Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Kishkumen wrote:
Sat Jun 27, 2020 10:20 am
That said, I do see the potential for harm, and I have my suspicions that the choice of obsessions matters. How many Jedi do we have running about doing things that end in the murder of innocent children in pursuit of their Jedi objectives? I hope we never have to find out, but maybe we just need the right ones to come along.
And how many of the billions of people who believe in Satan and evil spirits go on to murder children, or murder anybody for that matter? It seems to be vanishingly rare in context. I suppose it depends on how we apply the question of harm when it comes to ideas. If we apply it on the individual level, then you are certainly in right to see that certain ideas, when intersecting with certain personalities, can produce certain harms, though it is not easy to make predictions. Is that to be attributed to some inherent quality of the idea? It seems to me that these are generally on the distant side of a bell curve anyway, such that it becomes impossible to say whether or not some idea will have this or that effect on a social level.

Again, it's not to say that ideas are merely surface phenomena because they clearly do have profound consequences, but I would suggest they are inert rather than active. Ideas (ignoring for the moment just what we mean by this term) are not objects that affect other objects (and can be observed in the process) but theories that condition what objects can or will be observed in a given cultural setting in the first place.

I also think it depends greatly on how concrete the idea is, or in other words how many of its components involve something in the real world. Ideas that are more concrete—e.g. smaller government is inevitably better government, or the idea that the existence of billionaires represents a moral failing—are more likely to have a causal connection between the idea and actions performed by people who claim they are acting in service of that idea. But the idea of there being two cosmic forces overseen by two cosmic beings with subsidiary levels in each camp seems to me so abstract that I don't see how you could attribute effects to it without having a great deal of human agency intervening. There is so much agency in making an idea like that concrete in its effects that Occam's razor starts amputating the core claim.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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It is difficult to convey sincerity on a message board, so no doubt I will fail to communicate my thoughts and feelings adequately, but so be it. I will nevertheless express my great gratitude for Symmachus and the thoughts S. shares with us here. Rare is the time when I feel I have not benefitted from Symmachus' participation in this forum. S. almost always challenges me to think about things more carefully and to think of them in new ways. If S. can achieve that with this hard noggin, then I can only imagine many others are even more profoundly impacted for the good by what S. communicates. Thank goodness for S. and people like S. True teachers are difficult to find.
Symmachus wrote:
Wed Jul 01, 2020 5:40 pm
And how many of the billions of people who believe in Satan and evil spirits go on to murder children, or murder anybody for that matter? It seems to be vanishingly rare in context. I suppose it depends on how we apply the question of harm when it comes to ideas. If we apply it on the individual level, then you are certainly in right to see that certain ideas, when intersecting with certain personalities, can produce certain harms, though it is not easy to make predictions. Is that to be attributed to some inherent quality of the idea? It seems to me that these are generally on the distant side of a bell curve anyway, such that it becomes impossible to say whether or not some idea will have this or that effect on a social level.
Thanks for this. Yes, the situation is really complicated. There are many factors to take into consideration. Surely the mere belief in the existence of Satan and demons will have a different impact at different times and contexts. For many people and communities, it is probably not that big a deal. Even when it gets to the nature of Satan, there will be a broad range of beliefs. The Latin American Satan is not necessarily the New England WASP Satan, etc. So, I would differ with you perhaps in thinking that there can be differing community impacts and not just differing individual impacts.
Symmachus wrote:
Wed Jul 01, 2020 5:40 pm
Again, it's not to say that ideas are merely surface phenomena because they clearly do have profound consequences, but I would suggest they are inert rather than active. Ideas (ignoring for the moment just what we mean by this term) are not objects that affect other objects (and can be observed in the process) but theories that condition what objects can or will be observed in a given cultural setting in the first place.
I absolutely adore this part of your post. Magnificent. I agree that often ideas are inert rather than active. Would it be too bold to say that once activated, however, their potential impact is, to an extent, written into their code? Looking at what you have written more carefully, it seems to me that you are avoiding a software metaphor for a reason. At the risk of abusing a different metaphor, are they perhaps like epigenetic factors? I don't know that I see them as being so passive that they do no more than "condition what objects can or will be observed in a given cultural setting." What about what they are observed as? Or are there objects that are only objects because ideas allow them to be such?

I would love to have you expand on this part. I don't know that I am reading you correctly, but what you have written really gets my wheels turning.
Symmachus wrote:
Wed Jul 01, 2020 5:40 pm
I also think it depends greatly on how concrete the idea is, or in other words how many of its components involve something in the real world. Ideas that are more concrete—e.g. smaller government is inevitably better government, or the idea that the existence of billionaires represents a moral failing—are more likely to have a causal connection between the idea and actions performed by people who claim they are acting in service of that idea. But the idea of there being two cosmic forces overseen by two cosmic beings with subsidiary levels in each camp seems to me so abstract that I don't see how you could attribute effects to it without having a great deal of human agency intervening. There is so much agency in making an idea like that concrete in its effects that Occam's razor starts amputating the core claim.
But what if the belief involves a conviction that these invisible forces are at work in tangible ways all around us all the time? Some theists are encouraged to look for the tangible impact of God or communications from God all the time. If one is encouraged to see the agency of demons in daily affairs, then how is that so much less tangible? The believer ascribes real phenomena to demons, after all. Others will disagree that demonic agency is at work, but for the believer the impact of demonic forces is very real indeed. That is my initial reaction to your claim that the idea is terribly abstract. My understanding is that for believers it really isn't so abstract. A whole way of interacting with the world can be conditioned by belief in demonic influence.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Because there is a few interesting exchanges above I decided to disregard the warning made that the interview linked was a waste of time. I listened and having expended the attention made some effort to put it to some bit of use. Now at least I have some more context for the lethal couple in Idaho. They are practicing witchcraft.

I wonder if I transgress using that word. The amount of evil done by people involved in the craft is very small compared to the evil done by people hunting and making war against it. I am pretty sure that the fear of evil magic and the fear of evil spirits, connected ideas, is not limited to any one culture in the world.It has been pandemic to my understanding. Different cultures have different stories related to the fear which may influence how people react to the fear.(and the paths by which a few individuals may try to pursue magic power.) I doubt getting rid of any one story would get rid of the fear or occasional desire to find magic power.

I think people all over the world have feared evil spirits because the idea makes a representation of process which are difficult to fully explain. I admit to being a person doubtful that there are evil spirits independent of the people generating them but also unable to completely block the possibility such exist. Evil spirits seem to work better as storytelling devices than scientific reality. For example, I find the idea that Trump is wielding an evil spirit which controls a certain percentage of the population difficult to absolutely discount. It explains in simple form something difficult. Now I prefer to think that a certain group finds demands for change in our country regards racial inequality threatening. Sure none of those people think they are racist but they don't like the possibility of change or feeling guilt. This of course links with other fears to create a suprapersonal power in the country.

perhaps one could wish that there was an exorcism program for that. For better or worse I believe that the spirit generated by groups of regular natural human being is considerably more dangerous than any supernatural spirits hanging about.

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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I do not deserve your kind words, Reverend Kishkumen, but I cannot fail to admit their soothing quality as I gaze upon the Altar of Victory—or rather its smashed remnants, drizzled in illiterate at attempts at obscene graffiti about the police here. But Mike and his comites are pretty harmless guys, although I have to admit that some of their speed traps are a bit devious. Anyway, the Senate House I built for myself here on my Parowan estate had only this altar as its shrine, and now amid its fragments and the ruins of my ambition I munch on Wendy's and philologize, because there is nothing else to do when Relief Society is not meeting here in Parowan. The only other consolation I take amid this sand-scape is that you take my little nugae with enough interest to offer compelling challenges to some of their loftier implications.
Kishkumen wrote:Surely the mere belief in the existence of Satan and demons will have a different impact at different times and contexts. For many people and communities, it is probably not that big a deal. Even when it gets to the nature of Satan, there will be a broad range of beliefs. The Latin American Satan is not necessarily the New England WASP Satan, etc. So, I would differ with you perhaps in thinking that there can be differing community impacts and not just differing individual impacts.
That is fair. An example comes to mind, one which shows how even within this dualistic belief structure, conflict can arise.

Islam has Satan, invoked against in a kind of apotropaic charm before washing or at the start of prayer or Qur'an recitation ("a3udhu bi-llāhi min ash-shaytāni rr-ajiim...") or a hundred other times and places, but yet Satan, under either that name or the name Iblis, is not nearly as prominent a feature of Islamic theology, and certainly not Islamic practice, as in Christianity. To attribute all that much power to Iblis/Satan would be to diminish the absolute power of God, in the Islamic way of thinking, whereas Christianity—and Mormonism in particular—seems to grant Satan a great deal of power, albeit temporary. And while Islam has the concept of satans (plural, shayātīn) that tempt and afflict humans through their whispering to the mind/heart towards sin, I don't think the practice of exorcism of these Satans has been incorporated on a mass scale or become a prominent feature of any of the strands of it, although I know it is part of Islamic folk religion in many places. So I must agree with you here, and I can think of a one small example of how this can collide, despite the best efforts and intentions of individuals. When Americans or Europeans interpret the title of the official state enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran ("The Great Satan," the sheytān-e bozorg), they will interpret it in a way that I don't think is meant: that America plays the role of the Christian conception of Satan, making Iran a cosmic hero and doing the work of god in battling the devil, whereas I think it is much less grandiose in its meaning in an Islamic context, where demons are primarily dangerous for their seductive influence as tempters. Khamenei actually elaborated on this in a speech some years ago. Understood in terms post-Qajar history (or even Qajar history, come to think of it), it is a symbolic slur that defines western power (economic, cultural, political, military) as essentially a destructive temptation to which previous regimes had succumbed (a not inaccurate read of modern Iranian history). The current regime will have none of this: no western aid, no western advisors etc., because all of these are mere blandishments that will only subjugate Iran. They are temptations.

But Americans and many Europeans have interpreted it as a statement of apocalyptic intent, even if they have completely disregarded it as an irrelevant slogan. In this case, a certain view of what Satan means has had effects on how a belligerent Iran has been interpreted and approached. Hawks tend to interpret it not merely as an aggressive statement, which it obviously is, but in Christian terms (even if they are not Christians: it's just what's out there in the culture)—the implication in those terms is that Iran is daily working out how to eradicate Satan, because that is what a fanatical Christian would be required to do. Christians fight the devil, so that is obviously what Iran intends to do as well, in this way of thinking. Doves, on the other hand, imagine that the Satan rhetoric is not serious, and consequently they are unable to understand that the current regime in Iran cannot tolerate any interference from western governments, even if well-intentioned—that would be the negation of its self-identity—and Iran with its current state is not ever going to join the international system, such as it is, unless it does so on its own terms, which is something even the doves in the west apparently cannot tolerate. All attempts at discovering the mysterious "moderates" in Iranian politics are thus a game of self-delusion because there are no such moderates within the bounds of this thought-world—just as there are no American "moderates" willing to allow some aspects of ____ jurisprudence at the Supreme Court, provided it is not "extreme"! No, actually the people with the most power in the Iranian regime really do believe that America is a great satan, maybe the greatest ("they're sayin'' we're the greatest satan, and it shows in our ratings. All those other Satans—they're like a 3, maybe a 4, but no one cares about them; they used to be great but their ratings are terrible. Sad!"); they just mean something somewhat different from what people raised in a Christian or post-Christian environment expect. Nevertheless, there are real effects of this misunderstanding.

My original point is just about whether actions that occur within a thought-world that includes Satan and his demons can be attributed to those beliefs per se in the absence of other factors, particularly on the scale of a whole society. Implied in that point is a question: what is the alternative? Would things be any different without this belief? I think the answer on a large scale is "no"—people will still meet harm and violence, just different people—yet perhaps a worthy corollary is that we should try all the same to be aware of how the "genetic" features of an idea can be activated in world of things and people, and critiques of the ideas serve that function. I just think its hard to evaluate the ethical value of ideas that are this abstract (and by abstract, I mean ideas whose component parts do not have real-world referents, even though I agree that adherents of an idea may not experience them as abstract. To me, though, their experience is irrelevant, and the abstract idea only starts to matter when it gets attached to real things and real people. I have to say that even cultures where the elites espouse a philosophical monism are not known for their humane treatment of other cultural groups, either. I wonder what many Alan Watts admirers and Zen-enthusiasts would make of the role which that cult played in the military culture that nearly destroyed east Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, killing nearly 20,000,000 Chinese. I understand the San Francisco version, imported into the US in the 1950s by some who had proponents of the Emperor's Holy War in the 1930s and 40s, is rather benign, but it was not always so).

Unfortunately, I am afraid this may be yet another banal observation. Yet no one who has read all the volumes of my letters can fail to notice that banality has been the default state of my existence, and such emptiness thus forms the substance of my thought.

Anyway, this is acutely difficult:
Kishkumen wrote:Would it be too bold to say that once activated, however, their potential impact is, to an extent, written into their code? Looking at what you have written more carefully, it seems to me that you are avoiding a software metaphor for a reason. At the risk of abusing a different metaphor, are they perhaps like epigenetic factors? I don't know that I see them as being so passive that they do no more than "condition what objects can or will be observed in a given cultural setting." What about what they are observed as? Or are there objects that are only objects because ideas allow them to be such?
Yes, I have long struggled with this. I am sure that, when he gets a break from the black toil of his colliery and after he clears his lungs a bit, the great Stakhanovite can solve it for me, as I am no philosopher, but for now I am not as sure about the validity of the second bolded part as I am about the first. Patterns of thought—ideas?—clearly affect how we do observe certain objects. The problem for me is the link between the idea and the action. For example, the informal propaganda organs of the managerial and educated class in this country are going to great mental lengths to theorize statute toppling, statute removal, etc. As I say own kitschy Altar of Victory became a victim—a sad metaphor for the topsy-turviness of the times here in Parowan—despite my explaining to the Christians that I harbor no disrespect towards their god and despite suggesting as a compromise, in fact, to offer sacrifice to Jesus the Sun Christ (or whatever he is) on my little altar. Alas, they destroyed it—unlike Gratian, who had manners, of course, and was a true credit to his teacher and my friend—and only later did I learn how futile my attempts at reconciliation were. As I learned, their universe of theological discourse has room for only one being, though strangely he himself cannot be contained, and that one being, as it seems, was himself a kind of sacrifice. I can't say I understand it, but even if they had explained this bit of their Christianity to me and even if I then failed to understand it, I don't see what my Altar of Victory has to do with any of it. As you might agree, they observed this object as something completely different from how I observed it—but the smashing of it was clearly not motivated by an idea. They could simply have put it in storage until all such monuments be banned. Clearly, there were other forces stirring those more interested in action than theorizing. No one hitting a piece of bronze is wrestling with an idea.

And yet, the pencil twirlers at National Review and the like would have me believe that this is the result of ideas: if it hadn't been for those pesky left-wing professors, people with more cleverness than knowledge, we wouldn't be in all of this. It's the fruition of ideas that they've been teaching to students for 30 years, you see, that we are seeing. All this time, while they've been getting paid to think thoughts in thinkology over at the thinkery, they were not only reposing with health insurance amid a gang of adjuncts but they were actually subtly encouraging debtor-students to smash statues. Hmmm...I am a bit skeptical that very many of these bronze-wackers were paying much attention in class at all. The ones most likely to have done the reading assignments are the ones least likely to have thrown a statue of a guy who's been dead half a millennium into Baltimore Harbor, even if each of them holds the same idea about the statue in their respective heads, as they probably do. Something else besides ideas explains the Vandals.

I agree with you,then, but only up to the point of individual action. I can see how ideas motivate action, but I cannot see how they determine the form of that action.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Statues of dead people weren't originally put up to inspire sober reflection on historical limitations. They weren’t even put up as mere typical threads in the seamless robe of cultural heritage. They were set up in prominent places, mounted on pedestals, as the time-honored highest civic tribute that a community could bestow. For over two thousand years the meta-text of a public statue has unambiguously been, “This guy was great.”

If all those old statues of slave masters were set down at eye level in a somber historical park with plaques of unvarnished text, they would be good reminders of the past. They don’t need to be canceled. They need to be pulled down from their places of honor.

I don’t want to go all post-modern. I doubt I could pull it off if I did want to. But I think it’s true that a lot of the power in ideas is implicit rather than explicit—the assumptions that are enshrined by being taken for granted without even being mentioned, the opportunity costs that are picked from our pockets when we focus as we are led. The pedestals more than the statues.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Weird double post.

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Physics Guy wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 2:51 am
Statues of dead people weren't originally put up to inspire sober reflection on historical limitations. They weren’t even put up as mere typical threads in the seamless robe of cultural heritage. They were set up in prominent places, mounted on pedestals, as the time-honored highest civic tribute that a community could bestow. For over two thousand years the meta-text of a public statue has unambiguously been, “This guy was great.”
Yes, but also no. No one put up statues merely because they admired something but rather because they thought the person enstatued had done something admirable.

According to Plutarch, old Cato even got a statue once—Romans didn't wait till the honorands were dead—and he gives the reason: people thought he had done just an outstanding job as Censor. But Cato himself, says Plutarch, used to laugh at the ambitious who took pride in receiving a statue: "I'd rather have people ask why I didn't have a statue than why I had one." The reason is that the memory and respect of his fellow citizens was, to Cato, the real monument that mattered.

Some years later, his great grandson (also called Cato) was thrown out of the forum in one of the many raucous confrontations between contending factions in the tumult of the 50s BC. Supporters of Cato vented their anger at this effrontery by vandalizing the statue of the Pompey (still alive then). Cato put a stop to it but was not clever enough or was too principled to exploit it for his own advantage.
I don’t want to go all post-modern. I doubt I could pull it off if I did want to. But I think it’s true that a lot of the power in ideas is implicit rather than explicit—the assumptions that are enshrined by being taken for granted without even being mentioned, the opportunity costs that are picked from our pockets when we focus as we are led. The pedestals more than the statues.
I'm not sure that is all that post-modern, but it's parallel to the view I have expressed here. Kish adds a key element, though, if I understand him rightly, that ideas have a deterministic quality to them. If one thinks race is the defining feature of American identity and the central theme of American history and a supreme criterion in evaluating anyone, it is inevitable that you will have to start diminishing George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and renaming this or that. The point where I differ is that I just don't think it determines the nature of the action to be pursued, or even the motivation behind some action in service of an idea. I can see how retiring Christopher Columbus from public respect might lead from the premise of the idea, but I don't see how the idea determines that his statue should be smashed and thrown into a harbor.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Symmachus wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 7:30 am
Physics Guy wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 2:51 am
Statues of dead people weren't originally put up to inspire sober reflection on historical limitations. They weren’t even put up as mere typical threads in the seamless robe of cultural heritage. They were set up in prominent places, mounted on pedestals, as the time-honored highest civic tribute that a community could bestow. For over two thousand years the meta-text of a public statue has unambiguously been, “This guy was great.”
Yes, but also no. No one put up statues merely because they admired something but rather because they thought the person enstatued had done something admirable.
I'm not sure how your distinction between admired things and admirable accomplishments is a contradiction of my view that public statues declare the represented guy to have been great. If you are saying that the statue honors the deeds rather than the doer then I don't think I agree, because in all the cases I know of this kind of statue, what is actually represented on the pedestal is the guy himself (and perhaps the horse he rode in on). The guy is normally just posed there being awesome, not doing anything at all let alone anything admirable. I can't recall ever seeing any effort in a public monument to depict the particular deed for which the monumental dude is best known. On top of Nelson's Column is a statue of Nelson, just standing there holding up pigeons, not a marble diorama of Trafalgar.
The point where I differ is that I just don't think it determines the nature of the action to be pursued, or even the motivation behind some action in service of an idea. I can see how retiring Christopher Columbus from public respect might lead from the premise of the idea, but I don't see how the idea determines that his statue should be smashed and thrown into a harbor.
Hmm. Are you denying that ideas ever motivate actions? I can't agree with that, because I find that when I believe I'll have another drink, I frequently do. If ideas about drinks can motivate actions, why can't ideas about race motivate actions? Where's the line? What's the difference between Columbus and beer?

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Physics Guy wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 9:42 am
I'm not sure how your distinction between admired things and admirable accomplishments is a contradiction of my view that public statues declare the represented guy to have been great. If you are saying that the statue honors the deeds rather than the doer then I don't think I agree, because in all the cases I know of this kind of statue, what is actually represented on the pedestal is the guy himself (and perhaps the horse he rode in on). The guy is normally just posed there being awesome, not doing anything at all let alone anything admirable. I can't recall ever seeing any effort in a public monument to depict the particular deed for which the monumental dude is best known. On top of Nelson's Column is a statue of Nelson, just standing there holding up pigeons, not a marble diorama of Trafalgar.
Sounds like you went for that drink.

Lots of great human beings don't have statues (I don't have one, for example), and people commemorated in statues are not randomly selected for the honor. Perhaps they should be, but they're not and have not been. I would not have thought this needs explaining. Nelson doesn't have a statue because he was just some "great guy" but because he was instrumental in bringing something about that some significant part of the British people at the time and until recently considered valuable. Why do you think they thought he was a great guy in the first place?

I don't know physics, obviously, but do they give out Nobel prizes to physicists for being great guys, or is for doing something that people consider to have value?
The point where I differ is that I just don't think it determines the nature of the action to be pursued, or even the motivation behind some action in service of an idea. I can see how retiring Christopher Columbus from public respect might lead from the premise of the idea, but I don't see how the idea determines that his statue should be smashed and thrown into a harbor.
Physics Guy wrote:Hmm. Are you denying that ideas ever motivate actions? I can't agree with that, because I find that when I believe I'll have another drink, I frequently do. If ideas about drinks can motivate actions, why can't ideas about race motivate actions? Where's the line? What's the difference between Columbus and beer?
Beer is what you were drinking before posting; Columbus is being drunk by a harbor in Chesapeake Bay.

No, I don't deny that ideas ever motivate actions (though I am skeptical in the case of iconoclasm, as is clear from what I wrote; such anonymous uprisings are seized upon by the ideas people but not initiated by them). As I wrote, I don't think "ideas determine the nature of the action to be pursued." I don't think the urge to have alcohol constitutes an idea, and thus not a useful comparison (and anyway, knowing you have an urge to drink does not allow me to predict whether you will have a drink, what the drink will be, and so on, let alone any of the other consequences that come from drinking—do we attribute alcohol poisoning to the urge people have to drink to alcohol or to the actual drinking of it?). But as to motivation, my thinking remains the same as it was when I began responding on this thread: an idea may motivate some people, but I don't think the idea itself is an indicator of whether or not such people will be motivated by it.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Symmachus wrote:Lots of great human beings don't have statues (I don't have one, for example)
I'll see that this oversight is corrected.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Gadianton wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 2:53 pm
Symmachus wrote:Lots of great human beings don't have statues (I don't have one, for example)
I'll see that this oversight is corrected.
The only greater honor would be it to have it torn down by an angry rabble and thrown into the Great Salt Lake.
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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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My point was not that statues are awarded to random schmoes for no reason, but that statues lack nuance. They don't specify what the person did that warranted a statue, and pedestals don't feature relief illustrations of the hero's failings. They show only the person themselves, without context. A statue in a public place of honor is an official civic declaration that whatever this person did, the TLDR version is, "This guy was great."

If the statue is thereby saying that when you add up all the positives and negatives of this person's life the balance is a big positive, then that's a problem because weightings change with time. They're not objective facts of history that need to be remembered but subjective judgements that every generation can and probably should reconsider. Just because the people who used to live here didn't see slaveholding as a big negative doesn't mean that we have to perpetuate that judgement today.

The fact that people who used to live here thought as they did may be a fact worth remembering; sometimes reminders of an evil past deserve prominence, like the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. I think the right way to do that is with modern monuments made for that purpose, rather than by simply letting the past have the last word.

Furthermore it seems to me that an authorized TLDR version does more than simply assert that a lengthy account has a positive balance. By omitting context in such a prominent statement, we declare that in this case context is unnecessary. A statue speaks for itself. It's not a feature that invites interpretation in relation to its surroundings. It's a human face that draws the eye in a scene, a landmark to which things are oriented.

The details aren't just omitted. By being left out in such a prominent statement they are explicitly declared to be unimportant. That's the whole point of the honor of a prominent public statue that just shows you, and not whatever you did. It says that because of those one or two great things you did, nothing else matters now, you are great, period. In that sense it's putting things on pedestals, not pulling them down, that is canceling culture.

Nobody today can actually re-write the past, after all. The people who used to live here got to look at the statues they liked all their lives. By putting up great big statues in the public places that their successors would frequent, they were trying to put their stamp on their future, our present. Why should they have a right to do that? It isn't their city now. They're all dead.
Symmachus wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 10:55 am
No, I don't deny that ideas ever motivate actions (though I am skeptical in the case of iconoclasm, as is clear from what I wrote; such anonymous uprisings are seized upon by the ideas people but not initiated by them). As I wrote, I don't think "ideas determine the nature of the action to be pursued." I don't think the urge to have alcohol constitutes an idea, and thus not a useful comparison (and anyway, knowing you have an urge to drink does not allow me to predict whether you will have a drink, what the drink will be, and so on, let alone any of the other consequences that come from drinking—do we attribute alcohol poisoning to the urge people have to drink to alcohol or to the actual drinking of it?). But as to motivation, my thinking remains the same as it was when I began responding on this thread: an idea may motivate some people, but I don't think the idea itself is an indicator of whether or not such people will be motivated by it.
People are motivated by lots of things, and indeed 83% of somebody's motivation to pull down a statue may well have been beer. I don't find it easy to distinguish categorically, though, between general courses of action like "redress past wrongs" and specific ones like "pull down this statue". I mean, zoom in on the statue-pulling and you can distinguish between the specific courses of action of tying the rope around the head instead of the arm. Where's the line, between general principles like redressing wrongs and specific "natures of the action" like hitching to different statue appendages, at which ideas cease to determine what people do?

I also find it hard to say that "Another beer would be nice" is not an idea but "Capitalists expropriate value from workers" is one. If pressed I could probably write an essay on the abstract theoretical implications in the desire for beer, or on the simple animal instincts underlying Marxism. Bet a beer I could.

The power of ideas is not limited to conscious deductions from explicit axioms. People are motivated by all kinds of subtle nudges and cues. We're all swimming in a big river that has lots of sources. That doesn't mean that a little effluent upstream doesn't matter.

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Dear Symmachus,

Your latest response to me is one for the ages. Your discussion of the "great satan," etc., is very illuminating. I am better for having read it. There is a lot in your post to unpack and unfortunately I am short on time right now, but I want you to know that your efforts in writing that were not in vain. It is a lovely and very educational post. Your slide into the fourth century CE was masterful. It is stuff like this that makes me want to protect MormonDiscussions.com's data forever. This may be a little backwater part of the internet, but some lovely and very interesting things have happened here, and your participation is a key component of that. Thank you.
“God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord.” ~ Pat Robertson
“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Physics Guy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:34 am
My point was not that statues are awarded to random schmoes for no reason, but that statues lack nuance. They don't specify what the person did that warranted a statue, and pedestals don't feature relief illustrations of the hero's failings. They show only the person themselves, without context. A statue in a public place of honor is an official civic declaration that whatever this person did, the TLDR version is, "This guy was great."

If the statue is thereby saying that when you add up all the positives and negatives of this person's life the balance is a big positive, then that's a problem because weightings change with time. They're not objective facts of history that need to be remembered but subjective judgements that every generation can and probably should reconsider. Just because the people who used to live here didn't see slaveholding as a big negative doesn't mean that we have to perpetuate that judgement today.

The fact that people who used to live here thought as they did may be a fact worth remembering; sometimes reminders of an evil past deserve prominence, like the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. I think the right way to do that is with modern monuments made for that purpose, rather than by simply letting the past have the last word.
Statues do lack nuance, but they don't lack context in the way that you describe. The original people who put the statue up, for whatever reason, were not usually unclear as to why they were doing so and what many of their contemporaries who understood or shared that context thought it about it. The problem is that statutes are static but cultures aren't. Statues are memorials, which means they are meant to evoke a memory. If the culture no longer has the memories around it or wishes to reject the memories, then obviously the context has changed or will change, and thus the statue will make no sense. I would guess that most people have no idea why most monuments exist, at the least in the United States (it's not like the US has ever been a monument-building culture anyway. It strikes me how old most of the statues are), but this will happen to any memorializing object, even Holocaust Memorials (except that those memorials are, like the one in Berlin, usually attached to a museum, because they would otherwise have even less context than an equestrian statue with some bearded rider).

Your last paragraph I don't quite understand: we shouldn't let the past have the last word, but yet we should design memorials so that the interpretation of them will be fixed for future generations? Wouldn't future generations then find themselves beholden to the past, with its last word? In your way of thinking about this, what would be wrong with a future generation tearing down a Holocaust Memorial if the context has changed so that the Holocaust is seen as a good thing? Why would you want to control how a future generation in a different context gets to view a memorial that you approve of in the present?

You can see the problem with relativism as a guide here if you only apply it selectively to the cases that you disapprove of.
Physics Guy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:34 am
Furthermore it seems to me that an authorized TLDR version does more than simply assert that a lengthy account has a positive balance. By omitting context in such a prominent statement, we declare that in this case context is unnecessary. A statue speaks for itself. It's not a feature that invites interpretation in relation to its surroundings. It's a human face that draws the eye in a scene, a landmark to which things are oriented.

The details aren't just omitted. By being left out in such a prominent statement they are explicitly declared to be unimportant. That's the whole point of the honor of a prominent public statue that just shows you, and not whatever you did. It says that because of those one or two great things you did, nothing else matters now, you are great, period. In that sense it's putting things on pedestals, not pulling them down, that is canceling culture.
I don't really disagree with your description of how statues are insufficient as repositories of historical memory. But statues are not meant to be works of history, and this view of things, while eloquent, seems to miss why people put up statues. People feel the need to memorialize other humans; maybe that's dumb, I don't think it's to control the past so that future generations are somehow forever trapped by it by disguising the reality of nuance and complexity (that strikes me as a very Foucauldian interpretation, but acolytes of Foucault think everything is about power and control, and consequently their intepretations are almost always overwrought: like all dogmatists, they start with a valid line of argument but then end up using it to strangle any meaningful attempt to understand). I mean, tombstones lack nuance, but that's their not their point. The emotion behind that is not an emotion susceptible to context and nuance, so it seems to me quite irrelevant to point out that statues don't have that. I don't think memorials have that by nature because it will always have to be explained; there can be a visual cue that can lead you to the books or the tour guide but it won't be inherent. It might feel that way to the initial generation, but you're gonna need actual words to do that a certain point. The idea that past people had it in mind to control the future by putting up statues seems a bit of stretch precisely because statues are meaningless without some other cultural control in place that tells you how to interpret them.

"Nobody can rewrite the past, yet let's remove the imprint of the past because all those people are dead" seems like a call to rewrite the past. People rewrite the past all the time, in part by forgetting it. If there is any value at all to memorials and statues, it is that they can evoke questions, once the original context is gone: "what the hell is this, and why is this here?" That is true of any object or mental construct bequeathed us by those dead people. If answering this leads people to question the continued benefit of keeping one in a public place and removing it, fine. After all, why should we continue to pay professors to teach physics and research questions that don't have an immediate payoff? Maybe that was fine when those dead people built that social arrangement, but it's really in our way now, and we could use the funding, as well as the office space, for more pressing questions. Why should we let our present social needs be hemmed in by a social structure invented by the Prussian bureaucrats in the 19th century, all of whom were white men? Tear it down. All of it.

See, this is where I part ways with the "ideas" people who are attempting, from the comfort of a home office, to provide theoretical cover to lawlessness. I really don't have interest in statues per se, particularly statues in places I've never been or that I've never seen or heard of, and especially statues of people I've never heard of. I seriously doubt most people in this country care about any but a handful of monuments. And I agree that statues have no nuance to them, but neither do the groups of people tearing them down in such an obviously lawless fashion. You think this is really about statues and nuance? This is an iconclastic moment, not a bunch of art historians arguing over the blunt social presence of statues, and when I think of iconoclasm, whether in 5th century Alexandria or 8th century Byzantium or 16th century Europe, I see a phenomenon that is usually accompanied by severe social disruption and violence. Maybe the iconoclasm is a symptom, but not treating the symptom worsens whatever the underlying condition is. What is going to be on the chopping block when they are done with the statues?

Perhaps the destruction of statues is not necessarily that much of a problem in the United States, which contains a population that remembers nothing, knows little, and has been nowhere else. It could all be a vast and hysterical cosplay by the over-credentialed and underemployed (I also find it interesting that they're mostly young, not usually a healthy social sign). But what is really disturbing to me is to see people with large media platforms and substantial cultural presence and who are in positions to know better—and who are in many cases paid to know better—out there providing permission structures for all of this in a grand show of post hoc rationalization: dressing up vandalism as some kind of intellectual argument. Supposing this is the reaction to an underlying condition, ignoring the symptom is bad enough, but no good can come from arguing that the symptom is actually beneficial. So what's the next symptom we'll be told is actually a good sign by the Vox-types? What next act are they going to justify? When elites begin justifying extra legal violence as they are now justifying vandalism, then we'll be entering some pretty dangerous territory, and I'm already seeing some troubling signs that that is where we're headed. Still, I hope it goes no further than a silly argument over whether statues are nuanced or not, but I fear such arguments are not just beside the point but missing it in a way that could be spectacularly destructive.
Physics Guy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:34 am
People are motivated by lots of things, and indeed 83% of somebody's motivation to pull down a statue may well have been beer. I don't find it easy to distinguish categorically, though, between general courses of action like "redress past wrongs" and specific ones like "pull down this statue". I mean, zoom in on the statue-pulling and you can distinguish between the specific courses of action of tying the rope around the head instead of the arm. Where's the line, between general principles like redressing wrongs and specific "natures of the action" like hitching to different statue appendages, at which ideas cease to determine what people do?
I don't think we disagree here. I don't think ideas are necessarily determinative of action, although I can think of some exceptions.
Physics Guy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:34 am
I also find it hard to say that "Another beer would be nice" is not an idea but "Capitalists expropriate value from workers" is one. If pressed I could probably write an essay on the abstract theoretical implications in the desire for beer, or on the simple animal instincts underlying Marxism. Bet a beer I could.
I have tried to avoid getting entangled in the question of just what an idea really is. I suppose it could be any mental conception at any point in time in any individual mind; I have been using it more along the lines of the post I was originally responding to, which is something like a complex of assumptions about the world that structure how we interpret its phenomena (this was about cosmic dualism, originally). The desire for beer does not fit that to me, but I can see how we can understand that too as an idea. A philosopher like Gadianton, illustrious Dean of Cassius University and winner of the decennial and prestigious "Best Person to be Stuck in an Elevator With" award from the Cassius Alumni Association, could perhaps be of some help here.

I would not bet against you, in any case, and I look forward to your essay, "Budweiser Blues: A Marxist Critique of the (De-)Alcoholization of Heternormative Working Class Identity in Nonbinary Breweries." See how easy humanities graduate seminars can be? They're practically write-by-numbers. Do ten of those of around 30 pages, take a few exams in which you regurgitate whatever you remember of list of books, then finally write 200-300 page version and we'll give you a Ph.D. after we discuss it over snacks (act now, and you can deduct 50 pages of bibliography and use 12 pt font, double-spaced, in your footnotes). We'll give you 5-8 years and pay you around $100,000 to do it. (thank god for Prussian bureaucrats!)
Physics Guy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 3:34 am
The power of ideas is not limited to conscious deductions from explicit axioms. People are motivated by all kinds of subtle nudges and cues. We're all swimming in a big river that has lots of sources. That doesn't mean that a little effluent upstream doesn't matter.
Yes, that is very much what I have been arguing. It seems we agree on this.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

—B. Redd McConkie

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Kishkumen wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 7:11 am
Dear Symmachus,
....
I cannot quote praise that I don't deserve, but that doesn't mean I can't thank you for it. Please know that my feeling is reciprocal.

And I agree that this place is one of most interesting parts on the internet; I was pretty disheartened when it disappeared for a while this past Spring. There are only few times a year when I have significant time to respond to posts that my interests me, but I had got used to reading through new threads a few times a week.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Symmachus wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:12 am
Statues do lack nuance, but they don't lack context in the way that you describe. The original people who put the statue up, for whatever reason, were not usually unclear as to why they were doing so and what many of their contemporaries who understood or shared that context thought it about it. The problem is that statutes are static but cultures aren't. Statues are memorials, which means they are meant to evoke a memory. If the culture no longer has the memories around it or wishes to reject the memories, then obviously the context has changed or will change, and thus the statue will make no sense. I would guess that most people have no idea why most monuments exist, at the least in the United States (it's not like the US has ever been a monument-building culture anyway. It strikes me how old most of the statues are), but this will happen to any memorializing object, even Holocaust Memorials (except that those memorials are, like the one in Berlin, usually attached to a museum, because they would otherwise have even less context than an equestrian statue with some bearded rider).
I accept the qualification that statues usually had context when they were first put up and that most of the people who lived around them then were probably happy to honor the figures whom the statues represented, whether or not we'd agree with that honoring now. My point was, as you say, that statues outlast their context.

Maybe most people in the past did know the flaws as well as the merits of their heroes; I'm not sure about that but let's suppose it was so. Perhaps people who were around when the statues went up had soberly weighed up the flaws and the merits and concluded that the balance was positive enough to warrant admiration. Or perhaps they somehow understood that although the statues showed only the heroes themselves, that was merely a convention of statuary, and the meaning of the prominent public statues was really only to commemorate the great things that the heroes had done, without implying any assessment whatever of the heroes' careers as a whole, or their characters.

Even in those optimistic cases of past society, people today who knew all the same things about these former heroes might well disagree that the balances were positive enough to warrant statues, or that it was appropriate to commemorate a great deed with a statue of a doer who had also done too many other things that were anything but great. If past generations were entitled to put up the statues, people today are surely entitled to revise those past judgements and pull the old statues down.

To suppose that people today know all the context around those former heroes, and have made carefully reconsidered judgements, is of course considerably more optimistic even than supposing that past people knew all the context. Insofar as context is now missing, though, I think it's more justified, and not less, to remove the old statues.
Your last paragraph I don't quite understand: we shouldn't let the past have the last word, but yet we should design memorials so that the interpretation of them will be fixed for future generations?
We may not be able to stop our future successors from degenerating to the point of, say, celebrating the Holocaust, but perhaps our monuments can be one means of trying to prevent that, by guiding the thoughts of future generations. Perhaps people in the past were likewise trying to guide our thoughts; they were entitled to try. It may also be that our future successors are better than we are, and abhor things that we now stupidly admire. We should do our best to create only monuments whose legitimacy will last as well as their substance, but no generation is entitled to impose its monuments on futurity just because it put the statues up first. Statuarium semper reformandum.

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Symmachus wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:12 am
Statues do lack nuance, but they don't lack context in the way that you describe. The original people who put the statue up, for whatever reason, were not usually unclear as to why they were doing so and what many of their contemporaries who understood or shared that context thought it about it. The problem is that statutes are static but cultures aren't. Statues are memorials, which means they are meant to evoke a memory. If the culture no longer has the memories around it or wishes to reject the memories, then obviously the context has changed or will change, and thus the statue will make no sense. I would guess that most people have no idea why most monuments exist, at the least in the United States (it's not like the US has ever been a monument-building culture anyway. It strikes me how old most of the statues are), but this will happen to any memorializing object, even Holocaust Memorials (except that those memorials are, like the one in Berlin, usually attached to a museum, because they would otherwise have even less context than an equestrian statue with some bearded rider).
I accept the qualification that statues usually had context when they were first put up and that most of the people who lived around them then were probably happy to honor the figures whom the statues represented, whether or not we'd agree with that honoring now. My point was, as you say, that statues outlast their context.

Maybe most people in the past did know the flaws as well as the merits of their heroes; I'm not sure about that but let's suppose it was so. Perhaps people who were around when the statues went up had soberly weighed up the flaws and the merits and concluded that the balance was positive enough to warrant admiration. Or perhaps they somehow understood that although the statues showed only the heroes themselves, that was merely a convention of statuary, and the meaning of the prominent public statues was really only to commemorate the great things that the heroes had done, without implying any assessment whatever of the heroes' entire careers or characters.

Even in those optimistic cases of past society, people today who knew all the same things about these former heroes might well disagree that the balances were positive enough to warrant statues, or that it was appropriate to commemorate a great deed with a statue of a doer who had also done too many other things that were anything but great. If past generations were entitled to put up the statues, people today are surely entitled to revise those past judgements and pull the old statues down.

To suppose that people today know all the context around those former heroes, and have made carefully reconsidered judgements, is of course considerably more optimistic even than supposing that past people knew all the context. Insofar as context is now missing, though, I think it's more justified, and not less, to remove the old statues.
Your last paragraph I don't quite understand: we shouldn't let the past have the last word, but yet we should design memorials so that the interpretation of them will be fixed for future generations?
We may not be able to stop our future successors from degenerating to the point of, say, celebrating the Holocaust, but perhaps our monuments can be one means of trying to prevent that, by guiding the thoughts of future generations. Perhaps people in the past were likewise trying to guide our thoughts; they were entitled to try. It may also be that our future successors are better than we are, and rightly abhor things that we now stupidly admire. We should do our best to create only monuments whose legitimacy will last as well as their substance, but no generation is entitled to impose its monuments on futurity just because it put the statues up first. Statuarium semper reformandum.

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Re: Julie Rowe on Year of Polygamy Podcast

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Maybe most people in the past did know the flaws as well as the merits of their heroes; I'm not sure about that but let's suppose it was so. Perhaps people who were around when the statues went up had soberly weighed up the flaws and the merits and concluded that the balance was positive enough to warrant admiration. Or perhaps they somehow understood that although the statues showed only the heroes themselves, that was merely a convention of statuary, and the meaning of the prominent public statues was really only to commemorate the great things that the heroes had done, without implying any assessment whatever of the heroes' careers as a whole, or their characters.
It seems uncontroversial to me to say that the bolded part best reflects the ethos of statue-building. They are not meant for analytical nuance. I don't think even the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is analytically nuanced. I see nothing controversial either in replacing or removing statues because people no longer know or care or respect the original reason for their being set-up. I'm not sure we're that far apart on this. Also, vandalizing statues is not exactly an act of analytical nuance, as I'm sure you'd agree. I was not trying to defend statues set up in most cases more than 100 years ago commemorating people that hardly anyone even remembers. I'm saying it's about something else, as in the case of most iconoclastic movements.
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