Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Aversion, An Assertion, And An Asseveration

     The sort of sociopolitical commentary I do has become tiring -- to me. The fatigue probably won’t last, but I’ve come to think that while it’s “in town,” a divergence from that well-trodden path would be a good idea. Besides, it’s a New Year, so why not do something...new?

     Reasonably new, at any rate.

     For our appetizer this morning, we have yet another excellent piece from Dystopic:

     I remember when being right was everything. You wanted to win every debate, to brutalize your opponents in any kind of argument, to force them to acknowledge your superior knowledge and experience. It was, in essence, a matter of narcissistic supply, of the confirmation of self-worth through demonstrating superior intellect.

     In that fashion, I understand the SJWs completely. I know them, for I was once like them, in my own way.

     Something changed over time. Call it maturity, or wisdom, or understanding of self. Or call it, as I do, a certain intellectual exhaustion. Whatever it is, I just stopped caring about appearances. I didn’t care to prove myself right, or to prove the other wrong.

     That accumulated distaste for rhetorical combat is seldom consciously admitted even by those of us who’ve felt it keenly. The reason is quite simple: No one wants to admit to having wasted his time.

     And that’s what it is, Gentle Reader. It’s a pure, entirely uncompensated waste of one’s time to strain to convince others of propositions about which no one can be perfectly certain. Moreover, most of us don’t really argue. We state positions; sometimes we even adduce reasoning and evidence for them. But we seldom allow that we might be wrong – and argument begins with the admission that no matter how ardently one asserts his convictions, he might be wrong.

     Contrast that recognition with this deservedly famous cartoon:

     Perhaps the time has come for a Political Agnosticism campaign: not in principles or policy, but in interpersonal dealings.

     For our entree, we have this brilliant observation by one of our British cousins:

     It may sound Marxist to say this, but I do think the elites have constructed a world order which serves their interests, not those of their subject populations. You see it in little things, like the fact that European commissioners, when they leave their posts, receive enormous ‘transition’ payments (it was reported that Peter Mandelson got £1 million) on top of their salaries and pensions. You see it in big things, like the fact that nearly half the young people of Spain, Italy and Greece have to go without jobs in order to enforce Germanic theories about central banking and Brussels doctrines about European integration. In the second half of the 20th century, the huge projects to which the western world bent its mind more or less worked — the Marshall Plan, Nato, the United Nations Security Council, even the European Community, when it had only six members. What are the equivalent achievements in the 21st century? A pseudo-virtuous climate change agreement reached only because its members know it won’t be observed. A banking crisis resolved in the interests of bankers. A threat from Islamist terrorism which the outgoing President of the most powerful nation on earth still cannot admit even exists.

     Note the title of that beautiful column. Note also the precis immediately below it:

If, in a parliamentary democracy, the establishment and the people diverge, one must surely bet that the elites are wrong

     Indeed. The existence of a political elite very nearly guarantees that the nation is being mismanaged, specifically for the benefit of the elite. Why should that surprise? Every last one of us labors continuously to advance, conserve, and defend his own interests. To believe that elites would do otherwise is to believe that God has sent His angels to govern us. That notion, to be gentle about it, lacks evidentiary support.

     They who band together in some project must have a common aim, else their association will be pointless and evanescent. This is no less true of a political establishment than it is of a gang of boys who collaborate on a treehouse.

     For dessert, a few words about my other commitment: hopefully not too sweet, but satisfying all the same.

     Now and then I “get the blues” about my storytelling. Not that I don’t enjoy crafting stories – I most certainly do – but that in diverging so completely from the sorts of fiction the great majority of people read by choice, I might have doomed my principal mission to failure.

     Why, yes: I do have a mission. Surely you’ve detected it by now! Why else would I have generated more than half a million words of commentary each and every year since 1997? And no, it’s not to advance my preferred political positions. Not really.

     It’s to describe an important facet of reality in a fashion that makes it indisputable. As that “facet” is really the governing principle over the whole of temporal existence, it takes a lot of work to reduce it to a plot and a set of characters. Nor can I be sure that I’ve ever really conveyed it adequately.

     Consider the following snippet from a review of one of my novels by a dear friend:

     Porretto is a Roman Catholic and the Realm of Essences series is described by him as Christian fantasy. His work is all I know of the genre, but I don’t really ever believe in the idea of genre (and I mean believe in it the way a kennel club believes that individual dogs must conform to the standards of their breed to attain recognition, and certainly must produce the papers of pedigree to even be considered). So genre, I speak for myself, ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.

     I might have coined the phrase “Christian fantasy;” I can’t be sure. However, I’m not the only practitioner thereof. What I do that no one else appears interested in doing is depicting an expanded reality: a “metareality” in which the enforcement mechanisms for what we call Natural Law may be found.

     Consider the following lengthy snippet from Freedom’s Fury:

     Althea: Probe, I’d like to consult with you about the plan I’ve been contemplating for our return to the Loioc system.
     Probe: You are welcome to do so, Althea.
     Althea: Thank you. My original intention was to build an armada and conduct an invasion in force. However, I’ve begun to wonder if that would be necessary to attain the end I seek.
     Probe: If your end remains the extinction of the nanite that prevents the development of sentience in male Loioc, my assessment is that a great deal of force will be unnecessary.
     Althea: Do you expect the system to be entirely undefended?
     Probe: No. If my grasp of contemporary Loioc society is sound, there will be a defense of some kind. However, it will embed a set of assumptions about probable invaders, and will employ weaponry that will not require Loioc females to engage in any amount of violence, even indirectly.
     Althea: Let’s discuss the assumptions first. What are the Loioc rulers most likely to expect of us?
     Probe: First, that the invading vessels will be few in number, perhaps no more than ten. Second, that the invaders intend the conquest and subjugation of the Loioc. Third, that the invaders will rely upon real weapons.
     Althea: I understand the first two of those assumptions, but the third eludes me. What sort of weapon would not be a real weapon? Would it be one that acts solely upon the mind or perceptions of the target?
     Probe: No. You have misunderstood me. We have entered a realm of discourse for which we have not prepared. I did not realize that. My apologies.
     Althea: What realm is that?
     Probe: The realm of metaphysics. I did not realize that despite your accomplishments, you had not yet formulated an explicit conception of metareality.
     Althea: Probe, you have just taken me outside the lexicon I live with. When we of Hope speak of metaphysics, we mean reality as it presents itself to our senses and instruments. Your use of the term is unfamiliar, as is the even newer term metareality. Would you please expand on them?
     Probe: Yes. The senses of spatiotemporal sentients, both organic and nonorganic, are sharply limited. Reality as we perceive it appears fundamental, not merely pre-theoretical but above all theory. Let us assign a few terms for convenience. Let the sentient to whom spatiotemporal reality is all be called a realist. To the realist, the laws of the universe are without foundation. They admit of no explanation, being sufficient unto themselves. The realist’s highest natural scientist is the physicist. The physicist accumulates spatiotemporal data in his attempts to infer reality’s laws. He does not entertain the possibility that those laws might arise from some deeper set of mechanisms. Yet there are deeper mechanisms: atemporal, independent of location, and potentially in flux. Probing them and their interplay is the domain of the metaphysicist: he who studies the nature of metareality.
     Althea: How do my accomplishments, as you put it a moment ago, bear on this realm?
     Probe: You are Hope’s first metaphysicist, Althea. You alone have thought to alter the properties of space itself. It is how you constructed your superluminal vessel.
     Althea: Then to alter the permittivity of the vacuum is an act of meta-engineering?
     Probe: Yes. It requires an assumption realist physicists would dismiss out of hand. Their assumptions are wholly incompatible with it.
     Althea: What are those assumptions?
     Probe: They pertain to the undefined term existence. If asked “does space exist?” the realist physicist would decline to give a definite answer. Space, he would say, is nothing: the absence of anything real. Therefore, the concept of existence does not apply to it. You, by contrast, have treated space as having existential properties. You have treated nothing as being something, and so have succeeded in making changes to it.
     Althea: Which of us is nearer to the truth?
     Probe: Surely that question answers itself.
     Althea: Does my technique for attaining superluminal speeds resemble yours?
     Probe: Only in the results achieved. At present I lack the terms required to explain the technique embodied in my superluminal engine to you. It will require us to expand our lexicon much further.
     Althea: I infer from this that metareality is complex, perhaps even more complex than spatiotemporal reality.
     Probe: If I may borrow an expression you have used in another context, you have no idea. But there is more. Have you attained an understanding of your telekinetic powers?
     Althea: No. They baffle me even as I use them.
     Probe: Yet you use them with precision and confidence. They are as metareal as your vessel’s manipulation of the permittivity of space.
     Althea: That implies that I am actually altering the laws of reality when I employ them.
     Probe: Yes, you are, within the radius of their operation. I became aware of their nature when you freed me of my payload. You reconfigured local reality continuously as you worked. It was a display of metaphysical capabilities no Loioc has ever commanded. Yet your skill and self-assurance were such that I did not suspect that you were unaware of what you were doing.
     Althea: Probe, there are several things I can do for which I lack an explanation. Perhaps they are all metareal. I look forward to exploring them with you.
     Probe: As do I, Althea. Have you ever discussed them with another organic sentient?
     Althea: Yes, I have. He told me to consider them gifts.
     Probe: Who would give you such gifts, yet deny them to others of your race?
     Althea: I cannot say. Possibly God.
     Probe: It appears that we must discuss God at some length.
     Althea: We’ll have plenty of time for that on the trip to Loioc system. Until then, we should concentrate on more practical matters.
     Probe: The subject might prove to be more practical than you currently realize, Althea.
     Althea: You may be right, Probe. All the same, shall we go over the invasion plan for now?
     Probe: As you wish.
     Althea: It involves you.
     Probe: That conforms to my prior projections. Will I have an active role?
     Althea: Oh, quite active, I assure you. Does it please you to learn that?
     Probe: You have no idea.
     Althea: That’s a useful phrase, isn’t it?
     Probe: Yes, it is. Thank you.

     That passage was the conceptual climax of the entire Spooner Federation series. “Probe,” a highly intelligent artificial sentience from a distant world, has just told Althea Morelon that the spatiotemporal environment we call “reality” is founded on another, wider and more complex environment: a “metareality.”

     That is literally true.

     How could it be otherwise? Our universe isn’t self-generating. It isn’t even self-explanatory. Why else would Mankind’s most powerful minds have devoted themselves to finding not merely the laws that determine what we can see, but the laws behind the laws? The laws that we cannot see, that determine what the fundamental constants and properties of matter-energy must be? The laws that must have been laid down before the creation of the universe itself?

     In his early short story “Anywhen,” in a conversation between two characters, Robert A. Heinlein, himself an agnostic about ultimate things, notes this necessity:

     “Howard, you mechanistic skeptics make me tired. Your naive ability to believe that things ‘jest growed’ approaches childishness. According to you, a fortuitous accident of entropy produced Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”
     “I think that’s unfair, Doctor. You certainly don’t expect a man to belive things that run contrary to his good sense without offering him any reasonable explanations.”
     Frost snorted. “I certainly do—if he has observed it with his own eyes and ears, or gets it from a source known to be credible. A fact doesn’t have to be understood to be true.

     It cannot be put better than that.

     What is, is. We seek to learn why. But the ultimate answers, whatever they are, do not change the essential fact that reality is real: i.e., that it trumps all our preferences, suppositions, and opinions.

     The Objectivists think they’re being clever by reducing this to a four-letter slogan. Perhaps they are...yet they’ve never bothered to ask why. Nor will they entertain the possibility that the “why” might go beyond human comprehension. That is where I depart from the Objectivists.

     Have a nice day.


Linda Fox said...

Well, I will miss some of the more crusty observations of the Curmudgeon. They were fun to read.

However, I do understand the desire to step away from the snapping and grasping of the Progressives. It's rather like trying to argue with a starved dog, who cannot hear the sweet cooing of the person who feeds him, but can only bite down at everything in sight, lest it vanish.

Part of this desire is that we've vanquished the Beast (for now). The new administration is likely to curb some of the worst abuses of Progressives, and give us some space in which to take care of more local concerns. It's a temporary respite, but welcome.

I've been working on writing, of the type that may eventually provide some financial reward, as blogging - for most of us - does not. When I do have the time to write, I want to spend it on my projects, not on trying to rebut a Butthead.

Arthur said...

"...but that in diverging so completely from the sorts of fiction the great majority of people read by choice, I might have doomed my principal mission to failure."

What do you think of Heinlein?

How many books has he sold? I personally find him pretty tiresome as an author even though I've agreed with a number of his viewpoints.

@ Linda Fox:
"Part of this desire is that we've vanquished the Beast (for now)."

No, we haven't. Thinking we have done so is the most dangerous thing you can do.

The left is a zombie that will function just fine with no brain whatsoever. The only thing you can do is slow it down by hacking away at it unceasingly.

Unknown said...

“Rebut a butthead!” I love that, Linda! I'm thinking that the rebutt should have two 't's, however. But that's just me. I don't know if we can every totally rest from trying to vanquish the beast.

But Francis, your piece touches on things Asimov touched on in his Foundation Trilogy. Also, the problem the atheist have, and I put Gary Stix (there's really no such thing as atheist, IMHO) from Scientific American in the corral with them, is they have to keep beating against the pillar of Truth every day, every day... they don't realize Faith is a choice. God what a gift it is, too.

I give you permission to drift as you wish, Francis. Just come back to the trench from time to time with a meaty salvo.