All posts by Psybertron

Getting a bit tired of the casual sarcasm and cynicism in many responses to “islamist terrorist”news stories these days.

The westernised names adopted by foreign migrants in their adopted lands. The politically-correct caution in mainstream journalism, particularly the BBC, in reporting initial facts of what, who and why. How much additional “information” circulating instantly on social media and single-issue channels isn’t reported in MSM whilst authorities deal with legal evidence and security action. Whether an Islamist is by any stretch a good (or even a bad) muslim, or simply a murderous maniac with a grudge against any symbols of western “decadence”, adopting Islamism as a badge of legitimisation of fascist intent, accompanied (or not) by the cry of “allahu akhbar”, with or without explicit “links” to extremist groups or an active conspiracy, you name it. Whether the maniac is a rationally calculating maniac or otherwise mentally ill maniac they’re still madmen. Whether the immediate target is political against western secular freedoms and economic interests, or ideological against cultural acceptance of gender & LGBTI and other social freedoms on beaches, in bars, at musical & sporting events. Whether the terrorist acts are actual weaponised mayhem or insidious threat and coercion.

None of this spectrum of details changes the facts of islamist terrorism, and apart from displaying cynical attempts at gallows humour, really not sure how making our media, our authorities, our politicians into the (immediate) story does anything to address the actual issues and causes.

With so much mainstream partisan politics in disarray both sides of the pond, and so many public policy issues in play at once over rights, freedoms and securities, there is no shortage of issue-groups with which to be associated as an activist or supporter. And so much easier to throw in your lot with a single issue party, when it is clear what it’s for and/or what it’s against, and thereby avoid the messier politics of a broader mainstream party. One reason why a strong “single-issue” agenda for me is proper proportional representation in as many contexts as possible, where rights and responsibilities can be shared and balanced, but I digress.

So consider for example, that LGBTI rights and freedoms figure large in many other contexts, whether it be religious extremisms (and not so extremes), or day to day politics and government, and all points between. Alice Dreger has been a “justice warrior” in the “TI” subset of LGBTI for some time – a pretty narrow single set of issues you might think. That is unless you’ve read her Galileo’s Middle Finger, where you discover how the real issue is one of fundamental academic freedoms and their dependence on the enlightenment principles shared – no coincidence – by both politics and science.

Julian Baggini writing on “animal rights” in the vegetarian vs meat-eating debate, notes that even that issue can have no simple objective ethical solution but is rather part of the bigger ethical debate on the place of humanity as part of the natural world. He concludes that the fact that the issue remains problematic – making us feel uncomfortable yet unable to find a neat solution – is in fact a virtue. It’s maybe a reason not to reject out of hand those non-secular taboos and rituals around meat slaugher and eating that have evolved culturally and been enshrined in religious practice. Disagreeing is one thing; denying their value is another.

Jonathan Sacks speaking on how we have “outsourced” much ethical decision-making, to the market of objective things we can trade for numbers, risks losing the natural “entropy-reversal” corrective of humanity’s internalised moral compass. The telos that comes with that is more than simply history as the collected memory of apparently objective facts.

“Cultures [that have an inner moral voice] stay young. They defeat the entropy, the loss of energy, that has spelled the decline and fall of every other empire and superpower in history. But the West … has externalised what it once internalised. It has outsourced responsibility. It has reduced ethics to economics and politics.”

Justice as ethical good must of course be closely connected to truth as objective fact, but there can never be a simple relationship that reduces the one to the other. Whatever a single ethical issue, it’s answer can never be a single academic or scientific fact. As Alice Dreger suggests here, the relationship between (factual) truth and (ethical) justice must remain uncomfortable, for good reason.

And, as she concludes, however good it is to espouse a single issue policy, how else would we progress change if people didn’t do so, it is equally if not more important to value the dissenters and the freedom of their arguments. Which is not an argument for absolute freedom of expresssion. However, truth will learn from differences over justice, expressed differences over right and wrong, not by being constrained by a single policy on justice, in the complementary way that justice will benefit from knowing new improved truth.

There is no easy relationship between truth and justice that can be simplified by adopting a single issue policy any more than ethics and justice can be reduced to objective truth.

Hat tip to Anne McCrossan on Facebook:

“I always say that behind any critical judgement is an idea that’s not yet fully formed. That’s the positive version. It gives people the option to get there with their ideas.”

There is a noddy version of critical thinking which says it’s smart to find fault with anyone else’s expressed idea, because somehow that’s how “science” is self-correcting on it’s course to pure knowledge. Anything that passes destructive testing is seen as successful and therefore good. Scientism.

However, as I keep pointing out, that rush to judgement tramples on many good ideas because they’re not (yet) well formed, and/or (very often) not easily recognisable within the recipient’s prevailing “memeplex”. When the problem is the memeplex itself, that’s a double-bind, my Catch-22 drag on any progress.

“Behind any critical judgement is an idea that’s not yet fully formed.” is a good simple statement of the better – positive – starting point. Much more important to treat an unexpected idea as at least interesting, worth a constructive conversation, not just for the formation of the idea itself, but for it’s place in existing ideas already held.


[Post note – and a positive “critique” from Jonathan Haidt.]

Interesting collection of … things … quite different things, mental models, methods, metaphors that might be useful in analysing or describing any number of problems or arguments.

A good and comprehensive resource by Gabriel Weinberg useful and pretty comprehensive, (eg no Halo Effect and only Prisoners’ Dilemma example from Game Theory). And comes with some important guidance and caveats on using them.

(Hat tip to Johnnie Moore and Dave Snowden on Facebook.)

My rate of posting (well considered and edited) blog posts has fallen off since so much of the “conversation” takes place on Twitter & Facebook. Often the posts I do make are collections of references to links in tweets and FB posts – where the thread of any argument is heavily compromised by the short snippet language of the conversational contributions. Time as always is the scarce resource in good writing.

I need two separate apps. Blogging as it is in WordPress and Medium, and a “BookMarking” app that clicks on links found in any browser or social media and “logs” them in a single post (say by day or by tag) – published to a different blog channel from the main blog writing project. These become resources, inputs, references for other posts but do not take up valuable time in collecting annotating and organising so they can be found later.

Is this del.ici.ous ? Or is there a newer tool that integrates better with other social media and blogging tools? Storify works for tweets where you can predict (and use) a tag in advance but manual chore if not, and anyway Twitter hash-tagging should be better automated – especially in a thread that already has a tag? A cross-platform tagging and bookmarking tool that collects all such tagged bookmarks into one object.

(Also need to streamline how WordPress and Medium work together. Integration is a little primitive so far – publish once / no auto-updates. Good for proper edited “essays” but messy for more interactive conversational stuff. Can be addressed once the bookmarking is sorted.)

[Update – is in a state of re-building since its acquisition.]


[Post Notes – After @CliveAndrews suggested I look at IFTT (If This Then  That) channel / event / routing tool, possibilities look very interesting, though not quite the “in-browser bookmarking” metaphor I was originally looking for.

As well as having experimented with Delicious, and using RSS with feedreaders and WordPress plug-ins to communicate with Medium, I have made extensive use of to connect channels before. In fact I use it continuously and invisibly to connect my WordPress post-and-update-and-comment interaction to Twitter and Facebook, although I have most of the filtered-automation currently switched-off except new WP posts to TW. Too much noise but very powerful.

IFTTT looks very like, but like WP it has user community open-source “recipes” switching between hundreds of events and channels. (How do they stop interminable loops? That was always my prediction for web overload. Post to Facebook auto-posts to Twitter auto-posts to Facebook auto-posts … etc.)

Particularly neat – for a simple geek like me – is it can simply send any transaction to a Google Spreadsheet …. Not the worlds most sophisticated web database, but at least everything and anything is bookmarked and available for searching and sorting any way you like, and bulk tagging actions using the spreadsheet functionality, all in a transparently accessible file. Wonder if it can round trip – always a telling test of integration? Import into spreadsheet, manipulate, and re-export to a blog or social media micro-blog. That might be the killer app for my needs?]

Two or three threads came together this morning.

Ongoing debates about European responses to “immigrants”, “anti-semitism” and “islamism” – politically correct to the point of perversion of sense. Insanity. And of course later (lower down) #Chilcot. Where to start?

Here a piece by Chris Corrigan posted on Facebook by Johnnie Moore, on managerialism and the conflict between “efficiency” and common humanity, at the inevitable expense of care and attention to the latter.

“Management practices these days manage for efficiency which on the surface is widely accepted as a good thing. But there are things in human experience for which efficiency is devastating. Love, care, community, and attention are all made much worse by being efficient.”

I responded:

“Absolutely! It’s a shared mental illness to objectify anything we need to manage (to justify, govern, make efficient, etc) and remove any aspect of compassionate caring humanity from our equations. (A contagious fashion, a meme. Scientism I’ve been calling it for 15 years.)”

Here two tweets by Anne Marie Waters on what should be sympathetic compassion for those punished for crimes against individuals who end up feeling guilty and behaving irrationally as the victims.

[Post Note :

End Post Note.]

Anne Marie calls it “Leftism” – her perspective rejecting dysfunctional socialist politics, seen as ignoring these issues for reasons of political correctness, freeing herself to address the issues head-on.

What Chris calls “Managerialism”, I’ve been calling “Scientism” throughout this blogging project. But what’s in a name? Underlying the whole is the meme that expects “objectification” of anything we’re dealing with, so we can manage it, justify it, quantify it, put them in our logical and arithmetic equations.

This ignores common humanity, compassion, care and love. By design they’re excluded from any objective analysis. It’s a collective mental illness to think this way. It’s not complicated, but it must be resisted.

Also related this exchange from Nassim Nicholas Taleb denying the value of Game Theory in his statistical equations. He’s right, they won’t fit his rigorous logic (I have a separate draft post on this) but they therefore exclude the psychology between subjects, empathetic or competitive. A kind of mental illness, autism to exclude personal subjective impression, to reduce psychology to objective guesswork (ie sophisticated statistical analyses).

Need to join-up those three threads, they may even seem counter-intuitively related to my point, but they’re part of the same underlying meme.

Continuing, today is of course publication of #Chilcot, and exactly the same problem, in BBC summary he concludes:

“[F]uture military action on such a scale [should] only be possible with more careful analysis and political judgement.”

Wong again. Analysis may be more rigorous, but never careful. It’s care-less by design. We murder to dissect. What is really meant is:

“more careful analysis and political judgement.”

Judgment by analysis is mere “fudgement” – a scientistic managerial way of justifying action, but very unwise judgement. Specific issues in the #Iraq / #Chilcot case are about “planning” the follow-through of taking action, not about the tough decision to take action. It’s the decision and (military) action that needs care, not the analysis. What we need is practical wisdom. Analysis is a mere tool. The fudge of the WMD Dossier was always a fudge because it could only ever be a fudge for what was already (properly) a judgement.


Exactly – liberal intervention was a good & wise call then, and it still is. It’s wisdom however, was destroyed by having to satisfy (ie fudge) objective justification, thereby taking eyes of the real ball of planning for the complex and long-term consequences of “regime change” – because this complex judgement of reality and planning options had to remain hidden so that a simplistic facade could be presented. Lots of good people (politicians and journos) had their careers destroyed knowing there was a lot wrong, but having no means to get the underlying issue addressed credibly for a world craving ethical simplicity.

No shit Sherlock ….

So it goes ….

Jerry Coyne ranting in response to this NYT piece by James Blachovicz.

A recurring topic, but I had to react to this:

Blachovicz: Scientific method is not itself an object of study for scientists, but it is an object of study for philosophers of science. It is not scientists who are trained specifically to provide analyses of scientific method.

Coyne: All I can say here is “WTF”? Does this man have any inkling of the difference between science on the one hand and philosophy or poetry on the other?

All I can say is WTF? Does Jerry Coyne have any inkling of the difference between philosophy and science?

The issue is that science uses many methods, many of the creative ones it uses are shared with many other arts and crafts, but the real point must surely be which particular methodological aspects distinguihs it as science as opposed any other rational pursuit. Obviously rationality is part of it, but it’s part of any rational pursuit, and simply leaves us with narrow or broad definitions of rationality to worry about instead of definitive features of science. No progress there. (Good news is that Coyne respects Dennett on being helpful to science as a philosopher. Maybe he’s also noticed Dennett is not a fan of premature definitions or greedy reductionism.)

Blachovicz is right, and Coyne wrong, on his meta-point that scientists may self-identify as such, but cannot thmselves define what makes them so. That’s on another level, one for the philosophers.

My own thrust is that the definitive feature of science is the repeatable empirical falsifiability, where scientific empiricism demands tight & closed, objective & logical, framing of the hypothesis and of any repeatable test(s), in order that a conclusion (false or not) can follow from any test result.

This limits science to those fields usefully amenable to such closed objective definitions. For so many fields of human endeavour it may not be the most useful approach to understanding and problem solving. Experienced human empiricism may not be scientific but is nevertheless “real”. Much human endeavour, even life in general, can never really be a repeatable experiment, and indeed the exclusively objective rationality of science is (by design) ignorant and even destructive of subjects, human or otherwise.

Reinforces my impression to date, that Coyne may be a staunch defender of the place of (Darwinian) evolution in science, but is not sophisticated epistemologically, nor particularly scientific or rational in his approach.

[Hat tip to @ChrisOldfield for sharing the original link.]

[Post Note – Tangentially related, but distinguishing wrong thoughts and beliefs from wrong ways of thinking and rationalising them is the key here. The one is meta to the other. Here Alan Rayner’s Best Thinking reinforces the point again:

And in fact the same “scientism” thread pretty much continues in the next post …..]

Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism is an excellent recipe for enlightened future socio-economic arrangements that recognises the realties of individual freedoms and transactions in times of mass communications and social-media that bypass so much “mediation” by corporate organisations and institutions that have been taken for granted in established economic models.

Unfashionably even perversely, but quite correctly, he also identifies that the idea of “unions” becomes more important the more individuals act individually, in order that common interests can be properly pooled in economic activity.

Obviously it’s a Marxist project. Mason is a Marxist. But it is very a carefully nuanced socialism, as indeed was Marx himself before being consumed in various communist projects. Scary to many if we do not take the trouble to understand the subtle and nuanced detail. Mason’s project is “Project Zero” – the idea that we can create this enlightened future arrangements by following his prescription, a prescription that recognises much detail cannot be prescribed but must be nurtured through it’s own evolution. Again scary for those who prefer a good plan, but Project Zero couldn’t be further from any idea of central planning. It’s about understanding how things may best work.

Thus far, I cannot fault Paul Mason, Postcapitalism or Project Zero; zero because it requires a ground zero that established economic beliefs need to be completely let go.

Where I diverge is the pace of change. Paul is uncompromising in his revolutionary intent. Anything social, liberal or democratic that isn’t part of his project is fair game as collateral damage. “Neoliberalism” is a failed project. Indeed it is, but there are lots of babies in this bathwater. A lot of participants that can’t easily or quickly fully understand and appreciate the enlightened subtleties of Postcapitalism but may nevertheless be swept along. We need to recognise the evolution of understanding and action inherent in Project Zero and not let our impatience and principled dogmatism replace the evolution with a revolution, just because “in vs out” is easier to understand than messy reality.

There will need to be collaboration and migration across existing socialist, liberal and democratic mind-sets, and probably migration in democratic arrangements themselves. Popular voting itself will probably require proportional arrangements unless genuine union of partisan interests is achieved, which is ever less credible. Flocking around popular memes may seem an attractive way to achieve concensus, but such memes are unlikely to hold and share the subtleties our future requires.

The plan needs to be a meta-plan for how the necessary evolution can be nurtured, not a revolution whose collateral damage (eg to the Labour party / Labour movement, but not only these) also destroys the good will such a plan entails.


[Post Notes:

Obviously this post was prompted by Paul Mason speaking at the Socialist Workers Party rally held with Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament Square yesterday evening at the very time when the Parliamentary Labour Party was discussing their vote of no confidence in his leadership and the 30-odd resignations from his shadow team.

This is one tweeted response this morning:

Creative destruction. Engineered chaos.
Ever the tools of revolution. And :

This one will run and run. And finally as asked by Clive, I should probably respond to Mason’s ProgExit plan – some of the specifics. He published it over the weekend in readiness for the Monday “meeting”. I’ll come back to the link later.]