The Year of The Plague 6: Only The Lonely

Writing has been brutally difficult these last few weeks. I started on this blog some while back, and after 1,200+ words just threw the whole thing away as irreparable twaddle. What I have here is still something of a hot mess. I am so little qualified to speak on the events of the last few weeks that I came to acknowledge that words were simply failing me. I am tired, I am angry, I am frustrated by my own impotence and cowardice, and trying speak of such matters only seems to make them worse. It is as if we’ve learned nothing since Ferguson, and the casual, ‘business as usual’ dehumanization of Michael Brown and so many other, unarmed persons of color. Privileged protofascists cry out with self-righteous savagery for more violence from the police against those who would dare object to the indefensible violence of the police. Militarized thugs – literally wearing blackshirts! – abandon any pretense of professionalism or commitment to the people and communities they are nominally sworn to serve and protect, instead viciously attacking peaceful protesters exercising their legitimate Constitutional rights, and doing so with absolute abandon. Utterly secure in their surety that their brutality will be given a free pass by the other fascists whom they gleefully serve, these paid bullies prove they care nothing for law, only for enforcement. (And when that surety is challenged by facts, responding with a temper tantrum. No wonder they voted for Trump – they have so much in common.)

Meanwhile, the Butthurt Baby in Chief wants to distract people from the real issues by spewing infantile nonsense about declaring “Antifa” to be a “domestic terrorist organization.” Quite aside from the fact that President Tinyhands cannot make such a designation, there is no such thing as an “organization” called “Antifa.” “Antifa” is a label that people can adopt or reject, individually or collectively, in any manner that they choose. As someone on Twitter (I’ve forgotten who) recently commented, “Antifa is an ‘organization’ in the same way that ‘people who hate the Dave Matthews band’ is an organization.” (Besides, does anyone really hate the Dave Matthews Band?)

Relational Ethics

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Time to take a break from my meditations on the year of the plague; life still goes on.

Ethics, especially as caricatured by philosophers who have written on the subject, has (the story goes) often been taught as a collection of rules “informing” the student about what the youth (invariably male, as was the instructor, up until the late 19th, early 20th centuries) should or should not do. In this picture of things, ethics (theory, if you will) was simply the ironclad apologia for the morality (practical, cultural practices) of the day. As noted, this is at least somewhat of a caricature, and if one turns instead to the pages of the great philosophers – specifically Aristotle, Kant, and John Stewart Milli, representing virtue, deontological, and utilitarian ethics, respectively – one can recognize that even as these thinkers morality remained rooted in the assumptions of their day, their ethics as written placed the emphasis not on lists of rules but forms of practical inquiry. This point was given explicit pride of place by John Dewey in the excellent part 2 of the Dewey & Tufts Ethics (the part where Dewey was the sole author), “Theory of the Moral Life.”

But while emphasizing the inquiriential aspect of ethical theory, another aspect of the subject matter – implicit in treating ethical theory as a mode of inquiry – deserves discussion. A simple prescription of static rules would actually suffice were it not for two things: ethics itself is not static, and the nature of that dynamism means that ethics is fundamentally relational in character. I’ll focus exclusively on the latter point here.

Year of The Plague 5: Get to Work!

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I recently learned that I was, in fact, born in a plague year, 1957, during the early stages of the “Asian Flu” pandemic. (I’ll have more to say about this naming convention in a moment.) Estimates on mortality in the US range from a low of 70,000 to a high of 116,000. (Information on the H2N2 pandemic may be found HERE.) After some 12 weeks (rather than the 12+ months during which H2N2 ravaged the world) COVID-19 is already at the upper limit of that earlier pandemic.i With the inevitable second wave of infections and deaths that will come with the push to reopen the country regardless of consequences; with sloppy and unevenly applied testing, almost non-existent contact tracing; and with the monumental infantilism of people who believe their right to be slobbering, self-absorbed imbeciles trumps your right to live, the death toll from the SARS-CoV-2 virus will easily surpass that of H2N2 by the middle of summer. (And, let’s face it: that is a conservative estimate.)

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A word about that “Asian flu” moniker: It was common to name diseases after a place, sometimes even the place where the disease was first located or even came from. This rule has always been applied unevenly; for instance, the “Spanish Flu” pandemic most certainly did NOT originate in Spain. So why aren’t we calling SARS-CoV-2 the “Wuhan virus,” or COVID-19 the “Chinese disease”? One is almost inclined to admire the willful stupidity of persons pretending puzzlement over these questions, since the answer is so manifestly obvious: because doing so is blatantly racist and serves no other purpose than to function as a dog-whistle trigger for low-lifes such as the pond-scum comprising Donald Trump’s political base. One might as well complain that, “My grandfarther used to call black people by the ‘n’ word, and address them as ‘boy’! Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do that now, since it was so commonplace back then?” The naming convention for the disease has already been established, so no excuse other than racism can be offered for changing it in such a way as to blame a certain ethnic group. And let’s face it, even if SARS-CoV-2 is too tricky for their poor, pea-puddin’ racist brains to remember, terms like “novel coronavirus” and “COVID-19” are simple enough that even a remedial 3rd grader can learn and use them properly, all with little or no effort.

Book Sale

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Taylor/Francis (Routledge) is having a sale on electronic versions of the book I coauthored (and which this blog is named after) The Quantum of Explanation: Whitehead’s Radical Empiricism. The note from Routledge reads as follows:

(W)e’re running a monograph sale through June 11th. Readers can now access your book free-of-charge for seven days. At the end of the trial period, they’ll have the opportunity to purchase the eBook for £10/$15.

https://tfstore.kortext.com/the-quantum-of-explanation-215103 (EPUB version)

https://tfstore.kortext.com/the-quantum-of-explanation-199954 (PDF version)

While I am obviously biased, many people who are not me also think that it is a very good book — indeed, one of the most important contributions to Whitehead scholarship in the last few decades. Many books in the secondary literature get Whitehead wrong; if you read our book, you’ll have some idea just how wrong. But in addition, Quantum will (ideally) provide you with essential insights into Whitehead’s magnum opus, Process and Reality, so that you might see for yourself why this latter book is such a revolution in thinking for the Western tradition. I’m not making any money off of this sale, and the price being asked by Routledge is pretty nearly unbeatable. So I encourage you to check it out!

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Year of the Plague 4: Leaving Facebook During Isolation

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I left Facebook – permanently – on Wednesday, May 6th, 2020, around 12:00 PM Central US time. What an absolutely peculiar thing to do during a period of extreme social isolation, especially for someone who is already at the extreme end of social isolation. Perhaps the only peculiarity is that it required a plague year to drive me to it. This will be a personal blog entry, with no special appeal to higher philosophical principles than those that naturally leak through me on account of who I am. Besides, it’s my blog and I’ll b!tch if I want to.

Before I go further, let me state that I am in favor of social media establishing and enforcing meaningful community standards of what is appropriate and acceptable. Fascists, terrorists, psychopaths, racists, and their ilk are persons who would exploit nominal tolerance for the purpose of annihilating it. Karl Popper spoke and wrote on this subject at various times under the heading of “the paradox of tolerance.” But there’s nothing even marginally paradoxical here. “Tolerance” is toleration for other ideas and for rational disagreement. But there’s nothing even remotely paradoxical about a refusal to be patient of one’s own extirpation. Tolerance can only go as far as those who are equally willing to be tolerant. Those who would destroy “the other” – really, all others – for the purpose of hegemonic, monocultural domination, own no space under, and have no claim upon, the umbrella of tolerance. There is nothing paradoxical about this. Continue reading

Year of the Plague 3: Against Stupidity…

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the gods themselves contend in vain.i

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a field day for the cognitively challenged; and the more galactically egregious the “challenge,” the more indefensibly extreme has been the response. Infantile stupidity in this instance seems to break out roughly into two major groups that roughly correspond to the origins of the novel coronavirus (these, in turn, seem overwhelmingly to take the form of conspiracy theories of one kind or another), the other major class being purported “cures” that vary from the semi-serious to the dangerously crackpot. The semi-serious versions have, at this time, almost all been shown to be dangerously crackpot when actually employed on any scale, so the difference is entirely a matter of degree rather than kind.gif-leslie-nielsen-nothing-to-see-here-2

Quite aside from the general disregard for trivially simple facts relating to the pandemic itself, these “source” and “cure” stupidities (one might even call them “before” and “after”) actively add additional layers of danger and risk to people’s lives. The “before” group, dominated as it is by conspiracy theories, is more than capable of singling out some one or few individuals as “the reason” for the disease. Such people can then have their lives torn apart by invasive internet searches and statements, inspiring acts of stochastic terrorism against purely innocent persons. Recall, for example, the self-appointed “hero” from North Carolina who traveled to DC with firearms to put an end to the non-existent child-trafficking ring Hillary Clinton was supposedly operating, the “basement” of a pizza parlor that had no basement. Nothing more than the bare, abstract possibility (never mind actual fact) of intelligence would have sufficed to see through the infantile nonsense of the whole “pizzagate” fabrication. But intelligence is never as sexy or exciting as the vicious lies that prop up conspiracy theories. Continue reading

Year of The Plague #2: Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

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A recent article (23 March, 2020) by Eric Schliesser and Eric Winsberg (“S&W”) in The New Statesman: America, “Climate and coronavirus: the science is not the same,” attempts to make the case for separating climate science – specifically the facts about Anthropogenic Global Warming (“AGW”) – from the COVID-19 pandemic.i This pandemic is driven by the “novel coronavirus,” but I will stick to just “COVID-19.” Superficially, there is nothing wrong with wanting to do so since these are, after all, different topics. But just because the two subjects are non-identical does not mean that lively and effective analogies cannot be drawn between them. It is this last point that S&W wish to deny. Their attempt is specious on multiple levels, and I wish to address a few of those levels here.dollar sign

To address this speciousness, we must understand the nature of the argument that S&W are making.ii The abbreviated form of their argument goes something like this: (1) The facts about COVID-19 remain highly questionable, as the amount of data is severely truncated by lack of testing, and significantly variable methodologies of evaluations across international, and even local, lines. (2) This lack of data makes any comparison with, or analogy between, COVID-19 and AGW an error. (3) Further, the paucity of adequate data regarding COVID-19 requires us to view any and all such claims with great skepticism. (4) Such skepticism, in fact, that dramatic action which entails substantial economic impact ought to be rejected wholesale. Continue reading

Year of the Plague, #1

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I have been away from this blog for a while now due to personal reasons that I’ll not discuss. It seems like it is time to pick it up again, as much for still other personal reasons that I’ll not discuss, as well as external realities that I will discuss. You can probably guess what my topic here will be, just from the title. From the number, you can safely infer that I anticipate more such posts in the coming weeks and months.

Corona Virus 1

As I write, Governor Pritzker’s “Shelter In Place” (SIP) order is scheduled to go into effect at 5:00 PM. (I live in Illinois.) As I already live an exceptionally quiet, sheltered-in-place life, Pritzker’s order has very little effect on me. I can still shop much as I always did, for all the things I would otherwise have purchased. The only difference for me is that now I will forward my shopping lists in advance for curbside pickup, rather than in-store browsing and purchasing. And this isn’t even part of the SIP, simply my choice to add an extra layer of caution. (A comprehensive discussion of Illinois’ SIP may be found HERE. The Chicago Tribune has waived its paywall for this story.) The biggest impact on my life will be the canceling of the in-person meetings of the Dungeons and Dragons game I was involved with.

As noted, I expect there to be a series of posts related to the novel corona virus and COVID-19 in the coming months. But this first shot out of the gate, I don’t plan to dwell on the metaphysics of pandemics, nor do I intend to rail against those steaming piles of maggot excrement who continue to spew indefensible twaddle about how “it’s only the flu!” I’m sure the times (plural) will come for that. No, this time I want to focus on my own, immediate intellectual and emotional reactions to the early stages of “all this.” This is for my own clarity of mind; writing it down helps me. Perhaps sharing it will help others, but I don’t know. Right now I’m just struggling to understand what I feel, what it means to me, to find myself living in this Year of the Plague. Continue reading

The Implicit “All”

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One of the fundamental units in logical analysis is that function/operatori lovingly known as “the quantifier.” Most logic texts content themselves with just two: “all” and “some,” formally symbolized as “” and “” respectively. Thus, to say that, “All X is p,” one is asserting that every (or any) instance of X is also an instance of p, or is characterized by p, etc. Similarly, when someone says only that, “Some X is p,” the claim is made that, if one looks hard enough, one will find at least one instance where X is p. There are ways of precisifying (one of those $5.00 words philosophers love to use) the above statements, but there is hardly any need to do so here. It suffices to have a general idea. Two points I’ll mention in passing. First, in most formal contexts (substructural logics are an example of an exception), “all” and “some” are defined as being interchangeable using “not”: thus, “not-All X is not-p” is taken to mean “Some X is p,” and conversely. Secondly, these are not the only quantifiers possible: “many” and “most” are also examples. But these last two are difficult to formalize (to say the least) and by a polite convention among logicians they are generally ignored wholesale.Implicit All

As the title of this post states, I wish to talk about what I am calling the implicit “all”; uses of the “all” quantifier in which that quantifier is functioning but not explicitly stated. This happens quite often, in point of fact, and is not problematical in itself. Where problems do arise is when that usage is not merely implicit, but actively denied as a means of evading the consequences of what someone has actively stated or written. When this happens, we are faced not merely with a logical error, but an overt act of dishonesty. The dishonesty becomes not merely overt but blatant when, even after the implicit “all” is pointed out, the individual continues to deny it. Continue reading

Nonsense on Stilts

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The Washington Post had an article in their science section a few days ago announcing “Scientists are baffled: What’s up with the universe?” It is a welcome relief to see mainstream reporting paying some attention to the massive problems that absolutely dog contemporary gravitational cosmology. One more frequently encounters a breathless declaration that this or that latest “discovery” “confirms” the Standard Model of Gravitational Cosmology (“SMGC”),i yet which then goes on to announce that we’ll need a “whole new physics” to make sense of this new data. (This article from The Guardian is slightly more balanced than many of the sources that later picked up the same story.) But the deeply problematic nature of SMGC is not really news, nor are the issues mentioned in the WaPo article even the most directly pressing matters. An extensive review of many of these problems may be found in the newsletters of the A(lternative) Cosmology Group. While a serious measure of background in mathematics and physics is required to read the listed and cited papers at any level of comprehension, a person with a basic background in these topics will be able to follow the newsletter discussions themselves and gain a modest acquaintance with the issues.Stilts

There are yet other issues that appear where SMGC intersects with micro-physics, in the realm of quantum mechanics. Part of the problem is that the mathematical bases of these two realms of inquiry – which, in the case of SMGC, is Einstein’s general theory of relativity (“GR”) – are built around radically different and largely incompatible kinds of mathematical structures: quantum mechanics, for all of its peculiarities, is linear in nature, while GR is fundamentally non-linear. This unification of the macro and the micro levels continues to defy serious scientific efforts, but the emphasis here is most definitely on “serious.” Unserious – because blatantly unscientific – efforts have given us the “string theory” nonsense which, while mathematically clever (at least by some accounts) is empirically vacuous, and as such devoid of any actual scientific content. Indeed, string-theory is so lacking in any basic scientific standing that not only is it empty of any actual empirical content, it lacks even the possibility of such content. Philosophers being disdained by the gate-keepers of SMGC – persons such as Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Sean Carroll – one may also turn to the observations of scientists such as Lee Smolin and Peter Woit for confirmation of these statements. Continue reading