Category: Reason Hell

Freddy Nietzsche – The Fastest Draw in the West

A True Story – In Places.

Due to sundry events to which I am merely a spectator, I found myself on the online encyclopedia known as ‘Wikipedia’ the other day. Now due to a slip of the cursor, I clicked on the wrong link and found myself on the biography of one Johnny Ringo, a gentleman of the nineteenth-century persuasion.

420px-johnny_ringoNow my first thought was, I should imagine, much the same as any student of the romantic world of America’s wild west: “Wait, isn’t that a photograph of Friederich Nietzsche, well know nineteenth-century philosopher and author of Thus Spoke Zarathustra?”

I mean it does look an awful lot like him.

I mean it looks EXACTLY like him, more or less.

440px-nietzsche187aPut another way, this picture of the man who coined the term Übermensch ( is clearly the same person. Yes, yes, the haircut is slightly different but that’s the same expression, eyes, nose, huge moustache and THE SAME COLLAR AND TIE. It’s basically the same guy but photographed at a different angle and with better quality film.

‘No, wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘that’s nuts and you’ve been reading too many wacky internet theories and your critical powers have turned to mush you silly, silly man. Everybody in Victorian times looked like that even in countries not actually ruled by Queen Victoria.”

Now, I will concede that nineteenth-century photography and male grooming habits may disguise important different facial features because of fixed expressions, evolving technology and huge amounts of facial hair but I did a test. You can do it yourself. Look up pictures of Johnny Ringo’s contemporaries such as Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday or others involved in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and check to see if any of them:

  • Also look Nietzsche (answer: no they don’t)
  • Also look like any other contemporaneous notable philosophers (answer: no they don’t)

‘Yes, but it is still a superficial…’ let me stop you right there dear reader. Look at this image below. This is the two images above superimposed. I swear to the ghost of William of Ockham that I’ve only done the following to them: flipped the Johnny R image left-right, resized it uniformly and change the opacity of the layer so you can see Freddy N underneath.


The ears don’t quite match up and Freddy’s moustache is a bit wilder, but otherwise? That, people, is a match.

No, no, it is no use holding your palm to your face and shaking your head like that and mumbling ‘I remember when this blog used to make sense’. We have to face facts. Friedrich Nietzsche and Johnny Ringo were the same dodgy desperado! One, the scourge of Tomb Stone Arizona and the other the scourge of German philosophy!

‘OK, despite you demanding we all practise non-cynical scepticism and examine outrageous ideas critically, you have convinced me that these two people who led public lives on two different continents are the same person but how is that possible?’ – Good question!

So Freddy was born in 1844, Johnny was (ostensibly) born 1850 – an age difference easily obscured. Indeed, Freddy would have spent much of his life under the gentle and damp weather conditions of Prussia and hence probably would have looked young for his age among the rowdy cowboys of Cochise County, their skin prematurely aged by the harsh sun and dry dusty conditions.

Now up to about 1876, Freddy’s life is very public and well documented. Over that same period, an outlaw known as Johnny Ringo was active in Texas and was involved in the so-called Mason County War. Clearly, those two people are different.

In 1876 Freddy becomes disillusioned with Wagner and possibly is suffering from his experiences as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Now the “official” history of Nietzsche has him becoming an ‘independent’ philosopher – essentially breaking formal ties to institutions by 1879 and living off a pension and travelling with friends.

In reality* this was all a cover – an elaborate facade constructed with the aid of friends, relatives and accomplices. In truth, Freddy had left to become a cowboy outlaw in the Wild West. Entranced by lurid tales of gunslingers and adventures and a world where men were men and nobody could spell ‘nihilism’, Freddy had found the perfect antidote to his pessimism and disenchantment. Instead of watching Wagner play-acting as Seigfried, Freddy could make his way to a world where epic heroes still walked the earth and had their deeds written as sagas.

Somehow, Freddy managed to be both exactly right and exactly wrong about that.

In truth, the era of the Wild West was already in its final stages. Railroads now crossed the continent and law and order was being systematically (often brutally) established.

The one place that was still the epitome of the Wild West was Tombstone Arizona — a bustling but often lawless town, still growing off the back of mining boom. The miners were mainly immigrants – including many from Germany. It was there Freddy headed, taking up the identity of an outlaw who had died in Texas and the first thing he did was to join an outlaw gang of cowboys known as the Cochise County Cowboys.

“Johnny” first turns up in Tombstone in 1879 around the time Nietzsche ‘officially’ had resigned as professor of philology at the University of Basel. No more lecturing bored Swiss students! Now he’d be rustling cattle and raising mayhem!

The events in Tombstone over the next four years have become legendary. Nietzsche himself didn’t participate in the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral (despite what the movies say) but he tussled with Doc Holliday and pursued Wyatt Earp as part of a rival posse established by the county sheriff. Meanwhile, in Europe, Freddy’s friends staged elaborate ways of establishing that Nietzsche was still in Europe.

Officially, “Johnny” died in 1882 due to a gunshot to the head – which may have been self-inflicted or may have been an execution. In truth** we will never know whose body that really was but what we do know is that after an appropriate amount of time for Nietzsche to make his way back to Europe, he turns up in Leipzig looking for an academic position, having ‘split’ from his ‘friends’ Lou Salomé and Paul Rée (in truth*** he didn’t know them – they had been hired to maintain the cover story).

From there the official narrative starts up again. Nietzsche’s sister, inspired by Freddy’s wild west adventure decides in 1886 to start a new life in Paraguay with her antisemitic husband. “Been there, done that.”**** says Freddy, treating the ‘Americas’ as a single entity and not meaning that he literally had been to Paraguay.

And there you have it. The strange, fabricated forgotten history of Friedrich Nietzsche Outlaw Cowboy and how he nearly (but not quite) fought at the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

True story.*****

*[for some values of reality]

**[for some values of truth]

***[‘truth’ as in ‘make this story work’]

****[In German but it is from Nietzsche that we get this phrase]

*****[in some reality or other surely?]



Must we? Apparently.

Prominent former leaders of the Sad Puppies campaign have completely moved on from that whole business. So much so that it seems like a week can’t go by without one of them offering a new revised history of events.

This week it’s Sarah Hoyt.

Now I’m a lazy but forward thinking man and over two years ago I decided to save future me sometime.

But there are a few points in Hoyt’s post I didn’t cover there but most I’ve covered in later posts. So in order, here is a reply to Hoyt’s post:

Sarah Hoyt promised that Sad Puppies 5 would be a way of recommending books – it never eventuated. Running a divisive campaign to try and make others reshape the Hugos into something Hoyt wanted but couldn’t be bothered to do herself is not a great endorsement of the Sad Puppy campaign -even assuming Hoyt is being honest here.

The Wikipedia article in Sad Puppies doesn’t even use the word ‘supremacist’ and doesn’t call Sad Puppies “white supremacists” or propagate any lies about them:

“Then how did we think we could achieve our goals?” That’s not even a clever strawman.

“It starts with their being enormous racists.” [sigh] a few sentences ago, Hoyt was arguing that the Sad Puppies couldn’t be racist because some of the leading figures were members of ethnic minority groups. Many noted opponents of Sad Puppies were members of ethnic minority groups therefore one of both of Hoyt’s claims is false (hint: its both).

“They think they’re helping “minorities” and “the oppressed” by telling minorities and the oppressed how to think and feel, ” now I can’t say I’ve ever had much success telling people how to think and definitely not how to feel. Hoyt blithely assumes “minorities” are like easily led children and then lectures everybody else about racism…

“They assume that people of color (any color, even my spun-gold) can’t compete with standard white people.  They assume that women can’t compete with men.  They assume that gay people are fragile flowers who’ll be destroyed by the wrong word.” – I know that isn’t true about most of the so called “SJWs” than I know. However, I do know Brad Torgersen thinks PoC and women writers who have won a Hugo could only do so via ‘affirmative action’

“Academic jobs” –

“If you follow all those assumptions and you have some experience in Academia, you know that the left insists on giving awards on the basis of race, sex, etc, because that helps with university jobs.  (To be fair most of them also work in academia.)” – a special Hoyt combo move! Nope – firstly Hugo winners are generally not academics (I can think of two in recent years), a Hugo award wouldn’t help them much, the person who thinks women and PoC can’t compete is Sad Pup Brad Torgersen who keeps calling such wins “affirmative action” and denies that they are wins on merit.

“Ignored in all this is indie, of course, because you know, it doesn’t fit in the academic career plan.” – The Hugos rewards independent publishers and authors:

“So, you know, you can’t keep anyone from writing.  And with indie you can’t keep anyone from publishing.” True and yet notable Sad Pups have claimed that people with even less power over what gets published (including little old me) have been trying to sabotage careers.

“Ignored in all this too is the fact that writers write.” Then WRITE! Literally nobody on the left hand side of things is stopping or can stop Sarah Hoyt from writing.

Les Moulins de Mon Cœur

So the original French title of the song “Windmills of Your Mind” translates as “Windmills of My Heart”. Somebody with more talent than I could probably spin that factlet out into a lengthy essay on the difference between the Continental and Analytic strands of philosophy in the Twentieth Century.

Instead it behooves me to bow to the inevitable wheel within a wheel and present to you like a tunnel within a tunnel, like a turd within a loo, Vox Day reviewing Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life. Regular Link and Archive Link.

Fairs fair, I’ll concede to agree with a lot of what Vox Day writes about Peterson here. Elsewhere, Vox is going further off the rails trying to dismantle Peterson’s theory of truth. Of course, Peterson doesn’t actually have a theory of truth, he’s just spouting the first thing that comes into his head and then covering up the mess with argle-bargle. Vox’s main concern is that Peterson is offering a heretical alternative to Vox’s more extreme position on the question of ‘how pro-fascism can we be without admitting it’. Peterson I’ll grant is somebody who really doesn’t want to be a fascist but for reasons best known to him has accepted a whole pile of premises which makes him susceptible to right wing authoritarianism. Is ‘fascist ideation’ a concept? I feel uneasy just making up a term by adding ‘ideation’ to it.

“However, the more sophisticated reader cannot help but notice that Peterson does not follow his own rules, particularly the three which relate to speaking precisely, telling the truth, and getting one’s own house in order before trying to fix the world.”

Correct and I think this is the most obvious and negating of Peterson’s book. He fails on all three fronts in the book itself and even more broadly when you look at his wider statements, videos etc.

This next paragraph by Vox Day also is hard to disagree with:

“Peterson is an engaging and accessible writer when he is simply recounting events of the past or relating experiences from his own life. He is a sympathetic author, and he effectively communicates the way in which the tragedy and suffering he has experienced throughout his life have made a deep impression on his psyche. It is when he tries to wax profound and articulate his underlying philosophy that his writing invariably wades into a swamp of nonsensical name-dropping that is less Jungian than Joycean, a meandering waking stream of consciousness that not only fails to substantially support the nominal premise, but often bears no relationship to it whatsoever.”

After that Vox’s review becomes less insightful. His agenda here is to try and negate the influence of Peterson on people within Vox Day’s target audience – the ideologically adrift anti-left seeking order. His capacity to critique Peterson is limited by his inability to address many of Peterson’s more silly ideas because Vox shares many of them (e.g. IQ essentialism, dominance hierarchies as the main tool for analysing society etc.)

Vox correctly points out that Peterson is not a conventional Christian but then neither is Vox Day. He also says that Peterson is not of the right but fails to explain how he is of either the centre or the left. Vox is closer to understanding Peterson when he focuses on his essential incoherence but pushes on as if the contradictions Peterson pushes don’t matter and a single message can be divined within the details.

Who is worse? Vox is a clearer writer when it comes to non-fiction but then he says much worse things than Peterson does but then again Peterson seems to be a more prevelant gateway drug for this nonsense. It’s just a layers of appaling really…it’s like…it’s like…

Like a fascist reviewing fascists,
Like a heel reviewing heels,
Like some nonsense written clearly,
Like some similie on wheels,
Like some appalling human being
With a mega-selling book,
Like a wannabe sci-fi author,
With a podgy skin-head look,
Like a tunnel in a tunnel with a tunnel underneath,
Like a really boring lecture on the nature of belief,
Like a song with too many lyrics,
Like Canadian academe,
Like you really hate this party,
But you don’t want to make a scene,
Like the windmills that you start,
In the Netherlands of your heart.


No, that doesn’t settle it.

A Washington Post article about a research paper claims to have settled the question of whether to put one space or two spaces after a full-stop (or as Americans like to say a ‘period’*).

The research neatly encapsulates some of the elements of questions of objectivity and meaning that I keep returning to.

The research had two components. The first was about usage and is interesting but not consequential. The second is of more note. Using eye-tracking, the researchers measured how a number of people followed sentences they were reading. Using that data, they could compare the relative reading ease of texts that used a single space after a full-stop and texts that used two spaces.

The results showed a small advantage for two spaces. By ‘small’ I mean:

  • ‘comprehension was not affected by punctuation spacing’ i.e. there was no measurable difference in how well subjects understood the texts they were reading.
  • there was some evidence that ‘initial processing of the text was facilitated when periods were followed by two spaces’.

So practically, two-spaces was not obviously better but MAYBE it required a smaller effort to read, perhaps. Note this second conclusion requires its own chain of inference that’s not well established i.e. it assumes that the processing of the text was facilitated but that was not measured directly.

But the bigger issue (mentioned in the WP article but not in the abstract of the paper) was that the text used was… a monospaced font.

That does not make any of the findings in the report invalid. It doesn’t undermine the quality of the methodology used. It doesn’t make the findings less objective BUT it does entirely miss the point of the underlying argument.

The two-space versus one-space debate pertains to the transition from typewriters to modern wordprocessing. Classic typewriters had to use common widths between letters due to the mechanics of a typewriter, including a degree of error as to exactly where a letter might be placed. Modern word-processing uses typefaces where letters and the spacing around them are customised for not just individual letters but also for punctuation. The two-space versus one-space argument is one about the transition from classic typing to modern word-processing.

There is a parallel with drug trials here. For example a new drug or treatment might be compared with a placebo. That’s a scientifically legitimate approach to collecting data and looking at efficacy. However, its often not the relevant question. More pertinent is how the new drug compares with existing treatment rather than a placebo.

The point being – what is the underlying issue or what is the question being asked? These are more vague, more wooly aspects of scientific inquiry but also deeply important. The more clarity on those aspects help us judge whether empirical evidence is relevant to the question being asked.

However, my point above does not mean the research was wasted. It does demonstrate a couple of things:

  • The typing habit of using two spaces after a full stop had some merit.
  • The possible advantage of using two spaces is very small.

I don’t think either conclusion helps out the two-spacers much. The first implies social habits and vague aesthetics of people who type can be trusted – and that would tend towards favouring the one-spacer’s attitude to modern texts with modern fonts. The second implies that the cost-benefit of using two spaces is a best marginal and at worst a waste of time. Although, I’m clearly showing my one-spaced prejudices here.

*(As we are engaged in trivial quibbles of no actual consequence, let me just say that ‘period’ should be retired as a name for the full-stop. It should then be re-allocated to the n-dash whose role is often to indicate a period of time, such as when it joins two dates together. I also have opinions about hyphens and dashes that I will reserve for another post – I feel the controversy would just be WAY too much for you all.)

If Rabbits Fought Lobsters Who Would Win?

So, on average a rabbits weighs say 2 kg and I don’t know, maybe a lobster typically weighs 0.5 kg? Rabbits can be surprisingly aggressive but lobsters have a thick exoskeleton and claws. Obviously, rabbits can run away more easily but we haven’t determined where this conflict is occurring. Sure, a rabbit can adapt well to a wide range of terrestrial environments but they aren’t aquatic mammals and would simply drown if they tried to engage a lobster on the sea floor. You’d think that lobsters aren’t cut out for sustained warfare in burrows but if we extend our range of what we count as a ‘lobster’ then we’d need to consider the Engaeus aka the Tasmanian Burrowing Crayfish. Burrowing crayfish also live on mainland Australia in southern Victoria – so it’s not impossible that there are recorded cases of rabbits fighting crayfish. Having said that, if we are extending out the definition of “lobster” to a completely different species we may as well extend “rabbit” to include wombats.

Now imagine the same argument but I said that a rabbit weighs 55 pounds based on a misunderstanding of this article It is worthwhile considering if the quality of argument has actually got much worse if it included that error. One way to think of this is in terms of local versus global issues in an argument. I’m borrowing freely from how Imre Lakatos talked about counter-examples in mathematical arguments and applying it badly to the exact opposite – nonsensical arguments.

  • The rabbit mass error is an error but it has little impact on the whole argument (which is a silly argument). The scope of the error is highly limited. The pro-lobster side of the argument may feel happy when they debunk the error but their position hasn’t improved.
  • The redefinition argument, so as to include crayfish under ‘lobster’ has a much wider scope. It changes the nature of the argument and has a much broader impact.
  • Neither of those two issues actually address the broadest level of the argument which is that the premise is silly. Lobsters and rabbits are not in direct conflict because of the kinds of animals that they are. For them to actually be in a direct conflict they would need to be different kinds of animals and hence none of the actual features of either rabbit of lobsters is relevant to the question.

‘Yes, thank you for clarifying that,’ I hear you say as tiny voices in my head, ‘but what has this got to do with anything and could you maybe just draw more beard pictures instead?’

It’s Vox Day feuding with Jordan Peterson – yes I’m sure Vox would prefer wolves rather than rabbits but obviously, lobsters would beat wolves*.

I was tempted to discuss the argument in more depth but it really is about as silly as lobsters versus rabbits but with added racism (specifical anti-semitism). The problem with looking at either of their arguments in any detail is that they globally make little sense and are full of local errors. To discuss the local errors in any detail requires assuming for the sake of argument the more absurd premises – which would be one thing if we were looking at, say, homoeopathy but in this case, the absurd premises are particularly venomous ones i.e. anti-Semitic or more generally racist ones.

Both Peterson and Vox Day are IQ essentialists. That is they think

  • that IQ *is* intelligence (which it almost certainly isn’t),
  • and that evidence of hereditary aspects of IQ demonstrates that intelligence is overwhelmingly genetic (which is doubly questionable),
  • and evidence of some correlations between IQ and social success in modern societies demonstrates that social success is genetic (which is now a stack of suppositions),
  • and that different degrees of social success among different ethnic groups/nations is CAUSED by differences in IQ of those groups (which we can probably assume now is just plain wrong),
  • and that those differences are genetic.

It is a house of cards but one with some numbers based on research of very variable quality. Also, it is definitively a racist theory, as in it is literally a theory that asserts that different groups of humans are more or less inferior on a very broad range of traits due to inherent differences. I’ve discussed IQ many times before, so I won’t rehash all those arguments, other than to say the first point is the core error: we can collect interesting and useful numbers using scientific and ‘objective’ methods but the INTERPRETATION of those numbers is not simply established by having reliable numbers. That the numbers used in IQ arguments such as these tend not to be that reliable ANYWAY is a more local issue.

Peterson and others that we might call ‘moderate racists’ if that wasn’t an oxymoron, like these IQ essentialist style arguments because they see them as being a bulwark against demands for equality. For them, it demonstrates that modern societies are a meritocracy and that inequality of outcome is due to fundamental biological differences between people.

Vox Day’s ideology is far more overtly racist but the rationalisation is much the same. So shouldn’t Vox Day and Peterson be pals? Ah, you might think that but remember both Vox and Peterson also both believe strongly in dominance hierarchies as a biological imperative and as a kind of the social norm for masculine behaviour. Which is a kind of weird self-fulfilling psychological theory i.e. Peterson’s psychology is largely bunk but it does actually sort of work for people who believe Peterson’s psychology. Put another way: Vox and Peterson are warring lobsters. They’ll react to others encroaching on their territory as either:

  • Obviously superior lobsters – who they’ll acknowledge as such.
  • Lobsters of equivalent rank but who are both willing to stay a safe difference away in the neatly defined territory.
  • Rival lobsters that require a showy dominance display so they stick to their own territory.
  • Lower ranked lobsters who can be easily chased away.

Note, when I say ‘lobsters’ these are Petersonian-lobsters, not the actual crustaceans who actually have nothing to do with this at all. Also humans don’t really behave this way – this is a kind of self-imposed behaviour.

Peterson isn’t smart enough to impress Vox (here Vox is correct) but Peterson is getting a lot of fuss and attention as a thinker on the right. Hence, following the psychological theory of both of them, they have to fight. Specifically, they are fighting over anti-Semitism and when I say ‘fighting’, I think is mainly Vox moaning about Peterson rather than vice-versa.

Peterson decided to counter anti-Semitic arguments by arguing that the success of some Jewish people in Western society was due to on an average higher IQ of Ashkenazi Jews. That offends Vox as he likes to push anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Of course, the factual basis Peterson’s claims is based on weak and dodgy research and requires assuming complex social phenomenon can be explained by one numerical parameter. Vox’s could then mount a counter-argument that picks holes in Peterson’s position by pointing out errors and weaknesses. Now it doesn’t matter to Vox that many of the weaknesses he points out are actually the same weaknesses in Vox’s own arguments about IQ (e.g. over generalising from a weak study with few participants who aren’t a random sample) nor does it matter that neither of them address relevant questions about who exactly they are talking about.

Peterson set up his argument as a false dichotomy (success of some Jewish people in America being either genetics or conspiracy) and then arguing for ‘genetics’. By doing so, the very way he framed the argument helps more overt anti-Semites because somebody like Vox Day can point to weaknesses and errors in his argument (mainly local ones) and declare that they’ve proved the other part of the false dichotomy. Put another way: bad arguments generate worse arguments.

Peterson thinks he’s scoring a point against anti-Semitism when he uses what is racial theory in a positive light towards a group that has been persecuted and marginalised. However, there is never any positive way to use racism – all he manages is to create a strawman for more overt racists to knock over. The effect is like a ratchet of prejudice – Peterson pulls readers into accepting a set of dodgy ideas that once accepted make it difficult to avoid believing a whole set of even worse ideas.


*[wolves are basically just dogs and any dog I know, if it saw a lobster would just freak out and run away. So, in this specific case, the question has an answer: lobster beat wolves by being weird looking.]

Objectivity and stuff

I wanted to write about some of the interesting things people have been saying about reviewing but part of my brain obviously wants to talk about reason and evidence and those sorts of things. I guess I haven’t done much of that this year in attempt to look less like a philosophy professor.

Anyway – objectivity! The thing with objectivity as a word is that we (including myself) use it in a way that implies various things which maybe aren’t really part of what it means. Objectivity carries positive connotations and connotations of authority in contrast to subjectivity. Those connotations suggest impartial judgement and a lack of bias. That’s all well and good – words can mean whatever a community of users want them to mean but I think it creates confusion.

Here is a different sense of ‘objective’ – to say something is objective is to say that two people can follow the same steps/process and come up with the same answer reliably. Maybe we should use a different word for that but such processes are often described as ‘objective’ because they clearly contrast with subjective judgement.

The thing is that meaning does not in ANYWAY imply a lack of bias. Lots of systematic or automated processes can contain bias. Indeed we expect there to be biases in, for example, processes for collecting data. More extreme examples include machine learning algorithms which are inherently repeatable and ‘objective’ in that sense (and the sense that they operate post-human judgement) that nonetheless repeat human prejudices because those prejudices exist in the data they were trained on.

Other examples include the data on gender disparity in compensation for Uber drivers – the algorithm was not derived from human prejudices but there was still a pay disparity that arose from different working patterns that arose from deep-seated social disparities.

However, there is still an advantage here in terms of making information and data gathered more objective. Biases may not be eliminated but they are easier to see, identify and quantify.

Flipping back to ‘subjective’, I have discussed before both the concept of intersubjectivity (shared consensus opinions and beliefs that are not easily changed) as well as the possibility of their being objective facts about subjective opinions (e.g. my opinion that Star Trek: Discovery was flawed is subjective but it is an objective fact about the universe that I held that opinion).

Lastly the objective aspect of data can be mistaken for the more subjective interpretation of the data. In particular the wider meaning or significance of a data set is not established simply by the fact that the data is collected reliably or repeatedly.

Consider another topic: IQ. I’ve discussed before aspect of IQ and IQ testing and much of the pseudoscientific nonsense talked about it. Look at these two claims between Roberta and Bob:

  • Roberta: My IQ is higher than Bob’s.
  • Roberta: I am more intelligent than Bob.

The first statement may be an objective fact – it is certainly a claim that can be tested and evaluated by prescribed methods. The second statement is more problematic: it relies on opinions about IQ and the nature of intelligence that are not well established. The objectivity of the first statement does not establish the objectivity of the second. Nor does the apparent objectivity of the first imply that it does not have biases that may also impact wider claims based upon it.