I apologize, right at the start, to anyone who was disappointed that I didn’t write a blog post yesterday. I was home sick, having gotten a bad GI reaction from some Chinese food that I ordered and ate Sunday night. The food was the gastric equivalent of Rocky Balboa; it simply did not want to stay down.
I’m back now, though, and have just arrived at the train station after a morning walk, and am waiting for the train I would have boarded anyway had I taken the bus. I’ve occasionally toyed with the idea of getting a bike—not a fancy, lean-over-the-handlebars type—to go to and from the train station. But to do that entails thinking of something long-term, as a long-term solution to the problem of time in my daily life, and I have no desire to think long-term. I honestly don’t really want a long term. I barely want a short term. I barely want a single day more, to be honest, especially when I’ve been feeling sick and my back is hurting especially badly. Oh, well, that’s nothing new.
I suppose I should welcome you all to Spring, which officially started yesterday, when the equinox happened—or autumn, in the southern hemisphere, apologies for the apparent dissing. I’m a little sad that I didn’t get to write about it yesterday. In many ways, the equinoxes are more global than the solstices, because (although one is heading toward summer and the other heading toward winter) the two hemispheres all go through the same equinox at the same time, and it means, roughly, the same thing.
I was listening to an audiobook while walking this morning, as I often do, but this was a non-fiction book. The author, a highly intelligent investigator, often refers to “authorities” regarding certain subjects*, sometimes seeming a bit tongue-in-cheek as he does so. This raised for me a notion that I think is not reinforced often enough in the world: when it comes to matters of science, there are no authorities. There are experts, but there are no actual authorities. No one has authorship of nature—no human or other mortal, anyway—and so no one has authority.
Stephen King can rightly claim authority over the works of Stephen King, as no one else can. But nature, reality itself, is not subject to human authority. And that includes other humans. Governments also don’t really have authority, since none of them actually made society, nor do they “run” their nations. At best, they are managers.
I’ve said this before, but no human civilization was ever created, nor is any such thing ever run, by individual humans. They are spontaneously self-assembled and self-organizing systems. Each individual member of the system is responding to local incentives, and this generates the overall pattern emergently.
This brings me to another issue that occurred to me while listening to the book, and that is the notion of intentions. We all know the cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and these good intentions are mentioned frequently regarding the people who have made scientific errors or presumptions as described in the book to which I was listening. And it occurred to me that not only are good intentions not any adequate guarantee of good outcomes; they can be actively corrupting, in many ways more so than greed or lust for power.
While a person who is greedy and self-serving can certainly do great harm, part of their very impetus is to continue getting away with what they are doing, to continue to prosper, and so they tend to want to fly under the radar—at least until they begin to feel insecure in other ways, perhaps. But ideologues, people who truly believe that what they are doing is right and is best for the greatest number of people, can justify performing horrible acts that might put off any but the worst of psychopathic sadists.
The perpetrators of various witch-hunts and inquisitions and reigns of terror and pogroms and purges and great leaps forward and killing fields and the like—and even the less-destructive Twitter mobs—are often people who are truly and thoroughly convinced that they are acting in the best interests of everyone in the world, and possibly even in the best interests of those they torture and murder in some cases.
But the desire to do good and the question of actually doing good appear to be almost orthogonal in reality. Certainly their alignment is not reliably one-to-one. Thus, any person who actually wants to do good—not just to be able to tell themselves that they are doing good—must always be amendable, at least in principle, to learning that they are wrong, in their methods or even in their ideals.
Dogmatism tends to be catastrophic. Certainty kills, in the words of a person whom I cannot recall. Or to paraphrase another source of which I’m not certain, good intentions can be and have been used to fumigate the worst of possible deeds, even the slaughter of a continent.
As Richard Feynman** said, reality has to take precedence over politics, for Nature cannot be fooled.
Anyway, that’s enough of that. All these things apply in the long run—relatively speaking, anyway—and while I’m interested, in principle, in long walks, I can’t actually envision a future for myself, other than the inevitable one. I have no goals or plans or aspirations, I desire no “beliefs”, and I don’t foresee any beneficial change in myself, whether beneficial to me or to anyone else. If I could find the will to override the irritating biological drives that lead me to keep eating and drinking and all that crap, I would do so, and would consider it sensible. But that’s not readily accomplished, so I am forced along other, sometimes potentially very long, paths.
Ah, well. I’m stubborn at least, even if I’m not dogmatic. Or so I believe.
*I’m not going into the subject matter because I don’t want to distract from my point.
**Of course I tend to remember when I’m quoting him.