November 19, 2008

Thursday, November 20

Thursday, November 20

Last Photograph of Abraham Lincoln, March 6, 1865


Posted by Vanderleun at November 19, 2008 11:16 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

As an aside about your blurb on Tom Wolfe, Wolfe also said:

"So at a recent conference on the implications of genetic theory for the legal system — five distinguished genetic theorists are up on stage — I stood up in the audience and asked, “If there is no free will, why should we believe anything you’ve said so far? You only say it because you’re programmed to say it.” You’ve never heard such stuttering and blathering in response to anything in your life."

Had I been there, I would have stood up and shown Mr. Wolfe a calculator and said: "See this calculator, it has no free will but if you ask it a question it can and will tell you the truth. Suggesting that the ability to tell the truth is dependent on a free will is false."

I'm sure that what Mr. Wolfe was suggesting was that if Man does not have a free will then we cannot find him morally culpable - which would be true - but that does not mean that we cannot find him guilty.

If a dog is accused of biting a man, we are not interested in the dog's moral guilt. We are only interested in whether the dog did, in fact, bite the man. After determining the guilt, we only want a sentence that will deter the dog from biting again. There are, probably, many ways to this, among them is giving the dog a good whipping or, if the dog is not re-trainable, killing it. I do not agree with Wolfe's insinuation that lack of a free will in Man somehow negates our legal system.

I, generally, agree with Wolfe's social sensilibilities and like his writing style but he has a tendency to overestimate his own thoughts. Having said that, I agree entirely with Mr. Wolfe on how to recapture the university.

And now, Gerard, I have a bone to pick with you. At 7am, I was on my way out the door when I thought I would give your site a quick peek. It is now 8:30am and I am going to be in deep shit for missing my appointment. What will be my excuse? Can I say that when it comes to American Digest, I have no free will? Will that wash? They will listen, of course, then they will whip me like a dog.

Posted by: Viktor Silo at November 20, 2008 8:42 AM

If you get photos of the whipping maybe I can make an item out of it.

Posted by: vanderleun at November 20, 2008 9:01 AM

Actually my read of Tom Wolfe's question to the five "distinguished genetic theorists" is that he was likely pointing out, in his inimitable manner, that bullshit is bullshit.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at November 20, 2008 9:50 AM

In Re: Jennifer Anniston.

She still looks sweet, she still looks normal. She still looks like that girl in high school who smiled at everyone.

You can't buy that, but you can photograph it.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at November 20, 2008 3:38 PM

In Re: Clutter.

The most drastic remedy is move - often.

Then there is "If I die, do I want anyone to see this?"

For closets: "If I haven't worn it within a year then I never will again."

Posted by: Mikey NTH at November 20, 2008 3:44 PM


Humans are not dogs, and the prison system/justice system are presupposed on free will, on moral culpability beyond physical culpability. If man is genetically predetermined to be a criminal or not, then after ascertaining guilt the only reliable solution is execution.

Without freewill there is no need for democracy, no need for rehabilitation, no repentance, no possibility for salvation.

I believe in freewill, if only for my own safety's sake. I am not a dog - I can choose.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at November 20, 2008 3:51 PM


Rat own, rat own, rat own.

If you read the Tom Wolfe interview, or indeed anything of Tom Wolfe's, I think you'll find his point is exactly yours, and that Viktor projected some bizarre interpretations.

Ol' Tom don't miss much.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at November 20, 2008 4:22 PM


I have read Tom Wolfe's interviews, and am saving this one for further review. It is always worth pondering over.

But, I will say this - and I said it in a long thread at Protein Wisdom some weeks ago:

At the basis of philosophy must be an agreement that there is an objective reality, and that we can perceive and describe it. If not, then there is nothing to discuss. If all is subjective, or that there is nothing that can be objectively perceived and described, why waste my time?

For example: That is either a bus coming down Woodward or a puppy. Or a hummingbird in a field. I dare you to step in front of what I perceive as a bus, and you claim is a hummingbird, or a puppy.

Shared subjective reality is a cop-out. As is 'genetic determinism'. Even 'The Bad Seed' can make a choice. If no choice, then no innoccence, then just extermination.

I understand Mr. Wolfe, I get it. If you cannot help yourself, then why should I permit you to live and threaten me? Why should I be concerned about your widow and orphan beyond exterminating them?

If there is no choice then there is no repentance, no rehabilitation, no salvation.

I get it oh too well.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at November 20, 2008 5:25 PM


Of course reality must first be posited to be objective; all else is insanity. My reading of Tom Wolfe has always left me with a comfortable feeling of having an ally in the struggle against madness, and certainly the current essay is evidence of his amusement at such idiocies as deconstructionism and similar gavel nazing.

His characterization here of "genetic theory (as) another immensely important novelty incubating in the universities" which "tends to make you feel the fix is in" strikes me as barely concealed scorn at the notion that humans are without volition in the manner of morality.

Indeed Wolfe's stuff, fiction or non, has always struck me as supremely moral, in this sense: it is, as he is the first to point out, primarily reportorial, and based in close observation. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the basis of all Catholic philosophy was the lesson to be learned from Observed Truth, as earlier Epictetus opined, essentially, that any opinion not based in Directly Experienced Reality was perforce bullshit. And contained in this, of course, is not only the expectation of self-responsibility but the assurance that we are in fact capable of it.

Obviously, I'm a long-time fan, particularly as I'm usually left helpless with delight. Tom Wolfe's deadpan take on the highly-educated (which I'm obviously not) has always left me feeling hopeful for my own sanity, and reinforced my instinct that relativism, moral, intellectual, whatever, is horseshit. Believe me, if somebody like me can come as far as I have from where I started, there can be no doubt that salvation is real.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at November 20, 2008 8:06 PM


We (obviously) agree. Jeff Goldstein over at protein wisdom has often written on deconstructionism and authorial intent, and what it means to language and to a society where the concept escapes the bounds of a salon and starts becoming part of the discourse of a society.

IIRC, Lewis Carrol described the same thing with Alice's conversation with Humpty Dumpty. If words mean whatever the reader/hearer wants them to mean, then nothing has been said.

It is all part of the same silly program, no?

Posted by: Mikey NTH at November 21, 2008 2:53 PM