Feedback

One cultural movement that I yesterday neglected to include in my list of about ten cultural movements that have arisen over the past 70 years was the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

All these cultural movements arose in response to, or as a reaction to, something that had happened in the past. In an obvious sense the reaction to an event will always be subsequent to it. But the odd feature of many of these social movements is that they arise long after their triggering events. In fact many of these reactions seem to become amplified with the passage of time.

One example of this has been the various women’s movements of the past century. It’s probably true to say that pretty much all women have been oppressed in one degree or other for the entirety of human history. So why is it that it has only been after women have become emancipated in the Western world over the past century that various women’s movements – e.g. Suffragettes – have emerged, and become progressively angrier and noisier with the passage of time. Why has it all come bubbling up now?

The same question might be asked of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Why is it that, 100 years after the emancipation of slaves in the USA, that a new movement pursuing the rights of black people should emerge? And why is it, another 60 years on, that an even angrier and noisier movement has now emerged in the form of Black Lives Matter?

Another example might be found in a social movement that I didn’t include in my list yesterday: Socialism. Here’s another social movement that seems to have only gathered strength long after the triggering event had taken place. And the triggering event for this would seem to have been the industrial revolution that began in the 1700s and that brought factories filled with low-paid workers, many of them children, toiling for long hours in dangerous conditions. When people like Karl Marx were writing about them, the industrial revolution had been under way for over a century, and the condition of the workers was already being alleviated by legislation. Yet for the next century and more socialism, in one form or other, was one of the most powerful (perhaps even the most powerful) social movements in the world.

And what about the environmental movement that is currently one of the most powerful social movements in the world? This movement might also be said to have its origins in response to the the industrial revolution, but this time not so much to the social conditions of its workers, but instead to the smoke and waste and pollution that all those factories generated. Nobody seemed to have been much bothered about it at the time, and it has only been when the factory chimney smoke has been cleaned up, and steam engines replaced with diesel engines (and then electric engines) that more and more people can’t bear the sight of any smoke whatsoever, not only from factory chimneys and steam engines, but also from household fires and now even cigarettes and pipes (and even e-cigarettes). Once again, the reaction to something – in this case, smoke – has been gathering momentum some one hundred or two hundred years after the causal event. And it only seems to get stronger with the passage of time.

Socialism and environmentalism are social movements that began during the industrial revolution, and have been gathering momentum ever since. And in the case of environmentalism it seems to require less and less smoke to trigger panic. And the smoke has furthermore become something almost entirely abstract and invisible: carbon dioxide.

Perhaps this happens because events of one sort or other live on in human memory, and become amplified and exaggerated. The blues music of the American south was taken and amplified on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, and fed back to its source. And this music gradually got louder and loud: it became deafeningly loud. The pop music subculture I mentioned yesterday was itself an electronic feedback loop – the same process that many of its musicians used in their own music.

And maybe all these other social movements are also feedback loops, gradually amplifying themselves. The triggering events that set them humming may have been quite small, but in memory they were gradually amplified. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was a shocking event at the time, but a century later, amplified and revisited in countless films and documentaries, it has become far more shocking. So also the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963: if anything it only gets more and more shocking every year, driven by an identical feedback process. My grandfather, who was briefly a soldier in WW1, used to have a couple of largely, lavishly illustrated books on The Great War which portrayed it pretty much as a jolly game in which lots of battles were fought and ships sunk. But one hundred years later, once again after countless books and documentaries and films, WW1 now looks far worse than it did a century ago. The past seems to become more nightmarishly awful the more distant it is removed.

Last weekend in the USA, mobs began tearing down statues of Robert E Lee, over a century and a half after that general had fought in the American Civil War. Why should anyone want to tear down something as innocuous as a statue, 150+ years after the events it commemorates? Isn’t it that those events – the Civil War and the abolition of slavery – now wax larger in collective memory than they ever did at that time, no doubt once again as a result of countless books, documentaries, and movies? Charles Krauthammer (some sort of conservative, I believe) speaking earlier this week (my added emphases):

“…there was something unique about the history of slavery and racism in this country, that we had to cure this original sin. It was not cured by the Civil War as Lincoln had hoped, because it was followed by 100 years of state-sponsored oppression. It began to be cured with Civil Rights, equality of rights, and this generation the last 50 or so years has done a splendid job in redeeming itself.”

What was unique about slavery and racism in the USA? Was it any different from slavery in any other era in human history, for example slavery in ancient Greece and Rome? Why was it an original sin that required the current generation of Americans to redeem itself? There’s nothing original to America about slavery. And how can the current generation of Americans possibly redeem themselves of a crime of which they are not personally guilty. At what point in the past does something have to be before it becomes forgotten past history? 100 years? 200 years? 500 years?

Unfortunately, people like Charles Krauthammer are really simply adding more noise to a feedback loop, amplifying it with terms like “unique”, “original sin”, “state-sponsored oppression”, and “redemption”. What’s needed are voices that play down the past, rather than play it up.

He speaks 5:00 minutes into the video below:

 

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Political Societies as Coalitions Of Subcultures

Political societies are coalitions of diverse subcultures or movements. And so I’ve been trying to remember all the cultural movements that I’ve seen arise over the past 70 years, and which were overlaid on top of the pre-existing culture, which was itself a coalition of different subcultures.

The antismoking/healthist cultural movement was perhaps the oldest, because it began to gather momentum in the 1950s, although it had roots in Nazi Germany, and far earlier. As a movement it was almost non-existent in the 1950s, but became steadily more powerful with almost every single subsequent decade. And since it is the principal concern of this blog, I’ll say little more about it, enough having been said already.

The next cultural movement also emerged in the late 1950s, and was the pop music culture. This culture rather exploded onto the world with the likes of Elvis Presley and a constellation of other musicians playing electric music. It was at its height in the 1960s, but has arguably been in slow decline ever since.

The third cultural movement, which emerged in the 1960s, was the drug culture, that began with marijuana, but rapidly expanded to include any number of other drugs, both legal and illegal. It seems to be still expanding, with new drugs added every decade, if not every year.

The fourth cultural movement was the US antiwar movement, which arose in response to the Vietnam war into which many young Americans were being conscripted. The 1960s drug culture may have been a consequence of US soldiers coming into contact with drugs like marijuana and opium in Vietnam. The antiwar movement now seems to be almost non-existent.

A fifth cultural movement in the late 1960s, perhaps also a consequence of US soldiers in Vietnam coming into contact with other cultures and religions, was the rise of what might roughly be called Eastern mysticism, whose various cults usually featured some Indian guru.

A sixth cultural movement was the women’s movement that began to gain traction in the early 1970s. This was almost contemporaneous with the seventh, LGBT movement, which started up around the same time, and now seems to be adding new sexual minority categories (e.g. transgender) every decade or so.

The eighth cultural movement was the environmental movement, which metamorphosed into the Green movement, and mutated further into global warming/climate change alarmism. This has become a very powerful movement, perhaps because it’s been the only one that’s science-based, and has entire industries based upon it.

The ninth cultural movement, which actually started life in the 1950s, but only became significant in UK culture in the 1970s, was the European movement, firstly with the European Economic Community, and then the European Union. This has perhaps been the most powerful cultural movement of all.

A tenth cultural movement might be Cultural Marxism, although this one tends to ride parasitically on the backs of other cultural movements (e.g. environmentalsim and the EU) and co-opt them for its own purposes. Marxism seems to have an endless ability to re-invent itself.

Perhaps Islamism might be termed another cultural movement, although it’s an import from the Middle East.

When these various subcultural movements emerged, they began to form loose coalitions. Political Correctness is perhaps simply a coalition of values, reflecting an underlying coalition of subcultures. It has no internal logic: it’s simply a consensus opinion. And in forming coalitions, the various cultural movements gradually ceased to be separate subcultures, and merged into a single pop, environmental, antismoking, LGBT, left wing, European superculture. In the UK, the adoption by the Conservative party’s David Cameron of the entirety of the environmental agenda in 2005 marked the triumph of environmentalist movement. The later acceptance of gay marriage by David Cameron marked the ratification and triumph of LGBT subculture. And the UK smoking ban of 2007 of course marked the triumph of the antismoking movement.

But when this loose coalition of subcultural movements gained cultural ascendancy, it also became fascistic. Fascism may simply be something that emerges when some subculture gains ascendancy. Up until the point when they became ascendant, the subcultures were usually simply trying to defend themselves. But once they gained the cultural ascendancy, they started imposing their values on everybody else, usually by force of law. So, for example, in 2009 the EU parliament voted for a European smoking ban, complete with show trials for prominent dissidents. It was a way of saying, “We’re in charge now! Do as we tell you to do!”

It was at this point that the entire coalition, gradually pieced together over many decades, began to disintegrate. It’s rather hard to see how a political union can survive when it makes large numbers of its own people into second class citizens, arrogantly imposing its values upon them in all kinds of ways.

In the USA, the Democratic political movement – Clinton, Obama, etc – has been exactly the sort of “rainbow” coalition of separate movements just described. But wherever it has gained ascendancy in the USA, it has regularly behaved tyrannically. And whenever it has done so, it has begun alienating former supporters. And these have been slowly drifting away, and voting for somebody else. In the UK that’s been evidenced in the shock Brexit vote, as Britons rejected the EU. And in the USA it’s been expressed by the shock election of Donald Trump, as Americans rejected Hillary Clinton.

The loose coalition of cultural movements had gained the ascendancy, only to lose it a few short years later, when people began to recognise – and reject – the fascistic characteristics it had increasingly begun to openly display.

The collective hissy fit of the largely leftwing US mainstream media at the presidency of Donald Trump grows from a refusal to recognise that they have lost their ascendancy. They thought that history was going in one direction, and that they were riding its wave. But the wave has now broken, and is retreating back down the beach. And the danger is that, having scored a great many victories, the left is about to lose everything it has won.

Not all the cultural movements I’ve listed have been fascistic in nature. Music is not inherently fascistic. Nor are drugs. Nor is sex. Nor is quietistic Eastern mysticism. Environmentalism – the wish to preserve the natural environment – might not be inherently fascistic, but modern environmentalism with its tyrannical windmills has somehow managed to become fascistic. But Islam and Cultural Marxism and the EU superstate were arguably always inherently fascistic and bullying in character. And antismoking healthism also. And when ordinary people recognise it, they reject it. They revolt against it.  And if all the cultural movements I’ve listed have grown out of a revolt against one thing or other, the next set of social movements will also grow out of similar revolts.

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Lung Cancer Rising, but not from Smoking

Rose has been turning up a lot of interesting stuff in recent days. From the Times:

Pollution blamed for lung cancer in people who have never smoked
August 12 2017

“Lung cancer rates among non-smokers have doubled over the past decade amid concerns that high levels of air pollution lie behind the rise, a study shows.
The number of lung cancer deaths among people who have never smoked will overtake deaths from smoking- related cancer within a decade if the trend continues, according to the UK’s largest cancer surgery centre.

Researchers worry that this shift would make the condition, which is the deadliest form of cancer, even harder to diagnose and treat in time. There are 46,400 new cases and 36,000 associated deaths in Britain each year, and only one in 20 patients survives for more than ten years.”

From China:

Lung cancer rising, but not from smoking
August 11, 2017

“Chinese health authorities are trying to figure out the reason for the rapid rise in a form of lung cancer that develops deep in the lung and is not associated with smoking.

China has seen a sharp increase in the disease over the past 10 to 15 years, hitting groups traditionally not susceptible such as women and nonsmokers, said Xue Qi, deputy director of thoracic surgery at the Cancer Hospital Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, also the country’s National Cancer Institute.”

From California, in 2010:

Many Lung Cancer Patients Stopped Smoking Years Before Diagnosis
2010

“July 14, 2010 (Los Angeles, California) — Much of what people think they know about smoking and lung cancer might be wrong, according to findings presented here at the 11th International Lung Cancer Conference.

For example, many if not most patients with a history of smoking quit decades before. In a retrospective study of 626 people with lung cancer treated at a tertiary-care facility in Southern California, 482 (77%) had a history of smoking. Of those, only 71 patients (14.7%) were still smoking at the time of their diagnosis. Of the remaining 411 patients, 245 (60%) had not smoked for a mean of 18 years, 8 of whom had quit 51 to 60 years earlier. The other 166 (40%) had stopped smoking within 10 years of their diagnosis.

“Sixty percent of our cohort developed lung cancer despite doing the right thing by stopping smoking over 1 decade ago,” according to the researchers.

These findings contradict the popular perception that most people with lung cancer are ongoing smokers who did not kick the habit until cancer symptoms appeared, the researchers note”

I’m not in the least bit surprised. I’ve been of the view for some time that nobody really knows what causes cancer, and so it doesn’t surprise me that “health authorities are trying to figure out the reason for the rapid rise,” and “much of what people think they know about smoking and lung cancer might be wrong.” The only heartening thing is that at least some people are starting to admit that they don’t know what’s causing it.

But if smoking isn’t to blame, is it likely that air pollution is any more to blame? I’m reminded of the movie In The Heat Of The Night, which I happened to watch again last night, in which the town sheriff, played by Rod Stieger, investigating a murder, keeps jumping to conclusions and announcing that he’s found the culprit, starting with a black homicide detective, played by Sidney Poitier, who’s passing through town. It’s essentially the same story as the investigation of the causes of cancer over the past 100 years, in which the case is always being closed. Somebody has to be found to pin the rap on, and found as quickly as possible.

Personally I rather like my own “succession” theory of cancer, which relies entirely on an ageing process in which gaps appear between cells as they die, much like clearings appear between trees in an ageing forest when trees die or fall down, and in these spaces fast-growing cells can multiply very rapidly, much like undergrowth in a thinning forest, spreading from clearing to clearing. There’s nothing in particular to blame for it: it just happens when things age. It explains why cancer is strongly associated with old age. And if we have a cancer epidemic these days, it’s because a lot more people are living a lot longer than they used to do. And it’s as good an idea as any other, if nobody knows what causes it.

Another one from Rose:

Diesel Exhaust Exposure in Miners Linked to Lung Cancer
2012

“For never smokers and light-to-moderate smokers, the risk of lung cancer death increased with more diesel exhaust exposure. Non-smokers with the highest level of diesel exposure were seven times more likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers in the lowest exposure category.

In contrast, among miners who were heavy smokers, the risk of lung cancer death decreased with increasing levels of exposure.”

“The researchers offered possible explanations for the tapering off of risk at high levels of diesel exhaust exposure. Heavy smokers might be more likely to clear diesel exhaust particulate matter from their lungs than non-smokers, a phenomenon that has been reported previously among coal miners who smoke.”

Slightly off topic from a week back:

Health officials: Plus size models as bad as promoting smoking

Health officials in Australia have expressed concerned over “drastically overweight” models being “glorified” on the runway.

The Australian Medical Association NSW President, Brad Frankham, told the Daily Telegraph he believes it sends a dangerous message that’s as damaging as promoting models who are severely underweight.

What business is it of doctors to tell people what they should look at?

I couldn’t help hoping that there’d be a fad for overweight models (after all, there was a fad for underweight ones like Twiggy back in the 1960s) – purely to spite the health zealots.

Better still would be overweight models, gleefully smoking cigarettes and munching cheeseburgers as they lumbered up and down the catwalk. The health zealots would be apoplectic.

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Same As It Ever Was Again

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animals revolt and drive out its owner, farmer Jones. But after that the pigs who take over running the farm gradually become increasingly like the human owners of surrounding farms. They start walking on their hind legs, and wearing clothes, and carrying whips. In the end the other animals on the farm are unable to tell the pigs from the men. And they end up back where they started before the revolution.

The book, published in August 1945, was about the Soviet Union. But it could equally have been about the post-war Britain that had just elected the Labour government of Clement Attlee and its Welfare State, which was Britain’s bloodless version of the Soviet Union. Many industries were nationalised, the National Health Service was inaugurated, education was reformed.

Seventy years later, much has changed. Margaret Thatcher de-nationalised many of the nationalised industries. But the state-run NHS continues, and so do the state schools. But Clement Attlee would have no place in the modern Labour party, because he was an avid pipe-smoker, and in 2006 the Labour government voted overwhelmingly to ban smoking in indoor public places. Many of them would like to ban smoking outdoors as well. Most likely nobody at all in the modern Labour party smokes any tobacco any more, except in secret.

Yesterday Dick Puddlecote was reporting how blogger Anna Raccoon, now dying of cancer, was being forbidden even from vaping in the hospice in which she is now confined. Such a thing would have been unthinkable in Clement Attlee’s NHS, in which most of the patients smoked, and most of the doctors as well. But the Labour party has changed, and so have the schools, and so has the NHS. These days the pigs stand on their hind legs, and wear clothes, and carry whips. And they are indistinguishable from any of their authoritarian human predecessors.

Yesterday I was writing about all the petty tyrants that abound these days. I cited the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who’d set out to ban fast food from schools. And the doctors who, not content with banning smoking everywhere, now seem to want to ban alcohol and sugar and salt and fat as well. And the global warming alarmists who want to ban carbon dioxide, and probably carbon as well. And the EU which has gradually mutated from being a family of nations into centralised controlling superstate.

“It’s not a free country any more,” a complete stranger said to me on 1 July 2017, in the watery sunlight of the car park outside the River, where its smokers had just been exiled minutes beforehand. Never a truer word was spoken. And it has become even less free in the past 10 years since the smoking ban. But the Britain of 1945 was a free country, and it became even more free over the next three or four decades. But then it started becoming less free again. More or less everywhere in the world, people seem to becoming less and less free. Usually in small ways, through new pieces of legislation, almost insensibly, slice by slice.

Political Correctness is another creeping form of tyranny. It sets out to control what people can say, and even what they can think. It changes the meanings of words, so that a word like “liberal” now means almost the exact opposite of what it used to mean, in the USA at least.

Back in the 1960s there were lots of liberation movements. Women’s Liberation, for example. Animal Liberation. Gay Liberation. But now we have control movements. Tobacco Control. Climate Control.  If freedom ever gets a mention, it’s in the form of its negation, as in “smoke-free” or “fat-free”. Nobody mentions freedom – real freedom – any more. There’s not a single hint of freedom in either of two well known contemporary slogans: Black Lives Matter and Make America Great Again. What does it mean to make something “matter”? What does it mean to make something “great”?

If George Orwell, another avid smoker, were still around, he would have recognised all of it immediately. For nothing has really changed.

All these various revolutions – and the election of the Attlee government in 1945 was a revolution of a sort (it would be called a velvet revolution today) – seem to start out hopefully, even deliriously optimistically, and then gradually turn into dystopian nightmares, and then finally return to more or less exactly where they started, nothing having really changed at all. One tyranny is replaced with… another tyranny.

And perhaps that was always inevitable. Idle Theory is about freedom. Idle time is free time in which people can do what they want. In Idle Theory freedom comes in concrete quantities, measured by clocks. But we are never completely free. Not all our time is free time. The rest of the time we spending working. And we’re usually working for some tyrannical boss, or for some tyrannical general, or some tyrannical dictator, or some tyrannical king. The rest of the time we’re under top down control by somebody or other. But perhaps that’s less a reflection on the character of these various petty tyrants, and more one that is a reflection of the condition of all living things: that they must work to survive. The underlying tyranny relaxes a little sometimes, and we become more free, and intensifies in other times, and we become less free. The mistake that we continually make is to suppose that if we can just overthrow the current king or tyrant or dictator or pope or tsar, we will become absolutely free. But we never do. We always just end up back where we started.

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Petty Tyrants Are Everywhere

Jamie Oliver came to mind today.

Jamie Oliver is a celebrity chef. We seem to have lots of celebrity chefs in the UK. Some of them are really French chefs, or at least chefs who were trained in France, which is where all chefs come from. After all, “chef” is a French word. If they were English, they’d be called “cooks”. Or maybe that should be “kooks”.

Anyway, the celebrity chefs usually cook French food. But there are variants of them that cook English food, which is usually fairly simple food, cooked in simple ways. According to Wikipedia

 he [Oliver] is most known for his typically English cuisine.

“Cuisine” is another French word. But I suppose that if you’re a “chef”, you’ll cook “cuisine” rather than “food”, won’t you. And you’ll be a “restaurateur”. If he was an English cook, he’d cook English nosh or grub. And he’d have owned a restaurant called Top Nosh or something.

Anyway, Jamie Oliver first got famous in about 1999, with his own TV show. But within a few years he’d begun to move on to higher things:

In 2005, Oliver initiated a campaign originally called Feed Me Better to move British schoolchildren towards eating healthy foods and cutting out junk food; this campaign was eventually backed by the British government.

A subtle change had taken place. Jamie Oliver had started out serving food to people who wanted to buy it, and had now moved on to telling people what they should eat – with the backing of the British government.

Isn’t that the story of our time? The servant becomes the master. And he becomes a little tyrant as well.

In September 2006, Rawmarsh Community School, South Yorkshire, made headlines after a handful of parents revolted against Oliver’s nutritious lunch plan by delivering junk food from local shops to the pupils through the school fence.

By 2008, he was trying to ban “unhealthy” food in schools.

Oliver began a formal campaign to ban unhealthy food in British schools and to get children eating nutritious food instead. Oliver’s efforts to bring radical change to the school meals system, chronicled in the series Jamie’s School Dinners, challenged the junk-food culture by showing schools they could serve healthy, cost-efficient meals that kids enjoyed eating. His efforts brought the subject of school dinners to the political forefront and changed the types of food served in schools.

Oliver’s Ministry of Food campaign began in 2008 with the Channel 4 series of the same name and the opening of the first Ministry of Food Centre in Rotherham.

The same thing has been happening elsewhere. Doctors in the medical profession used to simply treat sick people: now they’re telling them what to eat and drink and smoke. They also have turned into petty tyrants. When in 2004 the BMA’s Sir Charles George called publicly for a UK smoking ban, he became a petty tyrant.

Climate scientists used to be people who read barometers and tried to predict the weather. Now they’re haranguing people about their carbon dioxide emissions, and banning carbon dioxide. They’re another bunch of little tyrants.

The EU used to be a little family of nations. Now it’s full of bossy people telling small countries how to run their own affairs. They’ve become little tyrants.

Someone like Michael Bloomberg seems once to have simply been a successful businessman, but when he became mayor of New York, he used his position to ban smoking, and then soda, and maybe a few other things as well.

Perhaps it’s something that happens when people are promoted to positions of authority? They become arrogant, and start ordering people around. They start telling people what they should believe, what they should think. They become insufferable. But they actually don’t know any better than anyone else.

Hillary Clinton is another insufferably arrogant politician. She expected to be elected as President of the United States. It was supposed to be a coronation. It was her turn to be President. She’s been sulking ever since she lost, and blaming everybody but herself.

In fact, almost all the senior Democratic US politicians seem to display the same insufferable arrogance. Al Gore is another one. And he happens to be another failed presidential candidate, just like Hillary Clinton. But now he lectures everyone about global warming. And refuses to debate the opposition.

Petty tyrants are everywhere.

Maybe Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were both nice, gentle, considerate people – until they became dictators, and started telling everybody what to do, and making their opinions into laws? Or maybe they were both always pushy, bossy, arrogant people who shoved their way to the top, trampling over hundreds of people in the process?

Perhaps if I had ever been promoted into a position of authority, I would have behaved in the exact same way? I suppose that I’m the proprietor of this blog, and I’m the proprietor of the Smoky Drinky Bar, and I express my opinions in both places. But I don’t shout down other people. Or I hope I don’t.  I don’t tell people what they should think. I just tell them what I think. They don’t have to agree with me. What they think is up to them. And they may know a lot better than I do.

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Three Rival Ethical Codes

Yesterday I was discussing the river engineer and his belief that “health” was “our highest good”. I contrasted the ill-defined notion of health with my mathematical-physical concept of idleness (from Idle Theory) as a much better candidate for being our highest good. Utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham would have said that “happiness” is our highest good. So straight away there are three rival candidates for the highest good: “health”, “idleness”, and “happiness”.

Why is anybody trying to figure out what might be our highest good? The answer, I think, is that in the western world at least, the old Christian moral cosmos with its One God, and its Heaven and Hell, has become obsolescent, and we’re trying to replace it with something else. We no longer believe that when we die we will face judgement for our sins, and live on in an afterlife in either Heaven or Hell. So we no longer think that there are long term consequences for what we do. And for some people that is taken to mean that anything goes. In losing Christianity, we’ve lost our moral compass. And that’s one reason why a dwindling remnant of Christians clings on to Christianity: they can’t see any new moral code to replace it with. It may also be why Islam is resurgent, because Islam doesn’t seem to be facing the same crisis as Christianity.

Why has the Christian cosmos become obsolescent? Because we no longer think about life and death in the way we used to do. In the past (and for many thousands of years before Christianity) it was thought that living people were vitalised by an immortal soul, and that when they died their immortal soul lived on. But these days we tend to see living people (and animals and plants) as powered by energy from the Sun, rather than vitalised by a soul. And we think that when we die there is no afterlife for our soul to live on in, and that we live brief lives of a few decades into which everything has to be packed, and that there will be no reward for us in Heaven, and no punishment in Hell.

Heaven and Hell now have to be crammed into the span of a single lifetime. And so we are now in process of recreating Heaven and Hell on Earth. In our prisons and labour camps and death camps, we have been pretty good at recreating Hell. And perhaps in our holiday camps or holiday islands we’ve recreated a little bit of Heaven.

The other problem we have, as our soul-based account of life is replaced by an energy-based account of life, is that our mathematical-physical model of the universe doesn’t seem to have a moral dimension to it. It describes how the universe is, but it offers no advice about how it ought to be. So we are falling between two stools. One stool is the departing Christian moral system, and other stool is the emergent (and currently amoral) mathematical-physical description of the world. We are betwixt and between.

Might it be possible to discover a new system of ethics in our emergent energy-based mathematical-physical description of the world? Might there be something there which we’ve missed, or not yet seen?

As candidates to replace the old Christian One God, I’ve postulated three. The first is the current reigning cult of “Health”. The second is Utilitarian “happiness” or “pleasure” or “satisfaction”. And the third is the “idleness” of Idle Theory.

The big problem with “happiness” or “pleasure” is that it’s a psychological attribute, and there’s no obvious way of measuring it. It’s incommensurable. We don’t have happiness meters. Nor, even though “health” is much more of a physical than a psychological attribute, do we have health meters to measure how healthy people are. So both “happiness” and “health” are rather vague, amorphous, and ultimately useless ideas. But “idleness” is a physical attribute that is measurable with clocks. In an ordinary working week, for example, we have two weekend idle days  and five working days in every seven day week, so we have an idleness of very roughly 2/7 or  28%.

And our idle time is also free time in which we can do as we like, rather than do as we are commanded by our employers during the working week. The “weekend” is our modern two-day Christian “sabbath”. If we have this extended sabbath, it is because thanks to our modern machines we are able to perform the work needed to maintain ourselves alive more quickly than we used to only a few centuries ago, and we had 6 day working weeks and an idleness of 14%. We have more free time. And we have holidays on top of the weekends. And we have all sorts of luxuries and amusements to enjoy in our idle time (e.g. video games). If economic growth is anything at all, it is growth in social idleness. And this economic growth is a painstakingly slow process that has taken place over many thousands of years, beginning in the Stone Age and continuing through the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, and now proceeding at almost breakneck speed.

The cosmos of Idle Theory is populated at one end by living things with idleness approaching 0%, and at the threshold of death, and at the other end by living things with idleness approaching 100%, and theoretically immortal. And so its cosmos has Life at one end, and Death at the other. Or it has Idle Life at one extreme, and Busy Death at the other extreme. Which is to say that it recreates Heaven and Hell at its two extremes. And it also recreates a Divinity at one extreme, and a hyperactively busy Demon or Devil at the other end. And with human life and other forms of life suspended somewhere in between the two extremes. In short, it reconstructs the Christian cosmos, but using a new terminology. And its long term vision is one of very slow ascent from low idleness to high idleness, over many thousands of years, always accompanied by the danger of a relapse (or Fall) to a lower level of idleness, and into a busier, more hard-working life.

And in this new cosmos, what is good is what increases idleness, and what is evil is what decreases it. And so murder is an evil because it deprives a living thing of its idle time. And theft is an evil because it deprives someone of some lesser amount of their idle time. And nuisances like barking dogs and noisy railway trains are evils because they deprive people of small amounts of their idle time. The scale or degree of any evil is measured by the amount of idle time it costs anyone. And the scale of any good – like roads and water and electricity supplies – is measured by the increased idle time it provides.

By contrast, the adoption of “health” as the highest good offers no ethical guidance whatsoever. Or if it measures anything at all, it only measures longevity of life. It has no measure of the quality of life, only its duration. But Idle Theory offers the idleness of any life as a measure of the quality of that life. So in the healthist maximum longevity model, a 70 year life is worth more than a 50 year life, while in Idle Theory the length of a life must be multiplied by its idleness to give its value, so that a 50 year life lived at 90% idleness is worth 45 years of idle time, and a 70 year life lived at idleness of 20% has a value of 14 years of idle time. Longevity or “health” is not what matters most of all. And in fact with their smoking bans the health zealots have taken away the idle time that smokers used to enjoy in pubs and cafes, simply in order to prolong their lives by a few more months or years. I used to enjoy about an hour every single day in a pub or cafe, but for the past 10 years thanks to their smoking ban I have only enjoyed about an hour a week in them (or rather, outside them). So they have so far cost me 3,170 hours of idle time, without any compensating length in the longevity of my life – because I haven’t stopped smoking. And since there are about 10 million smokers in the UK, the smoking ban has so far cost them something like 31,700,000,000 hours idle time in total. Surely the health zealots should be sent to prison! Perhaps they should even be summarily executed! We would all be much better off without them.

And this, in principle, is how Idle Theory’s ethical system might be used to attack and destroy the Healthist ethical system. And in this it might find an ally in the Utilitarian ethical system, if it can be argued that the UK’s 10 million smokers have been a lot more unhappy over the past 10 years than the UK’s 10,000 or so health zealots have been happier.

Idle Theory offers a restoration of something very like the lost Christian moral cosmos, but with a new set of meanings for most of its terminology. And it also offers a mathematical-physical description of that cosmos, and provides a moral dimension to physics that it has hitherto lacked. And it offers an intellectual army with which to contest the reigning, highly destructive Healthist dogma. What, if anything, is missing?

 

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Health Is A Meaningless Word

Yesterday I was watching a YouTube video called The Mystery of Water. I think water is mysterious stuff, so I was attracted to a video with that sort of name. It was about the “memory” of water. Because apparently water can remember things. They were doing experiments with drops of water, which they let dry, and looked at the residue of the droplets that remained, and found they were all different..

I was a bit puzzled about this, because surely when you allow a droplet of water to dry, all the water evaporates, and what you’re left with is something like a tide mark made up of impurities in the water that didn’t evaporate. You’re not looking at any water at all. So how can you talk about water having a memory?

I carried on watching anyway, but came to a dead stop 21 minutes in when a “river engineer” who was talking about rivers and floods said:

“If we river engineers can successfully find a way of keeping the water in the landscape, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble, and a lot of money as well, and at the same time we can return to a kind of landscape that gives us back the thing we can – and must – call our highest good: our health.”

And I realised that this softly-spoken river engineer with a trim little moustache was a healthist. He was someone for whom the highest good was health. And he believed that it wasn’t just that we can call health our highest good, but that we must do so. Here spoke a zealot who worshipped health, and clearly felt that everyone else must worship health too.

And it seemed clear that for him, “regaining health” was something different from merely “saving ourselves trouble and money”.

He looked perfectly healthy to me. He wasn’t covered in spots or sores. He wasn’t breathing heavily. His eyes and nose weren’t streaming. So why was he talking about regaining health? Perhaps he had some form of cancer that wasn’t apparent on cursory inspection?

I was reminded of the WHO definition of health:

The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health in its broader sense in its 1948 constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

So this definition of health invokes something called “well-being”, “disease”, and “infirmity”. What’s “well-being”?

Well-being, wellbeing, or wellness is a general term for the condition of an individual or group. A high level of well-being means in some sense the individual or group’s condition is positive.

OK, what’s “disease”?

A disease is a particular abnormal condition that affects part or all of an organism and that consists of a disorder of a structure or function.

Or “infirmity”? According to Google that is

physical or mental weakness.

So when we ask what “health” is, we’re told it’s “well-being”, and when we ask what well-being is, we’re told that it’s an “in some sense positive condition”. And we have learned nothing at all. Or we go round and round in circles, using different words which all mean more or less the same thing, but also quite possibly mean nothing at all.

Of course we can always say that “Well, everybody knows what’s meant by health. You don’t really have to define it. We know what it is.” But is even that true either? Is health a subjective condition or an objective condition? Is it for the patient to tell the doctor that he is unwell, or is it for the doctor to tell the patient that he is unwell? Can health be measured? If so, what are the units of health? And in what sense is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being” different from, say, “happiness” or “joy” or “peace”?

Perhaps if he had been asked to define what he meant by “health” the river engineer could have come up with something a bit more robust or informative that “well-being” or “vitality” or “positiveness”. But I doubt it. I doubt if he would have been able to define it any better than any of the definitions found in the WHO or Wikipedia or Google. But nevertheless he was telling us that this ill-defined “health” must be our highest good. It’s like telling people that they must eat strawberries, and then being unable to say what strawberries are, or how to tell them apart from raspberries or gooseberries or blackberries.

To the extent that “health” is an undefined word, it’s also a meaningless word.

In this respect, it seems to me that the “idleness” of Idle Theory is a much more well-defined concept than ill-defined “health”. The idleness of some living thing is defined as

I = 1 – Pm / (Pi – Pe)

where Pm, Pi, and Pe are all power terms (e.g. watts), and power has the physical dimensions of ML2T-3, where M is mass, L is length, and T is time. Idleness can range from 0 to 1, or 0% to 100%, with 0% idleness the threshold of death. Pm is its resting (idle) metabolic rate, Pi is the rate at which it can acquire energy (e.g. by eating), and Pe is the rate at which it expends energy while acquiring energy (e.g. by chewing).

Idleness is a physical quantity like power or energy or work or force or acceleration or velocity or mass or length or time. All these terms are highly defined in the language of physics. They can all be measured. They can often be measured very, very accurately. And they all have numbers attached. I weigh 63 kilograms, and I’m 1.75 metres tall, and I’m 69.5 years old.

But “health” is something undefined. It has no dimensions. And there is no number associated with it. You never hear anyone being described as “75% healthy”. You never hear anyone reply, on being asked how they are, “Oh, about 29.”

Ill-health is usually associated with infirmity or weakness of some sort. Those suffering from diseases of any kind are very often unable to do as much work as they usually can. They have to work longer to achieve the same result, and so their idleness falls. Or they may also be in pain, and pain is a form of work, and so pain reduces idleness. The course of a disease is very often one of gradually falling idleness while sickening, and then gradually rising idleness while recovering. Breaking a leg or an arm will usually see a very sudden sharp decrease in idleness followed by a slow recovery over several weeks or months.

So, in principle, tightly-defined “idleness” can be used in place of ill-defined “health”.

And anyone who works in “Public Health” should be asked what they mean by “health”, and when they are unable to define it, they should be told to please stop talking about it, since they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.

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