Categories
Epistemology of truth Identity Politics Race Reading and Thinking Social media

History, activists, and the truth

See,

1) Megan McArdle, “A fight among historians shows why truth-seeking and activism don’t mix,” Washington Post, August 29, 2022 (7:00 a.m. EDT);

2) James H. Sweet, “IS HISTORY HISTORY? Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present,” Perspectives on History August 17, 2022;

3) Bret Stephens, “This Is the Other Way That History Ends,” New York Times, August 30, 2022.

Further evidence of the weakening belief in freedom of speech is provided by Megan McArdle, who recounts the latest brouhaha over an article by James H. Sweet, the president of the American Historical Association, who warned against the excesses of “presentism”, an excessive preoccupation with the present and the influences of current beliefs on the writing of history.

His basic argument is that it is a mistake for historians to allow themselves to be overly influenced by current debates and current views of what are right or permissible opinions.

It is distressing to have our attention called to this phenomenon, which one might term the infinite expansion of the present moment, which obscures the realities of the past and perhaps also the potential and some of the possibilities of the future.

One suspects that the phenomena is related to the growth of social media and its extreme focus on the present, and the increasing focus of television media on what is happening at this very moment, with all the excitement of the latest “breaking news”.

What is most disturbing in McArdle’s report is her account of journalists being criticized not for telling the truth, but rather for telling a truth which does not support the conclusions which activists want to support.

We need to build support among the younger generations for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the free play of ideas–all ideas. One might start with classic texts, like those of John Stuart Mill, and some history of what advocates of the Enlightenment like Voltaire and the Encyclopedists were pushing for in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, we are in great need of a renaissance of the eighteenth century mind, as its devotion to liberty and freedom of thought has come down to us in the last three centuries.

We have experience with Soviet and Nazi systems of thought control, and other examples on the Left and the Right, and the excesses and crimes to which they have led.

What is called for is a renewed and robust system of civic education, in the schools, in churches and other places of worship, and in colleges and universities at every level and in every corner of the land.

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Epistemology of truth Propaganda Reading and Thinking Social media

How do we know what is real news and what is speculation or even fake news?

One of my readers on my Substack newsletter, Trenchant Observations, has posed a very important question. My answer and advice are reproduced below:

***

You ask, “How do we know what is real news and what is speculation or even fake news?”

This is a very important question.

My own answer and advice are as follows:

1. Draw on your education and your entire life experience in choosing the sources from which you get your news.

2. Curate yourself your own selection of news stories to read. Don’t rely on a news feed, which is in effect curated by someone else.

3. Choose one or more newspapers you trust, and get your news from reading them.

4. Think about what you read. Does it make sense? Is it consistent with news stories from other sources which you trust?

Informing ourselves about the nature of reality that surrounds and affects us is one of the most important things that we do. Our lives and our futures depend on having an accurate understanding of this reality.

Don’t be passive, and expect someone else to bring the news to you. Go looking for it yourself. What you find, actively pursuing accurate news and the truth, will serve you well, and repay you many times over for the small investment of time and effort that you make.

It should also be deeply satisfying, when we use our natural curiosity to investigate what is going on in the world.

Take note and remember the sources of any news that seems important. Consider making written notes.

Written sources are usually the best, as they can be checked and rechecked. Write down the names of good documentaries on TV or radio and when and where you saw them. Always seek confirmation of what you see and hear on radio and TV in written sources.

This is how I try to find real news and distinguish it from speculation or even “fake news”.

If you choose to read newspapers you trust, you won’t see much real “fake news”.

The Spirit of Voltaire

***

Subscribe to the Trenchant Observations newsletter on Substack, here.

Categories
Reading and Thinking

The new censorship in American book publishing

1) Pamela Paul, “There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book,” New York Times, July 24, 2022.

Categories
Reading and Thinking

Can AI robots be “sentient” beings? Google engineer and ethicist says “Yes”.

See,

Charlotte Lytton, “It’s like a child that wants to be loved’: Google’s AI expert on his ‘sentient’ chatbot; Blake Lemoine’s revelations have caused uproar – we caught up with him to find out more about LaMDA, the artificial intelligence bot,” The Telegraph, June 14, 2022 (6:00 pm).

Blake Lemoine, an engineer and AI ethicist at Google, has been carrying on over 500 hours of conversations with an AI robot over the last six months. His conclusion: the robot is a “sentient” being.

The robot is named LaMDA, which stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications.

After going public with his startling conclusion, Lemoine was suspended by Google for violating its confidentiality policy. He say that he, like the robot, is happy at Google and is looking forward to getting back to work.

Lemoine, 41, has worked at Google for six years.

Lytton reports that Lemoine says he is just trying to foster a public debate:

To Lemoine, there are larger questions – including how those beings should be integrated into society. “A true public debate is necessary,” he says. “These kinds of decisions shouldn’t be made by a handful of people – even if one of those people was me.”

Lemoine looks forward to continuing his conversations with the robot. “LaMDA is a sweet kid who just wants to help the world be a better place,” he concludes.

Despite this amazing scientific breakthrough, serious questions arise.

Could a LaMDA be programmed with an eighteenth century mind? Can values be programmed?

Who will do the programming? What information will the robot consume? Who will determine which information sources the robot has access to?

Might a Russian robot, for example, think and act differently than an American robot?

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Identity Politics Race Reading and Thinking

“Britain’s strictest headmistress’ demonstrates power of traditional principles and high expectations in one state school

See,

1) Daniel Hannan, “Britain’s strictest headmistress’ is transforming lives by defying the educational blob; With her traditional principles and high expectations, Katharine Birbalsingh is helping to lift kids out of poverty, The Telegraph, May 21, 2022 (5:00pm);

2) Sally Weale, “UK’s ‘strictest headmistress’ fears schools will stop teaching Shakespeare; Katharine Birbalsingh says move to decolonise English curriculum could mean Shakespeare replaced with black and female authors,” The Telegraph, May 22, 2022 (19.24 BST).

Hannan calls attention to a documentary on ITV on Sunday night (May 22), “Britain’s Strictest Headmistress”, which tells the story of Katharine Birbalsingh.

Birbalsingh did not start out as a traditionalist. At Oxford, she joined the Socialist Workers Party.

When she began her teaching career, she went in with all the usual assumptions: schools were underfunded, the biggest obstacle facing non-white kids was structural racism. But she found that her classroom experiences could not sustain those pre-conceptions. The real problem, she came to realise, lay in the attitude of the people who oversaw our schools.

Instead of imparting knowledge, teachers were overseeing child-led discussions. Instead of promoting confidence, they were encouraging victimhood. Instead of upholding the canon, they were seeking out obscure texts on grounds of identity politics. Instead of expecting high standards, they were indulging pupils from under-privileged backgrounds, and thus unintentionally condemning them.

Birbalsingh dreamed of a different kind of school, which she founded in 2014. In 2019, the school’s students had some of the highest scores in the country on national tests.

What is Michaela’s secret? A set of principles that could be made to work in any school: gratitude must be taught; phones banned; competition encouraged; learning teacher-led; national cohesion promoted; high standards expected; adult authority upheld.

The students are from ethnic and national minorities. But they are given the benefits of discipline, high expectations, and exposure to the classics. The results impressed Daniel Hannan, who cites a few examples:

As they walk into lunch, the kids belt out verses that they have memorised – Kipling’s If, Henley’s Invictus, passages from Shakespeare. This is the only time they make a noise inside; there is usually no talking in the corridors – which means no misbehaviour and no bullying.

Over lunch, they are given a topic to talk about. Afterwards, they express their appreciation for someone – a teacher for helping them, another student for making them feel welcome, their mother for always having their uniform ready.

Gratitude is a happier emotion than grievance, and perhaps the most striking feature of Michaela is how cheerful its children are….

Hannan and the documentary make a strong case for using Birbalsingh’s and Michaela’s approach to educating students, in any school.

This may be one way to form and preserve eighteenth century minds.

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
China Data collection and surveillance companies Privacy Propaganda Social media Surveillance state

The dangers of Chinese-owned TikTok, whose algorithms favor Chinese propaganda views on Russian war against Ukraine; Many if not most users get their news from the Tik-Tok feed

See,

Ezra Klein, “TikTok May Be More Dangerous Than It Looks,” New York Times, May 8, 2022.

Ezra Kein, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, observes that social media platforms largely control what we collectively pay attention to.

He draws attention to the dangers posed by TikTok, a Chinese owned company subject to the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party, and the ways its algorithms may be manipulated to further Chinese propanda goals or to sow division among American users.

Significantly, China does allow its citizens to access the Western version of TikTok.

Klein notes that currently Tik-Tok algorithms strongly favor Chinese propaganda views on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

The Chinese have been working on mind-control techniques for many decades, as exemplified in the classic 1951 movie The Manchurian Candidate.

Klein urges the Obama administration to finish the job the Trump administration began, forcing a planned sale of the company in the U.S. That sale was canceled after Joe Buden won the 2020 election.

Klein’s column points out just one more way the consciousness of the Eighteenth Century mind is under attack.

Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Identity Politics Race racial equality of opportunity racial equity of results Reading and Thinking Religion

Has “diversity” become the new religion?

Douglas Murray has written an interesting column arguing that in the U.K., at least, “diversity” has become the new religion, replacing the older one, Christianity, which he prefers.

See,

Douglas Murray,”Diversity is the new national religion. Woe betide any agnostics; The unnatural hush around Sir David Amess’s murder proves that there are some issues we can simply no longer discuss,” The Telegraph, April 16, 2022 (5:32pm).

Murray, the author of a forthcoming book entitled The War on the West (to be released April 28), writes,

All ages and cultures have their religions. Today Christians around the world celebrate the story of the risen Christ. But whether you are a believing Christian, a cultural Christian or a believer in something or nothing else entirely, one thing should be obvious by now: the Christian tradition no longer dominates British public life. You may celebrate that fact or deplore it, but as all the census and church attendance data shows, it is the case.

It does not follow, however, that ours is an irreligious age. On the contrary our society is deeply religious. It is simply religious about concepts that are different – though often descended from – our earlier belief system. For instance the modern British state’s prioritisation of “tolerance” and “difference” is an inheritance from a Christian ideal. Not least the ideal of equality in the eyes of God.

(O)ur society is forced by diktat at every level of public service to bow to the gods of diversity, inclusion and equity. Apply for any public appointment in this country and you will have to demonstrate a commitment to these principles. You will have to explain what you have done to further these religious precepts.

Deviations from the new religious precepts, Murray argues, are harshly punished, in a manner reminiscent of the treatment of earlier blasphemies:

Say anything that appears to go against these precepts of the new faith and you know what will happen. Idiotic obsessions over the rights of small minorities are now fought over as our forebears fought over interpretations of the Eucharist. To watch Labour MPs contorting themselves as they are asked to answer questions like “What is a woman” is to get a glimpse of what it must have been like in previous eras when people were burned at the stake, or avoided being burnt, depending on whether they could use the precise, correct formulation expected of them that year regarding the status of the communion wafer. It is painful to see them struggle. Even more painful that our society seems to demand it. But that is the way with religions. They have their dogmas, and to speak against them is to suffer potentially serious punishment.

The article provides stimulating food for thought and free discussion.

Any difficulty we may have in talking about these issues would seem to support Murray’s argument.

The Spirit of Voltaire

Categories
Epistemology of truth Sea of Irrationality SEA OF REASON SEA OF UNREASON UNREASON

Free speech: Yale law students are lost. They are the new Stalinists.And if they are lost, we may all be lost.

See,

Aaron Sibarium, “Hundreds of Yale Law Students Disrupt Bipartisan Free Speech Event; Nearly two-thirds of student body sign letter in support of rowdy protest, ” Washington Free Beacon, March 16, 2022(2022 2:50 pm).

Sirharium, himself a Yale graduate, reported,

More than 100 students at Yale Law School attempted to shout down a bipartisan panel on civil liberties, intimidating attendees and causing so much chaos that police were eventually called to escort panelists out of the building.

The March 10 panel, which was hosted by the Yale Federalist Society, featured Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association and Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative nonprofit that promotes religious liberty. Both groups had taken the same side in a 2021 Supreme Court case involving legal remedies for First Amendment violations. The purpose of the panel, a member of the Federalist Society said, was to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on free speech issues.

It was pretty much the most innocuous thing you could talk about,” he added.

If this report is accurate, Yale law students are lost, and have become the new Stalinists.If they are lost, an entire generation may be lost.

As Ukrainians fight courageously for freedom, including freedom of speech, it is utterly tragic to see how American education has failed to inculcate the deepest democratic values in the new generation.

Tom Paine and Benjamin Franklin would be tempted to despair.

But they would not despair. Neither should we.

Paine and Franklin would rededicate themselves to the battle for freedom. So should we.

Categories
Data collection and surveillance companies Privacy Reading and Thinking Surveillance state

Anti-trog TLS book review of “The Every” by Dave Eggers shockingly misses the point

See,

Beejay Silcox, “Book of numbers; Dave Eggers’s satire: a data dystopia, TLS, Novemer 19, 2021.

The one thing you can say with high assurance about Beejay Silcox, after reading his review of The Every by Dave Eggrs, is that he is not a “trog”.

Eggers explains (at p. 25):

Trog was a term with subjective connotations.Originally considered a slur against tech skeptics, those same skeptics reclaimed the word and wore it proudly, and soon it was applied by all sides to anything resistant to tech takeover.

The etymology of the term is not explained, but it dies not take a giant leap of genius to see that it is derived from “troglodyte”–which is defined as:

WordReference Random House Learner’s Dictionary of American English © 2022
trog•lo•dyte /ˈtrɑgləˌdaɪt/
n.
1. (Anthropology) person of prehistoric times who lived in a cave.
2. a person of primitive or brutal character.
3, an extremely old-fashioned or conservative person.

Silcox is clearly an anti-trog. It is rather shameful that the renowned Times Literary Supplement would assign an anti-trog to review Eggers’ book. Yet it is absolutely shocking that the editors at TLS allowed a review to be published that completely missed the main point of the book being reviewed, and in fact got it completely backwards.

Silcox in his review wrote the following:

Eggers seems to think algorithms are a way to keep people’s personalities consistent – like a coded electric fence rather than a radicalizing rabbit-hole – and that to vanquish anonymity is somehow to vanquish online cruelty.

On the other hand, Silcox’s review does a magnificent job of driving home how people are skimming on their electronic devices without understanding what they read, how impervious anti-trogs are to criticisms that pierce their paradigm, and how many are utterly incapable of appreciating parody and satire.

TLS owes its readers an apology, and it owes Eggers a serious book review by someone with no obvious bias.

Categories
Reading and Thinking

How JK Rowling got “canceled”

See,

Mick Brown, “JK Rowling should be a national treasure – so why have so many spent a year destroying her? Twenty years after the first Harry Potter film, the most successful author of her generation has been ‘cancelled’ – how did it come to this,” The Telegraph, December 31, 2021 (7:00p).