A sad day.
After the terrible explosion in 1986, Richard Feynman was included on an independent panel to find out what went wrong. He discovered a profound difference between engineers’ and managements’ probability estimates for number of flights without failure. One potential (and very important) reason that a system-ending failure can go unnoticed is the tendency of managers to believe top-down explanations.
It’s vintage Feynman, inconoclastic, penetrating and brilliant:
“for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.”
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.“
Rand Simberg has a different take:
’30 years after Challenger, NASA needs to finally be allowed to instead focus its funding on continuing with what has been working — to help private industry continue to reduce the cost of access to space, and to locations beyond earth orbit, and to make its plans on that basis going forward
Eventually there’s conflict not only between managers and engineers, but bureaucrats and politicians trying to bend institutions to their aims, too.
I see it as a human organizational thing. Nature can’t be fooled, and takes no prisoners. Even the best among men, and in man, makes for politics; even well-designed organizations can outlive their usefulness.
Is this really where NASA is?
Here are a few operating assumptions on this blog, influences which I realize are at play in my own mind and life. Let me know if you disagree.
They might have some predictive ability, and, then again, they might have quite a bit wrong, and thus, much less predictive ability.
There are plenty of windmills:
1. Individualism, even that to which many libertarians subscribe (draw a ring around the individual, and proceed from there) tends to unmoor many people from the previous obligations, institutions and traditions that were once more prevalent in American life, including that of organized religion (more people, especially educated people in America, are waiting to get married and have babies, for example). Aside from the economic and technological forces at work in our lives, I’d argue that more people are more inclined to more ‘me-based’ kinds of decisions about work, home, and their personal lives. I hesitate to make any value judgments about such a claim.
2. This individualism has been influenced by both modernism and postmodernism in the arts and popular entertainment, and both modernism and postmodernism are full of existentialist and nihilist influences (‘me against the absurdly meaningless void’, and ‘me against the absurdly meaningless void with no possibility of objective knowledge’). Such influences can help to create a landscape of despairing individuals into which many familiar ‘-isms’ have gained influence, ideas around which individuals are forging meaning and purpose in their lives. Most of us, after all, can’t bear too much reality, and it’s tough to be alone, and sensible to try and ease the suffering and pain inevitably found in this world (religion is very practiced in such matters). These influences would include: New Atheism, Soft Marxism, Pop-Darwinism, Environmentalism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, and a kind of broad, liberal humanism/idealism.
3. Whatever your thoughts on the dangers and downsides to organized religion and its discontents, of which there are no shortage, there are many dangers and downsides to the modern ‘-isms,’ too. Individuals attached to causes and ideals, without necessarily thinking those causes and ideas through, easily leads to outcomes of ‘more.’ The particular ‘mores,’ of human-rights, more ‘peace,’ more ‘knowledge’ etc. often end-up in an ever-expanding State as a fulfillment of liberal humanism/idealism. Thus, liberal idealism can have trouble recognizing limits to power, limiting principles to its idealism in the form of institutional power, and can easily overlook where that idealism meets reality and people who think differently. There are serious design flaws here, highlighted by the activists and radicals seeking constant change beneath such high ideals; driving change and conflict within (where real authoritarians and totalitarians lurk).
I’ve got some work to do in thinking more about a deontological rights-based defense of self-ownership, if such a thing is possible, but drop me a line if you’re interested.
‘Lane Fox’s book is a work of dedicated scholarship and not for the casual reader. This is in no sense a biography and the author touches only relatively briefly on Augustine’s life as bishop of Hippo, his other works and legacy. The focus is on the Confessions, studied in detail to trace Augustine’s complex spiritual pilgrimage. At the same time, Lane Fox provides an immense amount of contextual information about his hometown of Thagaste in North Africa and about Carthage, Rome and Milan, comparing Augustine’s life there with those of some very different contemporaries.’
As previously posted:
So, where do the social-sciences and foreign policy meet?
Roger Sandall argued Fox pointed-out how we often misunderstand other parts of the world as we project our own traditions, definitions of freedom, and democratic ideals upon them:
‘Fox knows what Tierney and most other educated Americans apparently do not: that tribal communities are the default system of human social nature. Humanity evolved that way for millennia after exiting the hunter-gatherer band stage of social life. Many of the planet’s diverse societies have since moved on toward becoming modern states, but not all of them have. And even for those that have, the shadowy emotional residues of the distant past remain.’
On This Site: Francis Fukuyama uses some Hegel and Samuel Huntington…just as Huntington was going against the grain of modernization theory…:Newsweek On Francis Fukuyama: ‘The Beginning Of History’…Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’
Romantic primitivism in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’
Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?: Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?: From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit…
I’m guessing every time a reasonable person indulges the latest performance protest at an art opening or public event, they incentivize more such behavior.
If an institution indulges it, however:
‘Upon googling the event, I discovered that it featured The Guerrilla Girls, who are art critics wearing primate masks. This is the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s website:
”In anticipation of the takeover, Mia asked the Guerrilla Girls to evaluate our collection. The results were shocking! How many women were on view? How can we bring equality to history? Discover the mysteries of Mia’s collection.”
Oy. Well, as to the first question, I imagine they mean how many women artists, and the answer for the pre-Modern collection is probably “near zero,” because there weren’t many, and the answer for the Modern collection is probably “close to zero except for Georgia O’Keefe,” because the mostly male art world devalued their importance. I’ve no reason to assume that the abstract expressionists or the action painters or the Pop Art lads were any less dismissive of women in art than the rest of men in various endeavors.‘
Hip and edgy institutional appropriation of such radicalism, insufferable as it is, also indulges the real radicals/activists.
Does that do the arts any good?
If you build the art museums, some people believe ‘culture’ will follow, radical chic or not.
Thompson on David Byrne of the Talking Heads (featured in the NY Times):
‘I refrain from calling Byrne a socialist, but what goes unsaid here is that our objections are to a prior assumption by believers in state power, namely that because some undertaking is worth doing, that the state ought to be doing it. If Byrne is addressing society in the above quote (and I think he is to some degree, although largely by not making Bastiat’s distinction), he is doing so as if it were an aggregate, even an abstraction. This may be the essence of the statist mind: that an abstracted aggregate of other people ought to be devoting their energies to the effort I deem noble. It’s from there that the demands flow. The collectivist is not asking you to give up expenditures on your hobby to support his (even if his has been fashioned into a career), he’s asking the abstract aggregate to change its trajectory or support the arts or something nebulous and lofty like that. Cargo Culture springs into being when such demands are met.’
Related On This Site: When poetry went into the universities: Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’
Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily argues the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’
Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment
How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion (was he most after freeing art from a few thousand years of Christianity, monarchy and aristocracy…something deeper?), at least with regard to Camille Paglia. See the comments: Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful
Hopefully it won’t go this far: From Big Hollywood: ‘The National Endowment For The Art Of Persuasion?’
As I’m neither a lawyer nor an economist, feel free to chime in. Epstein is intense.
Once you convince yourself that the business of government is to ‘worry about the elimination of wealth differentials,” as he states, then you will almost always end up shrinking the pie. Epstein advocates keeping the pie growing, and removing barriers for people to enter into voluntary exchanges where both parties can benefit.
The income inequality folks often end up making more inequality through good intentions, cinching off the economy at its top through crony capitalism (favoring a few business winners and creating barriers to market entry along with enormous, inefficient bureaucracies). They can also increase the politicians’ control over the money supply, eroding capital and tying outcomes to short-term political cycles. Aiming for more equality often leads to less equality, much as the equality of outcome folks want more one-man, one-vote democracy, which is pretty much impossible in practice.
The whole thing slows down and/or stalls as people fight more over less.
***Say you’re more conservative, or religious, a Burkean, a la Kirk, or very interested in what keeps families together and the restraints necessary upon individuals and their own passions, helping to pursue life, liberty and some happiness. As a libertarian law/economics thinker, Epstein makes the case that conservatism is great for genetic relations and family units, but not always scalable beyond these smaller circles necessary to maintain greater freedoms in civil society: our families, churches and civic organizations. He advocates a broader system of voluntarily entered into agreements and contracts, through Chicago School economic theory, which keeps the pie growing below in a large republic like ours.
***One concern from the conservative perspective is that libertarian theory can introduce an individualism into people’s lives that is destructive as much as constructive, one that can flirt with anarchy, anti-traditional, anti-authority. Maybe that individualism is already here, as a friend points out, and if so, perhaps it’s better than filling the postmodern hole with rights-based secular humanism, collectivism, or tying postmodernism and leftist solidarity to liberalism proper. There is both a classically liberal and a deeply anarchic libertarianism
Is health care a right? From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property? Martha Nussbaum worked with Sen in India…Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal
Also: Robert Nozick anticipates arguments for distributive justice in his libertarian response to similar arguments: A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”
As an aside: Is it necessary to pursue power and justice when the extension of the ‘negative rights’ of life, liberty and happiness reach you…and thus make it unnecessary to base the rights and obligations of the state in virtue? What if they don’t reach you?
Also On This Site: In India: Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal and India and America, surely Amartya Sen is deeper than that?: From Outlook India Via A & L Daily: An Interview With Amartya Sen
So, where did Marx get his ideas, anyways? Peter Singer discusses Hegel and Marx
Not news, but worth restating:
‘For decades, the Pakistani military has backed insurgent groups whose express aim is to cross into India and fight. (The I.S.I. has also done this in Afghanistan, helping to create and sustain the Taliban.) The ostensible aim of these militant groups, and of the I.S.I., is to bleed India into ceding control over Kashmir. This has never been more than a fantasy, but it keeps the country of Pakistan focussed on something other than its intractable domestic problems, and it justifies the military’s bloated budgets.’
Then again, when we dealt with Pervez Musharraf, we had an ally in the ‘War On Terror’ who was playing us on both ends. It’s just the cost of doing business.
As previously posted:
Our author suggests:
“Pakistan’s original sin — the reason for its instability, its dysfunctional politics, and the penetration of its state and society by religious fanaticism — was the brutal influence of military rule in that republic’s short life. And it still is.”
Michael Totten post here.
What’s life like in a slum in Karachi? Crime bosses provide basic social services and protection for residents and become populist figures, earning the love and fear of the people. The bosses then buy off the police. The corruption is deep, the makers of the film courageous, and perhaps a little nuts. The PPP doesn’t necessarily have control. Good film. Perhaps, what the Karachi government is to the Liyari slum, the Federal government is to the FATA region.
…From Michael Totten: ‘An Interview With Christopher Hitchens’…From Abu Muqawama: ‘Mubarak And Me’…From Michael Totten: ‘The New Egyptian Underground’…Michael Totten At The American Interest: “A Leaner, Meaner Brotherhood”
Related On This Site: From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And Pakistan…A tense relationship: Fareed Zakaria At Newsweek: ‘Terrorism’s Supermarket’…Christopher Hitchens At Vanity Fair: ‘From Abbotabad To Worse’…Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’
Worth a read:
‘That night will never leave my memory. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life.’
A short story by Flannery O’Connor, as sent in by a reader:
‘He had not walked five hundred yards down the road when he saw, within reach of him, the plaster figure of a Negro sitting bent over on a low yellow brick fence that curved around a wide lawn. The Negro was about Nelson’s size and he was pitched forward at an unsteady angle because the putty that held him to the wall had cracked. One of his eyes was entirely white and he held a piece of brown watermelon.’
Redemption, mercy, original sin, and a decent short-story leaving you not knowing what to think, exactly.
Also As Sent In: Martin Luther King’s intellectual development came mainly through theology and seminary, social gospel (addressing social injustices), but also depended on various other sources, including Gandhi’s non-violent resistance (not acquiescence) to displace the force of the laws used against blacks for centuries. He welcomed a broad definition of rights enacted into law to include black folks, and a vast involvement of Federal authority…
And…where some of that energy has gone…further Left.
‘Being a leftist is a calling, not a career; it’s a vocation not a profession. It means you are concerned about structural violence, you are concerned about exploitation at the work place, you are concerned about institutionalized contempt against gay brothers and lesbian sisters, hatred against peoples of color, and the subordination of women.’
Related On This Site: Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution
Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’……Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”…Race And Free Speech-From Volokh: ‘Philadelphia Mayor Suggests Magazine Article on Race Relations Isn’t Protected by the First Amendment’
One way out of multiculturalism and cultural relativism:
They’ve got to keep up with the times:A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama
Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘My Brain And I‘ Interesting take:
‘Yet the real problem for cognitive science is not the problem of consciousness. Indeed, I am not sure that it is even a problem. Consciousness is a feature that we share with the higher animals, and I see it as an “emergent” feature, which is in place just as soon as behavior and the functional relations that govern it reach a certain level of complexity. The real problem, as I see it, is self-consciousness — the first-person awareness that distinguishes us from the other animals, and which enables us to identify ourselves, and to attribute mental predicates to ourselves, in the first-person case — the very same predicates that others attribute to us in the second- and third-person case.’
============== Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism is skeptical of the Nietzchean influence: ‘Prinz’s Deceptive Silence in His Arguments for Emotivism and Cultural Relativism:’
‘In Beyond Human Nature, Jesse Prinz argues for emotivism and cultural relativism in his account of human morality. In doing this, he employs the rhetorical technique of deceptive silence. What I mean by this is that in presenting the research relevant to his topic, he picks out those findings that seem to support his arguments, while passing over in silence those findings that contradict his arguments. For example, he sets up a stark debate between Kantian rationalism and Humean emotivism in explaining the basis of human morality; and he argues that empirical research supports emotivism by showing that moral judgment is purely emotional and not rational at all (293-95). This is deceptive in two respects. ‘
===================== I can’t speak to Britain’s Green Party, but neither can anyone else apparently. Via David Thompson: ‘Incredibly Awkward Interview With Natalie Bennett.’ A train-wreck on the air with a lot of coughing… If some Britons aren’t engaged in the magical and doomsday cult thinking of back to nature utopianism, they’re apparently channeling that magical thinking into the Green Party political platform of free houses and money-tree utopianism. Good to know. From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?… Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ A Brief Review of Jesse Prinz’s ‘The Emotional Construction Of Morals’Red Impulses Gone Green-Tim Worstall At The Adam Smith Institute On George Monbiot
Likely worth your time. A core argument:
‘So there is some Islamist ideology, in the sense of politically relevant innovations from tradition, but most of what drives Islamic State leaders is a rarified form of theology, or, if we prefer Mark Lilla’s term in The Stillborn God (2007), political theology. And here we come to the difference between theology and ideology.
Theology is a recursive, non-falsifiable system of ideas about abstract matters. Ideology, on the other hand, as abstract as it can and often does get, is at length testable against the flow of historical reality. Take the trajectory of Communism as a case in point. Its arc of rise and fall traverses about a century, but fall it certainly did, because all of the avowed test cases of the ideology put into practice failed by their own lights.’
Are most Muslims arguing theology while a vast majority in the West are arguing within Enlightenment political philosophies and traditions?
These are gross generalizations, and I’m far from expert (even competent in some areas), but here are a few ideas. Feel free to highlight my ignorance:
- It seems pretty accurate to say that Islamic entities and nation-states have quite fundamentally different organizing principles than the United States, and are much less focused on the freedom and autonomy of the individual: Life and local traditions are more family and kin-based, tribal and ethnic/linguistic population-based, then Islamic sect-based, then more broadly united under Islam.
- Islam hasn’t undergone a Reformation nor Enlightenment, really, and it’s unclear what such changes would/could look like. Many ideas in this part of the world have been around a longer time. Westerners who insist on ideology and ‘-isms’ in explaining Islamic radicalism miss the theological nature of how many/most Muslims often see the world: Through binding personal commitments to a transcendent God (submission of will in faith), through family and broader social obligations via that duty to God (mosque, social institutions, branches of Islam and imams, praying up to five times a day etc), and through the lens of often family/tribal connections. Such a model can produce political stability, but mainly through Caliphates and empires quite different than governments found West of Istanbul. It can achieve new lands through conquest, and has recently produced many autocratic rulers who rise up through the ranks of the military, without the personal nor institutional habits that exercise freedom of political associations, speech, and non-religious leadership. Islam really hasn’t formulated the existence of such civilizations.
- The fact that the West, and ‘modernity,’ have advanced and mightily affected the rest of the world, including Islamic civilizations, is salient: Through technology, warfare, the imperial project, education, the sciences, business, the businesses of oil and trade, government etc. the West has spread. Also through ideas and ideologies, like socialism/Communism. It can be as simple as music videos and an Iphone, or perhaps a new road, or a Muslim guy getting a job in the West, or an oil worker getting a job in Saudi Arabia, or as complex as the Westphalian treaty, and entirely redrawn national boundaries.
Like I said, feel free to respond. I’m making my way here.
As previously posted:
It’s likely you won’t agree with all of Samuel Huntington’s ideas, but he maintained a deeply learned understanding of the animating ideas behind Western/American political organization with keen observation of what was happening on the ground in foreign countries. Here’s a brief summation from Robert Kaplan’s article:
“• The fact that the world is modernizing does not mean that it is Westernizing. The impact of urbanization and mass communications, coupled with poverty and ethnic divisions, will not lead to peoples’ everywhere thinking as we do.
• Asia, despite its ups and downs, is expanding militarily and economically. Islam is exploding demographically. The West may be declining in relative influence.
• Culture-consciousness is getting stronger, not weaker, and states or peoples may band together because of cultural similarities rather than because of ideological ones, as in the past.
• The Western belief that parliamentary democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with civilizations—notably, Islam and the Chinese—that think differently.
• In a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than on ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.”
See Also: Google books has ‘Political Order In Changing Societies‘ and ‘Who Are We?: The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘ (previews)available.
Also On This Site: Francis Fukuyama, a neconservative up until the Iraq War or so, student of Huntington’s, and author off The End Of History, has a view that modernization and Westernization are more closely united. Fukuyama envisions a Western State which has an endpoint that the minds of men might be able to know. This breaks with Karl Marx’s end point of Communism rising from the ashes of capitalism, is more Hegelian via Alexander Kojeve in Paris, and advocates for a State that ought to be bigger than it is now in the U.S. This requires a more moral bureaucratic class to lead us here at home and perhaps an almost one worlder-ish type Super-Government for all. Can you see limited government, life, liberty and property from here?: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work…From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington…
Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……Peter Singer discusses Hegel and Marx…From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’
Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’…Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead?…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill
-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.