Showing posts with label beliefSystems. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beliefSystems. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nietzsche and Desert Tortoise Fences

The other day I noticed fences, intended to protect desert tortoises. (Or some other species. It hardly matters to the rest of this post.) The fences seemed so elaborate and expensive. Common sense asserted itself to make me think, "You've got to be kidding..."

By luck I happened to be reading Mencken's book on the "Philosophy of Nietzsche." Imagine Nietzsche pulled though a time machine to modern America. I don't think he would be an angry white man about what he saw.  More likely he would just sneer at modern culture and say something like, "I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be this bad!"

The limiting case for his sneering may be these fences. What could more perfectly embody the "slave morality" of the masses than treating endangered animal species as though they were so precious. Nietzsche would have thought it was just fine that a superior species, such as homo sapiens, could wipe out an inferior species like the desert tortoise.

You may disagree with Nietzsche about this. That is not the point. This was a splendid little example of how travel can make reading a book more interesting, and vice versa

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Pilgrims of Gringo Road

They plod past my driveway, the last one before heading out to the remaining 750 miles of the Arizona Trail. One part of me wants to open up to the spirit of adventure emanating from them. But it is difficult.

It would be easy to fantasize about camel trekking in Morocco, or riding long sections of the Silk Road, or sea kayaking between Asia and North America, across the Bering Strait.

But walking, plodding, and trodding in Arizona heat? They are visualizing something that I can't, although I would like to. All I can see is a slow-moving sport that lacks all pizzazz or sex appeal. Their sport is the perfect activity for a puritan's Sunday.

Perhaps I am being unfair, for demographic and cultural reasons. Hikers tend to be Greens, urbanites, Democrats, veggies, etc. 

A few of them had real panache. For example I have seen a couple hike with silver umbrellas fastened to their backpacks. Correction: parasols. And of course that appeals to the romantic imagination of a retro-grouch.

One day I even saw a man and woman trying to coax their German short-haired pointer across a cattle gate on the Trail. Oh sure, I rolled my eyes, thinking, "Damned city slickers. Their dawg ain't even seen a cattle gate before!"

But at least they had a dog, rather than a cat on a leash, which is about what you would expect from a city slicker. Later in the day I ran into the same couple in the town post office. They had wrapped duct tape over the dog's pads to try to protect them. I told them about real hiking shoes for dogs, made by Neo-Paws. She was interested, but it was too late to do her any good.

On another day I saw a hiker running from side to side on the road (the Trail, for a short distance). She was picking up empty plastic bottles. Didn't she know she could buy a plastic bottle at the upcoming grocery store?

But there was something else: she seemed so ostentatious about it. Was she a Green picking up litter, and enjoying it a bit too much -- perhaps because somebody would see her? The more you think about this whole activity, the more it seems analogous to religious pilgrimages of yore. Weren't they supposed to Suffer, even if they had to indulge in self-flagellation to do it?

But what Sins are these modern urbanite metro-sexual secularists trying to expiate? How does it work, that is, how many units of sin are erased by how many units of heat and drudgery?  

For those who haven't seen it, I recommend Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." The march of the flagellants might make quite an impression on you.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The "System" Shows Itself in an Innocent Sport

I was being foolishly optimistic on a mountain bike ride on the west side of Colorado's San Luis valley, by giving the benefit of the doubt to a trail that was likely to be too rough.

At one point we saw a fellow standing and looking at something, as if he were earnestly studying it.  He said he crashed on his bike at that spot, a couple years ago, and had broken a couple ribs. And today, he was out to even the score with this rocky obstacle. He enlisted my help in standing on one side of the rock, with the intention of preventing his fall and crash, this year.

His second weapon was a new mountain bike. It looked like it cost over $5000. He succeeded quite easily this year. If fact he did it twice.

I kept my mouth shut, that is, I resisted the urge to remonstrate against his foolhardiness.  This man in his sixties had a right to risk his own neck and wallet as he saw fit, without any criticism from me.

What interests me is whether it really was his idea. The American mountain biking industry can't compete with Asia on the basis of 'bang for the buck,' so it must encourage extreme trails, constant innovation in the design of the bike, and high prices, now enabled by financialization. (Bike shops now offer financing for their unbelievably over-priced bikes.)

The message comes through to the average consumer via advertisements, discussion forums on the internet, sponsored racing teams, television shows with guys on mountain bikes flipping over in mid-air, and old fashioned glossy magazines. 

And there are brown stakes on the trail and area, showing that it bears the imprimatur of government. 

So there you have it: the innocent sport of mountain biking is really just another manifestation of the unholy alliance of Corporations, Media and advertising, Financialization, and Government. Would any of these institutions care about your broken neck on your mountain bike ride? But the average peasant is OK with that. 

What if it isn't OK with you? What gives you the effrontery to have your own opinion? Are you smarter than the experts? Maybe you are just a crank, a troublemaker, a negative thinker.


West side of the San Luis valley, in Colorado.
Another possibility is that you are a cultural survivor from a long dead age. Currently I am reading Herbert Spencer's "Autobiography" from He explained the tradition of his recent ancestors, especially his father. They were independent thinkers. They didn't believe things merely because an Authority said so. Spencer saw the connection between these "personal" traits and the longer tradition of his ancestors being Wesleyans.
The nonconforming tendency—the lack of regard for certain of the established authorities, and readiness to dissent from accepted opinions—of course characterized, in considerable degrees, the earliest of Wesley’s followers;
What gave those early Protestants the sheer pride, self-assertiveness, and courage to take on the "Establishment?" They had an "ally," their belief in a Higher Authority, i.e., the Bible and God. They also had a grip on the high moral ground, as shown by their austerity and earnestness. They also got together with similarly-minded individuals every Sunday.

That was then. Today, when we confront the mindf*#k of the Establishment, we have only ourselves, as a puny weak individual, trying to stand up to a world that makes no sense to us

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Murphy's Law Has Loopholes

Obviously the world doesn't need to see any of my photographs of the Moab area, with all the tourists running around with iPhones. Still, I like to take a few photographs on a mountain bike ride, perhaps just as an excuse to stop and enjoy certain spots. I did so here.

Just then I noticed something weird happening on my face. My prescription sunglasses had just fallen apart. Actually it was just that one screw in the frame had come off. Can you believe it? With all the crap that I bring along and never use, I didn't have the little screwdriver and a couple spare screws that you need to fix eyeglasses.

What if I were a rock climber and this had happened? Or a sea kayaker? Is this why 'four eyes' used to get draft deferments?

At any rate I was able to mountain bike back to the van with only one lens, and the other eye closed. My three-dimensional vision was messed up, and it is surprising that I didn't goof up on the Utah slickrock.

But just think. I've been wearing eyeglasses for 50 years, and this is the first time that something like this happened outdoors, on some kind of outing. Why doesn't it happen frequently? Anything could damage a pair of eyeglasses: going over the handlebars on a bike accident; stepping on your eyeglasses when sleeping in a tent; a rambunctious dog chewing on them, etc. 

And there is no Walmart optical department in Moab. That means that you will have to go to a real eye-doctor. The receptionist will probably inform you that a new state law requires you to get a $150 eye exam whenever the customer merely needs a new nose-piece or tiny screw for his existing eyeglasses.

When I came home I easily fixed the sunglasses once I had found the little screwdriver and pile of spare screws. The last time I went to the Walmart optical department, they used Loctite threadlocker on the tiny screw, so I did that too.

Looking around the trailer I wondered if there were other things that are miraculously immune to Murphy's Law. There are.
  • the propane stove,
  • screws sunk into wood. They never rattle loose, despite the washboard roads,
  • the Shur-Flo water pump,
  • roof vents, and Fan-tastic fans,
  • Rubbermaid storage tubs made out of 'LDPE,' low density polyethylene. The opposite applies to Sterilite tubs made out of 'PP', polypropylene.
  • mountain bike tires and tubes. I can go for years without a flat,
  • and LED lights, I suspect, although they are new enough to be unsure of.
Since most people spend quite a bit of money and worry on repairing automobiles, it seems counter-intuitive to claim that most of an automobile seems immune to Murphy's Law, but let's not forgot just how many parts there are.

You could say the same of animals' bodies, including human bodies. It isn't Murphy's fault that people squander their youthful, healthy years while hoping to "really start living" at a retirement age that is past their biological expiration date.

If you want a challenge, make a list of the things in your life that seem curiously immune to Murphy's Law, and then make the opposite list, of things that seem invented just to exasperate you. Can you explain the common property of the items on each list? Things can't end up on the 'good' list or the 'baddie' list at random. There must be explainable principles at work.

On the 'evil' list I would put zippers at the top, closely followed by those hateful butane flame throwers that you need to start the stove. Regarding the latter, why don't I just use matches? They seem pretty immune to Murphy's Law.

'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...'

Friday, September 11, 2015

Appreciating Intellectual Pleasure and Applying It

A person can actually learn to enjoy intellectual pleasures, although it is rare to do so. There are plenty of folks who work with their brains, but that is a different game because it is mainly about making a living, and an outlet for ambition, with a certain amount of ego-gratification. By intellectual pleasure I mean a more disinterested appreciation of something that is beautiful simply to think about, after a certain amount of time and struggle for the thinker.

For my part, the greatest intellectual pleasure comes from trying to look beneath the surface appearance of things in order to see the Cause. Even better, I like to visualize the conflict of large trends and fundamental belief systems. I always visualize this photograph of my first dog, taken in his middle-age, some years ago.

Taking in the Big Picture, after bagging another Colorado peak.

Retirement and leisure certainly help this process, as does getting out of a metropolitan ant hill. Perhaps tuning out the daily trivia of the mainstream media is the most important aid. The key is detachment from the mob.

Old age is under-rated in this process. No doubt, there are 20-year-olds who have more perspicacity than me; neverthleless an old kaBLOOnie can do a better job than a younger kaBLOOnie.

Travel is helpful. The hackneyed notion that travel broadens your perspective is certainly true.

This is probably why I go on about my frustrations with the trends in the automobile industry. It is after all one of the bigger expenses in a (non-house-owning) travel lifestyle. The motor vehicle affects where I can camp and how I will live. What causes these trends, and how ridiculous can they get?

Trend #1: Awe of and subservience to big government.

The foundation myth of the current American Imperium is the "Good War", World War II. A good story should end with a big bang, and in this case, that was literally true with the mass slaughter of Japanese civilians by Washington's nuclear bombs. The Manhattan Project that produced these weapons was certainly a spectacular case of a government program that succeeded. Why, it's like government simply willed it into existence. Gee, I guess that means that politicians are almost gods who can command the powers of nature, just by increasing federal spending.

The Apollo project was a faint echo of the Manhattan project. Apollo didn't have to do anything radical. It was a bit like starting a government boondoggle that aimed to be the first to the Poles, or the first to climb Mt. Everest. Still, getting to another heavenly body and returning resembles the god-like. It was the last hurrah of the Cold War.

Trend #2: The post-industrial economy.

Fewer and fewer workers in the USA are concerned with making anything physical. Work means sitting in a cubicle, subtracting column DG from column A in a spreadsheet, and then dividing by column ZQ, and believing that it means something. The same could be said of playing around all day on a word processor, sticking catchy graphics in it, attending meetings, yakking on the telephone, playing with the "planning software", etc.

As a result, the average worker is disconnected from physical reality.

Now let's combine Trends #1 and #2. It is completely "natural" for the modern citizen of the USA to believe that politicians and bureaucrats can develop better fuel economy and greater safety at the same time, even though more weight helps one of these, and hinders the other.

Citizens believe that the political establishment can simply write a law or regulation that creates a miracle. Trade-offs don't matter anymore. It is just a matter of having nice sentiments.

They have completely lost track of the concept of diminishing marginal utility in automobile design. As the reductio ad absurdum, consider improvements like "active shutters" over the radiator, or lowering the ground clearance of the vehicle to the point of scraping on common roads and driveways. 

Is four valves in each combustion chamber enough for you? No? How about eight? Does the average voter think that Moore's Law from the microelectronics industry will actually apply to automobile engines?

There's high pressure fuel pumps for direct injection engines -- as if replacing the low-pressure fuel pumps didn't cost enough! But the valves get dirty with direct injection engines, as GM has proved. So Toyota's new engines will have fuel injectors inside and upstream of the combustion chambers. Oh goody, more parts, more electrical connectors, higher prices!

But have you seen the fuel economy improvement of all these mandates? It's about 3 miles per gallon.

Speaking of the Apollo project, imagine if NASA had started on their way to the moon by building lighter and lighter balloons. Every new attempt would have succeeded a little bit. But each billion dollars of improvement would have yielded smaller and smaller returns on the investment.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Isn't Heating Your Home Free?

The forests in Colorado are no longer merely worrisome. They are well on the way to complete destruction. Here's an example of what I saw near Little Texas #1:

I asked the visitor's center if the Rio Grande national forest was the worst. Surprisingly he said that it was worse elsewhere. Bark beetles.

Believe it or not, there is something good to talk about. I saw pickup trucks going up my road everyday to cut up and haul out a load of firewood. They are my heroes. 

I asked one about the catalytic converters in the chimney of wood stoves. His experience was bad. In fact he removed it. But catalytic heaters, oxygen sensors, and computer-based control of automobile engines are pretty reliable. So why couldn't the same be true of wood stoves. (Please don't complain about the cost. Wood stove customers will squander an extra thousand dollars for a stove that is nostalgic or fashionable, so what is wrong with a few hundred dollars for something that works?)

Why doesn't the forest service increase the amount of firewood cutting by a ratio of 50? Does it allow commercial companies to harvest dead trees and sell firewood? If not, the answer is pseudo-religious ideology (and lawsuits) of the well-funded Big Green lobby.

There are a lot of expensive McMansions in Colorado. Virtually every square foot of private land already has a house sitting on it. The ultimate status symbol is a house that sticks out prominently on a cliff or mountain, and 'borders the national forest', in real estate salesman cant. I saw some of those pretty close to where I was camped.

And what do they see out the prominent and expensive windows in their McMansions? Dead spruce trees, as in the photo above. Perhaps the real estate lobby will start fighting the Big Green lobby. That would be interesting to see. Then again, forests like in the photo are great for the woodpecker lobby.

I wish I knew more about the politics, pseudo-religious ideology, and junk-science of forest management around here. I suppose Big Green sees wood stoves as evil because they spit out carbon dioxide. If somebody pointed out that forest fires put out a little of that...

...the Green true believer would counter with, "Yea but that sort of carbon dioxide is natural and is coming from the Cathedral of Nature."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

New Chapter Began -- and Almost Ended -- Friday the 13th

I am in the habit of reading bicycle touring blogs, CrazyManOnaBike. I've noticed how uninteresting it can be to read the travel blogs of experienced and strong bicycle tourists. The daily numbers they put up are impressive. But everything is so smooth and predictable.

It is usually more fun to read the blogs of raw newbies. They are more open about their fear and wonder. They screw up and then have to deal with the drama of digging out of one mess after another.

This is redolent of my situation converting my first cargo trailer into a livable travel trailer. It was long-anticipated, and highly relished. But it turned out smoother than I thought. I didn't say 'easy.' But as I anticipate leaving on its maiden voyage tomorrow, Friday the 13th, I do feel slightly cheated. Where was the drama and the exquisite Noble Suffering that William James wrote about?

It seems playful to taunt the gods by starting life with my new trailer on Friday the 13th, after two months of sunrise-to-sunset work in converting it. It is strange how a vestige of superstition exists in Modern Man. For me it takes the form of fearing divine retribution for displaying hubris. 

It is entirely possible that the modern age is temperamentally superstitious under the outer skin of rational and scientific thinking. Consider what Gilbert Murray said in "Five Stages of Greek Religion:"

The great thing to remember is that the mind of man can not be enlightened permanently by merely teaching him to reject some particular set of superstitions. There is an infinite supply of other superstitions always at hand; and the mind that desires such things -- that is, the mind that has not trained itself to the hard discipline of reasonableness and honesty, will, as soon as its devils are cast out, proceed to fill itself with their relations.

All around us we see things like consumer brand loyalty, patriotism (the euphemism we normally use for imperialistic militarism), New Age fads, food fads and ideologies, quack herbal remedies, fear of Global Warming, etc.

But I'm not trying to sound totally superior to all of that. The great day finally arrived. I was getting ready to leave the heat and wind of Farmington NM, and then head to cooler Colorado, when I noticed the new trailer rising a bit at the hitch, whereas it had always been completely horizontal, before. Strangely, the (female) hitch wasn't really sitting down on the ball correctly. I had come that close to taking off with an accident waiting to happen. The gods were in fact still on duty.


In the Dolores, CO to Ouray, CO area over the next couple weeks? Feel free to email me if you would like to camp nearby and go mountain biking, dog walking, or cargo trailer note-swapping. I leave it to you to decide if I would be fun to camp with. My interests are listed at the top of the page. I don't really have much interest in the "boondocking" stereotype of the blogosphere, though. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fred Reed Rocks!

Fred Reed is one of my favorite writers. I don't know how many venues he uses; LewRockwell dotcom is the one I'm used to using to read him. Yesterday he really outdid himself. It seemed worthy of a long quote:
I wonder whether something else is not involved. Today most of us live in profound isolation from the natural world. People in large cities can go for decades without seeing the stars. Should they drive through the countryside, it will be in a closed automobile with the air-conditioning running. On a trip to the beach, the sand will be overrun by hordes of people, half of them on whining jet skis.
We exist utterly in a manmade cocoon, as much as desert termites in their mud towers. This, I think, profoundly alters our inner landscapes. Live in the rolling hills around Austin, say, as they were before they were turned into suburbs, with the wind soughing through the empty expanse and low vegetation stretching into the distance, the stars hanging low and close in the night, and you get a sense of man’s smallness in the scheme of nature, of the transitoriness of life, a suspicion that there may perhaps be more things in heaven and earth. It makes for reflection of a sort that throughout history has turned toward the religious.
People no longer live in large wild settings, but amid malls and freeways. The ancients believed that the earth was the center of the cosmos. We believe that we are. There is little to suggest otherwise in manicured suburbs and cities where the sirens will be howling at all hours. It is an empty world that begets philosophically empty thinking.
Without the sense of being small in a large universe, and perhaps not even very important, the question arises, “Is this all there is?” and the answer appears to be “Yes.” Without the awe and wonder and mystery of a larger cosmos, existence reduces to blowing smog, competitive acquisition of consumer goods, and vapid television with laugh tracks. We focus on efficiency, production, and the material because they are all we have. It is not particularly satisfying, and so we are not particularly satisfied.
I suspect that the decline of religion stems less from the advance of scientific knowledge than from the difficulty of discerning the transcendent in a parking lot.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dancing on Christopher Hitchens's Grave

Several years ago I skimmed Hitchens's God is Not Great. Disappointment, rather than disagreement, was the book's main effect on me. It is sophomoric for a modern intellectual to pose as Voltaire or Thomas Paine and rail against traditional religions. Why don't they show some real guts by taking on the conventional belief systems of the intelligentsia itself? These are well known, but seldom acknowledged and never criticized, by conventional intellectuals who want to stay popular within their own coteries. (They have to make a living after all, so they don't want to be on the receiving end of the subtle blacklisting that a Marxist or Green apostate would receive from an editor in the publishing industry or a reviewer at the New York Times.)  

None of the obituaries that I've read about Hitchens really inspires me to read any of his books. But the threshold is far lower for magazine-length articles. A fair number of them are free and accessible at Indeed, it was refreshing to read him railing against the Liberal-Left's darling, Michael Moore, of whom he says: "It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery."

So far I've only scratched the surface. Hitchens might be the kind of writer that does me a bit of good as long as I agree to disagree with him 80% of the time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crony Capitalism at Its Best

...meaning its worst. It's always a little surprising to read about the "visual pollution" of windmills or solar panel installations and the locals' objections to them. I think they look "cool". But maybe the novelty would wear off soon and I would want to go back to looking at the landscape proper. (Then again, nobody uses that argument for getting rid of highways, suburban sprawl, or power lines.)

This installation is near Deming in southern New Mexico. The first thought was, "Oh how pretty." The second thought was, "Aren't they supposed to move or something?" Apparently a 10 or 15 mph breeze just doesn't do it.

There was a wry irony to it. Here they were -- the great Green dream machines -- producing diddly squat in one of the windiest states in the USA. Wouldn't it have been delicious and naughty if a Prius had been parked at the nearby store, with all the canonical and stereotypical bumper stickers, and I had engaged them in a discussion of these stationary windmills. My guess is that what they literally saw would be less important to them than what it represents symbolically.

Or would that have been too snotty? RV travel offers a good chance to observe first-hand the Two Culture Gap, and I'm not talking about the one that CP Snow made famous a couple decades ago. I'm referring to the Red State/Blue State divide in modern America.

Personally I've noticed more snotty behavior on the part of Blue Staters than the other way around. Possibly the worst thing that he/she sees in the lowly Red Stater is their addiction to out-dated and traditional superstitions. The Blue Staters have outgrown all that, you know.

Imagine what fun Sir James George Frazer (The Golden Bough) would have with these modern tridentate Deities, sitting there uselessly except for the promise of Global Salvation and a Higher Moral Calling that they offer to liberals.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Count Tolstoy Versus the Colorado Arts Scene

Artists, artists everywhere! From the northern Rio Grande Valley, Sante Fe, Taos, Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, and into Colorado, the whole region is infested with artists. I'm even squatting on the driveway providing driveway security services at the home of a couple Colorado artists. You'd think that art was a major part of the economy. Since when did Americans become so arts-oriented?

If a traveler takes travel seriously -- that is, if travel is more than trivial sightseeing and generating digital postcards -- he needs to ask: what is this place good for? What is special about it? Then he needs to do some thinking about a topic that the location brings up.

I reread Tolstoy's What is Art? (*) Before showing some juicy quotes from that book, let's first try to imagine an elderly Tolstoy -- with his beard and earnestness, now an ex-novelist, working to reform Christianity, and totally outside the intellectual mainstream of Europe -- walking through an art festival in summer in Colorado. I'll bet he would be scowling the entire way. You don't have to sympathize with the Prophet Tolstoy's views to believe that his ideas about art are worth listening to. From Chapter 2:

But the ordinary man either does not know, or does not wish to know, all this, and is firmly convinced that all questions about art may be simply and clearly solved by acknowledging beauty to be the subject-matter of art. To him it seems clear and comprehensible that art consists in manifesting beauty, and that a reference to beauty will serve to explain all questions about art.
But what is this beauty which forms the subject-matter of art? How is it defined? What is it?
It is taken for granted that what is meant by the word beauty is known and understood by every one. And yet not only is this not known, but, after whole mountains of books have been written on the subject...the question, What is beauty? remains to this day quite unsolved, and in each new work on aesthetics it is answered in a new way.
From Chapter 4:
Instead of giving a definition of true art, and then deciding what is and what is not good art by judging whether a book does or does not conform to the definition, a certain class of works, which for some reason pleases a certain circle of people, is accepted as being art, and a definition of art is designed to cover all these productions.
No matter what insanities appear in art, when once they find acceptance among the upper classes in society, a theory is quickly invented to explain and sanction them;
So the theory of art, founded on beauty, expounded by aesthetics, and in dim outline professed by the public, is nothing but the setting up as good of that which pleases us, i.e., pleases a certain class of people.
People who consider the aim of art to be pleasure cannot realize its true meaning and purpose, because they attribute to an activity, the meaning of which lies in its connections with other phenomena in life, the false and exceptional aim of pleasure.

Therefore, however strange it may seem, in spite of the mountains of books written about art, no exact definition of art has been constructed. And the reason of this is that the conception of art has been based on the conception of beauty.
The chapters that I condensed are concerned about What Isn't Art?, rather than what is, which was in later chapters.

(*) I wasn't able to find a text file version of this on the internet, but only the Google books version

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Servile to a Cervine, part 2

It is going to get a lot harder to bicycle up to the Continental Divide from now on. For the last month I was so inflamed with fear about being chosen for that jury that anger alone seemed to get me up the hill: as I ranted away internally, the miles and altitude slipped by almost without notice.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No Ridicule for Dud Left-Wing Doomsters

The laughter and ridicule aimed at the latest religious doomsday prophet made me sick. It's not that he wasn't a knave and a fool. But at least he accomplished his knavery the old-fashioned way: by talking saps and suckers out of their own money.

There is no accountability and ridicule for the doomsday prophets of the secular Left. Most of them have made lucrative careers based on the taxpayers' money. The most spectacular example is Al Gore and the Global Warming scam.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Belief System of Cheap Oil

Finally I found a big-picture article on the subject of oil and other resources. I am not terribly familiar with Jeremy Grantham but I do like this article, particularly the second graph, "Exhibit 2", on page 5.

The article is flawed. It is contaminated with standard environmental gloom and doom theology: mankind has been Sinful for living it up, therefore Gaia must punish mankind. I am heartily sick of supposedly intelligent "free-thinkers" taking pride in outgrowing outdated religious traditions intellectually, but then clinging to the most puerile, Sunday-school-kindergarten notions, emotionally. They do everything but suck on their thumbs.

Today let's consider some of the ideas in Grantham's article that seem profoundly true. One of them is that mankind needs to focus on growing qualitatively, rather than quantitatively. That's a big topic for another day.

In opposition to Grantham's environmental gloom-and-doomism, you could choose the so-called optimism of the business community. This is expressed most consistently and dogmatically by Forbes magazine. Good old-fashioned can-do optimism: let's work like hell, think positive, and sell 5% more of Whatever next year.

But is that belief system any more rational than the environmental one? Malthus, the Club of Rome, and Paul Ehrlich have looked pretty wrong. There are grounds for saying that humanity has been remarkably clever about creating new resources and adapting them to our needs. On the other hand these positive developments have taken place over the last 200 years, which is a small fraction of our history.

How do we know that we're going to keep discovering the equivalents of coal and petroleum and a couple other improvements? Maybe we were just lucky a couple times, and the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

Optimism (or Progress) is a belief system. Like Environmental Theology, it dresses itself up as Science, and tries to win people over with an aura of Inevitability. There is no fundamental law in Science or History that says that more people can enjoy more material goodies, with each succeeding generation, forever and ever, Amen. Entire books have been written on the idea of progress. It is a remarkably recent notion.

I am really interested in which of these two rival belief systems is more adult and rational.

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Front of a Dictator's Tank

At one point during the recent turmoil in Egypt I saw a video of unarmed Muslim protestors kneeling on the street to pray right in front of a water cannon, which merrily blasted away at them. That had quite an effect on me. I wonder how many proud secularists in the West felt uncomfortable watching that video, and if so, did they know why? Was it because of the obvious cruelty or was it something else?

There is a connection between this contemporary image and a point made by George Orwell in his review, written in the early days of World War II, of the unabridged edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf.
[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all Western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he never is a able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won't do.

Hitler...knows that human beings don't only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth control, and in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice...
A 'tin materialist/utilitarian/secularist' somehow won't do, either. Western utilitarians stand for nothing but the most craven comfort-worship. Their crowning achievement is the American baby-boomer generation, a generation that has never known sacrifice of any kind. It has never aspired to any achievement more noble than toys, entertainments, and status symbols. But since we haven't been hit with a real life-or-death struggle for so many years, we can't yet appreciate what pygmies we've become.
(George Orwell, "Notes on the Way," from Time and Tide.) I thought of a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate, and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul, and there was a period -- twenty years, perhaps -- during which he did not notice it.
Most baby boomers will probably make it to the grave and never really discover that they 'can't fly'. Maybe that will be OK with America at large. The government could start some new loan program that would fund more exotic funerals or coffins for dead baby boomers. I wouldn't mind having titanium handles on my coffin, and a high-tech carbon-fiber lid.

In our "War on Terror" everybody in the West believes that they hold the high moral ground since suicide bombers deliberately target innocent people. But I wonder if compassion for the victims is the real concern, or whether it's the unnerving idea that there are people in this world who care more for an idea or principle than their own skin.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Charlemagne's Ghost

One of the biggest news stories of the past year has been the financial crisis in Europe. If European unification fizzles, it wouldn't be the first time.

But what does the current unifying force consist of? Bureaucrats and technocrats? A utilitarian ethic built around material comfort. Taxes, regulations, uniformity codes, and coercion. How inspiring!

But "inspiration" of some kind has been a big part of Europe, beginning in the Dark Ages. From Toynbee's Study of History (abridged), vol. I, page 13:
In fact the Empire fell and the Church survived just because the Church gave leadership and enlisted loyalty whereas the Empire had long failed to do either...
Thus the Church, a survival from the dying society, became the womb from which in due course the new one was born.
Some of that "leadership" was pure bureaucracy. The Catholic Church is almost an alien thing to people who grew up in the Protestant Midwest. As a young man I was on a airplane flight with a rather loud man a couple seats aft, who talked endlessly about his organizational headaches and Machiavellian office politics. He never mentioned the organization itself, but I just assumed it was a Fortune 500 corporation. When the jet landed and we started to unload I turned around to see what that obnoxious middle-aged man looked like. I was astonished to see a Catholic official of some middling rank.

One way to look at Europe is to say that it started on Christmas Day, 1210 years ago when Charlemagne was crowned as a Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in St. Peter's basilica, on A.D. 800. The motivations of Charlemagne and the Pope are still matters of some controversy, but surely they thought they'd be more powerful working together. Using military might Charlemagne unified most of Europe. He forcibly converted the (German) Saxon heathens to Christianity. He introduced many reforms, including a new European currency, and the lower case letters that you are now reading.

His Empire didn't survive him, but his legacy was still vast. France and Germany have been the core of European civilization ever since.

A belief system and a government had given each other strength; one governed Europe's body, and the other its soul. Perhaps that's one problem for the current European experiment. In Brussels it has the bureaucracy to intrude on and micromanage the tiniest aspects of Europe's material life, but where is the belief system that can inspire the Europeans, now that Christianity has been dead since the Enlightenment of the 1700s, and Marxism fell with the Berlin Wall?

Global Warming was supposed to be that grand unifying belief system. Actually Environmentalism is the overall Faith, but without a focus it becomes vague and passive, and easy to postpone. After all, Christianity had its Nicene Creed and Crusades. Marxism had its internationalist "missionary" work, Comintern global convocations, and revolutionary eschatology. Europe needed Global Warming to extend the same emotional rhythms.  

Good versus Evil, Sin and Salvation, eternity -- it's all there in the three European belief systems of Christianity, Marxism, and Global Warming. But they had something else even more important: the sense that they are humble instruments of something greater than themselves, something that puts History on their side, and makes their wishes inevitable.

Original Christianity had the Second Coming, Calvinism had Predestination, and Marxism had Historical (Dialectic) Materialism. These "...satisfied the same hunger for an assurance that the forces of the Universe are on the side of the Elect." [*] That is why the Warmists have been so insistent that the 'science is settled, the debate is over.' They need the whole world to acknowledge that they have indeed seen the Future.

And then Climategate and the Copenhagen fiasco happened. But that's for another day.

[*] RH Tawney in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, p. 129.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rules of (Political) Engagement

It's not so hard to write a travel blog, as I know from past experience (rv-boondocker-explorer). After all, there are millions of armchair travelers who are easy to please with the morning news -- their daily dose of (free) escapism -- about where you slept last night and what the pretty scenery looks like there. Then there's your trip to the local Pioneer Museum, which is proud to feature the world's third largest ponderosa pine cone, etc. The challenge picks up considerably as you move away from the travel genre.

My half-seniorish brain is a giant compost heap, a mouldering pile of half-forgotten quotes from a lifetime of reading classic books. I can't quite remember a nice quote about needing to be almost formally and ritualistically polite in conversations if we are to have full-bodied discussions of any type. This is pertinent to a blogger who wants to crawl out of the trivia and small talk.

For instance you can't discuss much without using labels, which really aren't that different from common nouns, intellectually. But upon doing so, you've already offended half the readership since labels tend to come with emotional baggage.

Let's say you're discussing Issue X. Rather than try to beat your opponent down by showing him how he is completely full of crap on Issue X, imagine how much more civil and amicable it would be if you demonstrated that you are both really arguing about Issue Y that lies silently under X. (And he's wrong on Y.)  At that point you agreeably go off on your separate ways as far as Issue Y is concerned, knowing that you've accomplished a little something. 

Take the issue of Global Warming via industrial CO2. Before you spit out the first buzzword, your readers can tell which side you're on; half of them leave in disgust, and then ones that remain create an echo chamber for you. But that's the challenge. Let us introduce the labels, Climate Alarmists versus Crisis-Deniers. These are reasonably short and accurate. (You could even say 'fair and balanced.' Oops.) At any rate they are better than the more propagandist terms in daily usage.

Earlier I argued that an amateur blogger should start from a different premise than the professionals, or condense the issue, or ask people to back up a step. Does one need to be a botanist or wildlife biologist to assert that the warm regions of the Earth contain more life than the polar regions? Shouldn't environmentalists and nature-lovers see more life as a good thing? If so, why is gradual warming and a little more CO2 a bad thing?

Some readers are rolling their eyes and saying, "Well, warmth and CO2 are great if they are natural, but..."

Oh dear, there's that word again. Natural. For today let it stand as a success if the reader even partly agrees with me that our emotional philosophy about that loaded word is really what the so-called Global Warming debate is about.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Religion Reinvents Itself

The text for today's sermon is from William Barrett's Irrational Man, the chapter on The Decline of Religion. 
The central fact of modern history in the West -- by which we mean the long period from the end of the Middle Ages to the present -- is unquestionably the decline of religion.

The decline of religion in modern times means simply that religion is no longer the uncontested center and ruler of man's life, and that the Church is no longer the final and unquestioned home and asylum of his being.
Oh really?! Hadn't Barrett ever heard of Marxism? What would he say of Global Warming and the regulation of carbon? If the Warmists had their way, the taxation and regulation of carbon would make Muslim Sharia law look as watery and flexible as the Garrison Koehler's proverbial Ten Suggestions of the Unitarians.

As religion came to be doubted, it learned to adapt itself. It became less about quasi-mythological persons or writings of a distant past, and more oriented toward the future. Holy Books, written long ago, are static targets for scholars and historians. Their authority is gradually eroded as flaws and inconsistencies are identified, or as scientific discoveries are made. Thus it's an evolutionary advantage for any religion to essentially worship a Church (or Party), rather than a Holy Book. The Church can adapt and evolve.

Religion has learned to dress itself up as Science and Progress. Logic-chopping by medieval theologians is seen today as being no more useful than chasing mice around inside one's own skull. But a modern belief system can wow the modern world if it is "proven" by mathematical modeling, which modern divines have been sly enough to call computer "experiments." Many people just don't catch on to how circular computer modeling is.

Instead of an erodible fable from the past, religion has learned to center itself on the Future. No smart-guy can disprove your theory of Future, since it hasn't happened yet. Of course the religion must be a bit vague about the actual date of the Second Coming, the Revolution, or Icecap Melting. Look at the Great Disappointment of 1844 or more recently, the Y2K farce.

It's a difficult balancing act to make a theory of the Future compelling and urgent, in order to cut through all the noise. It must also put the Future far enough out as to avoid looking foolish to the present generation. How did Christianity ever survive the embarrassment of Christ's own prophecy not coming true? (The Second Coming happening in the lifetime of his generation)

Regarding the religion of Progress, I can remember all kinds of false prophecies from my youth. People haven't switched from going to work in their cars to helicopters; they just spend more time stuck in traffic. 

Literary and humanistic types were frightened of robots back in 1950s and 1960s; they turned out to be nothing more than machine tools with microprocessors attached. The futuristic utopia of the space age fizzled out; putting Man on the moon had no more consequences than Perry reaching the North Pole or Hillary reaching the top of Everest. 

Around 1980 researchers in the military-industrial complex were screaming about America's supercomputers losing out to Japan's; ironically big mainframes were on the way out right then, since it was the dawn of the personal computer age. (Still, you can't blame the researchers for trying the tactic that had delivered the funding in the 1950s, due to the fear of Russky H-bombs and Sputnik.)

One of Star Trek's favorite episodes was the one with Ricardo Montablan playing "Khan," the leader of eugenically engineered supermen of the 1990s. The show was written in 1967; how many generations of breeding did they expect to squeeze into 25 years?! Well, no matter; in 1967 the 1990s seemed so far away.

It is doubtful whether humankind will ever outgrow its emotional need for utopian or apocalyptic prophecies, especially when its mental world is drawn for it by intellectuals who are making a good living in the racket. The modern bureaucratized intellectual uses dreams about the Future the same way official priesthoods used myths and fables of the past in an earlier age.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nature Before Rousseau

It's probably time to explain why I am so resentful about being clumped in with the itinerant nature-monks and desert ascetics who are not so rare in the RV blogosphere. At times it seems that they belong in the Canterbury Tales. Most of them were young adults who were influenced by Earth Day 1970, and are now retirement age.

The irruption of nature-romanticism circa 1970 is one of those recurring fantasies that our civilization is susceptible to. Before Earth Day 1970, nature-romanticism had been in abeyance since the publication of Thoreau's Walden. Naturally young hippies, with little interest in old folks' history, thought they were on to something novel and exciting with their recycled sentiments of the Romantic age. They painted up the VW bus and headed back to the Garden of Eden with just a plastic sheet and some bean and squash seeds, back to an age of innocence and peace when man lived in Harmony with Nature, and shared everything equally.

In its 1970 reincarnation, in Thoreau's Transcendentalism, or even back in Rousseau's time, nature-Romanticism was a post-Christian belief system. "Searchers" weren't really that interested in nature herself; they were looking for a replacement for the Faith that had been emptied of all its blood by the great leech of Enlightenment. From a history book I'm enjoying at the moment,
"Many people came to hold, more or less loosely, something like this Idealist-Romantic position, meaning that we can see God or a higher reality in Nature, actually commune with it, feel its basic kinship with our souls." (An Intellectual History of Modern Europe, Roland Stromberg, Ch. 7, p. 214)
I don't really care for finding a Divine Immanence in a silly forest, but I'll admit that Thoreau's need to do so led to his inspired writing. In contrast I am loyal to a pre-Christian approach to outdoor experience: Epicureanism, the avoidance of Pain and the search for Pleasure.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dancing with Wolves, part 2

My little poodle has recovered wonderfully from his wounds after the coyote attack of 12 days ago. He even insisted on returning to the evil field today, with the leash on, of course. In the aftermath of that attack I was amazed by the generous care of a woman in my RV park who used to be a veterinary technician.

Then it got better: another woman who used to live here heard the news of the attack. She is only five feet tall and weighs about a hundred pounds; but if I had blocked the door, I think she would have knocked me out of the way on her way to cooing over the little poodle. When she lived here, we barely acknowledged each other's existence.

This recalled the opening of Arthur Schopenhauer's dreadful essay On Women, which nonetheless started well with a quote from Jouy: "Without women, the beginning of our life would be helpless; the middle, devoid of pleasure; and the end, of consolation."
Nature was certainly erupting that day, if you are willing to see homo sapiens as an animal species. The women displayed an assertiveness that was almost violent. No wonder people living thousands of years ago, who were in much closer contact with real (non-pinup calendar) nature, made a goddess of Mother Nature. And I was part of it: I took a weapon to the grassy field on the next walk with my larger dog, Coffee Girl. It must have looked foolish to anyone else, but it provided me the delicious fantasy of burying that weapon in the skull of the coyote.

Something that a couple people said irked me greatly; they said that, after all, he (the coyote) was here first, and so they hoped he wouldn't be killed. "Here first?" What did that mean? If they wanted to trot out that cliche for an attack in the zillion-acre wilderness area a few miles to our north, fine. But this attack took place on private property in the city limits.

For some reason this got me thinking about the movie Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner (yuk). After so many years of full time RV travel, how did I neglect to visit the hilly South Dakota grasslands where the movie was shot? I rewatch it from time to time and try to focus on the cinematography and John Barry's soundtrack. The script is dreadful. Consider these immortal words of the protagonist:
"I'd never known a people [the Sioux] so eager to laugh, so devoted to family, so dedicated to each other. And the only word that came to mind was 'harmony.' "
When will the environmentalists of the world hire a new prose stylist? Still, the movie viewer can be thankful that Kevin Costner didn't rattle on about how each cloud, weed, or rock was 'sacred to the Native Americans.'

But just when I decided that the movie's script had no hope, they fooled me. The Sioux and the Pawnee had a battle, and the Costner-character volunteered to help his hosts, the Sioux. After the battle he said:
"It was hard to know how to feel. I'd never been in a battle like this one. There was no dark political objective. It had been fought to protect the lives of women and children and loved ones just a few feet away."
Is it not amazing that the Hollywood liberal-weenie who wrote the script had enough of a connection to real nature -- not coffee-table book nature -- to see that violence was a legitimate part of the DNA of male homo sapiens?