William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Culture (page 1 of 167)

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

What To Do On Black Friday

Another holiday tradition, our annual Black Friday post! I have removed last year’s updates and will include new ones for this joyous day. There may be fewer because several retail establishments decided to forgo the day of thanksgiving and turn it into a day of avarice, so that Black Friday passions could be spread across time.

This, one of our most sacred days of the year, can be exhausting, especially in the choices one must make. Should one wake at 3am or should one even sleep? Should one take part in a riot, tumbling headlong into a store to be the first to secure the new iWhatsit, which is rumored to be 0.00132″ slimmer than last month’s model? Or should one circle the mall’s outer limits for hours spying for a spot to park?

Just what form should the joy of this holy day take? Well, here are some Black ideas. Please contribute your own.

1. Go see a priest (they often wear black). Confessions heard daily.

Truly, confession is good for the soul.

Truly, confession is good for the soul. Find a Dominican if you can.

2. Read Wordsworth, the old curmudgeon. The sheer absence of Black in this poem surprisingly puts one in mind of it.

England, 1802

O FRIEND! I know not which way I must look
For comfort, being, as I am, opprest,
To think that now our life is only drest
For show; mean handy-work of craftsman, cook,
Or groom!—We must run glittering like a brook
In the open sunshine, or we are unblest:
The wealthiest man among us is the best:
No grandeur now in nature or in book
Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense,
This is idolatry; and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws.

— William Wordsworth. 1770-1850

3. Chat with a nun! Develop the habit. Find one who wears one for better results.

Calling all souls!

Calling all souls!

4. Go larping as comic book character The Consumer! Black of heart and of deed, her only mission to deplete, The Consumer! plunges headlong though humanity devouring all in her path, her single-minded avaricious mind bent on swallowing whatever her evil masters tell her to. (These masters communicate with The Consumer! via electromagnetic wave and encoded messages on certain web pages.) Fear The Consumer’s secrete Door Busting powers, which she uses to devastating effect to dwindle tables at Sales Events! Never stand between The Consumer! and a Two-For-One Deal! The only way to avoid her is to stay in your domicile.

The Consumer strikes again!

The Consumer strikes again!

Update BLACK FRIDAY BEATDOWN: Girls Brawl In UK Mall Over Cheap Panties (Video)

Upate Police were called early Friday morning to help maintain security at some supermarkets and shopping outlets that offered deep discounts starting at midnight. And these last two were in England, which though it managed to copy the USA’s Black Friday, forgot to include a day-before Thanksgiving. Odd.

Update 2 Women Fight At Norwalk Walmart Over Barbie Doll.

Update Black Friday: Woman punches off-duty cop at Indianapolis mall.

Update Black Friday shopping leads to scuffles, fights.

Update VIDEO: Shoppers Fight Over Wal-Mart Deals In Michigan City.

Update See BlackFridayDeathCount.com.

The 2014 CS Lewis Lecture By RR Reno: The Piety of Pedagogy. Guest Report by The Blonde Bombshell


The working topic for the lecture was “CS Lewis: First and Second Things“, no doubt inspired by the words of the Master himself, and perhaps with a wink toward a certain publication. However, RR Reno pivoted to present a talk that was subtitled: The Pedagogy of Piety.1 Dr. Reno’s remarks focused on the intersection of culture and academic life and how the students are poorer for it.

The talk was inspired by a letter signed by Columbia and Barnard College faculty urging the continuance of the ban on ROTC on campus after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was rescinded:

But here is the most profound point of opposition between the military and the university as institutions: ROTC, and the military in general, trains people for obedience to the chain of command, whereas the university cultivates a critical and constantly questioning consciousness.

The phrase that Dr. Reno honed in on was “the university cultivates a critical and constantly questioning consciousness.” Ah, yes, critical thinking. He noted that while curriculum committees can disagree about course content and measures of success, all faculties, across all campuses, can stand with one voice for “critical thinking.”

When Reno taught classes on ethics, he would duly assign the pro and con readings on abortion, assisted suicide, and other controversies. Once the students were versed in both sides of an issue, Dr. Reno employed what he called a “pseudo-Socratic” method, which he did not find to be very successful. He realized he wasn’t imparting the ability to think critically.

Students who have been incubated in “critical thinking” exhibit a “fear of error” at the cost of truth, and are “overcommitted to things that are only half true.” Reno alluded to Pascal’s Law, “the certainty of our knowledge is inversely proportional to its significance.” Today, “only small truths are affirmed” and “expertise without wisdom” reigns.

The difference between “critique” and “criticism” was noted: a critique “pulls down” and is not able to build up, which is a perfect segue to Descartes.

Descartes’s willful destruction of the “old house of knowledge” and his replacement of one much more attractive and comfortable to the skeptical mind leads to the present day, where professors are dedicated to promoting “the critical” and who are “constantly questioning consciousness.”

The first step to getting a student to engage in critical thinking is to ask him or her to “step back” from whatever belief or tradition that they have previously held dear or had some esteem for. Once he is unmoored from his previous experience and education, he is ready to think critically; or, as a cynic might put it, is primed to more easily accept the word of the professorial clergy.

Today’s academics have a studied “distance” and “coolness”. They lead lives “untroubled by the big questions.” They are “freed from truth.” They adopt “culture for the sake life” rather than the other way around.

To paraphrase John Henry Newman, “souls are made for knowing” and the modern academy does not offer much in this regard. Reno’s primary point is that the university system cannot tell students how to “live well.” It cannot tell students what to say to their dying mother, or determine whom they should marry. The big questions are things that students, and former students, are left to grapple with on their own (and again, without the solace of any organized belief system that may have had the misfortune of being formed before one’s eighteenth year).

How can we pull ourselves up from this lowly state? Drawing support from Aristotle and Plato, Reno’s solution is more math and more literature (but not literature that is a front for the social theory du jour). Mastery of math allows students “the foretaste of knowing”, it helps them to “savor truth”, it “trains souls to recognize truth.” Literature can fulfill somewhat of the same purpose, but perhaps not as completely or robustly as mathematics. Spenser’s The Faerie Queen was cited as example of writing than can contribute to the “pedagogy of piety.”

What is missing from higher education is the “wise man”—the man who has a “settled conviction” and exercises “purity of thought” which leads to “purity of soul.” There is much to be learned from the Bower of Bliss.

In the Q&A, Reno noted that culture in the US “hasn’t changed since 1969″ which brought an energetic objection from Dr. Como. Reno said the clothing hasn’t changed; blue jeans are still commonly worn. “When I go into a coffee shop, the music is the same as it was in 1969. It is as if I were still in high school.” Como could not overcome this point and settled back in his seat.


1There was a fuller title, but not recorded. Your unintentional correspondent did not think to pull out paper until the remarks were well underway. The remarks may not be recorded as originally ordered.

A footnote: Taking the subway on the way home after the lecture, I could not help but notice a young girl across from me with the spanking-new Grateful Dead backpack and wearing pants which were a curious patchwork of corduroy that my babysitter would have worn in 1969, but with a red label sewn in the seam to indicate their expensive nature. The only difference is that my babysitter would have sewn her equally garish garment herself. That is probably the biggest change from 1969: the accouterments of culture can be purchased, and do not have to be manufactured at home.

Ferguson Open Discussion

Our dear leader said that the reaction in Ferguson was “understandable.” That implies that the reaction was a necessary or likely consequence of this particular white cop unfortunately having to shoot this black criminal.

I think our leader meant by “understandable” some form of “justifiable.” That’s certainly the legacy media’s, academia’s, and the everyday activist’s take. To these curious people, arson and looting and mayhem are a sort of natural phenomenon, like a hurricane or tsunami: somewhat predictable and of known characteristics. And fun to watch. The media tell themselves they are brave for standing close to the flames.

I don’t think our leader meant by “understandable” something like “that which follows from a long series of unfortunate, pandering, self-worth-draining policies and from the knowledge, well known to potential troublemakers, that they have license to misbehave—as long as they do so in concentrated regions for a limited time.”

My tweet above was not meant to be inflammatory, but a raw statement of fact. I don’t and can’t speak for all whites; but for myself, I don’t have even the slightest, barest, merest guilt for being white and for the (limited, very limited) success I have attained. I started with twenty bucks in my pocket and the clothes on my back and built up from there. Nor have I ever chased a man down the street because of his skin color, though this happened to me, once at 125th street (by the 6 train), and I was spat upon at Coney Island. Hate crimes.

Now it is indisputable, for whatever the reasons, blacks are more murderous than whites (about 8 times more), and commit far more crimes. It’s also true that much crime occurs in areas in which government beneficence is largest: the two go together like politicians and corruption.

There aren’t any data which show cops preferentially target blacks in disproportion to their criminality. Even so nanny-like a figure of Mayor Bloomberg was right when he said that, if anything, blacks were targeted at rates far less than those rates implied by crime statistics. Whites are targeted more.

In any case, the blacks that complain that cops are after them more than whites are right about that observation. But they are wrong about the causes. Cops go to crimes, not the other way around.

Update It is of course a well known and oft repeated academic theory, and a religious tenet, that all whites are guilty of racism. Even those whites who don’t commit overt racist acts are racist. Microracists. Insanity.

Question one: what sort of executive order might flow from this?

Question two: if a president gives a wink to violence, will that encourage or dissuade future violence?

Question three: what new forms of appeasement do you think will be implemented because of these riots?

Question four: what do you think?

Update Justice.

Update It is a must for all to read the microaggression article. Don’t skimp. Read it all. From these things Fergusons flow.

Pascal’s Pensées, A Tour: I

PascalSince our walk through Summa Contra Gentiles is going so well, why not let’s do the same with Pascal’s sketchbook on what we can now call Thinking Thursdays. We’ll use the Dutton Edition, freely available at Project Gutenberg. (I’m removing that edition’s footnotes.)

Update Comments fixed.


The difference between the mathematical and the intuitive mind1.—In the one the principles are palpable, but removed from ordinary use; so that for want of habit it is difficult to turn one’s mind in that direction: but if one turns it thither ever so little, one sees the principles fully, and one must have a quite inaccurate mind who reasons wrongly from principles so plain that it is almost impossible they should escape notice.

But in the intuitive mind the principles are found in common use, and are before the eyes of everybody. One has only to look, and no effort is necessary; it is only a question of good eyesight, but it must be good, for the principles are so subtle and so numerous, that it is almost impossible but that some escape notice. Now the omission of one principle leads to error; thus one must have very clear sight to see all the principles, and in the next place an accurate mind not to draw false deductions from known principles.

All mathematicians would then be intuitive if they had clear sight, for they do not reason incorrectly from principles known to them; and intuitive minds would be mathematical if they could turn their eyes to the principles of mathematics to which they are unused.2

The reason, therefore, that some intuitive minds are not mathematical is that they cannot at all turn their attention to the principles of mathematics. But the reason that mathematicians are not intuitive is that they do not see what is before them, and that, accustomed to the exact and plain principles of mathematics, and not reasoning till they have well inspected and arranged their principles, they are lost in matters of intuition where the principles do not allow of such arrangement. They are scarcely seen; they are felt rather than seen; there is the greatest difficulty in making them felt by those[Pg 2] who do not of themselves perceive them. These principles are so fine and so numerous that a very delicate and very clear sense is needed to perceive them, and to judge rightly and justly when they are perceived, without for the most part being able to demonstrate them in order as in mathematics; because the principles are not known to us in the same way, and because it would be an endless matter to undertake it. We must see the matter at once, at one glance, and not by a process of reasoning, at least to a certain degree. And thus it is rare that mathematicians are intuitive, and that men of intuition are mathematicians, because mathematicians wish to treat matters of intuition mathematically, and make themselves ridiculous, wishing to begin with definitions and then with axioms, which is not the way to proceed in this kind of reasoning. Not that the mind does not do so, but it does it tacitly, naturally, and without technical rules; for the expression of it is beyond all men, and only a few can feel it.3

Intuitive minds, on the contrary, being thus accustomed to judge at a single glance, are so astonished when they are presented with propositions of which they understand nothing, and the way to which is through definitions and axioms so sterile, and which they are not accustomed to see thus in detail, that they are repelled and disheartened.

But dull minds are never either intuitive or mathematical.

Mathematicians who are only mathematicians have exact minds, provided all things are explained to them by means of definitions and axioms; otherwise they are inaccurate and insufferable, for they are only right when the principles are quite clear.

And men of intuition who are only intuitive cannot have the patience to reach to first principles of things speculative and conceptual, which they have never seen in the world, and which are altogether out of the common.4


1From Allan Bloom The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (p. 52):

Every Frenchman is born, or at least early on becomes, Cartesian [the mathematician above] or Pascalian [the intuitive]…Descartes and Pascal represent a choice between reason and revelation, science and piety, the choice from which everything else follows…These great opponents whom no snythesis can unite—the opposition between bon sens and faith against all odds—set in motion a dualism…

It was, therefore, very French of Toucqueville to say that the Americans’ method of thought was Cartesian…

2The great fallacy is to suppose we can do with only one of these types (even inside one body). American and British thought plunges headlong into the mathematical—we are all Cartesians here. This isn’t a new observation. Tocqueville said “each American appeals to the individual exercise of his own understanding alone. America is therefore one of the countries in the world where philosophy is least studied, and where the precepts of Descartes are best applied…they follow his maxims because this very social condition naturally disposes their understanding to adopt them.”

Strict Cartesianism leads to scientism and the worship of rationality and reason as if these could live without intellection, what Pascal called intuition. No mathematician could even begin to think without intellection. Intuition, used in this special sense, is necessary and prior to logic, mathematics, and ratio. Axioms, for instance, are not provided by rationality. Pure rationality is always incomplete. I’ll have much more to say about this in the coming weeks.

3It is well to put it here the fallacy that says that because sometimes our intuitions fail us that they always do. Sometimes our mathematical reason also fails us, but nobody would claim that therefore all of mathematics should be tossed or is suspect (except radical skeptics; paradoxically, personages only found in Western universities).

4Relying only on one leads to rank pedantry, sterility, and blind alleys.

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