What to take from the midterm elections? I think Patrick Buchanan over at The American Conservative has the best interpretation of the all too predictable outcome in "Voters Against Everyone":
The country, in short, will vote today—for gridlock.
In a democracy, people get the kind of government they deserve.
The American people are today a deeply divided people—on ideology, politics, faith, morality, race, culture. Americans today—and not for the first time—do not really like each other.
As that is who we are, we will get that kind of Congress. And that is the kind of government we will have, until one half of the nation triumphs decisively over the other, as happened in 1932 and in 1980.
And American politics is certainly not Krieg ohne Hass.
Is it fair to say the US can't assassinate the problem away in a place like Afghanistan? In a place like Afghanistan the only thing you can do is what the Mongols did--go in and kill everybody--which obviously wasn't going to happen. We took sides with a Pashtun tribe that didn't have much support in the rest of the country. And so killing one guy or two or ten or a hundred wasn't going to make any difference.
You mention the assassination of Anwar Sadat and how that changed very little in Egypt. Talk to me about the main differences between assassinations that prompt political change and those that don't. If you're going to make an assassination work, the guy you're assassinating has to pretty much be a one-man show. I think the clichéd assassination we all refer to is Hitler. I think the Third Reich would have fallen apart if he would have been killed.
Also I think that [the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin clearly changed any chance of the Israelis and the Palestinians reaching a settlement. It died with him. He was accepted in the military and a large number of Israelis, and if he said this would work, people believed him. Once he was gone, any chance of a settlement disappeared with it.
Sadat was held in power by the military. And it's a group of generals. Any military dictatorship where there's multiple generals and also strong core commanders, it's not going to do any good killing that one guy.
In Pakistan, you can kill the chief of staff, but you have five core commanders. Any one of them could step up into his position and hold Pakistan together. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, when we were looking at him, had eviscerated his military, including his son-in-law. Anybody who was a potential threat was eliminated. There was no bench strength in Iraq, as we've seen with the chaos. There's no general who has stepped forward to hold it together.
Talk to me about how the legality of assassinations has changed. You make reference to President Reagan issuing an executive order banning assassinations in 1981. How has the law changed in the interim? It completely changed. It's sort of like our attitude toward torture and renditions and violating the Fourth Amendment. We simply redefined the Constitution and redefined executive law to allow what clearly are assassinations, like Awlaki. By deeming people enemy combatants, we remove all their rights.
In going outside the law, isn't the US opening itself up to all sorts of fuck-ups? I think we are. I don't think Al Qaeda or ISIS are existential threats to this country at all. It certainly wasn't time to suspend the Constitution, which we effectively did.
What about internationally? What does international law say about assassinations? It's the problem of reciprocity. If we decide we can assassinate someone in a strange country like Mali, why can't they exert the same right to do it here?
What can the US learn from a guy like Radwan? I think we have to learn that the politics have to be right. Hajj Radwan survived because in Lebanon they wanted the foreigners out of their country. He was riding a wave, and it was a matter of his pushing the politics to get what he wanted.
You can't go into a country where everyone is against you and make one political murder work. You're going against history. And you can't do an assassination that goes against history.
Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities.
-H.P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West: The Re-Animator”
An important theme in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is that the world is made intelligible to the mind through the senses, that the understanding can make inferences only of things as they appear to us, phenomena, not things in and of themselves, noumena. The intuitive possibilities of human experience of phenomena therefore provide limitations upon what reason can work upon, and this theme is most obvious in “The Antinomy of Pure Reason”. There, Kant takes four controversial topics in metaphysics, including the questions of whether the universe is infinite and whether there is a necessary being within the world, and argues that they cannot be answered by human ratiocination. In “The Antinomy” — perhaps the weakest part of Kant’s project because they rely so strongly on his dubious theory of space and time — Kant argues that sophistical inferences are made when philosophers move beyond the world of sense to make statements about the world which cannot possibly be objects of human experience.
The reason being that the mind can only reason about that which it can have experience of. The human mind is only able to understand those objects which come to us through the senses. Kant had argued this point earlier in The Critiqueof Pure Reason when he writes:
The division of objects into phaenomena and noumena, and of the world into a world of sense and a world of understanding, can therefore not be permitted at all in a positive sense, although concepts certainly permit of division into sensible and intellectual ones; for one cannot determine any object for the latter, and therefore also cannot pass them off as objectively valid. If one abandons the senses, how will one make comprehensible that our categories (which would be the only remaining concepts for noumena) still signify anything at all, since their relation to any object something more than merely the unity of thinking must be given, namely a possible intuition, to which they can be applied? (B311)
He drives home the point not soon after when he writes: “With us understanding and sensibility can determine an object only in combination”(B314, Bold original). The mind does not function independently of our senses. Instead, the mind is able to make sense of the world thanks to the objects the senses have allowed the mind to comprehend through the categories. The world of experience that humans live their lives in is therefore a matter of the entities which are amenable to human experience of phenomena, rather than of objects in and of themselves as noumena.
The main thrust of Kant’s “Antimony” was that so many metaphysical conundrums are created by philosophers going beyond subjects of potential experience, and moving into thinking about noumena. For instance, the world as the world of experience has no beginning besides the beginning of the person’s experience, and thus talk about whether the world has a necessary being which began it is talk about the world beyond the purview of experience. Although we can apply reason to our thought about phenomena, the world of noumena is beyond our human senses and therefore beyond our human understanding. Here Lovecraftian themes start to make themselves felt, or at least, as I think, can be inserted for good fun.
H.P. Lovecraft is the master of cosmic horror, so much so that his last name has been made an adjective to describe such things. The most potent origin of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror is that his writing calls forth monstrosities from Meinong’s menagerie that defy our attempts to intuitively grasp them. Lovecraft’s stringing together of adjectives in describing the things from beyond often has the effect of contradicting themselves, and the reader being left with no sensible description of the thing.
This origin of cosmic horror contradicts with what Kant said about noumena since Lovecraft’s creatures were phenomena with sensible attributes. That contradiction, though, can be mollified by the consideration of the role of insanity within the Cthulhu Mythos. Characters consistently have their sanity broken entirely by experience of the Great Old Ones within their own realm. Those unfortunate characters beheld what their minds should not ever have beheld — of noumena-like objects — and are driven mad by the experience. Within Lovecraft’s mythos, the human mind is a fragile thing not meant to comprehend the true nature of the universe. As the modest products of natural selection, we have been left without the ability to register the greater reality of the Great Old Ones. As Lovecraft writes in “The Call of Cthulhu”:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Kant and Lovecraft both explicitly deal with the theme of the unfathomable. For Kant, the unfathomable was the world in and of itself which is not amendable to human reason, and important metaphysical questions, like that of Aristotle’s first mover, remain forever there beyond the grasp of rational thought. For Lovecraft, the unfathomable was the great unfeeling universe which posed the constant threats of both madness and annihilation to those unfortunate enough to stumble upon its greater reality. H.P. Lovecraft’s writings demonstrate that the possibility of noumena, of objects beyond comprehension by the intuitive possibilities of the human mind, is not only humbling, but also frightening.
When survival of the fittest is the survival of the weirdest.
In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin argued that competition is fiercest between animals of the same genus and especially of the same species:
As the species of the same genus usually have, though by no means invariably, much similarity in habits and constitutions, and always in structure, the struggle [for existence] will generally be more severe between them, if they come into competition with each other, than between the species of distinct genera... We can dimly see why the competition should be most severe between allied forms, which fill nearly the same place in the economy of nature; but probably in no one case could we precisely say why one species has been victorious over another in the great battle of life. (Darwin 1876: 59)
As a result of competition between allied species, there are selective pressures operating in nature by which a species can discover a niche otherwise uncolonized, so to speak, by its close relatives, and thereby thrive. The demands of that new niche can have curious consequences.
For instance, the slender loris is able to cope with the toxins in its insectivorous diet by slowing down its metabolism, and by using much of its energy to process the toxins that it consumes along with the calories it needs to live. As a result, the loris is a slow animal, apt to spend much of its day asleep, which is much like another animal that has found its place in the economy of nature eating what others don't want: The koala. The Eucalyptus leaves that a koala munches on are toxic in large quantities, and they provide little nutrition, so the koala bear has adapted with a slow metabolism and a sedentary lifestyle. The relative smallness of a koala's brain compared to its overall weight may very well be an adaptation to a life spent eating the little nutritious food that other species turn away from.
Both the koala and the slender loris are able to secure their place in the economy of nature by staking out a place for themselves where there is little competition. If competition between their progenitors had not been so severe, then there probably wouldn’t have been a sufficiently strong pressure for them to turn to their curious diets. Here, we can see the very same principles affecting human entrepreneurs’ specialization in the international division of labor — away from where competition has eroded profits away — affecting the specialization of species in their novel niches in what Darwin called “the economy of nature”, which I think is a most apt phrase considering the forces at work.
1) Arnold Kling provides his initial thoughts about Francis Fukuyama’s latest volume, Political Order and Decay. Of note is Kling’s taxonomy of governments based on whether or not a government is good at providing public goods in an egalitarian manner.
2) A femur found in 2008 in western Siberia has led to the creation of the oldest human genome that has yet to be sequenced at 45,000 years-old. Svante Pääbo, a director over at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, has concluded “It’s almost twice as old as the next oldest genome that has been sequenced.”
4) The Economist writes about how Nigeria has controlled the spread of Ebola within its borders, and the lessons that can be learned in “Ebola in west Africa: Not necessarily a death sentence”. It’s all really about institutions and civic trust. Liberia in particular lacks those two, being a poor nation that is recovering from a brutal decades-long civil war. In Arnold Kling's taxonomy, Liberia would be a predatory government.
5) Bill Vallicella turns to the golden age of American philosophy in “Josiah Royce and the Paradox of Revelation” over at Maverick Philosophy. Oh how the state of American philosophy has fallen since the days of Royce, and the Jameses.