25 July 2022

History Lessons

Historical evidence is, or at least can be, highly valuable and highly revealing. But it's only evidence, and all too often incomplete; history is writ not so much by the victors as the privileged and literate. And if the privileged and literate think something beneath their attention, victory is largely irrelevant to its nonpreservation (and later examination).1 Especially if the "victory" comes decades later; Wilberforce was no innovator in thought (just a loud and literate and privileged voice).

  • The history of imaginary numbers and their relationship to quantum mechanics is interesting in itself. At least to a nerd like me. Application to "more real" circumstances like "balanced government budget," however, is left as an exercise for the student (such as explaining why the cost to a business of training and education to enhance employee productivity is fully deductible, but for the individual actual or prospective employee not so much — and that's before getting into the whole "current income versus capital investment" debate). But then, you're reading this only due to application of imaginary numbers to the real world of electronic data…
  • Then there's the current circus in the UK, where at least they're honest about only some voters getting counted (which is what Heffalump-sponsored/affiliated vote suppression campaigns really want to achieve). And just like the conservative movement over here worships a devil wearing saint's garb, all the while ignoring the legion of flies buzzing around him, the Tories worship his contemporary with almost no concept of what things were actually like more than 1km from Whitehall.

    Listen, you maroons: I was there. (OK, "maroons" is the wrong part of the spectrum for them, but I can't call them "ignorant sociopathic bastards"… wait, I think I just did.) It was no longer the 1880s; Britannia did not rule the waves, the sun did indeed set on the Empire, and those melaninically-enhanced people were still citizens and your neighbours. (Or your Neighbours, and the celebration-throwback to the 1980s has truly serendipitous timing… and hidden depths. Admittedly, I greatly preferred [Sir] Lenny Henry.)

  • Meanwhile, out here in treehugger country, we try to do things a little differently. Well, most of us do. We still elect too many public officials (like the individual responsible for election mechanisms and vote-counting), though.
  • But that's better than outright dishonesty in science. Got any relatives with memory problems? Congratulations — these [string of foul and offensive expletives deleted] assholes set research back at least fifteen years. It's perhaps not as bad as the antivaxxers, but that's as much due to scale-and-scope issues as anything else; the conduct appears to be just as (dis)honest and self-interested, if the self-interest aspects are slightly better concealed inside the house of mirrors masquerading as "research grant approvals."
  • I could easily fill an entire volume with reactions to the misuse of history in Dobbs; here's one relatively mild example.

    But I don't agree with the mild disagreements; they're not nearly vigorous enough. The primary problem with Dobbs — like with virtually all "real" applications of any form of "originalism" concerning the Constitution, and far too many concerning statutes (for which teasing out intent is both more valid and more possible an exercise… but only "more" and not "inevitably") — is its actual method of reasoning. Leaving aside the Dunning-Kruger problem with nonhistorians attempting to infer completion from a distortedly incomplete record (how many marginally literate farmers in upstate New York were queried when producing The Federalist Papers?), the fundamental problem is that "originalism" of all kinds in practice reasons backward from its conclusion into the purported evidence2 in a strangely well-accepted reflexiveness that turns into circular reasoning all too easily, all too often.

    Aside from the poor reasoning, at a slightly more metaanalytic level originalism has another failure mode in Constitutional analysis. Originalism denies not just the persuasiveness, not just the circumstantial merit, of dissent; it denies the validity and methodology of differing interpretations, even (and perhaps especially) when those differing interpretations have a partially distinct moral foundation. Originalism does not embrace dissent, as the Constitution does throughout; it rejects dissent. That's not representative democracy; that's theocracy. And ignoring the history of theocracy both in the world and in the four-plus centuries of European settlement of this continent, nearly two centuries prior to the drafting of the Constitution — with at least some attention to all of the collateral damage consequences — is just as ahistorical as relying upon a statement by Matthew Hale as representative of even a majority view of all citizens concerning the relationship between legal foundations and personal moral views, let alone the definitive-and-inarguable weight granted it in Dobbs. (One wonders how the reasoning of Dobbs would be applied to religious dissenters like the Quakers…3)

  • Now that he's been found guilty (that's guilty — GUILTY — GUILTY), we need to fashion consequences for Mr Bannon. Hmmm; there's a nice, handly Reflecting Pool near the seat of the institution of which he is a contemnor. So I propose binding him hand and foot and throwing him in. If he floats, he's a witch, and teh courtz should go medieval on him. If he sinks, we'll have three non-English-speaking immigrants — at least one of them here as a refugee under the Convention Against Torture — slowly and carefully write out tickets for littering on National Park Service grounds (since he'll be, well, in the Reflecting Pool). This is serious business; it should take at least ten minutes, including proofreading. We wouldn't want to submit an inaccurate, unproofread legal document or statute!

  1. Yes, this is an attack on overextension of corpus linguistics, which by its very nature presumes that the corpus accurately represents the complete discourse under discussion. One wonders how corpus linguistics would attempt to discern the meaning of, well, heresy. And if there's one concept that even the veriest moron should understand, it is that dissent and unpopular views prior to the mid-twentieth century didn't get preserved in original form with any regularity, reliability, or representativeness…
  2. Properly, the data and the warrant; overreliance on purported "classical syllogisms" is an outcome-determinative choice when dealing with the messiness of language and the real world.
  3. Or perhaps one shouldn't. I don't pretend to have scholarly expertise on Hale and his writings. I do, however, have some scholarly knowledge of some of his contemporaries… and They Did Not Approve of the Substance of Hale's Comments (as distinct from Hale and his handling of individual cases — and it's significant that they made that distinction, even and perhaps especially the nonlawyers). Perhaps perusing Pepy's Diary would begin to give some insight; so would many of the lesser-known works of "giants" of seventeenth-century English literature, which was intensely interwoven with political discourse. That is, the political discourse that we know about because its upper-class white male speakers wrote things down and later generations preserved the writings… including, one might add, under the Licensing Act that enabled printing of Hale's Historia Placitorum Coronae. That Act was rejected by John Locke as an instrument of tyranny; Locke's writings were greatly admired by the Founding Fathers of this country. One wonders what counternarratives of pleas before the Crown Courts (primarily, one might add, in criminal matters, at a time that "fundamental rights" arguments were not found there) might have been suppressed…

    But that's a shorthand attempt to begin explaining a snarled GIGO/argument-from-authority problem with a method of reasoning that explicitly rejects GIGO/argument-from-authority as a methodological flaw in its dataset and warrant. It's positively etheric… and just like that particular experiment, actually proves (or disproves) something entirely different in nature from its initial assumptions. Or, as another sausage on this platter indicates, constitutes outright fraud.