John Tracy Cunningham

Jun 092016
 

Plato posited that we all live in a cave, we all face away from the entrance and toward the back wall, and all we perceive are the shadows cast from the outside onto the back wall.  Thus we are severely if not terminally limited in what we can know about the real world.

Since Plato, many folks have expanded on this.  The current edition is Postmodernism, the basic principles of which are:

  • All of our senses are severely limited and ultimately faulty.  Therefore we can know for sure absolutely nothing about ourselves or about anything in our environment.  Therefore what each of us knows is the sum of our opinions.
  • As we have only opinions, no one can be objectively correct.  Therefore, no one is justified in forcing their opinion on anyone else.  Therefore, all power, all authority, is illegitimate.
  • Therefore, each of us must be allowed to think, say, and do whatever we want.  (Caveat: So long as no one harms anyone else, but we observe that no one can have the power to enforce this.)
  • Corollary: Each of us must unconditionally, enthusiastically, and publicly approve of everyone else’s thoughts, words, and deeds.  (Enforcement problem again.)  (We must envision a universal community of like-minded people, I suppose, at least on these principles.)

We see these principles advocated and applied increasingly in the Western world and wider.  (If they ever gain cultural dominance, we will have Anarchy, followed closely by an absolute dictatorship.  Plato again.)

Now, let us examine what we would need to be like to avoid Plato’s Cave and its Postmodern incarnation.  I propose that each of us would need to be able to perfectly perceive, unaided, all at once, everything in the Multiverse, from the smallest, most basic quantum level to the largest, most complex structures, from before the beginning of time to the end and beyond; to understand how it all works and how it all works together; and perhaps to be able to command it all.  Anything less than this, and we are back in the Cave.

Clearly, we are not like this.

We started out with only our senses and made do with them only for a very long time.  Only in the last thousand years, long after Plato, have we begun to augment our senses with technology.  The Scientific Revolution was about 500 years ago.  Since then our reach has increased steadily.  If one believes Ray Kurzweil, our technology is increasing exponentially (and in fact the entire universe has been exponentially increasing in complexity ever since the beginning, and we and our technology are part of that exponential growth).

We always suspected that things were going on that we couldn’t perceive.  Only with the Scientific Revolution have we been able to demonstrate the reality of the unseen, by technological extension of our senses.  Now we can see at a very small quantum level and at a very large astronomical level; the technology to do these things is both large and expensive.  We can see not only visible light but also beyond it in both directions, and we can use what we see.  In many, many ways our perception today is much more comprehensive than before.  We are still limited, but we know it, and we are working on it.  Undoubtedly, our perception will continue to improve.

And the point is that, even before the Scientific Revolution, we survived and thrived.  Had we actually been unable to perceive reality, the odds on such surviving and thriving would have been infinitesimally small; we would have been very ill-suited to our environment.   We wouldn’t be here.  And how much better we do now!  That we are here, moving Onward and Upward (as we Air Force types like to say) knocks down Plato’s Cave and invalidates both the foundation of Postmodernism and its consequences.

So if you encounter Postmodernists, anarchists, people who say that there is no such thing as reality, people who say that all rules are bad, people who want to tear down civilization by attacking its major institutions, be assured that they are simply wrong.  It might not do any good to tell them that, because they don’t believe that right and wrong exist.  It might be necessary to resist them forcibly.  We cannot allow this worldview to gain such prevalence that we slip into Anarchy, and then absolute dictatorship.

Jan 072016
 

The Counterculture of 1964-1974 in the United States spawned many different movements – Wikipedia lists nine – that continue into the present day, have found their ways to a greater or lesser extent into changed customs and laws, and about which we still fight.  Here I write of feminism- sometimes called Second Wave Feminism – what it tried to achieve, and how that has come out.

First Wave Feminism was mostly about suffrage, and its goals were realized.  Second Wave Feminism was about the place of women in society.  Third Wave Feminism, still in progress, is about diversity, tearing down power structures, and completely unrestricted sex.

The leaders of the Second Wave – Betty Friedan and her associates – identified many ways in which women were not equal to men in American society and worked to eliminate these inequalities.  One of the major underlying causes they identified was female biology, and another was the role of caring for children and home.  These prevented women from competing against men on an equal basis.  Put another way, women could not rise to and hold the same positions in society as men – exercising power over people, money, and resources – in the same numbers as men, because women were busy doing other things.

The way to get women fully into the game was to eliminate the need to do those other things.

First, biology.  Women carry and bear children, and women are generally smaller and weaker than men.

Contraception was the first answer.  The drugs not only prevent conception, but can also eliminate menstruation and its attendant discomforts.  Research continues to make the drugs completely effective, with no side effects.  Like all the measures needed and discussed here, women who cannot pay must receive the drugs and any accompanying treatment at public expense, because the purpose is the righting of society.  Also, there can be no restrictions based on age or other considerations; all females must be served on demand.

Abortion was the second answer.  Whenever contraception is not used or fails, the woman may abort at her option.  Like contraception, this eliminates all the discomforts and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, and also of course prevents birth.  Only a completed birth limits the woman’s option, because then the murder laws are in operation.

To solve the problem of women being smaller and weaker than men, the answer was to identify all aspects of society that had qualifications based on size or strength and modify those qualifications so that all women are included.  Either the qualifications were shown to be unnecessary, or were simply ridiculed until changed.  This has taken a while and continues today.

Now to the second underlying cause, women caring for children and home.

Comprehensive child care is the first answer.  The battle to achieve this continues.  There are problems with minimum ages, capacity quotas, costs, hours of coverage, and quality of care, to name a few issues.  Much work remains to be done before any woman can demand comprehensive child care and receive it, no questions asked.

Home care is the neglected stepchild of the whole program.  We have all heard of the househusband who stays home to care for children and home, but they are relatively few.  Another partial solution is the 50-50 (or other ratio) split of household duties between husband and wife, but there is not always a husband at hand.  The real answer, of course, is for someone other than the woman to do all the home-related work.  We are not yet to the point where anyone has proposed the public provide comprehensive home care on demand.

Here I have offered only the barest outline, focusing on two major underlying problems preventing women from full participation in society.  Other problems prevent the equality of women with men.  The solutions I have outlined also support and feed into other feminist goals and other countercultural efforts.

If this program is ever fully implemented – if women can disregard biology, children, and home at will – then they will be free to compete with men for power.  Progress is measured by examining any area of human endeavor.  If power is not distributed at every level 50-50 between women and men, more work needs to be done.  (This, again, is a Second Wave Feminist goal; the current Third Wave is heavily postmodern and seeks to destroy all power relationships as its major goal, and that is another story.)

Some 50 years have passed since the Counterculture began.  Slowly but surely, the foundations have been laid and some of the superstructure of women becoming equal with men has been built.  We have not examined what effect this work has had on society; it has always been assumed that it is all good.  Nevertheless, large fractions of men and women disagree with the program.  This plays out in politics as roadblocks continuously erected against the forward progress of contraception and abortion, as reluctance to provide comprehensive child care, and as the neglect of comprehensive home care.

We must always remember that all of the public strife over contraception, abortion, the roles of women and men, child care, home care, and all the rest occurs because Second Wave Feminists are fighting for a massive change to society.  This change, if achieved, will put all women equal with all men in the exercise of power.  Society will have been completely rebuilt; longstanding institutions such as the family will be substantially changed or eliminated.  The Feminists are opposed by those who do not want to see the society greatly changed.

The fight goes on, and a dirty fight it is, by true believing people on both sides.  Who will win and what kind of society we will have are not clear.

Disclaimer: I have tried in this piece to lay out what has happened and what people are trying to achieve.  I have not said what I think of all this.

Dec 142015
 

From the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/scalia-was-right-about-race-preferences-1450046813.

Whatever you think of IQ tests and their surrogates, they do measure the knowledge component that can contribute to success.  (They do not so much measure the effects of environment and motivation, but these three parts of successful achievement are intertwined.)  And the differences between the median results of Americans of European, African, and Far Eastern ancestry are well established.  In particular, the African median is one standard deviation below the European, which is below the Far Eastern.  It is not racist to repeat this finding or to use it when devising social policy.

We may usefully work to determine why these differences exist and to make them disappear.  But it is simply irresponsible to play like they don’t exist here and now.  As the article points out, the national policy of race preference in college admissions does indeed irresponsibly assume this, with long-lasting damage to the socioeconomic standing of the African component of the American population.  The problem extends to other policies.

It is worse than useless, it it extremely damaging to assume that all people are blank slates with equal potentials.  There is a normal distribution, a bell curve, in all things human.

Dec 132015
 

For those who may think we’re all the same, I offer the following vignette.  It was part of a presentation by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), given in 1989 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, when I was in training to sell spare parts to the Royal Saudi Air Force.  I subsequently served two years in Riyadh.

How do people resolve disputes?  Not everyone employs the same methods.

Let’s say you have a neighbor, and one day, to your surprise, you come home to find he has erected a (very nice) fence one meter into your property.  He has taken your land!  What do you do?

First, probably, you pay him a visit to call his attention to the error and ask him to move the fence.  He blows you off.

Second, you go to a respected mutual friend and ask him to intercede for you.  He does, and your neighbor blows him off too.

Third, you engage a lawyer and go to court.  Unfortunately, the court does not help.

Fourth, in absolute desperation, you tear down the fence (and wait for your neighbor’s response).

Now let’s reverse the roles and say that your neighbor is an Arab.  What would he do?

First, probably, he will tear down your fence.  (You erect it again, stronger, electrified, etc.)

Second, he will send a respected mutual friend to negotiate.  Let us say you blow him off.

Third, he will resort to the law.  They do not help.

Fourth, he will reluctantly come talk to you directly.  As all negotiations are zero-sum, someone will win and someone will lose.  If he loses, he also loses face in the community.  He doesn’t want to take this risk, but he has no alternative now.  He much preferred dealing with you via direct action or through proxies.

CAIR offered this story as illustrative of the way things work in Saudi Arabian society, to prepare us for what we would face in the course of daily business.

Dec 102015
 

The words “fascism” and “terrorism” are used a lot these days.  Their meanings – perhaps never very precise – have been extended to the point where they are essentially meaningless.  The residuum of meaning in “fascism” is “I don’t like you or what you do or say”, with implied but definite reference to Hitler, and in “terrorism” is “any violent act”, with implied reference to famous and very nasty acts by very evil people in the past, and usually applied by the victim to gain attention and sympathy.

This is not a new problem.  Devin Foley on the Intellectual Takeout blog notes that George Orwell wrote about the meaning of fascism in 1944 and quotes the article.

As I understand the original terms, fascism has to do with a totalitarian system, with the twist that the economy remains in private hands while being under the total control of the state.  Terrorism has to do with acts of violence committed by a small, unpopular group in an effort to change the government.  They might attack the government directly, but almost always attack soft civilian targets, to convince the people to change their government.  When I use these terms, I try to stick with these definitions.  You might consider something similar.

Disclaimer: I do not support Mr. Donald Trump.  I say this in case anyone thinks I’m actually defending him, to whom “fascist” is often applied.  If it comes down to him or The Honorable Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton, I’ll have to abstain.

 

Sep 132015
 

Betty and I entered the United Arab Emirates at Dubai International Airport (DXB) late on Thursday, 13 August 2015.  I received a tourist visa, valid for 30 calendar days.  Since then, Betty has obtained her resident visa, and the arrival of her Emirates ID Card is imminent.  But the processing of my visa and so on, which is dependent on her having her visa and so on, has only begun as of this date.  My visa would have expired yesterday, Saturday, 12 September.  But Betty’s school, GEMS World Academy Dubai, graciously gave myself and two others a round trip via car to the nearest Omani border point on the afternoon of Thursday, 10 September.

The Border Run is well known in Dubai and the Emirates.  When expats cannot obtain their resident visas within 30 days of arrival, they must leave the country and re-enter to obtain another 30-day tourist visa.  From Dubai, the Border Run is typically 90 minutes by road to the Omani border post at Al Wajaja to the east of Hatta, UAE.

The trip was quite routine.  We passed out of the Dubai metro area and soon encountered reddish sand dunes, with considerable blowing sand.  I suspect this was an outlying section of the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert, which sits in the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula.  After the dunes, the land became progressively hillier and also somewhat greener (which is not really saying much).  We even thought we saw rain showers twice off in the distance!

A small piece of the country of Oman penetrates rather far into the Emirates, and our road crossed that piece.  We had to show passports to leave the Emirates and to enter Oman, and later to leave Oman and enter the Emirates again, but at these posts there were no visa-stamping services.  So on we pressed.

Then we encountered the town of Hatta, which seemed to be well-stocked with restaurants, shops, hotels, and so on, although we stayed on the main road and didn’t stop.

Several kilometers east of Hatta, we showed passports again to leave the Emirates again and enter Oman again.  By this time, the driver had provided us with Omani visa forms, which we had completed enroute.  Then, after several more kilometers, we encountered the Al Wajaja Border Post, which is in fact perhaps only ten kilometers west of the Gulf of Oman, part of the Indian Ocean.  We parked and went in.  The building is large, modern, well built and decorated, and clean.  There were several queues for visas when we arrived at about 6 PM.  We joined one and had the misfortune to be just behind a couple who were having apparent immigration trouble.  But once we got to the counter, it went very quickly, a matter of minutes.  We turned in our forms and paid 50 Emirati dirhams each – 12.50 Euros or about 13.75 US – and received both tourist entry visas and exit stamps from the Government of Oman.  Back in the car!

We drove back west to the Emirati border and found another large, modern, well built, clean building belonging to the Government of the United Arab Emirates, General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners’ Affairs.  We went in and joined another visa queue, which moved quickly.  We explained that we going back to Dubai and would be getting resident visas; the officer gave us new tourist visas without question or cost.  And off we went.  The trip back to Dubai was entirely uneventful, and the driver delivered each of us to our homes.

There are, it turns out, other ways to do the Border Run.  One can – and some companies pay for this – fly to Muscat, the capital of Oman, and get all the stamps at the airports.  Or one can simply stay in Dubai and pay 620 Dirhams – 155 Euros or 170 US – and get the new tourist visa in the right office.  But if you have the time to spare, want to see a bit of the territory, meet new friends, perhaps read a little, the Border Run by road is easily the easiest and cheapest option.

Sep 052015
 

Betty and I have been in Dubai for 24 days!  Much of 2015 so far was consumed by us sorting through everything, departing from Germany, visiting family and friends in the United States, and finally going to Dubai.  We are slowly whipping our apartment into shape and learning our way through the local bureaucracy, which is substantial.

We have signed up for regular Internet service; right now we’re tethering off our iPhones.  With any luck, regular Internet will show up soon, although a rumor today said not.  We’ve made queries and we will see.  But this is the weekend, so we must wait until tomorrow (Sunday) for answers.  (The workweek here is Sunday through Thursday, holy day on Friday; think of exchanging Friday and Sunday.)

I hope to be able to put more time and effort into this website soon!

In the meantime, many thanks and my love to my dear wife Betty, who loves her new job and her new school, and who is holding up well in a new city and country and part of the world!

Dec 132014
 

As I’ve mentioned before, I favor the geopolitical analysis of Stratfor.  A few days ago, in George Friedman’s stead, Economy Analyst Mark Flemings-Williams tackled the broad issue of what Germany is trying to do with its economic policy in the European Union.  Basically: Germany is Europe’s economic powerhouse.  They went through economic austerity after WW2 and are the better for it.  Now, the countries of the EU periphery have overspent themselves.  Germany has been willing to bail them out IF they reform their ways, i.e., go through austerity themselves and essentially become like Germany, net exporters, especially to America.  As austerity is hard on citizens, it turns out that the periphery countries are unwilling to continue; they want the German conditions gone, but the flow of bailout money to continue.  This means the European Central Bank would buy bonds big-time, in the European version of quantitative easing (QE) (which in my own view is simply erroneous Keynesian thinking).  Germany is naturally opposed.  The countries not being bailed out, like France and Italy, have their own troubles and are not much willing to take German advice.  So the EU lurches on, a currency union without financial unity, much less political.  Germany by itself will not be able, or willing for that matter, to pull the EU’s financial bacon out of the fire.

Nov 192014
 

Robert D. Kaplan makes very substantial sense in this piece.  Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor, an intelligence outfit in Austin, Texas.  I recommend them if you’re interested in global geopolitics.

The Realist’s Creed is:

  • Order comes before freedom.
  • Work with the material at hand.
  • Think tragically in order to avoid tragedy.
  • Every problem does not have a solution.
  • Interests come before values.
  • American power is limited.
  • Passion and good policy often don’t go together.

I recommend this article to everyone, but particularly to those of a Progressive political orientation, whose only morality is compassion.  The article demonstrates how this does not work in the real world.  Idealism has its place but does not survive contact with reality.

The link above leads to a page asking for your email address before granting access to the article.  If you don’t want to give your email address, let me know and we’ll figure out how you can see the article.