Friday 13 August 2010

Decline of the West Explained

I have made another mini-e-booklet from this blog, which is titled Decline of the West Explained and is posted at -

Tuesday 10 August 2010

The Story of Real Science

I have posted up a mini-e-booklet called The Story of Real Science - drawn from this blog:

If anyone has comments, please post them here.

Friday 6 August 2010

Blog posting suspended - probably until September - thanks!

Thanks very much indeed to all the people who have regularly read, and recently commented, on this blog while I have been posting daily.

I have found it very helpful, indeed essential, to continued thinking and writing to know that a reasonably cohesive group of people were reading and thinking about the stuff.

In many ways, the blog readership has proved to be better in this respect than when I publish stuff in the the scientific/ academic literature or mainstream media.

For example, in the mid-1990s I used to publish fairly often in the Times (of London) and from a writerly perspective it was like shouting into the void. (Although I was quite well paid for wasting my breath, so it wasn't _all _ loss!)

I will soon be having a holiday, and also trying to collect the blog entries into some kind of sequence to be published (online, free) as a kind-of-book (perhaps an on-going book which I might continue adding-to and editing, at least for a while).

My intention is to get back to daily blogging at the start of September; so I hope those who have liked it so far, will come back then.

What is to be done? - first steps from Fr. Seraphim Rose

"We must remember that Christ expects from us not missionary fervor, but a changed life and a warm heart.

"The missionary fervor is on a secondary level, on the external side.

"We see numerous examples of people with great missionary fervor who did not place first the internal side of changing themselves, warming their hearts and raising their minds to a higher level, as Kireyevsky describes. These people became "burnt out" and fruitless, and some of them even left the Church.


"The need to be "right" is again on the external side of Chritianity. It is important, but not of primary importance. The first priority is the heart, which must be soft and warm.

"If we do not have this warm heart, we must ask God to give it, trying ourselves to do those things by which we can acquire it.

"Most of all, we have to see that we have not got it—that we are cold. We will thereby not trust our reason and the conclusions of our logical mind, with regard to which we must be somewhat "loose"."

From Fr. Seraphim Rose - Raising the Mind, Warming the Heart



There is a tendency on for those the political right to have a hard, cold 'heart'.

Perhaps it is part of the psychology of becoming independent of the prevailing leftist ideology, perhaps hard-hearted people are attracted to the right in order to rationalize their disposition?

The political left is wrong - incoherent, dishonest, self-hating and smug; but often the political right is correct but harsh, selfish.

However, hard-heartedness and coldness are not acceptable. They are something that needs to be acknowledged, repented and worked-on *before* considering a program of action.

Even if the politics is correct, even when a person is right in theory; then all this will lead to harm if pursued in the wrong spirit.

A hard-hearted, cold-hearted spirit will always corrupt and subvert any 'system' - no matter how correct it may be.

Thursday 5 August 2010

What is to be done? - mostly negative steps

We live in an era of ideology, and this ideology is becoming totalitarian, all-pervasive, compulsory - even as it loses self-belief and mass support, even as it destroy the conditions for its own existence.

So we have the daily spectacle of seedy, corrupt, time-serving Brezhnev bureaucrats trying to whip themselves into a frenzy of leftist zeal as a prelude to forcing the same upon us.

It is all terribly unconvincing, which is why it has become increasingly nasty and coercive - otherwise nobody would go along with it.

Any-way... the point is not to replace one incoherent, unmotivating totalitarian ideology with another; but to do away with ideology. Politics should be emergent, not primary.

So negative tactics are likely to be the main strategy.


Is this a workable plan? :-

If you can: pursue and seek the truth, create beauty and be virtuous.

But if you can't, then...

Don't lie or dishonestly mislead, don't support ugliness, don't work hard and well to create situations that are morally wrong: in a nutshell don't *assist* the dark side.

Or, at the very least, don't assist the dark side more than you absolutely have-to or for longer than you absolutely have-to.


It is remarkable how many people have the right ideas, but - without a gun to their head, nor even any credible threat of sanctions - knock themselves out, give their best efforts, to implement bad new stuff.

Better to do nothing, or as little as possible, than to assist in harm.


Do not participate, if possible, in procedures and processes of which you disapprove . Participation generates legitimacy.

When you cannot oppose, do as little as possible to support. And do not give of your best, nor even second best - but the least that can be gotten away with.

If you cannot speak out, then remain silent. If you cannot remain silent, say as little as possible.

If embedded in a corrupt situation, a harm-promoting situation, an institution which is making things worse overall; get out if you can. But if you can't, then it is better to do little or nothing, than to do a good job in a bad cause.


In a modern society, most middle class jobs are about controlling other people ('managers' of one sort or another) - these jobs are nearly always harmful. They are first and inevitably harmful by the resources the jobs themselves consume; but this harm is multiplied - sometimes many-fold - by the further costs these managers inflict on other people whom they control - in terms of imposing wasted time and effort (form-filling, meetings etc.), but also by making other people do wrong things. Any small specific goods achieved are grossly outweighed by the harmful tendency of the job, by the reinforcement of the system of ideology and bureaucracy. On average, and overwhelmingly, a modern manager working hard and efficiently and doing a good job (by managerial criteria) therefore does immensely more harm than an idle, time-wasting, prevaricating manager.


Politics is mostly about one's own life. Expressing political views and voting are feeble by comparison. One's life *will* have an effect; albeit an effect increasingly diluted by distance from it.


[For an example of how *not* to behave, the most successful scientists of the past 50 years provide an egregious example. The most successful scientists mostly presided over the creation, operation and prestige of 'the peer review cartel' - i.e. the oligarchy of manager-scientists who preside over the peer review system that determines publication, grants, jobs, promotions and prizes; and which has generated the progressive bureaucritization of science to the point that most science is now *nothing but* the allocation of 'validity' by peer reviewers. Individually, most of these commisars of science express great reservations about the present system; but, individually, they almost all joined in. Their reasons vary from the quasi-altruistic one of 'If I didn't do it, then somebody else worse would' to the careerist 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em'.]

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Fr. Seraphim Rose on 'fun'

"[Modern life has become] a constant search for "fun" which, by the way, is a word totally unheard of in any other vocabulary; in 19th century Russia they wouldn't have understood what this word meant, or any serious civilization.

"Life is a constant search for "fun" which is so empty of any serious meaning that a visitor from any 19th-century country, looking at our popular television programs, amusement parks, advertisements, movies, music—at almost any aspect of our popular culture—would think he had stumbled across a land of imbeciles who have lost all contact with normal reality.


"It is important for us to realize, as we try ourselves to lead a Christian life today, that the world which has been formed by our pampered times makes demands on the soul, whether in religion or in secular life, which are what one has to call totalitarian.


"The message of this universal temptation that attacks men today—quite openly in its secular forms, but usually more hidden in its religious forms—is: Live for the present, enjoy yourself, relax, be comfortable.

"Behind this message is another, more sinister undertone which is openly expressed only in the officially atheist countries which are one step ahead of the free world in this respect. In fact, we should realize that what is happening in the world today is very similar whether it occurs behind the Iron Curtain or in the free world. There are different varieties of it, but there is a very similar attack to get our soul.

"In the communist countries which have an official doctrine of atheism, they tell quite openly that you are to: Forget about God and any other life but the present; remove from your life the fear of God and reverence for holy things; regard those who still believe in God in the "old-fashioned' way as enemies who must be exterminated.

"One might take, as a symbol of our carefree, fun-loving, self-worshipping times, our American "Disneyland"; if so, we should not neglect to see behind it the more sinister symbol that shows where the "me generation" is really heading: the Soviet Gulag, the chain of concentration camps that already governs the life of nearly half the world's population."

The Orthodox World-View - by Father Seraphim Rose of Platina


I was watching a kids movie called Sharkboy and Lavagirl the other day, and the plot revolved around the right of kids to have fun and the evil of grown-ups who thwarted this. 

This was a rather naive, pop-culture expression of a fundamental modern reality: good equals fun and evil equals those who would prevent us having fun. 


What makes Seraphim Rose use the word 'totalitarian' is the insight that to impose fun on society would be a totalitarian project - in outcome for sure, and quite possibly in aim as well...

The late Gordon Brown, New Labour UK government was playing with the idea of replacing Gross Domestic Product (and economic measures of governmental success)  with some version of Gross National  Happiness ( - based on surveys. 

That government would be regarded as best which would lead to the best 'happiness' ratings on poll... 

Aside from the incoherence and vacuousness of the ide, its utter lack of validity, its openness to corruption and its invitation to dishonesty - it would be a short and decisive step into totalitarianism for governments to deploy their power to 'make people happy'. 

What a nightmare! - and easy enough to imagine since most Sci Fi readers have already experienced it vicariously.  


Fun as the focus of life makes perfect sense in a secular society - if life is about nothing more than self-gratification, if 'heroism' is delusion, if God is dead; then anyone who interferes with self-gratification is evil. 

(Except that even this does not make sense, since evil people are merely having fun themselves in preventing the fun of others. A philosophy of fun cannot coherently argue that one kind of fun is better than another. Why should the fun of many count for more than the fun of one? - is fun something to be weighed and measured like coal? - that sound like a pretty un-fun perspective...) 


Fun has been the basic, counter-culture morality since romantic times and indeed earlier - from the clowns of Shakespeare, the 'artists' of La Boheme, through to the hippes of Easy Rider, and the slobs of Animal House. 

And all the amoral anti-heros and hedonistic sidekicks of high culture from Diogenes the Kynic, Leporello and Papageno in Mozart's operas, the Good Soldier Svejk, Han Solo...

We sympathize, we admire the clear-sightedness of these characters, their lack of 'hypocrisy', their quick wits, their simplicity... 

But when it exists in isolation this is a grown-up-kids morality, a pampered-pets morality - a pre-enlightened, non-self-aware, young animal perspective on life. 

Not the kind of morality which could sustain a civilization or a reflective adult life. Not the kind of morality which can, in fact, sustain a *human* life.

And indeed as soon as one becomes *aware* that fun is indeed the underlying morality - as soon as a counter-culture philosophy becomes explicit; when fun is 'officially' placed at the centre of things: it is the most dreadful, despairing, dull, desolate concept of life.

System and self-restraint - Solzhenitsyn

"Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law.

"The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. (...)

"Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution.

"If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd.

"One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.

"An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

"I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.

"A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society.

"Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, Thursday, June 8, 1978



No system is adequate - not law, not the economy (whether command or market), nor any bureacracy. All systems require self-restraint (= the virtue of humility).

Any system can swiftly be subverted, made evil, by lack of self-restraint: by pride.

To believe in the virtue of system, to believe that virtuous individuals are unnecessary; is to open wide the door to corruption, lies, selfishness, short-termism and ugliness - to open wide a door to all these while blinding oneself to their existence.

Modern secular elites regard pride as a virtue, not a vice (they call it self-respect); and they cannot be humble, since humility is properly in reference to God.

Instead they equate humility with submission to the group, especially an out-group. To demostrate utter disinterestedness and pure altruism they sacrifice their well-being and own survival to the percieved needs of a necessarily *different* sex, age group, race, species - or maybe to the supposed well being of the whole planet... The more 'other' the greater is the disinterestedness.

And there is no limit, no self-restraint in implementing the desired system: extreme lifestyle libertarians will demostrate their impartiality by supporting zealous theocratic Muslims.  

Thus they oscillate between individualist hedonism and propitiatory self-destruction.

Self-restraint is alien to this world view: what we get instead is unrestrained hedonism and unrestrained cultural suicide.

The evils of voting

Where did people get the idea that voting was an acceptable - let alone the best and only, way to make decisions?

One person one vote is supposed to be the gold standard of decision making, and intrinsically the fairest - but why?

Naturally, in stable and human-sized groups decisions are made by leaders, taking into account power. A numerical majority is irrelevant - a powerful minority is more important, the consent of those ruled is more important - indeed just about anything is more important than a numerical majority.

And when sheer numbers is an important factor in the balance of power, a 51 percent majority is neither significant nor crucial - the crucial number would be more like 66 percent versus 33 percent - in which one party outnumbers the other two to one. But numbers are not the essence.


Voting maybe comes from the false ideology of intrinsic equality among humans (i.e. equality of human beings in actuality - asserted equality of wisdom and legitimate authority) - a perversion of the true ideal of intrinsic equality among humans (i.e. equality of human souls in potentiality).

Maybe it comes from the insane perspective of bureaucracy - which requires an abstract system, any system will do, for de facto decision-making - this decision-making being valided by diktat, by propaganda, by coercion.

Maybe voting comes from the jury trial aspect of the legal system - although where the ridiculous idea of determining guilt by a vote of random individuals itself originally came from, I have no idea. But like majority voting in general - trial by jury is sacred: don't ask why.


Dissent is defused by getting agreement on process (voting) rather than outcome (a specific decision) - and such is the feebleness of human's apprehension of abstraction that they will buy this pig in a poke.

We hoodwink human psychology by forcing pre-commitment to the unknown outcome of majority voting as intrinsically correct, and this is assented to because the future result of a present system is sufficiently remote and unreal that humans do not spontaneously organize against it, and imagine they can indirectly control it to give the outcomes they want.


There is no magic about majority voting, no 'wisdom of crowds', no place for the operation of divine or individual inspiration - neither the safety-first gut-feeling veto of requiring unanimous and full community assent to change, nor for the inspirational decisiveness of the gifted individual to lead the consenting (or acquiescing)  group on the basis of superior wisdom, insight, foresight.

An artificial hiatus, a mathematical gap is inserted between the human interaction and the human action: the deadening vote, to which all defer...


The staus of majority voting has even survived its manipulation. At a small scale, majority voting is rigged by small organized groups who manipulate meetings by well known and simple methods; and at a large scale by politicians in democracies who buy votes, take bribes, deliberately create voter dependency, change electoral boundaries, and now import millions of supporters.

People know this, know exactly what is being done to them and how it works - yet somehow this does not invalidate the outcome of majority voting!

Yet people still state, still believe that democracy is the best, the only safe, the only *good* system of government.

Brainwashed, or what?


I believe that majority vote decision making is one of the most damaging aspects of modernity. As a system, it is quite simply insane - knowing what we know, knowing from experience its unpredictability, randomness, unwisdom, distorting effects on human psychology...

Like its specific application in democracy by majority vote, the visceral rationale of majority voting seems to be egalitarian in the sense of trying to prevent individual power, rather than in trying to ensure good decisions.

It is abstract in the sense of being procedural rather than outcome oriented. It is to elevate simple mathematical neatness above direct contact with the world. 

To rely on majority voting is fundamentally unserious; it is to regard life as essentially soft and sustaining, to regard life as unreal and something not requiring of us correct decisions and right behavior.

It is to regard decisions in a detached, playful, abstract fashion; to subordinate our souls to sums.

Voting is a gamble, worse than a gamble - it is to have faith in gambling as the best mode of life.

Indeed it even worse than this - it is is to have faith in a corrupt casino where you know for sure that the fruit machines are rigged - to put money in the slot anyway, to pull the lever and just hope for a win; rather than to try and do the right thing. 

Tuesday 3 August 2010

Why are actors so bad at reading poetry aloud?

Because they blimmin well are bad at it: all of 'em.

(Exempli gratia, Poetry Please on BBC radio. Or RSC actors doing Shakespeare. Or, for that matter, pretty much every single commercial or public recording of poetry that has not been spoken by the poet.) 

Poetry (real poetry) is rhythmical - the rhythm is not an option, but of the essence.

Deconstructing poetry into prose, speaking it according to units of meaning, pulling it apart like a 'torch singer' or crooner wringing every drop of 'emotion' from a song lyric - these are simply unacceptable ways of behaving in civilized society.

For goodness sake, it isn't difficult! After all, proper poetry is written to be easy to remember and to speak!


Actors even manage to de-emphasize the rhythm and rhyme of light verse - where perfect rhythmicity and exact rhyme are 95 percent of the effect.

In the recent Grinch movie Anthony Hopkins somehow recited Dr Seuss's as if it wasn't rhythmical or rhyming.

Dr Seuss! That takes some doing - but he did it.

Anthony Hopkins version of Winnie the Pooh

The more it (pauses, takes a breath) 

(questioningly..) snows...tiddley (typically resonant Welsh baritone) pom
(Rapidly) The more it goes-tiddley-pom the more it goes-tiddley-pom on snowing and 
(loudly) Nobody
(quietly, sadly) Knows-tiddley-pom,
(Long pause)
How (emphatically) *cold* (emphatically) *my* toes-tiddley-pom
(Crisply, over-enunciated) How cold my toes tiddley-pom are growing 
(with typically Welsh up-lifted note on 'ing').

Mandarins (the intellectual elite) make lousy leaders

It was nearly a decade ago, during the summer vacation, that I read a book which permanently changed one of my cherished beliefs.

The book was The decline of the German mandarins: the German academic community, 1890-1933, by Fritz K Ringer.

The cherished belief was that it would be best if countries were led by their intellectual elite, i.e. by 'Mandarins' - by the likes of Professors, senior administrators and professionals - by those whose jobs require high level formal educational certification.

In other words, I had assumed, up to that point, that if only things were run by people 'like me', then things would inevitably be run better.


Before reading the book I had not been aware that I believed this, but although unarticulated, a belief in leadership by intellectals had been a basic assumption.

It is, indeed, an assumption of the modern political elite, and has been the assumption of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers) for a couple of hundred years (since the Romantic era) - but it was *not* an assumption of traditional societies before this.

Indeed, as I read in Ernest Gellner at about the same time, in traditional societies the intellectual class (priests and clerks) was subordinated to the leadership - which was essentially military.

Intellectuals were - Gellner said - essentially 'eunuchs' - in the sense that they were not allowed to build dynastic, hereditary power - this was reserved for the military leadership.

So priests and other intellectuals with power were sometimes actual eunuchs, or servants and slaves, or celibate (legally, not sexually, celibate - i.e. they could not have legitimate heirs), or members of a legally circumscribed minority (such as Jewish merchants and money lenders), or - like the Chinese mandarins - they were prohibited from handing on their status to their children (entry to the mandarinate being controlled by competitive examinations).

The 'natural' leaders of human society throughout most of history are the military leaders - the 'generals'. The aristocracy were essentially the military leaders.


But in modern societies, the Mandarins have progressively taken over the leadership.

People 'like me' run things; the military leadership (unless they are themselves mandarins - as increasingly is the case - and servile to political correctness) are officially feared, hated and despised; indeed any aspirant for power who is not 'an intellectual' is officially feared, hated and despised.

Fritz Ringer's books was a revelation because he described a familiar and recent society that had indeed been a mandarinate - and this was Germany in the nineteenth century and leading up to the first and second world wars. Germany was at that time the academic intellectual centre of the West.

And 'yet' the mandarinate had been a disaster - leading to two world wars and National Socialism and also (ironically) to the eclipse of the German mandarins - who were purged virtually overnight in 1933 (only a few obedient Nazi mandarins were allowed to stay - like Martin Heidegger).

The German mandarins were nationalist, that was the focus of their ideology (the distinctive superiority of German culture) and that is one variety - very rare nowadays except in small nations and would-be nations like Scotland or Catalonia.

Of course the most widespread mandarinate was the Soviet Union whose ideology was (mostly) anti-nationalistic/ international communism. And international left-mandarinism is now the dominant form of government in the West. 


Since reading Ringer, when my eyes were opened, my experience has hardened into conviction that - as a generalization - mandarins make very useful servants but very bad leaders. Good professors make bad kings.

The main problem is, I think, that mandarins are expert at ignoring common sense reality and focusing on abstraction.

Mandarins live 'in culture' - they are 'Kultur' experts. Culture is the source of their expertise and prestige - culture comes between mandarins and common sense. 

When, as is normal, mandarin abstractions are substantially incomplete and significantly biased, then there is no limit to how bad mandarin leadership can be; because any feedback provided by 'reality' can be ignored by mandarins in ways which are impossible to normal people.


Mandarins can wreck an organization, a nation, with a completely clear conscience; and will then write history to show that they were correct all along.

Conversely, there is no achievement of their enemies that is so large or  blatantly obvious that mandarins will not ignore, sideline, or subvert it.

(In pursuit of discrediting their enemies, mandarins are utterly unscrupulous, dishonest and coercive - they perceive this as nothing less than their duty, indeed heroic.)

Nothing that could conceivably happen would conceivably affect mandarin ideology - which explains everything in advance.


Mandarins are therefore unique among humans both in their perspective on life - in their evaluations of what is important; and in being immune to learning from experience.

And mandarins really are, on average, the most knowledgeable and cleverest people, and they know it and they value smartness very highly; so they will not listen to any critics who they think of as dumb.

Undeniably smart critics are labelled crazy or evil (they *must* be, obviously), so they are ignored too.

When mandarins have closed the loop between education, media and power; they are hermetically sealed from alternative perspectives - change can only arise from within the loop, and this change will tend to bolster the power of the mandarinate, and be directed against their enemies in the natural military leadership.  


So, once they have taken-over, the mandarinate is uniquely unreformable by argument and experience.

And that is the present situation in the West.

Monday 2 August 2010

The piracy test for moral inversion

A few quick questions on attitudes to modern piracy and what should be done about it can be used to detect moral inversion (moral inversion being the endemic disease of modern elite ideology which reverses traditional evaluations).

The facts are that:

1. Piracy is a 'natural' state of affairs, which will recur unless suppressed - because gangs of reckless and aggressive young men will be able to prey upon the productive population.

The reason why so many old Mediterranean towns are built on hills away from the coast is not for convenience or fine views, but because coastal and non-fortified towns would regularly be attacked by pirates, and their population robbed, killed, raped and enslaved (on galleys where they would be worked to death, or marched across the Sahara desert where the survivors would be worked to death).

2. Piracy is a very great evil - gangs of aggressive young men will do utterly appalling things, and will enjoy doing them; and if unchecked pirates will act as parasites on decent and productive society, until decent and productive society is destroyed utterly, when they will move on to their next victims. In other words, piracy is not necessarily self-limiting or self-correcting: it could be fatal, like cancer.

3. It is relatively recently that piracy worldwide was suppressed - just the past couple of hundred years. The main agents were the British Navy and also the navies of the other great European powers. However, piracy was long enough in the past for wishful-thinking pacifists to imagine (like Shire hobbits) that peace and plenty are the natural state of affairs, and need not be defended, need not be fought-for.


Therefore, the fact that piracy has been allowed to re-emerge over recent years as a highly profitable business - unchecked and essentially unpunished and despite technical developments which make the suppression of piracy easier than ever in the past - is the most conclusive evidence that could be imagined to demonstrate Western decadence: the reckless, complacent, futile, hand-wringing, self-absorbed, morally-paralyzed blindness of Western political leaders and their ruling elites.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Who were the only-moderately-high-IQ geniuses?

I believe that genius is essentially a combination of high intelligence, and high creativity (in the sense of a semi-psychotic, trance-like ability to think poetically and with loose-associations) - plus sufficient application to work very hard on those subjects which really inspire the genius.

A genius also needs an awkward personality, or else he will simply fit-in with the normal social expectations; and sufficient autonomy that this misfit status does not bother him.

(Note: these ideas mostly derive from HJ Eysenck's book - Genius.) 


According to most studies, it looks as if most geniuses were of *very* high intelligence (general intelligence, 'g' or IQ) - being something like three or more standard deviations above average (IQ 145 plus when the average IQ is defined as 100 and the standard deviation as 15).

However, in my reading of the biographies of geniuses, some seem to be more more normal in intelligence than this - certainly in the top ten percent, say IQ 120 plus, but not more.


Just for fun, I will nominate Ludwig Wittgenstein as one of these.

To my mind, Wittgenstein seems to have a much lower IQ than most philosophers, he approaches things in a relatively straightforward manner. What is unusual about Wittgenstein is not his ability to think abstractly, reason extensively and learn rapidly -  but his amazing persistence at picking away, with searing intensity and poetic expressivity, year after year, again and again, at matters which most people would regard as minutiae.

For what it is worth, Wittgenstein's academic record was very good but not amazing - which is at least consistent with the above.

Any other suggestions of only-moderately-high IQ-geniuses?


[I am assuming that Wittgenstein really was a genius, since he was so massively influential in 20th century philosophy - and was rated so highly by extremely intelligent people such as Bertrand Russell and Elizabeth Anscombe. However, Wittgenstein seems to me always to have been wrong about everything -  and indeed twentieth century philosophy is always wrong about everything; so maybe Wittgenstein was not a genius but a nutter who happened to be taken seriously by a silly and corrupt area of intellectual endeavor, due to other aspects of his personality which led to a cult growing around him.]

Tolkien opened the doors

Lord of the Rings was the first grown-up book I read, at the age of 13, and it shaped the whole of my adolescent experience of high culture.

The next heavyweight authors I tackled were George Bernard Shaw and Robert Graves - both recommendations of my father. They represented two sides of my character which developed in parallel - rationalism and romanticism; classicism and medievalism.

At this point and for a few years there was an intoxicating sense of culture opening-out; as if it would become a self-sufficient world for me. 

On the rational side I was bowled over by Bronowski's Ascent of Man on TV and went on to read others of his books, I focused on science in school, and I read modern socialist political theory - joining the Labour Party on my 16th birthday. A typical Fabian technocrat.

On the romantic side I read William Morris's political essays and stories, Fritz Schumacher, and was an adherent of the 'ecology' (now Green) movement. I loved Thoreau's Walden and intended to become Self Sufficient following the guidance of John Seymour. A typical utopian transcendentalist.

In music I loved the classical baroque on the one hand (Telemann before Bach - which must be unusual), and opera on the other hand; the classicism of the treble recorder and the visceral appeal of folk rock (especially Steeleye Span) an unaccompanied group singing. I sang in Gilbert and Sullivan, and a Haydn mass - and played Morris Dances, jigs and reels on the most vulgar instrument of all: piano accordion.

A third side of my character was a particular liking for clever and stylish 'aristocratic' lifestyle as epitomized by 18th century classical architecture (eg. nearby Bath and Bristol), the plays of Sheridan and Goldsmith, Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (which I acted in), Three Men in a Boat (which I imagined to be aristocratic - although actually it was lower middle class), PG Wodehouse and Tom Stoppard's plays.

These enthusiasms were enabled by the cultural resources of the local library plus inter-library loans, then later Classics for Pleasure records, the Bristol Central Library (including an extensive free record library with classics and folk), the Old Vic Theatre, and the elegant backdrop of Park Street, Cawardines Coffee Houses, and George's bookshop.

Three to four decades on, and most of this has fallen by the wayside except for Tolkien, Gilbert and Sullivan, Jerome K Jerome, and baroque classical music - the rest is mostly a matter for occasional re-visitation in a pleasantly nostalgic spirit (or to understand my previous mind-set) rather than a living, learning, serious engagement.

Vaclav Havel's Poster Test

"The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” 

"Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

"I think I can safely assume that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and the carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. 

"If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

"Obviously the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. 

"The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” 

"This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

"Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,' he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. 

"The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” 

"Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the fa├žade of something high. And that something is ideology."

From Vaclav Havel's essay - The Power of the Powerless, 1978 

Comment: The Poster Test

If you go into an institutional environment - a government office, a school or college, a hospital or doctor's surgery, a museum, public transportation - and you observe posters adorning the walls on politically-correct topics such as diversity, fair trade, global warming, approved victim groups, third world aid - remember Havel's essay, and that the correct translation of such posters is as follows:

"I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient"

Such posters are a coded admission of submission to ideology - except in the rare instance where they advertise genuine corruption by ideology.  

The frequency of such posters nowadays, compared with a generation ago, is a quantitative measure of the progress of totalitarian government.