1916 for the Media

Is it the Battle of Verdun for the Media?

In 1916 the French fought the Germans around the town of Verdun. The battle took from February to December. There were perhaps a million casualties (reports are hard to verify from those days). The lines at the end of the battle were much the same as at the beginning.

I’ve been seeing extremely convincing AI video in the last few days. It was already pretty good, but is getting very lifelike. At least as lifelike as TikTok “influencers” ever are. One will be able to make one’s own virtual girl very soon. If you are on the cutting edge, you can do it already! I am told that there are AI OnlyFans models currently working and making money. It seems like an inflection point.

You can’t believe anything you see!

Let me repeat:

You can’t believe anything you see! At least, not anything you see on a screen.

Consider what this does to the media. In 1916 the machine gun met the trench and led to stalemate. The technologies were matched. You could spend lots of lives and gain nothing. In modern media, you can spend lots of money and saturate the market with your images and videos, but nobody will believe them. It’s like the trench and the machine gun. If all videos can be faked by anyone with a laptop, then no videos can be believed. No one sensible will ever believe anything that comes from the news.

The only thing you will be able to believe will be those things that you see with your own eyes or feel with your own fingers. The horizon of information will shrink, just as the horizon of battle shrank to the trench in 1916.

At least, until they get you to put a chip in your head. At that point, you won’t even be able believe your own eyes anymore.

Plato’s Hidden Doctrine?

Esotericism seems to have been a common practice among ancient and even modern writers up until recently, when it has been disavowed. Plato, of course, is obviously esoteric. So also is Jesus. There is a public-facing story (the exoteric) and an inward-facing doctrine (the esoteric) for the initiates. Jesus himself declares that he is teaching in parables so that the many will not understand (a fact ignored by many modern church leaders).

But, back to Plato. He is certainly esoteric. He never appears in the dialogues, except in Phaedo, but only by his absence due to sickness. He never speaks in his own voice. “But Socrates speaks for Plato!” Does he? Socrates is himself esoteric, in that he doesn’t teach his own doctrine (see Thrasymachus’ complaint in Republic I) and Plato’s imitation of Socates’ speech in dialogues is therefore doubly esoteric. What doctrine are you to take from these works?

Take the Meno, which I have been studying. Can virtue be taught? Or does it come to be by nature? Socrates dismisses the view that it comes by nature, because then there would be people who could recognize virtuous natures. Thus, it must be taught! But where are the teachers? Which is it?

Many readers are confused and pissed off at this point. But perhaps you should understand that you aren’t supposed to get it. In the seventh letter, Plato argues that whatever philosophic activity is, it happens in the soul, individual by individual, and can’t really be taught. Philosophy is somewhat like virtue in the dialogue.

Return to the action: can virtue arise by nature? Perhaps, but we aren’t skilled in recognizing it when it does. Mabye we are like apprentice dog-breeders, who don’t yet know what it is to be of a virtuous nature. Can virtue be taught? Perhaps so, but the supposed teachers mentioned aren’t virtuous? But even if it could be taught, wouldn’t the teaching require students? If there aren’t students of the right nature, the teacing can’t proceed. It is possible that virtue arises both by nature and by teaching, right?

Or perhaps it is, as Meno says, “somewhat not like these other cases.” Perhaps virtue, being an act of humans who are rational and somehow akin to the forms, is a characteristic of freedom, not bound by nature or teaching, and therefore a quite different thing. The dog-breeder can have such success because dogs don’t have to choose to be dogs. Humans have to choose to be what they are! In such choosing, might we find virtue?

Which is the definitive meaning of Plato? I don’t know, but I think, as Socrates says, “we will be more manly and less lazy if we are confident that the truth can be found.” We’re supposed to dig into the texts and wrestle with them. Well, at least the philosophical initiates are supposed to.

(all quotes are from memory. Don’t check my work!)

Upon Returning to the Shire

New books bore me. It may be that I’ve ruined myself for casual light entertainment, or it might be that the books just aren’t that good. Either way, I’ve decided that I am going to re-read books that I know that I like. So I am back to The Lord of the Rings, this time with the Audible book read by Andy Serkis. It’s good so far.

But I can’t help thinking that this is the most ridiculous book I’ve ever read. It’s just garbage. “Concerning Hobbits.” No action, but a ponderous introduction about the habits of hobbits, whatever they are. Who are they and why should I care? The book leaves the second question unanswered. We learn about the hobbits’ gift-giving habits, the three divisions or races of hobbits, the meaning of the word mathom, the extents of the Shire, the discovery and smoking of “pipe weed”, the various classes of hobbits and the great families thereof. No elements of story yet!


Why does it work?

It works because the Shire and the hobbits in general are the protagonist of the story. It is for the Shire that Frodo takes the Ring to Mount Doom. It is so that they can continue their lovely little lives, talking of potatoes and cabbages at the Green Dragon. Incidentally, this is why “The Scouring of the Shire” is necessary at the end of the third book.

There’s also an element of tragedy in that Bilbo and Frodo are not really of the Shire. They are able to record its habits and write the history of its people, but they are not ordinary respectable hobbits. They can see the whole and judge that hobbit-folk are valuable and need to be protected from the slavery to Sauron, but because Bilbo and Frodo aren’t normal. Note that neither of them get married! How could they settle down and be ordinary? Especially after having seen the Elves.

“Concerning Hobbits” taken from the Red Book of Westmarch, written by Bilbo and augmented by Frodo, is a farewell to the home that they must eventually leave.

On evil

Everyone is talking about evil now. There are wars and rumors of wars. As is usual in wars, humans are being butchered. It’s a digital age, and video of some of the butchery makes its way to your feed. Can’t you see the evil that lies in the heart of these people?

No, actually, you can’t. What is evil? Classically it’s a privation of a good that ought to be there, but this is thin gruel in such a barbaric age as ours. Let me try a different approach. Evil is a sense that there is something wrong, that it shouldn’t have happened that way, whatever it is.

But this is magical thinking. If you, as all right-thinking people are today, are a secular and scientific person, evil is inaccessible to you. You might as well say that the lion that eats the antelope is evil, or that the mold grows on your bread is evil, or that an earthquake is evil. These are not evils, they are just the way things are. Similarly, hearing about beheaded babies isn’t evil, it’s just the way things are in a war. The human animal goes to war in the same way that the lion eats the antelope or forcibly mates with the lioness.

But, you say, there is evil! You just know it!

There is a way for evil to make sense as a concept. It’s if the world as it is really isn’t the way it should be. In other words, the world has fallen from a primordial good state. If this is the case, we can say that something is evil, in that it is far from the good state.

Evil is either a religious concept, or it is nothing at all.

Gesta Caroli

I’ve been neglecting the blog. Here is a series of disconnected thoughts:

  • WordPress comments have a severe spam problem. I just deleted 140 spam comments, usually promoting some kind of porn or timeshare in Cyrillic text.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold is a good writer. I suspect she’s also a progressive, but is emphatic and kind enough in her characterizations that it isn’t a problem. Very much of the Miles Vorkosigan saga is free on Audible.com. It’s a pretty good space opera with a 5′ main character, son of a war criminal, who accidentally takes over a mercenary fleet while out on holiday. I am listening to them again as I drive.
  • On Audible: I have been listening to a lot of books. I am currently on the 1 book a month plan. I was tempted to pay in advance, getting a discount, but that plan gives me 12 credits all at once at the beginning of the plan. I would use them all up and then be without credits.
  • On books: New books are generally leaving me cold. I have been re-reading stuff that I know I like. Bujold, as mentioned above, Larry Correia’s Sons of the Black Sword, which is ok. I think I’m going to read Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series, which is a gem. Of course, it’s almost time for Tolkien again. Andy Serkis has a Silmarillion narration that I’ll probably buy.
  • I was stuck in a situation where I watched some TV. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I don’t mean streaming, which can be good, but over-the-air TV, which is nearly completely devoid of worth. An absolute zero for the soul. Don’t do it!
  • I made Carolina Reaper Jelly, from scratch, with raspberries. It’s perfect. I also canned it! First time.

Blogging and the Death of Politics


I used to blog a lot in the early days. I would tell the world what I thought about the news of the day and rail against scoundrels in government, as if it would matter. I don’t do it anymore in public. What difference would it make? Public discourse by learned people (such as I considered myself to be) only makes a difference in a society that values discourse, that knows how to reason from premises to conclusions, and that has the humility to be able to change its mind when a compelling argument is made. This hasn’t been the case in my society for years.

Nobody is ever convinced by an argument. Emerson says “tell me your tribe and I know your argument,” but nowadays it doesn’t even matter. Tell me your tribe and no argument is needed.

I’d rather post here on esoteric bits of ancient Greek or about Homer or about strength training, and leave the dead to bury their dead. It’s not as if there’s an Aragorn out there. And if there were, it wouldn’t make any difference what I do.

Authorial reserve

I’m not the biggest Cormac McCarthy fan, but I saw a reference that he would turn down requests to discuss his works on college campuses, saying that he had said all he wanted to in the books themselves. “Everything he had to say was there on the page.”

This authorial reserve is rare these days. I’ve met a few authors, W. P. Kinsella, who was pleasant, Lois McMaster Bujold, who simply read from her novels, and Roger Zelazny. I also met Alasdair McIntyre, but I’m only counting fiction writers. Zelazny was the most interesting. I was a young man at the time working my way through the Amber novels, and I mentioned how it would be good for him to have a synopsis of what had gone before in front of each novel, since I was thoroughly confused. He smiled, said “Good!” and signed my book.

If you are a writer of fiction, your art is in the book. Let it speak for itself. As a counter-example, see J. K. Rowling, who can’t stop retconning her own work. Leave it alone! Writing is an elliptical art, leaving as much unsaid as said. The reader, at least the good reader, makes most of the experience of the book by him or herself. The gaps that the author leaves are where you come in. If the author tells you too much what the books mean, the experience is ruined.

In addition, as Socrates complained in the Apology, often the poets don’t really know what they mean anyway. The greatness of the book exists in spite of them, not because of them. “Rage, sing Muse the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles!” The Muses are real, and they don’t like it when you try to peek behind the curtain.

By the way, Kinsella’s works are nice, Bujold is worth reading, and Zelazny reached a peak in Lord of Light.

The recovery of property rights

It has become trendy these days to say “it’s just property,” when malefactors engage in organized theft. After all, there’s insurance! Is property worth a life?

When you attempt to homestead, even to the small extent I’m doing it, you realize that this is the wrong way to put it. Property is life. It’s the way in which I’m getting my food, and if you came and took it from me, you’d be stealing my food, which is another way of stealing my life. This may be less evident in the modern deracinated economy, but it’s still true. The 5th and 6th commandments are connected.


Points of View or Thoughts

“People should not have points of view, but thoughts!”


–Nietzsche, Friedrich


Do you have points of view? Are you part of a team, following an ideology, thinking the same way that everyone else on your team thinks? If this is the case, it’s likely that you aren’t thinking at all. You aren’t trying to reason from true premises to a true conclusion, but are adopting conclusions of people you like. Cialdini remarks in Influence that people will follow authority because, for the most part, it’s a more efficient way to live than to think. It usually works pretty well. But it’s not thinking.

You are familiar with the NPC meme, right? The crowd of grey people who say the same things at the same time? Don’t be too hard on them, since this is the way most people act throughout most of life. It’s like tying your shoes. You don’t stop to think about it because that would be inefficient. You just do it the same way every day, rather than reasoning out the best way to fasten the laces on your shoes.

Why would you do the inefficient act of thinking? According to Aristotle, it’s because of wonder. For Socrates, it’s because of eros. Some of us love wisdom, are philosophers, who find joy in understanding the truths of things, the causes, even the first causes. But such people are rare. Most of us just have points of view.

Artificial Intelligence got you down?

Everybody’s thinking about AI these days. What’s it going to mean for the world? Imagine a world where millions of middle managers and e-mail writers are out of work. Where will they go? What will they do? This is a real problem. Most people don’t work real jobs. By this I mean that they don’t work jobs that contribute to the material well-being of their fellow citizens. They don’t grow food, they don’t build houses, they don’t make sure the water is clean. What they do is arrange words in electronic files for other people to read and respond to, conduct zoom meetings, or create “content.” How can such jobs survive predictive language models?

In fact, how can any human activity survive? This is why AI is a completely different thing than the car replacing the buggy whip. Everyone will bring up that the car put buggy whip manufacturers out of business. This is true, but the car was not a decision tree. The car did not design its own replacements. It was still relatively close to the human decision maker. The car is still a tool of a human user. The AI will soon replace the user.
What is the distinctive human activity? Is there something that humans can do better than these predictive language models? I don’t think there really is. Since they are predictive language models, they are using a probabilistic approach to the grand total of human experience and knowledge. What human doctor is going to do better than an AI doc that can compare symptoms and diagnosis across millions of cases. I don’t think there’s any function that is necessarily done better by a human. We’ve already seen this in chess. Stockfish can beat every single human in the world.

The problem is trying to find worth using the function, as if humans are valuable because of something they can do. That’s wrong. The human is valuable simply because of what it is, simply because it’s human. We don’t need any other reason. If we’re going to start the Butlerian Jihad, we don’t need any reason except that humans are what we prefer. If you are a religious person, you can get a justification for this from the verse about humans being made in the image and likeness of God. If you are not, just admit that like prefers like, and that you are a human and therefore prefer humans.