Friday, November 17, 2017

The NP Turkey

We have a real problem this Thanksgiving:

"With a big turkey, you start running into some big problems. It takes longer to thaw if it's frozen and then exponentially longer to cook."

This means that if your 8-pound turkey cooks in 4 hours, your 16-pounder will take perhaps 1000 hours, and your 28-pounder is going to be in the oven for maybe 30,000 years.

We need to solve P = NP? fast, so that we can see if there is a polynomial-time way of cooking our birds!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the way to the banquet...

There was an entrepreneur, Elon, a great creative genius, who, having made his fortune, retired to a manor high on a hill overlooking a small town. He went there to have peace and quiet in his retirement, but nevertheless he had a number of interactions with the townspeople, and grew quite fond of them. He knew that most of them were not wealthy, and so he decided to throw a great banquet for them, and demonstrate to them his affection. He sent out the invitations, and everyone from the town said they would come.

In the days leading up to the banquet, Elon planned an evening that would shower the townspeople with the best of everything: He hired top chefs from around the world to prepare dishes for them beyond compare. He scoured the world for the very finest wines, and laid up bottle after bottle of the those vintages for them. He hired a troupe of dancers and musicians of the highest caliber to create a magical performance that would leave them enchanted.

On the day of the banquet, the townspeople got dressed, and one-by-one and in small groups they headed toward the hill. However, uncertain of what they would find at the banquet, many of them stopped along the way. And they stopped at the places their habits led them to linger: some of them went to the all-you-can-eat for $9.99 buffet in town, and stuffed themselves on inexpensive, ill-prepared food. Others, more accustomed to the local pub, stopped there and drank many cans of cheap beer. Yet others stopped by the local strip club for a little sensuous entertainment.

Once the pilgrims arrived at the manor, those who had gorged at the buffet could not even taste the exquisite food set before them, they were so replete with junk food. Those who had gone to the pub were drunk on cheap beer, and could not even finish a glass of the vintage wine. Those who had stopped at the strip club watched the world-class dancers, and could only wonder why they were not taking off their clothes.

But one of the townspeople, a very poor dishwasher named Manuel, had simply dressed up at home, and headed straight up the hill. He tasted the food, and knew that there was no sweeter food in the world. He drank the wine, and realized that no liquor was more gently intoxicating than these vintages. He watched the dance performance, and knew he would never see one finer.

When the banquet had ended, Elon, with great sadness, sent all of the guests back down the hill, all except for Manuel. Manuel, who had truly understood the gift he had been offered, he invited to stay with him in the manor, and there Manuel lived out his days in great happiness.

Friday, November 03, 2017

No, Deneen is not a reactionary fantasist...

and no, he does not deny liberalism's accomplishments:

"First, the achievements of liberalism must be acknowledged, and the desire to 'return' to a preliberal age must be eschewed. We must build upon those achievements while abandoning the foundational reasons for its failures. There can be no going back, only forward." -- Why Liberalism Failed, p. 182

This passage highlights a danger I noted in Oakeshott on Rome and America: while for several centuries Romans simply respected and followed the mos maiorum, the way of the ancestors, when their traditions began to break down, there arose a brand-new traditionalist ideology. Whereas previously Rome's traditions had been followed in an organic way, one which allowed them to also be organically modified, once they began to break down, a faction arose demanding that those traditions be turned into rules, and that those rules must be followed without deviation (and thus without allowing any organic response to changing circumstances).

And this is an error that too many modern conservatives have committed: they wish to return to the 1950s, or the 1920s, or the 1890s, or 1783, or whatever other period they admire. Such a return, as Deneen clearly recognizes, is impossible. We can try to preserve the best aspects of earlier times, but we cannot ever just recreate them. And after all, even if we could, given that those earlier times brought about our present situation, wouldn't we just repeat the exact same progression that has led to the present situation that these nostalgic conservatives deplore?

The Noble Lie of Liberalism

"The 'Noble Lie' of liberalism is shattering because it continues to be believed and defended by those who benefit from it, while it is increasingly seen as a lie, and not an especially noble one, by the new servant class that liberalism has produced... But liberalism's apologists regard pervasive discontent, political dysfunction, economic inequality, civic disconnection, and populist rejection as accidental problems disconnected from systemic causes, because their self-deception is generated by enormous reservoirs of self-interest in the maintenance of the present system." -- Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, p. 180

Deneen makes a particularly important, and often misunderstood, point in the above quote: often, when it is pointed out that it is in the self-interest of commentator X to take view Y, someone will respond, "No, I am sure that X really believes Y!" But that response misses the point: when it is in our self-interest to believe Y, very often, we will not merely feign belief in Y, but actually talk ourselves into really believing Y: and we will convince ourselves that we believe it for the most admirable reasons. This self-deception is crucial to the maintenance of our self-image as good, modern "free thinkers": it just happens that our "free thinking" has led us to just the views that most help us get on in life! What a blessing!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The great falsehood of liberal anthropology

"[For Hobbes] the state is charged with maintaining social stability and preventing a return to natural anarchy... Human beings are thus, by nature, nonrelational creatures, separate and autonomous." -- Patrick Deneed, Why Liberalism Failed, 32

Proto-liberals like Locke and Jefferson and modern liberals like Mises and Rawls all start from a similar place: we are first and foremost human atoms, who only need enter into social groups in so far as it suits our interest to do so. Our original state was as free individuals, who "contracted" into social groups because we saw it was to our advantage. As Deneen notes, "Even marriage, Locke holds, is finally to be understood as a contract whose conditions are temporary and subject to revision..." (33).

Or, as Mises put it:

"The fundamental social phenomenon is the division of labor and its counterpart human cooperation.

"Experience teaches man that cooperative action is more efficient and productive than isolated action of self-sufficient individuals. The natural conditions determining man's life and effort are such that the division of labor increases output per unit of labor expended." -- Human Action

"The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man's reason is capable of recognizing this truth." -- Human Action

"Every living being is naturally the implacable enemy of every other living being, especially of all other members of his own species. For the means of subsistence are scarce. They do not permit all specimens to survive and to consummate their existence up to the point at which their inborn vitality is fully spent. This irreconcilable conflict of essential interests prevails first of all among the members of the same species..." -- Human Action

So, per Mises, humans live in social groups only because they tried both the "isolated action of self-sufficient individuals" and social cooperation, and found the latter suited their self-interest better. Now, those of a religious bent should surely object to the idea that human beings care for each other only to the extent that they calculate that cooperating serves their own self-interest better than being "implacable enemies."

But one need not be religious to see that Mises is spouting nonsense: humans (and proto-humans) lived together in tight-knit social groups long before they could have been calculating the advantages of the division of labor. There never were "isolated... self-sufficient individuals" with which they could compare their "output" as members of a group: isolated humans were dead humans, not self-sufficent humans. And our chimpanzee, bonobo, and gorilla relatives also live in tight-knit social groups, and certainly do not regard the other members of the group as "implacable enemies." (Take a gander at the group of "implacable enemies" pictured at the top of this post!) In fact, cooperation is every bit as much a fact of animal life as is competition.

And methodological individualism is simply the elevation of this false anthropology into a required postulate of any social science worthy of the name.

The NP Turkey

We have a real problem this Thanksgiving: "With a big turkey, you start running into some big problems. It takes longer to thaw ...