“We truly can’t praise the love and pursuit of wisdom enough,” wrote Marcus Tullius Cicero in one of his last works, How to Grow Old (De Senectute; aka On Aging or On Old Age), “since it allows a person to enjoy every stage of life free from worry.”
“Ancient wisdom for the second half of life,” is how Philip Freeman subtitles his translation of Cicero’s little book in his 2016 Princeton University edition. Cicero wrote his essay (not really a book as we think of them today) in 44 BCE, when he was already 62 years old. I’ve been reading Cicero again of late, searching for his wisdom as I, too age, and deal with the physical and medical complaints of aging. Freeman is a good translator, too; able to turn Cicero’s words into a readable, modern text.
I admit I guffawed a bit thinking of how Cicero’s praise for the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and wisdom compared with the current state of deliberate ignorance, conspiracies, QAnon piffle, the plethora of fake news among the rightwing, and the glut of pseudoscience in our modern world. From wingnut anti-GMO cultists to anti-maskers, homeopaths to anti-vaxxers, flat earthers to birthers, the ignorati in the White House to the banal plodders on Collingwood Council, we live in an age where knowledge is suspect, experts vilified, truth denied, and wisdom is as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.
There are, will always be, those who aggressively avoid learning and reading, comfortable in their self-perpetuating stupidity. For whom the concept of “lifelong learning” ended in childhood. It’s just unfortunate for the rest of us that some of them are in government.
But Cicero wasn’t writing about politics, although he had a lot to say about politics in many other works. Reading his thoughts about governance, ethics, duty, and responsibility is always inspiring. To those who actually read, that is; admittedly a shrinking class in the Age of Ignorance (how many of our local councillors actually know who Ccicero was, let alone have read him?). But in De Senectute he was writing about how to grow old gracefully, calmly and stoically, without despair, yet still active and engaged. He didn’t want the latter part of life to be seen as merely an end, but rather as a continued opportunity to live, learn, and grow. Continue reading “On growing old”
Ever had the frustrating experience trying to correct someone’s obviously un-factual post or meme on Facebook? And found yourself in a swamp of comments all telling you you’re wrong, an idiot, it’s just your opinion, it worked for my friend so it’s true, or you don’t know anything, followed by insults and accusations? Welcome to the backlash from Brandolini’s Law.
According to Wikipedia, Brandolini’s law states that it’s easier to spread bullshit than to debunk it:
Brandolini’s law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage which emphasizes the difficulty of debunking bullshit: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”
We’ve all seen this in action on Facebook or other social media: someone posts some long-debunked conspiracy meme or some pseudoscience claptrap on their timeline and before you can collect the links from Snopes or other de-bunking sites to counter it, a dozen people have already commented on how right it is or how they agree with it and then sharing it on their own timelines. And by the time you have posted a few links to show it’s claptrap, many more have joined the chorus about how wonderful or truthful it is. Your little finger of truth in the dyke of bullshit cannot hold back the tsunami of acceptance for and agreement with something that you know is intrinsically wrong.
In Plato’s terminology, those who attempt to correct the bullshit, are fighting doxa — opinion, common beliefs without the “underpinning of evidence” — with episteme — true knowledge or understanding. And it’s usually a losing battle because while the former appeals to the heart and head , the latter is “wholly cerebral.” And we all know how effectively social media promotes anti-intellectualism and groupthink. *
I was disappointed that the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began with such vigor and hope in 2011, soon petered out into a sputtering, unfocused political miasma barely a year later. I was even more deeply disappointed that the antifa (anti-fascist) protests, which also seemed to have such promise earlier this year, lost its momentum and focus by mid-summer, 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement, which looked like it, too, had real strength and direction earlier this year, seems to have withered by the late summer of 2020.
These are merely the latest popular uprisings and protests against the machinery of the government, against the elite CEOs, billionaires, and lobbyists, and against the social ills that they have enabled to flourish. All of these upheavals are backed by meaningful ideals, and at times naïve optimism, but none seem to have the vertebrae to stand for a long time. There seems no street-level political movement that can last in the face of the growing totalitarianism, racism, misogyny, predatory capitalism, and income inequality in the USA, here, and elsewhere.
News that asteroid “2018 VP1“, will pass within about 480 kms of Earth on November 2, 2020, has raised social media hopes that it might be drawn in by the planet’s gravity and crash on the White House, thus ending any speculation about the reviled Donald “Putin’s Puppet” Trump’s re-election. However, if you are among the alleged millions who wish for this scenario, I suggest you are being overly optimistic. Not only is the targetting rather too specific, but the chances of it even reaching the ground are very slim. And besides, it’s pretty damned small for an asteroid.
2018 VP1 is about 2m wide. As pointed out in the above-linked article, back in 2013 a much larger (20m) chunk of rock entered the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, but exploded before it reached the surface. This rock was dubbed a “superbolide” (a bolide is a large meteor which explodes in the atmosphere): the entry and the heat from the friction caused it to explode about 30 km above the surface. Even at that distance the explosion caused extensive damage to buildings and the landscape. 2018 VP1 is a tenth the size.
In 1908, one of the most famous bolides exploded over Siberia in a similar fashion, causing much greater damage: it’s known today as the Tunguska Event. the rock that entered the atmosphere has been estimated to be about 100m in diameter, and exploded between five and 10 kms above the surface.
So at 2m, 2018 VP1 probably won’t even get that far before burning up or possibly exploding in the stratosphere. Damn, say a lot of Democrats.
Talibangelists (aka (aka the pseudo-Christian, far right) would love to force everyone believe in and obey their highly-adulterated pseudo-religion, and to punish those who don’t. Or won’t. Punishment is big on their agenda: unbelievers, those who stray, followers of a real faith, scientists, intellectuals, people of colour, gays, people with an “R” in their name — they love to punish anyone not among their small circle of authoritarian theocrats (aka theocons, because their pseudo-religious ideology is conservative-far right) and enablers (cue the theme music from The Handmaid’s Tale).
In order to bring their authoritarian ideology into public policy and ramp up the punishment machine, they must infiltrate and then replace the governments of the world with their own theocracy. In the USA, where they are strongest and most numerous, they already have a running start: numerous Talibangelists are active in the Trump administration, close to the president, on the supreme court, and among the justice system (Attorney General Barr being one). They are close to success and have had much of their agenda made into US public policy already. They intend to rewrite the very Constitution to enable their goals, especially that irksome Establishment Clause that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” that prevents religious (or in their case, pseudo-religious) control over the government.
They can’t do it without their religious disguise. Any similar attempt to overthrown the government would be seen as what it is: a rightwing, authoritarian coup d’etat. They’d be rounded up and jailed. Charged with treason. But by pretending to be religious, they can make everything they do about religious freedom, about biblical law, about god, and make themselves look like champions of Christians (particularly the Evangelicals and other rightwing religious sects who seem most gullible to this con). But in fact they are as deeply anti-Christian as they are anti-democracy.
They would have all national laws based on or subservient to biblical laws — including, they note with anticipatory glee, stoning homosexuals. Talibangelist laws have been compared to Islamic sharia law, but the comparison is unfair: Talibangelists ideals are much more aggressive, punitive, unforgiving, and oppressive. Despite that, theocons get offended and shirty when you compare their biblical laws with sharia laws.
Of course, they don’t want all the bible’s laws enacted: only those that are convenient for them or that fit their homophobic, misogynistic, racist, nationalist ideology. And also because, for all their codswallop about the bible and their morality, they simply can’t obey the vast majority of them (where, for example, would they even find the silver trumpets that must be sounded at feasts, at the new moon, and also “in times of tribulation, to call the congregation together”?).
They wouldn’t want, for example, the death penalty for adultery (Leviticus 20:10) because that would mean their better-than-Jesus president would be stoned to death for his many sins in that category. Or for liars to be punished as Proverbs 19:5 demands, because he’d suffer every time he tweets or holds a press conference. What about the law not to fail to repay a debt (Lev. 19:13) or not to steal money stealthily (Lev. 19:11) or not to overcharge or underpay for an article (Lev 25:14) or not to work people oppressively (Lev. 25:43), not to covet and scheme to acquire another’s possession (Ex. 20:15), not to bear a grudge (Lev. 19:18)… Trump has broken so many mitzvot, not just the ten commandments, that even the theocons have lost count.
Nor do the Talibangelists want to obey all laws themselves. They ignore the dietary laws in Leviticus 11 because it would mean no more bacon or shrimp. They don’t want to obey the law in Numbers 15:32-36 that forbids work on the Sabbath on penalty of death because it would mean they wouldn’t have places to dine or shop that day (it’s okay if other people have to work on the Sabbath because their deaths don’t matter). As the LA Times pointed out,
The Hebrew Bible enjoins us many times not to mistreat or oppress foreigners, and it offers provisions for the care and feeding of strangers. Leviticus says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” and the book of Hebrews reminds us to “show hospitality to strangers.” I didn’t see the memo, but God must have revised his thinking on immigration before his endorsement of Trump.
So many biblical laws are just plain inconvenient to the Talibangelists, or threaten their power base, so they ignore them. Surely it’s not hypocrisy to demand others obey laws you refuse to even recognize? Or to forgive your president the same sins you would have others put to death for?
I’m not a believer in alien visitations and UFOs, but I’ll bet if an alien did swing by, after an hour or two observing us, checking out Facebook or Twitter, they’d lock their doors, hang a detour sign around our planet, and race off. They’d tell their friends not to visit us because we were all nuts. Scarily, dangerously crazy.
Seriously. What sort of world can be called civilized when it has people touting — and believing — homeopathy? Reiki? Chemtrails? Anti-vaccination screeds? Anti-mask whines during a frigging pandemic? Wind turbines cause cancer? 5G towners spread COVID-19? Creationism? Reflexology? Alien abductions? Crop circles? Astrology? Crystal healing? Ghosts? Flat earth? Bigfoot? Psychics? Ayurveda? Nigerian generals offering us free money? Palmistry? David Avocado Wolfe? David Icke? Gwyneth Paltrow? Donald Trump? Alex Jones? The Food Babe? Televangelists? Ken Ham? You have to be really hard-of-thinking or massively gullible to fall for any of it. But we do, and we fall for it by the millions.
And that doesn’t include the baseless , puerile crap like racism, homophobia, misogyny, pedophilia, anti-Semitism, radical religion, trickle-down economics, and nationalism, all of which evils remain rampant despite concerted efforts to educate people since the Enlightenment. Little wonder aliens wouldn’t want to be seen here.
Why would they want to land on a planet of such extreme hypochondriacs who one day are happily eating muffins and bread, then the next day millions of them suddenly develop gluten “sensitivity” or even “allergies” right after some pseudo-wellness guru pronounces gluten an evil that is killing them? Or who self-diagnose themselves with whatever appeared in the last illness or pseudo-illness they saw in a YouTube video? Or who go ballistic over being asked to wear a mask for public safety despite its very minor inconvenience? Or who refuse to get a vaccination to help develop herd immunity and would prefer their children suffer the illness instead?
Despite all the efforts, despite science, logic, rational debate, medicine, facts, and common sense (which is not common at all these days) everything has been downgraded into mere opinion. Everyone has a right to an opinion, we say (which is politically correct bollocks), and we respect their opinion (even if it’s toxic bullshit or simply batshit crazy, or in Donald Trump’s case, both). All opinions get equal weight and consideration, especially on social media, where people will eagerly agree with anything that confirms their existing beliefs that the world is out to get them or that makes them feel special.
Who should you believe in this dark age of anti-science and anti-intellectualism: unemployed, high-school-dropout Bob who lives in his parent’s basement and watches porn in his PJs when he’s not cranking out conspiracy videos, or Dr. Fauci, an award-winning physician, medical researcher, epidemiologist, and immunologist who has dedicated his whole life to public health care, with more than five decades experience in the field, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases? But there are two sides to every issue, cry Bob’s followers (by the way, there aren’t: that’s another stupid fallacy) who rush to share Bob’s latest video about why you don’t need to wear a mask during a pandemic, and that you’ll develop immunity if we all just cough on one another. What do experts know, they ask. Bob speaks for us; he’s one of us. We trust Bob, not the elitist guy with the string of degrees. And even if we do get sick, we can just drink some bleach because or president said it will cure us.
Doomed. We are so fucking doomed when wingnuts like Bob (or Trump) get any traction. But there’s Gwyneth Paltrow doing a Netflix series to promote her batshit crazy ideas about health and wellness, and women shovelling their money at her to buy her magic stones to stuff into their vaginas. Bob is just a small, sad voice compared to the commercial money harvesting machines that Paltrow, Wolfe, and Vani Hari are. Doomed, I tell you.
While a lot of hokum has been around for ages, I’ve often wondered if there was some recent, seminal event that caused it to explode as it has into every corner of the world. Sure, the internet is the conduit for most of the codswallop these days, but was there something before that that started the tsunami of ignorance, bile, anti-intellectualism, incivility, and bullshit? Was there a tipping point when reason sank and cranks went from bottom-feeding fringe to riding the surface?,