Secondly, Democrat politics appear to have been very bad for the Black population. (The “pro-slavery” part in the now is slightly hyperbolic, in that such accusations are rare, if, sadly, not unheard of. The inclusion is mostly for reasons of symmetry. However, both the past “pro-slavery” and the current “anti-black” are quite real.)

Consider the fictional abuse of history in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”: The constant revisionism was enabled by control, not victory. Indeed, if the apparent* situation is taken at face value, victory would not have been welcomed, as it would have lessened the excuses available to keep a strict control.

*My last reading is quite a few years back, but I suspect that no actual proof was ever given that external enemies existed. Theoretically, then, we could have had a continual stream of false-flag attacks to create the impression of an enemy. If someone has sufficient control over the available news reporting, narrative, whatnot, this would not have been that hard to pull off. (Which gives a good example of a non-historiographical control over something to a similar effect as historiographical control.)

Similarly, looking at the real and current world, whoever controls the propagation of historical knowledge or “knowledge”, e.g. through media, publishing, and schools can pretty much dictate what is considered the truth about history—even when the actual truth is something very different. Other takes on history might well be present in older works, especially printed ones, but how often will they be read relative newer works? Will not schools and colleges prioritize newer works over older? (And, in as far as older works are read, note how the modern Left follows an apparently systematic approach of condemning almost everything old as wrong, racist, whatnot, implying that the reader might be inoculated into discounting dissent without actually checking the facts.) Also see an excursion on digital books and censorship.

A good recent example is how the losers of the COVID-debacle proclaim themselves the victors—and, largely, get away with it because they are in control: We now know e.g. that the lockdowns were a horribly misguided mistake, which wrecked the economy for nothing and might well have cost more lives than the (very few) they might or might not have saved. The lockdown proponents have thoroughly lost—but they still make extremely contrafactual claims about the lockdowns saving millions of lives (and what a pity that we did not lock down earlier and harder!). Unfortunately, now as then, they control the narrative, if less completely than in the past, and too large portions of the uninformed masses actually believe them.

Also note how such distortions can affect comparatively small issues, but where the sum of many such small issues can be quite large. Consider e.g. the actual historical constellation of Charles Babbage as an important inventor and innovator, with Ada Lovelace as his assistant, vs. the sometime Feminist “Ada Lovelace! First programmer! Superstar! Women rule at STEM! (Well, yes, there was some Dead White Man helping her with the hardware, but he doesn’t really count.)”. Taken alone, this might be both anti-historical and highly unfair, but it has a comparatively small effect. Pull the same stunt a hundred times over in various* forms and the effect can be quite large.

*Consider simply giving mention to women, Blacks, and whatnot from the second string while being quiet on White men from the first string, giving the first woman to achieve a certain accomplishment more space in a text than the first human (who was typically a man), and similar. Note the old joke on Soviet propaganda about the noble Soviets finishing second and the lazy capitalist pigs of the U.S. second-but-last in a sports event—where the crucial detail that there were only two competitors is left out.

Excursion on digital books and censorship:
Fortunately, DRM and similar trickery around eBooks (and other digital works) seems to be on the retreat. However, this could change again and there have already been cases of e.g. Amazon unilaterally deleting books from the devices of its customers. A future is easily imaginable where, in addition to controlling initial distribution/publishing/whatnot, certain actors could retroactively control what already distributed works remain accessible. In a next step, dissenting voices could easily and retroactively be removed—and, truly horrifying, there might be some automatic rule that works are removed or rendered unreadable in a blanket manner, say, ten years after publishing, ensuring that the available writings on various topics are always compatible with a reasonable current (literal or metaphorical) party line. (Incidentally, this would also “solve” one of the problems of the publishing industry—that ever more quality works of old are available for free and reduce the potential market share for new and still copyrighted material.)

This could to some degree be combatted by e.g. printing hard copies, but, as time changes and as the world becomes more digitalized, the effect of that grows lesser. At the same time, the barriers against e.g. printing a PDF document (or its future equivalents) might grow preventively large.

Similarly, we might well find that some combination of manual and AI interventions cause old books to be automatically revised to fit a certain agenda or new “truth”. Note the already great prevalence of such manual intervention in re-publishing of older works (cf. e.g. [2]), let alone what might currently take place between authors and publisher during editing of new works.

Excursion on fiction and history:
An interesting twist is that the view of history that most modern Westerners hold consists more of fictional portrayals than of actual historiography. In a next step, many of these fictional portrayals are quite incorrect, e.g. through unwarranted speculation, political slanting, attempts to be more entertaining, whatnot—and they naturally underlie less scrutiny and are less vulnerable to criticism. Chances are that if we managed to rid ourselves of ideologically driven historical revisionism within the field of history, the broad masses would still fall for the same lies, as these lies would simply be moved into fiction (to an even higher degree than today).

As a counterpoint, older historiography often tried to combine a telling of history with entertainment or to use history as a vehicle to illustrate this-or-that lesson or to set some example, and might have been closer to modern “historical fiction” than to ideal historiography.

Excursion on manipulation of the educated:
Over the last few years, I have repeatedly heard claims amounting to some variation of “the educated are more easily led,* because they are more exposed to propaganda”, and I find the conclusion hard to avoid in light of the world that we live in. It simply seems to be the case that very few of the allegedly educated have both the ability and the willingness to think sufficiently critically about the information or “information” that they are exposed to. We might then have one in a hundred who arrives at the right conclusions for a good reason, nineteen in a hundred who reach the wrong conclusions for a bad reason (propaganda), and eighty in a hundred who are randomly divided between drawing the right conclusions for a bad reason (ignorance) and drawing the wrong conclusions for a bad reason (ignorance, again). Guess where we find the average new college graduate.

*The etymology of “educated” (“led out”) is interesting here, but this is likely a coincidence.

Excursion on Mencken:
I seem to recall that one or two of the claims mentioned in the previous excursion were by Mencken, but I could not in short order find an example. However, generally, there seems to be a Mencken quote for everything that is wrong with the world, humanity, politics, government, attitudes towards free speech, compliance, whatnot, as it is today, which shows how little true progress has taken place since his days (and, maybe, how pointless it is to discuss the problems of the world: the nineteen from above ignore or condemn-as-evil the one and the eighty do not know of him in the first place). While I do not agree with Mencken on all counts (his view of women appears too positive, e.g.), he shows an immense understanding and, I suspect, that he would have viewed the developments of the COVID-countermeasure era as predictable.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 18, 2023 at 11:55 pm

Changing the status quo and understanding the consequences

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There are two radically different perspectives on changing the status quo displayed in:

  1. An anecdote* about a member of the younger generation who wanted to find out why the family recipe for a pot-roast called for cutting off part of it in a certain manner. Many questions later, someone a few generations older, and the origin of the tradition, revealed the truth: She had always done so in order to … make the pot-roast fit into her too small pan. Everyone else did so in the erroneous belief that there was some more significant purpose behind it—even when their pans were larger.

    *While I have referenced this anecdote before, I have not encountered it in a good many years and no longer remember whether it was “based on real events” or more of a thought experiment, what the source might have been, etc.

  2. Chesterton’s fence (re-quoting Chesterton from Wikipedia):

    In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ’I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ’If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’

Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but, in most modern situations, I suspect that the pot-roast is the more valuable—that we should not uncritically do things just because they have always been done in that manner, but only continue when there is a reason and we understand this reason. In particular, and very, very contrary to Chesterton’s view, it should be up to the proponents of the status quo to demonstrate the existence of a reason and a reason that still applies. If not, the result will border on a cargo-cult.* In fact, Chesterton’s view on “burden of proof” (for want of a better formulation) is so wrong-headed that it, unfairly, put me off the idea as a whole for several years. Note especially that: (a) If there is no use to the fence, the first remover will never gain an understanding and therefore will never be able to remove the pointless fence. (b) If there is a use, chances are that he will not want to remove the fence. (c) There is no guarantee that he would find the right reason (also see below). As the formulation stands, he could even merely claim to see the use and then dishonestly proceed. (In this regard, Chesterton is right to suspect that his idea will “be called a paradox”—and he has only himself to blame.)

*Actual cargo-cults are also potential examples for this text. I have not included any, as the descriptions of cargo-cults that I have encountered have often been unclear, speculative, and/or contradictory.

That said, I have seen increasing examples of a failure to gain an appropriate understanding before wishing to remove something, stop some activity, change something, whatnot. Consider a recent text where I argue that various “trans” conflicts arise through a failure to understand the actual purpose of women-only competitions. The same type of argumentation can be applied to other areas of the larger issue, e.g. public bathrooms/showers/whatnot. Begin with the question why there are traditionally separate bathrooms for men and women resp. boys and girls. Once a reasonable answer has been found,* ask whether e.g. allowing men-who-want-to-be-women into the women’s bathrooms and vice versa makes sense. At least for pre-surgery cases, chances are overwhelming that “no” is the correct answer. (And this even assuming that all cases are bona fide, discounting the risk that someone will dishonestly claim to be a girl [boy] in order to visit the girl’s [boy’s] showers and enjoy the view.) On the other hand, if we land at the answer “yes”, chances are that the same reasoning would point to the division being pointless and that it would be better to abolish it entirely.

*I am uncertain what the exact answer should be and it might well involve an investigation of the history of the phenomenon. It ultimately revolves around avoiding exposure to the other sex in a situation involving (semi-)nakedness, “intimate” activities, potential vulnerability, whatnot; however, whether this is originally more a matter of modesty, embarrassment, risk of sexual assault or harassment, a wish to reduce the abuse of bathrooms for (voluntary) sexual encounters, or whatever might have applied, that is an open question. (And it might be that these must be considered even when not the original reason. Cf. bridges and the like below.)

Similarly, we can gauge other potential solutions to see whether they make sense. For instance, a tripartite division into “men’s”, “women’s”, “free for all” would stand a good chance of being compatible with the original goal,* as the two former would not be diminished, while the third would be new. (Whether the additional costs, the need for additional space, whatnot would be acceptable is a concern on another dimension.)

*A potential exception is when the “a wish to reduce the abuse of bathrooms for (voluntary) sexual encounters” applies, which could certainly be the case for reasons of hygiene, in general, while schools, in particular, might be quite keen on preventing such encounters on school grounds.

To remain with bathrooms, but in a less controversial area, consider that bend usually found under sinks and (if visible) toilets and whatnots. It has no obvious function, but takes extra space, requires more piping, and is an additional risk for both leaks and clogging. Moreover, we might have disadvantages like stale water being a possible breeding ground for bacteria and whatnots during a long absence of the residents. So, let us remove them! The hitch is that there is a non-obvious function—and one quite important at that: the bends lead to the formation of water barriers that prevent (potentially very nasty) gases from the sewers from entering the apartment through the respective pipe.* However, looking back at Chesterton, it is far from a given that merely going away to think would reveal this function—but a good** plumber, when asked, should be able to immediately name this reason.

*In addition, there might or might not be some secondary advantages, e.g. a barrier against insects and whatnots.

**There might be those who do not know the answer, but they are unlikely to be good, as they are likely to lack an understanding in other areas too and to be too much of cargo-cultists, merely following a set of instructions created by someone else.

It is also important to gain a sufficiently complete understanding of the underlying reasons. Consider the issue of having or not having a military. Let us assume that someone sees the military as a defense against an attack from a hostile country. He might then reason that “we have not been attacked for the last hundred years—obviously the military is an unnecessary waste of money”. Someone with a more complete understanding would see the military as not just a defense but a deterrent—the existence of a military reduces the risk of an attack and removing the military could drastically increase that risk. (He might or might not still come down on a “remove the military” or “reduce the military” position, as there are other factors to consider, including the value-for-the-money angle and the we-only-have-a-military-because-our-neighbor-does angle; however, he would not do so from a position of having missed the point.)

One area where Chesterton could have a point, even when it comes to “burden of proof”, is when changes to long established norms are concerned and these norms (unlike the issue of how to cook a pot-roast) might be of great importance. (Consider e.g. parts of [1].) Here, we might simply not have enough knowledge for anyone to tell us the “why”, and chances are that even deep and prolonged thought will only be a partial help. The conclusion might then be to experiment in a controlled manner, see what happens, and take actions as appropriate, be it more of the same change, another change, or a back-tracking.

To take a more personal angle: I have spent many years dealing with software use and development, and the world of software is full of examples.* Consider (developer-side) documentation of software, including but not limited to comments in the code and API specifications. Many** argue that because it is understandable*** what the code does or how it does it, further documentation would be unnecessary, often using cliches like “the code is the documentation”. However, the important point with documentation and, especially, code comments is not to describe the “what” and the “how” but the “why”. Ten years and several developers down the line, the code might still be understandable in what it does, but leaving no clue about the why. We then have a recursive issue: because the original developer did not understand the purpose of documentation, he failed to add it (or added the wrong kind), and now the next generation is unable to tell whether a certain piece of code makes sense and what might happen when the code is removed or altered. To make matters worse, such a “why” often involves business decisions/constraints and/or constraints through third-party technology that might no longer be relevant.

*The following examples might be hard for a software layman to understand in detail, but a complete understanding is not necessary.

**At least with regard to the “what” I erred in this regard too, in my younger years.

***Which ideally should be the case, but often is not. Most software developers are simply not up to their job.

Similarly, some argue that there is no need to describe the API in documentation, as it is implicitly described by the test cases. Apart from most test cases being too incomplete and the risk that some test case is faulty, this misses the point: test cases are largely there to test, not describe, the contract/promises made through/in the API documentation, while the API documentation makes the contract with the users of the API. Relying on test cases for such tasks would not only put the users in an unconscionable position* but also remove an internal check for correctness.

*In at least two regards, namely (a) how to find out what the contents of the contract are, (b) the lack of a guarantee that the contract will be upheld in the future. The latter can occur as a more general issue, in that some metaphorical fence might be pointless and removable—except that there might be others who rely on its presence. Consider, in a slight modification, a real or metaphorical bridge: it might originally have made no difference whether the bridge was built at point A or point B, but since the presence of the bridge has led to a large road leading to and from point A, moving the bridge to point B now would be harmful, as the users of the road rely on the bridge being at point A.

A particularly interesting example is a non-argument used against the editor vi* in the editor war, namely that the division of vi functionality into different “modes” would be a deficiency relative the single** mode used by most other editors, that this division would have been necessitated by the fewer keys available on keyboards of old, and that sticking to this workaround-for-to-few-keys today would be nonsensical. In reality, the division into modes is the single greatest strength of vi and its “unique selling point”.*** This is also a pointer to a complication: when an original reason has been removed, other reasons might yet remain. (Also note the bridge example in the above footnote.)

*These days, mostly Vim, a vi-style editor with a great amount of extra functionality. I have been a user for twenty-something years.

**To some approximation. Depending on matters of definition and where borders are drawn, more than one mode can be argued for other editors too, e.g. in that pressing the CTRL-key or opening a menu might be seen as entering a new mode, but these modes are of a different character.

***Indeed, my own switch from Emacs to vi (and, later, Vim) was motivated by the superiority of the mode division.

Excursion on missing the point:
I have written on the strongly overlapping issue of “missing the point” repeatedly in the past, e.g. in [2], [3], [4].

Excursion on avoiding tigers:
In a similar vein to the two conflicting perspectives, there is joke that goes

A: Why are you clapping your hands? [or doing something else making a ruckus]
B: To keep the tigers away!
A: But there are no tigers here.
B: See! It’s working!

In most of the world, B’s claims are nonsensical, as there is a clear default expectation of “no tigers”. I have, for instance, never in my life seen a tiger outside settings like a zoo—and there would have been no benefit to driving them away from such a setting.

In parts of India, this might be different, because tigers are more common.*

*I do not know how tiger’s feel about hand-clapping, but I have certainly seen recommendations like “make loud noises” to drive wild animals away in other contexts.

In analogous situations, we must then ask whether a certain purported cure for a problem is the explanation for why the problem is absent, whether it would have been absent anyway, and, maybe, whether this purported cure used to bring value by solving a problem that once was present but no longer is. (Consider, metaphorically, that tigers used to be present but are now locally extinct, or that someone used to live in a tiger territory but has since moved away.)

Excursion on non-reasons that seem like reasons:
It is not uncommon for an opposite scenario to occur, in that something seems to have a reason but actually does not. Worse, there might be a hidden and perfidious reason for which the apparent reason is just a cover. Note e.g. some remarks* on German make-work using pseudo-justifications, and how claims around “law and order” can be used to undermine, not strengthen, the Rechtsstaat.

*The link is not optimal. It appears that a text that I believed to be already published is not. With the high rate of publishing during the last few months, it is hard to keep track.

Excursion on graffiti:
A semi-example of the above can be found in the debate around graffiti. In the few discussions that I have seen, the pro-graffiti camp seems to argue that “graffiti is art too; ergo, it should not be forbidden to put graffiti on a house wall”. Whether graffiti is art, however, is irrelevant—the point is that this wall has an owner and that this owner either has or has not given permission. With permission, even non-art would be acceptable;* without it, even art is not—even should this art be by a reincarnated Michelangelo set to do to the wall what he did to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. (In addition, far from all graffiti can realistically be called art. Whether any of it reaches the level of Michelangelo is very much to be doubted.)

*With reservations for the exact contents and for whatever governmental agencies, home-owners’ associations, and the like might want a say.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 7, 2023 at 12:15 am

Life-and-death choices II

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A, I hope, last death-related entry for a good long while:

My previous text ([1]) spoke of potential complications around a too liberal approach to assisted suicide.

A drastic counterpoint to such an approach is the bans on suicide that have been historically common. Such bans are also a violation of the right to choose for oneself, and a more obvious one, but they differ through their ineffectiveness, as the successful perpetrator is, as a matter of definition, dead. There is a possibility to punish someone for a failed attempt, but this is not much of a deterrent in the big picture and “if at first you don’t succeed …”.* Short of punishing surviving loved ones,** a claimed punishment in the afterlife might be the only way to go, but that presupposes credibility concerning both the existence of an afterlife and this punishment. In some cultures, the threat of e.g. dragging someone’s name or honor through the mud might work, but this hardly applies to the modern Western world.

*It does raise interesting questions around spur-of-the-moment attempts at suicide, where, after failure, there might be no wish to go through with the act, the allegedly common attempts that are intended mostly as “calls for attention”, and similar, but these are off topic, as they do not reflect a true wish to die.

**An approach so obviously unethical that it should make the law worthy of condemnation even to those who are in favor of a ban. Note that such punishment need not involve, say, a prison term, but might include e.g. some type of “forfeiture” claims directed at the estate of the deceased, which would hurt the heirs and not the deceased, even should they nominally be directed at the latter.

Correspondingly, bans on suicide (that are not draconian) are a lesser evil than undue suicide pushing and too lax laws on government approved suicide.

More interesting questions include where to draw the border between regular suicide and something else, and how this something else is to be treated and classified in what cases. Consider, in jurisdictions where suicide, per se, is illegal, when and whether assistance rendered can make someone an accomplice to the crime of suicide. Even outside such jurisdictions, we have issues like where to draw the border between assistance and murder/manslaughter/whatnot, what level of encouragement (to go ahead) is tolerable in what setting,* when there should be an obligation to provide alternatives, when an offer to assist and/or a request for assistance should require a “cooling off” period, etc. While I will not attempt to answer these questions, I point to risks such as the ones described in [1] and the fundamental difference between aiding or “aiding” someone not otherwise capable of suicide and someone who, given enough determination,** could manage on his own.

*That such encouragement can and often should be illegal is clear. Consider e.g. a deeply unhappy high-school student who is exposed to “encouraging” bullies. Even in a more medical setting, a case can often be made, as seen by how many who experience gender-dysphoria have been prematurely encouraged to take irrevocable steps. An analogous, “suicide affirmative”, approach could lead to a great many unnecessary deaths—maybe including that someone who engaged in a “call for attention” pseudo-attempt is encouraged to try again and with professional help to guarantee success.

**This might be an important point: with unassisted suicide, a greater amount of determination might be needed, which increases the likelihood that the suicide truly reflected the will of the deceased.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 29, 2022 at 11:05 pm

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Life-and-death choices

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A particularly problematic angle on various reductions in choice* is a potential removal of the right to live resp. make own decisions about living and dying,** be it outright or through taking or not taking certain risks, taking or not taking certain precautions, etc.

*Cf. [1] and various follow-ups.

**Beyond the restrictions that arise through natural mechanisms, including aging, accidents, and fatal diseases. (But note that some of these still have a component of choice, e.g. in that a chain-smoker has a disproportionate risk of lung cancer and other health issues, and can choose to smoke or to quit. Cf. the later part of the above.)

For instance, over the last few months, I have heard repeated claims of excessive pushing of “assisted suicide” (likely all relating to Canada). Assisted suicide might seem like an increase in one’s own self-determination. When done correctly, it might even be so.* However, when suicide becomes a “solution” actively offered by e.g. the government or a hospital (as opposed to something requested by the patient), maybe even one pushed as “the best option” (or similar), this fast ceases to be the case—especially, when the concerns of others are given priority.**

*As a Libertarian, I originally had a positive attitude to the availability. From what I have seen over the twenty-or-so years since the topic became mainstream, I have begun to suspect that the harm will be greater than the benefits. (More generally, Libertarianism often needs a pragmatic brake.)

**Consider thinking like “if this patient dies, we have a free bed for someone else and maybe an organ or two to transplant”, “if this pensioner dies, there is more pension money to go around”, “if this prisoner dies, society is free from the costs of keeping him incarcerated and he is guaranteed not to commit further crimes” (also see excursion), and note the fate of Boxer in “Animal Farm” and many in “Soylent Green”. (Also note how often the dystopic works of old appear to be used as instruction manuals today—not as deterrents.)

We might even, in the long term,* see scenarios where someone is offered an unconscionable** solution (or “solution”) to a problem, turns this down, is then offered assisted suicide, turns this down, and is then told to take a hike. (Often with the effect that the unconscionable solution is begrudgingly “accepted” as the lesser of three evils.) At the far extreme, beyond what might be realistic, a scenario is conceivable where anyone who raises complaints against the government is offered death as a “solution” and, if turning this “solution” down, is told that he has no right to complain—as he has rejected the “solution” and thereby chosen to live in society as it is.

*Here and elsewhere, note that I am not necessarily saying that this-and-that dystopian scenario is right around the corner. I am merely pointing to what might happen at some point, if current government mentalities, current societal tendencies, whatnot, go unchecked.

**What this might be will vary so strongly from situation to situation, person to person, and level of desperation/need/urgency/whatnot to level of desperation/need/urgency/whatnot that it is hard to give specific examples. However, a less drastic real-life example with an unconscionable alternative is Karl Lauterbach’s (failed) attempt to force vaccinations in German by a fines-or-injections scheme.

For instance, there have been cases where abortion extremists have suggested a mother’s “right” to take the life of an already born child, in some variation of the old parental threat “I brought you into this world; I can take you out of it again”. If we were to accept this, where is the line to be drawn? Could we e.g. have a first-grader killed off for letting mommie dearest down by not being the genius that she had expected? What happens when this intersects with the previous paragraph? Consider scenarios like a social worker denying welfare payments to a mother unless she does her utmost to cut unnecessary costs—including by euthanizing that kid. Or take an NHS-style scenario of “it is too expensive to treat that chronically ill kid for several years, so we will not do that, but we can euthanize him for you” (with variations like “the waiting list for the right operation is two years, but we could euthanize him for you later this week”).

For instance, other recent reports include patients being denied operations and other treatment—unless they accept a COVID-vaccine. This even for patients who are not in a risk group, have already had COVID, or otherwise belong to a group for which not getting the vaccine is the rational decision. This can then result in situations like “either you take the vaccine or you die an excruciating death from a burst appendix”. The former is, by a very considerable distance, the lesser evil, but it does involve an additional and entirely unnecessary risk of death. (Not to mention (a) the risk of non-lethal side-effects, (b) the violation of choice in other categories than life-and-death.) In quality, if not quantity, it is the same as if someone was told to play a round of Russian roulette “or we just shoot you”.*/** In a longer term, the same type of approach might be used for a more harmful*** or otherwise unconscionable alternative, maybe up to such extremes as “either you accept this digital implant for governmental monitoring or we let you die” and “either you agree to donate a kidney or we let you die”.****

*Normally, I make a clear distinction between active action (e.g. harming someone) and passive inaction (e.g. not helping someone). The Russian-roulette example involves an active action (or threat thereof), while the failure to treat is a passive inaction; however, I view medical professions as a special case, as, within reasonable limits, a duty to render medical aid should be assumed, which nullifies the difference. (The overall topic is for a dedicated text, but I note that contractual obligations, debts of gratitude, and similar can also nullify the difference through creating a duty to act.)

**I am slightly reminded of a case of a criminal dentist that I encountered many years ago. Apparently, he would make an agreement about some type of dental surgery for some amount of money, put the patient in a daze through drugs, perform half the procedure, and then demand more money to complete it. The dazed patient had two options: pay or be kicked out on the street with his mouth a complete mess.

***The COVID-vaccines are highly problematic when we look at aggregates over a large number of recipients, but, with reservations for future revelations and what I might have missed, pose a (in comparison) tolerable risk for any given individual.

****Off topic, there are other severe complications that can arise from such arbitrary denials, e.g. that someone who has the “wrong” skin-tone or “wrong” political opinions might be denied treatment. (It might even be argued that current vaccine requirements are sufficiently poorly founded in science that they should be seen more as a matter of demanding political compliance than as a medical issue.)

For example, there are reports of unvaccinated patients being forced to accept blood transfusions from vaccinated donors against their will, which implies an additional risk.* Blood transfusions are, again, an area where the benefit of treatment often outweighs the risk, but it is also, again, a potentially unnecessary risk and a violation of free choice. And: if the treatment outweighs the risk in this case, things could be different the next time around. Correspondingly, any intervention of the kind and/or size of the COVID-vaccinations should lead to a great amount of caution, and it should have been par for the course to (a) strongly prefer unvaccinated donors, (b) strictly separate blood from vaccinated donors from the unvaccinated donors—just like any major intervention in any area should be cause for caution and precautions.**

*I have heard the claim that this should not be a concern, as the vaccine does not enter the bloodstream. Empirical evidence shows this to be either false or misleading. If in doubt, there is no guarantee that the shots are given with sufficient skill and precision to make even a “true on paper” claim hold true in real life. (E.g. in that an injection intended to be given solely in muscle still occasionally ends up directly in a blood vessel. Generally, such “sunshine” assumptions are an endless source of problems, e.g. in politics and software development.) It could not even be ruled out that someone like Karl Lauterbach would push the deliberate addition of COVID-vaccines to the transfusions to ensure that as many as possible are exposed to the vaccine, no matter the cost, the consequences, the efficiency, and the violations of self-determination.

**Note e.g. thalidomide and freon, how they are perceived today vs. how they once were perceived, and how long it took to discover the problem.

Excursion on capital punishment:
From a general view point, the death penalty is a relevant example for this text, in that it removes the convict’s right to live and in that there are many current or historical regimes that abuse[d] the death penalty to e.g. get rid of dissidents—but, unlike most the above, it is neither a current development, nor something that the typical reader would be unaware of.

However, the aforementioned calculating attitude of “if this prisoner dies, […]” is fundamentally different from the normal motivations for the death penalty, and the presence of the one does not necessitate the presence of the other. Indeed, looking at the U.S., assisted suicide could end up being far cheaper and taking place far faster than an execution, as the years or decades of appeals and whatnots disappear.

An interesting middle-ground is formed by various rumored fake suicides, rumored instigated-by-management prisoner-on-prisoner murders, the possibility that some prisons might view prisoner-on-prisoner murders as positive (even without own instigation) and not look too closely at the issue, etc.

Excursion on COVID and the elderly:
I do not believe that similar thinking has been behind the mismanagement of COVID; however, I have from very early on noticed a considerable convenience for over-burdened welfare societies, especially those with a “pay it backward” pension system: Deaths from COVID disproportionately hits the elderly, and the elderly tend to be a burden on the government, the welfare system, or whatnot through paying smaller amounts of (especially, income) tax, drawing pensions, and incurring greater medical expenses. (To which, maybe, some other factors can be added, e.g. that they might consume less and thereby stimulate the overall economy less.) Especially in Left-leaning countries and countries with a demographic strongly skewed towards the elderly (relative the historical norm), COVID might have been a great boon for the politicians by clearing out the retired Boxers.

(COVID has also been a great boon for them as an excuse to blame for this-and-that and as an excuse to implement this-or-that policy that might otherwise have been blamed on the politicians resp. rejected. Here I do assume considerable deliberate action.)

Excursion on “Quitters, Inc.”:
Mentioning smoking resp. quitting smoking above, I am reminded of Stephen King’s “Quitters, Inc.”, which shares some common ground with this text series. I do not wish to dwell too long on King (cf. [2]), so I merely recommend a thoughtful reading.

Disclaimer on references:
As none of the individual encounters left me with a strong wish to write something, I did not keep references at the time.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 27, 2022 at 7:10 am

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Et tu, socie!

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Over the last few years, I have increasingly suspected that much of international politics goes back to attempts to hinder potential competitors—even when these are not known hostiles; maybe, even when they are outright allies.

This especially when we move from mere hard competition to cheating a la Dick Dastardly: Various acts can be classified based on the degree that they have a “good for me” or a “bad for you” intention, and the degree that they amount to “fair play” or “unfair play”. Having a better motor in a car race is “good for me” and (if within the rules) “fair play”;* sabotaging the motor of the main competitor is “bad for you” and “unfair play”. The main point of this text is the underlying intent of preserving or creating an own power advantage; however, this only truly becomes notable when one or both of the “bad for you” and “unfair play” components is/are strong.

*And that various countries try to gain equivalent advantages, in order to “win” in international politics/trade/whatnot, borders on a given—just as it borders on a given that a racing team will try to get the best motor that rules, budget, time, and whatnot allow. The point of this text goes beyond that.

In some cases, such as the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War, between two clear enemies, there is nothing unexpected and this text would border on the pointless, were that all there was. The same applies if we look at e.g. Rome and Carthage or two rivaling cities in ancient Greece. Even looking at the current U.S. and the current China, strong rivals and borderline enemies (or, maybe, “enemies waiting to happen”), this is not truly remarkable.

However, consider the U.S. and Russia in the era after the Cold War. Technically, they are not (pre-Ukraine, at least) enemies, Russia is too weak to realistically challenge for number one,* and they have much to gain from trade and cooperation. But say that the U.S. wants to keep a future strong competitor down, especially with an eye at a potential strengthening of inter-BRICS cooperation, an outright alliance between Russia and e.g. one of the other BRICS countries, or a re-expansion of Russia to include more of the old Soviet territory. Now view the unusually large involvement of the U.S. and allies in the Ukraine in this light. (Both with regard to the current war and the events leading up to this war.) Suddenly, it is much easier to understand, even for those sceptical to the rhetoric.** Similarly, the general drift to expand NATO (even after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact) to almost anyone willing, except for Russia, is easy to understand under the premise that Russia is to be prevented from growing in power.***

*At least, within the even remotely foreseeable future. Its landmass and natural resources are enormous, but the population is considerably smaller than the U.S. one, while China’s is several times larger than the U.S. population. China might gain the upper hand through a mixture of improved productivity and superior numbers, even should that productivity remain well below U.S. norms. Russia does not have that option.

**In terms of intent. Whether it actually achieves that intent might be disputed.

***However, another angle to this is that NATO would border on the pointless, if everyone, or even just everyone powerful, was a member.

Other examples can be more subtle. I have, for instance, heard speculation that the U.S. would have been deliberately manoeuvring the EU and/or Germany into making poor decisions, with an endgame of preserving U.S. dominance, even in light of a growing EU.* There are certainly oddities in the U.S. behavior towards the declining British Empire post-WWII, including during the Suez crisis. Said British Empire** vs. colonial India might be another example: India is one of the cases*** where colonialism almost certainly did more harm than good, and there is reason to believe that this was not just a side-effect of exploitation but involved a deliberate strategy of holding back, maybe even disabling, a country**** that, looking at size and stage of development, might have grown into a global competitor.

*But note that I, here and elsewhere, am open to other explanations that cover a similar set of observations, including that too many politicians are too incompetent.

**The largest culprit, at any given time, would likely tendentially be the strongest power (or the strongest power within a certain sphere). The repeated references to the U.S. above should not necessarily be taken to imply that the U.S. is particular Dastardly in its character—it might well be a case of having the influence and the opportunities to implement a strategy that e.g. Sweden could not. Go back a bit and the British Empire was the strongest power around.

***Leftist propaganda likes to claim that colonialism did great damage without exception, but this simply does not match reality.

****It might be simplistic to view the India of yore as a single country in terms of “political entity”, but the general idea still holds.

One of the seemingly* greatest puzzles of history is why the Brits and the French originally declared war on Nazi-Germany but left the Soviet Union alone (indeed, later were allies with the Soviet Union against Nazi-Germany). Half of Poland was swallowed by the Soviets; the Soviets had been similarly expansive to and, until that date, more oppressive and genocidal than the Nazis; and the rest of 20th-century history shows that Communism almost certainly was a larger threat to humanity than Nazism was. With hindsight, it would have been better or much better, had the Brits and French sided, at least for the time being, with the Nazis to take out Communism instead of with Communism to take out Nazism.

*For those seeing through the more than eighty years of propaganda that the Nazis were an unparalleled evil, never seen before or after. Evil, yes. Unparalleled? Sadly, no. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and their respective regimes immediately spring to mind—and there are plenty of others.

However, if we assume, which was likely plausible at the time, that Germany was seen as a greater threat in terms of being a rival “Great Power”, with an eye at international clout, military strength, and, likely, above all industrial potential, this seems less mysterious. Factor in the greater physical proximity,* which made Germany a more urgent competitor, and the mystery grows even smaller. (Of course, other factors that are off topic for this text might also be relevant, notably the 19th-century conflicts between France and Germany resp. the resulting animosity.)

*Mostly, in terms of homelands, obviously, but even in terms of current and potential future colonial areas, there was almost certainly less proximity between the French and the Soviets, and likely even the Brits and the Soviets.

An important political lesson is that we can never take the risk to consider another country more than a temporary ally. If in doubt, today’s true and genuine friend* might cease to be so tomorrow, even through something as trivial as a change in rulers after the next election.

*And even with true and genuine friends, as in real life, it is important to remember that there might still be strong differences in opinions and interests, where the one might act contrary to the interests of, or be upset over actions by, the other. Even the famed Thatcher–Reagan friendship had its stumbling blocks, e.g. Grenada.

Another lesson is that we must not be naive about the intentions of other countries, or their willingness to act cooperatively and in good faith. Trust can be a good thing up to a certain point, but it most not turn into the type of naivety that turns us into patsies.

Excursion on other areas:
Similar observations, if on a lesser scale, hold in many other areas, notably business and national politics. Cheating in the manner of Dick Dastardly in car racing, however, is unlikely to be much of an issue, as the chance of being caught is large and the consequences of being caught could be career ending. (A more subtle or more indirect version of Dick Dastardly might or might not have some chance at success, e.g. one who does not sabotage a motor but who manages to hit the competition on the business level.)

A key original idea was the manipulation and/or sabotage of nominal allies/friends. As I realize during proof-reading, I have undershot the mark and to a too large part given examples between more obvious rivals. (In part, because obvious examples are inherently easier to find and involve less speculation.) For reasons of time, I will not attempt to rework the text.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2022 at 1:35 pm

A few observations around the alleged German coup attempt

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Until now, I have left the alleged coup attempt in Germany without comment—and, barring future revelations of note, I will likely continue to do so after this text. There simply is too much vagueness, too much speculation, too much governmental PR, and too much one-sidedness in the reporting, for me, as an outsider, to make a qualified statement about the details without very considerable prior research.*

*A particular complication is that the intentions, opinions, political positions, group belongings, whatnot of those unpopular-with-the-Left are regularly and often grossly misrepresented by media and Leftist politicians in Germany (just as in e.g. the U.S.). A consequence is that, for instance, the common claim that participants were “Reichsbürger” does not imply that they actually were, nor is it clear what the implications of “Reichsbürger” would be—as all descriptions of “Reichsbürger” that I have ever encountered have been written by their enemies. Even clarifying just these two points might cost me more or much more time than the entire writing of this text.

A few observations are called for on a more general level, however:

  1. The extreme differences in numbers and resources between alleged participants and the involved law enforcement, the informing of journalists before the arrests/raids/whatnot, etc. give the impression that this was more of a PR-coup for the German government and/or the German Left than a real coup against the German government.

    Note, in a similar vein, the J6 situation in the U.S., where a comparatively minor event has been blown out of proportion, where punishments are far larger than any wrong-doings,* where the portrayal of behavior and intents is extremely misleading, where there are strong signs of an (at least partial) setup, etc.—allowing a Leftist PR-coup intended to trick the people into believing that the Right** is evil/dangerous/whatnot, while the truth, by any reasonable standard, is the opposite.

    *Up to and including Monopoly-style “Go directly to jail!” commands to some who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, with no proof of ill intentions, as if they had stepped on the wrong Monopoly square and happened to draw a bad card.

    **I consider the Left–Right scale inherently flawed, as the various parties/ideologies/whatnot usually classified as Rightwing are far too heterogeneous to be grouped together (especially, if the Leftist misdefinitions of “Racist equals Rightwing”, “Nationalist equals Rightwing”, etc. are accepted—which I do not). I note, in particular, that the far Left is an extremer version of the regular Left, while the same does not apply to the “far Right” and the “Right”. My use of the Left–Right scale in this text is solely to match the framing of the debate. I further note that some of my statements about the Right must be seen with implicit disclaimers like e.g. “the clear majority of the Right, but due to the extreme wideness of the term, exceptions exist”. More on these topics can be found in e.g. my lengthy and ongoing series on Nazis ([1] and countless later installments, notably [2]). Also note the issue of the Left constantly demanding tolkningsföreträde, including on issues like who is or is not a supporter of what ideology and how any given ideology is to be classified.

  2. There is a strong push that this was explicitly a “Rightwing” (“far Right”, or similar) coup attempt.

    This is problematic in terms of classification, as the involved (in my superficial impression) seem more loony than political, and as the main two reasons for the classification seem to be (a) a wish for a king, (b) an origin among dissenters.

    However, to dissent is neither wrong nor inherently Rightwing,* and much of the dissent in question, notably against the failed, scientifically unfounded, and rights-violating COVID policies should have been politically neutral and is outright laudable. Moreover, as I have noted in the past,** if dissenters are driven out of “polite company”, they will naturally end up with each other, even when they have little in common; moreover, there is the issue of the fellow-traveler fallacy. In other words, making assumptions based on the participation of members of a certain “scene”*** is dubious.

    *It is true both that a Leftwing mentality tends to be more conforming/gullible and that the strong and absurd influence of the Left in today’s world makes Leftist dissent less likely, but dissent, per se, is not proof of anything Rightwing. (To the degree that dissent is Rightwing, it is usually either a matter of regular differences in opinion or directed at something negative, untruthful, oppressive, whatnot—and should be supported.)

    **Unfortunately, I failed to find a reference on short notice—a disadvantage of having published this many texts.

    ***As the German journalists, with their cliched “Szene”, like to formulate it—it is always Szene-this and Szene-that.

    Even the king-part is not Rightwing as such (in an even remotely modern sense): looking beneath the word used, there is very little difference between e.g. a traditional* king and someone like Stalin or Fidel Castro. More interesting questions involve who is in favor of democracy, Rechtsstaatlichkeit, the rights of the individual, etc., and here the Right tends to be more positive than the Left, which typically only uses democracy as a tool to gain power. Vice versa, who is in favor of a “strong leader”/“strong man”, extensive government control, whatnot, where the Left tends to be more positive than the Right.

    *To boot, if we look at most modern monarchies, e.g. the U.K. and Sweden, the role of the monarch is largely ceremonial and differs little in nature from that of e.g. the (ceremonial) German president. For a deeper discussion, we would need a very clear definition and understanding of what was actually intended. (Also note complications like historical kings often having been elected and presidents often grabbing power through military force; kingship sometimes being hereditary, sometimes not; presidentship sometimes being quasi-hereditary, sometimes not. Apart, possibly, from a shibbolethic aspect of the word “king”, there is nothing Rightwing about the idea.)

    Of course, even if we were to consider the coup-makers Rightwing, which might or might not be the case after a closer inspection, they would only represent a very small fraction of the Right—while e.g. terrorists from Antifa and the “autonomous”* movements represent a significantly larger portion of the Left. Recent sport from some Leftist groups seems to include the willful and nonsensical destruction of art “because global warming”.

    *These Leftwing groups have a long history of violence and anti-democratic attempts to enforce their will upon others in Germany. Other countries have other Leftist groups that are violent and otherwise problematic, e.g. the BLM movement in the U.S. and, more historically, various anarchist groupings. (Antifa seems to be a worldwide problem.)

    Notably, the German Left has long waged an all out of war of hate and distortion on anything branded or self-branded as “Right”, leading to e.g. CDU* cowardly hiding under the label of “Center”, instead of sticking to “Right”, which brings about a self-fulfilling not-quite-prophecy, as only those with extreme positions typically dare to refer to themselves as “Right”. There might also be no other country in the world where the distortion of “Right” to imply “Nazi”, “Fascist”, “Xenophobic”, whatnot (and vice versa) has gone further—an absurdity as these positions are largely irrelevant to the Left–Right scale and as the Nazis, by any reasonable standard, were Leftwing. (Cf. [1], [2], and follow ups.) As an example, cf. [3], Germany went through the trouble of instituting a law against explicitly Rightwing extremism—while Germany is buckling under Leftwing (!) extremism.**

    *Nominally, Conservative; at least since Merkel took over, “German RINO”.

    **The failure of so many to understand this, and with the same situation in e.g. the U.S., is a sign of how far the respective Overton windows and opinion corridors have been shifted. What is or is not extremist, normal, deviant, whatnot has often been turned on its head both in politics and in much of public perception.

    Also note an earlier text on the odd distortion of the Left–Right spectrum.

  3. As I have noted repeatedly in the past, Germany is neither a functioning democracy nor a Rechtsstaat, currently having more in common with the 1980s’ GDR/DDR than the 1980s’ FRG/BRD.

    A coup under such circumstance is not a threat against, e.g., democracy, as democracy already has been reduced to a nominal existence. A time might well come where a coup is the only way to restore democracy within a reasonable time frame—as it would have been in Nazi-Germany and might* be in today’s Brazil.

    *My impressions are too superficial to make a definite statement, but there are strong signs that Lula (a) did take power through a mixture of judicial abuse and election cheating, and (b) is now abusing that power to remain in power. Indisputably, he is very far Left; with a very high degree of likelihood, he is criminally corrupt.

    This is not yet the case in today’s Germany, but the margins are thinning and a continuation of current trends could force that situation within the foreseeable future. (Consider e.g. that there is some risk that AfD, one of the largest German parties, might be banned for being-hated-by-the-Left, while the much more unsavory Die Linke, the rebranded SED, is growing ever more successful and the Social-Democrats, with their outdated and destructive ideas, currently have the run of the country.)

    Here I re-raise my warning that inexcusable acts by the Left can lead to violent resistance, and this resistance then be used to excuse further inexcusable acts by the Left (cf. [4]; also note other similarly themed texts, like [5]).

  4. A repeated problem with actions like these, including several situations in the U.S., is that law enforcement does not clamp down at a time when good faith would demand it, namely, as soon as possible. In some cases, notably the Gretchen-Whitmer “kidnapping” plot, law enforcement is/was even the pushing force. The idea seems to be to wait as long as possible, to get as many fishes in the net as possible, to get as much publicity as possible, whatnot, before clamping down—this with no regard to any danger created and with no regard for the many fishes who might have remained entirely innocent with an earlier intervention. (To which must be added that the border for being “guilty” is often very lax, as with J6, and that the “guilt” is often caused by entrapment, as, again, with the Gretchen-Whitmer “kidnapping” plot and, according to many accounts, J6.)
  5. A side-issue is that political violence tends to be Leftist, while German propaganda tries very hard to paint it as Rightist, to the point that use of violence is sometimes used as an ipso-fact proof of “Right”. (E.g. in that soccer hooligans are considered Rightwing for using violence, not for their political opinions—or, on the outside, for opinions that have nothing to do with Left and Right, notably regarding racism. E.g. in that any and all violence against immigrants by Germans is condemned as having a racist and, therefore, far Right motivation, even when the truth was e.g. a wish for money, a personal feud, or a drunk fight.) Ditto e.g., in a historical paradox, anti-establishment attitudes. Ditto resistance to government control of the individual.*

    *This with greater justification, but with a Leftist propaganda focus not on “wants respect for the rights of the individual” but on “dares defy the all-knowing and all-loving government”.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 16, 2022 at 7:51 pm

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