Cause for Celebration?

This blog has just passed the 10 000 visits mark. Not much to brag about, but I thought I should mention it.

Visitors are from all over the world, but most of them from the US and Sweden and quite a few from the UK, Canada, India and Australia.

Most popular blog posts, with more than 200 visits, are:

Paul Krugman’s Dishonesty

Aristotle on Egoism

Aristotle on Friendship

A Belated Open Letter to Ayn Rand on Fractional Reserve Banking

A Short Word on Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Whose Premises Should One Check?

Among the least popular posts are:

Ludwig von Mises on Buying Soap

The Madness of Environmentalism

The Price and Wage Spiral

Aristotle on Youth and Old Age

(People ought to be more interested in those subjects…)

My Swedish blog, that was started at the same time (October 2010) has had more than 27 000 visits so far, but then I have been more busy blogging in Swedish than in English.

I also have a blog called George Reisman in Swedish, where I publish my translations of Reisman’s essays, but it has had only 1600 visits so far, which is a pity.

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What Concepts Are First Level?

(A fairly unnecessary blog post.)

A while ago I wrote a blog post called A Weird Confusion About Concept Formation (a blog post that shouldn’t be necessary, except for the fact that someone was confused about it). Someone claimed that only concepts of entities are “first level” concepts, and that concepts of attributes, motions and relationships must be “higher level” concepts. (He even invoked Ayn Rand’s authority for this view, but that was based on a misreading of her.) But in fact, a first level concept is simply one that can be formed from direct sense experience, and that is certainly the case of many concepts of attributes, motions and relationships as well.

To repeat this point with slightly different words, a simple way to determine whether a concept is first level or higher level is to ask oneself: can the concept be defined ostensively, i.e. by simply pointing to an instance of the concept?

Certainly, simple concepts like “table”, “chair”, “bed”, etc. can be defined ostensively, while “furniture” or “object” cannot. (For simplicity’s sake I am using Ayn Rand’s own examples, but you can make up your own examples, if you like.)

But this is as true about simple attributes as about simple entities or objects. “Red” can be ostensively defined simply by pointing at a red object, and “blue” by pointing to a cloudless sky. And simply by listening to a dog barking, one can ostensively define the sound concept “barking”. Same with motions: “walking”, “running” etc. are ostensively defined simply by observing someone walking or running (do I need to repeat the “etcetera”?). Same with relationships: one can ostensively define what is meant by “above”, “below”, “to the right/left of” and many others.

True, those concepts can also be given a formal, genus-differentia definition. For example, Ayn Rand herself writes:

An adult definition of “table” would be: “A man-made object consisting of a flat, level surface and support(s), intended to support other, smaller objects”. (ITOE, P. 12.)

But this adult definition is certainly not needed to understand what a table is! Furthermore, the definition contains a couple of concepts that cannot be first level: “object” and “man-made”.

The same is true of “red” and other color concepts. “Red” can be formally defined as:

Any of a group of colors that may vary in lightness and saturation whose hue resembles that of blood.

Or:

The hue of the long wave-end of the spectrum.

Or:

One of the psychological primary hues, evoked in the normal observer by the long-wave end of the spectrum. (The American Heritage Dictionary.)

But nobody needs those definitions to grasp the concept “red”! (Well, except if one is blind.) And you certainly do not need to study optics and learn what is meant by “the long-wave end of the spectrum” to form the concept “red”; quite the opposite: you have to know the colors before you can even begin to learn what a spectrum is and what it has to do with wave-lengths.

The same holds true for simple concepts of consciousness that have to be formed by a process of introspection. If you have ever been thinking about something, you know what a thought is. If you have ever experienced an emotion – anger, or joy, or even boredom – you know what anger, joy and boredom are. And if you have ever made a choice or a decision, you know what they are. (The same, of course, is true about sensations, like “pain” or “tooth-ache”. Or about sexual satisfaction. How would you know anything about this without having experienced it?)

All this is virtually self-evident. So why do I even have to write about it? Well, take it as an exercise in conceptual entertainment.

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It may sometimes be hard to determine whether a concept is first level or not. Take the concept “coin”. A child may observe two coins and see that they are similar: they are round, flat and fairly small objects. But how does he distinguish a coin from a button? Well, the coin has engravings on it; but how then can he distinguish a coin from a medal? To understand what a coin is, the child will also have to know its function: that it can be exchanged for an ice-cream or some other good. Is seeing an exchange take place also first level? I’m not sure. I think the child’s parents have to explain to him what “buying” and “exchange” are. And for that to take place, the child would have to already have advanced a bit in his conceptual development.

More on concept formation another time.

The Madness of Environmentalism

Energy is the life-blood of industrial civilization. As long as energy is available and comparatively cheap, industry will thrive; if it is not available or too expensive, industry will be throttled.

Before the Industrial Revolution there were very few sources of energy. There were of course wind mills; and since the days of Prometheus man has used fire as a source of energy; but that was about it. Then the steam engine was invented; and today we have many more sources of energy: fossil fuels (coal and oil), hydroelectric power, nuclear power; and in the future we may have fusion and who knows what.

The environmentalist movement aims to throttle all those energy sources; which means that it aims to throttle our industrial civilization and bring us back to pre-industrial times. The only sources of energy they approve of are solar cells and wind mills; but this is because those energy sources are comparatively inefficient (and cost a lot of money to construct). Should anyone make a scientific breakthrough that makes them efficient, I am certain they will turn against them, as well.

The environmentalists claim that this throttling is necessary to prevent global warming (or global cooling, or any kind of climate change); but I believe this is a rationalization and a smoke screen. If it weren’t, they would advocate nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels, and they don’t. Also, if this global warming or climate change were to take place, the solution will have to be more technology, not less.

Recently, I have read two stories that illustrate the madness (or evil) of the environmentalist approach.

First, a blog post called The Grand Prize in Obama’s War on Coal by Willis Eschenbach. This blog post cites a “climate scientist” who thinks it is necessary to gradually abolish the use of coal in order to counteract global warming and instead achieve some measure of global cooling. When pressed about how much cooling will be achieved by this, he finally gave the figure of 0.02oC! To achieve this figure, which is hardly even measurable, he is willing to sacrifice industrial civilization and drive us back to pre-industrial times. And he is an advisor to Barack Obama.

Then to Barack Obama himself. Here is what he says:

Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy.

This should speak for itself. The people of Africa should not be allowed to have cars and air conditioners (or any of the amenities that we in the West take for granted) – and for how long? Well, presumably for as long as it takes to drive the West back to where Africa is now, or even further: to pre-industrial times. And all this, allegedly, to prevent the planet from “boiling over”.

Obama’s “war on coal” has aptly been characterized as a “war on the poor”. And everything that throttles industry is indeed a war on the poor. The rich (Obama and his minions, and certainly Al Gore) will be the last victims of this war on industry. The first victims will be the poor.

Is this “just” madness, or is it evil? I would say: both.

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Recommended reading: The Toxicity of Environmentalism and The Arithmetic of Environmentalist Devastation, both by George Reisman. Also Taxing Us For Breathing by Robert Tracinski. And, of course, Ayn Rand’s essay “The Anti-Industrial Revolution” in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution.