Monday, May 30, 2011

Intermittent Communications

I thought I should tell you a little about the background to that quote. I may have told you once about a friend I had when I was young - you would have met him once, Marco - who when he was even younger claimed to have believed he was an Inca. That is, an incarnation of the Sun God. He claimed to have believed he was put on this world as a place of testing. We used to discuss current events and utopian schemes for bringing about world peace which involved radical detente and neo-Stalinist population transfers. We once started writing a novel about 'first contact', humans landing on an alien world, with him writing the story from the human point of view and me from the alien point of view.
When I look back on the mixture of Vulcan rationality and psychotic bastardry with which we used to treat each other, I am amazed at how well our spouses have managed to integrate us into normal society.

Anyways, after many years out of contact, he sent me an email during my hiatus from Clamdom asking my advice on whether someone who had come to his employer seeking a loan was a crackpot or not. And in the very brief correspondence that followed, before we fell out of contact again, he said I should read 'The Devils of Loudon' by Aldous Huxley. So I did. You probably should, too. That quote from the Introduction leapt out at me. I think it played a role in the epiphany I described. We should believe those things that seem true to us when they are expressed in halting and inarticulate ways by unattractive people. Then we can be confident that they are really true.

Another friend of long ago, though not quite that long ago as my Inca friend, is N(athana/o)el, who emailed me after a long gap out of the blue much more recently. I reminded him that he had promised to read the Qur'an and he hasn't yet written back. Islam is one of the things I have soured on in recent years. It seems another terrible manifestation of the elevation of form over content. It is good memetic survival behaviour to take people dissing your meme so seriously, but it is also sociopathic.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Devils of Loudon

When an orator, by the mere magic of words and a golden voice, persuades his audience of the rightness of a bad cause, we are very properly shocked. We ought to feel the same dismay whenever we find the same irrelevant tricks being used to persuade people of the rightness of a good cause.
The belief engendered may be desirable, but the grounds for it are intrinsically wrong, and those who use the devices of oratory for instilling even right beliefs are guilty of pandering to the least creditable elements in human nature. By exerting their disasterous gift of the gab, they deepen the quasi-hypnotic trance in which most human beings live and which it is the aim and purpose of all true philosophy, all genuinely spiritual religion, to deliver them.

- Aldous Huxley, ‘The Devils of Loudon’, 1952


I have taken the post below from a comment I made on Marco's blog a while ago and have set it up here to accompany my first post as the New Dr Clam, which you will find by scrolling down a little ways.

You may or may not know that my son is vehemently and embarassingly opposed to most all manifestations of organised religion. This certainly has not been my view nor of anyone else in the family and until recently I assumed it might stem from some unreported unfortunate incident at his first school here, where he was enrolled in Scripture class without us knowing.

But I have realised – very belatedly, because I am so thick – that my son’s opinion is not an abberation, but a logical and consistent consequence of three messages that are core to my own world view that I have drummed in to him by word and action since he was very small.

1. Don’t do things just because everyone else is doing them, or all the ‘cool people’ are doing them.

There isn't anything I, or parents in general, denigrate so much as peer pressure. Doing things just because everyone around you is doing them is stupid. 'Think for yourself!' we say. Now historically, if you are born in a Muslim country, you end up as a Muslim. If you are born in a Christian country, you end up as a Christian. Etc. What can this be but people blindly going along with what everyone else around them is doing, rather than considering ideologies on their merits? All organised religions are obviously groups of  ‘cool people’ – the only people who *really* know what it is going on. 

And then I have gone and said – thinking of the habit of following orders that gave us the ghastly 20th century things like:  ‘Respect for authority is a disease, no different from the Venusian Gook Rot’ (Me, c.1995).  (Of course, while it makes some sense to listen to what the great sages and prophets of the past have said, where they disagree completely with each other it is obvious that they can be ignored.)

2. Content beats form, as surely as rock beats scissors.

This is something I say a lot, too. Don't pay attention to *how* people are saying something, pay attention to *what* they are actually saying. 

Organised religion seems to be all about saying things in as impressive an environment as possible. You typically have someone in impressive clothes reading something written in impressive language in an impressive setting. The greatest music, paintings, and architecture of Western Civilisation have all been created to provide an impressive setting for Christianity.  I am largely suspicious of form because I am so damned susceptible to it, but my son has always been largely immune. Confronted with any statement he will cut straight to the content. He is going to be suspicious of anything tarted up with all sorts of impressive emotive magnificences, *because* it is tarted up with all sorts of impressive emotive magnificences.

3. Don’t believe things for any reason except that they are true.

You shouldn’t trust anybody saying something if they are paid to say it. If someone from the coal industry says something about global warming being rubbish, everyone leaps up and down to say that they would say that, wouldn’t they? If I say something about the importance of publicly-funded tertiary education, you would be right to take it with a grain of salt. So if people are being rewarded to say something is true, not by an executive salary of a measly few million a year*, but by an eternity of bliss, oughtn’t we ought to take what they are saying with whole container loads of salt? That would be logical.

So, my son’s contempt for organised religion is a logical and self-consistent extension of my own world view. And to be logical and self-consistent, I ought to adopt it too. 

So that’s sort of where I’m at.

I find it a very uncomfortable place to be and don't like it very much, but that's where I am.

*: For absolute clarity, this is meant to be the coal industry spokesman’s salary, not mine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Note from September 26th, 2009

I have now returned to doing all of the old things I used to do so far as paying attention to the world is concerned, which is terrible, for as it says in the rules of the Discalced Carmelites, news of the wars and treaties of earthly princes is spiritual poison. I shall not reanimate Dr Clam. But lately I have taken to frequenting the websites in foreign parts that I was once used to frequent, where there is much discussion about health care reforms in the Old Country. I am on record as an enthusiastic proponent of universal health care as part of the core business of government, which puts me well outside what is usually considered the ‘right’ in the Old Country. Yet, here I am considered a fire-breathing reactionary in most matters. Is my theory of government merely incoherent and lacking in self-consistency? Or is there a logic to it, not yet clear even to me? I shall have a go at making some assertions that may or may not hang together logically.

1. The business of the state is to defend us, collectively, against external enemies that are too powerful for us to defend ourselves against, individually.

2. Historically the defensive function of the state has always been employed against all four of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, in so far as it was within its power. Consider the story of Joseph and Pharaoh; consider the etymology of the word ‘quarantine’.

3. I think it is fair, if by good fortune or hard work I have more money than my fellow citizen who is on the dole in Arnhem Land, that I can eat out at better restaurants, go on more holidays, order more books from Fishpond, and have a better video card. But, something in me rebels at the suggestion that it is in any way fair that I live longer or be healthier than him.

4. Arthur Koestler has said something which I cannot find on the web exactly, but can be paraphrased: ‘The value of an individual to the state is zero; the value of an individual to himself is infinite.’ A market for a good on which everyone places an infinite value will be the most distorted market imaginable. There is no other good for which I have a stronger natural desire to spend more than my fair share of the national GDP than on ensuring my own survival and the survival of my family. Like other strong natural desires, this one is antisocial unless bridled.

5. The natural tendency of individuals to place an infinite price on their own lives means that a free market for health should be expected to consume an ever-increasing percentage of GDP. This percentage of GDP will be overwhelmingly directed towards those who are able to pay more, so health care will be distributed on the basis of who has the greatest capacity to pay. In times of famine, the governments of responsible nations place restrictions on the free sale of food and introduce some sort of rationing in order that the poorest are not crushed by the market. As far as the market for health care goes, it is always a famine year. Thus it is always necessary for the state or charitable organisations to provide health care for the poorest.

6. It should not be illegal to obtain more or better health care for oneself than society is willing to extend to its poorest members, any more than it should be illegal to climb Ayers Rock. But it is not laudable. It is immoral to obtain more or better health care for oneself than society is willing to extend to its poorest members, just as it is immoral to climb Uluru against the stated preference of its traditional owners.

7. I think those who oppose socialised health care in the Old Country are not so cruel as to think that financial capacity is a proper basis for allocating health care, nor so blind as to imagine that this is not the case. Rather, they do not trust their government. And strangely this is all the arguments against the Iraq War boiled down to so far as I can tell. It might seem logical to oppose both, on the grounds that the government is a bunch of untrustworthy weasels. I expect a small number of self-consistent libertarians are in that position. Yet, even this small number of self-consistent liberatarians must surely concede that as we must have some form of government, it would be better to work towards making that government trustworthy? If our government is animated by principles that we agree with, and displays reasonable competence, than we should trust it with our armies and hospitals; if our government does not share our values and is incompetent, then it will employ both in ways that are pernicious.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Umbar 2017

So far as I know Turbine has no plans to release a LOTRO expansion with 3-D water, Epic Mount Olifaunts, and skimpy 'Age of Conan'-style underthings. This, however, is my dream. Everybody needs a dream.