Category Archives: Bullshit & Philosophy

Dr Pangloss’s Economism

It is proved that things cannot be other than they are, for since everything was made for a purpose, it follows that everything is made for the best purpose.

—Pangloss, in Voltaire’s Candide, 1759

THE KEY TO ALL THINGS

This invocation of basic economics lessons to explain all social phenomena is economism.* It rests on the premise that people, companies, and markets behave according to the abstract, two-dimensional illustrations of an Economics 101 textbook, even though the assumptions behind those diagrams virtually never hold true in the real world. Economism is an interpretive lens through which people make sense of reality. Like any such framework, it also implies a certain set of value judgments and policy choices. For example, if a simple supply-and-demand model shows that taxes reduce employment, then it follows that high tax rates are bad and should be lowered. Because it claims the authority of “economics,” economism can be a powerful rhetorical tool. And while superficial economic arguments can serve multiple purposes, in today’s world they most often justify the existing social order—and the inequality that it generates—while explaining the futility of any attempt to change it. (Kwak, James. Economism (pp. 6-7). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

For every well-intentioned proposal to help ordinary working people, economism provides an answer. Raise the minimum wage so the working poor take home more money? That’s a nice idea, but that’s not how the world works. According to Jude Wanniski, one of the pillars of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page in the 1970s, “Every increase in the minimum wage induces a decline in real output and a decline in employment.” Wanniski was an adviser to Ronald Reagan, who echoed, “The minimum wage has caused more misery and unemployment than anything since the Great Depression.” Raise taxes on the rich to pay for services for everyone else? Good try, but, Gregory Mankiw (author of one of the world’s most popular economics textbooks) explains, “as [high-income taxpayers] face higher tax rates, their services will be in shorter supply.” Or, in the words of the 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, “if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key.”16 The examples go on and on. The problems of financial markets, health care, education, and many other fields can all be reduced to economic first principles that dictate simple solutions. (Kwak, James. Economism (pp. 7-8). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

These claims are made so often in the media and by politicians that they appear to be a natural feature of the landscape. But they all come from somewhere. They are based on a lesson that economics students learn in their first semester: the model of a competitive market driven by supply and demand. In this model, the supply and demand for any product determine its price; prices create incentives for individuals and businesses; and those incentives ensure that consumers get what they want, companies are as efficient as possible, and resources are allocated optimally across the economy. As the pathbreaking economist Paul Samuelson wrote in 1948, this basic lesson is “all that some of our leading citizens remember, 30 years later, of their college course in economics.”17 (Samuelson was well aware of the power of introductory courses: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treatises,” he once said, “if I can write its economics textbooks.”18) (Kwak, James. Economism (p. 8). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

This elegant model, however, rests on a set of highly unrealistic assumptions. The definition of a competitive market requires that all suppliers offer the same product—there are no differences in features, quality, or anything else—and that each company is so small that its behavior has no effect on overall supply. If this assumption does not hold—such as in the market for cell phone service, or air travel, or automobiles, or books, or almost anything—then supply and demand do not necessarily produce the optimal price, and the allocation of resources may be distorted.19 The argument that a minimum wage increases unemployment assumes that employees are currently being paid the entire value of their work; otherwise, employers would be willing to pay slightly higher wages in order to keep them. Again, this premise is unlikely to be true in the real world of fast-food restaurants or hotels, where workers have little bargaining power and companies are therefore able to claim most of the value that their employees create. (Kwak, James. Economism (pp. 8-9). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Economism ignores these uncooperative facts and assumes the necessary assumptions, reducing all real-world questions to simple models and answering them in the same terms. In this sense, economism is like an ideology. Communism explained industrial society as the product of class struggle, with the inevitable outcome of proletarian revolution. Nationalism, the other great European ideology of the nineteenth century, saw rivalry between groups of people with a common background as the motor of history. Its lesson was that each nation should achieve political unity to promote its interests in the world. (Kwak, James. Economism (p. 9). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

“Economism” is a somewhat obscure academic term, generally used to criticize someone for overvaluing economics—by overestimating the importance of material conditions, focusing exclusively on economic metrics, applying economic methodologies when they are inappropriate, or accepting economic theory too readily.14 In this book, I use “economism” in a more specific sense, as the belief that a few isolated Economics 101 lessons accurately describe the real world. The economist Noah Smith calls this phenomenon “101ism.”15 (Kwak, James. Economism (p. 17). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Respecting Truth

When liars lie people die

As America approaches a million deaths from COVID-19, many thousands of families have been left wondering whether available treatments and vaccines could have saved their loved ones. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 230,000 deaths could have been avoided if individuals had gotten vaccinated.

NPR: Their mom died of COVID. They say conspiracy theories are what really killed her, GEOFF BRUMFIEL

Ignorance is the lack of true knowledge. Willful ignorance is something more. It is ignorance coupled with the decision to remain ignorant. In saying this, it is tempting to believe that if one is willfully ignorant then one must know that one is ignorant, thereby revealing a bit of savvy whereby, presumably, one knows that there is some truth out there that one wants to be insulated from. A good example of this might be our suspicion that a vast majority of the people who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 did not actually believe the nonsense that they spouted about global warming, but instead merely pretended to believe it, so that they would appeal to those voters who were actually ignorant. But this is not willful ignorance; this is dishonesty. Instead, to be truly willfully ignorant, one could neither disbelieve in the truth (for, after all, one could simply think that one’s mistaken beliefs were correct), nor affect the mere pretense of disbelieving (for that is to look at the truth with one eye and pretend not to see it). Willful ignorance is instead marked by the conviction to shut both eyes against any further investigation, because one is so firm in one’s belief that any other sources of knowledge are not needed. Here one is not only ignorant but (like Euthyphro) prefers to remain so. One does not in any sense “know” the truth (even with one eye), even though one probably does suspect that there are further sources of contravening information out there. Yet these are rejected, because they might conflict with one’s favored beliefs; if there are other sources of information, they must be ignored. This is why the false beliefs cited in the polling results show more than just ignorance. For when there are such easily available sources of accurate information out there, the only excuse for such stunning ignorance is the desire to remain so; one has actively chosen not to investigate. More than mere scientific illiteracy, this sort of obstinacy reflects contempt. But why would someone embrace such a hostile attitude toward the truth?

Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age by Lee McIntyre

At what point does “skepticism” become crackpot? How long before the preference for anecdotal over scientific evidence tips the balance toward a conspiracy theory that ranks with AIDS deniers and those who believe that NASA faked the Moon landing? Conspiracy theories are one of the most insidious forms of disrespecting truth for, even while they profess to be guided by the fervent desire to discover a truth that someone else is hiding, they simultaneously undermine the process by which most truths are discovered. Conspiracy theorists are customarily proud to profess the highest standards of skepticism, even while expressing a naïve credulity that the most unlikely correlations are true. This is disrespect, if not outright contempt, for the truth. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 47). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Finally, we turn to the problem of rumor. After the foregoing account, it may seem that belief in rumors has nothing much in common with the set of irrational beliefs that we have dismissed so far as “crackpot.” Yet rumors too can be dangerous and far-fetched. In the absence of reliable sources of information, rumors can tempt us to believe things that in less exigent circumstances we would be highly likely to dismiss. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 47). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The best example in recent years is the list of atrocities that allegedly occurred in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. Armed gangs were beating and raping tourists in the street. Snipers were shooting at rescue workers. Inside the Superdome—which was home to some 25,000 refugees—muzzle flashes were said to portend mass killings with bodies piling up in the basement. Children’s throats were slit. Women were being dragged away from their families and raped. A seven-year-old girl was raped and murdered. Two babies had their throats slit. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (pp. 47-48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The consequences of these reports were dire. When Governor Kathleen Blanco sent the National Guard in to restore order, she did so with a stark message to the perpetrators: “I have one message for these hoodlums: these troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.” She and Mayor Ray Nagin called off rescue efforts to focus on protecting private property. Helicopters were grounded. The sheriff of one suburb that had a bridge to New Orleans turned back stranded tourists and locals, firing bullets over their heads. New Orleans had become a prison city. A team of paramedics was barred from entering the suburb of Slidell for nearly ten hours based on a state trooper’s report that a mob of armed, marauding men had commandeered boats. An ambulance company was locked down after word came that a firehouse in Covington had been looted by armed robbers. New Orleans police shot and killed several lawbreakers as they attempted to flee across the Danziger Bridge. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The problem is that none of the reported atrocities just described actually occurred. None. Three weeks after the storm, police superintendent Edwin P. Compass III, who had initially provided some of the most graphic reports of violence, said “we have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault.” During the alleged six-day siege inside the Superdome, Lt. David Benelli (head of the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crimes unit) lived with his officers inside the dome and ran down every rumor of rape or atrocity. At the final count, they had made two arrests, both for attempted sexual assault, and concluded that the other rumored attacks had not happened.44 (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The snipers who were shooting at rescue workers turned out to be a relief valve on a gas tank that popped open every few minutes. The men commandeering boats turned out to be two refugees trying to escape their flooded street. The report of the robbery at the firehouse was simply false. When the giant refrigerated trucks backed up to the Superdome to haul out the bodies, there were only six: four had died of natural causes and one from suicide, with only one dying of gunshot wounds.45 The child who was raped—and indeed each of the rapes in the Superdome—turned out to be untrue. So did the story of the murdered babies. Despite police commitment to investigate, no witnesses, survivors, or survivors’ relatives ever came forward.46 (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 48). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

What was very real, however, was the aftermath of the city’s stalled rescue efforts and the crackdown on all those alleged lawbreakers. The people who were shot by police on the Danziger Bridge turned out to include a middle-aged African American mother who had her forearm blown off. The other was a mentally disabled forty-year-old man on his way to his brother’s dental office, who was shot five times and killed. A teenager was also killed.47 And thousands of people suffered with little food, water, or medical attention for days inside the Superdome. Yes, there were confirmed reports of widespread looting after the storm, mostly for food, water, and other necessities. And there was some violence. But how did such small incidents get so wildly exaggerated? How did we all become so easily seduced into believing the worst about the refugees in New Orleans? (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (pp. 48-49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

In a city that was two-thirds African American before Katrina hit, and substantially less diverse in the population of refugees who could afford to put thirty gallons of gas in their SUVS and flee the approaching storm, one doesn’t need to take an IAT to understand that racial bias may have had something to do with it. Indeed, many experts now feel that the power of rumor to feed into pre-existing racial stereotypes likely led to one of the most tragic instances of “confirmation bias” ever to play out on the world stage. And the tragedy is that the effect of this bias was borne by the refugees themselves, who had done nothing wrong and were begging for help. They were stranded not merely due to poor federal disaster planning and lack of supplies, but also by the palpable hesitancy of public officials to expose rescue workers to the kind of “animals” who would commit such atrocities. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

What to say about those of us who were nowhere near New Orleans? Are we off the hook? Yet how many of us even to this day knew that the reports of violence in New Orleans were untrue? Although the press bears some responsibility for not reporting the retractions with as much vigor as the alleged atrocities, the corrected stories were out there. Yet how many of us read them? How many of us were sufficiently skeptical of such incredible claims even to look? Will Rogers famously quipped that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.” Yet if we respect truth, isn’t it important to engage our critical faculties and search out better information? (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Rumor has the power to keep us from looking for the truth only if we are willing to suspend our critical faculties. In a life-threatening situation, it is probably understandable to take rumors seriously. If we do not know what is going on and we are scared, we may feel that we cannot afford the risk to be gullible. Survival comes first. But when the danger has passed, or we are far removed from it, don’t we have an obligation to try to replace rumor with fact? (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Truth may be the first casualty of war, but respect for truth must survive the conflict. We may not like to think of ourselves among the “Seekers,” “Birthers,” “Truthers,” or other conspiracy theorists, but the fact is that we are all probably capable of believing in crackpot theories if the circumstances are right. We demonstrate respect for truth when we are willing to resist such pressure. (McIntyre, Lee. Respecting Truth (p. 49). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.)

~ ~ ~

[B]ullshit results from the adoption of lame methods of justification, whether intentionally, blamelessly or as a result of self-deception. The function of the term is to emphatically express that a given claim lacks any serious justification, whether or not the speaker realizes it. By calling bullshit, we express our disdain for the speaker’s lack of justification, and indignation for any harm we suffer as a result. 

On Letting it Slide: Bullshit and Philosophy

Suppose someone sits down where you are sitting right now and announces to you that he or she is Napoleon Bonaparte. The last thing we want to do with them is to get involved in a technical discussion of cavalry tactics at the battle of Austerlitz. If we do that, we’re getting tacitly drawn into the game that he or she is Napoleon. For those who espouse and believe conspiracist theories they would like nothing better than to drag everyone else down the rabbit hole into fruitless discussions of false claims of pseudo-evidence without a shred of fact or truth (real evidence); they are content disrespecting truth by repeating innuendo, outright falsehoods, rumors, and otherwise parroting hearsay and falsehoods they have heard or read on social media. To go down this conspiracist rabbit hole is to tacitly agree with their fundamental assumptions that there is something there to debate when there is nothing but empty falsehoods. Their goal is to draw you too into their bullshit and to distract you away from the scientific and rational methods of finding truth based upon evidence (fact). Thoughtful individuals who respect truth find such conspiratorial claims ludicrous and the most appropriate response is to treat them as ludicrous that is, by laughing at such falsehood mongering so as not to fall into the trap of giving the impression one takes such conspiratorial falsehoods seriously.

The Lady in Red

People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.

—George Orwell

In the summer of 2009, many in the world’s media suddenly became aware of a new conspiracist phenomenon. A video shot by a citizen cameraperson sitting approximately halfway back in the auditorium at a town-hall meeting in Georgetown, Delaware, on June 30 was put on YouTube a week or so later, and within days went viral. (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (p. 296). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 8))

The clip begins with the rangy figure of Congressman Mike Castle, Delaware’s sole representative in the U.S. House, face to the camera, choosing a questioner from the audience. “This lady in red . . .” he says. From the back it is hard to make out anything about the woman who now stands up, except that she seems to wear glasses and have her hair in what might be called a Sarah Palin semi-bun. The woman in red is brandishing something. She announces, “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America, saying I am an American citizen, with a seal on it, signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, my date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20, and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate.” There is a loud cry of “Yeah!!!” and some applause, and a little booing. The woman continues, without specifying whom she is talking about—perhaps because she does not need to. “He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya! My father fought in World War Two with the greatest generation in the Pacific theater for this country, and I don’t want this flag to change.” She waves a small American flag and shouts, “I want my country back!”1 And sits back down. (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (pp. 296-297). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Mr. Castle, a moderate Republican, seemingly taken aback by both the sentiment and the support for it, insists that “if you’re referring to the president there, he is a citizen of the United States.” Some catcalls follow. Apparently emboldened, the questioner rises and shouts out, “I think we should all stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag!” Several people yell, “Pledge allegiance!” and one loudly opines that Castle “probably doesn’t even know it!” Surreally, Castle then leads the people of Georgetown in this enforced act of loyalty, as though there had been a doubt about his patriotism that now needed to be expunged. (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (p. 297). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

The Lady in Red was many people’s first Birther. But for the next few weeks the question of whether Barack Obama was an American citizen at birth, and the fact that there was a debate about that question, were hotly discussed on mainstream news channels in the United States, and the peculiarity that a significant number of Americans thought that he wasn’t a citizen (and that he was therefore ineligible to be president) was featured widely outside the country. One of the earliest Birthers, the Philadelphia lawyer (and 9/11 Truth activist) Philip J. Berg, observed that until the Delaware eruption, “the coverage has been minuscule” and confined to Internet and marginal radio stations, but that the Georgetown meeting had set off “a vast uptick.” On his radio broadcast, the sonorous CNN host Lou Dobbs, in “only asking” mode, repeatedly suggested that Obama set minds at rest by producing his long-form birth certificate. The more pungent right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh argued that the new president had “yet to prove that he’s a citizen.” (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (p. 297). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

At the same time, a group of mostly Texan Republican congressmen sponsored a measure, drafted by Bill Posey of Florida, “to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to require the principal campaign committee of a candidate for election to the office of President to include with the committee’s statement of organization a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate,” a requirement that had somehow been regarded as superfluous in the previous 230 years of the republic. By mid-August 2009, a quarter of Americans polled were of the opinion that Barack Obama was not an American citizen by birth, and another 14 percent were unsure, with 10 percent naming Indonesia as his place of birth, 7 percent opting for Kenya, and 6 percent agreeing that it was Hawaii, but a Hawaii that, in their opinion, was not part of the United States in 1961 when Obama was born. Twelve percent, when prompted by the mischievous pollsters, pronounced themselves unsure that Obama wasn’t French. There were political, gender, and ethnic disparities. Sixty-two percent of Birthers were Republicans (44 percent of Republicans believed that Obama was not a citizen, compared with 36 percent who thought he was), 57 percent were “conservative,” 56 percent were male, and 86 percent were white.2 (Aaronovitch, David. Voodoo Histories (pp. 297-298). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Grass Roots Fascism

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to terrorize or incite hatred…. Hate speech denigrates people on the basis of their race or ethnic origin, religion, gender, age, physical condition, disability, sexual orientation, and so forth. (Sedler, 1992) Hate speech says much more about the messenger than the target. Hateful words spoken with the blessing of absolute legal protection (based on the supremacy of the First Amendment) have muted minority messages and have resulted in micro-aggressions and other forms of unequal treatment. (Cortese 2006: Preface)

Anthony Cortese (2006) Opposing Hate Speech

America is not imperialistic; that is when you are going to take over by force. Expansionism is a much, much better and more accurate word.

— Don McLeroy, Texas School Board

The qualifications of a candidate should not be issue-oriented as much as character-oriented. They should be “able” and “experienced” men of course for the position which they seek. Beyond that, Scripture says they should be men who “fear God, ” that is, they should be Christians, as affirmed by John Jay. They should also be “men of truth” and “wise and discerning” men. This means that they should be Christians with a Biblical worldview–men who reason from absolute truth, not human wisdom. Many candidates may claim to be “Christians,” but do not hold to a Biblical worldview. Former President Jimmy Carter was an example of a Christian whose mind was unrenewed by Scripture and thus reasoned and governed from a “humanistic” worldview. Finally, Scripture says that our representatives must “hate dishonest gain.” This means that beyond a correct worldview, they must have Christian character, a godly home life, and pure motives…. Even if Christians manage to outnumber others on an issue and we sway our Congressman by sheer numbers, we end up in the dangerous promotion of democracy. We really do not want representatives who are swayed by majorities, but rather by correct principles.

Beliles, Mark A. and McDowell Stephen K. (1991, 265) America’s Providential History

A Kulturkamp may well take place in which rival totalitarianisms clash, violently perhaps, to mobilize consent and enforce political order. Under less dire circumstances, after all, as it was predicted a decade ago, “Christian doctrine, made an adjunct to right-wing and capitalist policies, could provide the necessary self-imposed order that a fascist movement in America would require to maintain control over the country.” And more recently, “a state religion, compulsory in character, authoritarian in tone, ‘traditional’ in outlook,” has been seriously foreseen. “America would be ‘socialized’ not in the name of Marx but of Jesus, not in the name of communism but of Christian republicanism.”

None of these possibilities is inevitable, of course, or even likely. But one thing at any rate seems certain. Whatever shape the creationist cosmos may take at the hands of Protestant fundamentalists, it will break free from its flourishing subculture and hold sway over people and nations only when it is commended in its integrity: not as a mere science among sciences, but as the one religious answer, among uniquely religious answers, to the unfathomable mystery of existence.

Marty, Martin E. and Appleby R. Scott. et. al. Fundamentalisms and Society: Reclaiming the Sciences, the Family, and Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1993; 2 pp. 62-64. The Fundamentalism Project.

~ ~ ~

Many of those who supported Trump and Trumpism and ilk like Marjorie Taylor Green are so-called evangelical Christians who believe the lie that America is a “Christian Nation” or use other euphemisms like “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” These are code words for a form of Christian Nationalism rooted in White Supremacist hateful ideology. Let there be no mistaking this is a right-wing nativist nationalism that is an incarnation of the American Taliban. Democracy, our very democratic institutions, are considered dangerous by these ignorant religious bigots. That is why Trump and his sycophants attacked the very foundations of democracy and attacked the heart of democracy on January 6th. What they seek is a white Christian Nationalism aka authoritarian theocracy.

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.

Evangelical Scholar Mark A. Noll, in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

~ ~ ~

Trump is a wicked demagogue (悪人) whose fruits are rotten evil deeds (悪因悪果). Many of his sycophantic followers know full well what they do. The dystopian Trumpism the GOP has spawned is a symptom of a deeper sickness within American culture and that sickness is racism, xenophobia, and nativist nationalism. Racism and xenophobia have existed in all cultures throughout history as these prejudices are the natural consequences of ignorance of the “other” that one does not know or understand. Ignorance breeds suspicion and suspicion nurtures fear and fear manifests as stereotypes and sometimes even violent hatred. Ignorance born of suspicion is incompatible with the essential attitude of sympathy and love.

Make America Fascist Again

We have seen ignorant racist and xenophobic historical revisionism before, as Don McLeroy’s make plain. Once again it raises its ugly face in ilk like Marjorie Taylor Green and her America First Caucus that promotes ignorant historical revisionism, racism, and xenophobia in the name of so-called “first principles” and American values. Truth has no currency with such ignorant bigots. Just as the Nazis in 1930s Germany poisoned German culture over decades with hateful anti-Semitic propaganda so too AM Hate Radio and Faux News and ilk like Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Green spread hateful propaganda directed at immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community. They preach a twisted gospel of exclusion and hate called Eliminationism and Fascist Trumpism.

Nativist Fascist Historical Revisionism aka Rehashed 18th Century White Supremacist Manifest Destiny Ideology

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education will vote on new ideologically driven curriculum standards for the Texas public schools. Elected officials are going line-by-line — deciding what should and should not be included in state textbooks. And as one of the biggest textbook buyers in the country, Texas could influence what kids learn in other states, as well.

Don McLeroy, dentist and active board member, has proposed adding a requirement to study the rise of conservative icons like Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority. There’s also a new emphasis on the role religion played in the founding of the country, and on the constitutional right to bear arms. In all, there were more than 300 amendments proposed to the social studies standards. All these amendments will fundamentally change what kids are taught in school. (Karla Murthy. Is the Texas school board rewriting history? [Web Page]. 2010 May 14)

Karla Murthy. Is the Texas school board rewriting history? [Web Page]. 2010 May 14

Whoever you hate will end up in your family.

Chris Rock, actor/comedian

Our family was living in Japan in 2002 when some culturally conservative/nationalist Japanese bureaucrats decided to rewrite history by cleansing their history textbooks of terms they deemed offensive. They engaged in the same type of historical revisionism that these ignorant fundamentalist Christians in Texas are trying to perpetrate upon American children. Some Japanese nationalists decided that the term “invaded” did not accurately describe what the Japanese did in Southeast Asia when they colonized (another term that would be expunged) Korea and Manchuria. They took some earlier textbooks that in reference to Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia said “Japan invaded China,” and changed them to read “Japan advanced into China,” as though Japan was merely executing a routine military maneuver while engaging in war. Of course, this hides the fact that the entire pretext for war that led to the invasion of Japan into Southeast Asia was orchestrated by Japan to justify an already planned invasion so that Japan could carry out its colonialist policies in Korea, China, Southeast Asia.

I suspect if McLeroy was asked what Japan did when it invaded Korea, China, and Southeast Asia no doubt he would describe their acts as acts of aggression and “imperialism.” Of course, this is exactly what American did in Cuba and the Philippians too. Based upon trumped up pretext invaded to take control of valuable resources, i.e., engaged in imperialism and colonialism, which was the typical behavior of Western nations under the ideology of “manifest destiny.” Of course, McLeroy won’t be explicit that he still thinks America has a “manifest destiny,” but that is the dirty little secret that lies behind his disingenuous revisionist maneuvers to rewrite history according to his religious ideology when he replaces “imperialism” with “expansionism.” Expansionism can be justified in his mind, for America was only fulfilling her “manifest destiny” in bringing civilization to those poor uncivilized peoples which she invaded and conquered by force.

America has been made great by our diversity. And it will be through this very diversity that we overcome the ignorance, fear, suspicion, and xenophobia that Trumpism represents. We are greater than this; love and compassion, wisdom and understanding are able to overcome evil with good.

But history has sent us a warning. America is not immune from grass roots fascism. It can happen here.

Galileo Goes to Jail

Falsehood is not a matter of narration technique but something premeditated as a perversion of truth…. The shadow of a hair’s turning, premeditated for an untrue purpose, the slightest twisting or perversion of that which is principle—these constitute falseness. But the fetish of factualized truth, fossilized truth, the iron band of so-called unchanging truth, holds one blindly in a closed circle of cold fact. One can be technically right as to fact and everlastingly wrong in the truth. (Urantia Book 48:6.33)

~ ~ ~

Among some astronomers and even more astrologers, Copernicus’ claim won converts. But in 1615, the Roman Catholic Church declared the idea a heresy and in 1632 condemned the scientist Galileo Galilei to life in prison for disseminating it.
— Ken Zimmerman, RWER : More on what’s missing, 9/1/2020

[T]he great Galileo, at the age of fourscore, groaned away his days in the dungeons of the Inquisition, because he had demonstrated by irrefragable proofs the motion of the earth.
— Voltaire, “Descartes and Newton” (1728)

[T]he celebrated Galileo … was put in the inquisition for six years, and put to the torture, for saying, that the earth moved.

— Giuseppe Baretti, The Italian Library (1757)

[T]o say that Galileo was tortured is not a reckless claim, but it is simply to repeat what the sentence says. To specify that he was tortured about his intention is not a risky deduction, but it is, again, to report what that text says. These are observation-reports, reports, not magical intuitions; proved facts, not cabalistic introspections.

— Italo Mereu, History of Intolerance in Europe (1979)

The trial ended on June 22, 1633, with a harsher sentence than Galileo had been led to expect. The verdict found him guilty of a category of heresy intermediate between the most and the least serious, called “vehement suspicion of heresy.” The objectionable beliefs were the astronomical thesis that the earth moves and the methodological principle that the Bible is not a scientific authority. He was forced to recite a humiliating “abjuration” retracting these beliefs. But the Dialogue was banned. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 757-760). Kindle Edition.)

The lengthy sentencing document also recounted the proceedings since 1613, summarized the 1633 charges, and noted Galileo’s defense and confession. In addition, it provided two other extremely important details. The first described an interrogation: “Because we did not think you had said the whole truth about your intention, we deemed it necessary to proceed against you by a rigorous examination. Here you answered in a Catholic manner, though without prejudice to the above-mentioned things confessed by you and deduced against you about your intention.” The second imposed an additional penalty: “We condemn you to formal imprisonment in this Holy Office at our pleasure.” (Kindle Locations 760-764)

The lengthy sentencing document also recounted the proceedings since 1613, summarized the 1633 charges, and noted Galileo’s defense and confession. (….) The text of the Inquisition’s sentence and Galileo’s abjuration were the only trial documents publicized at the time. Indeed, the Inquisition sent copies to all provincial inquisitors and papal nuncios, requesting them to disseminate the information. Thus news of Galileo’s fate circulated widely in books, newspapers, and one-page flyers. This unprecedented publicity resulted from the express orders of Pope Urban, who wanted Galileo’s case to serve as a negative lesson to all Catholics and to strengthen his own image as an intransigent defender of the faith. (Kindle Locations 760-767)

(….) The impression that Galileo had been imprisoned and tortured remained plausible as long as the principal evidence available about Galileo’s trial came from these documents, the sentence and abjuration. The story remained unchanged until—after about 150 years for the prison thesis and about 250 years for the torture thesis—relevant documents came to light showing that Galileo had suffered neither. (Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Kindle Locations 775-777). Kindle Edition.)

The new information about imprisonment comes from correspondence in 1633, primarily from the Tuscan ambassador to Rome (Francesco Niccolini) to the Tuscan secretary of state in Florence, and secondarily that to and from Galileo himself. The Tuscan officials were especially interested in Galileo because he was employed as the chief mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke of Tuscany, had dedicated the Dialogue to him, and had successfully sought his help in publishing the book in Florence. Thus the Tuscan government treated the trial like an affair of state, with Niccolini constantly discussing the situation directly with the pope at their regular meetings and sending reports to Florence. Moreover, Galileo was on very friendly terms with Niccolini and his wife. (Kindle Locations 777-781)

(….) With the possible exception of three days (June 21-24, 1633), Galileo was never held in prison, either during the trial (as was universal custom) or afterward (as the sentence decreed). Even for those three days he likely lodged in the prosecutor’s apartment, not in a cell. The explanation for such unprecedentedly benign treatment is not completely clear but includes the following factors: the protection of the Medici, Galileo’s celebrity status, and the love-hate attitude of Pope Urban, an erstwhile admirer. (Kindle Locations 792-795)

(….) In view of the available evidence, the most tenable position is that Galileo underwent an interrogation with the threat of torture but did not undergo actual torture or even territio realis. Although he remained under house arrest during the 1633 trial and for the subsequent nine years of his life, he never went to prison. We should keep in mind, however, that for 150 years after the trial the publicly available evidence indicated that Galileo had been imprisoned, and for 250 years the evidence indicated that he had been tortured. The myths of Galileo’s torture and imprisonment are thus genuine myths: ideas that are in fact false but once seemed true—and continue to be accepted as true by poorly educated persons and careless scholars. (Kindle Locations 839-843)

~ ~ ~

Simple stories are poor vehicles for complex nuanced historical truth. The Catholic Church like all human institutions — is full of justifiable blame for the errors of evil and sin, even iniquity, but let the blame be laid on firm evidentiary foundations and not half-truths of simple stories careless with fact and truth, lest we be guilty of twisting hairs and casting shadows of half-truth for untrue purposes.

In Guns We Trust

This extremist right-wing evangelical fundamentalist religion is on full display in many glossy gun magazines. Next to a picture of a wooden cross and Charlie Daniels standing between Marty and Cindy Daniel proudly displaying their Daniel’s Defense AR-15, is written, “Faith, family and firearms—the important things in life (Marty & Cindy Daniel. The Fiddler’s Firearm. USA: Guns & Ammo; 2017 Mar.).” As writer Warren Cassidy of the NRA told Osha Gray Davidson,

You would get a better understanding if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world. — Bellesiles 2000, 7, In Davidson, Under Fire, 44; Guns & Ammo, November 1998, 64-78

The further away we get from God, the worse off we get. Raise up a child the way it should go, and when he is older he won’t depart from it. There is no discipline today…. A child is very blessed to have a disciplinarian family. I was raised in a disciplinarian home. My mama could use a switch like an Olympic fencer. Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

Beating one’s children is considered discipline within this twisted culture of biblicist evangelical Christian fundamentalism. It is important that we understand the true nature and extent of the religious right’s culture war. This is not just an extremist movement preaching a gun-rights theology, but it’s intricately bound up with both religious fundamentalism, market fundamentalism, and political extremism. Racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, White Supremacist and Christian Nationalism go hand in hand with this twisted gospel of paranoid fear based evangelical fundamentalism. Within this fundamentalist culture black lives simply don’t matter:

The problems people have with police could be avoided if they would just do what the officer told them to do. If the officer says put your hands on the hood, then put your hands on the hood. If the officer tells ya to get out of the car, then get out of the car. [If an] officer tells you he wants to see your driver’s license and registration card, very gingerly take them out. That is all you have to do. And, basically, all they are going to do is their job…. People escalate these things into problems, and it ends up being a shooting match. You cannot blame a policeman for protecting his life.

— Charlie Daniels Interview, The Fiddler’s Firearm, Guns & Ammo, March 30, 2017.

It is hard to see how a black man lying on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck is a “shooting match.” It is hard to see how a black man when asked to show his license and registration by a police officer and is then shot to death while trying to comply with the officer’s request is a “shooting match.” It is even harder to imagine how Daniels can view a police officer shooting in the back a fleeing black man as a “shooting match” without recognizing the blatant racism. Charlie Daniels reveals the callousness of white racism in that he is deaf, dumb, and blind to the fundamental problem of racism in America. Instead, he blames the victims excusing any and all behavior and accountability of the police brutality regardless of how negligent or out right racist and malicious the violence perpetrated against blacks. Charlie Daniels words are witness to the depth of racism in America today and the entire world sees what Charlie Daniels is a willfully ignorant racist when he turns a deaf, dumb, and blind eye to police brutality against black men, women, and children while blaming the many victims.

Scandal of Evangelical Mind

Although the thought has occurred to me regularly over the past two decades that, at least in the United States, it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual. (Noll 1995, ix)

(….) The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. An extraordinary range of virtues is found among the sprawling throngs of evangelical Protestants in North America, including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion on behalf of troubled individuals, and an unheralded sustenance of countless church and parachurch communities. Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking and they have not been so for several generations. (Noll 1995, 3)

Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of “high” culture. Even in its more progressive and culturally upscale subgroups, evangelicalism has little intellectual muscle. Feeding the hungry, living simply, and banning the bomb are tasks at which different sorts of evangelicals willingly expend great energy, but these tasks do not by themselves assist intellectual vitality. (Noll 1994: 3)

(….) Evangelical inattention to intellectual life is a curiosity for several reasons…. The historical situation is similarly curious. Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to mind. Most of the original Protestant traditions … either developed a vigorous intellectual life or worked out theological principles that could (and often did) sustain penetrating, and penetratingly Christian, intellectual endeavor…. None of them believed that intellectual activity was the only way to glorify God, or even the highest way, but they all believed in the life of the mind, and they believed in it because they were evangelicals. Unlike their spiritual ancestors, modern evangelicals have not pursued comprehensive thinking under God or sought a mind shaped to its furthest reaches by Christian perspectives. (Noll 1994: 4)

(….) As the Canadian scholar N. K. Clifford once aptly summarized the matter: “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.” (Noll 1994: 12-13)

For an entire Christian community to neglect, generation after generation, serious attention to the mind, nature, society, the arts all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory may be, in fact, sinful. Os Guinness has recently called attention to this dimension in a memorable passage worth quoting at length:

Evangelicals have been deeply sinful in being anti-intellectual ever since the 1820s and 1830s. For the longest time we didn’t pay the cultural price for that because we had the numbers, the social zeal, and the spiritual passion for the gospel. But today we are beginning to pay the cultural price. And you can see that most evangelicals simply don’t think. For example, there has been no serious evangelical public philosophy in this country…. It has always been a sin not to love God the Lord our God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls…. We have excused this with a degree of pietism and pretend that this is something other than what it is that is, sin…. Evangelicals need to repent of their refusal to think Christianly and to develop the mind of Christ. (….) The scandal of the evangelical mind is a scandal from whichever direction it is viewed. It is a scandal arising from the historical experience of an entire subculture. It is a scandal to which the shape of evangelical institutions have contributed. Most of all, it is a scandal because it scorns the good gifts of a loving God. (Noll 1994: 23)

(….) The career of Jonathan Edwards the greatest evangelical mind in American history and one of the truly seminal thinkers in Christian history of the last few centuries supports this argument, for despite his own remarkable efforts as an evangelical thinker, Edwards had no intellectual successors…. Fundamentalism, … Pentecostalism, …. [was] a disaster for the life of the mind. (Noll 1994: 24)

~ ~ ~

Even in best-case scenario, evangelicalism, of all the religious traditions in America, observed Wolfe, “ranks dead last in intellectual stature.” Or as Noll had put it earlier, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” The fundamentalist end of the evangelical spectrum contains a culture that does indeed seem unable to distinguish between meaningful scholarship and … “gibberish.” Ken Ham places a dinosaur looking over Eve’s shoulder in the Garden of Eden exhibit at his museum. Tourists pay to look at it and leave the Creation Museum believing that what they just saw is both scientific and biblical. Tim LaHaye inserts the emergence of a common European currency into the book of Revelation; David Barton converts Ben Franklin into a Bible-believing Christian; James Dobson claims that the institution of marriage has not changed for five thousand years. Absent a more vigorous intellectual mind, such ideas take root and flourish. And their spokespersons can function as authority figures. (Randall and Giberson 2011: 243)

A 2010 study revealed provocative—and disturbing—connections between religiosity and racism. The study sought to uncover subtle connections that operate subconsciously. Few Christians—or people in general—will admit to being racist, of course, and many take offense at the suggestion of any link between their faith and racism. But researchers have found that when white evangelical college students were “religiously primed” by focusing on issues of faith, “their covert racism did increase” and they “were more likely to agree that they dislike blacks.” The researchers inferred that “religious thoughts seem to trigger racist thoughts.” Their explanation was based entirely on group identity: “religion tends to increase benevolence toward co-religionists, but can increase hostility toward outsiders.”

A 1999 study of college students in Canada, generally considered a bastion of tolerance, found that “prejudice against religious out-group members is pervasive.” The findings also suggested that “fundamentalism is particularly predictive of out-group derogation.” As of this writing, widespread demonization of Muslims is being used to promote solidarity among conservative white Americans. Such tactics are overtly political, but they are enhanced because religious identity is so powerful. (Randall and Giberson 2011, 253-254)

License Neither Freedom Nor Loyalty

Americans enjoyed personal freedom and, generally, the nineteenth century was marked by a high degree of mutual trust. Or, one might also say, the nineteenth century was marked by a high degree of mutual trust and therefore Americans enjoyed personal freedom. When people trust one another, there can be personal freedom; when people do not trust one another, there is not likely to be personal freedom; when there is good reason not to trust one another, there should not be unlimited personal freedom. (Berns 1956, 17)

(….) [D]uring the period of the first World War, and for a few years thereafter, not all Americans were trusted by the community. However unjustified this distrust, it is a fact that many of the distrusted were jailed and two were put to death; it was at this time that Congress made its first law abridging the freedom of speech and press since the Alien and Sedition Acts, and made it in the face of a First Amendment that absolutely forbids Congress to make such laws. And it was at this time that the Supreme Court laid down the “clear and present danger” principle, designed to permit Congress to send people to jail despite the words of the First Amendment. Many people protested in Justice Holmes’ words, “There was a lot of jaw about free speech” but the federal government never lost a case. In fact, the federal government, despite its increasing demands for loyalty in speech and deed, was destined never to lose a case. (Berns 1956, 17)

In fact, one of the best treatments of American politics, and an inquiry that began in wonder de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America recognizes a dimension to the political problem that illustrate, what cannot be recognized, let alone understood, in terms of the conflict between the state and the individual:

There is, and I cannot repeat it too often, there is here matter for profound reflection to those who look on freedom of thought as a holy thing and who hate not only the despot, but despotism. For myself, when I feel the hand of power lie heavy on my brow, I care but little to know who oppresses me; and I am not the more disposed to pass beneath the yoke because it is held out to me by the arms of a million men. (Berns 1956, 19)

We must certainly guard against tyrants in the older sense (but no reasonable man today believes that this is the danger we face), but it would be foolhardy to be defenseless against other dangers.

(….) [F]or it would permit wicked men the freedom to undermine the virtue of citizens (those of you who are familiar with Winters v. New York will know what I mean), while preventing the government from promoting the virtue of citizens, a primary task of government according to an older view. That it is not the role of government to habituate citizens to virtue is expressed in the words of Justice Jackson, writing for the Court in the second flag salute case:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion . . .

The idea expressed here is certainly the orthodox American view on the subject; any other view would permit a deprivation of political and religious freedom in the name of someone’s view of orthodoxy; any other view would seem to violate the First Amendment.

It was on the basis of the definition of loyalty as patriotism that certain Germans, later designated as war criminals, committed the most hideous crimes, while their prosecution at Nuremberg was based on the proposition that there is a cause beyond Fatherland to which a man should be loyal. At Nuremberg this cause was said to be humanity. Loyalty as blind patriotism is obviously not enough; the reasonable man will insist that his country be worthy of his loyalty by representing a cause with which he can agree. (Berns 1956, 21)

Justice Douglas said:

Full and free discussion has . . . been the first article of our faith. We have founded our political system on it. It has been the safe guard of every religious, political, philosophical, economic, and racial group amongst us. . . . This has been the one single outstanding tenet that has made our institutions the symbol of freedom and equality. . . . We have wanted a land where our people can be exposed to all the diverse creeds and cultures of the world.

A reasonable man would withhold his loyalty from a Marxist regime even if Marxism became the popular doctrine in a fair market-place competition; he would behave in a similar fashion if McCarthysim became the popular doctrine and McCarthy were elected President. It would be no comfort to him if McCarthy were elected in a free and honest election; in fact, it would be a source of more discomfort than if he seized power, because the possibility of a change for the better would be more remote.

The conclusion is that just as loyalty cannot be defined as patriotism, neither can freedom be the cause to which we pledge our allegiance. In fact, loyalty can be defined reasonably only in terms of moral principle.

As with so many other problems, this problem of loyalty was stated most clearly by Aristotle in the third book of the Politics. Here, in the context of examining the nature of the polis, he is forced to raise various questions concerning the citizen, one of which is, as everyone knows, whether the “goodness of a good man is the same as that of a good citizen.” Aristotle answers, not necessarily; the goodness of a good man is the same as that of a good citizen only in a good society. The good citizen of Nazi Germany, Himmler, is a bad man. The good Englishman, Churchill, is a good man.

It is obvious then that disloyalty is so far from being an evil thing in itself that it becomes a moral necessity at times; conversely, loyalty is so far from being a good thing in itself that it is an indication of moral depravity at certain times and places.

It is equally obvious that that principle to which one gives his loyalty, that cause, cannot be the fatherland loyalty cannot be patriotism but must be something which makes the fatherland what it is, something which gives the fatherland its character. For Aristotle this was the regime, sometimes translated as constitution; and this discussion of citizenship occurs in the context of a discussion of the various kinds of regimes, or constitutions, which are seen to differ from one another by the goals they pursue, or we may say, by the principles by which they are guided. Citizenship is relative to the regime; the good man is a good citizen in a good regime.

In Aristotle’s terms, the just regime must possess virtue.

Loyalty is seen to be related to the regime, to the way of life of a country, and the difference between regimes is a moral difference: the good citizen of a bad regime, Himmler, is a bad man. Thus the question of loyalty is a moral question not to be avoided by an unthinking waving of the flag, on the one hand, or by denying the existence of a regime with a purpose on the other.

The problem of freedom and loyalty cannot be severed from the political problem. The political problem is how to get consent to wise political decisions or wise leadership, leaders in Hamilton’s words, with the “wisdom to discern and the virtue to pursue the common good.” In a democracy this means how to educate, how to form the character of citizens so that they will give their consent to wise leadership and withhold it from bigots and demagogues…. For if the citizens vote for bigots and demagogues, there will be no free speech: we can be certain that demagogues will censor. To avoid demagogues and the totalitarianism of society that de Tocqueville feared, it may be necessary to censor it will certainly be necessary for the law to promote virtue, to train citizens in virtuous ways, to foster loyalty to moral principle.

They do not consider the possibility that freedom unguided by moral principle may lead to the destruction of everything that makes American citizenship a possession valued by good men and loyalty to America a virtuous commitment.

My argument may be summarized as follows. Loyalty to a bad regime is an indication of moral depravity the case of Himmler and Nazi Germany. Loyalty to one’s country is justified only if one’s country deserves that loyalty: loyalty in itself is not a virtue. In order that a country deserve the loyalty of a good man, it is necessary that it promote virtue, which necessarily means that it must limit freedom. Freedom cannot be defined as license. Such a limiting of freedom is justified if it is done in the name of moral principle. The problem is complicated by the fact that the man loyal to moral principle, de Tocqueville for example, requires personal freedom to resist the demands of the Fatherland as Fatherland and the demands of society as society. Such a man knows that the absence of official censorship does not guarantee a solution to the problem of freedom.

The libertarian conception of freedom as the greatest good grants to freedom the place once occupied by virtue; whereas the purpose of the law was once to promote virtue as a precondition for the attainment of the good social order, the social order in which freedom is both possible and desirable, it now became the protection of freedom, a guarantee of natural rights rights possessed by everyone, including Eugene Dennis, the Communist, Murray Winters, the purveyor of corrupt magazines, and Arthur Terminiello, the foul-mouthed vilifier of the innocent. As I said in the beginning, such an approach to the problem of freedom and loyalty is blind to decisive aspects of the political situation.

Phishing for Phools

Mainstream economics takes the particular features of capitalism a very recent form of economic organisation in human history as if they were universal, timeless and rational. It treats market exchange as if it’s the essential feature of economic behaviour and relegates production or work a necessity of all provisioning to an afterthought. It also focuses primarily on the relationship between people and goods (what determines how many oranges we buy?) and pays little attention to the relationships between people that this presupposes. It values mathematical models based on if-pigs-could-fly assumptions more than it values empirical research; so it pays little attention to real economies, having little to say about money and debt, for example! Predictably, the dismal science failed to predict the crisis. When the UK’s Queen Elizabeth asked why no one saw the crisis coming, the economists’ embarrassment was palpable. (Sayer 2015, 23-24)

Andrew Sayer (2015) Why We Can’t Afford the Rich

[M]any of our problems come from the nature of the economic system itself. If business people behave in the purely selfish and self-serving way that economic theory assumes, our free-market system tends to spawn manipulation and deception. The problem is not that there are a lot of evil people. Most people play by the rules and are just trying to make a good living. But, inevitably, the competitive pressures for businessmen to practice deception and manipulation in free markets lead us to buy, and to pay too much for, products that we do not need; to work at jobs that give us little sense of purpose; and to wonder why our lives have gone amiss. (…) The economic system is filled with trickery and everyone needs to know about it.” (Akerlof & Shiller, 2015, viii)

[F]ree markets do not just deliver this cornucopia that people want. They also create an economic equilibrium that is highly suitable for economic enterprises that manipulate or distort our judgment, using business practices that are analogous to biological cancers that make their home in the normal equilibrium of the human body. (Akerlof and Shiller 2015, x)

George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller (2015) Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation & Deception

Many of the quotes above are from economists, experts in their field, some Nobel Prize-winning economists. One thing is clear; the Great Recession shook the very foundations of economics to its core. Only the blind leading the blind can pretend today that something isn’t amiss within the field of economics. The quotations above only represent a small sampling of the discontent rising to the surface within the field of economics today. There is actually a revolt underway in the younger generation of economic graduate students who lived through the Great Recession and the near melt down of the world’s economy yet witnessed their teachers being confounded by the Queen’s question. And if we value our children’s and our grandchildren’s economic future we can no longer afford to simply leave economics to the expertsthe Econocracy—for as these young graduate students tell us, we do so at our own peril. Amartya Sen in his essay Rational Fools: A Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory takes us on an intellectual journey back in time to the thoughts and reflections of one of the founders of the field of economics:

In his Mathematical Psychics, published in 1881, Edgeworth asserted that ‘the first principle of Economics is that every agent is actuated only by self-interest’. This view has been a persistent one in economic models, and the nature of economic theory seem to have been much influenced by this basic premise…. I should mention that Edgeworth himself was quite aware that this so-called first principle of Economics was not a particularly realistic one. Indeed, he felt that ‘the concrete nineteenth century man is for the most part an impure egoist, a mixed utilitarian’. This raises the interesting question as to why Edgeworth spent so much of his time and talent in developing a line of inquiry the first principle of which he believed to be false. The issue is not why abstractions should be employed in pursuing economic questionsthe nature of inquiry makes this inevitablebut why would one choose an assumption which he himself believed not merely inaccurate in detail but fundamentally mistaken? (Sen 1982, 84-85)

Amartya Sen (1982) Rational Fools

Spotting the Spoof

I came to think of humans as a kind of Turing machine. I searched for stories which reinforced the parable. There were many of them. However, Üxküll’s tick story was the most impressive (Kindle Locations 884-887). (….) Üxküll’s tick and the Turing machine parable all fitted together in one idea (Kindle Locations 900-907). (….) We find an astonishing coincidence with my Turing machine parable of animal and human behaviors…. This is the most primitive case of the definition of the situation.

(Shiozawa et. al. (2019) Microfoundations of Evolutionary Economics. Kindle Locations 884-887, 900-907, 926-933. Springer Japan. Emphasis added.)

According to this view, individuals within an economy follow simple rules of thumb to determine their course of action. However, they adapt to their environment by changing the rules they use when these prove to be less successful. They are not irrational in that they do not act against their own interests, but they have neither the information nor the calculating capacity to ‘optimise’. Indeed, they are assumed to have limited and largely local information, and they modify their behaviour to improve their situation. Individuals in complexity models are neither assumed to understand how the economy works nor to consciously look for the ‘best choice’. The main preoccupation is not whether aggregate outcomes are efficient or not but rather with how all of these different individuals interacting with each other come to coordinate their behaviour. Giving individuals in a model simple rules to follow and allowing them to change them as they interact with others means thinking of them much more like particles or social insects. Mainstream economists often object to this approach, arguing that humans have intentions and aims which cannot be found in either inanimate particles or lower forms of life.

Kirman et. al. (2018, 95) in Rethinking Economics: An Introduction to Pluralist Economics, Routledge.

Even such purely academic theories as interpretations of human nature have profound practical consequences if disseminated widely enough. If we impress upon people that science has discovered that human beings are motivated only by the desire for material advantage, they will tend to live up to this expectation, and we shall have undermined their readiness to moved by impersonal ideals. By propagating the opposite view we might succeed in producing a larger number of idealists, but also help cynical exploiters to find easy victims. This specific issue, incidentally, is of immense actual importance, because it seems that the moral disorientation and fanatic nihilism which afflict modern youth have been stimulated by the popular brands of sociology and psychology [and economics] with their bias for overlooking the more inspiring achievements and focusing on the dismal average or even the subnormal. When, fraudulently basking in the glory of the exact sciences, the psychologists [, theoretical economists, etc.,] refuse to study anything but the most mechanical forms of behavior—often so mechanical that even rats have no chance to show their higher faculties—and then present their mostly trivial findings as the true picture of the human mind, they prompt people to regard themselves and others as automata, devoid of responsibility or worth, which can hardly remain without effect upon the tenor of social life. (….) Abstrusiveness need not impair a doctrine’s aptness for inducing or fortifying certain attitudes, as it may in fact help to inspire awe and obedience by ‘blinding people with science’.

— Andreski (1973, 33-35) in Social Sciences as Sorcery. Emphasis added.

Complexity theory comes with its own problems of over-reach and tractability. Context counts; any theory taken to far stretches credulity. The art is in spotting the spoof. It is true irony to watch the pot calling the kettle black! To wit, mainstream economists questioning the validity of complexity theories use of greedy reductionism — often for the sole purpose of mathematical tractability — when applied to human beings; just because mainstream economists also have unrealistic assumptions (i.e., homo economicus) that overly simplify human behavior and capabilities doesn’t invalidate such a critique. Just because the pot calls the kettle black doesn’t mean the kettle and the pot are not black. Building models of human behavior solely on rational expectations and/or “social insects” qua fitness climbing ticks means we are either Gods or Idiots. Neither Gödel nor Turing reduced creatively thinking human beings to mere Turing machines.

~ ~ ~

The best dialogues take place when each interlocutor speaks from her best self, without pretending to be something she is not. In their recent book Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, Nobel Prize–winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller expand the standard definition of “phishing.” In their usage, it goes beyond committing fraud on the Internet to indicate something older and more general: “getting people to do things that are in the interest of the phisherman” rather than their own. In much the same spirit, we would like to expand the meaning of another recent computer term, “spoofing,” which normally means impersonating someone else’s email name and address to deceive the recipient—a friend or family member of the person whose name is stolen—into doing something no one would do at the behest of a stranger. Spoofing in our usage also means something more general: pretending to represent one discipline or school when actually acting according to the norms of another. Like phishing, spoofing is meant to deceive, and so it is always useful to spot the spoof.

Students who take an English course under the impression they will be taught literature, and wind up being given lessons in politics that a political scientist would scoff at or in sociology that would mystify a sociologist, are being spoofed. Other forms of the humanities—or dehumanities, as we prefer to call them—spoof various scientific disciplines, from computer science to evolutionary biology and neurology. The longer the spoof deceives, the more disillusioned the student will be with what she takes to be the “humanities.” (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (pp. 1-2). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

By the same token, when economists pretend to solve problems in ethics, culture, and social values in purely economic terms, they are spoofing other disciplines, although in this case the people most readily deceived are the economists themselves. We will examine various ways in which this happens and how, understandably enough, it earns economists a bad name among those who spot the spoof.

But many do not spot it. Gary Becker won a Nobel Prize largely for extending economics to the furthest reaches of human behavior, and the best-selling Freakonomics series popularizes this approach. What seems to many an economist to be a sincere effort to reach out to other disciplines strikes many practitioners of those fields as nothing short of imperialism, since economists expropriate topics rather than treat existing literatures and methods with the respect they deserve. Too often the economic approach to interdisciplinary work is that other fields have the questions and economics has the answers. (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (pp. 2-3). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

As with the dehumanities, these efforts are not valueless. There is, after all, an economic aspect to many activities, including those we don’t usually think of in economic terms. People make choices about many things, and the rational choice model presumed by economists can help us understand how they do so, at least when they behave rationally—and even the worst curmudgeon acknowledges that people are sometimes rational! We have never seen anyone deliberately get into a longer line at a bank. (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (p. 3). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

Even regarding ethics, economic models can help in one way, by indicating what is the most efficient allocation of resources. To be sure, one can question the usual economic definition of efficiency—in terms of maximizing the “economic surplus”—and one can question the establishment of goals in purely economic terms, but regardless of which goals one chooses, it pays to choose an efficient way, one that expends the least resources, to reach them. Wasting resources is never a good thing to do, because the resources wasted could have been put to some ethical purpose. The problem is that efficiency does not exhaust ethical questions, and the economic aspect of many problems is not the most important one. By pretending to solve ethical questions, economists wind up spoofing philosophers, theologians, and other ethicists. Economic rationality is indeed part of human nature, but by no means all of it.

For the rest of human nature, we need the humanities (and the humanistic social sciences). In our view, numerous aspects of life are best understood in terms of a dialogue between economics and the humanities—not the spoofs, but real economics and real humanities. (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (pp. 3-4). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)