Get PJ Media on your Apple

Belmont Club

Sword and Sorcery

June 23rd, 2014 - 4:33 pm

Historians commonly date the birth of Western civilization from the Greek development of mathematics.  Greek mathematics was the first point of view able to regard the world as potentially comprehensible. While computational methods to solve practical problems existed as far back as the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations they were always ad hoc; a way of solving problems rather than of understanding the universe.

The Western revolution was based on the semi (and often frankly) religious goal of understanding the universe. From  that world view flowed the ‘how’ as a byproduct — the technology we often mistake for the spirit of inquiry itself  – of the quest for truth.   The great empires of the time did not trouble themselves with the Western world view, with the source of the Fire, content with appropriating the results. They could simply keep their own cultural context and still use the borrowed fruit.

The Romans, the Hellenistic world and later the Arabs were content to simply adopt the technology. They copied mathematical results and physics and with it learned enough to slay and conquer — even the Greeks — an incident encapsulated in the death of Archimedes at the hands of a Roman soldier, who finding the  deaf old abstracted man in his path solving a problem in the sand, stabbed the philosopher where he sat.

Not that the world has changed since. The Boko Haram’s AK-47s; al-Qaeda’s hijacked airliners, the humvees of ISIS, and perhaps the dirty nuclear bomb of some Jihadi militant — are objects put to creative use by people none of whom can build them from first principles. But they’ve concluded as did the Romans and Caliphs before them, that they don’t need to understand these objects in principle.  They can regard these marvels as placed in their path by some magical agency. Why they work isn’t as important as knowing how they can be used to kill.

But possibly the most dangerous barbarians live in the West. These, by being born there, assume they are Westerners by inheritance or osmosis. They also regard Western civilization as “found”, its goodies a stash waiting to be used or distributed. Nor do they trouble themselves as to its provenance, for there has always been plenty more where the stash came from.

For these barbarians Western civilization and its associated quest for God or Truth are a bothersome impediment, a “white man’s culture”, a hundred year old relic ideology nobody bothers with, some irksomely judgmental superfluity that gets in the way of fun and spreading the fruits to arrivals at the border and various victim groups.

For the barbarian the only reality is appearances. Cargo cultists, for instance, believe that function comes from form. If they build something which resembles an airport then gift giving airplanes will arrive there to bring goodies.  The 21st century barbarian completely lacks the attitude of Roger Bacon, who lived in the 13th century.  Bacon knew that the truth was not a “white man’s” culture — in fact in his day nearly all learning came from the East — but believed the truth was nature’s culture; baked into reality;  another word for what used to be called God. Of barbarian ignorance Bacon wrote:

Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical. … The empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her.

In today’s post-Western environment, we’ve forgotten Bacon’s adage.

But this ignorance has now been transformed into cool. Elliot Abrams captured the cultural shift in his recent article describing the administration’s misadventures abroad: “The Man Who Broke the Middle East”.  Abrams talks about the most magic moment in modern history; the time Barack Obama spoke in Cairo. In Cairo Obama stood on a stage with a glass panel before him, upon which glowing words scrolled from which he intoned, offering nothing concrete beyond the assertion that he would succeed because he was he.  Abrams writes:

The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained.

How did it happen? Begin with hubris: The new president told the world, in his Cairo speech in June 2009, that he had special expertise in understanding the entire world of Islam—knowledge “rooted in my own experience” because “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.” But President Obama wasn’t speaking that day in an imaginary location called “the world of Islam;” he was in Cairo, in the Arab Middle East, in a place where nothing counted more than power. “As a boy,” Obama told his listeners, “I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.” Nice touch, but Arab rulers were more interested in knowing whether as a man he heard the approaching sound of gunfire, saw the growing threat of al Qaeda from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula, and understood the ambitions of the ayatollahs as Iran moved closer and closer to a bomb.

Hocus-pocus, ala-kazaam!  Unfortunately it didn’t work.

Al-Qaeda is now on the border of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. In places it is within striking distance of Saudi Arabia. “After taking two more border posts in western Iraq this weekend, an Iraqi security official has confirmed that a border post near Jordan has fallen to ISIS fighters. Consequently, the ongoing crisis has expanded to within 100 miles of two U.S. allies.”  Many in the West are left stunned. Uncomprehending. The men who believed in the creased pants and the sonorous delivery are stumped. Why didn’t it work?

Probably for the same reason that Avik Roy points out in Forbes about Obamacare.

Yesterday, the Manhattan Institute published the most comprehensive study yet on the topic, analyzing premium data from 3,137 U.S. counties, and finding an average rate hike of 49 percent. In response, left-wing bloggers are trying out a new talking point: that rate shock doesn’t matter, because taxpayer-funded subsidies will bear the higher costs. …

subsidies aren’t free. They’re financed by taxes: not just taxes on “the rich,” whoever they are, but on average Americans. So if Obamacare increases the underlying cost of insurance, taxpayers are hit with a double whammy: higher insurance costs for themselves, and higher taxes to subsidize those costs for other people….

I’m struck by how contemptuous the left can be about these issues, especially given the moral obligation of government to spend taxpayer dollars in the most efficient possible manner.

The Left is contemptuous of costs because they don’t believe it matters. With the certainty of those who are devoted to magic, like those who burned the library of Alexandria, costs don’t matter because the government will pay for it.  Like barbarians they don’t really see the connection between Truth — or God if you prefer — and consequences. Goodies are simply there. Arithmetic is only useful for convincing people, for making the spell work. Peace comes if you want it hard enough. Healthcare can be made universal by spending Other People’s Money.  Science is but a persuasive device, but it’s the wanting, it’s the will that makes things happen. How simple can it be?  The Republicans are denying poor people medical care because the states won’t expand Medicaid.  Medicaid is subsidized, don’t you see? It’s just free government money.

Recently a book about Hillary illustrated the power of magic even more forcefully. It claimed on the night of the attack on the Benghazi consulate the president told Hillary to say the attack was caused by a video produced in LA.

She had no doubt that a terrorist attack had been launched against America on the anniversary of 9/11. However, when Hillary picked up the phone and heard Obama’s voice, she learned the president had other ideas in mind. With less than two months before Election Day, he was still boasting that he had al Qaeda on the run.

If the truth about Benghazi became known, it would blow that argument out of the water.

“Hillary was stunned when she heard the president talk about the Benghazi attack,” one of her top legal advisers said in an interview. “Obama wanted her to say that the attack had been a spontaneous demonstration triggered by an obscure video on the Internet that demeaned the Prophet Mohammed.”

That would make it a non-terrorist attack because the Secretary of State said so. If this account is accurate, it corroborates the administration’s tendency to view al-Qaeda in terms of magic. The Telegraph says the Kurds repeatedly warned Washington of the impending disaster. “I have completely lost hope in America after listening to President Barack Obama,” the head of Kurdish intelligence, Lahur Talabani, said.  But they were just facts, and facts are trumped by narrative.

How could Obama admit to error, when having built his power on sorcery he must now cling to  infallibility?  The power of magicians to command the weather is destroyed once the magician is exposed as fake. For a sorcerer a mistake is not mere error but catastrophe. So the idea that reality can be trumped by perception is now the ultimate in modern sophistication, a necessary device to support the world of magic. In actuality this viewpoint is a reversion to the mentality of the cave-man, a return to the days when nature was an incomprehensible mystery to pacified by a witch-doctor.

“Wonks” who spin messages, destroy data and actually believe that paper printed at the Federal reserve is valuable can also believe that a ‘speech is a substitute for strategy’. They may regard themselves as modern men, yet their modernity is only a trapping.  They are like the teenager who remarked, as someone wrote, on observing the Statue of Liberty, that the green lady statue was clutching an iPad in her left hand. Today we don’t even care what Lady Liberty stands for, or what what law is inscribed in the tabula ansata; that is a hundred year old trivia question nobody knows the answer to any more. The really significant question is: does Lady Liberty’s iPad have a Retina display and where can I get one at a government subsidy?


Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

Sony Portable Digital Tuner AM/FM Radio Tape Cassette Recorder & CD Player
Luther: Man Between God and the Devil
Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality
No Way In
Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway
The Day the Bubble Burst
Is Islam a Religion of Peace? The Areopagus Journal of the Apologetics Resource Center. Volume 10, Number 1.
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
Shift Omnibus Edition (Shift 1-3) (Silo Saga Book 2)
The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition: A New History of the Great Depression


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   

AESOP
The child dreams of his magic tooth
And Aesop had his fables
And both had much more of the truth
Than State Department cables

VAMPYRE
Mozart had his magic flute
And Jason had his fleece
Obama has his magic suit
Cleaned, pressed, with sharpened crease
The suit conceals the truth inside
Conceals the shadowed form
Conceals what O prefers to hide
That he is cold, not warm
There is no pulse, no beating heart
The magic does it all
He sleeps all day, light, sun depart
And wakens at the call
Of those like he he’ll rise and meet
And smell the nightshade bud
He'll prowl the darkened narrow street
And drink the nation’s blood

22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I heard a local candidate for office claim claim on a radio advert today that she was going to legalize marijuana so she could tax it for universal pre-kindergarden education. In other words she was going to tax your stash to enlarge her stash so she could give free stuff away to government unions.

Thought you might appreciate that. Kind of sums up today's political climate.

22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Short form. We are dealing with Barbarians and their shamans. Both foreign and domestic. You do not sit down and reason with Barbarians. You do not prevail with a kinder, gentler form of barbarism. You do not seriously expect them to achieve satori because of being exposed to your self-evidently superior self. Demonstrating that you are not a threat does not calm their hearts or enlighten their minds.

When dealing with them, foreign or domestic [although the domestic ones are TWANLOC and therefore by definition foreign], the only way to survive is to hurt them so badly [and no, I don't mean psychological trauma] that they fear to attack you again. Or make it so that it will never be possible to attack you again.

Now that we know the rules, So Mote It Be.

I expect there to be a rise in citations of Psalm 144:1

Subotai Bahadur
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (93)
All Comments   (93)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
"Man who broke the middle east" link is not written correctly.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fixed.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wrethard said: "Historians commonly date the birth of Western civilization from the Greek development of mathematics."

I would argue that the impact of Greek mathematics (compass and straight edge) was minimal. Greek mathematics was mainly an intellectual exercise like crossword puzzles or Chess problems, i.e. intellectually stimulating but impractical. I should emphasize that this opinion is contentious. For example, Issac Newton did all of his proofs in the "Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica" through compass and straight edge (the language used was Latin). Newton did this because the conventions of the time required that mathematical proofs be performed with compass and straight edge. The old Greek methods were abandoned as the better mathematical techniques developed by the Arabs gained greater acceptance. It is interesting to note that the Greek mathematician Archimedes could have read the "Principia" and understood the mathematics (I doubt that Archimedes could read Latin). People like to argue that Archimedes could have preceded Newton if he had an interest in astronomy. I doubt this because Newton's work was based upon the empirical laws derived by Kepler which in turn were based upon the astronomical observations of Tycho Brahe.

Where the Greeks changed everything was in their belief in the power of reason. The classical Greeks thought that intelligent men could work out the nature of the universe by simply talking about it amongst themselves, while sipping wine and watching flute girls doing erotic dances. This of course is nonsense because it over looks the importance of empiricism. This in turn brings out the real Greek contribution to Western Civilization which was the development of empiricism and the scientific method. I believe the first Greek to effectively use empiricism and the scientific method was Thucydides in his history of the Peloponnesian War. If anyone could claim the title of being the "father of western civilization", I would argue that it was Thucydides.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
The main Greek contribution was the system of proof, proceeding from axioms to further results. The Greeks may have idealized reason too much and there was excessive deduction, and a kind of worship of the abstract which reached almost religious heights.

There were several subsequent revolutions. The first being the finding of provisional axioms from observation instead of the "self-evident". This interplay between induction and deduction became the scientific method.

Later on there would be further questions raised about the knowability of the world. Non-Euclidian geometries, for example, later aggravated by relativity and finally the quantum concepts, in which to this day it is debated whether reality is knowable, at least by man, at all.

Yet despite all this, the Greeks advanced the state of things to what we regard as a modern attitude. But as the essay points out, mental triumphs are as perishable as stone monuments. Many of us are no more than pagan barbarians again with Ipads.

The device is in the hand, but the fire is extinguished in the brain.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
This thread has expired but I can't resist making a parting shot.

Wretchard said:

"The Greeks may have idealized reason too much and there was excessive deduction, and a kind of worship of the abstract which reached almost religious heights."

A classic example of this was the Society of Pythagoras. They were a weird hybrid between a mathematical society, religion and fan club to Pythagoras.

In the course of playing around with the Theorem of Pythagoras, they discovered that the square root of two was an irrational number. This fact overturned their world view that the universe was fully describable with integers (countable numbers). Supposedly it was the death penalty for any member of the Society of Pythagoras to reveal the true nature of the square root of two. Now fast forward to the present day, and take a look at the scandal behind "Climategate", refer to:

http://www.conservapedia.com/Climategate

The "scientists" behind climategate follow the traditions first established by the Society of Pythagoras.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Where does Euclid fit into your pantheon?

Didn't the Arabs learn a great deal from this great man?
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of course Euclid was important. Most of us learned Euclid's method of geometry in high school Certainly the Arabs used Euclid as a starting point in their development of mathematics. However, Euclid, like the rest of the Greek mathematicians, did everything with compass and straight edge. My point stands that mathematics based upon compass and straight edge was more of an intellectual exercise rather than a practical tool. For example, trisecting an angle by compass and straight edge was an impossible problem. However with modern mathematics, there's nothing to it.

Along the lines of this topic, take look at Heron's formula, refer to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heron%27s_formula

Try doing the derivation yourself using modern algebra. It's tricky. I have no clue how Heron did it with compass and straight edge. Heron of Alexandria was a very clever guy. He was more of an engineer than a mathematician. Some people have speculated that Heron's formula was actually derived by Archimedes and simply restated by Heron. Heron lived from 10 - 70 AD as an Alexandrian Greek under the Roman Empire. Archimedes was a free Greek living in Syracuse from 287 - 212 BC. Their age difference was about 300 years.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hopefully I'll remember to give this some more thought when I've had more than my usual allotment of coffee.
---
"Try doing the derivation yourself using modern algebra. It's tricky."
Good luck on that, no amount of coffee could revivify that many brain cells.
---
"My point stands that mathematics based upon compass and straight edge was more of an intellectual exercise rather than a practical tool."

I accept the difference in the power of modern mathematics, but wasn't "old math" a practical tool when used in conjunction with trial and error, ie increasingly accurate approximations?
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Another example concerning the limitations of compass and straight edge mathematics was Archimedes' derivation of the ratio of a sphere's volume to a cylinder (it's 2:3). Archimedes was so proud of this derivation that he had its symbol placed on his tomb. Using modern mathematics, this derivation is trivial. I'm sure it's super difficult with compass and straight edge.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
very impressive sir.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I couldn't get the link to the Elliot Abrams piece to work - found the piece here: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-man-who-broke-the-middle-east-108140.html
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
hb said: Now that the Turks may be interested I'd hope we could make the Kurds into our strong ally, another Israel.

Ahem. Remember 1992, when GHWB encouraged the Kurds to rebel against Saddam Hussein, and he slaughtered them? Eventually we applied a no-fly zone and it mostly stopped, but only after how many casualities?
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
We could convince them by sharing the risk, IOW, having them allow us to establish a Middle East base there. We could train their troops while giving us a nearby base of operations. If conservatives can capture the senate, hold the house and gain the executive seat, they should shore up our support of Israel by making an arrangement and a decree: Whenever Israel is attacked, our combined forces should take a large chunk of the attacking country and grant it Israeli soil by conquest and use some of the land to house US troops. As Israel grows and the US presence increases, eventually Islam will learn violence is counterproductive. Or they die out. Nothing builds confidence more than shared risk.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
That has been Israel's strategy in the West Bank since at least 2000, but I'm not aware that the Palestinians have showed any learning ... more like they have started to run out of territory, which is fine too.

Since the Kurds lost 100,000 or so last time they went with us, we'd have to be pretty clear about it. I don't think the Turks would be happy about a US base in Iraqi Kurdistan, not that I care terribly if the Turks are happy but Kurdistan is land-locked and officially we need someone's permission to fly in and out and rail is a tougher proposition.

Of course I've said several times it's what *we* should to in the Pakistani lands leading to Afghanistan, grab a 100 mile corridor, pay them a modest rent for it if they cooperate, but make it US territory for the duration.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
grab a 100 mile corridor, pay them a modest rent for it if they cooperate, but make it US territory for the duration.

Your ignorance of LOC's and key terrain from Karachi to Spin Boldak or Torkham should embarrass you into silence.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think they were willin':

The Kurds became especially alarmed at signs that ISIS had already formed a shadow government in Mosul, weeks before initiating the carefully preplanned takeover of the city 10 days ago. According to the same Kurdish military sources it was accomplished with ease and without serious fighting after local Iraqi commanders agreed to withdraw.

The prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani, says he warned Baghdad and the United States months ago about the threat ISIS posed to Iraq and the group’s plan to launch an insurgency across Iraq. The Kurds even offered to participate in a joint military operation with Baghdad against the jihadists.

Washington didn’t respond—a claim that will fuel Republican charges that the Obama administration has been dangerously disengaged from the Middle East. Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki dismissed the warnings, saying everything was under control.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Subotai:



When dealing with them, foreign or domestic [although the domestic ones are TWANLOC and therefore by definition foreign], the only way to survive is to hurt them so badly [and no, I don't mean psychological trauma] that they fear to attack you again. Or make it so that it will never be possible to attack you again.

In simple form, what you are referring to is known as the
Third Rule.

22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hunter Briggs:

>>> I'd hope we could make the Kurds into our strong ally, another Israel.<<<

Why would the Kurds trust us to be allies after seeing what we do to not only Israel, but all other allies? Not while the current regime is in place.

Unsk:

>>>We may a kink in the Shaman line of succession; if this report is even half right, Queen Hillary ain't going to make it through a grueling Presidential campaign:<<<

That makes the assumption that the line of succession has the constitutional break in 2017. Data indicates that such a break is less and less likely, to the point of being an outlier in the odds.

I haven't expected Hillary! to run for quite a while. It will be "health reasons" kind of like Idi Amin retired to retired to first Libya, then Saudi Arabia for health reasons.

Subotai Bahadur.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...Hillary! to run..." Not.
Can you say "Make Michelle Proud...vote for her so she can divorce himself and get her props back?"
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
We may a kink in the Shaman line of succession; if this report is even half right, Queen Hillary ain't going to make it through a grueling Presidential campaign:
http://www.jammiewf.com/2014/doctors-warned-bill-clinton-of-hillarys-frail-condition-she-has-to-be-carefully-monitored-for-the-rest-of-her-life/

How does President Fauxahontas sound?
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
The federal government is the functional equivalent of an addict. It's appetite cannot be quenched, and it's course cannot be altered through enabling rhetoric. Like an addict, the only hope for eventual redemption is if it first hits bottom and must confront the existential nature of it's malady. We're still a long way from the bottom, and slowing the descent is not a solution.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Now that the Turks may be interested I'd hope we could make the Kurds into our strong ally, another Israel.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
This post reminds lady by the name of Sandra Harding, heard of her? No one really should have had to, but anyway she says that the Principia should have been called a "rape manual."

Subsequent feminist texts have also been lauded for exposing the sexually violent linguistic forms of other mathematics tomes too what with their bisecting angels, manipulating equations and so on.

Actually in their mathematic world only simple division is permissable. Divide the loot by the number of people. That will sort it out. Does this mean that the whole body of scientific calculation and production can be utterly dismissed and represented as a cruel male sexual predator which in turn may be rectified only by an open legged floozy giving it all out?







22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
They're like apes pawing through the Crown Jewels of England.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Col. Taylor is giving a calm, reasoned, balanced view of what I feel in somewhat higher key:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFCM6TZgTMI

My wife made me watch the whole movie lately and I was surprised at how Twilight Zonish it felt. Col. Taylor was yet another in a long line of Rod Serling nihilist philosophers in charge of a deep-space missions. Wonder what Rod would say of our own Apes-In-Charge?

An Préachán
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 4 5 Next View All