Friday, February 20, 2009

Quotation: Malthus on the search for truth

From the first chapter of Thomas Malthus' Essay on Population:
The advocate for the present order of things is apt to treat the sect of speculative philosophers either as a set of artful and designing knaves who preach up ardent benevolence and draw captivating pictures of a happier state of society only the better to enable them to destroy the present establishments and to forward their own deep-laid schemes of ambition, or as wild and mad-headed enthusiasts whose silly speculations and absurd paradoxes are not worthy the attention of any reasonable man.

The advocate for the perfectibility of man, and of society, retorts on the defender of establishments a more than equal contempt. He brands him as the slave of the most miserable and narrow prejudices; or as the defender of the abuses. of civil society only because he profits by them. He paints him either as a character who prostitutes his understanding to his interest, or as one whose powers of mind are not of a size to grasp any thing great and noble, who cannot see above five yards before him, and who must therefore be utterly unable to take in the views of the enlightened benefactor of mankind.

In this unamicable contest the cause of truth cannot but suffer. The really good arguments on each side of the question are not allowed to have their proper weight. Each pursues his own theory, little solicitous to correct or improve it by an attention to what is advanced by his opponents.

The friend of the present order of things condemns all political speculations in the gross. He will not even condescend to examine the grounds from which the perfectibility of society is inferred. Much less will he give himself the trouble in a fair and candid manner to attempt an exposition of their fallacy.

The speculative philosopher equally offends against the cause of truth. With eyes fixed on a happier state of society, the blessings of which he paints in the most captivating colours, he allows himself to indulge in the most bitter invectives against every present establishment, without applying his talents to consider the best and safest means of removing abuses and without seeming to be aware of the tremendous obstacles that threaten, even in theory, to oppose the progress of man towards perfection.

Just ran across it. Not thinking of anything in particular except that the public sphere is bigger and faster than it used to be, but not all that much better, perhaps.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Color Coded Fiscal Crisis

In response to this story and this story about state government budget impasses leading to the brink of shutdowns, layoffs, etc. -- in the comment section here, I made a suggestion (color added):

We’re going to need color-coded maps:
  • Red = Republican-induced Shutdown
  • Orange = Republican Brinksmanship
  • Yellow = Budget Impasse but still solvent
  • Blue = Blue Dog Democrat Capitulation slashes social, educational funds and corporate taxes
  • Green = Sane people still in charge.
[Welcome, Avedon Carol readers!]

Monday, February 02, 2009

Comment Elsewhere: Pony Chokers

I wrote:
A quarter-century from now, when one of your students asks you when “pony-choker” became slang for the old Republican party, you can say that you were there at the creation….

A millenium for now, some enterprising anthropologist will note that the absence of large-scale pony graveyards in the styrofoam strata suggests that the ancient tales of “pony-choking republicans” were apocryphal. Or perhaps that the tradition of pinata can explain the idiom.
You have to go read the original to see why, and it's worth it.

(also, I noted the overlap of neo-confederate and anti-New Deal/stimulus thought....