Welcome to DU! The truly grassroots left-of-center political community where regular people, not algorithms, drive the discussions and set the standards. Join the community: Create a free account Support DU (and get rid of ads!): Become a Star Member Latest Breaking News General Discussion The DU Lounge All Forums Issue Forums Culture Forums Alliance Forums Region Forums Support Forums Help & Search

Fortinbras Armstrong

Fortinbras Armstrong's Journal
Fortinbras Armstrong's Journal
June 25, 2014

As W. E. B. Du Bois said, Marx "put his finger squarely upon our difficulties."

He explained the problems of his day very well. Marx did several things. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern social sciences, along with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. Unlike many other intellectuals of his time, he insisted that social theories must be examined through a scientific method to see if they world work. Marx is also notable for writing mostly for the poor and disenfranchised, whereas his contemporaries wrote mostly for fellow intellectuals. A talented economist, Marx helped the world understand capitalism better than anyone since Adam Smith -- for example, he was the first to explain why the previously feudal countries of Europe became industrial economies and capitalist powerhouses. Much of what he wrote about how capitalism works stands up to scrutiny close to 200 years later, leading some to call him the father of economic history. The study of sociology was also highly influenced by Marx's writings.

Although many people today think of him as a dangerously misguided individual, the modern understanding of social science and economics - both liberal and conservative - owes an enormous debt to him and his theories. Similarly, his critiques of capitalism and advocacy of communism seem less applicable in the modern world (not that he is no longer relevant). However at the time he was writing, the conditions for the working class, especially in England (where he wrote Capital), were truly appalling, and much of the ideas and movements that would improve and reform it -- and, ironically, blunt so much of communism's power -- were still considered seditious. A year before he began his studies at the University of Bonn, England transported several men to Australia for forming a union.

Ultimately, what Marx didn't reckon on was the dynamism of democracy in order to effect change. Remember, Marx was writing during a time when there was no minimum wage, no worker protection, no welfare system, no laws against child labor, not anti-trust or anti-monopoly laws, no laws demanding truthful advertising, no laws banning unsafe products, no laws guaranteeing rights to women and minorities (and, in a lot of cases, for Europeans and men, too), and, for most of the world, no voting rights for most people. We have come a long way since Marx's time, and he is arguably vindicated by history.

A good way to understand Marx is that he was a lot like a medical doctor of his time: By the end of Marx's life, medicine had discovered germ theory and understood what caused disease, but although it could now prevent the spread of illness (through quarantine, sterilization of operating rooms, and good public health/sanitation policy), when it came to treating people who were already ill, the doctors couldn't do much better than their grandfathers. Marx figured out what was wrong with the new industrial capitalism, but as far as how to handle it, he couldn't do much better than proposing the kind of utopian socialism that had been presented in the early 19th century, rather than the somewhat odd and piecemeal form of modern social democracy.

June 3, 2014

Mostly books on spiritual growth

The Confessions of St. Augustine, which details how he came to faith. I was also struck by Augustine's quite graceful Latin style. (The translation by Henry Chadwick is good if you do not read Latin.)

Apologia Pro Vita Sua -- either "a defense of his life" or "an explanation of his life" -- by Cardinal Newman. In the 1860s, Charles Kingsley (best known for the novel The Water-Babies) attacked Newman for repeatedly saying one thing at one time, and another -- even the opposite -- at another time. Newman wrote about how he grew spiritually and intellectually, explaining how and why he came to change his mind on various subjects. Considerably later, and in quite different circumstances, G. K. Chesterton wrote, "A man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend." This echoes throughout Newman's Apologia.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. About what the Christian is called to do if his or her claim to being a Christian is genuine. Bonhoeffer himself was executed by the Nazis, basically because he took his Christianity seriously. The section on "cheap grace" is particularly noteworthy.

Several books by Thomas Merton, especially Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, which taught me much about Christian mysticism; and Zen and the Birds of Appetite, which introduced me to Zen.

One not on spiritual growth is Papal Sin by Garry Wills. This is about honesty and the lack of it in the Vatican. It confirmed many of my own ideas -- basically that all too often, the papacy does not teach or preach honestly. I know Wills, and he and I see eye-to-eye on this subject. (Wills, interestingly enough, is quite conservative politically. But I forgive him his lapse in judgment.)
March 12, 2014

"So, basically, the Church condemned Galileo because he was a pain in the ass."

Actually, that is a perfectly legitimate statement.

Galileo told a longstanding friend of his, Pope Urban VIII, that he was going to write on the Ptolemaic system versus the Copernican system in his Dialogue on the Two World Systems. Urban, who was well aware that Galileo was an advocate of heliocentrism, asked (not ordered, asked) Galileo to treat the geocentric model with respect and not ridicule. When Galileo did not do this, Urban was displeased. Moreover, Galileo quoted Urban, and put Urban's words in the mouth of a man named Simplicius -- "simpleton" is a good translation. Naturally, Urban really did not appreciate being called an idiot in print. So he had Galileo called before the Papal Inquisition to explain himself. Remember that Henry VIII of England had people executed for less.)

Before I go on, let me say a few words about the Papal Inquisition. Don't confuse it with the Spanish Inquisition, a wholly separate organization. The name Inquisition comes from the Latin inquirere -- to look into, or to examine ("inquire" is from the same root). In the Papal Inquisition, defendants had such things as the right to counsel, the right to be told the specific charges against them and their property would not be seized by the Inquisition. Torture was permitted, but only when specifically authorized by the Pope or the head of the Inquisition (at that time, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine) and was to be used only once.

One thing that should be pointed out is that a major part of the Dialogue on the Two World Systems was concerned with a basically flawed theory about tides. Galileo believed that tides were caused by the sloshing back and forth of water in the seas as a point on the Earth's surface sped up and slowed down because of the Earth's rotation on its axis and revolution around the Sun. He advanced this theory because Cardinal Bellarmine called for evidence that the Earth circled the Sun, and Galileo thought this would suffice. Unfortunately for him, the theory is flat-out wrong, and could be shown to be wrong -- for one thing, it said that there should be only one high tide per day, not two. Galileo clearly knew of this problem, but essentially blew it off.

Another thing that should be pointed out is that the Vatican assigned two Jesuits, Christoph Scheiner and Orazio Grassi, to look into Galileo's science. Both had solid credentials as astronomers. However, Galileo had managed to alienate both of them. Schiener was one of the first astronomers to observe sunspots and was, as far as he knew, the first to describe them in a scientific paper. (In fact, the first paper on sunspots was published the previous year by David Fabricius, but his paper was unknown outside of Germany.) Galileo attempted to grab the glory of having first seen sunspots from Scheiner, and compounded this by plagiarizing Scheiner in his own paper.

Grassi and Galileo disagreed on the nature of comets. What made things worse was that Grassi was right and Galileo was wrong. Grassi had observed a comet over a period of time, and had noticed that the moon moved faster in the sky than the comet did; Grassi reasonably (and correctly) assumed that the comet was further from the earth than the moon was. Galileo believed that they were optical illusions in the atmosphere. After several rounds of argument in various pamphlets, Galileo wrote an essay, Il Saggiatore -- "The Assayer" -- attacking Grassi and his theory. This essay is still taught in Italian schools as a masterpiece of polemical writing. Naturally, having been held up to ridicule, Grassi was no friend to Galileo.

No, calling Galileo a pain in the arse is founded solidly on the facts.

January 13, 2014


I posted this in another thread, and a couple of people said it should be an OP

I have maintained for years that libertarians can only maintain their ideology through ignorance of history, economics, politics and the real world. Real world problems needing practical solutions. In the US, that was the reason for such things as the EPA, the FDA, the SEC, Social Security and so on -- all set up to deal with real problems. Are they perfect? Of course not, this is the real world, after all.

Libertarianism is superficially appealing, but it does not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. Here are some quotations from the platform of the New Jersey Libertarian Party:

Individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must learn to rely on supportive family, religious institution, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.

Whoever wrote this does not know why government got into social welfare. It was because in too many cases, "family, religious institution, community, or private charity" was unable to do what was necessary.

We support repeal of minimum wage laws, mandatory state unemployment insurance and disability insurance, so-called “protective labor” legislation for women and children, and governmental restrictions on the operation of private day-care centers. We should eliminate the government’s role in the social-welfare system, including AFDC, DYFS, Food Stamps, and subsidized housing.

In other words, go back to the bad old days of the 12-hour work day, child labor, and Dotheboys Hall. The person who wrote this obviously does not give a damn about others, nor does he know why the laws he rails against were passed. For example, when then-President Theodore Roosevelt read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, he sent a couple of men to Chicago to see if Sinclair was exaggerating about conditions in the meat packing industry. They reported that, if anything, Sinclair understated things. The Pure Food and Drug Act followed shortly afterwards.

Rather than making taxpayers pay for toxic waste cleanups, the polluters should be held liable for material damage done by them. This includes, but is not limited to, any adverse health consequences as well as cleanup and remediation.

Sounds good in theory, but let me give a specific example. In the 1920s, on the boundary between Geneva and St Charles, Illinois, there was a factory which produced watches with radium dials. The company went out of business in the 1930s, and the factory was demolished. About 25 years ago, it was discovered that the soil around the old factory was polluted with radioactive compounds, which were leeching into the groundwater. Now, who is to clean up this pollution? The company which caused it no longer exists. The people who currently live near there simply can't afford it.

We oppose government control of resource use through eminent domain, zoning laws, building codes, rent control, regional planning, urban renewal, or purchase of development rights with tax money. Such regulations and programs violate property rights, discriminate against minorities, create housing shortages, and tend to cause higher rents.

So if I decide to put a hog farm on my suburban property -- currently forbidden by zoning laws -- there is no way to stop me. Once more, the person who wrote this is unable to think through what his idiotic declaration actually means.

We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and the transfer of their legitimate functions to competitive private firms.

So the street passing in front of my house should become a toll road?

We call for an end to all forms of government intrusion into family life.

So if I beat my wife and children, the government cannot stop me. The next paragraph says "We call for the repeal of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991"

We call for the abolition of the juvenile court system. Juveniles should be held fully responsible for their crimes but they should not be prosecuted for offenses that are only offenses by virtue of their youth.

So ten-year-olds should be treated as adults. Bring back the days of hanging children as pickpockets.

We advocate the complete separation of education and the state, and believe that government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools should be ended.

A great example of libertarian ignorance of history. Public schools were started so that everyone could get an education. Apparently, the libertarian who wrote this thinks that having an educated populace is A Bad Thing.

We oppose government attempts to regulate private discrimination, including discrimination in employment, housing, and privately-owned so-called public accommodation. The right to trade includes the right not to trade — for any reasons whatsoever.

So if a privately owned hospital wants to deny you treatment because you're gay, that's fine with them. "No dogs or Jews allowed." "No n*ggers will be served." Libertarians claim they believe racism is bad, but also believe that having the government do something about it is worse. In other words, they actually support racism.

Libertarians claim that the sort of discrimination would disappear when the people practicing the discrimination understood that it was not profitable, it would disappear. The appropriate term for this is "wishful thinking".

We support a clean and healthy environment and sensible use of our natural resources. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Pollution and misuse of resources cause damage to our ecosystem. Governments, unlike private businesses, are unaccountable for such damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection. Protecting the environment requires a clear definition and enforcement of individual rights in resources like land, water, air, and wildlife. Free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems. We realize that our planet's climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior.

Before passage of the Clean Water Act and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio used to catch on fire because of pollution. It wasn't corporations or the free market that cleaned up the Cuyahoga, it was the government. So their pretense that government "has a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection" is a lie. Libertarians saying that corporations would act to clean up their own pollution is simply more evidence that libertarians prefer fantasy over reality.

Here is one of my favorite bits:

The individual's right to privacy, property, and right to speak or not to speak should not be infringed by the government. The government should not use electronic or other means of covert surveillance of an individual's actions or private property without the consent of the owner or occupant. Correspondence, bank and other financial transactions and records, doctors' and lawyers' communications, employment records, and the like should not be open to review by government without the consent of all parties involved in those actions.

If they really mean what this seems to say, then seeking documentary evidence of criminal acts would be impossible, since a suspect would have absolute veto power over any searches. Libertarians claim to oppose fraud, but the person who wrote that -- and the members of the party who passed that platform -- clearly do not mean it when they say it.

The late Iain Banks defined libertarianism as "A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard."

Profile Information

Gender: Male
Hometown: Suburban Chicago
Home country: UK
Current location: Suburban Chicago
Member since: Thu Apr 12, 2012, 09:54 AM
Number of posts: 4,473

About Fortinbras Armstrong

Retired computer security expert/programmer. Married for 40 years, three sons, two dogs. Interested in history, music, religion -- mostly Catholic -- and cooking. MA in History of Religion (Harvard) and MS in Computer Science (U of Wisconsin).
Latest Discussions»Fortinbras Armstrong's Journal