I think I mentioned that I was working again this Saturday—which is today—making it two Saturdays in a row that I’m working, and thus that I would be writing a blog post today. I might not have mentioned it yesterday, however, so I hope this doesn’t come as too unpleasant a surprise. Of course, one has to wonder why anyone would bother reading the post if it were unpleasant to them, but some people can be very loyal, and that’s a trait that—up to a point—we want to reward and encourage, so if you are one of those people, I thank you.
Of course, truly blind loyalty isn’t generally a good idea. For instance, I’ve never been a fan of notions such as “my country, right or wrong,” which surely would have been welcome in any totalitarian regime from Nazi Germany to Communist Russia (or to modern Russia, alas), back to the Roman Empire and so on. It has no legitimate place in the United States, though there have been and are people who espouse it.
This is a nation founded on the principle that governments derive their just power only from the consent of the governed, and are in place only to secure their rights, such as those to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is also founded on the principle, stated in the founding document, that when governments become contrary to the rights and principles of the people, they should be changed…but that this should generally not be done for light or transient reasons.
So, maybe the guiding thought, far superior to “my country, right or wrong” should be one that gives one’s country the presumption of innocence in a sense, i.e., to grant the present government provisional loyalty, but not to give it carte blanche. Unquestioning loyalty breeds not only abuse—for when no one is telling a person they might want to reconsider their actions and choices, they are liable to become more and more extreme over time, even if only because they have a wider phase space in which to meander—but also failure.
We can imagine and see this happening in Putin’s Russia—where the head of state is a man surrounded by sycophants who, out of self-preservation, will tell him only the best news about their readiness, the strength of their army and their economies, and will tend not to give him bad news for fear of being imprisoned or poisoned or falling to their deaths in a “freak accident” from some balcony.
There should always be openness to dissenting voices; they should certainly be allowed to speak, though I suppose one cannot be required to listen. A heckler’s veto, or coerced disinvitation, or any other de facto censorship ultimately will rebound upon those who do the censoring, for they will, over time, become less and less aware of many of the facts of reality. But, as Feynman famously said during the Challenger inquiry, Nature cannot be fooled. It makes no exceptions. It doesn’t care about ideology. In its absolute implacability, it makes the Terminator look like Charlie Brown. And, to bring in another saying that’s a cliché because it’s true: Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
Of course, you cannot do anything but obey Nature. If you think you are disobeying it, you’re just obeying that part of it that allows you to delude yourself. But survival and thrival (which apparently is not a real word, but I’m leaving it there, anyway) are generally best served by having accurate information. And the quality of information, of ideas, is honed and improved by testing it against other, contrary ideas, seeing which ones are better supported by evidence and reason, which ones are more convincing, not just in quality of rhetoric—which is, after all, just a game of manipulation at its root—but in ability to convince the truly disinterested and dispassionate, and above all, in how well they match reality.
I’m not quite sure how I got onto this general topic and subject, but it’s clearly an area about which I’ve thought a great deal. When I first read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty about five years ago, I felt frankly impoverished that I hadn’t been introduced to it in my youth. But, it’s not too late to have read it now (obviously), and it wasn’t as though freedom of speech as an ideal had never occurred to me before. I just hadn’t quite encountered as well-made a defense of it.
I think many of the young and “educated” and in-education people these days have clearly not read it, or at least have not absorbed or considered it very carefully. Oh, well, young people are always foolish. The trouble is, foolish young people grow into older people who are still foolish, though usually in slightly different ways. I do not exclude myself from this general pattern—not by a parsec or a Planck length.
Wow, again, I don’t know where this all came from, but it’s probably at least a little improvement over some of my other posts. Maybe it’s partly because I fasted during the day yesterday—i.e., I ate no breakfast or lunch, and only ate anything once I’d gotten back to the house. This was my general habit during the times in my life when I’ve been both most successful and healthiest. It’s also, quite possibly, a more natural way for humans (and anthropoid replicants) to behave. In ancestral days, food generally had to be hunted and gathered prior to eating (duh!), so those activities were pursued during the day. A recently well-fed and satiated animal does not tend to get up and go hunting. Better to let the digestive system do its work.
But when one has an empty belly, one is sharper and more motivated, at least up to a point—a belly that has been empty for a very long time, obviously, is not so great. Though I kind of think it would be nice for me to try. I have enough stored fat to last me quite a while, even if I ate nothing. We’ll see what happens. But it would be welcome if my mind became sharper than usual. It’s not as though it could readily get much worse.
And, now, I’d better leave to head to the bus stop. Thank you for your patience and your loyalty in reading my blog, and in particular, for reading this little rant for today. Have a good remainder of your weekend, if you’re able.
A great meditation, Robert, thanks! For your consideration, here’s my patriotic phraseology: “My country right, and when wrong, to make her right.”
Yes, the supremacy of Nature, She who gives us life, sustains us, and takes life from us! (Forgive the anthropomorphism!)
I have no problem with anthropomorphism. Feynman always referred to Nature as “she”, and for the most part I go along with Feynman.
And thank you!