William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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On Ethical Socialism — Guest Post by Oswald Spengler


This excerpt is drawn from the 1965 Oxford University Press abridged edition of The Decline of the West, pages 185-187.

Let us, once more, review Socialism (independently if the economic movement of the same name) as the Faustian example of Civilization-ethics. Its friends regard it as the form of the future, its enemies as a sign of downfall, and both are equally right. We are all Socialists, wittingly or unwittingly, willingly or unwillingly. Even resistance to it wears its form.

Socialism—in it highest and not its street-corner sense—is, like every other Faustian ideal, exclusive. It owes its popularity only to the fact that it is completely misunderstood even by its exponents, who present it as a sum of rights instead of as one of duties, an abolition instead of an intensification of the Kantian imperative, a slackening instead of a tautening of directional energy. The trivial and superficial tendency towards ideals of “welfare”, “freedom”, “humanity”, the doctrine of the “greatest happiness of the greatest number,” are mere negations of the Faustian ethic–a very different matter from the tendency of Epicureanism towards he ideal of “happiness,” for the condition of happiness was the actual sum and substance of the Classical ethic. Here precisely is an instance of sentiments to all outward appearance much the same, but meaning in the one case everything and in the other nothing.

Similarly, and equally necessarily, all Classical men of the Late period were Stoics unawares. The whole Roman people, as a body, had a Stoic soul. The genuine Roman, the very man who fought Stoicism hardest, was a Stoic of a stricter sort than ever a Greek could be.

The directional movement of Life that is felt as Time and Destiny, when it takes the form of an intellectual machinery of means and ends, stiffens in death. Ethical Socialism is the most exalted expression possible of life’s aims.

In spite of its foreground appearances, ethical Socialism is not a system of compassion, humanity, peace and kindly care, but one of will-to-power. Any other reading of it is illusory. The Stoic takes the world as he finds it, but the Socialist wants to organize and recast it in form and substance, to fill it with his own spirit. The Stoic adapts himself, the Socialist commands. He would have the whole would take the shape he desires, thus transferring the idea of the Critique of Pure Reason into the ethical field. This is the ultimate meaning of the Categorical Imperative, which he brings to bear in political, social and economic matters alike—act as thought the maxims that you practise were to become by your will the law for all. And this tyrannical tendency is no absent from even the shallowest phenomena of the time. It is not attitude and mien, but activity that is to be given form. As in China and Egypt, life only counts insofar as it is deed. And it is mechanicalizing of the organic concept of Deed that leads to the concept of work as commonly understood, the civilized form of Faustian effecting. Apollian man looked back to a Golden Age; this relieved him of the trouble of thinking upon what was still to com. The Socialist feels the Future as his task and aim, and accounts the happiness of the moment as worthless in comparison. The Classical spirit, with its oracles and its omens, wants only to know the future, but the Westerner would shape it. The Third Kingdom is the Germanic ideal. From Joachim of Floris to Nietzsche and Ibsen—arrows of yearning to the other bank, as the Zarathustra says—every great man has linked his life to an eternal morning.

And here Socialism becomes tragic. It is of the deepest significance that Nietzsche, so completely clear and sure in dealing with what should be destroyed, what transvalued, loses himself in nebulous generalities as soon as he comes to discuss the Whither, the Aim. His criticism of decadence is unanswerable, but his theory of the Superman is a castle in the air. And therein lies a deep necessity; for, from Rousseau onwards, Faustian man has nothing more to hope for in anything pertaining to the grand style of Life. Something has come to an end. The Northern soul has exhausted its inner possibilities, and of the dynamic force and insistence that had exposed itself in world-historical visions of the future—visions of a millennial scope—nothing remains but the mere pressure, the passionate desire to create, the form without the content. The soul was Will and nothing but Will. It needed an aim for its Columbus-longing; it had to give its inherent activity at least the illusion of a meaning and an object. And so the keener critic will find a trace of Hjalmar Ekdal in all modernity, even its highest phenomena. Ibsen called it the lie of life. For deep down beneath it all is the gloomy feeling, not to be repressed, that all this hectic zeal is the despairing self-deception of a soul that may not and cannot rest. This is the tragic situation—the inversion of the Hamlet motive—and a thread of it runs through the entire fabric of Socialism, political, economic and ethical, which forces itself to ignore the annihilating seriousness of its own final implications, so as to keep alive the illusion of the historical necessity of its own existence.


Stoicism is as distant from the mind of the modern Westerner as Polynesian taboos. It is now possible only to gain an intellectual and not a working idea of these systems. The prevailing sentiment is Ethical Socialism, as Spengler claims. “The Stoic takes the world as he finds it, but the Socialist wants to organize and recast it in form and substance, to fill it with his own spirit.” Scientism is an offshoot of ES. On this site once appeared the article Ought Wrongs To Be Righted? which came supplied with the not necessarily Stoical but with the Christian answer “not always”. There was tremendous resistance to this deduction, which included such truths that it is futile to wage war against necessary evils. Even today’s conservatives must change the future.

Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer states “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This in its simplified way is the center between Stoicism, which without complaint accepts fate, and Socialism, which must exert control and which must descend into tyranny as it brushes against what can’t be changed. Tradition and Christianity is the Golden Mean.

Stream: xkcd’s Global Warming Time Series Mistakes

The first portion of the cartoon, presented for the sake of illustration.

The first portion of the cartoon, presented for the sake of illustration.

Today’s post is at the Stream: xkcd’s Global Warming Time Series Mistakes.

The popular web cartoon xkcd has provided a wonderful opportunity to plug my must-read (and too expensive) book Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. Buy a copy and follow along.

In this award-elligible book, which has the potential to be read by millions and which has the power to change more lives than even the Atkins Diet, I detail (in the ultimate chapter) the common errors made in time series analysis. Time series are the kind of data you see in, for example, temperature or stock price plots through time.

The xkcd post—thanks to the many readers who emailed about it—“A Timeline Of Earth’s Average Temperature” makes a slew of fun errors, but, and I want to emphasize this, it isn’t xkcd’s fault. The picture he shows is the result of the way temperature and proxy data are handled by most of the climatological community. Mr Munroe, the xkcd cartoonist, is repeating what he has learned from experts in his attempt at being humorous (but nobody bats a thousand), and repeating things from experts when you yourself don’t know the subject is a rational thing to do.

The plot purportedly shows the average global temperature, presumably measured right above the surface, beginning in 20,000 BC and ending in the future at 2100 AD. Mr Munroe misspells “BC” as “BCE” throughout the cartoon, incidentally, and leaves out “AD”.

No, I’m kidding. “BC” means “Before Christ”, which some academics, sensitive creatures that they are, find offensive on behalf of people they haven’t met, and so they change it to “Before the Common Era”. And how do they demarcate the “Common Era”? By the birth of Christ, a.k.a. BC. The same people who gave us “BCE” gave us “safe spaces”. Skip it.

Now I’m going to show exactly why xkcd’s plot fails, but to do so is hard work, so first a sort of executive summary of its oddities.

(1) The flashy temperature rises (the dashed lines) at the end are conjectures based on models that have repeatedly been proven wrong—indeed, they’ve never been proven right—by predicting temperatures much warmer than today’s. There is ample reason to distrust these predictions.

(2) Look closely at the period between 9000 BC until roughly 1000 AD, an era of some 10,000 years which had, if xkcd’s graph is true, temperatures much warmer than we had the Internet. And this was long before the first barrel of oil was ever turned into gasoline and burned in life-saving internal combustion engines.

(3) There was no reason to start the graph at 20,000 BC. If xkcd had taken the timeline back further, he would have had to have drawn temperatures several degrees warmer than today’s, temperatures which outstrip the threatened warming promised by faulty climate models. And don’t forget that warmer temperatures are always associated with lush and bountiful periods in earth’s history. It’s ice and cold that kill.

(4) The picture xkcd presents is lacking any indication of uncertainty, which is the major flaw. We should not be looking at lines, which imply perfect certainty, but blurry swaths that indicate uncertainty. Too many people are too certain of too many things, meaning the debate is far from “settled.”

The temperature at 20,000 BC was, Munroe claims, surely after referring to expert sources, about 4.3 C colder than the ad hoc average of temperatures from 1961-1990.

Was it actually 4.3 C cooler? How do we know? Forget the departure from the ad hoc average, which is a distraction. How do we know what the temperature was all those years ago? After all, there were no thermometers.

The answer is—get a pen and write this down, it’s crucial …

Go there to read the answer and discover why you’ve been looking at time series the wrong way.

Comments on The Flight 93 Election. Let’s Roll


From reader Dean Ericson and from many other sources, the required must-read “The Flight 93 Election” by Publius Decius Mus at the sober Claremont Review of Books. If you support Hillary or are a “never” Trumper, which is the same, you are particularly encouraged to read it.

What follows are only a few highlights (not necessarily in order) and comments. More to come as The Choice nears. Since the original, Mus has published an answer to criticisms, and these where appropriate will be threaded in.

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

Hillary is guaranteed Doom, says Mus. She will not be “business as usual”, something we can “get through.” After however many years she makes it without coughing out the last of her lungs, this country will never be the same. Trump is at the least a chance of survival: “one must wonder how buffoonish the alleged buffoon really is when he is right on the most important issues while so many others who are esteemed wise are wrong.”

Even if you don’t (yet) believe Trump is not the fool he has been painted, one thing is certain sure: “conservatives” have been of no help.

One of the paradoxes—there are so many—of conservative thought over the last decade at least is the unwillingness even to entertain the possibility that America and the West are on a trajectory toward something very bad. On the one hand, conservatives routinely present a litany of ills plaguing the body politic. Illegitimacy. Crime. Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government. Politically correct McCarthyism. Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure. Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes. A disastrously awful educational system that churns out kids who don’t know anything and, at the primary and secondary levels, can’t (or won’t) discipline disruptive punks, and at the higher levels saddles students with six figure debts for the privilege. And so on and drearily on. Like that portion of the mass where the priest asks for your private intentions, fill in any dismal fact about American decline that you want and I’ll stipulate it.

Conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think-tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo. Oh, sure, they want some things to change. They want their pet ideas adopted—tax deductions for having more babies and the like. Many of them are even good ideas. But are any of them truly fundamental? Do they get to the heart of our problems?

No. Yet “if [conservatives] are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.”

They don’t believe it, though. Not really. Too many of them want to retain the status quo. Mus (as others have) casts conservatives as the Washington Generals, the team that’s paid to lose. At least they’re still on the court.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

If your answer—Continetti’s, Douthat’s, Salam’s, and so many others’—is for conservatism to keep doing what it’s been doing—another policy journal, another article about welfare reform, another half-day seminar on limited government, another tax credit proposal—even though we’ve been losing ground for at least a century, then you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.

Poor Ross Douthat! Perhaps he think he’ll won’t be forced to put a pinch of incense in the fire for his left-handed support of Hillary. You’d think a man as well read in history as he would realize that it is folks like him that are the first on the line.

A Hillary presidency will be pedal-to-the-metal on the entire Progressive-left agenda, plus items few of us have yet imagined in our darkest moments. Nor is even that the worst. It will be coupled with a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent hitherto seen in the supposedly liberal West only in the most “advanced” Scandinavian countries and the most leftist corners of Germany and England. We see this already in the censorship practiced by the Davoisie’s social media enablers; in the shameless propaganda tidal wave of the mainstream media; and in the personal destruction campaigns—operated through the former and aided by the latter—of the Social Justice Warriors. We see it in Obama’s flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents, the gaslighting denial by the media, and the collective shrug by everyone else.

It’s absurd to assume that any of this would stop or slow—would do anything other than massively intensify—in a Hillary administration. It’s even more ridiculous to expect that hitherto useless conservative opposition would suddenly become effective. For two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years, helped along by some on the Right who really do seem to merit—and even relish—the label. There is nothing the modern conservative fears more than being called “racist,” so alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left. But also wholly unnecessary: sauce for the goose. The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.

The emphasis is mine—and it should be yours, too. Next time some idiot calls you a “racist”, say “I’m a sexist, too.”

Solutions? What do you mean “solutions”? He said it at the beginning. Fight.

If it hadn’t been abundantly clear for the last 50 years, the campaign of 2015-2016 must surely have made it evident to even the meanest capacities that the intelligentsia—including all the organs through which it broadcasts its propaganda—is overwhelmingly partisan and biased. Against this onslaught, “conservative” media is a nullity, barely a whisper…

Second, our Washington Generals self-handicap and self-censor to an absurd degree…Our “leaders” and “dissenters” bend over backward to play by the self-sabotaging rules the Left sets for them. Fearful, beaten dogs have more thymos.

Yes, Trump “departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting.” So what. In almost any category you can mention, except perhaps hair care, which is a wash, whatever you can say bad about Trump you can say worse about Hillary.

The key realization is that you are not voting for Hillary: you are voting for the permanence of leftism, for the dominance of the system, the end of the republic. Did you think if you elected her you’d get only her?

[Conservatives strategy] is insane. This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity.

Yes, Trump is worse than imperfect. So what?

So “simply building a wall and enforcing immigration law will help enormously, by cutting off the flood of newcomers that perpetuates ethnic separatism and by incentivizing the English language and American norms in the workplace.”

And if it doesn’t work, what then? We’ve established that most “conservative” anti-Trumpites are in the Orwellian sense objectively pro-Hillary. What about the rest of you? If you recognize the threat she poses, but somehow can’t stomach him, have you thought about the longer term? The possibilities would seem to be: Caesarism, secession/crack-up, collapse, or managerial Davoisie liberalism as far as the eye can see…which, since nothing human lasts forever, at some point will give way to one of the other three…

But for those of you who are sober: can you sketch a more plausible long-term future than the prior four following a Trump defeat? I can’t either. [First ellipsis original.]

If Hillary wins it “will represent, in my view, an irreversible triumph for the administrative state…The country will go on, but it will not be a constitutional republic…If you are in the managerial class, you will probably do well—so long as you don’t say the wrong thing.”

My bet, if Hillary wins, is on managerial Davoisie liberalism. But if you argued for Caesarism, I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it.

Uncertainty and the World: An interview with W. M. Briggs at Ordeal of Consciousness


Our friend Dover Beach, perhaps after having taken a fall or because he stood too close to Hillary and caught her disease, considered it would be well to interview Yours Truly at his site The Ordeal of Consciousness.

Please go there and read that. When you’re done, don’t miss his interview with Jim Kalb. Or his many excellent links and videos to topics philosophical. Put his blog on your regular list of stops.

As good a job as Beach did, he left out a few essential questions, which I take the liberty of asking myself.

WMB Who are you?

Briggs Like Pope Francis said, a sinner.

WMB What is your favorite color?

Briggs I’m no racist. I don’t see color.

WMB Why aren’t more men wearing vests, also known as waistcoats?

Briggs Fear of being thought too well dressed.

WMB I understand that you identify as a yak?

Briggs I used to. I now identify as Holy Roman Emperor William I of the World. Only bigots and holyromanemperorophobes fail to acknowledge this.

WMB What will be your first acts as Emperor?

Briggs The elimination of democracy, the public flogging of pornographers, the restoration of hard currencies, both electronic and gold, the strict control of borders (any who want to leave can), the requirement that all men wear hats while outdoors, the civic recognition of the Church, and, if necessary so that there be no misunderstandings, vivid demonstrations of Authority. That’s day one.

WMB What proof have you of your Emperor status?

Briggs My assertion is all that is needed. To demand objective, scientific proof is to be a hate-filled holyromanemperorophobe.

WMB What sort of hats?

Briggs There will be many, depending on one’s status, age, rank, and, naturally, the weather. Ball caps will be proscribed outside of stadia and golf courses.

WMB What can you tell us of your future relations with Vladimir Putin?

Briggs I will negotiate for the steady importation of pelmeni and dill in exchange for barrels of Old Overholt or near substitutes.

WMB Thank you for your time. In closing, would you like to tell us a good joke?

Briggs One snowman said to the other, “That’s funny. I smell carrots, too.”

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