Stagnant vs Permanent

Let us take the second [argument] first. And let us strip it of the illegitimate emotional power it derives from the word ‘stagnation’ with its suggestion of puddles and mantled pools.

If water stands too long it stinks. To infer thence that whatever stands long must be unwholesome is to be the victim of metaphor. Space does not stink because it has preserved its three dimensions from the beginning. The square on the hypotenuse has not gone moldy by continuing to equal the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Love is not dishonored by constancy, and when we wash our hands we are seeking stagnation and “putting the clock back,” artificially restoring our hands to the status quo in which they began the day and resisting the natural trend of events which would increase their dirtiness steadily from our birth to our death.

For the emotive term ‘stagnant’ let us substitute the descriptive term ‘permanent.’ Does a permanent moral standard preclude progress? On the contrary, except on the supposition of a changeless standard, progress is impossible. If good is a fixed point, it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can recede. We can go on getting a sum more and more nearly right only if the one perfectly right is “stagnant”.

And yet it will be said, I have just admitted that our ideas of good may improve. How is this to be reconciled with the view that “traditional morality” is a depositum fidei which cannot be deserted? The answer can be understood if we compare a real moral advance with a mere innovation. From the Stoic and Confucian, “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you”; to the Christian, “Do as you would be done by” is a real advance. The morality of Nietzsche is a mere innovation.

The first is an advance because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once recognize the new as an extension of the same principle. If he rejected it, he would have to reject it as a superfluity, something that went too far, not as something simply heterogeneous from his own ideas of value.

But the Nietzschean ethic can be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgements at all. It is the difference between a man who says to us: “You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?” and a man who says, “Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.”

Real moral advances, in fine, are made from within the existing moral tradition and in the spirit of that tradition and can be understood only in the light of that tradition. The outsider who has rejected the tradition cannot judge them. He has, as Aristotle said, no arche, no premises.

(Extra line breaks added for readability.) Source: The Poison of Subjectivism, in which I am reminded how much I like C. S. Lewis’ writings.

Always Remember: The Nazis Were Socialists (i.e., Leftists)

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.

What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

via Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism – Telegraph Blogs.

Over-Sensitive, Over-Reacting, Passive-Aggressive Positivity, Unable To Deal With Criticism

Does this sound like anyone you know?

I’m charmed and sometimes I’m exasperated by how [Millennials] deal with the world. My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity.

I am looking at Millenials from the POV of a member of one of the most pessimistic and ironic generations that has ever roamed the earth. — Generation X . Even my boyfriend agrees that [Millenials are] overly sensitive, especially when dealing with criticism. When [a Millenial] creates something they have so many outlets to display it that it often goes out into the world unfettered, unedited, posted everywhere … but when criticized for this content they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labeled a hater, a contrarian, a troll.

Anxiety and neediness are the defining aspects of [Millenials] and when you don’t have the cushion of rising through the world economically then what do you rely on? Well, your social media presence: maintaining it, keeping the brand in play, striving to be liked, to be liked, to be liked. And this creates its own kind of ceaseless anxiety. This is why if anyone has a snarky opinion of [Millenials] then that person is labeled by them as a “douche”—case closed. No negativity — we just want to be admired. This is problematic because it limits discourse: if we all just like everything—the Millennial dream—then what are we going to be talking about?

Millennials can’t deal with that kind of cold-eye reality. This is why [they] only ask right now : please, please, please, only give positive feedback please.

Edited for compactness, from Generation Wuss.

Why are some people so much luckier than others?

In one experiment, Wiseman asked people to self identify themselves as lucky or unlucky. Then he gave his test subjects a newspaper. “Count the number of photographs inside”, he told them.

There were 43 photographs.

On average, the unlucky people took 2 minutes to count them all. The lucky people? Seconds.

The lucky people noticed the giant message that took up half the second page of the newspaper. It said, “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

The unlucky people missed it. They also missed the equally giant message half way through the newspaper, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.”

The “lucky” people weren’t lucky. They were just more observant.

via Why are some people so much luckier than others?.

Against Empathy

I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data. As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Laboratory studies find that we really do care more about the one than about the mass, so long as we have personal information about the one.

In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside.

via Against Empathy | Boston Review.

A Non-Conformist’s Guide to Success in a Conformist World

I found this unexpectedly comforting; I myself am an example of point #10.

1. Don’t be an absolutist non-conformist.  Conforming in small ways often gives you the opportunity to non-conform in big ways.  Being deferential to your boss, for example, opens up a world of possibilities.

3. In modern societies, most demands for conformity are based on empty threats.  But not all.  So pay close attention to societal sanctions for others’ deviant behavior.  Let the impulsive non-conformists be your guinea pigs.

6. Fortunately, the content of modern education is neither linear nor cumulative.  You can safely forget most of what you didn’t feel like learning right after the final exam. 

8. Educational success hardly guarantees career success.  But educational credentials open a lot of doors – including most of the doors to non-conformist-friendly careers in academia, science, and yes, bureaucracies.

10. Social intelligence can be improved.  For non-conformists, the marginal benefit of doing so is especially big.

12. When faced with demands for conformity, silently ask, "What will happen to me if I refuse?"  Train yourself to ponder subtle and indirect repercussions, but learn to dismiss most such ponderings as paranoia.  Modern societies are huge, anonymous, and forgetful.

There are more at the link. Via A Non-Conformist's Guide to Success in a Conformist World, Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty.

“There’s no ‘win’ and no ‘fail’, there’s only ‘make’. If you work, it will lead to something.”

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

via 10 Rules for Students and Teachers Popularized by John Cage – Open Culture.

Why Nazis Make Better Super Villains Than Communists

Nazis make for better super-villains because at least they aim to be super or superior.  Communists … are so unmentionable and unimpressive as individuals they by their own nature are not unique and thusly need to define themselves through others.  They aren’t Lex Luther or The Joker hatching brilliant schemes as much as they are boring, common, petty thieves rationalizing their parasitism.

via Captain Capitalism: Why Nazis Make Better Super Villains Than Communists.