Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Chris Port Blog #335. On Absolute Evil

On Absolute Evil

A composite philosophical examination of the nature of absolute evil compiled from various Facebook debates. In essence, I conclude that goodness is an aesthetic concept while evil is stupidity…

Is Breivik evil or insane (or both, or neither)?

“Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 1886).

‘The 33-year-old Norwegian was found insane in one examination, while a second assessment made public last week found him mentally competent...’

See Hate Destroys Everything article about Breivik
See also Marty Gull Song #20. Hate Destroys Everything

MB: He sounds conscious and aware of his actions. I don't think he is insane.

Me: “Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.” (Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856).

AF: clearley Mr Breivik has the capacity and intelligence to plan his activities and effectivley carry them out..This is a sign of 'organised and controlled' thinking..as opposed to disorganised and uncontrolled thoughts [voices and what not] sufferd by those with madness..However his acts speak of an individual with grandious ideads fanatic ideology, harming others so a sense of rage alienation and a non -empathy with other human beings [psychopath]. He could of used that intelligance and effort into starting his own political party..or inspiring others..he didnt..He used whatever means....If he did make himself presedent he would probley go a bit hitlarish and massacer those he thought to be a threat....So no rehabilitation for Mr Brevick...wont go so far as evil [ emotive word] but bad bad bad man jail yes mad house no

Me: I would go as far as describing him as evil (which is not the same as hating him). The logic is tortuous, so I won't clutter the thread (at this stage).

AF: good philosophical question @ chris what is evil????

Me: The killer question! That which is evil is that which deliberately acts against that which is good. So, to fully answer your question, I would need to explicate my manifesto for good. This would be tortuous, but a broad and brief summation would be the agenda of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek (dubbed “the most dangerous philosopher in the west” by the American neo-conservative magazine New Republic).

In (very) brief summary:
  • An oratorical approach
  • Reconciling Lacanian psychoanalysis with collectivist politics
  • Rejecting liberal relativism in favour of ‘truth’ as an understanding of power relations
  • Exposing ‘postmodernism’ and ‘the post-ideological society’ as a global capitalist scam
  • Scepticism of Derridan deconstructionism as bourgeois ‘writing about writing’
  • Using popular culture (art, films) to explore the ‘Symbolic Order’ of language and the mind
  • Anti-capitalist/Marxist revisionist
  • Political/ecological manifesto for collective change to solve war and poverty
  • Rejection of liberal ideologies, facing up to ‘radical contingency’
  • Scientific, atheistic view of the universe
  • Reconciling determinism with free will in the realm of quantum uncertainty

Some key ideas

Obviously I would need to go into some detail about relative deliberations and actions to define ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (which would take this thread way off course). Just because someone disagrees or acts against my manifesto doesn’t make them evil!

Further excerpts:

AP: Let’s just say that a lack of love is apparent, as well as compassion, tolerance, empathy and ethical/moral balance. Does this make him “evil”? I think not; just a cold calculating, indifferent and self absorbed loner......As I recall Prison used to be for such socio/psycho-paths didn’t it? Lock him up for life with no access to the outside world that he so detests and then forget about him, he deserves nothing more.....Ond x

AF: @ chris hmm got a slight prob with the 2nd sentance...so evil if delibratley act against....how would u define good? and what if the same actions were done against the not so morally good? do u mean like something done to I duno tibetan monks as opposed to lap dancers? bad examples but off my head top............

Me: I’d rather not get too sidetracked by a relativist discussion of “good” and “evil”. There are many problems with defining “good” - and I’m certainly not advocating some kind of ‘absolute’ goodness. But I think we can broadly agree that survival, well-being and compassion are generally considered to be good. The American neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris asks us to consider ‘the worst possible misery for everyone’ then suggests that anything which takes us away from that is ‘good’. This appealingly simple proposition does contain some epistemological flaws however which I think require a separate discussion (for a brief outline of some of the initial problems, please refer to Can Science Answer Moral Questions? http://martygull.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/chris-port-blog-250-can-science-answer.html).

JG: Call me a sick bastard if you must but i think a more appropriate punishment for Breivik would be Community service… In Palestine.

Me: You’re a sick man :) The question is, is he?

JG: As sick as the sick ones go. He is a cowardly freemason and a Zionist, you do the math.

JG: There are certain qualities in him though, and i wouldn’t call him stupid. For example - Anders’ favourite composer –

Me: Admiring Wagner’s art doesn't make you a Nazi (although being a Nazi tends to nudge you in Wagner’s direction). You could say the same about Nietzsche. Nietzsche would probably have despised the Nazis. Wagner, regrettably, would probably have been in his element :(

Me: Also, there are different types of intelligence - and different types of stupidity. I would venture that, for all his pseudo-intellectualism and practical cunning, Breivik is morally and philosophically stupid.

JG: I maintain though that “Stupidity” is very tough to define and on any scale it wouldn’t be easy to call him stupid. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDsnCrSfzCQ

JG: Over the next 5 days Breivik will get to present his views and motives for the attack before the court and then they will decide if he is insane or not. It seems pretty retarded to me considering his views and motives are already well known and keeping in mind the things that he believes/did, it would be hard for anyone NOT to label him as clinically insane. I think he's not insane, but... I bet the court will declare him "insane" and he'll be put in some lax Norwegian mental ward that feels more like a retirement home filled with a bunch of other people who also pretended to be insane so they wouldn't get sent to prison.

Me: Keep your eyes open for epistemological sleights of hand. They don’t invalidate the argument. It’s just not consistent, that’s all.

Intelligence/Morality, Stupidity/Evil

It is probably easiest to visualize intelligence/morality as a duality. In humanist terms, they are essentially the same concept. Consider them as analogous to an electromagnetic spectrum. I’m borrowing from the ‘worst possible misery’ of Sam Harris here.

Stupidity/evil (another duality) increase towards the physically darker end of the spectrum. They achieve a measurably definite* evil at absolute zero.

(* Almost. There would still be quantum fluctuations in the ground state).

By absolute zero I mean absolute zero degrees Kelvin, the ‘coldest’ possible temperature. Entropy stops**. So does any possibility of life, intelligence or morality - the escalating markers of the evolutionary scale.

(** Almost. As above).

I’m not concerned with moral relativism here. At this extreme, there is no morality. In human terms, there is nothing.

So, ‘evil’ has a physical and measurable state within the limits of the Uncertainty Principle. ‘Good’, on the other side, doesn’t. Consider good as the relative absence of evil, and evil as the relative absence of possibility.

Human life (intelligence/morality) exists in a narrow band of the spectrum - a ‘Goldilocks Zone’: temperature, physical elements, environmental factors, biology etc.

Evil will tend to increase towards the colder end of the spectrum. The possibility of good will tend to increase towards the ‘warmer’ end (up to an optimum upper temperature distribution for any given biosphere).

There will be complex localized anomalies in ‘the wrong place’ for some measurements. This should be regarded as a separate methodological problem though. The analogy still has its uses before being synthesized with an antithesis.

It should be clear that the analogy is not self-sufficient. It is a physically inaccurate analogue for a metaphysical structure. Other concepts from outside the system must be introduced. Again, these should be regarded as a separate problem.

Good has a physical upper temperature limit. Above that, entropy breaks down survival systems. In environmental terms, it’s when global warming increases adverse environmental effects. By adverse I mean such phenomena as pollution, flooding, drought, crop failure, starvation, war etc.

Also, within the ‘Goldizone’ limits, even as entropy increases the availability of energy for work, the system may not be efficient or effective at energy extraction and distribution. At the local scale (e.g. our planet) ‘bad’ energy distribution may result in extinction level events.

Morally responsible actions may be plotted against an intelligence/stupidity (good/evil) morality graph. Not solely by deontological criteria but by consequential logic applied to the parameters of the Goldilocks Zone.

Are Breivik’s words and actions likely to increase or decrease the probability of adverse environmental phenomena (locally and globally, short term and long term)? By plotting his acts against a metamodernist agenda, I would say increase.

If I judge him to be mentally competent then I also judge him to be intellectually and morally responsible. As I plot research of his acts on a metaphorical graph, I prejudge him to be competent, stupid and evil. This judgment may change if new ‘co-ordinates’ appear.

It is interesting to note:

1) As the intelligence/morality spectrum extends towards ‘good’, co-ordinates become less physical and more metaphysical.

2) And, of course, vice versa. Nature, and our animal ancestry, are not moral places. They exist only in the sense of pitiless survival. In pseudo-religious terms, ‘the Beast’ is our repressed race memory of where our species once was.

3) More optimistically, the opposite may be inferred. As the spectrum extends towards ‘good’, physical reality becomes less self-determinate. It is increasingly defined with reference to more abstract terms.

4) The ‘lesser of two evils’/‘greater good’ is another duality. Essentially it is a metaphysical phenomenon, not a physical one.

5) This ‘ontological incompleteness’ of reality creates an epistemological gap for ‘God’. Not the ‘God of the gaps’ dismissed by neo-positivists but a Wittgensteinian ‘God of the language games’.

6) I don’t like Breivik’s language games. So this whole pseudo-science analogy was just a shaggy dog ruse. Intelligence/morality (or stupidity/evil) are mostly a problem of aesthetics, not mathematics ;)

7) If I were a sick man, I might describe Breivik as an ‘Illegally Blonde’ musical.

“Evil is mostly a problem of bad taste. Except for ‘Legally Blonde’. Anyone who likes that is clearly insane.” (Marty Gull)

8) If you want to get Nietzschean about it, perhaps intelligence and morality are Einsteinian analogues. The moral universe may warp itself around until ‘God’ and ‘Evil’ meet as the ultimate SuperFiction. Maybe so. But that’s another story…

9) See the problems with analogies in The Incomprehensibility of Car Mechanics. http://martygull.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/chris-port-blog-265-incomprehensibility.html

Matt Johnson and The The explain this all far better, I feel. Philosophy in musical action on ‘religion’ - good musical theatre...

Violence of Truth

What is evil?
What is love?
What is the force that possesses us?
Where is the beauty?
Where is the truth?
Where is the force that watches over you?

What is it that makes us ashamed to be white
When we close our ears to the sound of machine gun fire?
And while the niggers of this world are starving with their mouths wide open
What is it that turns the coins we throw at them
Into worthless little tokens?

Why is it that anything on this Earth
We do not understand
We are pushed down on our knees
To worship or to damn?

Those are the rules of religion
Those are the laws of the land
That's how the forces of darkness
Have suppressed the spirit of man

That’s why human beings
Still walk on all fours
Whilst in the presence
Of their so called superiors

Something's telling you
To wake up and salute
The dangers of obedience
The violence of truth

God is evil, God is love
God is the force that possesses us
God is beauty, God is truth
God is the force that is watching over you

Deconstructing ‘Faith’ (Reconstructing Wisdom)

Carefully consider the following imaginary debate about religious faith which has been doing the rounds on Facebook. My repudiation of it follows immediately afterward.

Professor: You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

Student: Yes, sir.

Professor: So, you believe in GOD?

Student: Absolutely, sir.

Professor: Is GOD good ?

Student: Sure.

Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

Student: Yes.

Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

(Student was silent.)

Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

Student: Yes.

Professor: Is Satan good ?

Student: No.

Professor: Where does Satan come from ?

Student: From … GOD …

Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student: Yes.

Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

Student: Yes.

Professor: So who created evil ?

(Student did not answer.)

Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student: Yes, sir.

Professor: So, who created them ?

(Student had no answer.)

Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

Student: No, sir.

Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

Student: No , sir.

Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

Student: No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

Student: Yes.

Professor: According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student: Nothing. I only have my faith.

Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

Student: Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Professor: Yes.

Student: And is there such a thing as cold?

Professor: Yes.

Student: No, sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)

Student: Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

Student: What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student: You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

Student: Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

Student: Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Student: Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

(The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

Student: Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

(The class was in uproar.)

Student: Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

(The class broke out into laughter. )

Student: Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

(The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student: That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.


I believe you have enjoyed the conversation. And if so, you’ll probably want your friends / colleagues to enjoy the same, won’t you?

Forward this to increase their knowledge … or FAITH.

By the way, that student was EINSTEIN.

My repudiation of ‘Faith’

I’ve come across this before. It’s an ingenious and entertaining piece of sophistry. But it is ontologically flawed and makes several category errors...

First, it’s a fictional Platonic dialogue. The student was NOT Einstein and in no way represents Einstein’s views. Like many intelligent men, Einstein’s views about God were complex. However, I think it fair to say that Einstein most certainly did NOT believe in the traditional Judaeo-Christian concept of a personal God. His views were much closer to Spinoza’s concept of a cool, indifferent God without intelligence, feeling or will. In essence, God is the laws of physics, not an entity.

The Professor first queries and ridicules the student’s belief in God by identifying apparent inconsistencies in God’s alleged omnipotence and omniscience. However, these may be dismissed (or, at least, evaded) by invoking God’s alleged ineffability. Perhaps evil and suffering are part of some ‘divine plan’ of which we are unaware?

Much the same ‘strategic’ argument has been used by more mortal military authorities with an apparent straight face (e.g. “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it” is a quote attributed to various American military sources during the Vietnam War).

Perhaps God is not so much an infallible deity as a supernatural superpower engaged in some celestial proxy war? Or perhaps evil and suffering are illusions created to test our earthly avatars as our angelic souls lie in pods of heavenly Matrix gloop? Who knows? (I certainly don’t!)

The interpretation of God as merciful is a comparatively recent New Testament claim. The God of the Old Testament seems to have been more than capable of cruelty and capriciousness. While religionists tend to cite the Gospels ‘as gospel’, it is possible to believe in a God without subscribing to earthly doctrine and dogma. Religion and belief in a God are not necessarily synonymous.

The underlying question here is why an alleged ‘perfect’ deity would create such obviously ‘imperfect’ human beings. The underlying answer here could simply be: “God moves in mysterious ways”. That’s for Him to know and us to find out.

The apparent lack of empirical evidence for a supernatural God is more difficult to refute. The null hypothesis model suggests that the student should observe the principle of Ockham’s Razor and allocate the balance of probability to God’s non-existence.

However, in the case of a metaphysical God, there is an underlying flaw in the methodology here. Put simply, the empiricist has no idea what to look for or how to look for it. The refutation of the null hypothesis model as ‘unfit for purpose’ in this instance is fairly lengthy. Please refer to God’s Null Hypothesis: The Banana Skin on the Pavement… at http://martygull.blogspot.com/2011/05/chris-port-blog-261-gods-null.html?spref=tw for elaboration.

The student’s counter-examples of accepted binary opposites, while ingenious and correct in themselves, merely exploit category errors. The student is quite right to assert that ‘cold’ and ‘darkness’ are not existent properties but the absence of other existent properties. However, these are not analogous to God.

There are many putative definitions that may be proposed for God, but none of them are based on the absence of other properties. God is always asserted as a presence, not an absence.

It is correct to say that cold is the absence of heat, and that darkness is the absence of light. However, whatever God may (or may not) be, He is not usually described as the absence of Devil, or Evil, or Science (or whatever). This would seem to be a mere ‘Straw God’, a ‘God of the Gaps’ being squeezed out of supernatural explanations by scientific ones until there is nothing left for Him to do. A ‘God of the Science Crumbs’ is hardly a compelling argument for a deity.

The category errors become more pronounced towards the end of the argument. Evolution is a lengthy and insentient process, so the fact that we don’t often ‘catch it in the act’ is not equivalent to ‘not catching God in the act’. God (in this argument) is discussed as a sentient entity with the option of manifesting Himself in the moment. This option is not open to Evolution and so the analogy is invalid.

As it happens, Evolution is sometimes ‘caught in the act’…

Gene change in cannibals reveals evolution in action

Evolution in Action: Lizard Moving From Eggs to Live Birth

Darwin’s finches tracked to reveal evolution in action

While no-one has yet seen the Professor’s brain, there is always the option of scanning it or dissecting it. Again, this option is not available with God and so the analogy is invalid.

Finally, we come to the most telling category error: ‘Faith’. There are two completely different senses of the term ‘Faith’ at work here.

In the case of the Professor, he is merely asking the students to trust his judgments for the time being. He is not claiming infallibility, and the students retain the option to challenge the Professor at any time.

God, however, is not asking for anything. He is not in the room and has not spoken directly to the student.

The student’s ‘Faith’ in the Professor is conditional. The student’s ‘Faith’ in God is unconditional. They are therefore not equivalent. Whether this is wise of the student is the subject of another (far more complex) debate…

Are morals objective or subjective? Is there anything that is morally absolute?

Wittgenstein was wise to warn us against the ‘bewitchment’ of words. Philosophical problems arise because of misuse of language.

When we say “ALL morality is relative” we become bewitched by the word “all”. This is an objectivist term and thus appears to contradict the relativist sentiment of the statement.

However, we should remember that philosophical problems are not ‘solved’ in the same way as maths equations or discrepancies in scientific theories. The task of philosophy is not to solve problems but to DISsolve them.

If we rephrase the statement as “EACH morality is relative” then the problem disappears. Morality is an inter-subjective phenomenon. Inter-subjectivity is equivalent to relativism.

Relativity is a scientific concept. It is sometimes useful to transpose scientific ideas into philosophical ones. However, we should be wary of confusing methodologies.

Science does not claim objectivity because it claims that there is no possible objective frame of reference. Instead it claims to be a consistent method of measurable approximations and falsifiable universality. That which cannot be measured cannot be falsified, and similar conditions should create similar results (up to the limits of the Uncertainty Principle and Chaos Theory).

Moral judgments are not the same as scientific measurements. ‘Facts’ form part of our moral assessment criteria, but we are more influenced by aesthetic judgments and cultural traditions. Morality is an interdisciplinary subject, and moral arguments are based on emotion and rhetoric far more than empiricism.

Rape and murder are generally viewed as evil in most human cultures - except when they are legitimized for political reasons (e.g. war). Rape and murder are ubiquitous in the animal world, but we don’t apply moral terms to nature. Morality, like humanity itself, is balanced precariously between the natural and the divine. When those worlds move too far apart, we are plunged into despair.

Heart of Darkness

I love this book. Anyone who hasn't read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness doesn’t really know what they’re talking about. There is no Jacob’s Ladder to heaven. But there is a Wittgensteinian Ladder out of the green hell. Until you know the true horror of reality, you can never know the true happiness of humanity. A lie, undoubtedly. But a vital one. Question is, are you ready for happiness? ;)

‘Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now” was inspired by Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad about a European named Kurtz who penetrated to the farthest reaches of the Congo and established himself like a god. A boat sets out to find him, and on the journey the narrator gradually loses confidence in orderly civilization; he is oppressed by the great weight of the jungle all around him, a pitiless Darwinian testing ground in which each living thing tries every day not to be eaten.

What is found at the end of the journey is not Kurtz so much as what Kurtz found: that all of our days and ways are a fragile structure perched uneasily atop the hungry jaws of nature that will thoughtlessly devour us. A happy life is a daily reprieve from this knowledge.’ (Roger Ebert)

Heart of Darkness (Full text)

‘Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the Director suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky -- seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.’

Musical Hearts (of Darkness)

Britain has a heart of darkness. What (if anything) do musicals have to say about our dark past (and even darker future)? We still haven’t learned the lessons being taught to us by own military experts…

Deny the British empire’s crimes? No, we ignore them.

‘Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.’

British Atrocities in Counter Insurgency, Colonel (Rtd), David Benest OBE, 2011

‘There is no comparable history of counterinsurgency anywhere in the world to match that of the British record.’

‘The truly disturbing aspect of this study is the manner in which senior officials of both the military, civil service and government, thought it expedient to steadfastly refuse to face the facts when atrocities took place. The ‘system’ has long taken the view that while it knows these crimes have been (and are) committed, to admit to them - until forced by sheer weight of incontestable evidence – is that admission would ‘give aid and comfort’ to the enemy. It is furthermore of great concern that official papers on such matters were/are withheld from the National Archive on grounds of political sensitivity.’

The Object Beyond War: Counterinsurgency and the Four Tools of Political Competition, Montgomery McFate, Ph.D., J.D., & Andrea V. Jackson

‘ In the most basic sense, an insurgency is a competition for power. According to British Brigadier General Frank Kitson, “[T]here can be no such thing as [a] purely military solution because insurgency is not primarily a military activity.” ’

‘In any struggle for political power there are a limited number of tools that can be used to induce men to obey. These tools are coercive force, economic incentive and disincentive, legitimating ideology, and traditional authority. These tools are equally available to insurgent and counterinsurgent forces. From the perspective of the population, neither side has an explicit or immediate advantage in the battle for hearts and minds. The civilian population will support the side that makes it in its interest to obey. The regard for one’s own benefit or advantage is the basis for behavior in all societies, regardless of religion, class, or culture.’

‘ Success depends on the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the civilian population and ask: How would I get physical and economic security if I had to live in this situation? Why would I accept the authority claimed by the powers that be? In the words of Max Weber, “When and why would I obey?” ’

PSYOP of the Mau-Mau Uprising

Counterinsurgency by David Kilcullen

‘In all the coverage of the atrocities in Kenya, two words are missing’
[He means Enoch Powell…]

“Nor can we ourselves pick and choose where and in what parts of the world we shall use this or that kind of standard. We cannot say, ‘We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home.’ We have not that choice to make. We must be consistent with ourselves everywhere.” (Enoch Powell)

Ironically, Enoch’s words have been brought home to us in reverse. Instead of applying illusory standards of British decency to our retreat from empire (caused by bankruptcy, not democracy) we started importing sweatshop standards to our own economy. We are becoming consistent with our past foreign atrocities.

“ ‘Someday this war’s gonna end’. That’d be just fine with the boys on the boat. They weren’t looking for anything more than a way home. Trouble is, I’d been back there, and I knew that it just didn’t exist anymore. If that’s how Kilgore fought the war, I began to wonder what they really had against Kurtz. It wasn’t just insanity and murder. There was enough of that to go around for everyone.” (Apocalypse Now)

Stop saying sorry for our history: For too long our leaders have been crippled by a post-imperial cringe

[It’s difficult to express my contempt for this article. Ironically, it’s a classic example of the sort of moral relativism despised by right-wingers in ‘Guardianistas’. Idiots like this are dangerous. They’re not so much evil as counter-productively stupid.]

‘Of course, British rule had blunders, cruelties and prejudices. And yet, by comparison with the other great empires, from the Romans and the Persians to the French, the Dutch and the Spanish, Britain’s empire stands out as a beacon of tolerance, decency and the rule of law.’

In the author’s sad mad dreams, perhaps it does. In the real world, dreams have been overtaken by events. Time to wake up.

First Draft PhD Proposal

What Is The Current Role of The Martyr? Skeptical Romanticism and a Metamodernist Renaissance: The Resynthesis of Art, Science and Philosophy in the Context of Musical Drama


“I’ve seen horrors... horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror... Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces... seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it... I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God... the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”


  1. Stupidity in Literature

    'The first book in English on stupidity was A Short Introduction to the History of Stupidity by Walter B. Pitkin (1932):

    “Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme Social Evil. Three factors combine to establish it as such. First and foremost, the number of stupid people is legion. Secondly, most of the power in business, finance, diplomacy and politics is in the hands of more or less stupid individuals. Finally, high abilities are often linked with serious stupidity.”

    According to In Search of Stupidity: Over Twenty Years of High Tech Marketing Disasters, (2003) by Merrill R. Chapman:

    “The claim that high-tech companies are constantly running into 'new' and 'unique' situations that they cannot possibly be expected to anticipate and intelligently resolve is demonstrably false....The truth is that technology companies are constantly repeating the same mistakes with wearying consistency...and many of the stupid things these companies do are completely avoidable.”

  2. ‎'Labour must decide – is this government useless or evil?'

    Depends on what type of audience they're seeking to persuade...

    Dull wits tend to judge everything by their own subjective emotions. Find out what makes them happy and call this 'good'. Then show them that they are unhappy (this shouldn't be too difficult). Then demonstrate how this government is deliberately making their unhappiness worse (again, this shouldn't be too difficult). The logical conclusion will be that this government is 'evil' and must go. Job done.

    Intellectuals tend to suspend their subjective emotions in the same way that theatre-goers suspend their disbelief. Although "All art is quite useless", governments are like books, "well written, or badly written. That is all." This government is tragedy repeating itself as farce. Unfortunately, it's not funny. When boredom sets in, it's time for a new play. Job done.

    Evil or stupidity. It amounts to the same thing. Mind you, Labour hasn't exactly dazzled me with its brilliance either...

  3. 'Adam Lanza: the medicalisation of evil'
    Lindsey Fitzharris, The Guardian, Science Desk
    Monday 17 December 2012

  4. "... yes, of course, there will be a catastrophe, but watch patiently, don’t believe in it, don’t get caught in precipitous extrapolations, don’t give yourself up to the properly perverse pleasure of thinking “This is it!” in all its diverse forms (global warming will drown us all in a decade, biogenetics will mean the end of being-human, et cetera, et cetera) . Far from luring us into a perverse self-destructive rapture, adopting the properly apocalyptic stance is - today more than ever - the only way to keep a cool head."

    Slavoj Žižek: Christianity Against the Sacred


    Sam Harris (world famous neuroscientist philosopher) is offering his critics a chance to put up or shut up. He's offered a cash prize of $20,000 (about £12,800) to anyone who can convincingly refute his central argument for a scientific morality.

    Assuming no-one can refute him, there's a consolation prize of $2,000 (about £1,280) for the most interesting response.

    See FAQs in link for further details. Closing date for entries is 9 February 2014, so you've got time to buy his book and boost his royalties.


    Hmmm… Traditionally, science has been regarded as descriptive and morality as prescriptive. But science is also predictive. So, in Sam’s moral landscape, do good* predictions = good** prescriptions?

    * Falsifiable
    ** Beneficial

    Possibly. But if they’re truly equivalent, does it work vice versa? This leads out onto some very thin ice…

    The real question is always “Cui bono” (to whose benefit?). So I suspect that Sam’s thesis could only be refuted by reference to de facto cynicism rather than de jure principle (i.e. selectivity and performativity)


    I don’t actually want to refute Sam’s thesis (fortunately for me). I just want to qualify it (modesty is my only flaw). But, in order to qualify it, I’ll have to fail to refute it in a way that grabs his interest. So, all I’m really looking for is a fascinating aesthetic conundrum at the heart of his argument…

    See also:

    Can Science Answer Moral Questions?

    First Draft PhD Proposal

    Woolwich Threads

    A Crash Course in Aesthetics

    Metamodernist Case Notes on a Think Tank Thread: Why Us and Why Now?

    Notes on Metamodernism: The Pit and the Pendulum...

    The Name of the Ghost

    Teachers Talking Rot (1 of 2)

    Teachers Talking Rot (2 of 2)

    See also: "Perhaps description is the key?"

    Marty Solves One of the Problems of the Universe

  6. WG: If morality evolved for the purpose of fostering community, can we deduce anything about what is moral/immoral without committing the naturalistic fallacy? If so, what?

    Naturalistic fallacy

    CP: Assuming evolution (and discounting intelligent design) we would be committing a teleological fallacy if we claimed that morality evolved for any purpose.

    See Teleological Argument

    It would be less erroneous if we simply claimed that community evolved as a successful survival strategy. From this we can deduce that morality evolved from a natural hierarchical pecking order into etiquette.

    See Etiquette

    The problem of the 'Naturalistic Fallacy' arises because of a manmade distinction between natural and manmade.

    This distinction seems to be an inverted form of the anthropomorphic/pathetic fallacy.

    See Pathetic Fallacy

    Man (i.e. homo sapiens) evolved IN the natural world. However, our intelligence evolved as another successful survival strategy. Eventually, this sapient differential resulted in misrecognition. We began to see ourselves as SEPARATE from the natural world.

    However, this separation is a fallacy. In (physical) reality, sentience is an emergent phenomenon. The artificial is still part of the natural world.

    From our initial premises, we can deduce that morality (i.e. evolved etiquette) can only exist in higher level consciousness. Therefore, we can deduce that morality is a complex emergent property.

    After that, we can only deduce that we are playing Wittgensteinian language games.

    See Language-game (philosophy)

    In 'The Moral Landscape', Sam Harris proposes we should discard cultural relativism and quantify these language games in terms of 'the well-being of conscious creatures'. It's a logical deduction and a valid premise.

    See 'The Moral Landscape'

    Whether his arguments are sound is still up for grabs though.


    CP: If morality is ‘the well-being of conscious creatures’, then consciousness must precede well-being.

    This is a one-way logic gate. We can talk of consciousness without well-being, but it makes no sense to talk of well-being without consciousness.

    Ergo, existence must precede essence (sans Sartrean Free Will).

    Ergo, survival must precede morality.

    But survival of what? Individuals, communities, genes, or memes?

    These qualities are entangled and interdependent. But which is most important?

    Ironically, we cannot be equitable from first principle here. Unfortunately, we do not live in a deathless paradise. Therefore, in the physical universe, we can only talk of survival and morality in terms of priorities (e.g. dilemmas or conflicts of interest).

    The scientific method can quantify well-being. But can it qualify existential priorities? If not, then a scientific morality without aesthetic qualification has no system of prioritization.

    Ergo, does ‘scientific morality’ encounter similar inconsistencies to those identified in Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems?

    Raatikainen, Panu, "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)