Archives for category: Semiotics
You’re on, Costanza!

It seems like a nifty analogy to me. But the big differences between the two situations are several:

  1. if bombed, survival was, shall we say, not likely, but most people who catch the coronavirus weather through just fine;
  2. the more people who survive the virus, the less of an epidemic it is, since we reach the herd immunity threshold — but the more people bombed and survived had no similar salutary effect for the non-bombed;
  3. what if masks are more like venetian blinds at full open, and they would only diminish the risk by a little, thus giving people false confidence so they would be less likely to go into a shelter when the sirens skirl?
  4. while lights-out was good for manned bombing runs, it made no difference with V-2s — so what if SARS-CoV-2 is more like a V-2 than a bomber run?

There are probably many more, but I think this meets Mr. Alexander’s request for debate.


It is not “privilege” to possess “justice.” If some people are treated justly and others aren’t, calling the former “privileged” corrupts the meaning of the terms.

And when the language becomes corrupt, the corrupt triumph while the innocent are abused — or are themselves corrupted.

Master Kung was right. Words matter. Whether through slovenliness or guile, when the meanings change of key words, we are endangered.

Semantic drift is like inflation: meaning shifts are like newly created money, the new meanings benefit early adopters at the expense of those late to the change.

If some are not treated justly, the proper response is not to attack the just as “privileged.” The proper response is to extend the reach of justice.

Word of caution, though: justice in society depends upon reciprocity.

Now, those who are indeed privileged at the expense of innocent victims, the abused, they should be subject to criticism, and their privileges taken away. Just do not pretend that privileges are justice. That is an excuse for injustice.


Each new day I hear yet another call for “opening up the economy,” and my annoyance level rises.

Not because I do not want the lockdown orders removed, however. I am annoyed because “the economy” seems unexceptionable but is not. It is an extremely deceptive term. It induces people to think of a Thing that can be shut off and on like a light switch. It suggests that it’s about money and organization and is generally ancillary to our lives. But it isn’t an existent “it” in the singular, much less in a mechanistic manner, it is an emergent order of people producing and trading. “The economy” is people doing the things that allow us to live. It is, in a sense, living.

It is “making a living.” Shut it down and you make death.
When you prohibit people from commerce, from producing and exchanging, you are cutting off the life blood of the civizilization. When we worry that “the economy will suffer” we mean “people will suffer.” And some will die.


What is liberty?

as answered on Quora….

Liberty is the freedom that can be had by all, provided each reciprocally abandons predation and parasitism (initiated force) and does not arrogate self over others, or allow others to tyrannize self.

Liberty — depending, as it does, upon the civilized stance, which is the cautious attitude of curiosity and the reserved expectation of peacefulness on the part of individuals, and which moderates the polarizing natural instincts of fight or flight — is the ideal compromise between dominance and submission, between tyranny and servility.

Or, to switch to the group level:

Liberty is a regulatory solution to the problems caused by in-group/out-group (inclusionary/exclusionary) antagonisms. It does this by regulating the ill treatment of the outsider, requiring a public test for applying coercion, based on the notions of rights/obligations and the suppression of crime and trespass. It applies the same sort of basic rule to all people, as individuals — regardless of group affiliation or institutional alliance.

Further formulations from alternative contexts:

Liberty is the replacement of militant coöperation with voluntary coöperation, understanding that peaceful non-coöperation is not a threat.

Liberty is the honing of threat systems down to a bare minimum by

  1. focusing on the prohibition of the initiation of force as well as by
  2. regarding as bedrock to social order self-defense, and by
  3. regulating retaliation by a rule of law —

all of which allows the flourishing of “enticement systems” (and the spontaneous systemization of flourishing).

Liberty, wrote Voltaire, is “independence backed by force.” While freedom is the absence of initiated opposing force, liberty is that absence grounded throughout society upon the justice of limiting “opposing force” to the defensive.

Liberty is reciprocity universalized, the Silver Rule scaled to all levels of organized society.

Liberty is a limit to government — with government understood in the broadest of social terms.

Liberty is a widespread and baseline personal freedom understood in the context of a distributed division of responsibility.

Dennis Pratt broke down the key concepts, above, into a nifty bullet-point list:

  • universal (for all)
  • civility
  • voluntary cooperation
  • reduced threats
  • defensive force
  • reciprocity
  • limited government
  • distributed responsibility

George Henry Lewes Painting; George Henry Lewes Art Print for sale
G. H. Lewes, The Study of Psychology: Its Object, Scope, and Method.

I often quote the highlighted sentence:

“Ideas are forces: the existence of one determines our reception of others.”

Do socialism and communism go hand to hand in relation?

as answered on Quora….

Defining political terms is itself a political act. So people are always redefining labels, to gain some advantage. This should not be hard to understand: a bootlicker prefers to be known as a Footwear Moisturizing Professional, but after the word “moist” has garnered an unpleasant connotation, another term will emerge — Fine Leather Sanforizer, perhaps.

This process has happened to these and related words. My favorite discussion of this can be found in Yves Guyot’s Socialistic Fallacies:

Socialists who range themselves under Karl Marx say: Plato, Campanella, More, Morelly, Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Considérant, and Louis Blanc, forsooth! Why tell us of all these socialists, utopians, dreamers, and more or less enlightened makers of literature, all so far removed from all reality? Neither Owen nor Pierre Leroux were worthy to invent the word “socialism.” As for Proudhon, who said, “Every man is a socialist who concerns himself with social reform,” he proved that despite his pretension, he belonged to those socialists of the clubs, the salons, and the vestries who indulged in elegiac, declamatory, and sentimental socialism in and about 1848.

Proudhon was nothing but a “petit bourgeois,” as Karl Marx said. There is but one true socialism, the socialism of Germany, whose formula was propounded by Karl Marx and Engels in the Communistic Manifesto of 1848.

They chose “communism” because the word “socialism” had been too much discredited at the time, but they subsequently resumed it, for the logical conclusion of all socialism is communism. The word “collectivism,” says Paul Lafargue, was only invented in order to spare the susceptibilities of some of the more timorous. It is synonymous with the word “communism.” Every socialistic program, be it the program of St. Mandé, published in 1896 by Mr. Millerand, which lays down that “collectivism is the secretion of the capitalist régime,” or that of the Havre Congress, drawn up by Karl Marx, and carried on the motion of Jules Guesde, concludes with “the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and the return to collective ownership of all the means of production.

Guyot was writing at the end of the 19th century (in 1894’s The Tyranny of Socialism) and at the beginning of the 20th (1910’s Socialistic Fallacies and 1914’s Where and Why Public Ownership Has Failed), before the Bolsheviks failed with War Communism, Lenin struggled to reintroduce markets into socialism with the New Economic Policy, and before Stalin cooked up his Five Year Plans — and Oskar Lange invented the pathetic “market socialism.” All that the earlier French politician and economist had before him was a long history of utopian reactions against markets and private property and some ominous increases in government power at the behest of self-proclaimed socialists, communists, anarchists (!) and other confused reformers and revolutionaries.

Note the general tenor of the quoted passage: yes, the terms socialism, communism, and collectivism had been used as synonyms as well as refined terms of art and rhetoric during the early heyday of red* agitation; but it was also the case that Communism was generally used as the most extreme version of the doctrines — the complete eradication of the private ownership of the means of production — and most people saw the trend of all this thought as towards the extreme. “The logical conclusion of all socialism is communism.”

The reasons for this extremist trend line to total State ownership are several, but I think it can be seen in basic orientation: what distinguishes all these groups from other ideologies is their hatred for private property, free markets, capital and interest, and even money. For people who nurture this hatred, the answer just “has” to be in these institutions’ opposites: public property, controlled markets, and the abolition of money and finance.

But why would they be driven so far to the extreme? Most people who have a distaste for these ‘capitalistic’ institutions don’t spend all their time and attenton on eradication. They have lives, jobs to do, families to feed. But the intellectual classes, they tend to have easier jobs, even sinecures — if jobs at all — are less likely to have families, and pride themselves on their political opinions. So they can take the ideas furthest.

There is something else at work, of course: halfway measures and piecemeal interventions never work as advertised, ending up causing more problems. But people who have given themselves over to the anti-capitalist memeplex cannot concede that their ideas are bad. So they always blame failures on not going far enough. Whatever ill becomes of a mixed economy program, the market and freedom side of the mix must always be judged the culprit.

So, the general trend among those who oppose capitalism is all the way to totalitarian statism.

Thankfully, most people who lean away from liberal capitalism do have lives, so the inertia of everyday life presents a check. But students and professors, often unbounded from normal social reality, can easily become unhinged from everyday reality, and eagerly take on the role of chief drivers of revolution.

* “Left” and “right” were not terms of political art in those days. A color scheme was in vogue: Whites were for republican capitalism, Reds for socialism and communism and revolution, and the Black Flag was flown by anarchists. In the late 20th century, Tim Russert, a Democrat television commentator, confused everything by affixing Blue to the Democratic Party and Red to the Republican Party in America, presumably to wash out from collective memory the older association of Red with “the left” and Pink with the communist sympathizers in the Democratic Party. Nowadays, Democrats are associating themselves openly with socialism, and I think the Pink should be brought back into usage.

A meme/joke passed around on Facebook.

I have a different take on this, as I have tried to explain before: while gender is said to be a social construct, the very idea of gender is an ideological construct, and I reject the groundwork ideology on multiple grounds. We can pretend there are four genders or a thousand, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is sex, and how we handle this biological binary division.

If you admit the official definition of gender, though, you cannot then decisively state that there are only two. The word you are looking for is sex.

But because we were all timorous/obnoxious children once, we tend to wince at that word, or blush, or guffaw. This we have unthinkingly let ‘gender’ gain ground as a euphemism, wreaking havoc on thought and culture.

Still, marginally funny joke. But of most interest as a sign of the times.


Trump’s last name is almost magic, in that it defines his political style: he plays trumps and takes tricks.

I confess to marvel at the synchronicities and/or entelechies at play these days, and also how people almost never talk about it. It is like witnessing a miracle and then being blasé and dismissive, like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.

Other names of presidential candidates have punning meanings. But none so impressive.

Biden as in bidin’ his time . . . taken too long?

Sanders isn’t a bad name for an extreme egalitarian, a ‘leveller.’ Sand the rough places plain; grind down the mountains and fill in the valleys.

A warren is where we grow domesticated rodents. I do not know what to make of that.

Bloomberg? Made mountains of wealth, made his fortune ‘bloom.’ Berg means mountain in many Germanic languages, no? I do not see the magic of his name helping him much, though.

Gabbard sounds like it might be grounded on gab, but Tulsi does not appear to be overly talkative. Of course, it could refer to someone barraged by gab — she was gabbar’d, I tells ye.

Buttigieg . . . I won’t go there. You can fill it in.

Yang seems like a joke word for a penis — and it is the word for the male force in a bivalent world: yin and yang. I haven’t heard anyone make quips in this manner. Perhaps because Yang does not come across as particularly masculine. And his UBI notion is all yin and no yang.

Trump’s magic is more potent than any of these.

And it drives many people mad.

The plural of ‘medium’ is ‘media’ — except, I think, for a plurality of table-tappers. It would be absurd to refer, say, to a convention of spiritualists as a ‘media event.’

The sheer silliness of the House Democrats’ “impeachment” of President Trump was raised to another power by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sequestering of the impeachment bill, not sending it on to the Senate for trial. Some say that makes it not an impeachment at all. The most profound thing I’ve heard so far is from Scott Adams, who predicted an impeachment wouldn’t change Trump, but that Trump would change impeachment. I wonder how the Speaker feels to have fulfilled a prophecy by the creator of Dilbert and Loserthink.

What a nadir she has reached in her roller-coaster career.

But not every comment needs to be profound.

66.666% of all impeached presidents….
See also memevigilante.