The New Terrapin Gazette

Number 270
5 October, 2012

Alcohol is a social stimulant. It warms you up; brings you closer to people. (Hallucinogenic) mushrooms are non-social. They whirl you inside. Bring you closer to yourself. I solved the secret of the universe last night, but this morning I forgot what it was. There’s no quick and easy path to wisdom. Give me alcohol any day.

Necessary Change And Its Discontents

The presidential election in the USA will be unsurprising and anticlimactic, and there is no point in pretending otherwise. Obama will win. Yes, yes, Romney “won” the first debate, and all the “wingnuts” are celebrating. Polls? Never mind. Truth: the debate changed very few minds that can’t or won’t change back, and dead people do not look at TV debates — though they certainly do vote. And if Obama loses? A bitterly divided electorate will cripple Romney’s ability to function. The nation is not ready for reform.

The literal irrelevance of much of what is currently considered news means that the mix of commentary and links to be found in this newsletter requires adjustment. That’s not to say that those of you looking here for news that has somehow managed to skip around the roadblocks erected by the major media will be totally frustrated.

It is to say that the single-mindedness of recent numbers of The New Terrapin Gazette can no longer be justified. The focus of fact and commentary will accordingly be adjusted.

When the possibilities for reform are better — when the voters have learned their lesson — principles of Liberty, prudence and decency can be promoted vigorously.

Press on regardless, Pilgrims, for the coming Time of Troubles is necessary. It will be painful and even terrible (“It’s ON!” as a president with greater “flexibility” will ignore the majority and work to alter the fundamentals of US representative democracy). For those who can learn and benefit from experience, the next four years will be a grim confirmation of the value of common sense.

Muslim Anger Over That Film

It’s a brilliant ploy, and, because the wrong people are in charge, it’s working. Muslims in Europe in particular are rioting over what they claim is a disrespectful portrayal of Mohammed. Muslim missionaries have taken in a great many people, including — if his words are to be believed — the president of the USA.

That ridiculous film is not the cause of the riots and protests and threats and the assassination of the US ambassador to Libya. All these frightening events are just part of the Muslim assault on Western Civilization, and they were provoked by the perception of weakness. As the report at the above hyperlink explains, the riots across parts of Europe have no counterpart in the USA because of demographics. Certainly if expansionist Islam has its way (and unless US immigration policy is purged of its current insanity), that will change.

It’s a disgrace that the US administration has publicly validated the fake Muslim rationalizations for violence and outrage. When everyone in Washington, from Obama down, should have said flatly that free speech would be upheld regardless, the “progressive” reaction has been to encourage further strife. Obama did call for increased attacks on a larger number of targets, you will recall; instead of telling everyone to be rational and accept the ethics of Liberty, he encouraged more protests and tacitly justified violence.

If the West cannot distinguish between legitimate complaints and deceit that portrays aggression as dissent, it can hardly deserve to survive. The facts are clear, and obscuring them with cowardly “multiculturalism” and apologies for crimes not committed is not just stupid, it is suicidal.

Causation

The concept of cause and effect is in the core of virtually every philosophical system. As it happens, a very silly post touching on causation has appeared on the internet; it rates mention here because it has implications for the ethics of governance, though its author does not realize that. It can serve as an introduction to a discussion of fundamental concepts in Western Civilization. Read the post before you continue, but do note first that the subject of causation is at least as vexing as the unanswerable question of whether human beings have free will. Continue, therefore, only if the subject appeals to you.

In no philosophy or religion does causation play a greater role than in Buddhism. The Buddha made it central to his teaching, spending more words on the consequences of what he called skilled and unskilled acts than Paul spent on the gifts of the spirit. Those familiar with Buddhist philosophy will agree that the endless definitions and highly detailed categories of all manner of phenomena literally exhaust the student; Buddhist philosophy is stunningly voluminous. Accordingly, given the essential nature of causation to the teaching, Buddhist thought must be considered in any review of the history of how cause and effect are understood.

Most who undertake a review of Buddhism begin and end with The Noble Eightfold Path and The Four Noble Truths. Those slogan-like statements are introductions and handy guides to behavior; while they name the causes of suffering, they do not define cause itself. It is enough to know that by removing the cause, one can be free of its effects.

The core of Buddhist teaching is summarized in a paradigm-fable called the Paticcasamuppada. This word is usually translated from the Pali (the unwritten language spoken by the Buddha, and the lower-class equivalent of upper-class, written Sanskrit) as dependent origination, conditionality, or the conditioned genesis. This teaching, expressly described by the Buddha as extraordinarily difficult even for his advanced students, strongly resembles modern systems analysis. It was intended as a teaching tool for those intellectually capable of probing the depths of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

At no point does the Paticcasamuppada define cause or effect; instead it elucidates their function in the universe. It never explains how we know that A causes B. The student of philosophy can only react with disappointment; one of the most analytic, comprehensive and difficult explications of cause and effect omits the fundamentals.

Perhaps the clearest expression of Buddhist teaching regarding causation is found outside the Paticcasamuppada, in the metaphor of effect following cause as the wheel of the cart follows the hoof of the ox.

Beyond that, there is little explanation. There are numerous statements that provide examples of the arising of new events out of circumstances favorable for them, and on many occasions it is clear that the Buddha meant to say that one thing (or event) can influence, impact or alter another, even to the point of in some vague sense causing it, but there is no explicit definition in any of the Theravada texts (as opposed to the Mahayana texts that were composed after the death of the Buddha) that makes clear exactly what causation is.

At this point, some would mention the teachings regarding kamma, which in Sanskrit is called karma. The word actually means nothing more than action; it does not refer to causation. Clearly, throughout the Buddha’s teachings, the idea that actions have consequences is strongly emphasized, so one might say that action does cause something — but how that happens, exactly, is not made plain. It may even be argued that while causes appear to exist in the Buddhist teachings, there is no absolute, necessary or essential relationship between actions and what they provoke.

Is there, then, true cause-effect in Buddhist teaching, as there is in science? Possibly not. Certainly the Buddha left much of the doctrine of rebirth (which is not the same as the doctrine of reincarnation) to the imaginations of his followers, and that means that kamma is an immensely knotty tangle of concepts and suggestions. A thorough survey of the texts introduces rather than answers questions.

The implication seems to be that in Buddhism, cause and effect need be understood only primitively — well enough, at least, to impress upon the followers the importance of producing good by practicing good.

Of course philosophers have always assumed cause and effect to be operative and obvious (the huge exception will be noted in a moment). Descartes blundered blindly from assumption to assumption, working his way to what he mistakenly believed were mathematically certain epistemological conclusions, using causation at every step of the way. Even Aristotle simply let causation go, allowing his students — as far as we know, since we have nothing written by the man — to fill in the blanks.

Then David Hume followed reason and observation to a thunderclap of a conclusion. Though Hume hated the drudgery of philosophy, he examined the issues in excruciating detail and composed a rigorous, uncompromisingly rational report. His precisely-chosen words make clear that the concept of causation is nonsense.

He was correct. Causation is the myth humans construct to explain why things happen, and to relate them to each other. We have no proof, and no hope of ever obtaining proof, that any event or phenomenon A can in any fashion cause B. And that’s it; there is no refutation of the fearless Scot’s insight.

Eventually, of course, folks who understand that correlation does not imply causation may come to see that nothing implies, demonstrates or proves causation. So the catchphrase is useful, in a way.

Now take another look at what this newsletter referred to above as a “silly post”. It is silly, and perhaps you will see that when two revealing quotes from the post are isolated and repeated: “When we make a claim about causation, it’s not so we can hide out from the world but so we can intervene in it.” And then, “The false positive is now more onerous than it’s ever been. And all we have to fight it is a catchphrase.”

Intervening in the world is indeed a good reason to believe in causation. And perhaps no one believes more fervently in intervention than tyrants. Who is it who favors free markets, where intervention is rejected from the first? Who, exactly, lusts after control? Why is true Liberty hated by collectivists, and what is so attractive about solidarity? Why is taxation more than just funding the necessary costs of government? Think it through.

That rumination may lead you to recall that socialism has from the first been promoted as the science of history and politics.

Science is not ethics, but scientists can be ethical. Consider Karl Popper, whose shattering The Open Society And Its Enemies has forever endeared him to individualists.

From great minds such as von Hayek and Popper have come principled concepts of economics, politics and science — including the notion of the fallacy of the unfalsifiable hypothesis. Of course causation is understood, assumed, by these men, as it is by Marx and his followers, but it is important to note that in the case of the gospel according to Marx, the objective and honest scholar of socialist/communist theory quickly runs into the mystical aspects of Marxism. Marx is never able to explain how it is that his thesis somehow gives rise to its antithesis, except to claim that the circumstances of capitalism (for example) give rise to inevitable conditions that become causes for a cascade of natural, consequential effects. (Both Marx and Hegel simply asserted a necessary gestational process, without being able to explain it. Both dialectics are at base myths, articles of faith.) Yet if one approaches history from a scientific viewpoint, one cannot possibly adopt such a view — for each historical circumstance is far too complex to allow prediction. Marx had a plausible explanation and from it derived plausible predictions — that were totally wrong: the first communist revolutions, those in France and Russia, are flat refutations of Marxist theory and prediction.

And so it goes. The more complex the phenomenon, the greater the probability that utterly unknown events may be included in it, and the greater the probability of error in predictions of its future. Marxist and Hegelian views and explanations are myths and fables — they are religious systems based on faith, not fact.

Intervention is, in other words, an error-prone undertaking. In order to make it work, one must have a perfect understanding of reality. Of course it is obvious that complete understanding eludes mankind, for scientists sprinkle their “explanations” of reality with such inane concepts as “connectedness” (that accounts for instantaneous communication, which is impossible), “quantum uncertainty”, “dark matter”, “dark energy”, “the Big Bang”, “the inflation after the Big Bang”, and other nonsense concepts (including this one, which, appropriately enough, deals with causality; can the present cause changes in the past?). All these things may exist, of course, but at present, they remain unexplained and contrary to reason and the body of scientific observation and understanding. Each is a unique exception to reality — rather like a Poltergeist playing pranks in a chemistry laboratory. That is a hint that the present conception of appearances could be totally wrong.

Scientists name observed events and phenomena and pretend the act of christening them somehow makes them comprehensible. That suggests strongly that much of science is myth and myth-making. Phlogiston and the elan vital are ancestors of today’s fabulous terminology that passes for understanding and explanation. The slogans and cute names are light-years ahead of the clarifying theory.

How can empty space not be empty, but filled with things of some unimaginable sort that can, and sometimes do, produce real particles that exist for a brief time, and then wink out of existence? It is not nearly good enough to insist that it happens, and expect everyone to believe it; an explanation is needed, and none is available. String theory is entirely mathematical, and cannot be demonstrated to describe any actual phenomena; it is entirely hypothetical. The fundamentals, the rules our scientists claim to know, are no more helpful than is the Paticcasamuppada.

To those who believe in intervening in human affairs for the good of mankind, control is essential. It is the key to Utopia. That is why some politicians and all tyrants seek power. They honestly believe that if they can limit and specify all causes, only desired effects will result. This is the collectivist fallacy and the very soul of the Utopian myth. Because of this absurd belief that the mechanics of cause and effect can be understood and operated as desired, Liberty is perceived as the enemy of the common weal.

There is something very rotten here.

Consider the quote, “The false positive is now more onerous than it’s ever been. And all we have to fight it is a catchphrase.” Onerous? That’s almost certainly the wrong word; after all, there is little that is burdensome about the false positive. Like most mistakes, it comes easily and is borne lightly, for it’s a quick, simple and seductive explanation. It’s a troublemaker, deceitful and tricky, but it’s not difficult for superficial thinkers to heft, and they relish its seemingly comprehensive wisdom.

Then too, as this newsletter has suggested time and again, the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy stands ready to dismantle false positives. (It’s employed in this Number.) In fact there are plenty of ways of pointing out that a myth can be helpful, up to a point — and that beyond that point, which may not be far away at all, man can see nothing.

Links

This newsletter has kept an eye on an incident for some months (you may recall it was first mentioned in Number 255), and is finally able to pass along this advice: when you fly, do it on Boeing aircraft, not Airbus. See why here.

Free speech: what a pesky darn issue, anyway. Especially when Muslims are involved. Highly recommended; it’s not what you think.

Here’s what it has come to: “…Muslim violence dictates our permissible forms of speech. To know whether a thing may be said, drawn or filmed, we must first determine how Muslims will react to it. If they will react with violence, as they do to a sizable percentage of things, then it becomes incitement, retroactively, that must be punished and condemned.” Source, where you can read the facts and commentary on them. Recommended.

Iraq asserts itself. Turkey is to remove its troops from Iraqi soil.

A weblogger aggregates a number of issues into one devastating post. The overwhelming majority of voters, decided and undecided, know next to nothing about virtually all of this information, thanks to the wall of silence editors and reporters have crafted to protect Obama’s lunatic presidency. It’s a disgrace because it mocks the freedom of the press, and it’s a shame because it harms the nation. Have a look, and click on just a few of the hyperlinks. Highest recommendation.

Caught in an ambush, what do you do? Why, fix bayonets and attack, of course!

This newsletter will endorse “organic” food if and only when it can be demonstrated that the alternative, inorganic food, is both edible and life-sustaining. You can’t survive by eating dirt and rocks; all genuine food is organic. It must be, or it’s not food. Promoting “organic” food over what is available in markets everywhere is ignorant babble. End of report.

Whatever else you believe, understand this: free speech is absolutely, utterly and always incompatible with Islam.

In spite of the mess the Obama administration has made and continues to make of the situation in Libya, most voters remain either ignorant or unconcerned. That means there is no realistic hope for political change that could impose reform and provide increased security for the USA. The worst people on earth want to strike again, and Washington’s bald-faced lies, reckless bungling, clueless “intelligence” operations, disrespectful silence and glaringly obvious irrationality will encourage them. Be prudent: prepare for disruption of your everyday life.

It’s not just the USA that’s in economic distress; Australia is, as well, and you’d never guess why. Well, maybe you would.

Did you know this? “Even Cuba offers private healthcare, as does every other nation in the world, except Canada and North Korea.” More here.

Some folks claim the riots and murder in Libya were caused by the high price of food. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Anthropogenic global warming is now “climate change”, and if there has been a report of Mike Mann’s threatened (insanely suicidal) lawsuit against National Review and/or Mark Steyn, this newsletter has not spotted it. That does not mean that the pseudoscience is universally recognized as what it is. Here are some recent reports on the hoax.

Guess what this is about: here’s a partial quote, from which you are to decide whether to read the item from which it is taken. “…through penetration, through influence, or through natural cast of mind, are they so sympathetic to the claims and call of the Islamic narrative….”

(The following item was provided by The People’s Front For, Like, Saving The Earth): Hurry! Read everything now, because Earth is doomed by warming, and mankind only has — like, maybe about two years, or something like that! Sort of. — Aha! Ask Al Gore! Didn’t he have a really neato fix for this warming business? Yeah! And, and, like there’s hurricanes, right? Yeah, and they are getting, like, worser, and, like — what? Hey!

Three cheers for the US Department of State. Incompetent morons….

Sleep well tonight. So will many of the legislators and civil servants who are paid to protect you. — Afterthought: given these facts, ask yourself how difficult it must be for the poor to obtain photo ID cards, as they would have to if required to identify themselves before voting.

What’s an “afghan”? According to a decent dictionary, it’s “( lowercase ) a soft woolen blanket, crocheted or knitted, usually in a geometric pattern.” Oh. Good, in other words, for a coverup. Yes.

Germany, more than sixty years later: still being hammered by Allied bombs.

Tax law, Romney, and the media: the NY Times is a masterful propaganda machine. If you need evidence to support that assertion, consider this exemplary instance of bias; the juxtaposition of facts and the subtle implications that are thereby communicated — without being explicitly expressed — are brilliant.

If you can abide it
let the hurdy-gurdy play —
Stranger ones have come by here
before they flew away

The masthead includes a quote from the works of Arthur Koestler.

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Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee.