Archives for category: Semiotics

For a few years now we’ve been scolded into not putting the definite article in front of “Ukraine,” like we did for decades and decades.

Now, the reason for this recent switch from The Ukraine to just Ukraine had never reached my ears, so I looked it up today.

The rationale? It is about political independence, or so the story goes:

In 2015, following President Obama’s use of “the Ukraine” at a press conference, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine explained that “the Ukraine” was what the Soviet Union called the region during Soviet rule. As an independent country, it is simply called “Ukraine.”
“It is incorrect to refer to the Ukraine, even though a lot of people do it,” explained former ambassador William Taylor in a Time article published in March 2015. Using the article alongside the name of the country, he said, can be seen as denying Ukraine’s independence.

Sam Kirk, “Why Ukraine isn’t called ‘the Ukraine’” (February 24, 2022 / 03:43 PM MST; Updated: Feb 24, 2022 / 03:43 PM MST).

But this smacks of . . . bad history. I mean, do you really believe it? I smelled a rat. So I looked it up on Google Books.

Behold The Ukraine and the Ukrainians, by Stepan Rudnyt︠s︡ʹkyĭ — in 1915. Yes, before THE SOVIET UNION. And yes, we find “The Ukraine” right alongside “Ukraine”:

“The Ukraine” precedes The Soviets. Maybe it was an element of the Czar’s hegemonic vocabulary, I wouldn’t be shocked, but if today’s Ukrainian political correctness is shown to have weak foundational rationales, maybe they can just lighten up a bit.*

I’ll stick to just Ukraine the moment folks around the world stop referring to “the United States” in the singular. Technically, after all, the union is but the United States are.

But insisting on this nomenclature at this late date would, I am sure, be regarded by most people as needlessly pedantic. As are most politically correct appellations.

It reminds me of when, in Eighth Grade, my class’s astute teacher listed all the words for people our age: youths, children, juveniles, adolescents, kids, etc. We found each one of them iffy, tainted with the whiff of the pejorative. At that moment I realized that maybe we should all lighten up a bit. Juveniles!

twv

* Right now they will be defending themselves, as is natural. With guns and bombs. Not politic niceties.

N.B. We might want to note that we have been scolded by a former ambassador. It is the kind of thing maybe we should learn to ignore: politically correct claptrap from known failures. Such folk have nothing to show for themselves other than being namby-pamby scolds. Note also that this particular ambassador also wants to spell “Kiev” Kyiv. OK. I used to be a stickler for endonyms over exonyms, too. But I came to realize that sticking to endonyms is by no means easy to universalize, and it may serve mostly as pharisaic positioning, not anything substantive.

I wonder how many times I have looked up the word “farrago.” Just to “make sure,” you know. I guess I feel it should mean something more specific than my dictionary’s definition of “confused mixture.”

Much the same can be said about the word “neoliberal.” From writer to writer, news reader to teacher to journo to pol, the word apparently means many different things: I’ve been both accused of — and praised for — “being” a neoliberal. But so have anarchists I’ve known. So has Hillary Clinton.

What’s going on here?

In the March issue of Reason, Jesse Walker explains the predicament and its history. “It’s the End of the Neoliberal Era, and We Still Don’t Know What Neoliberalism Is,” captures the problem nicely.

The ultra-condensed take-away from this essay is: the word started out as an attempt between the first and second world wars to rescue some of the flavor of liberalism without all that rigorous laissez faire stuff. In other words, the term meant a market-friendly statist who opposed dictatorship and too much government. Pretty much what “liberal” meant in America, until all the Big Spenders and Over-Regulators turned it into a pinkish-hued cover for ”social democracy.” Now we just call them progressives.

But by the time Ronald Reagan got into office razzing “the liberals,” neoliberalism meant something else. And . . . leftists, aghast that Chile’s dictator General Pinochet had consulted with some free market economists (taking only some of their advice), began calling libertarians neoliberals, and . . . talk about farrago!

But it’s a farrago for our time. The upshot of Jesse Walker’s essay is that neoliberal may not mean anything specific, but it is a good specifier of the age now ending, the result of many competing paradigms and the compromises of diverse, on-the-make interest groups.

What a confused mixture.

twv

A conspiracy is a group of people working in secret to commit a crime.

But is an attempt to change the rules to redefine what a crime is itself a crime? And would a secret attempt, then, be a conspiracy?

Hold on . . .

Right now, the biggest political movement underway is “Build Back Better” or “The Great Reset.” It is an attempt to revise society from the top down in nearly every domain of life. It has been closely associated with the “climate justice” movement because climate alarmists think everything must be changed to “save the planet,” though their data and reasoning do not strike me as very good at all. Those who hold these beliefs are much exasperated by the sheer fact that most Americans do not regard climate as the even in the Top Ten of reasonable political priorities. But there is hope for the radicals on this issue, for whom democracy is getting in the way of political action: in the last two years a much better way of instituting radical reforms (political revolution from the top) has been found: the pandemic. Making us all wear masks, deciding who can work and where, forcing people to take experimental therapeutics and calling them “vaccines” — these are all beyond merely radical. They are quite tyrannical controls, and are part of The Great Reset.

I consider it all quite criminal — and in America, the pressure government and politicians have placed upon social media platforms constitutes a clear violation of the First Amendment, and is thus unconstitutional and (in the old, broad sense) un-American.

But is it a conspiracy?

Well, it’s been out in the open. So: no.

But then notice something: the people who have brought up the alarm about this “open” policy advocacy and planning have repeatedly been called “conspiracy theorists.” And, therefore, are regarded commonly as fringe, as nutty. Examples include Glenn Beck (with a new book out on the subject, I hear) and the indefatigable Alex Jones.

This calumny marginalizes opposition to the policy (The Great Reset), insulating it from criticism — or even open discussion. It means that people generally can ignore the process of fascification.*

So, I’d call the Davos-devised, globalist Great Reset a “quasi-conspiracy.” Its openness is obscured by psy-op. Thus the elites and academics who have been pushing it are, indeed, quasi-conspirators.

twv

Novel Terms:

To fascify is to unite people politically in an alarmingly totalitarian manner, “to make fascistic.”

A quasi-conspiracy is a public effort to change the scope and definition of crime or government that is protected from public criticism by accusing the effort’s critics of being “conspiracy theorists” — gaining the secretive element of a conspiracy by the psychological operation of accusation of “conspiracy theory.”

While these are my coinages, quick searches of the Internet show previous uses. Uses of the former term are close to my definition, above, while previous uses of the latter are less interesting than mine, for my specific use has, shall we say, a special character.

A lot of people have constructed propagandistic memes to the effect that ”things would be different” had Kyle been black. Every one of these memes have failed because the memetic engineer could not engineer the precisely opposite situation to Kyle Rittenhouse’s. So let me try. I mean, it’s a worthy counterfactual, right?

What if Kyle were black?

What if the 17-year-old African-American male traveled across a state line to his father’s community after a White Lives Matter protest turned violent and burned down a huge hunk of his father’s town. The protest was over the police shooting a white guy during a domestic squabble.

Now, the trick in this example is not to make everything opposite — this white man would have to become a white woman, right, to be “completely” opposite? If “make everything opposite” were the rule in constructing such examples, we would merely engage in Bizarro World japery. (So this haploid is carrying a ray gun…) So, let’s keep it close. And let’s make initial spark for the ”protests” this: a white criminal man got shot by police while reaching for his knife after walking away from the police who had told him to stand down. Same as the Kenosha criminal. And this man survives, though most protesters think he’s dead. It’s only the races we need to flip.

So a White Live Matter group protested the shooting, and the protest turns quickly to riot, which spreads. And the cops stand down, letting it all burn: the cops are on the side of the whites, this time, after all!

Amidst this, a number of heroic black people take to the streets to help victims, put out fires, and wash away graffiti. Our black Kyle is carrying a scary-to-liberals rifle and as the evening wears on gets chased by other black people who beat him with a skate board and try to take away his weapon. Some shots are fired, and our black Kyle kills two men, black, and wounds another, also black.

For his trouble, the Republican presidential candidate calls this Kyle a black supremacist and the major media constantly calls Kyle a murderer, moments after, and all the way into his trial.

What are the most unbelievable things about this scenario, as written? To make it the most apt opposite-race example, what should I change?

twv

In New York City, which has seen better days, statues are once again in the news.

Not statutes, but statuary.

“The New York City Public Design Commission voted unanimously Monday to move a controversial 188-year-old statue of Thomas Jefferson from the City Council chambers a City Hall,” informs the city’s ABC affiliate.

You have guessed the reason: racism, slavery and … pedophilia? What?

“Assemblyman Charles Barron, the former councilman who tried to get the statue removed in 2001,” doesn’t want it just removed and given to the New-York Historical Society, as planned, explains the New York Times. “I don’t think it should go anywhere. I don’t think it should exist,” proclaimed Mr. Barron — who also accused Jefferson of pedophilia.

Meanwhile, over at Bowling Green Park, a seven-foot-tall statue of the late gorilla Harambe was installed “directly across from the famous Charging Bull statue, which was surrounded by 10,000 bananas (that will later be donated to local food banks and community fridges) to make a point about wealth disparity,” according to reporting by the Big Apple’s NBC affiliate.

Whereas I can sorta see a case for removing Thomas Jefferson’s statue — if I am being ultra-charitable — this stunt is not merely silly, its symbolism is ultra-opaque. Bananas under a bull statue being stared down by the effigy of a gorilla executed years ago in Chicago? What? 

The idea by the perpetrators is that the Wall Street Bull has more bananas than the gorilla does. Apparently, poor people are gorillas. It is rather amusing how old racist “tropes” keep coming back.

Bananas!

Is someone supposed to be moved by this? I mean, more than to snicker?

There is a theory that this sort of symbology obsessions is being encouraged by elitists behind the scenes — the folks with so many bananas! — to get us mere peons fighting amongst ourselves, the better to distract us from the horrors of said elitists.

The statuary-obsessed should look into this theory. They might have occasion to feel used.

For we have bigger problems to handle than the symbolism of public art.

And the third president as pedophile? What?!?

twv

Universal and mandatory “vaccination” with an experimental set of gene-therapy-based concoctions that sport very limited utility in the cause of developing immunity strikes me as crazy. I mean, not even worth considering beyond the first brush with the notion. Yet most of the cultural elite and masses of their dutiful sheep have fallen for it, and now push it with alarming force.

And some of my favorite libertarian writers and leaders are so “pro-vaxx” that they spend most of their time ridiculing those of us who are beyond skeptical of the whole government-business alliance. This makes them, I hazard, instruments of totalitarianism. They have assumed the position of useful (pseudo-)opposition and thereby help the cause of statism, as academic libertarians tend to, and have done so for decades.

Be that as it may, the terminological question remains: what do we call this push? The struggle to find the right words continues. But Dr. Bryam W. Bridle, of the University of Guelph, has offered one useful term: herd vaccination. That is the goal. “Herd immunity” is not the goal, for it cannot be achieved by the method chosen. Yet it is strenuously and tyrannically pushed.

They push herd vaccination. A great term. And they push herd vaccination for reasons other than what they state.

This includes the “pro-vaxx libertarians.” But I will leave the dissection of their motives for another occasion.

But, for the record, I have a term to offer, too:

But “daft” is a gross understatement.

twv

Remember that much-shared “meme” about how a certain hospital was being flooded with people overdosing on the “horse de-wormer” Ivermectin? Rolling Stone even published an article running with it.

I saw friends share the story on social media. And curse Fox News, Alex Jones, etc. ZeroHedge explains:

The report, sourced to local Oaklahoma outlet KFOR’s Katelyn Ogle, cites Oklahoma ER doctor Dr. Jason McElyea — who claimed that people overdosing on ivermectin horse dewormer are causing emergency rooms to be “so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting” access to health facilities.

“Rolling Stone ‘Horse Dewormer’ Hit-Piece Debunked After Hospital Says No Ivermectin Overdoses,” ZeroHedge, September 4, 2021.

That story has been revealed as completely false. The hospital denies it. ZeroHedge cites the hospital in question:

Although Dr. Jason McElyea is not an employee of NHS Sequoyah, he is affiliated with a medical staffing group that provides coverage for our emergency room.

With that said, Dr. McElyea has not worked at our Sallisaw location in over 2 months.

NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin. This includes not treating any patients for ivermectin overdose.

All patients who have visited our emergency room have received medical attention as appropriate. Our hospital has not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.

Rolling Stone did not fact check the article before publication. It was completely fake news — likely perpetrated to induce you to take Big Pharma’s experimental pseudo-vaccine.

The story stank as propaganda from the beginning. But until I saw the debunking, I wasn’t going to say anything. Maybe I should have said something. But you are an adult, right?

And as an adult, you know that the whole “horse de-wormer” meme is b.s., right? (Or, as one Twitterer put it, “horse shit.”) Ivermectin has been a prescription drug for the human animal for a long time. It has known and previous uses. Repeating the “horse de-wormer” meme amounts to a lie. It was obvious from its first social media deployment. But because the left is now thoroughly servile to the Therapeutic State, leftists now eagerly defend Big Pharma medicine.

Ivermectin is far safer than the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA treatments. Of course, it is always dangerous to use drugs, and going off established protocols is risky. Take your own risks. Don’t blame others for your anxieties. Be rational.

But remember: ideologues are happy to lie to you, and if you have any political opinion, you will find folks on your side of that issue lying.

twv

Tweet, which I grabbed from the ZeroHedge article, superimposed on story.

N.B. A not-irrelevant meme of my own devising might be worth looking at: Mind+Virus.

Photo: Ralf, Flickr, some rights reserved

Is Socialism the cousin of Communism?

. . . as answered on Quora. . . .

Economist Yves Guyot was puzzled by this, too. So he consulted the literature and the politicians who promoted one or the other or both. Here is what he wrote in Socialistic Fallacies (1910), about Marx and Engels’ infamous word choice:

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.

These are terms of art, and some of the art is subterfuge. The general tenor of all socialistic thought is the replacement of private property and free exchange with public property and a command economy.

What we call it is less important than identifying its dangers.

twv

Calling others commies? It’s problematic; sure.

But there may be a rationale.

One way to designate someone as a communist despite their protests could be to define any leftist as a communist if he or she supports the psy-op subversion planks as explained by Yuri Bezmenov.

You may say you are, for example, a mere social democrat. But you also are obsessed with the issues that the Soviets materially and operationally advanced explicitly within their ranks as a means to export to the West to destroy your own country. So, despite any protest on your part, I’ll call you a commie.

Unless “Soviet” is accepted as fascistic and not commie.

But I think we should cede to extremists their own preferred terms, at least sometimes. Bear with me.

For example: I cede to anarchists of the anti-authoritarian violent-revolt variety — those who breed chaos and civil unrest, murder and mayhem and propaganda by the deed — with the term “anarchism,” and do not accept it as a term of peace. So, no matter how fascistic socialism and communism tend to become, I think we should give them their term, but with the pejorative twist: commie.

Commie is better than “communist,” actually, since communism has something to do with communes and communities, while “commie” is explicitly associated with the advance of subversion of liberal order.

I am a liberal, politically, above all else, I guess. And commies hate liberals. And liberals should hate commies.

twv

Increasing numbers of people look upon our world as dominated by “curated reality” — not reality itself. So much of what we think of as true is determined not by our stable appraisals, but by our acceptance of frameworks established by others, by factoids paraded as facts, fantasies doing all the heavy lifting, and narratives told by the gifted storytellers, and perhaps also by conspiracies among some or all of these players.

There is something to this perspective, and the big questions regarding it would seem to be

  1. how much of reality curation is individuals “competing in the marketplace for memes”;
  2. how much is orchestrated meme production and distribution out in the open and
  3. in secret; and
  4. how much is “rational” or “irrational”?

The scare quotes because rationality is a contested concept.

Ray Scott Percival’s essay in Scott Adams and Philosophy: A Hole in the Fabric of Reality (Open Court, 2018), along with several essays by David Ramsay Steele, addresses some of these issues. Scott Adams is one of the most important current advocates of the curated-reality concept, promoting the notion that hypnotism defines much of our human experience, where “the facts don’t matter” (just like on Whose Line Is It, Anyway?). Though I have only just begun reading it, Percival’s essay “Biases Are Rational!” provokes thought — and reminds me of notions I mulled over years ago. A trouble with the Daniel Kahneman/Amos Tversky approach to biases is that by focusing on neoclassical economics’ rather narrow definition of rationality, it suggests that people are error-prone at a very fundamental level, and thus scuttles a more “invisible hand” (emergentist) understanding of human action. Percival takes this on directly:

“Biases,” Percival writes, “can be adaptive to our circumstances.” This view of the cognitive biases Gerd Gigerenzer calls “ecological rationality.” It strikes me as familiar. Did not Armen Alchian advance similar ideas? In any case, Percival argues that we are rational in how we manage our biases — adapt them in light of experience. Here I am reminded of Herbert Spencer’s version of praxeology, human choice and action being defined as “actions adjusted to ends.” But we have to extend the adjustment process to “ends adjusted to means” by trial and error, and standards and routines adjusted in due course.

One of the things I encountered years ago reading F.A. Hayek is the notion that rationality in the French sense, constructivist and very clean and sterile — “Spockian,” you might say, referencing Mr. Green-blooded Pointy Ears — is not a very useful guide to actual human acts and interactions. One of Hayek’s distinctions in this regard was to distinguish teleocratic from nomocratic behavior — that is, purposive from rule-following. While to many theorists teleocratic explanations tend to boil down to a simple ends-means matrix, capable of simple mathematical formulation and calculable in Thorstein Veblen’s parody as “lightning-swift,” actual human action has competing goals as well as scarce means, often radically insufficient information to make any sure calculation, and an almost kaleidic shifting of all these elements (divergent ends, competing scarce means, uncertain knowledge and even a vast scope of nescience); pretending otherwise is foolish. Hayek believed that people use rules of thumb to make manageable the complexity of our actions. No matter how goal-oriented we are, we use rule-following habits to navigate the sheer booming, buzzing confusion of life.

My rap, back then, was that every purposive being did not just ration scarce means towards his ends, but also had to ration rationality itself. That is, the technical proficiency of ends-means calculations is always circumscribed by habits of thought and action that are learned behavior, and pertain to a tacit dimension of our reality. (I confess, I got this view from Julian Jaynes, whom I read long before Herbert Spencer, whose view of the human mind was also a matter of modularity and learning over vast spans of time, by natural selection, or “survival of the fittest”; you may note a tip of the hat to Michael Polanyi as well.)

What does all this have to do with a possibly curated reality? Well, we cannot conceive of reality without curation, or at least mediation by more than just pristine symbols. We are not robotic inquirers proceeding to adjust our mental maps of the world in a one-to-one, crisp-and-nifty rationalism. We human beings use a number of tools that are not just thinking with a limited set of concepts and fact/non-fact propositions, tested and perfected. Among those tools include myth and metaphor. These are crucial to our ecological rationality.

And because our complex of routines is so complex, it is quite possible to manipulate ourselves and others to scuttle the best use of those routines. Indeed, one way to curate another person’s sense of reality is to use rhetoric and mythic thinking but not acknowledge it, keeping the methods sub rosa. Thus we witness, in our time, people who pretend that they are Just The Facts, Ma’am thinkers, while they are almost wholly controlled by ideologies that gain their power from fantasy and myth more than from any careful calculation.

The notion of curated reality undermines simple appeals to “the facts.” Nietzsche’s challenge is pertinent here: There are no facts, only interpretations. But even more basic than that is the idea that we act and judge actions by conjectures often so outlandish that they might as well be called fantasy, and that our understanding of choice depends upon hypothesized counter-factuals, the “roads not taken” with every choice we make. Those are the costs of our actions. And they are necessarily “metaphysical” and not simply factual.

The complexity of the phenomenology of human choice lands us in a realm that simple accounts of rationality — especially low-brow materialist accounts, the kind you tend to encounter among engineers and science-fiction readers and stand-up comedians — simply cannot comprehend. Because of this, the very model of rationality as a Spock-like discipline leaves its proponents open to manipulation by people who understand that this model is necessarily insufficient. As James Randi was fond of saying, the easiest people to fool by stage magic are scientists. There is a reason for that.

Thus the curated reality of our time finds its biggest marks amongst those I call “the moderate brights,” who — unknowingly committed to grave error — repeat stock memes and thereby reinforce our present irreality.

twv

N.B. I hope to report back on these issues after I finish Ray Scott Percival’s contribution to Scott Adams and Philosophy, and perhaps the great David Ramsay Steele’s several essays as well. This post is merely my rehearsal of old ideas dimly recalled from back when I read economics and choice theory in a near-scholarly manner. Oh, and also: facts do matter. They just do not amount to “all that is the case.”