This post makes a straightforward analytic argument clarifying the relationship between reason and experience. The popularity of this post suggests that the ideas of cultural accumulation of knowledge, and the power of reason, have been politicized into a specious Hegelian opposition to each other. But for the most part neither Baconian science nor mathematics (except for the occasional Ramanujan) works as a human institution except by the accumulation of knowledge over time.
A good follow-up post would connect this to the ways in which modernist ideology poses as the legitimate successor to the European Enlightenment, claiming credit for the output of Enlightenment institutions, and then characterizing its own political success as part of the Enlightenment. Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” might be a good foil.
There are two aspects of this post worth reviewing: as an experiment in a different mode of discourse, and as a description of the procession of simulacra, a schema originally advanced by Baudrillard.
As an experiment in a diffferent mode of discourse, I think this was a success on its own terms, and a challenge to the idea that we should be looking for the best blog posts rather than the behavior patterns that lead to the best overall discourse.
The development of the concept occurred over email quite naturally without forceful effort. I would have written this post much later, and possibly never, had I held it to the standard of “written specifically as a blog post.” I have many unfinished drafts. emails, tweets, that might have advanced the discourse had I compiled them into rough blog posts like this. The description was sufficiently clear and compelling that others, including my future self, were motivated to elaborate on it later with posts drafted as such.I and my friends have found this schema—especially as we’ve continued to refine it—a very helpful compression of social reality allowing us to compare different modes of speech and action.
As a description of the procession of simulacra it differs from both Baudrillard’s description, and from the later refinement of the schema among people using it actively to navigate the world. I think that it would be very useful to have a clear description of the updated schema from my circle somewhere to point to, and of some historical interest for this description to clearly describe deviations from Baudrillard’s account. I might get around to trying to draft the former sometime, but the latter seems likely to take more time than I’m willing to spend reading and empathizing with Baudrillard.
Over time it’s become clear that the distinction between stages 1 and 2 is not very interesting compared with the distinction between 1&2, 3, and 4, and a mature naming convention would probably give these more natural names than the numbering we’re using now, but my later attempt to name them was forced and premature.
If you only thought of this in hindsight, was it disrespectful of you not to think of it before either? (Sure, we should hold the author of a post to a higher standard than the reader, but still, I think the point you’re making here is actually relatively subtle, in the scheme of things, so it strikes me as an overstatement to call out someone as disrespectful for not thinking of it.)
I’m not claiming to have been morally pure at the time. I’m just claiming that this was disrespectful to King. I’m not calling for anyone to be punished or shamed here, just trying to describe an unfortunate aspect of the post worth avoiding in the future, because it seems relevant to the point under discussion.
There was probably some unfortunate element of point-scoring in the way I brought it up, for which I am sorry.
What do you think the point of prosecutorial discretion (and other sorts of institutionalized hypocrisy) is, if not disparate enforcement? Does the majority have a coherent agenda that it’s afraid to inform itself about?
The director of NIAID publicly endorsed that model’s bottom line.
Good point, I should add a clarifying note.
Given that it apparently took you some time to dig up even as much as a tweet with a screen cap of some numbers that with quite a lot of additional investigation might be helpful, I hope you’re now at least less “confused” about why I am “relying on this back of the envelope rather than the pretty extensive body of work on this question.”
If you want to see something better, show something better.
I clicked through to the tweet you mentioned, which contains a screencap of a chart purporting to show “An Approximate Percentage of the Population That Has COVID-19 Antibodies.” No dates or other info about how these numbers might have been generated.
Fortunately, Gottlieb’s next tweet in the thread contains another screencap of the URLs of the studies mentioned in the chart. I hand-transcribed the Wuhan study URL, and found that while it was performed at a date that’s probably helpful (April 20th) it’s a study in a single hospital in Wuhan, and the abstract explicitly says it’s not a good population estimate:
Here, we reported the positive rate of COVID‐19 tests based on NAT, chest CT scan and a serological SARS‐CoV‐2 test, from April 3 to 15 in one hospital in Qingshan Destrict, Wuhan. We observed a ~10% SARS‐CoV‐2‐specific IgG positive rate from 1,402 tests. Combination of SARS‐CoV‐2 NAT and a specific serological test might facilitate the detection of COVID‐19 infection, or the asymptomatic SARS‐CoV‐2‐infected subjects. Large‐scale investigation is required to evaluate the herd immunity of the city, for the resuming people and for the re‐opened city.
I’d need to know more about e.g. hospitalization rates in Wuhan to interpret this.
The New York numbers seem to come from a press release, with no clear info about how testing was conducted.
All of these are point estimates, and to get ongoing infection rates, I’d need to fit a time series model with too many degrees of freedom. Not saying no one can do this, but definitely saying it’s not clear to me how I can make use of these numbers without working on the problem full time for a few weeks.
You’ve nonspecifically referred to experts and models a few times; that’s not helpful and only serves to intimidate. What would be helpful would be if you could point to specific models by specific experts that make specific claims which you found helpful.
This points to an important weakness in the data source I’m using here.
Not unless countries are reporting untested cases somehow.
A link, or other citation if this somehow isn’t available online, would help here. As would an explanation of why I should prefer this number to some other.
IFR isn’t that helpful when trying to use public case data to estimate a hazard rate. I’ll add a note clarifying that in the post. Since what’s reported are cases, case fatalities are the natural thing to multiply the rate of new cases by.
Some apparently expert-promoted models have been total nonsense, and I prefer a back-of-the-envelope calculation whose flaws are obvious and easy for me to understand, to comparatively opaque sophisticated estimates which I can’t interpret.
Can you point me to a clear concise account that shows how to estimate IFR with available data and use it in a decision-relevant way?
How do you get those #s?
If you can’t recognize who’s already done some good work autonomously, how can you reasonably hope to extract good work from people who haven’t been selected for that?
It’s not something I’d say as a complete summary without context, but it’s something that would be pretty frequently seized on and evaluated out of context even when—in context—it ought to be quite clear to a naive reader what specific patterns it’s summarizing.
I think this conversation might be suffering from ambiguity in the term “knows”; it doesn’t mean the same thing across simulacrum levels. In fact, it’s not clear how someone operating above SL2 can “know” anything in the standard philosophical sense. There’s know-how, and there’s the holding of opinions that lower SL people would agree with, but as a function of social reality, not with real “aboutness” pointing to underlying reality.
It seems to me that you’re taking the position opposite MLK’s, and my position is pretty much MLK’s.
MLK never equivocated about whether he was disobedient towards US law. He just asked people to accept the legitimacy of the justice over that of US law. As he wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an “I—it” relationship for the “I—thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because it did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote, despite the fact that the Negroes constitute a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured?These are just a few examples of unjust and just laws. There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws.
This is an attempt at a principled, conceptual distinction between just and unjust laws. The idea that criminality becomes noncentral—and therefore the idea becomes not worth applying—because it’s approved of by the majority is what King describes above as “difference made legal,” and as such, the basic paradigm of injustice.
If someone disapproves of MLK because he was a criminal, they disapprove of him because he was disobedient to the US Government at the time, so they’re taking a position in favor of unjust laws approved by the majority. Invoking the noncentral fallacy is effectively an appeal to democracy, favoring the current majority against the past one. This can look like justice if you focus attention on particular issues where the majority opinion has become more just, but is still fundamentally opposed to *principled* distinctions, which King stood for:
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
in hindsight I think it was pretty disrespectful of you to use King as the example in the Noncentral Fallacy post.
A crisis with massive blatant institutional failure seems like exactly the time for courage and the willingness to do things that might get one in trouble, if they’re the right thing to do.