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August 24, 2010

Comparative studies show ...

Think more money can't buy you worse healthcare? Forget the endless studies showing that the U.S. spends twice as much per capita as any other country, with results outside the top thirty-six. Take a look at Michael Jackson.

Josh Bazell, Fear the Reaper.

August 05, 2010

Causation

L. Sprague De Camp, quoted in Avram Davidson, Adventures in Unhistory p. 9

The Arab storytellers could likewise point to a scientific book by one of their own people, which had ... great authority among them. Its author, Mahmud al-Qazwini, is now chiefly remembered for his remark that the greatness of Allah can be deduced from the fact that he [sic] lets the rain fall only on fruitful land and not on the desert where nothing would grow anyway.

Without having the desire or knowledge required to track the quote down, it would not surprise me at all were it a sly joke in the original (and a good one too). Al-Qazwini sounds very interesting.

Beliefs

Ernest Gellner (again):

[B]eliefs must be difficult to be satisfying. Thus it is a travesty to say that martyrs die for Truth. Real truths seldom require such dramatic testimony, nor is one either asked or tempted to give it. Martyrs have in general defended in the face of death beliefs which they would have found somewhat harder to defend in the face of logic.

August 04, 2010

Al Ghazzali on traditionalism

Quoted in Plough, Sword and Book, he notes that:

the genuine traditionalist does not know that he is one; he who proclaims himself to be one, no longer is one.

Absolution

Ernest Gellner's Saints of the Atlas as quoted in the Hall biography, on baraka (charisma or holiness). As Hall describes Gellner's position, "The local belief is that the possession of true baraka is the result of divine favour. Gellner felt certain that, in this case, vox populi was vox dei."

But it would never do to have this overtly conceptualized: if baraka were merely the consequence of the decisions of the lay tribesmen, it could not claim authority over them. What is in reality a choice - albeit not one made by an individual and not on any one occasion, but by many and over a long time - appears not as a choice but as the recognition of an objective and indeed transcendental fact. The 'objectivity' of the allegedly recognized characteristic has the social consequence of absolving him who 'recognizes' it from the responsibility for it, which would attach to such an act if it were seen to be a choice.

This is related to, but in the end dissimilar from e.g. mob violence, where no one person may be singly to blame, but each knows that he shares some small part of the crowd's actions and its consequences. Two better analogies. (1) The Ouija board. The otherness of the planchette's movement is precisely a culmination of the semi-conscious choices of those whose hands are laid upon it, re-presented to them as something alien and entirely outside their control. One person alone cannot use the planchette; a plurality is required for absolution. (2) The market, as theorized by Hayek, von Mises and their heirs, and in a less conscious way by e.g. the standard microeconomic theory of perfect market competition. "The market" or "catallaxy" is abstracted in such a way as to obscure its origins in actual - and usually political choices made by economic actors (the conditions for true perfect competition, or genuine catallaxy are so stringent that even rough approximations are vanishingly rare in the real economy). After this transubstantiation, they are returned to public argument, immaculate, washed in the blood of the Lamb.