Thursday, 30 September 2010

Brave New Religion

From The Holy Spirit Lost - Brave New Religion, by Father Andrew Phillips - 


"To Orthodox missionaries coming from abroad (and I am one of them) modern English society presents a very strange face. 

"Often we feel as imaginary visitors from other planets might feel, such are the strange contradictions and incongruities of modern life in England. The loss of faith and so the advance of practical and theoretical paganism under the mask of humanism, has been very rapid. 

"A once Christian nation now wallows in depravity. There is astonishment at how quickly a once Christian society can lose the Holy Spirit, can lose its faith, crumble and collapse. 

"However, an analysis of the problem shows us that the roots of the essential problem of the loss of the Holy Spirit, the loss of faith, lie deep within the inner workings of Heterodoxy and stretch back nearly one thousand years.

"For this reason the collapse of Heterodox Christianity in England has not taken place because of fierce persecution or because it has been rejected from the outside. The collapse has occurred from inside, its collapse has been voluntary, self-inflicted, suicidal, the result of the internal logic of a false doctrine, the filioque. 

"The loss of the Holy Spirit, the loss of faith has not occurred because English Heterodox have been persecuted, but because the essential nature of English Heterodoxy has for centuries been worldly and world-loving. 
"Without the Tradition of the Church, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, without monastic life, Heterodoxy has gradually, at first imperceptibly, then perceptibly, openly encouraged and then fallen into worldliness. 

"The brave new religion of secular humanism has in fact developed because worldliness has since the mid-eleventh century been an integral and systemic part of Heterodoxy.

There is reason for despair only if one has oneself lost faith. But those who still have faith also know that the present great apostasy can be reversed. 

"At the beginning, at Pentecost, there were only the Twelve. But an Empire fell to them. The same can happen again, if humanity turns back to Christ. 

"Although it may seem unlikely that humanity will yet return, like the Prodigal Son to the embrace of the Father, to a new age of the Christian Faith, to the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit, the last word in history has not yet been uttered. 

"And this is our hope."


The rest of this very interesting and hard-hitting essay is at:

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My recollection/ understanding of Pascal's Pensees

After one reading and about a month of cogitation my recollection/ understanding of Pascal's Pensees is as follows:

That Christ was, indeed, the Son of God was confirmed (for his contemporaries) mainly by the fact that he fulfilled the prophecies of the Jews regarding the Messiah, and by the miracles and wonders he performed.

Prophecy and miracle confirming that Christ was who he said he was, his statements are therefore true. (Revelation.)

Also, that we should want Christianity to be true, and to become Christians, is compelling; because the Christian promise or hope answers to our profoundest needs and greatest desires; whereas the promise of all other religions does not answer to our profoundest needs and greatest desires (nor, in most instances, do other religions even attempt to do this - nor to answer questions about creation, purpose, meaning etc.).

Other religions therefore do not answer the deepest questions (even if they were true), but Christianity does.

Therefore, since it has no rival, we should be Christian because even if we regard the evidence for Christianity being true as being inconclusive, or open to doubt, or indeed very probably false; so long as we are not 100 percent convinced that the evidence cannot possibly be true (and this belief would be irrational), then we ought to believe Christianity from sheer common sense...

(and also from an understanding of probability theory - a small chance of infinite benefit always being a better bet than a greater likelihood of finite loss - Pascal being a mathematical pioneer in this field).

(This last being my understanding of Pascal's 'wager').

Christianity - about rescue from nihilism not punishment for disbelief

Christianity is about rescuing us from the human condition. And the human condition is one of meaninglessness and purposelessness - in other words it is one of nihilism. 

Modern culture is all about happiness, about gratification - about maximizing pleasure and minimizing suffering. Hence, modern evaluations of Christianity focus on happiness - for example whether being or becoming a Christian would be likely to make people more or less happy - happy here and now, or happy over the course of a normal life expectancy.

But this is missing the point completely.


Happiness - of an intensity beyond that of any normal human experience - can, after all, nowadays be purchased for the price of a dose of something like crack cocaine. Admittedly, the longer-term cost of this will be very high indeed. But the point is that crack cocaine refutes the idea that maximizing pleasure is the goal of life.

In the past, for hundreds, thousands, of years - people intrinsically understood that humans were in need of rescue, because human life as such was meaningless and purposeless. We still believe this - or at least that is what the most prestigious philosophers, poets, artists, scientists etc. have been saying for a few hundred years.

Why, then, do most modern people, most of the time, feel no need for rescue?

The answer is simple: distraction. It is not that moderns have found a solution or answer to nihilism, it is not that moderns have transcended nihilism in any way shape or form.

It is instead simply that modern culture has evolved to become incredibly effective at stopping people from thinking about this kind of stuff like meaning or purpose - of distracting, deflecting attention, of providing absorption, of drugging us with pleasures or numbing us with pain, anxiety, distress. 

We call this state of continual distraction 'happiness' (or, at least, we call the absence of existential panic happiness).


But Christianity says that distraction per se makes no difference whatsoever to the basic or ultimate human condition - the human condition is the same whether we are aware of it, or are prevented from being aware of it (or prevent ourselves).

The ultimate human condition is the same for us as for the Old Testament Jews, the Ancient Greeks or the Romans - the difference is that we (in our Brave New World) are continuously drugged and numbed, and long-since addicted to the drugging and numbing: I mean really addicted, not just metaphorically.

So Christianity in modernity is in the situation of offering to rescue people from a condition of which they are not aware.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Fr. Seraphim Rose on the genuine Orthodox tradition

"Meanwhile, the genuine Orthodox tradition continues as it has always been, trying to preserve its integrity in the midst of (...) conflicting currents. 

"Fortunately, this tradition has a way—with the help of God, Who looks after His Church—of preserving itself from the extremes that often try to deflect it from its course. This self-preservation and self-continuity of the Orthodox tradition is not something that requires the assistance of 'brilliant theologians'; it is the result of the uninterrupted 'catholic consciousness' of the Church which has guided the Church from the very beginning of its existence. 

"It is this catholic consciousness which preserved the wholeness of Russian Orthodoxy in the 1920’s when the extreme reforms of the 'Living Church' seemed to have taken possession of the Church and many of its leading hierarchs and theologians; this same catholic consciousness is at work today and will continue to preserve Christ’s Church through all the trials of the present day, just as it has for nearly 2000 years. 

"Those who speak for it are often not the 'brilliant theologians', who can be led astray as easily as anyone else, but more often humble laborers in Christ’s vineyard who would be surprised and even offended that anyone should make anything of their labors or even call them 'theologians'. (...)

"In all his writings, Fr. Michael is not trying to discover anything Тnew~~ in Orthodox tradition, or to stand out for the sharpness of his cri-ticisms — common faults in today’s academic theology. Rather, he attempts to give only his own humble, serene reflections on the wealth of Orthodox teaching which he accepts as already established and experi-enced by centuries of theologians and simple Christians before him. 

"Even when, for the sake of truth, he does find it necessary to criticize a view, whether inside or outside the Orthodox Church, he does it with such gentleness and good intention that it is impossible for anyone to be offended by him.
"Most of all, in Fr. Michael’s writings one may see a characteristic of genuine Orthodox theology that is so often lost sight of in our cold, rationalistic age. Theology is not primarily a matter of arguments, criticisms, proofs and disproofs; it is first of all men’s word about God, in accordance with the Divinely-revealed teaching of Orthodoxy.

"Therefore, its first purpose and intent is always to inspire, to warm the heart, to lift one above the petty preoccupations of earth in order to glimpse the Divine beginning and end of all things and so to give one the energy and encouragement to struggle towards God and our heavenly homeland. 

"This is certainly the meaning and spirit of the theology of Orthodoxy’s three pre-eminent 'theologians': St. John the Evangelist, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Symeon the New Theologian; they, one may say, have set the tone for Orthodox theology, and this remains the tone and the task of theology even in our cold-hearted and analytic age.

"Father Michael’s theology is in this warm-hearted and inspiring tone. He is not the only one to write Orthodox theology with this intent today, but he is one of the few, in an older generation that is fast vanishing, who can serve as a link between us and the genuine theology of the Holy Fathers."


From: Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky: theology in the ancient tradition. Preface to Orthodox Dogmatic Theoology - by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose.Third edition. 2009. St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. 

A transcription is at : 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Regular blogging suspended, again.

Thanks very much to regular readers and commenters.

Reason: either the blog has served its purpose, or else I have run out of daily ideas, or both.

Voldemort is back!

I'm reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (keeping my daughter company through the series) - this is the one in which Harry Potter and his associates know that Voldemort is back (Harry has seen him with his own eyes, been attacked by him); but the wizarding government and civil service and the 'mass media' (i.e. a newspaper called the Daily Prophet) deny the facts, label Potter at al as either crazy or evil, and interpret all evidence of Voldemort's increasing power in other ways - either ignoring them utterly, down-playing them, or re-interpreting them as the fault of HP and his associates.

This is helped by the fact that Voldemort is so feared that he is never specifically mentioned but is talked around as 'he who must not be named', or 'you know who'.

V is feared because he is powerful and relentless with a track record of near total domination; and because those who oppose him are so weak (and infiltrated) that defiance of the 'HWMNBN'd is more likely to be punished by officialdom than supported or assisted. 

Because 'he' cannot be named or blamed, wizard bureaucracy is therefore primarily focused against dissident wizards who are named, blamed, and shamed; meanwhile Voledemort's most powerful supporters are allowed to escape from confinement (the prison guards have apparently changed sides and released them). 

Then I survey the international media and Western government pronouncements on Google news and see that we live in the same world.


Interestingly, JK Rowling - although a professed Christian - is a very strong supporter of the British New Labour party and in her public pronouncements seems to be utterly captive to PC  - which shows that she must be a good enough novelist to be able to write with deeper truthfulness than her aware and explicit convictions.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A conduit of cash from England to Scotland? John Hoskyns

From Brief Lives by John Aubrey,

re. John Hoskyns:

"He was a close prisoner in the Tower, tempore regis Jacobi [in the time of James the First of England's reign - 24 March 1603 – 27 March 1625], for speaking too boldly in the Parliament house of the king's profuse liberality to the Scotts.

"He made a comparison of a conduit, whereinto water came, and ran-out afarre-off.

"' Now,' said he, ' this pipe reaches as far as Edinborough.'

"He was kept a ' close prisoner ' there, i. e., his windowes were boarded up. Through a small chinke he sawe once a crowe, and another time, a kite ; the sight whereof, he sayd, was a great pleasure to him.

"He, with much adoe, obtained at length the favour to have his little son Bennet to be with him ; and he then made this distich, viz. : —

"Parvule dum puer es, nee scis incommoda linguae, Vincula da linguae, vel tibi vincla dabit.

"Thus Englished by him : —

My little Ben, whil'st thou art young.
And know'st not how to rule thy tongue,
Make it thy slave whil'st thou art free,
Least it, as mine, imprison thee. "

Thursday, 23 September 2010

"The greatness of the English race" - Aubrey according to Anthony Powell

From John Aubrey and his friends by Anthony Powell, 1948:

'[Aubrey's] Lives - that extraordinary jumble of biography from which later historians have plundered so much of their picturesque detail - remain his masterpiece and gave him the distinction of being England's first serious biographer.

'Between the Lives' two extremes of length - forty or more pages to Thomas Hobbes, and to Abraham Wheloc the sole phrase "simple man" - are anecdotes and descriptions of writers, statesmen, soldiers, lawyers, scientists, astrologers, schoolmasters, rakes, ladies of the town, and obscure old friends, related in a manner truly without parallel.

'Indeed, to the question: 'What are the English like?' worse answers might be given than: 'Read Aubrey's Lives and you will see' ; for there, loosely woven together, is a kind of tapestry of the good and evil; ingenuity and the folly; the integrity and the hypocrisy; the eccentricity, the melancholy, and the greatness of the English race.'

[John Aubrey - 1626-1697; Anthony Powell - 1905-2000]



Well, that was written in 1948.

At that time the world of Aubrey was alive and well - for example The Inklings were an Aubrey-esque collection. Yet this aspect of the national life was already much less pronounced than before the 1914-18 war.

Even thirty years ago there was an slight yet real association between Aubrey's collection of eccentrics and 'humorists' and the people I knew around me in England, especially in the universities and medicine.

But not any more. That world is gone. Heigh-ho!

Dyed brown hair in young women: evolutionary psychology notes

For about 15 years I have been teaching the conventional wisdom of evolutionary psychology that hair is a primary signal of youth and health in women (cues of youth and health being equated with female beauty).

So that thick and lustrous hair was, under human ancestral conditions, an un-fake-able signal of youth and health - such that only healthy young women could possess it.

In other words, significant systemic disease or age would make hair less thick and/ or duller.

The result was that human men evolved to find thick lustrous hair attractive in women.


Of course, modern technology has made it possible for older and unhealthy women to mimic - more or less accurately - the thick lustrous hair of youth by using hair dye, hair conditioners, and even hair extensions and wigs. Nonetheless, although these may be convincing from a distance, from close range the special qualities of youthful and healthy hair are unmistakable.


So, from this evolutionary psychology perspective, and assuming that women are wanting to make themselves more attractive to men, it would make sense for older and less healthy women to dye their hair as carefully as possible such that it simulates the appearance of the hair of healthy young women.

But it would not make any sense for young, healthy women to dye their hair, since this would make it less attractive.

And indeed, twenty years ago sensible young women virtually never dyed their hair - except when they wanted to signal their membership of some 'tribe' (such as punks or goths, or being 'arty' ) and this was 1. the less sensible women, and 2. a distinct minority. A proportion of young women also signalled their sexual availability by bleaching their hair blond - although this made their hair very obviously artificial and less attractive.

This habit was first broken by the improvements in the technology for making hair blond. A very high proportion of young women with brown (aka. brunette, 'mousy') hair then 'went blond - around here it was about a quarter to one third of all young women who became artificially blond. Nonetheless, even about ten years ago many young women had natural, uncoloured hair.

But now essentially all young women have dyed hair.


The most striking aspect of universally dyed hair is the naturally brown-haired young woman who has her hair dyed brown.

Essentially, the hair is re-dyed almost exactly the same colour it was to begin-with.

So that her hair ends up the same as it was before, only less attractive - because it has been dyed.

Now, an 18 year old with naturally lustrous hair ends up with hair which looks the same as a thirty five year old with dyed hair.

What is going on?


From a perspective of evolutionary psychology I believe that this implies that modern women are clearly not primarily aiming to be attractive to men (or why else would they go to such effort and expense to make their hair - a major cue of their youth and health - less attractive?).

In a nutshell the reason is fashion. But what a strange thing this thing 'fashion' turns-out to be!

Women are dying their hair the same colour it was before because dying your hair is currently fashionable, and women do not want to go against fashion because... well, nothing really, except that it is apparently a fundamental drive among women (much more than it is among men) to conform to the perceived peer group behaviour of other women.


It is the 'perceived' peer group which is crucial, not necessarily the actual current behaviour of women in the real world: fashion is a product of the mass media which provides a powerful, pervasive, high status and seemingly-authoritative signal that 'fools' evolved human psychology into believing that what is depicted in the mass media is reality (in fact more real than actual reality) - and therefore what the peer group want.

(This point concerning the 'reality' of the mass media - especially to women - is so important, and so neglected, that it can scarcely be over-stated.)

A relatively very small number of women - and the (mostly homosexual) men, who substantially dominate the fashion industry - actually 'decide' what nearly all women do, by means of their large influence over the content of the mass media.

If the mass media depicts and endorses - explicitly or (even more effectively) implicitly that it is first 'OK' then 'in' to do something: then that thing will be done, by almost all women eventually; almost without regard for the real-world consequences, because the actual real world is perceived as less real than the mass media world.


And there are no obvious limits to what the peer group of other women can make individual women do to themselves: historical examples include genital mutilation and foot-binding; modern examples include tattooing and piercing - dying hair the same colour being a relatively mild example. 

What differs about the modern situation is that fashions change so quickly and frequently that their absurdity is blatant. (One can imagine that in the past, when 'fashions' changed so slowly and infrequently that they became characteristic of cultures, that it would not be obvious what was an arbitrary fashion and what was simply intrinsic to human behaviour. Indeed, fashion actually is an aspect of culture: i.e. culture which changes rapidly, within a lifetime.)

hence the blatantly arbitrary and ugliness-producing effects of fashion make no difference to the willingness of women to inflict damage on their attractiveness - the prime evolutionary directive is apparently to observe and learn fashion/ culture - and do it ASAP. 


So brown hair dyed an almost identical brown in young women is a small but prime exhibit in the case for the fundamental psychosis of modernity - that modern humans inhabit a society where strong, basic, evolved behaviours are subverted and over-turned, even where this behaviour causes immediate and obvious damage to an individual's probable reproductive success.

Pigeon-toed gait endemic among intelligent young women: medical note

I have observed that a pigeon-toed gait is now endemic among intelligent young women (such as students).

A pigeon-toed gait means walking such that the toes of the feet are turned-inwards.

A sign of habitual pigeon-toed walking is that the inner part of a shoe heel will be worn more than the outer part - in more severe instances the outer part of the shoe sole, or even the upper of the shoe, will become worn.


Being pigeon-toed used to be rare among adults - more common among children, most of whom grew out of it during their teens. It is regarded as a developmental disorder, caused by an inborn distortion of the leg or foot bones which becomes apparent in childhood (but which tended in the past to be self-correcting as the bones grew).

Being pigeon-toed is (almost certainly) dysfunctional on average - because human lower limbs are evolved to work best with straight or slightly out-pointing toes.

Yet I would estimate (from casual observation) that a high proportion of intelligent young English women in their late teens or early twenties (something between a quarter to a half perhaps?) now walk with a pigeon toed gait - all the time, with obviously worn inner heels.

This certainly was not the case thirty years ago.


So what has happened?

At first I thought it was simply an affectation, a pose, a fashion - an attempt to look sexy in a gawky teenage kind of way. But now I am pretty sure it is developmental - starting in childhood but not self-correcting in the teens, as it used to be. 

In fact, I have no idea what is going on!

My only notions (mere guesses) are maybe we are seeing some kind of dysgenic phenomenon which applies particularly to higher intelligence people (a side effect of assortative mating for some other trait, perhaps?); or that this is a kind of neoteny - of sustained immaturity, of carrying immature traits (characteristic of sexually immature childhood) into potentially-fertile adulthood.This would, again, have to be a side-effect of some other primary process - maybe a side effect of the generally neotenous trend in behaviour in modernizing societies -


But, really, I don't know. Any ideas?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Rhetoric versus Logic

Rhetoric formed one of the three basic elements of education which were called the Trivium - these were rhetoric, logic and grammar. The trivium - in varying combinations - formed the basis of education in the territory of the Classical era Roman Empire for most of two thousand years.

Rhetoric is, roughly, the art of effective communication - and especially refers to formal public communication: to oratory, letters, official documents, and to the canonical forms of expressive writing such as poetry.


Although I first came across the ancient conflict between rhetoric and logic in Robert M Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which I read in 1976 - my current interest in rhetoric comes from the Great Schism in Christianity when the Western Latin Roman Catholic Church diverged from the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church.

In the era of Classical Rome, rhetoric was primary, but throughout the first millennium AD the Latin West progressively gave primacy to logic over rhetoric, while the Greek East retained to the end an emphasis on rhetoric as the main focus of education.


Rhetoric is deeply unfashionable in the modern West; having for 100 years at least had almost wholly negative connotations.

"Rhetoric has come to mean an windy way of speech, marked by a pompous emptiness and insincerity, and trotted out as a trick on any occasion calling for solemn humbug.

"It did not mean this to the Middle Ages. To them it meant the whole craft of writing, the arts and devices by which whatever you had to say could best be varied, clarified and elaborated; it even included the study of appropriate gesture."

Nevill Coghill. Geoffrey Chaucer. Longmans, Green and Co, 1956.  p15.


By contrast, logic is - even nowadays, when its practice has seldom been less rigorous - accorded a theoretical deference.

The primacy of logic was at the root of the Roman Catholic Church, and led to that high development of formal education in the Medieval Universities of the West (such as Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge) which was scholasticism: characterized by a prolonged training by means of lectures, commentaries and disputations. This led onto modern science.


For the Classical Romans, rhetoric was primarily the training of orators or public speakers, with structuring and delivering speeches of praise or blame; while for the Byzantine Romans (as for the Western Medieval era) rhetoric was more concerned with written communication: especially with learning and applying the proper forms for writing letters and official documents.


There's a lot that needs to be said about rhetoric, and its loss from modern life. But one aspect is that when logic replaced rhetoric in the West this was not a like-for-like replacement.

Logic has pretensions to being the primary mode of evaluation and indispensable; while rhetoric is a second order, subservient discipline.

I mean that while logic (or philosophy, or dialectic, or science) has been put forward as the master evaluative discipline; rhetroic is not and cannot be a master discipline.

Rhetoric is in itself neither the good nor is it bad, 'the good' is located elsewhere and above rhetoric.

For Classical Romans rhetoric was subject to religion and ethics; for Byzantine Romans rhetoric was subject to Christianity. The value of effective rhetoric came from that which it argued. 

But logic has claimed to be the good or behaved as if it were the good, and claimed to be the truth or behaved as if it had an unique access to the truth - and these claims and behaviours have been accepted in practice, as well as in theory.


One aspect of this relates to 'the university' as a cultural institution. To the Latins the university - as the summit of formal education - was (in its ideal form - e.g. Paris around the time of Aquinas) the prime location of human legitimacy, and the expert logician provided the underpinning for culture including the proper formulation of Christianity.

Reading accounts of the Western Medieval education, I am filled with something akin to awe at the rigour and precision, the scope and thoroughness, leave aside the sheer duration of, the philosophical education.

Yet, at root, I think all this was mistaken, a wrong emphasis, and something which has led to much that is bad about society now - indeed to the fatal weakness of modernity.


For the Byzantine Orthodox tradition, the university was merely one of several means to the end of an education in rhetoric - and rhetoric was much less important to the East than logic was to the West.

With rhetoric at the focus of education there was no danger of an academic discipline taking-over official, legitimate public discourse in the way that logic/ dialectic/ philosophy/ science has monopolized official, legitimate public discourse in the West.

(Not that modern Western public discourse is logical! Nothing could be further from the truth. But the dominant discourse of legalistic bureaucracy is an evolutionary descendant of logic - and excludes the rhetorical, along with 'the good'.)

This could not have happened in the Byzantine Empire because rhetoric is intrinsically, obviously, a second- order activity - the good (truth, beauty and virtue) lay elsewhere, and rhetoric could only serve truth - rhetoric could not masquerade as the good.


The communications of Byzantine bureaucrats were apparently full of flowery, insincere and bombastic rhetoric - which signalled social status and cultivation - but this fault does not seem anything like so destructive as the deadly, deathly, life-sucking, uni-dimensional 'rational'-yet-lying communications of modern Western administrators - a legacy of the Western side of the Great Schism and its over-valuation of logic above rhetoric.

Vampirism - specific instance of the characteristic behaviour of modernity

The popular culture obsession with vampires is obvious - I believe that this fascination arises because vampires represent, in a mythological form, the characteristic behavioural response of moderns when experiencing the major spiritual malaise of our era: alienation.


Alienation is feeling cut-off from 'life' - an isolated consciousness in a dead world - and of life having no meaning or purpose.

Modern life is seen as a matter of meaningless bureaucracy, of imposed duties, of mere exixtence followed by pointless death and being forgotten.

This is a near universal, but especially common among those who think most abstractly - those of higher intelligence and education.


There is no full solution to alienation in modernity - but temporary solutions include intoxication; 'losing-onself' in virtual realities such as books, movies and TV; making one's life into an absorbing/ distracting emotional war-zone or psychodrama - and vampirism.

The vampire drains vitality from those with whom it come into contact. The surge in vitality is gratifying and energizing, and cures alienation - purpose is recovered in the search for victims.

Exploitative sexual relations (or implicit/ potential sexual relations) are one obvious example; but vampirism also includes draining love and affection from friends and collagues, draining their energy and cheerfulness, or diverting their purposefulness.


Since alienation is a basic problem which cannot be solved in a secular and worldly context, the primary response is to lead a life of 'seeking' - specifically seeking vitality, contact with reality, relationships.

But having sought and found, we are up-against the biological universal of habituation - such that repeated stimuli lose their effect.

So seeking never ends, but overcoming habituation requires either serial change, refreshment - in a word novelty; or else increasingly-strong stimuli.

The stimuli may be media or technological (i.e. 'whatever works') - but for humans (as 'social animals' in origin) - the strongest stimuli, which work-best, are often other people.


So the vampiric seeker moves through the world, seeking energy-releasing stimuli (i.e. 'victims' ).

When a suitable victim is found, the vampire will drain vitality from the encounter - energy which is diverted into sense of connecting with life, of motivation, and the meaningfulness of life.

But this gratification is temporary.

These positive feelings fade - later or (usually) sooner - and the vampiric seeker must seek a new victim, serially zig-zagging through life after new stimuli, some novelty which 'works for them'.


By this account, human modern secular social life is divided into vampires and victims, the powerful and the weak, the exploiters and the exploited.

For the vampires there is pride, mastery, power. This is the all-absorbing purpose of life, validated by primal gratification; complete, explicit, shameless, self-glorifying self-sufficiency in self-regard.

The ideal life is seen as one of dominating, utterly-draining and then discarding multiple serial victims; a compromize is to live off one or a few people who are partially-drained then allowed to recover until suitable for further vampirism.


For the victims - the weak and exploited - there is the adoption of victim status (either by deliberate choice, or simply by habit); the finding of sequential temporary meanings and purposes in being-used.

Life becomes a process of serial submission, recovery and regeneration; with the implicit aim of offering one's vitality to the most prideful, masterful, and powerful vampire possible.

The ultimate goal is that of voluntary and vicarious self-sacrifice to the vampire - to be so utterly dedicated and drained as actually to die in submission.


This dark and deadly, nihilistic, vision of life as a war between potential exploiters - with the only opt-out being suicide - is what underlies the contemporary cultural fascination with vampires: vampirism is modernity recognizing-itself in myth.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Bubbles everywhere

We have seen a partial-collapse of the finance bubble based ultimately on house price inflation - however, Western governments have tried very hard to prevent house prices from dropping, so in fact the bubble is not fully deflated.

There is much talk of a bubble in higher education, based on fee inflation.

Other bubbles in the West include government employment - public sector expenditure; the legal profession, health services and science (especially medical research).

There are bubbles everywhere - indeed Western societies are essentially bubbles.


Bubbles are based on people mistaking consumption for investment:

people bought over-priced houses they did not need and could not afford because they imagined houses were an investment, when actually they were not investing but consuming the ownership of a house;

people are actually consuming college education but they imagine that it is an investment in their abilities, employability and future salaries;

people are actually consuming health care but imagining that it is improving their health;

increased spending on medical research is imagined to improve medical treatment (hence improve health) but being a medical research funder is actually consuming a status-oriented luxury good.

And so on...


So bubbles are really inflation, i.e. things are costing more and more for what you get.

But the bubble is fuelled by the delusion that cost increases are actually a good thing: that increasing house prices, years of education, amount of health care, and quantity of medical research are actually good in themselves because they invariably generate greater benefits than their costs.

In reality you are getting less per unit investment, in imagination your ever increasing-investment is misunderstood to imply that what you are getting has an ever increasing value.

This thinking is rampant in property speculation, where people have been brainwashed, or have brainwashed themselves, into believing that house inflation (paying ever more for ever less) is somehow 'a good thing' because house inflation is (supposedly) an index of prosperity.

People don't - yet - feel the same about food price inflation as such (although many people are happy to invest in consuming over-priced 'organic' and health food on spurious 'investment' grounds that doing so will improve their health - so maybe there is a bubble in food prices too?)


These bubbles amount to borrowing from the future with payments deferred and deferred by ever-increased borrowing on the basis of ever-more-exaggerated hopes; and at some point reality bites and either the future will need to be paid, or the present will default and the future will suffer a massive loss. Guess which?

George Waddington (1793-1869)- A 19th century Durham University worthy

From Durham University by Fowler: 

... according to the Order in Council of 1841, [Dean George Waddington] succeeded Archdeacon Thorp as Warden of [Durham] University in 1862, being then nearly seventy years old.

A man of that age could hardly be expected to show much activity on succeeding to a post which he had never desired, but he showed liberality and wisdom in promoting the interests of the University. (...)

He was a man of stately presence, and his magnificent appearance as he stood in the Dean's stall [at Durham Cathedral] was greatly enhanced by his singularly fine head of snow-white hair. He had a grand, sonorous voice, and his splendid delivery in reading and preaching still lives in vivid rememberance.

He never could be fairly charged with any tendency to asceticism, but rather the reverse.

He was fond of old English sports, and used to visit the boxing booths at Durham Races. It was sais that he objected to dinner 'without a bird', his cellar was superlative, and he considered any pictures or other works of art - unless it were the culinary art - were quite out of place in a dining room.

He could use forcible language on occasion, as once when the conversation turned on smoking, and he said, 'I abominate the stink of tobacco!'

A mischievous lady asked Archdeacon Bland, 'What did the Dean say, Mr Archdeacon?'

That gentle diginitary replied, 'The Dean says that he dislikes the scent of the cigar.'

The Dean, overhearing, said aloud, 'What I say is, that I abominate the stink of tobacco !'

He was never married.

From Durham University: Earlier Foundations and Present Colleges, by JT Fowler MA FSA. Published by FE Robinson and Co., London, 1904. Pages 115-6.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Common sense law versus nonsensical legalism

“Until the thirteenth century most countries continued to use the old legal codes that they had followed for generations.

“In these codes, the legal process was started when a member of the public made a formal ‘accusation’.

“When criminal accusations were made, the defendant had a number of ways in which he could demonstrate his innocence. One was to produce a number of character witnesses who would demand an acquittal. Another was to undergo trial by ordeal.

“In neither case did real evidence have much relevance. Furthermore the accuser was vulnerable to punishment if the defendant was acquitted.

“Someone with a bad reputation could never win a legal battle against someone who was generally thought of as honest.”

God’s philosophers. James Hannam. Icon Books, London, 2010. Pages 84-5.


In the above excerpt, Hannam is describing what was probably an improvement in the legal system introduced by the Roman Catholic Inquisition – a new system in which the authorities would appoint a magistrate or inquisitor to investigate the crime, interview witnesses, examine the evidence and reach a verdict.

However, the point I wish to make is that the old, pre-1200, legal system did have *some* merit. Although clearly there will be exeptions and potential abuses, as a general rule of thumb it is rational and fair that “Someone with a bad reputation could never win a legal battle against someone who was generally thought of as honest.”

So the old legal code had the advantage of being underpinned by the common sense knowledge that an habitually honest person is more likely to be telling the truth in any specific instance than one who habitually tells lies; and that an habitual thief/ thug is more likely to have committed a specific robbery/ assault than is someone known to be habitually honest and gentle.


But 800 years down the line, this common sense has been almost-completely discarded from formal discourse (and, increasingly, also from even private and informal discourse among the elites).

Now if an habitual liar and an habitual truth-teller disagree, then it is ‘just one person’s word against another's', and the law does nothing.


Indeed, political correctness has offered us a moral inversion, whereby we are most concerned to avoid the ‘prejudice’ of assuming that because a person is habitually dishonest, then they are likely to be lying in this specific instance.

Instead we focus on the fact that the habitually dishonest individual *might* uncharacteristically be telling the truth, for once – and this so obsesses us that that we construct systems which actually assume that knowledge about the past is an intrinsically misleading guide to the future.

Modern legal and other codes are indeed always biased against the people with a track record of sociable behaviour whom the early medieval codes would have assumed were ‘always’ in-the-right.

This is utterly typical of modernity. In the wish to set ourselves above and apart from our ancestors, we in the modern world have created social systems that avoid the specific and rare mistakes of the past at the cost of enforcing systematic error.


In order to avoid infrequent injustice against people of bad character, which happened in the past; we nowadays enforce routine injustice against people of good character.

Is this progress?

Henceforth, honest communication must be in code

Henceforth, there shall be no plain speaking, and all honest communications must necessarily be in code.


This is required behavior for the elites in a totalitarian society such as we inhabit. If you read the memoirs of someone like Vaclav Havel, you will see how Czechs who wanted to be honest before the 'velvet' revolution and collapse of Communism in 1989 were only able to be so by indirect, coded communications.

So that a play (a dramatic presentation) would apparently be about one thing, but actually about something different - something in which honest communication was prohibited. So that an audience who were sympathetic to the truth and who understood the code would be applauding and cheering action on stage which an outsider would find uninteresting or irrelevant.

They would not be cheering the explicit meaning but the coded meaning. The real meaning was therefore deniable.


I realize this is the situation we have reached when I encounter situations like the following, drawn from education:


Imagine a state school classroom where the students are placed onto tables according to their ability, and each table of children is taught separately.

The school children know the rank order of these tables (which is best and which is worst) because they see which table does the most advanced work and which does the least advanced. And, of course, the teachers who arrange the children know this ranking.

But the parents are not informed, and teachers will neither confirm nor deny the rankings of tables; nor will they provide information on the class rank of pupils.

The parents are (so far as possible) prevented from understanding the nature of their own child's strengths and weaknesses.

If a teacher is asked directly by parents about the class rank of a child, and if the teacher wishes to be helpful, the most they can do is to indicate by subtle body language whether a guess about a child's class ranking is correct or not. This is deniable.


A teacher at a state primary school who wishes to answer a parent's enquiry about which secondary school their unusual child would be best to attend, is formally and managerially forbidden from answering this query (on the grounds that they might later be criticized for giving the 'wrong' advice).

The only way that a teacher can safely (from the point of view of their own career security) give their expert and informed opinion on the needs of the child is by indirect means - tone of voice and facial expression, or use of meaningful hesitations and eye contact - when discussing the options in a neutral, undirected, explicitly-unhelpful and deniable fashion.


A student who wants to know why they keep getting consistently moderately-low grades despite genuinely hard work cannot be given the suggestion that this may be due to their having below average ability/ general intelligence compared with the rest of the class.

This can not, ought not to be, said or implied - even when the teacher believes that it is the correct explanation; and even when - if correct - this information would be of vital importance to a student's future career plans.

The only acceptable explanations for a student's low performance - explanations which are always acceptable even when they are false - is that the student needs to work harder or improve study, writing and examination techniques.


Teachers references/ 'personal recommendations' are now mandatory - teachers are now instructed to provide them for all or any students, because employers apparently demand them.

But the references must not be critical, since that might prevent students getting a job or further position, and this might lead to legal action.

So employers insist on references which are necessarily incapable of providing the kind of criticisms which are the only real value of references.

So honest references either say nothing (except a summary of undeniable and publicly available facts, which is redundant) or if they wish to be helpful and to communicate criticism they can only do so by a subtle and deniable code.


The truth (i.e. a teacher's best and honest estimate of the truth) is offensive, dangerous, a hostage to fortune... Communications cannot be explicit and unambiguous - all must be 'deniable' - like a politician's speech.

But since we are not politicians, and do not have expert speechwriters skilled in weasel words - most people say nothing. Most people do not even try to be truthful, they do not even try to be helpful - they do not even venture an opinion.

Those few people who wish to communicate both honestly and helpfully must perforce do it in cryptic form - so that it will be deniable.


Multiply this phenomenon by all the major social systems - education, law, police, civil administration, commercial businesses, health services, the military, politics (of course!), the media, (of course!)...

And we observe a society of mandatory non-communication - where truthful communications are useless, and useless communications are densely encrypted (such that many or most people do not notice them, or cannot comprehend them).


Henceforth, there shall be no plain speaking, and all honest communications must necessarily be in code.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

What had become of his soul? From Warnie Lewis's diary

Excerpt from Friday 1 June 1951:

"I sat between Gervase and Nevill Coghill, talking mainly to the latter who was, as always, very interesting. (...)

"We then got on to the Russian torturers, and their claim to be able to remake a man and turn him out as [an] obedient and totally different person.

"What, in that case, said Nevill, had become of his soul? Where was it?

"He was thinking, he told me, of writing a play about a man who had been thus tortured; he would always be on stage with a double, one the real or original man, the other manufactured by the NVDK pr whatever it is.

"The other players would of course see only one man.

"A most remarkable fellow is Nevill, I wish I saw more of him."

From Brothers and Friends - The diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. Edited by CS Kilby and ML Mead. 1982.


Comment - where *was* the soul?

Still inside him, I guess, only cut off from all communication with others - hence withered and apparently helpless - or, more exactly, unable to help itself.

I think I have known a lot of people who seemed like this - not due to torture, but simply that there seemed to be nothing visible to them except a superficial and unconvincing social personal.

This was not necessarily an horrific social persona - indeed often enough it was a pleasant polite, generous social persona. But one that seemed wholly artificial, rootless, ungrounded.

In fact, I think that *most* people, especially most intelligent people, that I have met in my life seem pretty much like this: such that one wonders where their soul is.

Concealed, in a shell, not perceptible to me, at any rate.


But I would guess that the (apparently) soul-less-human (actually the soul-dissociated human) was less commonly found in Warnie Lewis's era and environment, when there were more 'whole' men - and that the SDH is substantially a product of late, terminal-stage modernity.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Science as a religion - a personal view

For a long time, science was my religion; in the sense that it supplied a major part of the meaning and motivation for living.

This life in science reached its peak between early 1994, when I seriously began to engage with evolutionary theory, and tapered-off in the early 2000s after I had published my 'magnum opus' - Psychiatry and the Human Condition.

But how does this work? How can science (sort of, for a while) provide someone's life with significant meaning and motivation?


The hope was for salvation by doing creative work in science. At one level it was losing myself in the flux of learning, thinking, discussing, doing and writing science.

I would have problems which I would work on, think about, read about - for days, weeks, months even years. It was absorbing.

And then there was the business of checking, clarifying, communicating any discoveries. Again absorbing.

The importance of this was (somehow) self-evident.


Part of the support for this life came came from a faith that if I did good work it would be noticed, would be recognized, would make a difference. My job was therefore merely to do good work; my belief was that the mysterious (magical) system of science would ensure that any good work (whether done by me now, or done anywhere by anybody) would sooner or later rise to the top. And that the creator's identity (e.g. my name) would still be attached to the work, as it were, when it rose to the top - so I would get credit for it (at least among the people who mattered).


For me science was a poetic activity, it produced similar effects on my mind as did poetry; and I felt that the kind of scientist that I was (i.e. mainly theoretical, not much in the way of experiments or empirical study) was akin to a poet, and worked by instinct as well as logic.

Often, ideas and answers came to me in a trance like state, in solitude, early in the morning, in coffee shops, walking through town or across fields...

Seldom in my office!

It was pleasing to see that science had its irrational, unpredictable side - just like poetry.


However, there was also a tremendous amount of daydreaming and loose fantasizing about *success*, of high scientific status, prizes and awards, fame among those I most respected.

This was based on the optimistic hope that good work in science would not just be its own reward; but would lead on to deserved independence, fame, security, and better conditions for further success.

The importance of this shallow egotism and childish wishful thinking as a motivator to work was not fully apparent, not really recognized by me, until after it began to sink in that this type of success was *not* going to come; and that - even when I thought I had done some really good work - it almost certainly never was going to be noticed or recognized, and that in fact much better work than mine often was not noticed or recognized, ever.


The religion of science is thus a version or sub-type of the religion of creativity - more often associated with the arts, with poetry, painting and classical music - which has been around since the romantic era.

This phenomenon is analyzed and critiqued very well in a book called The Re-enchantment of the World by Gordon Graham.

But the religion of science has certain advantages over the arts. Science has been (until quite recently - during my lifetime) apparently thriving, whereas the high arts have been declining for about a century. Science has a legitimate, necessary, social dimension - which makes its practice intrinsically less lonely than that of (say) a poet or novelist.

Also science is (or can be) abstract - which is very appealing for someone of my sort. To work among the abstractions of science is to be distracted from the intractable aspects of worldly life in a way which does not seem like escape or evasion - although arguably it is exactly that.


Someone like Einstein really did seem to live his life *inside* science, inside the subject, inside the abstract world of meaning and truth.

Science therefore is - or was, or can be, for some people - a Glass Bead Game of high endeavor which (for a while) yet claimed to carry relevance with its abstraction - and this general claim was generally conceded on the basis that any science *might* turn-out to be relevant and important - it was hard to exclude this possibility at any rate.


But there always was a problem. And that is the way that science destroys its past. Science is not the history of science, and the names and identities of scientists are nearly always discarded along with their contributions. Current eminence entails the dissolution of past eminence.

Scientists are merely a means to the end of science - which negates the meaningfulness of participating in the process of science.

In the end, to be lost in the flux of doing science is a kind of unconsciousness, a kind of intoxication, a sub-human state.

While, on the other hand, the daydreaming about acclamation is nothing to do with science at all, but merely a specific example of the general, evolved drive for high status.

And taking pleasure in doing science, in a system which does not actually recognize or respond to one's work and is indifferent to persons and to psychology, is actually a powerful inducement to pride; even to a kind of delusional pride in which motivation and meaning are sustained by believing the reality of one's own wishful thinking fantasies.

So my life in science tended towards a very typical modern combination of self-gratifying pride and distraction: the progressive construction of ever-more armour-plated solipsistic arrogance being characteristic of the times of reflection, oscillating with a dreamlike loss of awareness in times of action when I became absorbed in the 'flow state' of working.


When freed from the delusional thinking sustained by conceit and ignoring the potentially pleasurable and absorbing but unmeaning distraction of working inside an abstract system; it may be seen that a life in science does not generate sufficient meaning or purpose, and its motivations (although sublimated) are base.

Friday, 17 September 2010

History becoming more mythical... Tolkien quote

"Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, simple, discernably significant, even at close quarters. More poetical, and less prosaic, if you like."

Wilfrid Trewin Jeremy speaking in The Notion Club Papers, JRR Tolkien's unfinished novel published in Sauron Defeated - The History of Middle Earth Volume IX. 1992, page 227.

The last day of Constantinople - Runciman's account

"“On this Monday, with the knowledge that the crisis was upon them, the soldiers and citizens forgot their quarrels. While the men at the walls worked to repair the shattered defences a great procession was formed.

In contrast to the silence in the Turkish camp, in the city the bells of the churches rang and their wooden gongs sounded as icons and relics were brought out upon the shoulders of the faithful and carried round through the streets and along the length of the walls, pausing only to bless with their holy presence the spots where the damage was greatest and the danger most pressing; and the throng that followed behind them, Greeks and Italians, Orthodox and Catholic, sang hymns and repeated the Kyrie Eleison.

“The Emperor himself came to join in the procession; and when it was ended he summoned his notables and commanders, Greek and Italian, and spoke to them. (…)

“Constantine told his hearers that the great assault was about to begin. To his Greek subjects he said that a man should always be ready to die either for his faith or for his country or for his family or for his sovereign. Now his people must be prepared to die for all four causes.

“He spoke of the glories and high traditions of the great Imperial city. He spoke of the perfidy of the infidel Sultan who had provoked the war in order to destroy the True Faith and to put his false prophet in the seat of Christ. He urged them to remember that they were the descendents of the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome and to be worthy of their ancestors.

“For his part, he said, he was ready to die for his faith, his city and his people. (…)

“All that were present rose to assure the Emperor that they were ready to sacrifice their lives and homes for him. He then walked slowly round the chamber, asking each one of them to forgive him if ever he had caused offence. They followed his example, embracing one another, as men do who expect to die.

“The day was nearly over. Already crowds were moving towards the great Church of the Holy Wisdom. (…) Barely a citizen, except for the soldiers on the walls, stayed away from this desperate service of intercession. (…) The golden mosaics, studded with images of Christ and His Saints and the Emperors and Empresses of Byzantium, glimmered in the light of a thousand lamps and candles; and beneath then for the last time he priests in their splendid vestments moved in the solemn rhythm of the Liturgy. (…)

“Later in the evening the Emperor himself rode on his Arab mare to the great cathedral and made his peace with God. Then he returned through the dark streets to his Palace at Blachernae and summoned his household. Of them, as he had done of his ministers, he asked forgiveness for any unkindness that he might have shown them, and bade them good-bye.

“It was close on midnight when he mounted his horse again and rode, accompanied by the faithful Phrantzes, down the length of the land-walls, to see that everything was in order and that the gates through the inner wall were closed.

“On their way back to Blachernae the Emperor dismounted near the Caligarian Gate and took Phrantzes with him up a tower (…) from where they could peer out into the darkness both ways (…).

“Below them they could hear noises as the enemy brought up their guns over the filled-in foss. This activity had been going-on since sunset, so the watchmen told them. In the distance they could see flickering lights as the Turkish ships moved across the Golden Horn.

Phrantzes waited with his master for an hour or so. Then Constantine dismissed him; and they never met again. “


From The Last Days of Constantinople by Steven Runciman, 1965 - pp 129-132


Although the Byzantine Empire, in its fullest sense, could be said to have ended in 1204 when Western Christian crusaders sacked the city of Constaninople - there was always hope for a recovery until Tuesday 29 May 1453, the day after the above account; when the Turks took the city, the Emperor was killed along with thousands of others; and Byzantium was lost to Islam, and the most devout Christian civilization in history was crushed, and the Roman Empire finally ended.

In a sense, nothing has been the same since, nor ever shall be.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

What have the philosophers ever done for us?

Having been smitten by philosophy (after discovering Thomism) even within the past year, it is now time for a backlash.

After all, if I really believed in the necessity of philosophy I would be Roman Catholic rather than (sort of) Orthodox...


Here is Charles Murray's list of the most important philosophers from his book Human Accomplishment - in order of importance:

Philosopher Index score

Aristotle 100
Plato 87
Kant 74
Descartes 51
Hegel 46
Aquinas 39
John Locke 37
Hume 36
Augustine 30
Spinoza 27
Leibniz 27
Socrates 26
Schopenhauer 24
Berkeley 21
Nietzsche 20
Hobbes 19
Russell 18
Rousseau 17
Plotinus 17
Fichte 17

The question is - which of these philosophers have done good, which have done harm, and which made no difference either way?

My own feeling is that almost all of them did net harm or made no difference outside of profesional philosophy - exceptions being (probably) Plato, Aristotle and Augustine.

Aquinas's was a remarkable achievement - the most comprehensive system - and he was a very good man; but Scholasticism is overall 'a bad thing' since it leads Christianity to put philosophy at its root, and thereby brings Christian philosophy under the sway of fads and fashions in academia.

(A survey of Roman Catholic philosophy - like Alasdair MacIntyre's God, Philosophy, Universities - shows that the RC church has for 1000 years been ravaged by philosophical disputations which went back and forth and led nowhere).

Kant, Descartes, Hegel, John Locke, Hume, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Berkeley, Nietzsche, Hobbes, Russell and Rousseau seem pretty obviously to have been pernicious influences. Although some wrote excellent prose; overall, from the perspective of human life as a whole, it would have been better if they had not been.

Plotinus and Fichte were harmless because barely significant and technical.

Socrates - I'm not sure. He might have been a very good thing, or a very bad thing - and where the balance comes out... Well, I keep changing my mind.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The IQ Allergy

Modern education is about selection more than enhancement, with educational qualifications mainly serving to “signal” or quantify a person’s hereditary psychological attributes. On average, a modern college or university education enhances neither skills nor behaviors, nor does it inculcate useful knowledge.

In practice, higher education mostly functions as an extremely slow, inefficient, and imprecise form of psychometric testing that measures intelligence and evaluates personality. It would therefore be easy to construct a modern educational system that was both more efficient and more effective than the current one.

Since the modern educational system in general, and higher education in particular, are vastly over-expanded, it is likely that sooner or later this situation will prove unsustainable. Not least because the education system has been, for about a century, based-on the expectation of continual expansion in personnel, resources, years of education, and inflation of qualifications.

Therefore, when the crash comes it will be catastrophic. I would guess the system will shrink to about a tenth of its present size -- back to what it was a century ago.


When a full account has been taken of IQ and personality, and when the presumed effects of chance have also been subtracted, then there is not much variation of outcomes left over for educational differences to explain. Educational and career outcomes are mostly a combination of genetic destiny and luck.

Of course, there will be some systemic effect of educational differences, but the effect is likely to be very much smaller than generally assumed, and even the direction of the education effect may be hard to detect when other more powerful factors are operative.

The fact that systematic differences in educational attainment within a society are mostly due to heredity is a stunning conclusion in a contemporary context. The whole educational system in modern societies is operating under false pretences.

Those aspects of modern education that are not psychometric are neglected and misdirected. In particular, the factual content of education is neglected -- yet factual content is probably much more important and makes a much larger long-term difference to life than do variations in educational methods. The information we learn as children may stay with us for the rest of our lives.

If psychometric estimates of IQ and personality were available for each person, then it would be easy to construct a modern educational system that was both more efficient and more effective than the current one. However, any such change would result in a massive downsizing of the educational system -- with substantial and permanent loss of jobs and status for educational professionals of all types including teachers, professors, administrators, managers, and politicians.


This impact of psychometric knowledge on educational professionals is likely to be a key underlying reason why IQ (especially) has become a taboo subject and why the basic facts of IQ have been so effectively obfuscated.

The most-selective and research-oriented universities are at the forefront of modern IQ resistance. At the same time, more functionally orientated institutions, such as the United States military, have for many decades quietly been using IQ as a tool to assist with selection and training allocations.

The vulnerability of the elite institutions to IQ knowledge is because most of the assumed advantages of an expensive elite education can be ascribed to their historic ability to select the top stratum of IQ (and also the most desirable personality types). The stability and predictive power of these traits means that the elite students are therefore pre-determined (on average) to be highly successful.

Consequently the most elite institutions and their graduates have in the past few decades, both via academic publications and in the mass media, thoroughly obscured the basic and validated facts about IQ.

We now have a situation where the high predictive powers of IQ and personality, and the stable and hereditary nature of these traits, are routinely concealed, confused or even dishonestly denied by some of the most prestigious and best-educated members of modern society.

Academics at the most expensive, elite, intelligence-screening universities tend to be hyper-skeptical of psychometric testing, precisely because they do not want to be undercut by cheaper, faster, more-reliable IQ and personality evaluations. But sooner or later, the modern elite will be overcome and replaced, or will destroy themselves.


I advocate a substantial reduction in the average amount of formal education and the proportion of the population attending higher education institutions.

This is necessary because present higher education serves very little positive function but wastes vast economic resources -- including the opportunity costs of alternative uses of millions of man-years of the most productive individuals.

At a personal level, higher education probably does more harm than good to lifestyle skills, damages morality, and inculcates numerous falsehoods and distortions -- fuelling the spiteful, conceited, and silly characteristic of the modern college graduate, which is known under the label of political correctness.

Instead of the present system, at the age of about sixteen each person could leave school with a set of fact-based examination results demonstrating their level of competence in a core knowledge curriculum; and with usefully precise and valid psychometric measurements of their general intelligence (IQ) and personality (especially their age ranked degree of Conscientiousness).

Most people would then begin on-the-job training or apprenticeship -- as in traditional societies.

Higher education should focus on elite professionals and a small amount of pure, vocationally-driven scholarship -- a few percent of the age group cohort going on to higher education has been found optimal in most societies, and it would vary between populations and civilizations.


In summary, modern societies are currently vastly over-provided with about ten times more higher education than they need, and this education has the wrong emphasis. In particular, the job of sorting people by their general aptitude could be done more accurately, cheaply, and quickly by using psychometrics to measure IQ and Conscientiousness. This would free-up time and energy for early training in key skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics; and to focus on a core knowledge curriculum.

However, for reasons related to self-interest, the intellectual class does not want people to know the basic facts about IQ. And since this class provides the information upon which the rest of society depends for their understanding, it is in an excellent position to keep the public in the dark about heritable intelligence.

Lacking the necessary knowledge of IQ and its effects, people are not able to understand the education system and what it actually does.

(From the web magazine Alternative Right - Published 14 Sep 2010.)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Seven year units

Ten Commandments by Leo Szilard, c1940, Number nine:

"Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not prevent you from being what you have become."


Because of astronomy and the decimal system, human life tends to be measured either in years or decades. Yet, a year seems too short to measure the trends and transitions of an individual life or the life of a human institution; while a decade seems too long.

But the half-decade, which is often used in politics and by state bureaucracies – e.g., the five year plan, five yearly evaluations of organizations, or five year grants for individual scientists or programs for funding advanced research – seems too short.

I would suggest that traditional wisdom and empirical observation unite in recommending a 7 year unit for measuring human life; and that seven years should become the standard unit for tracking social trends, measuring individual attainment, and for strategic planning and support.


There are precedents for using a seven year unit. These range from the jokey ‘seven year itch’ (after which married men supposedly want to become unfaithful to their wives) to a notorious saying attributed to the Jesuits: ‘Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man’.

This led to a famous and very popular UK documentary television series called ‘Seven up’ in which director Michael Apted interviewed a cohort of seven year old children in 1964 and has followed them at seven year intervals ever since.

Most viewers of the program would agree that the time frame seems just about right for tracking the lives of this symbolic British sample. Perhaps, seven years corresponds to some currently obscure human psychological or developmental cycle?


Naturally, seven years is inexact – even Leo Szilard’s own life did not fall precisely into seven year units of professional activity. Yet seven seems near-enough as an analytic division, and nearer than the rival decimal-related measures. Even when people talk of cultural decades (e.g., the ‘naughty nineties’ or ‘roaring twenties’ in England) it can usually be found that there is a better-fit for seven years. The most famous recent decade – ‘the sixties’ actually falls more neatly into the optimistic technocratic early ‘swinging’ sixties up to about 1968; then a late-sixties/early seventies characterized by hippies and a more pessimistic counter-culture of psychoactive drugs and utopian protest.


In science, likewise, seven year units work well. Seven years is approximately the time spent at high school, and then the time taken for a traditional basic scientific training (e.g., the first degree and doctorate). The early post-doctoral period, building the knowledge to become an expert specialist, is also about seven years. After this, matters are less clear, and it would be interesting to perform empirical studies measuring career increments and professional transitions on a random group of scientists.


At any rate, there is already enough anecdotal evidence to support the idea that we should at least reconsider the reflex but un-thinking use of five year plans and evaluations, and the analysis of social, professional and personal trends by whole decade units.

A new – and previously unconsidered – field of research beckons.

(Edited from

Unseen Warfare

Unseen Warfare refers to the traditional Christian perception of good and evil forces - angels and demons - struggling over the salvation of the soul.

(Unseen Warfare is also one of the titles of a book on this subject which - in my version - is attributed in terms of having been written by Lorenzo Scupoli, edited by Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and revised by Theophan the Recluse - then translated from the Russian by E Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer.)

Naturally, Unseen Warfare is absent from the discourse of secular modernity - since this has no belief in the soul, therefore nothing over which unseen forces might be at war.


But who does believe in Unseen Warfare? Here are a few examples:

1. The Bible.

2. Pretty much all the mainstream Christian Churches, until the past few decades.

3. The Saints and Holy Fathers.

4. C.S Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Charles Williams.

5. Fr. Seraphim Rose.


One important aspect of Unseen Warfare is that it is, or may be, unseen.

In other words, it may be going-on (is going on), and good or evil may be victorious - yet this may not be perceptible to other people.

One consequence is that (according to the traditional wisdom encapsulated in the discourse regarding Unseen Warfare) evil needs primarily to be conceptualized in terms of aims and effects on the destiny of the soul, and not in terms of effects on the psychological and physical states of 'other people'.

And an an evil man, a damned soul (like Lawrence Wentworth in Charles Williams' Descent into Hell) does not necessarily do more harm to others than the average person, and does not necessarily make 'other people' less happy or more miserable.


And what is an evil entity?

The secular modern conception of evil is that evil involves being excpetionally nasty to other people - it is the opposite of altruism.

The modern idea of evil is someone like Hitler who did a lot of harm to a lot of people.

However, modernity can explain being nasty to other people only in terms of selfishly pursuing one's own gratification at the expense of others - which is something we all do, to a greater or lesser extent. Therefore evil - even Hitler - is seen as relative and quantitative: the evil are those who are the least altruistic and the most selfish.


The traditional concept of extreme purposive evil is not about harming the happiness of others in this world, but a situation more like that of a damned soul dedicated to achieving the damnation of other souls. That is, roughly, a demon.

This objective stands in the starkest possible contrast to that of a good (angelic?) entity - who is a saved soul that aims at the salvation of other souls.


Therefore, from the traditional perspective of Unseen Warfare the difference between good and evil entities and aims is not relative and quantitative but, on the contrary, absolute and qualitative.

And the primary battle ground, the main site of moral struggle, is the human mind - and not human society.

Pascal and Prophecy

I have just finished a first-reading of Pascal's Pensees - which turned out to be very different from what I had expected.

(By which I mean that I had picked-up a false impression concerning the nature of the book.)

I was especially surprised at Pascal's emphasis on fulfilled-prophecies as major proofs of Christianity.


(I was also surprised at Pascal's use of miracles as major proofs of Christianity - and his discussion of miracles in general. However, I had previously thought-about this subject; while I have never once considered the importance of prophecies. Literally never. --- In passing, and in addition, I was surprised at Pascal's - devastating - critique of Islam; since I did not think people were writing about that subject at that time in that way.)


Of course, my suprise at a serious discussion of prophecy merely shows the extent to which I am a child of my time - since the Bible is full of prophecies; and the New Testament makes frequent use of the fulfillment of prophecies as evidence of the validity of Christ's claims.

But, somehow, I had managed to ignore, bracket-out, the argument based on prophecy - without really being aware that I was doing it; unwittingly deploying the typical modern strategy of making invisible that which strikes one as dull or absurd.

And what strikes one as dull or absurd is something which can be culturally shaped, quite easily it seems. It is one of the main ways of rendering invisible that which is hostile to the prevailing liberal/ PC worldview.

(i.e. Labelling - by satire or mockery - as boring/ nutty anything which is beyond the pale.)


Anyway, this matter of prophecy is now revealed to me as yet another major area in which modernity is unique.

All previous societies, and nearly everyone until very recently, believed that while of course *most* prophecies by *most* people are bogus, manipulative, false or mistaken: there *is* such as thing as true prophecy.

Since prophecy was believed in eras when the prevailing opinion was much sounder than it is now, and when there were at least *some* profoundly wise and insightful people - such as Pascal - (whereas now there are apparently no such people at all); it would seem sensible to try and recover such beliefs; and to overcome that shallow modern fastidiousness which expresses itself in reflexive sniggering at the idea of true prophecy.


(Maybe someone could translate 'The argument by sniggering' into good Latin - as a name for one of the primary logical or rhetorical tactics used by liberalism? Or is this perhaps just an instance of the 'Reductio ad ridiculum' -

Monday, 13 September 2010

Time to die

When is it right to die? And how do we know this?


The secular, modern view of death seems to be based on an argument at the level of: ‘I can choose which car or house I buy. But dying is (even) more important than buying houses and cars; so why should I not also be able to choose how and when I die?”

Clearly, this is wrong.

There is a gulf between (on the one hand) wanting to understand the nature of things in order that we may be in harmony with the nature of things; and (on the other hand) wanting to impose our *will* upon the nature of things.

It is the difference between essential humility and essential pride.


To feel in some (mysterious and intuitive) way that it is now right to die, and then to let go one’s grip on life; seems utterly, existentially opposed to the secular and modern idea that when our ‘quality of life’ drops below a certain point, we should make a decision to die and then be assisted to kill ourselves (or should be able to request to be killed by accredited and regulated experts).

It is the difference between hoping to *know* when it is right to die, and wanting to *control* the time and manner of our death.


For wisdom I often turn to JRR Tolkien. In this instance his myth of Numenor.

As a reward for their many generations of valour against Morgoth, some of the Men of Middle Earth were rewarded by the gods with enhanced powers and a safe and beautiful island to dwell upon.

Among these powers were greater height and strength, greater intelligence and aesthetic sensitivity, a life free from illness and disease, and a life span about treble that of normal Men.

So, the Men of Numenor were mortal, ‘doomed’ to die, but lived a vigorous and healthily life (without any significant degeneration) until about 200 years old, at which point they died.


But another gift was that when the Numenoreans reached the point at which their life was ending, they were able to be aware of this, and to voluntarily accept their death and (within a leeway of a few days or weeks) to choose the moment of their death – the point at which they ‘let go’ their hold on life.

And this was exactly what was done by the early generations of Numenoreans. However, the later generations began to envy the immortality of the elves and to ‘cling’ to life. Instead of letting-go at the appointed time, instead of releasing themselves from life, they lived for as long as possible – and the old Numenoreans experienced decline, debility and disease until eventually their mortal nature overcome them and they were (in effect) dragged kicking and screaming into death.

Eventually, their desire for everlasting life became all-consuming, and led them to invade the land of the gods to ‘win’ immortality; at which point the supreme God intervened and the invading army was buried in rock, and the island of Numenor was drowned and utterly destroyed by a cataclysmic earthquake.

But the early, un-corrupt Numenoreans had an understanding of the real nature of mortal life which included a strong sense of when it was right, or best, to die. They knew that they _could_ live longer than this, but that it was a mark of corruption for them to do so; and that the wrongness was seen in the fact that a failure to make the choice to die was followed by the advent of debilitation, degeneration and decline.

To cling to life, therefore, would be acting against nature; and vainly, pridefully, trying to defy destiny.


What I take from this story of Tolkien’s is that mortal life must include at some level (which may be inarticulate, a sense or instinct) an answer to the question of when it is right or best to die. And that this answer is not, cannot be, ‘at the last possible moment’ – since that would be to deny our mortal nature.

The story of Numenor represents a vision of how humans ought to live and die. The story seems to say that it would be best if we could (within limits, and these limits may be external, imposed) choose our moment of death and voluntarily let go of life.

To quote from the beautiful denouement of Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner; ideally, in their uncorrupted hearts, it seems that Men aspire to know when it is ‘time to die’ and then to die.


It is strange that to recall this truism, to make it real again, to refresh our innate and spontaneous insight in the face of so much confusion and distraction; we sometimes need to see the reality of the human condition depicted in terms of a mythical fantasy, or spoken by a science fiction android.

Comments into Yahoo Shpam - weird filtration

Apologies to some commenters whose comments took a while to be published - this was because they were filtered into my Shpam folder where I have just found them.

The weird thing was that comments from the shame people, from the shame e-mail address, were being divided evenly between my Inbox and the Shpam folder.

Shurely shome mishtake in the Yahoo shoftware?

Again, shorry for thish.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Why I turned against economics

Throughout the 2000s, until some weeks after the 'credit crunch' crisis around September 2007, I was *extremely* interested in economics.

In fact, for several years I was reading a lot of economics blogs every day without fail (about ten of them?), plus their links.

I had also purchased or borrowed and read several dozen books on economics subjects, including basic textbooks.

In fact, five years ago, if you were to interrupt me at any hour of the day, there would be a reasonable chance that I would be reading economics.

So for a 'layman' I was pretty well-informed on economic matters, and felt positively about the subject.

But after observing the response of the economics profession to the current economic crisis - the mortgage meltdown, the credit crunch - I very quickly turned against economics and almost all economists and now very seldom touch economics; indeed I regard economics as a dangerously dishonest and bogus subject.


Why did this happen? What made me - quite suddenly - turn-against economics and economists?

Probably the main fact was that I observed that economists were dishonest careerists. Not in any special or distinctive way, but just the normal politically correct way.

I had assumed that economics was a 'tough-minded' subject; that economists would believe their own assumptions and follow where their logic led - but I was wrong about that.

I saw that economists almost instantly trimmed their economic opinions to the prevailing political trends - no, that is too weak: they would reverse their opinions for advantage.

And economists were apparently unaware they were doing all this; because their thinking was so shallow, so un-rooted, so detached from principles and integrity that they had no gut-feelings or instincts to warn them. No basic morality.


A key event that finished-off economics for me was when Paul Krugman - the most egregious exemplar of all that is rotten about economics, was awarded a solo economics Nobel Prize at the exact moment of this crisis and in a blatant attempt to influence US politics; and when this decision was treated with respect, was defended and supported.


As a young man I tended to believe that economics was a bogus psuedoscience used rhetorically as an indirect justificiation for prior beliefs.

Through my middle age, I was gradually convinced that this was wrong, and that modern economics was a genuine body of useful scientific knowledge - so I set about learning it.

But now I believe that I was hoodwinked during my middle years, and that (for once!) my youthful instincts were correct.


If not, then what?

Since I have lost all trust in economists, and since I believe it is hazardous to base policy on a mixture of lots of nonsense and a few platitudes, my feeling is that the discipline of economics should be be broken-up and destroyed.

Economics should be taken from the realms of science and returned to the realms of common sense; because actually economics is not an autonomous science like physics or biology (I mean real physics, and real biology); economics is - properly - subsumed within human activity in general.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

What *is* the use of intellectuals? Sages and shamans

In a society run by intellectuals - or, at least, one where intellectuals control all the major public discourse - this may seem a strange question.

But as our intellectual ruling elite descend into an ever-deeper psychotic state of denial, delusion and hallucination; it is worth recalling that most societies are at best merely tolerant of intellectuals, in small numbers, so long as they keep out of trouble.

So what is the use of intellectuals? there are two: as sages and shamans.


Intellectuals are good at learning stuff, much better than most people. So when you want a lot of stuff learned, or new stuff, intellectuals are useful to have around.

This especially applies in unnatural societies, where instincts are a poor guide, but also to illiterate societies, or societies where there are few books and difficult access to information.

Of course, left to their own devices, intellectuals will learn a lot of weird or useless nonsense; so there needs to be a clear structure which points intellectuals at the relevant material.

But then they can become a valuable resource: a kind of mobile, fast access encyclopedia. This is the intellectual as sage.


Another use of intellectuals is solving problems which are not yielding to common sense.

Because intellectuals are good at learning, and also because they have strange interests, they can sometimes hit on a useful new angle for solving problems.

Of course, most intellectuals are dull and uncreative, but even so they might nonetheless have come across some similar, relevant, analogous situation in their conversations and reading; and be able to make a suggestion or two.

On the other hand, the best hope for a new angle on a new problem is to ask an intellectual who is both clever and crazy: a shaman - someone who has insights in an altered state of consciousness, a flash of inspiration, a trance, a dream...

Most suggestions that a shaman makes will be obviously-ridiculous, reckless, hazardous, or even fatal - but the idea *might* be both off-the-wall and also good; and so long as there is someone sensible to filter suggestions before acting on them, then shaman-intellectuals can be very useful.


But it is very important to keep intellectuals - whether sages or shamans - far away from problems to which you already have an answer provided by common sense and instinct - because intellectuals will want to suggest something different.

Since common sense is common, intellectuals will want to change the usual answer - and the sillier their new suggestion, the more ingeniously and vehemently that they will push it.

Look around: there is nothing too silly that some intellectual will not have said it, argued it, shouted it... and if you let him get get a grip on the levers of power, he will implement it.


This very obviously applies to semi-crazy shamans, but it is the sages which are more deceptive, hence dangerous.

Sages seem wise, but they are not really wise - because most wisdom is mere common sense. Sages feel that common sense is beneath their professional dignity. They will always want to advise something other-than common sense; and in situations where common sense is right then the sage will be wrong.

The thing is, when a sage is propounding a lunatic idea, it is much less obviously-mad than when a shaman is sounding-off. Indeed, a shaman might be merely common sensical without noticing it (spouting platitudes, but in a weird way) - so shamanic advice might be right in situations where a sage's advice will certainly be wrong.


It is also worth remembering that intellectuals have the unusual ability to lie without realizing it, indeed while for the moment being utterly convinced of their own truthfulness and virtue. And the big problem is that intellectuals will lie without good reason. Or, at least, the real justification for their lying may be so remote, so fantastic, so childish, and involve so many contingent and stochastic causal steps, as to be all-but unfathomable - even to another intellectual.


So, while it is certainly worth keeping a few intellectuals around, and being nice to them, it is a bad idea to let them get too much influence. The problem with modern intellectuals is that there are too many deceptively-normal-seeming sages and not enough obviously-crazy shamans.

Too many tame pets and not enough feral creatures.

The great thing about shamans - mad inventors, nutty professors, bohemian artists - is that we get the benefits of their ideas but we instinctively know *not* to give them power.

But when the intelligentsia becomes populated by apparently-normal sages, we are hoodwinked into thinking that because they are dull they are also sensible.

The assumption that sagacious dullness implies possession of that wisdom in judgment which is most desirable in a leader has proved to be a big mistake of the modern world: look around...