Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism, and America’s Present Condition

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990), an English philosopher and political theorist, is remembered by Alberto Mingardi in a post at Econlib:

He was a self-confident thinker who did not search for others’ approval. He had an impressive career but somehow outside the mainstream, was remembered by friends (like Ken Minogue) as a splendid friend who cared about friendship deeply, eschewed honors, and was happy to retire in Dorset and lead a county life. In a beautiful article on Oakeshott, Gertrude Himmelfarb commented that he was “the political philosopher who has so modest a view of the task of political philosophy, the intellectual who is so reluctant a producer of intellectual goods, the master who does so little to acquire or cultivate disciples” and then all of these features perfectly fit in his character.

Oakeshott strongly influenced my view of conservatism, as you will see if you read any of the many posts in which I quote him or refer to his expositions of conservatism and critiques of rationalism. I drew heavily on Oakeshott’s analysis of rationalism in my prescient post of ten years ago about same-sex “marriage” and the destruction of civilizing social norms. Here is the post in its entirety, followed by my retrospective commentary (in italics):

Judge Vaughn Walker’s recent decision in Perry v. Schwarnenegger, which manufactures a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, smacks of Rationalism. Judge Walker distorts and sweeps aside millennia of history when he writes:

The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.

Judge Walker thereby secures his place in the Rationalist tradition. A Rationalist, as Michael Oakeshott explains,

stands … for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligations to any authority save the authority of ‘reason’. His circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious; he is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual. His mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and to judge it by what he calls his ‘reason’; optimistic, because the Rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason … to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propriety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind, a common power of rational consideration…. But besides this, which gives the Rationalist a touch of intellectual equalitarianism, he is something also of an individualist, finding it difficult to believe that anyone who can think honestly and clearly will think differently from himself….

…And having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis, he is apt to attribute to mankind a necessary inexperience in all the critical moments of life, and if he were more self-critical he might begin to wonder how the race had ever succeeded in surviving. (“Rationalism in Politics,” pp. 5-7, as republished in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays)

At the heart of Rationalism is the view that “a problem” can be analyzed and “solved” as if it were separate and apart from the fabric of life.  On this point, I turn to John Kekes:

Traditions do not stand alone: they overlap, and the problems of one are often resolved in terms of another. Most traditions have legal, moral, political, aesthetic, stylistic, managerial, and multitude of other aspects. Furthermore, people participating in a tradition bring with them beliefs, values, and practices from other traditions in which they also participate. Changes in one tradition, therefore, are likely to produce changes in others; they are like waves that reverberate throughout the other traditions of a society. (“The Idea of Conservatism“)

Edward Feser puts it this way:

Tradition, being nothing other than the distillation of centuries of human experience, itself provides the surest guide to determining the most rational course of action. Far from being opposed to reason, reason is inseparable from tradition, and blind without it. The so-called enlightened mind thrusts tradition aside, hoping to find something more solid on which to make its stand, but there is nothing else, no alternative to the hard earth of human experience, and the enlightened thinker soon finds himself in mid-air…. But then, was it ever truly a love of reason that was in the driver’s seat in the first place? Or was it, rather, a hatred of tradition? Might the latter have been the cause of the former, rather than, as the enlightened pose would have it, the other way around?) (“Hayek and Tradition“)

Same-sex marriage will have consequences that most libertarians and “liberals” are unwilling to consider. Although it is true that traditional, heterosexual unions have their problems, those problems have been made worse, not better, by the intercession of the state. (The loosening of divorce laws, for example, signaled that marriage was to be taken less seriously, and so it has been.) Nevertheless, the state — pursuant to Judge Walker’s decision — may create new problems for society by legitimating same-sex marriage, thus signaling that traditional marriage is just another contractual arrangement in which any combination of persons may participate.

Heterosexual marriage — as Jennifer Roback Morse explains — is a primary and irreplicable civilizing force. The recognition of homosexual marriage by the state will undermine that civilizing force. The state will be saying, in effect, “Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer — above all — will “pick up the pieces.” And so it will go.

In Morse’s words:

The new idea about marriage claims that no structure should be privileged over any other. The supposedly libertarian subtext of this idea is that people should be as free as possible to make their personal choices. But the very nonlibertarian consequence of this new idea is that it creates a culture that obliterates the informal methods of enforcement. Parents can’t raise their eyebrows and expect children to conform to the socially accepted norms of behavior, because there are no socially accepted norms of behavior. Raised eyebrows and dirty looks no longer operate as sanctions on behavior slightly or even grossly outside the norm. The modern culture of sexual and parental tolerance ruthlessly enforces a code of silence, banishing anything remotely critical of personal choice. A parent, or even a peer, who tries to tell a young person that he or she is about to do something incredibly stupid runs into the brick wall of the non-judgmental social norm. (“Marriage and the Limits of Contract“)

The state’s signals are drowning out the signals that used to be transmitted primarily by voluntary social institutions: family, friendship, community, church, and club. Accordingly, I do not find it a coincidence that loud, loutish, crude, inconsiderate, rude, and foul behaviors have become increasingly prominent features of “social” life in America. Such behaviors have risen in parallel with the retreat of most authority figures in the face of organized violence by “protestors” and looters; with the rise of political correctness; with the perpetuation of the New Deal and its successor, the Great Society; with the erosion of swift and sure justice in favor of “rehabilitation” and “respect for life” (but not for potential victims of crime); and with the legal enshrinement of infanticide and buggery as acceptable (and even desirable) practices.

Thomas Sowell puts it this way:

One of the things intellectuals [his Rationalists] have been doing for a long time is loosening the bonds that hold a society together. They have sought to replace the groups into which people have sorted themselves with groupings created and imposed by the intelligentsia. Ties of family, religion, and patriotism, for example, have long been treated as suspect or detrimental by the intelligentsia, and new ties that intellectuals have created, such as class — and more recently “gender” — have been projected as either more real or more important….

Under the influence of the intelligentsia, we have become a society that rewards people with admiration for violating its own norms and for fragmenting that society into jarring segments. In addition to explicit denigrations of their own society for its history or current shortcomings, intellectuals often set up standards for their society which no society has ever met or is likely to meet.

Calling those standards “social justice” enables intellectuals to engage in endless complaints about the particular ways in which society fails to meet their arbitrary criteria, along with a parade of groups entitled to a sense of grievance, exemplified in the “race, class and gender” formula…. (Intellectuals and Society, pp. 303, 305)

And so it will go —  barring a sharp, conclusive reversal of Judge Walker and the movement he champions.

There was no sharp or conclusive reversal — quite the contrary, in fact. And the forces of rationalism have only grown stronger in the past decade. Witness the broadly supported movement to renounce America’s history for the sake of virtue-signaling, to blame “racism” for the government-inflicted and self-inflicted failings of blacks, to suppress religion, to undermine the economy in the name of a pseudo-science (“climate science”), and to destroy the social and economic lives of tens of millions of Americans by responding hysterically to the ever-changing and often unfounded findings of “science”.

Thinking about Thinking — and Other Things: Irrational Rationality

This is the fourth post in a series. (The previous posts are here, here, and here.)This post, like its predecessors, will leave you hanging. But despair not, the series will come to a point — eventually. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

Type 2 thinking has two main branches: scientific and scientistic.

The scientific branch leads (often in roundabout ways) to improvements in the lot of mankind: better and more abundant food, better clothing, better shelter, faster and more comfortable means of transportation, better sanitation, a better understanding of diseases and more effective means of combatting them, and on and on. (You might protest that not all of those things, and perhaps only a minority of them, emanated from formal scientific endeavors conducted by holders of Ph.D. and M.D. degrees working out of pristine laboratories or with delicate equipment. But science is much more than that. Science includes learning by doing, which encompasses everything from the concoction of effective home remedies to the hybridization of crops to the invention and refinement of planes, trains, and automobiles – and, needless to say, to the creation and development of much of the electronic technology and related software with which we are “blessed” today.)

The scientific branch yields its fruits because it is based on facts about the so-called material universe. The underlying constituents of that universe may be unknown and unknowable, as discussed earlier, but they manifest themselves in observable and seemingly predictable ways.

The scientific branch, in sum, is inductive at its core. Observations of specific things lead to guesses about the causes of those things or the relationships between them. The guesses are codified as hypothesis, often in mathematical form. The hypotheses are tested against new observations of the same kinds of things. If the hypotheses are found wanting, they are either rejected outright or modified to take into account the new observations. Revised hypotheses are then tested against newer observations, and on into the night. (There is nothing scientific about testing a new hypothesis against the observations that led to it; that is a scientistic trick used by, among others, climate “scientists” who wish to align their models with historic climate data.)

If new observations are found to comport with a hypothesis (guess), the hypothesis is said to be confirmed. Confirmed doesn’t mean proven, it just means not proven to be wrong. Lay persons – and a lot of scientists, apparently – mistake confirmation, in the scientific sense, for proof. There is no such thing in science.

The scientistic branch of Type 2 thinking is deductive. It assumes truths and then generalizes from those assumptions; for example:

All Cretans are liars, according to Epimenides (a Cretan who lived ca. 600 BC).

Epimenides was a Cretan.

Therefore, Epimenides was a liar.

This syllogism exemplifies a self-referential paradox. If the major and minor premises are true, Epimenides was a liar. But if Epimenides was lying when he said that all Cretans are liars, Epimenides – Cretan — wasn’t necessarily a liar, though he might have been one because it is plausible that some Cretans are liars, at least some of the time.

What the syllogism really exemplifies is the fatuousness of deductive reasoning, that is, reasoning which proceeds from general statements that cannot be subjected to scientific examination.

Though deductive reasoning can be useful in contriving hypothesis, it cannot be used to “prove” anything. But there are persons who claim to be scientists, or who claim to “believe” science, who do reason deductively. It starts when a hypothesis that has been advanced by a scientist becomes an article of faith to that scientist, to a group of scientists, or to non-scientists who use their belief to justify political positions – which they purport to be “scientific” or “science-based”.

There is no more “science” in such positions as there is in the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth or that all persons are created equal. The Sun may seem to revolve around the Earth if one’s perspective is limited to the relative motions of Sun and Earth and anchored in the implicit assumption that Earth’s position is fixed. All persons may be deemed equal in a narrow and arbitrary way – as in a legal doctrine of equal treatment under the law – but that hardly makes all persons equal in every respect; for example, in intelligence, physical strength, athletic ability, attractiveness to the opposite sex, work ethic, conditions of birth, or proneness to various ailments. (I will say more about equality as a non-scientific desideratum in the next post.)

This isn’t to say that some scientific hypotheses – and their implications – can’t be relied upon. If they couldn’t be, humans wouldn’t have benefited from better and more abundant food, the many other things mentioned above, and much more. But they can be relied upon because they are based on observed phenomena, tested in the acid of use, and – most important – employed with ample safeguards, which still may be inadequate to real-world conditions. Airplanes crash, bridges collapse, and so on, because there is never enough knowledge to foresee all of the conditions that may arise in the real world.

An honest person would admit that an airplane crash falsifies the “science” of aircraft design and operation because it shows, irrefutably, that the “science” was incomplete in some crucial way. The same goes for collapsed bridges, collapsed buildings, and so on.

That isn’t to say that human beings would be better off without science. Far from it. Science and its practical applications have made us far better off than we would be without them. But neither scientists nor those who apply the (tentative) findings of science are infallible.

Thinking about Thinking — and Other Things: Survival and Thinking

This is the third post in a series. (The first post is here; the second post is here.)This post, like its predecessors, will leave you hanging. But despair not, the series will come to a point — eventually. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

It’s true that instinctive (or impulsive) actions can be foolish, dangerous, and deadly ones. But they can also be beneficial. If, in your peripheral vision, you see an object hurtling toward you at high speed, you don’t deliberately compute its trajectory and decide whether to move out of its path. No, your brain does that for you without your having to “think” about it, and you move out of the object’s path before you have had time to “think” about doing it.

In sum, you (your brain) engaged in Type 1 thinking about the problem at hand and resolved it quickly. If you had engaged in deliberate, Type 2, thinking you might have been killed by the impact of the object that was hurtling toward you.

The distinction that I’m making here is one that Daniel Kahneman labors over in Thinking Fast and Slow. But I won’t bore you with the details of that boring book. Life is too short, and certainly shorter for me than for most of you. Let’s just say that there’s nothing especially meritorious about Type 2 thinking, and that it can lead to actions that are as foolish, dangerous, and deadly as those that result from “instinct”.

I will go further and say that Type 2 thinking has brought Americans to the brink of bankruptcy, serfdom, and civil war. But to understand why I say that, you will have to follow this series to the bitter end.

*     *     *

If the need to survive ever had anything to do with the advancement of human intelligence and knowledge, that day is long past for most human beings in much of the world.

Type 1 thinking is restricted mainly to combat, competitive sports, operating motorized equipment, playing video games, and reacting to photos of Donald Trump. It is the key to survival in a narrow range of activities aside from combat, such as driving on a busy highway, ducking when a lethal projectile is headed your way, and instinctively avoiding persons whose actions or appearance seem menacing. The erosion of the avoidance instinct is due in part to the cosseted lives that most Westerners lead, and in part to the barrage of propaganda that denies differences in the behavior of various classes, races, and ethnic groups. (Thus, for example, disruptive black children aren’t to be ejected from classrooms unless an equal proportion of white children, disruptive or not, is likewise ejected.)

Type 2 thinking of the kind that might advance useful knowledge and its beneficial application is a specialty of the educated, intermarrying elite – a class that dominates academia and the applied sciences (e.g., medicine, medical research, and the various fields of engineering). The same class also dominates the media (including so-called entertainment), “technology” companies (most of which don’t really produce technology), the upper echelons of major corporations, and the upper echelons of government.

But, aside from academicians and professionals whose work advances practical knowledge (how to build a better mousetrap, a more earthquake-resistant building, a less collapsible bridge, or an effective vaccine), the members of aforementioned class have nothing on the yeomen who become skilled in sundry trades (construction, plumbing, electrical work) by the heuristic method – learning and improving by doing. That, too, is Type 2 thinking. But it accumulates over years and is tested in the acid of use, unlike the Type 2 thinking that produces, for example, intricate and even elegant climate models whose designers believe in and defend because they are emotional human beings, like all of us.

Type 2 thinking, despite the stereotype that it is deliberate and dispassionate, is riddled with emotion. Emotion isn’t just rage, lust, and the like. Those are superficial manifestations of the thing that drives us all: egoism.

No matter how you slice it, everything that a person does deliberately – including type 2 thinking – is done to bolster his own sense of well-being. Altruism is merely the act of doing good for others so that one may feel better about oneself. You cannot be another person, and actually feel what another person is experiencing. You can only be a person whose sense of self is invested in loving another person or being thought of as loving mankind – whatever that means.

Type 2 thinking – the Enlightenment’s exalted “reason” – is both an aid to survival and a hindrance to it. It is an aid in ways such as those mentioned above, that is, in the advancement of practical knowledge to defeat disease, move people faster and more safely, build dwellings that will stand up against the elements, and so on.

It is a hindrance when, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”. Type 1 thinking causes us to smite an attacker. Type 2 thinking causes us to believe, quite wrongly, that by sparing him we somehow become a law-abiding exemplar whose forbearance diminishes the level of violence in the world and the likelihood that violence will be visited upon us in the future.

Harry S Truman emulated Type 1 thinking when he loosed the atomic bombs on Japan, ended World War II, saved at least a million lives, and made Japan a peaceful nation for at least the next 75 years. In the vernacular, Truman followed his “gut”.

Neville Chamberlain exemplified Type 2 thinking when he settled for Hitler’s empty promise of peace instead of gearing up to fight an inevitable war. Lyndon Baines Johnson exemplified Type 2 thinking in his vacillating prosecution of the war in Vietnam, where he was more concerned with “world opinion” (whatever that is) and public opinion (i.e., the bleating of pundits and protestors) than he was with the real job of the commander-in-chief, which it to fight and win or don’t fight at all. George H.W. Bush exemplified Type 2 thinking when he declined to depose Saddam Hussein in 1991. Barack Hussein Obama exemplified Type 2 thinking when he made a costly deal with Iran’s ayatollahs that profited them greatly for an easily betrayed promise to refrain from the development of nuclear weapons. Type 2 thinking of the kind exemplified by Chamberlain, Bush, and Obama is egoistic and delusional: It reflects and justifies the thinker’s inner view of the world as he wants it to be, not the world as it is.

Type 2 thinking is valuable to the survival of humanity when it passes the acid test of use. It is a danger to the survival of humanity when it arises from a worldview that excludes the facts of life. One of those facts of life is that predators exist and can only be eliminated – one at a time – by killing them. This is as true of murderous thugs as it is of murderous dictators.

There’s much more to be said about the dangerous delusions fostered by Type 2 thinking.

Thinking about Thinking — and Other Things: Evolution

This is the second post in a series. (The first post is here.) This post, like its predecessor, will leave you hanging. But despair not, the series will come to a point — eventually. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

Evolution is simply change in organic (living) objects. Evolution, as a subject of scientific inquiry, is an attempt to explain how humans (and other animals) came to be what they are today.

Evolution (as a discipline) is a much scientism as it is science. Scientism, according to thefreedictionary.com is “the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation.” When scientists proclaim truths instead of propounding hypotheses they are guilty of practicing scientism. Two notable scientistic scientists are Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer. It is unsurprising that Dawkins and Singer are practitioners of scientism. Both are strident atheists, and strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side.

Dawkins, Singer, and many other scientistic atheists share an especially “religious” view of evolution. In brief, they seem to believe that evolution rules out God. Evolution rules out nothing. Evolution may be true in outline but it does not bear close inspection. On that point, I turn to David Gelertner’s “Giving Up Darwin” (Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2019):

Darwin himself had reservations about his theory, shared by some of the most important biologists of his time. And the problems that worried him have only grown more substantial over the decades. In the famous “Cambrian explosion” of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms—including the first-ever animals—pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70-odd million years. This great outburst followed many hundreds of millions of years of slow growth and scanty fossils, mainly of single-celled organisms, dating back to the origins of life roughly three and half billion years ago.

Darwin’s theory predicts that new life forms evolve gradually from old ones in a constantly branching, spreading tree of life. Those brave new Cambrian creatures must therefore have had Precambrian predecessors, similar but not quite as fancy and sophisticated. They could not have all blown out suddenly, like a bunch of geysers. Each must have had a closely related predecessor, which must have had its own predecessors: Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. All those predecessors must have come together, further back, into a series of branches leading down to the (long ago) trunk.

But those predecessors of the Cambrian creatures are missing. Darwin himself was disturbed by their absence from the fossil record. He believed they would turn up eventually. Some of his contemporaries (such as the eminent Harvard biologist Louis Agassiz) held that the fossil record was clear enough already, and showed that Darwin’s theory was wrong. Perhaps only a few sites had been searched for fossils, but they had been searched straight down. The Cambrian explosion had been unearthed, and beneath those Cambrian creatures their Precambrian predecessors should have been waiting—and weren’t. In fact, the fossil record as a whole lacked the upward-branching structure Darwin predicted.

The trunk was supposed to branch into many different species, each species giving rise to many genera, and towards the top of the tree you would find so much diversity that you could distinguish separate phyla—the large divisions (sponges, mosses, mollusks, chordates, and so on) that comprise the kingdoms of animals, plants, and several others—take your pick. But, as [David] Berlinski points out, the fossil record shows the opposite: “representatives of separate phyla appearing first followed by lower-level diversification on those basic themes.” In general, “most species enter the evolutionary order fully formed and then depart unchanged.” The incremental development of new species is largely not there. Those missing pre-Cambrian organisms have still not turned up. (Although fossils are subject to interpretation, and some biologists place pre-Cambrian life-forms closer than others to the new-fangled Cambrian creatures.)

Some researchers have guessed that those missing Precambrian precursors were too small or too soft-bodied to have made good fossils. Meyer notes that fossil traces of ancient bacteria and single-celled algae have been discovered: smallness per se doesn’t mean that an organism can’t leave fossil traces—although the existence of fossils depends on the surroundings in which the organism lived, and the history of the relevant rock during the ages since it died. The story is similar for soft-bodied organisms. Hard-bodied forms are more likely to be fossilized than soft-bodied ones, but many fossils of soft-bodied organisms and body parts do exist. Precambrian fossil deposits have been discovered in which tiny, soft-bodied embryo sponges are preserved—but no predecessors to the celebrity organisms of the Cambrian explosion.

This sort of negative evidence can’t ever be conclusive. But the ever-expanding fossil archives don’t look good for Darwin, who made clear and concrete predictions that have (so far) been falsified—according to many reputable paleontologists, anyway. When does the clock run out on those predictions? Never. But any thoughtful person must ask himself whether scientists today are looking for evidence that bears on Darwin, or looking to explain away evidence that contradicts him. There are some of each. Scientists are only human, and their thinking (like everyone else’s) is colored by emotion.

Yes, emotion, the thing that colors thought. Emotion is something that humans and other animals have. If Darwin and his successors are correct, emotion must be a facility that improves the survival and reproductive fitness of a species.

But that can’t be true because emotion is the spark that lights murder, genocide, and war. World War II, alone, is said to have occasioned the deaths of more than one-hundred million humans. Prominently among those killed were six million Ashkenzi Jews, members of a distinctive branch of humanity whose members (on average) are significantly more intelligent than other branches, and who have contributed beneficially to science, literature, and the arts (especially music).

The evil by-products of emotion – such as the near-extermination of peoples (Ashkenazi Jews among them) – should cause one to doubt that the persistence of a trait in the human population means that the trait is beneficial to survival and reproduction.

David Berlinski, in The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, addresses the lack of evidence for evolution before striking down the notion that persistent traits are necessarily beneficial:

At the very beginning of his treatise Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, Robert Carroll observes quite correctly that “most of the fossil record does not support a strictly gradualistic account” of evolution. A “strictly gradualistic” account is precisely what Darwin’s theory demands: It is the heart and soul of the theory….

In a research survey published in 2001, and widely ignored thereafter, the evolutionary biologist Joel Kingsolver reported that in sample sizes of more than one thousand individuals, there was virtually no correlation between specific biological traits and either reproductive success or survival. “Important issues about selection,” he remarked with some understatement, “remain unresolved.”

Of those important issues, I would mention prominently the question whether natural selection exists at all.

Computer simulations of Darwinian evolution fail when they are honest and succeed only when they are not. Thomas Ray has for years been conducting computer experiments in an artificial environment that he has designated Tierra. Within this world, a shifting population of computer organisms meet, mate, mutate, and reproduce.

Sandra Blakeslee, writing for The New York Times, reported the results under the headline “Computer ‘Life Form’ Mutates in an Evolution Experiment: Natural Selection Is Found at Work in a Digital World.”

Natural selection found at work? I suppose so, for as Blakeslee observes with solemn incomprehension, “the creatures mutated but showed only modest increases in complexity.” Which is to say, they showed nothing of interest at all. This is natural selection at work, but it is hardly work that has worked to intended effect.

What these computer experiments do reveal is a principle far more penetrating than any that Darwin ever offered: There is a sucker born every minute….

“Contemporary biology,” [Daniel Dennett] writes, “has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that natural selection— the process in which reproducing entities must compete for finite resources and thereby engage in a tournament of blind trial and error from which improvements automatically emerge— has the power to generate breathtakingly ingenious designs” (italics added).

These remarks are typical in their self-enchanted self-confidence. Nothing in the physical sciences, it goes without saying— right?— has been demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt. The phrase belongs to a court of law. The thesis that improvements in life appear automatically represents nothing more than Dennett’s conviction that living systems are like elevators: If their buttons are pushed, they go up. Or down, as the case may be. Although Darwin’s theory is very often compared favorably to the great theories of mathematical physics on the grounds that evolution is as well established as gravity, very few physicists have been heard observing that gravity is as well established as evolution. They know better and they are not stupid….

The greater part of the debate over Darwin’s theory is not in service to the facts. Nor to the theory. The facts are what they have always been: They are unforthcoming. And the theory is what it always was: It is unpersuasive. Among evolutionary biologists, these matters are well known. In the privacy of the Susan B. Anthony faculty lounge, they often tell one another with relief that it is a very good thing the public has no idea what the research literature really suggests.

“Darwin?” a Nobel laureate in biology once remarked to me over his bifocals. “That’s just the party line.”

In the summer of 2007, Eugene Koonin, of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health, published a paper entitled “The Biological Big Bang Model for the Major Transitions in Evolution.”

The paper is refreshing in its candor; it is alarming in its consequences. “Major transitions in biological evolution,” Koonin writes, “show the same pattern of sudden emergence of diverse forms at a new level of complexity” (italics added). Major transitions in biological evolution? These are precisely the transitions that Darwin’s theory was intended to explain. If those “major transitions” represent a “sudden emergence of new forms,” the obvious conclusion to draw is not that nature is perverse but that Darwin was wrong….

Koonin is hardly finished. He has just started to warm up. “In each of these pivotal nexuses in life’s history,” he goes on to say, “the principal ‘types’ seem to appear rapidly and fully equipped with the signature features of the respective new level of biological organization. No intermediate ‘grades’ or intermediate forms between different types are detectable.”…

[H[is views are simply part of a much more serious pattern of intellectual discontent with Darwinian doctrine. Writing in the 1960s and 1970s, the Japanese mathematical biologist Motoo Kimura argued that on the genetic level— the place where mutations take place— most changes are selectively neutral. They do nothing to help an organism survive; they may even be deleterious…. Kimura was perfectly aware that he was advancing a powerful argument against Darwin’s theory of natural selection. “The neutral theory asserts,” he wrote in the introduction to his masterpiece, The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution, “that the great majority of evolutionary changes at the molecular level, as revealed by comparative studies of protein and DNA sequences, are caused not by Darwinian selection but by random drift of selectively neutral or nearly neutral mutations” (italics added)….

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch observed that “Dawkins’s agenda has been to spread the word on the awesome power of natural selection.” The view that results, Lynch remarks, is incomplete and therefore “profoundly misleading.” Lest there be any question about Lynch’s critique, he makes the point explicitly: “What is in question is whether natural selection is a necessary or sufficient force to explain the emergence of the genomic and cellular features central to the building of complex organisms.”

Survival and reproduction depend on many traits. A particular trait, considered in isolation, may seem to be helpful to the survival and reproduction of a group. But that trait may not be among the particular collection of traits that is most conducive to the group’s survival and reproduction. If that is the case, the trait will become less prevalent.

Alternatively, if the trait is an essential member of the collection that is conducive to survival and reproduction, it will survive. But its survival depends on the other traits. The fact that X is a “good trait” does not, in itself, ensure the proliferation of X. And X will become less prevalent if other traits become more important to survival and reproduction.

In any event, it is my view that genetic fitness for survival has become almost irrelevant in places like the United States. The rise of technology and the “social safety net” (state-enforced pseudo-empathy) have enabled the survival and reproduction of traits that would have dwindled in times past.

In fact, there is a supportable hypothesis that humans in cosseted realms (i.e., the West) are, on average, becoming less intelligent. But, first, it is necessary to explain why it seemed for a while that humans were becoming more intelligent.

David Robson is on the case:

When the researcher James Flynn looked at [IQ] scores over the past century, he discovered a steady increase – the equivalent of around three points a decade. Today, that has amounted to 30 points in some countries.

Although the cause of the Flynn effect is still a matter of debate, it must be due to multiple environmental factors rather than a genetic shift.

Perhaps the best comparison is our change in height: we are 11cm (around 5 inches) taller today than in the 19th Century, for instance – but that doesn’t mean our genes have changed; it just means our overall health has changed.

Indeed, some of the same factors may underlie both shifts. Improved medicine, reducing the prevalence of childhood infections, and more nutritious diets, should have helped our bodies to grow taller and our brains to grow smarter, for instance. Some have posited that the increase in IQ might also be due to a reduction of the lead in petrol, which may have stunted cognitive development in the past. The cleaner our fuels, the smarter we became.

This is unlikely to be the complete picture, however, since our societies have also seen enormous shifts in our intellectual environment, which may now train abstract thinking and reasoning from a young age. In education, for instance, most children are taught to think in terms of abstract categories (whether animals are mammals or reptiles, for instance). We also lean on increasingly abstract thinking to cope with modern technology. Just think about a computer and all the symbols you have to recognise and manipulate to do even the simplest task. Growing up immersed in this kind of thinking should allow everyone [hyperbole alert] to cultivate the skills needed to perform well in an IQ test….

[Psychologist Robert Sternberg] is not alone in questioning whether the Flynn effect really represented a profound improvement in our intellectual capacity, however. James Flynn himself has argued that it is probably confined to some specific reasoning skills. In the same way that different physical exercises may build different muscles – without increasing overall “fitness” – we have been exercising certain kinds of abstract thinking, but that hasn’t necessarily improved all cognitive skills equally. And some of those other, less well-cultivated, abilities could be essential for improving the world in the future.

Here comes the best part:

You might assume that the more intelligent you are, the more rational you are, but it’s not quite this simple. While a higher IQ correlates with skills such as numeracy, which is essential to understanding probabilities and weighing up risks, there are still many elements of rational decision making that cannot be accounted for by a lack of intelligence.

Consider the abundant literature on our cognitive biases. Something that is presented as “95% fat-free” sounds healthier than “5% fat”, for instance – a phenomenon known as the framing bias. It is now clear that a high IQ does little to help you avoid this kind of flaw, meaning that even the smartest people can be swayed by misleading messages.

People with high IQs are also just as susceptible to the confirmation bias – our tendency to only consider the information that supports our pre-existing opinions, while ignoring facts that might contradict our views. That’s a serious issue when we start talking about things like politics.

Nor can a high IQ protect you from the sunk cost bias – the tendency to throw more resources into a failing project, even if it would be better to cut your losses – a serious issue in any business. (This was, famously, the bias that led the British and French governments to continue funding Concorde planes, despite increasing evidence that it would be a commercial disaster.)

Highly intelligent people are also not much better at tests of “temporal discounting”, which require you to forgo short-term gains for greater long-term benefits. That’s essential, if you want to ensure your comfort for the future.

Besides a resistance to these kinds of biases, there are also more general critical thinking skills – such as the capacity to challenge your assumptions, identify missing information, and look for alternative explanations for events before drawing conclusions. These are crucial to good thinking, but they do not correlate very strongly with IQ, and do not necessarily come with higher education. One study in the USA found almost no improvement in critical thinking throughout many people’s degrees.

Given these looser correlations, it would make sense that the rise in IQs has not been accompanied by a similarly miraculous improvement in all kinds of decision making.

So much for the bright people who promote and pledge allegiance to socialism and its various manifestations (e.g., the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All). So much for the bright people who suppress speech with which they disagree because it threatens the groupthink that binds them.

Robson also discusses evidence of dysgenic effects in IQ:

Whatever the cause of the Flynn effect, there is evidence that we may have already reached the end of this era – with the rise in IQs stalling and even reversing. If you look at Finland, Norway and Denmark, for instance, the turning point appears to have occurred in the mid-90s, after which average IQs dropped by around 0.2 points a year. That would amount to a seven-point difference between generations.

Psychologist (and intelligence specialist) James Thompson has addressed dysgenic effects at his blog on the website of The Unz Review. In particular, he had a lot to say about the work of an intelligence researcher named Michael Woodley. Here’s a sample from a post by Thompson:

We keep hearing that people are getting brighter, at least as measured by IQ tests. This improvement, called the Flynn Effect, suggests that each generation is brighter than the previous one. This might be due to improved living standards as reflected in better food, better health services, better schools and perhaps, according to some, because of the influence of the internet and computer games. In fact, these improvements in intelligence seem to have been going on for almost a century, and even extend to babies not in school. If this apparent improvement in intelligence is real we should all be much, much brighter than the Victorians.

Although IQ tests are good at picking out the brightest, they are not so good at providing a benchmark of performance. They can show you how you perform relative to people of your age, but because of cultural changes relating to the sorts of problems we have to solve, they are not designed to compare you across different decades with say, your grandparents.

Is there no way to measure changes in intelligence over time on some absolute scale using an instrument that does not change its properties? In the Special Issue on the Flynn Effect of the journal Intelligence Drs Michael Woodley (UK), Jan te Nijenhuis (the Netherlands) and Raegan Murphy (Ireland) have taken a novel approach in answering this question. It has long been known that simple reaction time is faster in brighter people. Reaction times are a reasonable predictor of general intelligence. These researchers have looked back at average reaction times since 1889 and their findings, based on a meta-analysis of 14 studies, are very sobering.

It seems that, far from speeding up, we are slowing down. We now take longer to solve this very simple reaction time “problem”.  This straightforward benchmark suggests that we are getting duller, not brighter. The loss is equivalent to about 14 IQ points since Victorian times.

So, we are duller than the Victorians on this unchanging measure of intelligence. Although our living standards have improved, our minds apparently have not. What has gone wrong?

From a later post by Thompson:

The Flynn Effect co-exists with the Woodley Effect. Since roughly 1870 the Flynn Effect has been stronger, at an apparent 3 points per decade. The Woodley effect is weaker, at very roughly 1 point per decade. Think of Flynn as the soil fertilizer effect and Woodley as the plant genetics effect. The fertilizer effect seems to be fading away in rich countries, while continuing in poor countries, though not as fast as one would desire. The genetic effect seems to show a persistent gradual fall in underlying ability.

Woodley’s claim is based on a set of papers written since 2013, which have been recently reviewed by [Matthew] Sarraf.

The review is unusual, to say the least. It is rare to read so positive a judgment on a young researcher’s work, and it is extraordinary that one researcher has changed the debate about ability levels across generations, and all this in a few years since starting publishing in psychology.

The table in that review which summarizes the main findings is shown below. As you can see, the range of effects is very variable, so my rough estimate of 1 point per decade is a stab at calculating a median. It is certainly less than the Flynn Effect in the 20th Century, though it may now be part of the reason for the falling of that effect, now often referred to as a “negative Flynn effect”….

Here are the findings which I have arranged by generational decline (taken as 25 years).

  • Colour acuity, over 20 years (0.8 generation) 3.5 drop/decade.
  • 3D rotation ability, over 37 years (1.5 generations) 4.8 drop/decade.
  • Reaction times, females only, over 40 years (1.6 generations) 1.8 drop/decade.
  • Working memory, over 85 years (3.4 generations) 0.16 drop/decade.
  • Reaction times, over 120 years (4.8 generations) 0.57-1.21 drop/decade.
  • Fluctuating asymmetry, over 160 years (6.4 generations) 0.16 drop/decade.

Either the measures are considerably different, and do not tap the same underlying loss of mental ability, or the drop is unlikely to be caused by dysgenic decrements from one generation to another. Bar massive dying out of populations, changes do not come about so fast from one generation to the next. The drops in ability are real, but the reason for the falls are less clear. Gathering more data sets would probably clarify the picture, and there is certainly cause to argue that on various real measures there have been drops in ability. Whether this is dysgenics or some other insidious cause is not yet clear to me.…

My view is that whereas formerly the debate was only about the apparent rise in ability, discussions are now about the co-occurrence of two trends: the slowing down of the environmental gains and the apparent loss of genetic quality. In the way that James Flynn identified an environmental/cultural effect, Michael Woodley has identified a possible genetic effect, and certainly shown that on some measures we are doing less well than our ancestors.

How will they be reconciled? Time will tell, but here is a prediction. I think that the Flynn effect will fade in wealthy countries, persist with fading effect in poor countries, and that the Woodley effect will continue, though I do not know the cause of it.

Here’s my hypothesis: The less-intelligent portions of the populace are breeding faster than the more-intelligent portions. As I said earlier, the rise of technology and the “social safety net” (state-enforced pseudo-empathy) have enabled the survival and reproduction of traits that would have dwindled in times past.

Is Jill Biden a “Doctor”?

Eugene Volokh parses that question at length. He concludes in the negative. He alludes to the real reason for his conclusion, but doesn’t come right out and say it: An Ed.D. degree is a joke.

Jill Biden is the holder of an Ed.D. degree. It would therefore be possible to construct a syllogism which concludes that Jill Biden is a joke. But a more apt syllogism would conclude that Joe Biden is a joke (albeit a dangerous one), who is being foisted on America by a tacit collaboration of politically corrupt Democrats and spineless Republicans and Supreme Court justices.

For another perspective on “Doctor” Jill Biden, see Derek Hunter’s “Jill Biden Is Not a Doctor, Probably Isn’t a Good Person, Either” (Townhall.com, December 14, 2020).

Texas v. Pennsylvania — The Supremes Cut and Run

UPDATED 12/14/20

I was right about the Supreme Court, though the scenario played out differently than I had expected it to. As it turns out, there wasn’t a single justice with the guts to admit that Texas attorney general Ken Paxton had it right:

[T]he 2020 election suffered from significant and unconstitutional irregularities in the Defendant States [Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin]:

Non-legislative actors’ purported amendments to States’ duly enacted election laws, in violation of the Electors Clause’s vesting State legislatures with plenary authority regarding the appointment of presidential electors.

Intrastate differences in the treatment of voters, with more favorable allotted to voters–whether lawful or unlawful–in areas administered by local government under Democrat control and with populations with higher ratios of Democrat voters than other areas of Defendant States.

The appearance of voting irregularities in the Defendant States that would be consistent with the unconstitutional relaxation of ballot-integrity protections in those States’ election laws.All these flaws–even the violations of state election law–violate one or more of the federal requirements for elections (i.e., equal protection, due process, and the Electors Clause) and thus arise under federal law. See Bush v Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 113 (2000)(“significant departure from the legislative scheme for appointing Presidential electors presents a federal constitutional question”) (Rehnquist, C.J., concurring). Plaintiff State respectfully submits that the foregoing types of electoral irregularities exceed the hanging-chad saga of the 2000 election in their degree of departure from both state and federal law.Moreover, these flaws cumulatively preclude knowing who legitimately won the 2020 election and threaten to cloud all future elections.Taken together, these flaws affect an outcome-determinative numbers of popular votes in a group of States that cast outcome-determinative numbers of electoral votes.

In sum, the citizens of States that were won by Trump were denied equal protection of the laws: Their votes were nullified because Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin flouted their own election laws. (To say nothing of massive instances of fraud, of which there is ample evidence, Democrats and media enablers to the contrary notwithstanding.)

William Rehnquist, who presided over Bush v. Gore twenty years ago, must be spinning in his grave.

This may have been a (futile) attempt by Roberts et al. to forestall court-packing, which surely will happen as soon as the Democrats garner a working majority in the Senate. Which is one reason among many to hope that the January 5 runoff elections in Georgia result in victories by the two Republican candidates.

Update:

An esteemed reader and correspondent sent me a link to a piece in which Alan Dershowitz is quoted at length. Here’s some of it:

Dershowitz agreed with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, who indicated that Texas did have standing, saying they ”get the better of the argument,” but that the court just didn’t want to deal with what may be perceived as political.

”This Supreme Court decision sends a message,” Dershowitz said. ”The majority included the three justices appointed by President [Donald] Trump, and they all said, ‘We’re not going to hear the Texas case. We’re not going to get involved in this election.’

”I think this sends a message. It’s not a legal message, but it’s a practical message: the Supreme Court is out of this game.”

Elsewhere, Mollie Hemingway weighs in:

[H]ow can the state of Texas not have a judicially cognizable interest in her sister states living up to the compact they entered when they entered the Union?

Texas attempted in its briefs to crystalize the harm by stressing its interest in who serves as vice president, given the vice president’s tie-breaking status in the Senate and senators’ role as the representatives of the states. But a simpler and stronger argument came in a brief submitted by would-be amicus curiae [in] Citizen’s United:

When one state allows the Manner in which Presidential Electors be chosen to be determined by anyone other than the state legislature, that state acts in breach of the presuppositions on which the Union is based. Each state is not isolated from the rest—rather, all states are interdependent. Our nation’s operational principle is E pluribus unum. Each state has a duty to other states to abide by this and other reciprocal obligations built into Constitution. While defendant states may view this suit as an infringement of its sovereignty, it is not, as the defendant states surrendered their sovereignty when they agreed to abide by Article II, § 1. Each state depends on other states to adhere to minimum constitutional standards in areas where it ceded its sovereignty to the union—and if those standards are not met, then the responsibility to enforce those standards falls to this Court.

On Friday, the Supreme Court voted not to enforce those standards.

Maybe there is a good reason. Maybe Rehnquist’s view was wrong. Maybe the court found the alleged violations not “significant” enough to reach the level of a constitutional violation. (How “significant” would a violation have to be?) Maybe the court viewed a violation of the compact on which our country was founded as beyond its purview.

There might be a satisfactory answer, but Americans have yet to hear it. And that was wrong, both for the court and the country.

As the old saying goes, “we wuz robbed” by a cabal of crooked umpires.

Thinking about Thinking … and Other Things: Time, Existence, and Science

This is the first post in a series. It will leave you hanging. But despair not, the series will come to a point — eventually. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

Before we can consider time and existence, we must consider whether they are illusions.

Regarding time, there’s a reasonable view that nothing exists but the present — the now — or, rather, an infinite number of nows. In the conventional view, one now succeeds another, which creates the illusion of the passage of time. In the view of some physicists, however, all nows exist at once, and we merely perceive sequential slice of the all nows. Inasmuch as there seems to be general agreement as to the contents of the slice, the only evidence that many nows exist in parallel are claims about such phenomena as clairvoyance, visions, and co-location. I won’t wander into that thicket.

A problem with the conventional view of time is that not everyone perceives the same now at the same time. Well, not according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, at least. A problem with the view that all nows exist at once (known as the many-worlds view), is that it’s purely a mathematical concoction. Unless you’re a clairvoyant, visionary, or the like.

Oh, wait, the special theory of relativity is also a mathematical concoction. Further it doesn’t really show that not everyone perceives the same now at the same time. The key to special relativity – the Lorentz transformation — enables one to reconcile the various nows; that is, to be a kind of omniscient observer. So, in effect, there really is a now.

This leads to the question of what distinguishes one now from another now. The answer is change. If things didn’t change, there would be only a now, not an infinite series of them. More precisely, if things didn’t seem to change, time would seem to stand still. This is another way of saying that a succession of nows creates the illusion of the passage of time.

What happens between one now and the next now? Change, not the passage of time. What we think of as the passage of time is really an artifact of change.

Time is really nothing more than the counting of events that supposedly occur at set intervals — the “ticking” of an atomic clock, for example. I say supposedly because there’s no absolute measure of time against which one can calibrate the “ticking” of an atomic clock, or any other kind of clock.

In summary: Clocks don’t measure time. Clocks merely change (“tick”) at supposedly regular intervals, and those intervals are used in the representation of other things, such as the speed of an automobile or the duration of a 100-yard dash.

Time is an illusion. Or, if that conclusion bothers you, let’s just say that time is an ephemeral quality that depends on change.

Change is real. But change in what — of what does reality consist?

There are two basic views of reality. One of them, posited by Bishop Berkeley and his followers, is that the only reality is that which goes on in one’s own mind. But that’s just another way of saying that humans don’t perceive the external world directly. Rather, it is perceived second-hand, through the senses that detect external phenomena and transmit signals to the brain, which is where “reality” is formed.

There is an extreme version of the Berkeleyan view: Everything perceived is only a kind of dream or illusion. But even a dream or illusion is something, not nothing, so there is some kind of existence.

The sensible view, held by most humans (even most scientists), is that there is an objective reality out there, beyond the confines one’s mind. How can so many people agree about the existence of certain things (e.g., Cleveland) unless there’s something out there?

Over the ages, scientists have been able to describe objective reality in ever-minute detail. But what is it? What is the stuff of which it consists? No one knows or is likely ever to know. All we know is that stuff changes, and those changes give rise to what we call time.

The big question is how things came to exist. This has been debated for millennia. There are two schools of thought:

Things just exist and have always existed.

Things can’t come into existence on their own, so some non-thing must have caused things to exist.

The second option leaves open the question of how the non-thing came into existence, and can be interpreted as a variant of the first option; that is, some non-thing just exists and has always existed.

How can the big question be resolved? It can’t be resolved by facts or logic. If it could be, there would be wide agreement about the answer. (Not perfect agreement because a lot of human beings are impervious to facts and logic.) But there isn’t and never will be wide agreement.

Why is that? Can’t scientists someday trace the existence of things – call it the universe – back to a source? Isn’t that what the Big Bang Theory is all about? No and no. If the universe has always existed, there’s no source to be tracked down. And if the universe was created by a non-thing, how can scientists detect the non-thing if they’re only equipped to deal with things?

The Big Bang Theory posits a definite beginning, at a more or less definite point in time. But even if the theory is correct, it doesn’t tell us how that beginning began. Did things start from scratch, and if they did, what caused them to do so? And maybe they didn’t; maybe the Big Bang was just the result of the collapse of a previous universe, which was the result of a previous one, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Some scientists who think about such things (most of them, I suspect) don’t believe that the universe was created by a non-thing. But they don’t believe it because they don’t want to believe it. The much smaller number of similar scientists who believe that the universe was created by a non-thing hold that belief because they want to hold it.

That’s life in the world of science, just as it is in the world of non-science, where believers, non-believers, and those who can’t make up their minds find all kinds of ways in which to rationalize what they believe (or don’t believe), even though they know less than scientists do about the universe.

Let’s just accept that and move on to another big question: What is it that exists?  It’s not “stuff” as we usually think of it – like mud or sand or water droplets. It’s not even atoms and their constituent particles. Those are just convenient abstractions for what seem to be various manifestations of electromagnetic forces, or emanations thereof, such as light.

But what are electromagnetic forces? And what does their behavior (to be anthropomorphic about it) have to do with the way that the things like planets, stars, and galaxies move in relation to one another? There are lots of theories, but none of them has as yet gained wide acceptance by scientists. And even if one theory does gain wide acceptance, there’s no telling how long before it’s supplanted by a new theory.

That’s the thing about science: It’s a process, not a particular result. Human understanding of the universe offers a good example. Here’s a short list of beliefs about the universe that were considered true by scientists, and then rejected:

Thales (c. 620 – c. 530 BC): The Earth rests on water.

Aneximenes (c. 540 – c. 475 BC): Everything is made of air.

Heraclitus (c. 540 – c. 450 BC): All is fire.

Empodecles (c. 493 – c. 435 BC): There are four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.

Democritus (c. 460 – c. 370 BC): Atoms (basic elements of nature) come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes.

Aristotle (384 – 322 BC): Heavy objects must fall faster than light ones. The universe is a series of crystalline spheres that carry the sun, moon, planets, and stars around Earth.

Ptolemey (90 – 168 AD): Ditto the Earth-centric universe,  with a mathematical description.

Copernicus (1473 – 1543): The planets revolve around the sun in perfectly circular orbits.

Brahe (1546 – 1601): The planets revolve around the sun, but the sun and moon revolve around Earth.

Kepler (1573 – 1630): The planets revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits, and their trajectory is governed by magnetism.

Newton (1642 – 1727): The course of the planets around the sun is determined by gravity, which is a force that acts at a distance. Light consists of corpuscles; ordinary matter is made of larger corpuscles. Space and time are absolute and uniform.

Rutherford (1871 – 1937), Bohr (1885 – 1962), and others: The atom has a center (nucleus), which consists of two elemental particles, the neutron and proton.

Einstein (1879 – 1955): The universe is neither expanding nor shrinking.

That’s just a small fraction of the mistaken and incomplete theories that have held sway in the field of physics. There are many more such mistakes and lacunae in the other natural sciences: biology, chemistry, and earth science — each of which, like physics, has many branches. And in all of the branches there are many unresolved questions. For example, the Standard Model of particle physics, despite its complexity, is known to be incomplete. And it is thought (by some) to be unduly complex; that is, there may be a simpler underlying structure waiting to be discovered.

Given all of this, it is grossly presumptuous to claim that climate science – to take a salient example — is “settled” when the phenomena that it encompasses are so varied, complex, often poorly understood, and often given short shrift (e.g., the effects of solar radiation on the intensity of cosmic radiation reaching Earth, which affects low-level cloud formation, which affects atmospheric temperature and precipitation).

Anyone who says that any aspect of science is “settled” is either ignorant, stupid, or a freighted with a political agenda. Anyone who says that “science is real” is merely parroting an empty slogan.

Matt Ridley (quoted by Judith Curry) explains:

In a lecture at Cornell University in 1964, the physicist Richard Feynman defined the scientific method. First, you guess, he said, to a ripple of laughter. Then you compute the consequences of your guess. Then you compare those consequences with the evidence from observations or experiments. “If [your guess] disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make a difference how beautiful the guess is, how smart you are, who made the guess or what his name is…it’s wrong….

In general, science is much better at telling you about the past and the present than the future. As Philip Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania and others have shown, forecasting economic, meteorological or epidemiological events more than a short time ahead continues to prove frustratingly hard, and experts are sometimes worse at it than amateurs, because they overemphasize their pet causal theories….

Peer review is supposed to be the device that guides us away from unreliable heretics. Investigations show that peer review is often perfunctory rather than thorough; often exploited by chums to help each other; and frequently used by gatekeepers to exclude and extinguish legitimate minority scientific opinions in a field.

Herbert Ayres, an expert in operations research, summarized the problem well several decades ago: “As a referee of a paper that threatens to disrupt his life, [a professor] is in a conflict-of-interest position, pure and simple. Unless we’re convinced that he, we, and all our friends who referee have integrity in the upper fifth percentile of those who have so far qualified for sainthood, it is beyond naive to believe that censorship does not occur.” Rosalyn Yalow, winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, was fond of displaying the letter she received in 1955 from the Journal of Clinical Investigation noting that the reviewers were “particularly emphatic in rejecting” her paper.

The health of science depends on tolerating, even encouraging, at least some disagreement. In practice, science is prevented from turning into religion not by asking scientists to challenge their own theories but by getting them to challenge each other, sometimes with gusto.

As I said, there is no such thing as “settled science”. Real science is a vast realm of unsettled uncertainty. Newton put it thus:

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Certainty is the last refuge of a person whose mind is closed to new facts and new ways of looking at old facts.

How uncertain is the real world, especially the world of events yet to come? Consider a simple, three-parameter model in which event C depends on the occurrence of event B, which depends on the occurrence of event A; in which the value of the outcome is the summation of the values of the events that occur; and in which value of each event is binary – a value of 1 if it happens, 0 if it doesn’t happen. Even in a simple model like that, there is a wide range of possible outcomes; thus:

A doesn’t occur (B and C therefore don’t occur) = 0.

A occurs but B fails to occur (and C therefore doesn’t occur) = 1.

A occurs, B occurs, but C fails to occur = 2.

A occurs, B occurs, and C occurs = 3.

Even when A occurs, subsequent events (or non-events) will yield final outcomes ranging in value from 1 to 3 times 1. A factor of 3 is a big deal. It’s why .300 hitters make millions of dollars a year and .100 hitters sell used cars.

Let’s leave it at that and move on.

Election 2020: Lost or Stolen?

RE-POSTED FROM 11/15/20, TO NOTE THE ADDITION OF DOZENS OF LINKS TO THE PAGE “ELECTION 2020: LOST OR STOLEN?” (LINK IN FIRST SENTENCE)

I have created a page with that title. It consists of links to posts from various sources about the evidence that Biden’s apparent victory is fraudulent. I will continue to add links as long as the issue remains unresolved — which may be a long time from now. (See also “Election 2020 and Occam’s Razor“.)

CO2 Fail

Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That? catches the U.N. in a moment of candor:

From a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) press release titled “Carbon dioxide levels continue at record levels, despite COVID-19 lockdown,” comes this statement about the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions during the COVID-19 lockdown:

“Preliminary estimates indicate a reduction in the annual global emission between 4.2% and 7.5%. At the global scale, an emissions reduction this scale will not cause atmospheric CO2 to go down. CO2 will continue to go up, though at a slightly reduced pace (0.08-0.23 ppm per year lower). This falls well within the 1 ppm natural inter-annual variability. This means that on the short-term the impact [of CO2 reduction] of the COVID-19 confinements cannot be distinguished from natural variability…”

Let this sink in: The WMO admits reduce carbon dioxide emissions are having no effect on climate that is distinguishable from natural variability.

The WMO acknowledges that after our global economic lockdown, where CO2 emissions from travel, industry, and power generation were all curtailed, there wasn’t any measurable difference in global atmospheric CO2 levels. Zero, zilch, none, nada.

Of course, we already knew this and wrote about it on Climate at a Glance: Coronavirus Impact on CO2 Levels. An analysis by climate scientist Dr. Roy Spencer showed that despite crashing economies and large cutbacks in travel, industry, and energy generation, climate scientists have yet to find any hint of a drop in atmospheric CO2 levels.

The graph in Watts’s post depicts CO2 readings only for Mauna Loa, and only through April 2020. The following graph covers CO2 readings for Mauna Loa (through October 2020) and for a global average of marine surface sites (through August 2020):

The bottom line remains the same: There’s nothing to see here, folks, just an uninterrupted pattern of seasonal variations.

Climate-change fanatics will have to look elsewhere than human activity for the rise in atmospheric CO2.


Data definitions and source:

https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/mlo.html

ftp://aftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/products/trends/co2/co2_mm_mlo.txt

https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/global.html

ftp://aftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/products/trends/co2/co2_mm_gl.txt

“Libertarians Suck”

That’s the title of an amusing and insightful piece by Michael Warren Davis at The Spectator (U.S. edition). I agree with every word of the title, not just because I’m a reformed libertarian (i.e., Burkean conservative or libertarian conservative) but also because I agree with Davis’s central point:

According to the latest figures, the Libertarian candidate for president, Jo Jorgensen (pronounced Yo Your-gun-sin), has spoiled the election. The number of votes Yo-Yo received in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania exceeds Joe Biden’s margin over Donald Trump in all those states. In other words, had the libertarians in each of those states voted for Mr Trump, he would have been reelected handily.

Thus do “big L” libertarians vote against their own interests by helping to elect Democrats, who are diametrically opposed to almost everything that libertarians claim to stand for.

I have made Davis’s point at least three times (here, here, and here). The third time I quoted a portion of a blog post by the late Bill Niskanen, who served as chairman of Cato Institute for many years. It is now appropriate to reproduce Niskanen’s post in full:

A Case for a Different Libertarian Party

All of this blogtalk about which major party is likely to be more receptive to libertarian policy positions, I suggest, is a waste of time unless the winning candidate of either party is dependent on the votes of libertarians.

Increased outrage about the state of American politics and the prospect for a larger number of close elections increases the potential effectiveness of a different libertarian party — one that sometimes endorses one or the other major party candidate but does not run a party candidate for that position.

The Libertarian Party’s efforts to promote their policy positions by running Libertarian candidates is counter-productive when they reduce the vote for their favored major party candidates. A disciplined group that is prepared to endorse one or the other major party candidate in a close election, however, can have a substantial effect on the issue positions of both major party candidates. The following conditions must be met to achieve this effectiveness:

  1. The party cannot run a separate candidate.
  2. The size of the party must be larger than the expected vote difference between the major party candidates.
  3. After the major party candidates are selected, the party leadership must have the opportunity to bargain with both major party candidates on the issue positions of highest priority for the party.
  4. The party, as much as possible, must act in concert to support the major party candidate who is chosen by the members of the party in that district.

There is no reason for this libertarian party to be active in any district for which the party does not meet all four of the above conditions. (For most libertarians, the most difficult of these conditions to meet, I suspect, is condition 4.) In addition, the party should not emphasize the same issues in every district, because the choice of these issues should depend on those for which the major party candidates are willing to bargain.

This is a strategy to increase the approval of libertarian policy positions rather than the usually counter-productive effort to increase the number of votes for Libertarian candidates. Maybe it is better to term the organization that I have described as a libertarian political action group, not a libertarian party.

Bill was a wise man, as his argument amply illustrates. I take his seeming neutrality between the major parties to be a rhetorical device. He was, as he described himself a private conversation with me, a “libertarian of conservative mien”. As a member of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration he was one of the architects of Reagan’s economic policy, about which he wrote in Reaganomics.

The Great Breakup (I Hope)

In the wake of the most fraudulent election in America’s history, the result of which will be further diminution of America’s liberty and prosperity, the country’s deep and seemingly unbridgeable divisions have become accentuated.

Victor Davis Hanson captures some of the divisions in a dissection of the rural-urban dichotomy:

Ideological differences are now being recalibrated as rural-urban on issues from guns and abortion to taxes and foreign policy. Red/conservative is often synonymous with small-town and rural. Blue/progressive is equivalent to urban/suburban….

The cities since antiquity been considered cosmopolitan and progressive; the countryside, traditional and conservative. In the positive appraisal, Western literature always thematically emphasized the sophistication and energy of cities, balanced by the purity and autonomy of the country….

That fact of the rural/urban dichotomy is underappreciated, but it remains at the heart of the Constitution — to the continuing chagrin of our globalist coastal elite who wish to wipe it out. The Electoral College and the quite antithetical makeup of the Senate and the House keep a Montana, Utah, or Wyoming from being politically neutered by California and New York. The idea, deemed outrageously “unfair” by academics and the media, is that a Wyoming rancher might have as much of a say in the direction of the country as thousands of more redundant city dwellers. Yet the classical idea of federal republicanism was to save democracy by not allowing 51 percent (of an increasingly urban population) to create laws on any given day at any given hour….

So much of the absurdity of the modern world relates to a culture entirely divorced from the commonsense audits of 2,500 years of rural pragmatism. Antifa is the ultimate expression of tens of thousands of urban youth, many deeply in college debt, many with degrees but little learning — and oblivious of how they are completely dependent on what they despise, from the police to those who truck in their food and take out their waste, to those who make and sell them their riot appurtenances and communications gadgetry.

… The current fear is not just that America is becoming an urbanized and suburbanized nation — in the manner that many of the Founders feared would make our nation a European replicant. Rather, what is strange is that so many who are not rural are becoming fearful of their cannibalistic own, and what they have in store for the suburbs and cities — and thus are becoming desperate either to graft the values of the countryside onto the urban sprawl or leave the latter altogether.

Unless the courts — and the Supreme Court in particular — are roused in time to salvage the election and declare Trump the winner, along with at least one GOP senatorial candidate who was robbed, Trump’s large and vocal base will not go quietly into the night. That is because the base is united not so much by its allegiance to Trump, but by a sense that it is the remnant of what was once a great nation. (I will nevertheless refer to this mass of Americans as “Trump’s base”, for the sake of convenience.)

Trump’s base, in addition to being rural is also (but not exclusively) working class, white, religious, and anti-cosmopolitan. There are many members of Trump’s base, including this writer, who do not conform wholly to that profile. But my working-class, religious upbringing is deeply ingrained in me, as it must be in many others who don’t conform to the stereotype of a Trump supporter.

I am also a person with the credentials and tastes of a cosmopolitan who is deeply anti-cosmopolitan. My anti-cosmopolitanism derives from long, direct exposure to the smug, over-educated elites who who deign to rule the unwashed by edict, censorship, and ostracism. Those members of the base who lack direct exposure to such elites are nevertheless aware of the elites’ superiority complex and dictatorial bent.

Trump’s base is weary of being told what to think, what not to say, what to do, how to do it, and for whom to do it by cosmopolitan (i.e., anti-American) elites and their surrogates. The elites and their surrogates populate and dominate government and corporate bureaucracies, academia, the “news” and “entertainment” media,, Big Tech, and (most insidiously) public “education”.

The sense of entitlement that propels the elites and their surrogates carries over into the impunity with which their protegees have been allowed to loot, riot, and attack Trump supporters (physically and verbally).

This sense of entitlement carries over into electoral fraud, which has long known to be an almost-exclusive practice of Democrats. (“We are supposed to win, so win we shall, by any means.”) Having been unprepared in 2016, because Hillary was a “sure thing”, the masters of electoral fraud took no chances in 2020, with the result that the election was stolen from Trump, blatantly and massively.

But our masters are confident in their success. Their media mouthpieces keep saying that there is no evidence of fraud when there is plenty of evidence (e.g., this). It’s just that the evidence may not result in reversal of the election. And so the fraud will go down the memory hole.

Trump’s base will seethe, grow more bitter, and abandon the electoral field in droves — allowing the elites to tighten further their grip on the legal, economic, and information levers of the nation. This will be done directly through the central government, through the control of information by the media and Big Tech, and by granting amnesty to of tens of millions of prospective new (and mostly Democrat) voters.

There will be much hollow talk about unity. But unity, to the left, means submission. And Trump’s base knows it.

The nation is almost certainly broken, and broken irrevocably. That leaves the question of what is to be done about it. I have offered options in the past. The only one that can deliver (a lot of us) from the evil that bears down is a concerted secession effort by many States, perhaps leading to a negotiated partition of the country. The choice is stark: either a breakup or a complete takeover by America’s domestic enemies.


Related reading:

Theodore Dalrymple, “The Age of Cant“, City Journal, Autumn 2020

Theodore Dalrymple, “The Decline of Cultural Understanding“, Taki’s Magazine, November 27, 2020

“Tyler Durden”, “The Great Relocation: Americans Are Relocating By The Millions Because They Can Feel What Is Coming“, ZeroHedge, November 23, 2020

Mike LaChance, “After Four Years of Democrat Attack on Trump Supporters, Biden Can’t ‘Unify’ the Nation“, Legal Insurrection, November 25, 2020

Francis Menton, “Will Biden Denounce Efforts to Silence Dissent?” [No!], Manhattan Contrarian, November 23, 2020

J. Robert Smith, “This Is War“, American Thinker, November 24, 2020

A virtual symposium at The American Mind, November 30, 2020:

Matthew J. Peterson, “A House Dividing?

Gregory M. Vaughan, “Madison Wins, Factions Lose

Rebecca, “The Separation

Tom Trenchard, “2020: A Retrospective from 2025

Further Thoughts about COVID-19

UPDATED AS NOTED BELOW.

It seems that the economy — and with it the livelihoods of millions of Americans — has been severely damaged for no good reason. Not only are face masks useless, or worse than that, but lockdowns are ineffective in halting the spread of COVID-19. If the reports that I’ve linked to are correct, COVID-19 is essentially unstoppable until an effective vaccine is produced and administered in vast quantities.

In the early going, there was a lot written about misdiagnosis and wrongful attribution of deaths. I haven’t seen much of that lately, but that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t still happening. Regarding misdiagnosis, consider what has happened this year to the official tally of flu cases, as against the tallies of the preceding five years:

This year, the cumulative number of flu cases was on track to set a new record, surpassing the totals of 2018 and 2019 (source). Then, just as word of COVID-19 was beginning to seep into the “news” media, the number of recorded cases suddenly stopped growing. How can that be? Did COVID-19 kill the all of the flu germs that were floating in the air and lurking on surfaces? Hah! I wonder what other conditions are being misdiagnosed as COVID-19.

UPDATE 11/27/20: Well I wonder no more. Because it seems that a lot of deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 when they should have been attributed to other causes. (See this and this.) In fact, for the period studied, the rise in COVID-19 deaths was almost exactly offset by the decline in deaths due to other causes.

UPDATE 11/28/20: For a detailed discussion of the meaning of “cause of death”, see this. It should reinforce your skepticism about the validity of official tallies of COVID-19 deaths.

If you were to believe the media — and I’m sure you don’t– COVID-19 is the worst scourge since the Black Plague. Well, it’s not even close:

As of yesterday, about 1 in 100 COVID-19 diagnoses becomes a death statistic. And the rate seems to be dropping. Which can mean that the number of cases is overstated; the most vulnerable persons have already been killed by COVID-19; or that both statements are true and the vast, healthy majority of the populace is being penalized out of political fear — fomented mainly by leftists, of course.

Finally, let’s put COVID-19 in perspective:

Enough said, for today.


Related reading: Kip Hansen, “Survey Results: Where Are All the Sick People?“, Watts Up With That?, November 21, 2020 (see especially the discussion of the number of flu cases)

Election 2020: Is It Done and Dusted? Has the Fat Lady Sung?

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 11/09/20; UPDATED 11/27/20, TO REFLECT THE MOUNTING EVIDENCE OF FRAUD.

Possibly, despite considerable evidence of fraud. In any event, Barring a smoking cannon or two, the Supreme Court probably won’t salvage the election for Trump. However, based on Gorsuch’s recent smackdown of Robert in the religious liberty case, I hold out some hope for a rescue by the Supremes, if a case that flips the outcome gets that far.

A post by Trump supporter Anatoly Karlin — though I don’t agree with all of it — makes some good points. The vote counts are incomplete in several States, but the results to date support Karlin’s central thesis, which is that Trump lost just enough ground in key States (or Biden gained just enough ground in those States) to cause them to flip from Red to Blue.

If fraud isn’t at the bottom of Biden’s tentative victory, what might be? A degree of revulsion for Trump that blinded many voters to the dire consequences of a Biden win, especially if accompanied by Democrat control of Congress. Nothing else, that I can see.

Here’s the table that shows Trump’s (almost) across-the-board slippage, where the light-blue fill indicates States that flipped from Red to Blue: This table shows, in light-blue shading, the States whose votes were manipulated to tilt the election toward Biden:

Despite my faint hope for a reversal of the apparent outcome, I will carry on:

I will continue to update the list of links to allegations of election fraud (here) … just in case.

When all of the votes have been tallied and certified, I will update the graph that describes the statistical relationship between GOP candidates’ shares of electoral votes and shares of popular votes. (See this post for a preliminary update.)

And I will write about the likely consequences of a Biden-Harris presidency (you read that right), with a GOP-controlled Senate, which are dire but not quite as dire as the outlook implied in this post.

GDP Update

The Bureau of Economic Analysis yesterday released its revised (second) estimate of GDP for the third quarter of 2020 (2020Q3). The recovery from the recession that was induced by COVID-19 lockdown orders continues, but there’s still a lot of lost ground to make up. And the lost ground to be made up isn’t just from the pre-COVID-19 rate of output, but from the post-Great Recession slump that persisted despite Trump’s deregulatory efforts.

Here’s the big picture:

This graph zooms in on the declining rate of growth in real GDP:

This graph highlights the declining rate of growth from business cycle to business cycle:

The unnecessarily draconian response to COVID-19 made a bad situation even worse.

A Note to Proponents of Defunding the Police

Be careful what you wish for.

There are already 400 million privately owned firearms in the United States. It is obvious that most owners of those firearms are law-abiding citizens. But they are not supine or spineless citizens. They are prepared to defend themselves, their families, and their property. That’s why gun sales go up whenever there’s a perceived threat to law and order; for example:

What will happen if there are drastic cuts in the funding of police departments? Or if persistent physical and political attacks on police lead to understaffing of police departments and higher crime rates?

Here’s what I believe will happen. The number and size of community defense groups will increase rapidly. despite hostile reactions from leftist politicians (and some “political” police chiefs who are their lap dogs). And when the time comes for serious action and the police fail to do their duty — because they have been ordered not to, or because they are overwhelmed — the gun owners will be there. This is more likely to happen in suburbs and exurbs. But there is no reason that the beleaguered (and well-armed) denizens of big cities should continue to stand by while their homes and businesses are looted and burned.

Citizens who are defending themselves, their families, and their property are likely to be less discriminating than police when it comes to shooting someone who is perceived as a possible threat.

You have been warned.

Election 2020: Which Poll Came Closest?

Despite my long-standing reliance on Rasmussen Reports, I have decided to add two polls to my must-follow list: The Hill/HarrisX and IBD/TIPP. Rasmussen’s final poll before this year’s election had Biden leading Trump by 1 percentage point. In fact — assuming that the final vote count resembles the current tally — the nationwide count of popular votes puts Biden ahead of Trump by almost 4 percentage points. That was the spread predicted by The Hill/Harris and IBD/TIP in their final pre-election polls. If I had used that spread in my final projection, I would have nailed Trump’s share of the electoral vote, which now stands at 43 percent (before all results have been certified and all court challenges have been heard and ruled upon).

In fact, this year’s (apparent) result is exactly in line with the equation that I had derived from the results for the elections of 1972 – 2016:

With the addition of 2020, the relationship between popular-vote share and electoral-vote share looks like this:

The only change is a slight improvement in explanatory power (r-squared rose from 0.92 to 0.93).

The GOP continues to hold an edge in the electoral college, but it is a slight edge. According to the equations in the graphs, a GOP candidate must muster at least 49.5 percent of the two-party popular vote to be sure of winning an electoral-vote majority.

Trump got lucky in 2016. Because of razor-thin victories in a few key States, he got 56.9 percent of the electoral vote with only 48.9 percent of the two-party popular vote (i.e., a deficit of just over 2 percentage points).

This year, however, Trump seems to have eked out only 48.1 percent of the two-party popular vote (i.e., a deficit of almost 4 percentage points), and the close calls (apparently) went to Biden. Result: A reversal of the 2016 outcome.

For more about the accuracy of various polls, see this piece at NewsMax (behind a paywall). Here’s some of it:

The Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP poll defended its title as the most accurate pollster for predicting presidential outcomes. The pollsters take the No. 1 spot for the fifth presidential cycle in a row, a Newsmax review reveals. Among the worst polls were those from CNN and Quinnipiac.

One of only two polls to predict President Donald Trump’s 2016 win, the IBD/TIPP poll came closest to predicting the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The Hill-HarrisX poll also predicted election results with the same accuracy, according to American Research Group, Inc….

Also making the top of the list were Emerson and Rasmussen Reports — one of Trump’s favorite pollsters. Fox News, USA Today/Suffolk University, and New York Times/Siena College came in at the middle of the pack. Among the worst polls were Economist/YouGov, CNBC/Change, NBC News/ Wall Street Journal, USC Dornsife, Quinnipiac, and CNN. All predicted Biden would lead Trump by double digits.

In any event, among the many sources that I will never consult is Nate Silver’s overrated statistical mishmash called FiveThirtyEight. Silver predicted not only Democrat gains in the House (wrong) and a likely flip of the Senate (probably wrong), but also a 9-point spread between Biden and Trump in the nationwide tally of popular votes (very wrong).

Election 2020 and Occam’s Razor

Occam’s razor

is the problem-solving principle that “entities should not be multiplied without necessity” or, more simply, the simplest explanation is usually the right one…. This philosophical razor advocates that when presented with competing hypotheses about the same [phenomenon], one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions, and that this is not meant to be a way of choosing between hypotheses that make different predictions.

Similarly, in science, Occam’s razor is used as an abductive heuristic in the development of theoretical models rather than as a rigorous arbiter between candidate models. In the scientific method, Occam’s razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives. Since failing explanations can always be burdened with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.

But simplicity isn’t a guarantee of correctness. More complexity may be necessary in order to explain a phenomenon or to make accurate predictions about it. Thus the weasel-words “without necessity”. If a thing is well explained by two independent variables, and a third independent variable adds nothing to the explanation, only two were necessary. But the number of “necessary” variables isn’t known ahead of time. It takes data-gathering, testing, and statistical analysis of the tests to determine how many are “necessary”.

Occam’s razor, in other words, is merely a tautology. The correct number of “necessary” explanatory variables is an empirical matter, not one that can be determined a priori by a vague and meaningless aphorism.

With that in mind, let us apply Occam’s razor to the presidential election of 2020. The tentative outcome of that election is a victory for Joe Biden. There are at least four explanations for the tentative outcome:

1. Every State that Biden won, he won fair and square. There were no fraudulent votes, no fraudulent counting of votes, and no errors in the counting of votes.

2. Biden’s victories in key States, though perhaps tainted by some degree of fraud or error, are legitimate; that is, the victories would have occurred absent fraud or error.

3. Biden’s victories in at least some States are illegitimate; that is, the victories wouldn’t have occurred absent fraud or error. But overturning the fraudulent or erroneous victories in some States wouldn’t change the outcome; Biden would still have enough electoral votes to be elected president.

4. Biden’s victories in at least some States are illegitimate; that is, the victories wouldn’t have occurred absent fraud or error. And overturning the fraudulent or erroneous victories in those States would change the outcome; Biden wouldn’t have enough electoral votes to be elected president. But this explanation, if true, may not be confirmed in time to change the tentative outcome of the election.

The simplest explanation, number 1, is almost certainly false. So much for Occam’s razor. What about explanations 2, 3, and 4?

I honestly do not know which of them to believe because I am withholding judgement until all of the legal votes have been counted correctly. That probably won’t happen before January 20, 2021, and so it will never happen. And so I will forever suspend judgement — but I will also suspend belief that Biden was elected honestly.

Why won’t the facts emerge before January 20, 2021? Dov Fischer explains:

[F]or those who have actual real-life professional high-stakes litigation experience, people like Rudy Giuliani and those of us who know what’s what, the reality is that no one can just walk into a courtroom a week or two after a massive fraud has taken place and just lay all the fraud on the table. It takes weeks, months, and years to unpack this stuff. No experienced attorney can just show up with all the evidence in a week or two. For example, who among us, even a week ago, had ever heard of “Dominion Voting Systems”? In only a matter of days, we now know not only of them but of their software and that they donated to the Clinton Foundation. And, oh by the way, their equipment was used in the election by North Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, and Pennsylvania — comprising 84 electoral college votes in six of the tightest battleground states. On the other hand, Texas rejected using them

Or take the dead voters. (Please.) Or the harvested and dumped ballots. Was it legal in the respective state to harvest the votes? If so, were the votes harvested by legally authorized harvesters — or by unauthorized out-of-state college kids who had nothing to do once it got too cold to march with Black Lives Matters thugs and threaten octogenarians at restaurants? It takes times — weeks, months — to unpeel that onion. And, again, what about the dead voters? It takes time to go through the voters’ rolls and to compare them with the rolls of the living.

And signatures. It is commonplace in litigations that, when disputes arise over signatures, handwriting experts are called in. One place to find handwriting experts is at a website called — take a seat for this one — www.handwritingexperts.com. But that is the point. When the stakes are high, you can’t just have volunteer housewives and househusbands comparing signatures. Not only valleys forge but people do, too. Could there be stakes greater than whether we have four more years of a Trump presidency or an alternative quadrennium of a Harris and Biden White House? Who is comparing the signatures on the mail-in envelopes with the actual signatures on registration rolls? How is it done? How carefully? How expertly?

It is wrong, unfair, and preposterous for media, including Fox News, regularly to parrot the Democrats and say that the Republicans so far do not have buckets and suitcases full of vote-fraud evidence. This kind of evidence — fraud — is the hardest to uncover and the hardest to gather. Mueller took two years. Durham, assuming there is such a person, already has been at it for a year and a half. States allow three years for claims of fraud. Usually, it takes document demands, demands for computer discs and drives, interrogatories, and depositions to root out the fraud and corruption. That is how long it takes. I know: I personally did this stuff for 10 years in matters entailing multi-million-dollar complex business disputes. Those of us who actually know the practice of law, not from Ally McBeal and from the 45 cable stations that simultaneously televise Law and Order reruns but from real life, know that the Trump team cannot possibly have all its evidence at hand yet.

Nevertheless,

they indeed are compiling anecdotal evidence, testimony of poll watchers who saw abuses and were kept away from monitoring ballot counting. The Trump team is gathering sworn affidavits, a recognized form of admissible evidence, and they are going as fast as they can. They report that they already have 234 sworn affidavits. Steve Cortes has published a wonderful piece raising four examples of circumstantial evidence arising from logical improbabilities:

1. Incomprehensibly high turnout in Wisconsin. For example, Milwaukee ended up with an 84 percent turnout, while a nearby Midwest city with a comparable demographic, Cleveland, had a 51 percent turnout. In all, Wisconsin reported voting by 90 percent of their registered voters. Numbers like that are off the charts. Biden inched ahead of Trump in Wisconsin by under 1 percent. By contrast, Trump’s lead in Ohio was too large to overcome with shenanigans.

2. The improbability of a lethargic Biden scoring significantly stronger voter turnouts than did an energetic Obama in certain battleground Obama districts.

3. The quirk of over 450,000 Biden-only ballots, on which the submitted ballots showed a vote for Biden but no one else at all, even in states where there were tight congressional and Senate contests down-ticket. That of course is technically possible, and certainly some such ballots could be expected. Curiously, Biden-only ballots were predominantly prevalent in battleground states like Georgia. By contrast, there were only 725 such ballots in Wyoming, which was a Trump–Republican blowout. For comparison, there was only a fraction of Trump-only ballots in Georgia.

4. The virtual absence of mail-in vetting. In New York, which tried large-scale mail-in balloting for the first time last June, the natural process of vetting saw 21 percent of ballots disqualified. Likewise, it is common that, among people mailing in ballots for the first time in their lives, usually some 3 percent get disqualified. That simply is the human nature of some who forget to sign, forget to date the ballot, fill it in wrong, and otherwise mess up. That’s people. Yet, in Pennsylvania only 0.03 percent of such ballots were rejected, 10 times fewer than all experience would have anticipated.

Circumstantial evidence matters and carries serious evidentiary weight. Murderers have been sentenced to death based solely on circumstantial evidence. Honest, reasonable minds cannot expect all evidence of fraud to be at hand only 10 days or even a month or two after the election has ended. Democrats had half a year and more to plan strategies for aspects of their fraud and ways to cover it up. If given enough time, enough production demands for computer drives and discs, enough time to read secret and deleted emails, the Trump team would have an opportunity to say “We have the evidence” or to present as Mueller did after his two-year investigation. Any shorter time frame is unrealistic.

Conclusion: The correct explanation of the tentative outcome of the presidential election of 2020 will never be known. Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021 (if he lives that long), and the memory hole will swallow almost all doubts about how Biden won. Remaining doubts, and even hard evidence, will be dismissed as delusional and fabricated.

And so we will be frog-marched into a brave new world.

The Iraq War in Retrospect

The Iraq War has been called many things, “immoral” being among the leading adjectives for it. Was it altogether immoral? Was it immoral to remain in favor of the war after it was (purportedly) discovered that Saddam Hussein didn’t have an active program for the production of weapons of mass destruction? Or was the war simply misdirected from its proper — and moral — purpose: the service of Americans’ interests by stabilizing the Middle East? I address those and other questions about the war in what follows.

THE WAR-MAKING POWER AND ITS PURPOSE

The sole justification for the United States government is the protection of Americans’ interests. Those interests are spelled out broadly in the Preamble to the Constitution: justice, domestic tranquility, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty.

Contrary to leftist rhetoric, the term “general welfare” in the Preamble (and in Article I, Section 8) doesn’t grant broad power to the national government to do whatever it deems to be “good”. “General welfare” — general well-being, not the well-being of particular regions or classes — is merely one of the intended effects of the enumerated and limited powers granted to the national government by conventions of the States.

One of the national government’s specified powers is the making of war. In the historical context of the adoption of the Constitution, it is clear the the purpose of the war-making power is to defend Americans and their legitimate interests: liberty generally and, among other things, the free flow of trade between American and foreign entities. The war-making power carries with it the implied power to do harm to foreigners in the course of waging war. I say that because the Framers, many of whom fought for independence from Britain, knew from experience that war, of necessity, must sometimes cause damage to the persons and property of non-combatants.

In some cases, the only way to serve the interests of Americans is to inflict deliberate damage on non-combatants. That was the case, for example, when U.S. air forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan’s surrender and avoid the deaths and injuries of perhaps a million Americans. Couldn’t Japan have been “quarantined” instead, once its forces had been driven back to the homeland? Perhaps, but at great cost to Americans. Luckily, in those days American leaders understood that the best way to ensure that an enemy didn’t resurrect its military power was to defeat it unconditionally and to occupy its homeland. You will have noticed that as a result, Germany and Japan are no longer military threats to the U.S., whereas Iraq remained one after the Gulf War of 1990-1991 because Saddam wasn’t deposed. Russia, which the U.S. didn’t defeat militarily — only symbolically — is resurgent militarily. China, which wasn’t even defeated symbolically in the Cold War, is similarly resurgent, and bent on regional if not global hegemony, necessarily to the detriment of Americans’ interests. To paraphrase: There is no substitute for unconditional military victory.

That is a hard and unfortunate truth, but it eludes many persons, especially those of the left. They suffer under dual illusions, namely, that the Constitution is an outmoded document and that “world opinion” trumps the Constitution and the national sovereignty created by it. Neither illusion is shared by Americans who want to live in something resembling liberty and to enjoy the advantages pertaining thereto, including prosperity.

CASUS BELLI

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the armed forces of the U.S. government (and those of other nations) had explicit and implicit justifications. The explicit justifications for the U.S. government’s actions are spelled out in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq of 2002 (AUMF). It passed the House by a vote of 296 – 133 and the Senate by a vote of 77 – 23, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 16, 2002.

There are some who focus on the “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) justification, which figures prominently in the “whereas” clauses of the AUMF. But the war, as it came to pass when Saddam failed to respond to legitimate demands spelled out in the AUMF, had a broader justification than whatever Saddam was (or wasn’t) doing with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The final “whereas” puts it succinctly: it is in the national security interests of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region.

An unstated but clearly understood implication of “peace and security in the Persian Gulf region” was the security of the region’s oil supply against Saddam’s capriciousness. The mantra “no blood for oil” to the contrary notwithstanding, it is just as important to defend the livelihoods of Americans as it is to defend their lives — and in many instances it comes to the same thing.

In sum, I disregard the WMD rationale for the Iraq War. The real issue is whether the war secured the stability of the Persian Gulf region (and the Middle East in general). And if it didn’t, why did it fail to do so?

ROADS TAKEN AND NOT TAKEN

One can only speculate about what might have happened in the absence of the Iraq War. For instance, how many more Iraqis might have been killed and tortured by Saddam’s agents? How many more terrorists might have been harbored and financed by Saddam? How long might it have taken him to re-establish his WMD program or build a nuclear weapons program? Saddam, who started it all with the invasion of Kuwait, wasn’t a friend of the U.S. or the West in general. The U.S. isn’t the world’s policeman, but the U.S. government has a moral obligation to defend the interests of Americans, preemptively if necessary.

By the same token, one can only speculate about what might have happened if the U.S. government had prosecuted the war differently than it did, which was “on the cheap”. There weren’t enough boots on the ground to maintain order in the way that it was maintained by the military occupations in Germany and Japan after World War II. Had there been, there wouldn’t have been a kind of “civil war” or general chaos in Iraq after Saddam was deposed. (It was those things, as much as the supposed absence of a WMD program that turned many Americans against the war.)

Speculation aside, I supported the invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam, and the rout of Iraq’s armed forces with the following results in mind:

  • A firm military occupation of Iraq, for some years to come.
  • The presence in Iraq and adjacent waters and airspace of U.S. forces in enough strength to control Iraq and deter misadventures by other nations in the region (e.g., Iran and Syria) and prospective interlopers (e.g., Russia).
  • Israel’s continued survival and prosperity under the large shadow cast by U.S. forces in the region.
  • Secure production and shipment of oil from Iraq and other oil-producing nations in the region.

All of that would have happened but for (a) too few boots on the ground (later remedied in part by the “surge”); (b) premature “nation-building”, which helped to stir up various factions in Iraq; (c) Obama’s premature surrender, which he was shamed into reversing; and (d) Obama’s deal with Iran, with its bundles of cash and blind-eye enforcement that supported Iran’s rearmament and growing boldness in the region. (The idea that Iraq, under Saddam, had somehow contained Iran is baloney; Iran was contained only until its threat to go nuclear found a sucker in Obama.)

In sum, the war was only a partial success because (once again) U.S. leaders failed to wage it fully and resolutely. This was due in no small part to incessant criticism of the war, stirred up and sustained by Democrats and the media.

WHO HAD THE MORAL HIGH GROUND?

In view of the foregoing, the correct answer is: the U.S. government, or those of its leaders who approved, funded, planned, and executed the war with the aim of bringing peace and security to the Persian Gulf region for the sake of Americans’ interests.

The moral high ground was shared by those Americans who, understanding the war’s justification on grounds broader than WMD, remained steadfast in support of the war despite the tumult and shouting that arose from its opponents.

There were Americans whose support of the war was based on the claim that Saddam had ore was developing WMD, and whose support ended or became less ardent when WMD seemed not to be in evidence. I wouldn’t presume to judge them harshly for withdrawing their support, but I would judge them myopic for basing it on solely on the WMD predicate. And I would judge them harshly if they joined the outspoken opponents of the war, whose opposition I address below.

What about those Americans who supported the war simply because they believed that President Bush and his advisers “knew what they were doing” or out of a sense of patriotism? That is to say, they had no particular reason for supporting the war other than a general belief that its successful execution would be a “good thing”. None of those Americans deserves moral approbation or moral blame. They simply had better things to do with their lives than to parse the reasons for going to war and for continuing it. And it is no one’s place to judge them for not having wasted their time in thinking about something that was beyond their ability to influence. (See the discussion of “public opinion” below.)

What about those Americans who publicly opposed the war, either from the beginning or later? I cannot fault all of them for their opposition — and certainly not  those who considered the costs (human and monetary) and deemed them not worth the possible gains.

But there were (and are) others whose opposition to the war was and is problematic:

  • Critics of the apparent absence of an active WMD program in Iraq, who seized on the WMD justification and ignored (or failed to grasp) the war’s broader justification.
  • Political opportunists who simply wanted to discredit President Bush and his party, which included most Democrats (eventually), effete elites generally, and particularly most members of the academic-media-information technology complex.
  • An increasingly large share of the impressionable electorate who could not (and cannot) resist a bandwagon.
  • Reflexive pro-peace/anti-war posturing by the young, who are prone to oppose “the establishment” and to do so loudly and often violently.

The moral high ground isn’t gained by misguided criticism, posturing, joining a bandwagon, or hormonal emotionalism.

WHAT ABOUT “PUBLIC OPINION”?

Suppose you had concluded that the Iraq War was wrong because the WMD justification seemed to have been proven false as the war went on. Perhaps even than false: a fraud perpetrated by officials of the Bush administration, if not by the president himself, to push Congress and “public opinion” toward support for an invasion of Iraq.

If your main worry about Iraq, under Saddam, was the possibility that WMD would be used against Americans, the apparent falsity of the WMD claim — perhaps fraudulent falsity — might well have turned you against the war. Suppose that there were many millions of Americans like you, whose initial support of the war turned to disillusionment as evidence of an active WMD program failed to materialize. Would voicing your opinion on the matter have helped to end the war? Did you have a moral obligation to voice your opinion? And, in any event, should wars be ended because of “public opinion”? I will try to answer those questions in what follows.

The strongest case to be made for the persuasive value of voicing one’s opinion might be found in the median-voter theorem. According to Wikipedia, the median-voter theorem

“states that ‘a majority rule voting system will select the outcome most preferred by the median voter”….

The median voter theorem rests on two main assumptions, with several others detailed below. The theorem is assuming [sic] that voters can place all alternatives along a one-dimensional political spectrum. It seems plausible that voters could do this if they can clearly place political candidates on a left-to-right continuum, but this is often not the case as each party will have its own policy on each of many different issues. Similarly, in the case of a referendum, the alternatives on offer may cover more than one issue. Second, the theorem assumes that voters’ preferences are single-peaked, which means that voters have one alternative that they favor more than any other. It also assumes that voters always vote, regardless of how far the alternatives are from their own views. The median voter theorem implies that voters have an incentive to vote for their true preferences. Finally, the median voter theorem applies best to a majoritarian election system.

The article later specifies seven assumptions underlying the theorem. None of the assumptions is satisfied in the real world of American politics. Complexity never favors the truth of any proposition; it simply allows the proposition to be wrong in more ways if all of the assumptions must be true, as is the case here.

There is a weak form of the theorem, which says that

the median voter always casts his or her vote for the policy that is adopted. If there is a median voter, his or her preferred policy will beat any other alternative in a pairwise vote.

That still leaves the crucial assumption that voters are choosing between two options. This is superficially true in the case of a two-person race for office or a yes-no referendum. But, even then, a binary option usually masks non-binary ramifications that voters take into account.

In any case, it is trivially true to say that the preference of the median voter foretells the outcome of an election in a binary election, if the the outcome is decided by majority vote and there isn’t a complicating factor like the electoral college. One could say, with equal banality, that the stronger man wins the weight-lifting contest, the outcome of which determines who is the stronger man.

Why am I giving so much attention to the median-voter theorem? Because, according to a blogger whose intellectual prowess I respect, if enough Americans believe a policy of the U.S. government to be wrong, the policy might well be rescinded if the responsible elected officials (or, presumably, their prospective successors) believe that the median voter wants the policy rescinded. How would that work?

The following summary of the blogger’s case is what I gleaned from his original post on the subject and several comments and replies. I have inserted parenthetical commentary throughout.

  • The pursuit of the Iraq War after the WMD predicate for it was (seemingly) falsified — hereinafter policy X — was immoral because X led unnecessarily to casualties, devastation, and other costs. (As discussed above, there were other predicates for X and other consequences of X, some of them good, but they don’t seem to matter to the blogger.)
  • Because X was immoral (in the blogger’s reckoning), X should have been rescinded.
  • Rescission would have (might have?/should have?) occurred through the operation of the median-voter theorem if enough persons had made known their opposition to X. (How might the median-voter theorem have applied when X wasn’t on a ballot? See below.)
  • Any person who had taken the time to consider X (taking into account only the WMD predicate and unequivocally bad consequences) could only have deemed it immoral. (The blogger originally excused persons who deemed X proper, but later made a statement equivalent to the preceding sentence. This is a variant of “heads, I win; tails, you lose”.)
  • Having deemed X immoral, a person (i.e., a competent, adult American) would have been morally obliged to make known his opposition to X. Even if the person didn’t know of the spurious median-voter theorem, his opposition to X (which wasn’t on a ballot) would somehow have become known and counted (perhaps in a biased opinion poll conducted by an entity opposed to X) and would therefore have helped to move the median stance of the (selectively) polled fragment of the populace toward opposition to X, whereupon X would be rescinded, according to the median-voter theorem. (Or perhaps vociferous opposition, expressed in public protests, would be reported by the media — especially by those already opposed to X — as indicative of public opinion, whether or not it represented a median view of X.)
  • Further, any competent, adult American who didn’t bother to take the time to evaluate X would have been morally complicit in the continuation of X. (This must be the case because the blogger says so, without knowing each person’s assessment of the slim chance that his view of the matter would affect X, or the opportunity costs of evaluating X and expressing his view of it.)
  • So the only moral course of action, according to the blogger, was for every competent, adult American to have taken the time to evaluate X (in terms of the WMD predicate), to have deemed it immoral (there being no other choice given the constraint just mentioned), and to have made known his opposition to the policy. (This despite the fact that most competent, adult Americans know viscerally or from experience that the median-voter theorem is hooey — more about that below — and that it would therefore have been a waste of their time to get worked up about a policy that wasn’t unambiguously immoral. Further, they were and are rightly reluctant to align themselves with howling mobs and biased media — even by implication, as in a letter to the editor — in protest of a policy that wasn’t unambiguously immoral.)
  • Then, X (which wasn’t on a ballot) would have been rescinded, pursuant to the median-voter theorem (or, properly, the outraged/vociferous-pollee/protester-biased pollster/media theorem). (Except that X wasn’t, in fact, rescinded despite massive outpourings of outrage by small fractions of the populace, which were gleefully reflected in biased polls and reported by biased media. Nor was it rescinded by implication when President Bush was up for re-election — he won. It might have been rescinded by implication when the Bush was succeeded by Obama — an opponent of X — but there were many reasons other than X for Obama’s victory: mainly the financial crisis, McCain’s lame candidacy, and a desire by many voters to signal — to themselves, at least — their non-racism by voting for Obama. And X wasn’t doing all that badly at the time of Obama’s election because of the troop “surge” authorized by Bush. Further, Obama’s later attempt to rescind X had consequences that caused him to reverse his attempted rescission, regardless of any lingering opposition to X.)

What about other salient, non-ballot issues? Does “public opinion” make a difference? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Obamacare, for example, was widely opposed until it was enacted by Congress and signed into law by Obama. It suddenly became popular because much of the populace wants to be on the “winning side” of an issue. (So much for the moral value of public opinion.) Similarly, abortion was widely deemed to be immoral until the Supreme Court legalized it. Suddenly, it began to become acceptable according to “public opinion”. I could go on an on, but you get the idea: Public opinion often follows policy rather than leading it, and its moral value is dubious in any event.

But what about cases where government policy shifted in the aftermath of widespread demonstrations and protests? Did demonstrations and protests lead to the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s? Did they cause the U.S. government to surrender, in effect, to North Vietnam? No and no. From where I sat — and I was a politically aware, voting-age, adult American of the “liberal” persuasion at the time of those events — public opinion had little effect on the officials who were responsible for the Civil Rights Acts or the bug-out from Vietnam.

The civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s didn’t yield results until years after their inception. And those results didn’t (at the time, at least) represent the views of most Americans who (I submit) were either indifferent or hostile to the advancement of blacks and to the anti-patriotic undertones of the anti-war movement. In both cases, mass protests were used by the media (and incited by the promise of media attention) to shame responsible officials into acting as media elites wanted them to.

Further, it is a mistake to assume that the resulting changes in law (writ broadly to include policy) were necessarily good changes. The stampede to enact civil-rights laws in the 1960s, which hinged not so much on mass protests but on LBJ”s “white guilt” and powers of persuasion, resulted in the political suppression of an entire region, the loss of property rights, and the denial of freedom of association. (See, for example, Christopher Caldwell’s “The Roots of Our Partisan Divide“, Imprimis, February 2020.)

The bug-out from Vietnam foretold the U.S. government’s fecklessness in the Iran hostage crisis; the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Lebanon after the bombing of Marine barracks there; the failure of G.H.W. Bush to depose Saddam when it would have been easy to do so; the legalistic response to the World Trade Center bombing; the humiliating affair in Somalia; Clinton’s failure to take out Osama bin Laden; Clinton’s tepid response to Saddam’s provocations; nation-building (vice military occupation) in Iraq; and Obama’s attempt to pry defeat from the jaws of something resembling victory in Iraq.

All of that, and more, is symptomatic of the influence that “liberal” elites came to exert on American foreign and defense policy after World War II. Public opinion has been a side show, and protestors have been useful idiots to the cause of “liberal internationalism”, that is, the surrender of Americans’ economic and security interests for the sake of various rapprochements toward “allies” who scorn America when it veers ever so slightly from the road to serfdom, and enemies — Russia and China — who have never changed their spots, despite “liberal” wishful thinking. Handing America’s manufacturing base to China in the name of free trade is of a piece with all the rest.

IN CONCLUSION . . .

It is irresponsible to call a policy immoral without evaluating all of its predicates and consequences. One might as well call the Allied leaders of World War II immoral because they chose war — with all of its predictably terrible consequences — rather than abject surrender.

It is fatuous to ascribe immorality to anyone who was supportive of or indifferent to the war. One might as well ascribe immorality to the economic and political ignoramuses who failed to see that FDR’s policies would prolong the Great Depression, that Social Security and its progeny (Medicare and Medicaid) would become entitlements that paved the way for the central government’s commandeering of vast portions of the economy, or that the so-called social safety net would discourage work and permanently depress economic growth in America.

If I were in the business of issuing moral judgments about the Iraq War, I would condemn the strident anti-war faction for its perfidy.

A Congress of Unlimited Power?

Preamble

In the debates about the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), there were charges (and denials) that ACA would include “death panels”. In fact, a central feature of ACA was the now-defunct Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which was

to have the explicit task of achieving specified savings in Medicare without affecting coverage or quality….

Beginning in 2013, the Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services determined in particular years the projected per capita growth rate for Medicare for a multi-year period ending in the second year thereafter (the “implementation year”). If the projection exceeded a target growth rate, IPAB was to develop a proposal to reduce Medicare spending in the implementation year by a specified amount.

With regard to IPAB’s recommendations, the law said: “The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums … , increase Medicare beneficiary cost sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and co-payments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.”

Defenders of ACA claimed that IPAB wasn’t a “death panel” (or an incipient one) because ACA specifically prohibited it from recommending the rationing of health care. But IPAB didn’t have to ration health care directly. All it had to do was “develop a proposal to reduce Medicare spending … by a specified amount”. Any such proposal, which would go into effect unless Congress overrode it, would have had the effect of forcing rationing of some kind, by some means (e.g., reducing or eliminating Medicare coverage for certain conditions, or reducing the compensation of providers who might treat certain conditions, thus discouraging them from treating those conditions in the first place).

It’s true that IPAB, or something like it, was (and still is) necessary in a government-run systems like Medicare and Medicaid, where the amount of money available to provide health care is limited by Congress. (In fact, some lefties openly admit it.) But that just moves the problem up a level. It means that Medicare and Medicaid, which are essentially mandatory for tens of millions of persons, constitute a system for rationing health care. (All misguided rhetoric to the contrary, free markets are not rationing mechanisms.)

But what if Medicare and Medicaid didn’t exist and many older Americans had to do without many of the health-care products and services that they enjoy because they couldn’t afford those products and services? The existence of Medicare and Medicaid, whatever their benefits, is tantamount to governmental rationing; that is, their existence forces the redistribution of income among citizens (beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid vs. those who subsidize it) and the reallocation of resources toward health care and away from other uses.

The bottom line: It’s true that ACA doesn’t mention death panels and prohibits rationing. But ACA in fact established a “death panel” (IPAB) and authorized (even more) rationing of health care than was already the case under Medicare and Medicaid, pre-ACA.

In sum, a thing can exist without being called by a particular name. Reverse discrimination, for example, exists because Affirmative Action and various “diversity” programs, as they are practiced, foster discrimination against straight, white males of European descent. But to say that Affirmative Action and “diversity” programs are discriminatory is verboten in left-speak.

The Issue at Hand: Whether the Powers of Congress Are Specifically Enumerated in the Constitution

The same principle — that a thing can exist without being called by a particular name — applies to the Constitution of the United States. An obvious case is found in the structure of the Constitution, which is characterized as a system of checks and balances. The term “check and balances” is found nowhere in the Constitution, but the Constitution does nevertheless provide checks on the power of the central government and balances between the powers of the central government’s branches and between the powers of the central government and State governments.

Likewise, the Constitution nowhere says that the powers of the central government are enumerated (and therefore limited). But they are, despite Richard Primus’s casuistry in “Herein of ‘Herein Granted’: Why Article I’s Vesting Clause Does Not Support the Doctrine of Enumerated Powers” (U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 681, October 8, 2020).

What is the Vesting Clause? It is Section 1 of Article I, which says this:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Primus makes much of what he calls the lack of parallelism between that language and the its counterparts in Article II (which defines the executive branch) and Article III (which defines the judicial branch); viz.:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

Which, as I will show, is akin to making a mountain out of a molehill. To what end?

This: Primus’s attack on the Vesting Clause is really an attack on the doctrine of enumerated (and therefore limited) powers. As he says,

the idea that Article I’s Vesting Clause limits Congress to a set of textually enumerated powers was virtually unknown in the ratification debates of 1787-88. 18 It was also absent from the First Congress, and conspicuously so. The First Congress prominently featured conflict over the question of whether Congress was limited to powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution: think, for example, of the fight over chartering the Bank of the United States. The Representatives arguing for the enumerationist position in those debates had every incentive to point to the Vesting Clauses for support, if they thought the Vesting Clauses supported their view. None of them did, which suggests that none of them thought Article I’s Vesting Clause established the enumeration principle.

In all of the Federalist Papers, for example, thirty or so of which specifically addressed questions about the extent of congressional power, Publius invoked the Vesting Clause exactly zero times.

This is nothing but argumentative sleight of hand. The Vesting Clause may not have been invoked, but the Constitution was ratified on the clear understanding that the powers of the central government were limited because they were specifically enumerated (mainly in Section 8 of Article I). The proponents and opponents of specific legislation wouldn’t have argued about the broad language of the Vesting Clause. Rather, they would have argued about the specific inclusion or exclusion of the subject matter in text of the Constitution. The main repository of specific language is Section 1 of Article I.

Enumerated and Limited Powers: The Lynch-Pin of the Constitution

Under the Articles of Confederation (Articles) that preceded the Constitution, the central government — such as it was — depended on the whims of member States to finance its operations. It therefore proved difficult to provide for such things as the defense of the United States, the conduct of foreign affairs on behalf of all of the States, and the free flow of trade among the States. Further, every State was equal to every other State — one State, one vote — which made it possible for regional coalitions and even individual States to wield disproportionate power. (Among the compromises that underlay the adoption and ratification of the Constitution was the creation of the Senate, which wields some amount of disproportionate power but not as completely as did the States of the confederation.)

The Constitution doesn’t specifically say that the powers of the central government are enumerated and limited, but they are, as a legacy of the Articles:

Article II. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

(Aside: Whereas the Articles of Confederation refer specifically to a “perpetual Union” of the member States, the Constitution nowhere says or implies that the resulting union was meant to be perpetual.)

During the debates about the ratification of the Constitution, a great many speeches were given and great amounts of ink and paper were devoted to the issue of constraints on the central government. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — leading advocates of ratification — issued their arguments in the series of essays that became known as The Federalist Papers. Among Madison’s contributions are Federalist Nos. 41, 42, 43, 44, and  45. Those five papers constitute a defense of the specific powers granted to the central government by the Constitution. Madison nowhere adverts to unmentioned, free-floating power because the Constitution doesn’t grant any such power to the central government.

As Madison puts it in Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined [emphasis added]. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.


Related posts:

The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II)
The Constitution: Myths and Realities

Election 2020: Modified Betting Propositions

In “Election 2020: Some Betting Propositions“, I laid out the terms of a bet that I had proposed to correspondent who is a “conservative” collabo. The underlying conditions — Democrat control of the White House and Congress — may not be met, at least not in 2021-2023. But the day will come, and Americans will rue it.

So, what will happen if Biden is elected but the GOP still controls the Senate and is able to prevent the left from enacting some of its agenda? Plenty. I have gleaned some examples from the blogosphere (links at the bottom of this post), and here they are:

Stopping construction of the border wall by not requesting funds for it, not reapportioning funds to it, and canceling all work in progress.

Encouraging illegal immigration (e.g., lax enforcement, reinstatement of DACA) to reopen the floodgates at the southern border.

Issuing executive orders that reverse the economic recovery in the name of combating COVID-19.

Rejoining the Paris climate scam, severely restricting U.S. oil production and the use of fossil fuels, and promoting “renewable” energy through  executive-regulatory actions, which will have almost zero effect on the climate and make Americans generally poorer and more miserable. (A full-bore legislative package — if Biden could get it passed — would be disastrous.)

Reinstating U.S. support of WHO, a corrupt pro-China, anti-life operation.

Reinstating Obama’s supine, America-last foreign policy. In particular, reinstating the Iran nuclear deal and resuming the shipment of bales of money to Iran to finance its “peaceful” nuclear research, continue to build its regional military prowess, and acquire the means to strike the U.S. with missiles; and ilting strongly in favor of radical Islam and Palestine, and strongly against Israel, which will foment conflict in the Middle East.

Progressing further toward thought control by encouraging more and stricter pro=left censorship by internet-based purveyors of “news” and anti-social media.

Advancing “critical race theory”, which blames whites for all of the miseries of blacks, many of which are self-inflicted by black culture, and others of which are due to innate racial differences in intelligence.

Actively pursuing extra-legal “punishment” of Trump’s allies and supporters.

Using the Justice Department to further erode law and order in the United States by hamstringing police departments.

Not mentioned at any of links below, but a key proposition from my earlier post: Diminution of America’s armed forces in the face of increasing adventurism by Russia and China — thus encouraging even more and bolder moves by those countries against American’s interests. This is a move that Harris-Biden can make unilaterally by slashing defense budgets submitted to Congress, and which the House can help to attain by holding the defense budget hostage until the Senate acquiesces in the cuts.

And one more crucial thing. Harris-Biden will openly flout rulings by the Supreme Court when such rulings conflict with the regime’s policies. (This is something that Trump/Hitler never did.)

I will package these items as a proposed bet for my correspondent. He will probably decline to take the bet (as he declined my earlier offer) because, in his ostrich-like way he doesn’t want to acknowledge the damage that Harris-Biden will do to the nation. He couldn’t see past his Trump hatred.

I will end this on a more pleasant note, with a link to Joy Pullman’s post at The Federalist, “12 Ways For Trump To Bomb The Battlefield While Biden Claims The Presidency” (November 10, 2020).


Links:

Carina Benton, “Totalitarian Left Promises Purges And Punishment For All Trump Voters“, The Federalist, November 10, 2020

Sam Dorman and Hillary Vaughn, “Biden Plans to Rejoin Paris Agreement, WHO, and Undo Other Trump Decisions on Day 1“, Fox News, November 9, 2020

Tilak Doshi, “The Coming Energy Shocks Under a Biden Administration“, Forbes, November 11, 2020

David Gerstman, “Former Biden Aide: Rejoining Nuclear Deal Is ‘High’ on Biden’s Agenda“, Legal Insurrection, November 10, 2020

Fred Lucas, “7 Big Items on Biden’s White House Agenda“, The Daily Signal, November 8, 2020

Heather Mac Donald, “The Biden Threat to Law Enforcement“, City Journal, November 10, 2020

Steve Postal, “How a Biden–Harris Administration Would Unravel Middle East Peace “, The American Spectator, November 10, 2020

Jarrett Stepman, “Biden Would Likely Issue Flurry of Executive Orders on Climate, Abortion, Immigration“, The Daily Signal, November 10, 2020

Jonathan Turley (eponymous blog), “Shredding The Fabric Of Our Democracy’: Biden Aide Signals Push For Greater Censorship On The Internet“, November 10, 2020

Francis Menton, “How Much Damage Can Biden Do to America with His Climate Plan?“, Manhattan Contrarian, November 14, 2020

Eugene Volokh, “Biden Transition Team Member’s Op-Ed on ‘Why America Needs a Hate-Speech Law’“, The Volokh Conspiracy, November 17, 2020

Frances Martel, “Six Disastrous Obama-Era Foreign Policies Set to Return Under Biden“, Breitbart, November 26, 2020

Art Keller, “Will Biden Resurrect the Iran Deal?“, Quillette, November 29, 2020