The Power of No

The Four Oxford Moral PhilosophersPerhaps more than any other twentieth century philosopher, the late Mary Midgley understood that there were great conceptual misunderstandings emerging out of the deep commitments to the power of scientific thinking that began in the nineteenth century. She remarked that this confusion had permitted bias to be "smuggled in as if it were a technical matter only accessible to experts" - a warning written in 2003 that captures a great deal of what went wrong in 2020.

This extended role for the sciences where they are taken to possess an authority that could in itself never be scientific flows from the mythos of magical science I discussed back in January, and it is an entirely contemporary problem - indeed, I rather suspect it is the essential contemporary problem, of which others such as the environmental crisis (euphemistically concealed by talk of 'climate change') are only shadows and reflections. It is because so many have emotionally invested in the power of science, while so few have intellectually invested in understanding the intricacies of the actual workings of the sciences, that we find ourselves in strange places where nobody can say 'no' to even a ghastly mistake provided it is made in the 'name' of science.

To be responsible in relation to the work of the sciences, then, requires a certain vigilance to ensure that what we are doing when we invoke terms like 'scientific research' or phases like 'the science says' or 'scientists increasingly believe' is accurately reporting the state of research programmes, and not mistaking the findings of scientific research (which are always provisional) with specific doctrines that are neither a requirement for, nor a part of, the work of the sciences. As Midgley warned of such philosophical smuggling, a great deal of so-called 'anti-science' positions are reacting to these imported ideologies rather than the research programmes that are truly the activities central to scientific work. This is not only problematic because of the way it complicates all attempts to share scientific perspectives more widely, but also because these unnoticed doctrines "import irrelevant, inhuman standards into non-scientific aspects of life and lead people to neglect the relevant ones."

No philosopher has had greater influence upon me than Midgley, and this is not only because she was my first (and for a long time, my only) philosophical correspondent. I have always aspired towards - and all too often failed to reach - the clarity of language that Midgley was able to bring to bear on quite complex problems in her always-excellent books. For her, as she said to me in the interview I ran back in 2010, specialist terminology such as can be found in the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger "runs counter to my deep identification with everyday speech", and the essence of her work in philosophy was always written in a way that makes her far easier to read than Kant, or Wittgenstein, or any of the other staples of modern philosophy. Since I believe any philosophy excised from a general readership has sealed its own doom, I have always considered Midgley's philosophical methods exemplars for what a philosopher ought to be.

When it comes to my own work in philosophy of science, Midgley is more than just an influence, she is the foundation of my thinking. Again and again, she was able to return to the problems springing from the persistent illusion that a pronouncement made by a scientist carries with it an almost magical power to authorise (or de-authorise) certain actions. Yet this authority is not scientific, but metaphysical (non-testable); it is a faith of a very specific kind, and one that tends towards the same blindness that all human thinking is prone to: of excluding ourselves from consideration when it comes to the errors of thought we can see quite clearly in others. It is the clarity of her understanding of this point, and many others related to it, that makes Midgley the essential guide to the broader philosophical problems of the sciences.

Midgley was part of an exceptional group of four female philosophers who studied at Oxford University during the Second World War - from left to right in the photo above, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, Elizabeth Anscombe, and Iris Murdoch. Indeed, in my correspondence with Midgley while she was with us, she still could not resist calling one of her former classmates 'P Foot' in a way that felt like an in-joke from decades past. Recently, attention has finally been paid to these four astonishing women philosophers, a recognition that was long overdue - and there is even a certain gathering momentum to recognise them as collectively representing a movement. Rachael Wiseman tentatively suggests 'uncommon sense realism' or 'depictive metaphysics' as names for this philosophical school... I do not think these names will stick, but they are a solid attempt to capture the commonalities of these four astonishing thinkers.

Midgley associated the perspective shared by these four philosophers with the collective issuing of a resounding "No!" to the ethical currents of the early twentieth century. Writing in 2017, she remarked:

Did that make us four into a Philosophical School?

This is a loose term, but the point is worth discussing. We did not at once become a 4-headed unanimous squad of prophets. We each followed our own diverging paths in various directions. But what, for me, makes the unanimity-story still important is a persisting memory of the four of us sitting in Philippa’s front room and doing our collective best to answer the orthodoxies of the day, which we all saw as disastrous. As with many philosophical schools, the starting-point was a joint 'NO!'. No (that is) at once to divorcing Facts from Values, and – after a bit more preparation – also No to splitting mind off from matter. From this, a lot of metaphysical consequences would follow.

These two elements of the prevailing dogma that Midgley singled out are important because they do indeed frame both the significance of these four philosophers and the disastrous trajectory of the twentieth century, from which we are still reaping ever more grotesque fruit.

The split of mind from matter is taken as rejection of Descartes' philosophy, but as I've discussed many times previously, it is actually a perverse commitment to it. Whereas Descartes sought to demonstrate the necessity of treating mind as distinct from matter, today we are committed to the same framework yet inverted, such that we now agree wholeheartedly with Descartes' cleaving of existence - but only in so much as it allows us to make 'matter' (and not mind) the important side of the equation. The power of No had to be placed against this because in reducing who we are as beings to merely the action of molecules, we simultaneously created an illusion of humanity (indeed, of all animals) as merely mechanistic machines, and fatally undermined the conditions for understanding what a good life might be.

Relatedly, and perhaps more importantly, the attempt to divorce facts from values - a mistake that the Scottish philosopher David Hulme made in 1740 and then unsuccessfully retracted in 1758 - is perhaps the pivotal error of the twentieth century, from which so many other philosophical disasters have flowed. This is a mistake imported from moral philosophy, but the consequences of making it have bled out into everything, and especially into philosophy of science. Indeed, as the opening piece to this current philosophical 'campaign' already observed, the confused idea that the sciences can be 'value-free', from which the wilfully ignorant state of pseudoscience flows, emanates precisely from this horrible misunderstanding of both facts and values, to which the power of No had to stand up in opposition.

It is worth reflecting upon the contributions of Midgley's three friends at Oxford, and how they relate to this resistance against the orthodox philosophy of mid-twentieth century Europe. Elizabeth Anscombe is sadly most famous for being Wittgenstein's student, and although that connection with Wittgenstein is important (as Midgley attests) it is worth noting that the four philosophers rarely saw him, even though his ground-breaking philosophical work was instrumental to developing their ways of thinking about the world. Midgley speaks of how Anscombe handed out loose-leaf bundles of papers containing Wittgenstein's notes (what are now called 'the Blue and Brown Books', and would go on to become Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty)... it is hard not to be slightly envious of this chance to be personally connected to what would prove to be the most influential work of twentieth century philosophy. (Heidegger's Being and Time - the likely contender to this dubious crown - is read solely by philosophers; Wittgenstein, on the other hand, was also taken up by psychologists, a rare honour for any philosopher!)

Anscombe, alas, had the misfortune of being too overtly influenced by her Catholicism, and thus was too easily dismissed by the philosophical establishment. Academic philosophy has tended to treat religious commitments as something that can be overlooked as an indulgence in men (it is routinely overlooked for Wittgenstein, for instance, despite its central place in his work as a philosopher), yet it is almost always perceived as a fatal flaw in women, for whom the path to being taken seriously was (and perhaps still is) to act and think as much like a man as possible. Nonetheless, Anscombe's paper "Modern Moral Philosophy" is perhaps the single most important critique of consequentialism ever written. This term 'consequentialism' marks the belief that what matters beyond everything else in our ethics are outcomes, and this specific name was invented by Anscombe and is still widely used by philosophers today - generally without even a passing reference to her work! She remarks of this narrow focus upon outcomes that this approach...

...leads to its being quite impossible to estimate the badness of an action except in the light of expected consequences. But if so, then you must estimate the badness in the light of the consequences you expect; and so it will follow that you can exculpate yourself from the actual consequences of the most disgraceful actions, as long as you can make out a case for not having foreseen them.

A more apposite summary of the disaster that was 2020 I have not seen.

Philippa Foot is known for being the creator of so-called 'trolley problems', and in an irony that is now so common that it will not raise any eyebrows whatsoever, her purposes in using these thought experiments was diametrically opposed to how they are now used today. As I have written about in Chaos Ethics and elsewhere, trolley problems have come to be deployed as a convenient way of fooling people into accepting consequentialist thinking as necessary by making the truths of mathematics seem to possess moral rather than merely logical truth, and thus a means of luring people into acting and thinking atrociously (as Anscombe clearly warned would happen, and as was already happening in the early years of the twentieth century). Foot could not possibly be blamed for this absurd misuse of her toolbox, and the lack of attention to her work in moral philosophy is unfortunate, since she insightfully engaged with the attempt to divorce facts from values in ways that are still well worth reading. I have been particularly struck by her concept that injustice can be understood as a kind of injury, and therefore we have rational reasons to avoid injustice - another idea that bears gainfully upon many of the grim events of 2020.

Iris Murdoch had the fortune or misfortune (depending upon how you wish to view the matter) of having succeeded in writing excellent novels, and therefore of enjoying critical and indeed commercial success - she even scored a 'Dame' in the Queen's 1987 honours list, something no other philosopher has ever achieved. This has allowed Murdoch's philosophical thinking to be roundly ignored, since novels are deemed too frivolous a form for philosophising; even Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus are only grudgingly accepted as philosophers these days, having chosen novels over treatises. The idea that a contemporary academic philosopher would choose a novel as their preferred medium is one that doesn't even need scoffing at - despite the self-evident fact that writing a novel allows philosophical concepts to propagate far more effectively than writing a series of impenetrable arguments for echo chamber journals.

Since she never developed any explicit moral theory, attempts to summarise her position will always be a simplification - although as the case of Philippa Foot demonstrates, explicit theorising is in fact no defence against this either. However, her collection of essays, The Sovereignty of Good, does provide an outstanding skeleton key for understanding Murdoch's moral philosophy:

The self, the place where we live, is a place of illusion. Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself, to see and to respond to the real world in the light of a virtuous consciousness. This is the non-metaphysical meaning of the idea of transcendence to which philosophers have so constantly resorted in their explanations of goodness. 'Good is a transcendent reality' means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is. It is an empirical fact about human nature that this attempt cannot be entirely successful.

Murdoch's intuition that there was an irreducible plurality to the moral 'fields of force' hinged upon the idea that there is a sense of unity haunting our thinking about ethics, and followed Plato in naming this unity 'good'. She too used the power of No that the four philosophers unleashed to tackle the crises they jointly perceived. But she did so through the methods of the arts because she believed, with good reason, that this was an approach with the capacity to wield the greatest influence. I hope and trust that through her novels she did in fact attain precisely what she set out to achieve.

As the twentieth century ended, the power of No has been increasingly taken up as a feminine power. The phrase "No means no" has become a commonplace, the meaning of which is that consent must necessarily be explicit because the risks of implying consent are too terrible to permit. Sadly, this is often meant to apply solely in the context of rape, since in truth the confused idea that we can consent to that which we are vocally objecting to has equal application in politics, whereby consent is all too often assumed to have been implied merely by election, and therefore that democracy is solely about choosing who should wield power and not about perpetually solving the recurring problem of how we should all live together.

But if I leave this discussion of the power of No and the four extraordinary women who choose to wield their philosophy under this unstated banner at this point, it will only further the feminist stereotype that women want to undermine and destroy. And this is a terrible misrepresentation not only of women and feminists, but also of what Midgley, Anscombe, Foot, and Murdoch strove towards. It will foreground their opposition to philosophical orthodoxy and not what they were seeking to defend. For the true power of No is not in denial but in resistance, and all effective resistance is grounded in defence of the good, however that needs to be construed.

The four Oxford moral philosophers represented a defence of the good life as it had been articulated by the ghosts of philosophy past, and as it had yet to be articulated in the spirit of philosophy yet to come. They unleashed the power of No in order to resist attempts to simplify, obfuscate, and distort the nature of human existence and the moral decisions consequent upon it. Of the four, only Midgley took on this vital struggle upon the battleground of philosophy of science, and if I have tended to favour her work it is almost certainly because my own conflicted and tortured relationship with the sciences - which I love and therefore recoil in horror when they are distorted, yet also fear because the vision we have unthinkingly chosen for them flirts so blatantly with catastrophe.

Midgley saw with immense clarity the way that non-scientific dogmas and orthodoxies could corrupt and undermine the work of the sciences, and sited that discussion directly in the alleged conflict between science and religion because she understood, with an insight that far outstrips any of her contemporaries, the immense danger of this artificial split, which mirrors the misguided split between facts and values or between mind and matter. To claim facts and matter 'for science' is to attempt to subjugate values and mind, and therefore to gut democracy, freedom, and indeed truth. It reduces the sciences to dogmatic caricatures of their true beauty and worth, and affords to anyone willing to wield this tainted sceptre of "following the science" an authority they neither truly possess nor justly deserve. Tied up in this mistake is the demonisation of religion as 'anti-science' - rather than, as history shows us, giving birth to every science as we now understand this term. It is perhaps the quintessential mistake made by those who claim to love science, yet who deceive themselves by falling prey of what Murdoch warns we are all deceived by: ourselves.

Against any and all such attempts to flatten and oppress the beauty of human existence we can and must join together in raising up the power of No, again, again, and ever again, unceasingly, if we are to have any hope of defending what is good in this world. When we stop, when we decide that we should let injustice that has been misrepresented as necessity, or bias that has been misrepresented as unchallengeable truth, happen without resistance - whatever good reason we may claim for doing so - we betray the efforts of all those who came before us and cleared the way for us all to try to make a good life together. In this neverending project, these four women will be our invaluable allies, if only we are willing to listen to the immense and incalculable wisdom they have bequeathed to us.

Unattributed Mary Midgley quotes in this piece are from her 2003 book, The Myths we Live By.


Coming Up

Frankenstein LabA week from today, Act II of the Philosophy of Science 'campaign' will resume... I've realised at this point that the name of this particular adventure is The Magical Science Campaign, since its theme is precisely the disparity between people's feelings about the sciences and the actual practices of scientists. I started out thinking this was a mini-campaign, but it's clear at this point that it is a fully-fledged epic like the Metaphysics Campaign and the Ethics Campaign before it.

In this second Act, we will begin by exploring the greatest philosophical resistance movement of our time, the Four Oxford Moral Philosophers, then we'll venture forth to explore relationships between the sciences and other aspects of the human experience - specifically religion, journalism, and ultimately, death. From providing a framework of the problem (the state of pseudoscience, and the way magical science can trigger that collapse of scientific practice), these pieces confront some of the symptoms of the current epistemic crisis and perhaps also illuminate some of its causes too.

The Game resumes in earnest next Tuesday.


Coming Out

Contains confessions that some people might find confusing, insulting, or misconstrue as a joke, as well as the implication of a strong swear word.

I Want To Break Free"I want to break free" exclaimed Freddie Mercury in 1984, as his band mates nervously play along with his cross-dressing music video extravaganza. Don't we all, dear Freddie! And it feels like it might indeed be time for me to break free and come out... but come out as what? Christian, Discordian, drug-user, autistic, trans, bisexual, straight - so many options! Let's consider my choices.

It always felt like a big deal for me to come out as a drug-user - it was one of the reasons I was most nervous about publishing Chaos Ethics. Friends told me I was worrying unduly, I suppose because from their perspective this was no biggie. After all, a huge volume of entertainment media originating from the United States glorifies and revels in drug-taking, and has done for decades. Not to mention that the US exports vast quantities of mind-altering drugs like methylphenidate/Ritalin and fluoxetine/Prozac that have been conveniently labelled 'medicinal', and therefore legitimate for taxation. Still, of all the things I've already come out about, this one was the hardest for me, the one that most felt like 'coming out' in the way that gay people coming out in the late twentieth century meant the term - as confessing something intimate about myself that others would judge, or even persecute me for. Of all the things I've come out about over the years, this one was by far the most difficult for me, and in part because of my Christian childhood.

I suppose that's another option - come out as Christian - but there's not much point in this any more, since it's quite well-known that I identify as a Zen Sufi Hindu Christian Discordian, and of those five religions that I practice (often badly) coming out as Christian is the only thing that would have any impact, and I've been that all my life. Indeed, I already had to come out as a Christian when I was in my early teens, one of only three children in my rural Middle School in the backwaters of Great Britain to identify openly as Christian, to sing hymns in assembly loudly and proudly while the entirety of the rest of the school children flatly refused and giggled into their hands about me, singing alone...

Perhaps it is hard for folks in the United States to appreciate how difficult it was for me to stand up and be counted for what was in my heart while in middle school and high school, because they are so used to the relationship between Christian and atheist being the reverse of what it was for me in a provincial school in England in the early 1980s. After all, my future wife's high school experiences in Tennessee were the inverse of mine, taking flak from her classmates for not being Christian enough, as if that sentence were not in itself utterly self-contradictory! But nobody these days thinks Christians rational, which is ironic since our entire concept of what it means to be rational is grounded in Christian thought.

Or I could come out as the Acting Omnibenevolent Polyfather of the Virginity in Gold, and thus the worldwide head of the Discordian Society. But I already came out as this during my years living in London, a time when I rejected my Christianity as foolish nonsense and so embraced a religion that was foolish nonsense by design. But honestly, nobody cares about this, and they'd care even less about my Zen Buddhism that bridged the gap between the two, my Hindu theology that finally resolved all my problems with Christian theology, or my acceptance of the Sufi teachings as to the underlying unity of all authentic religious practice. And if no-one is shocked or (equivalently) proud of me for coming out as Discordian, if I can't inspire somebody else to have the courage to stand up as a Discordian, is there really any point in doing so...?

I suppose I could come out over some mental health issue. But I'm pretty sure I've already discussed my cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder) here on this blog, and that's the only diagnosis I have, and you can't come out on mental health if you don't have a diagnosis, such is the power of doctors in the eyes of my contemporaries. What I really ought to do if I was going to come out over mental health issues is to come out as autistic, since clearly the state of that diagnostic category is now sufficiently broad to accept me. Yet I don't have a diagnosis for any such condition and, worse, I actively resist attaining that diagnosis - and not because I'm ashamed of the obvious fact that I could indeed be placed on the autistic spectrum. On the contrary, I have such love and respect for the autistic people in my life I could never possibly feel any shame for being like them. It's just that I cannot truly understand or appreciate this situation where a doctor is a requirement for admitting or discovering who you are. It's why I did not pursue the process of diagnosis any further, even though the doctor who diagnosed my cyclothymia wanted me to do so. I don't want to give doctors anything like that power over my life.

Which brings me to coming out as trans. Like autistic, I could do this... I feel my feminine side extremely strongly, I'm very comfortable wearing a dress (I did so at my Discordian wedding at Alderly Edge in 2000, amongst other times), and I have great love and respect for my trans friends. But the trans identity as it is currently being practised depends upon a gender metaphysics (i.e. a set of non-testable beliefs) that I don't entirely share. Furthermore, since I am comfortable with both my masculinity and my femininity, and consider the fact of my having a penis to be one of the more incidental aspects of who I am, it doesn't feel like I should come out as trans. Indeed, I feel that it would be disrespectful to those in the trans community who struggle over gender identity issues for me to do so.

Funny, really, because I also feel like that particular political community is constantly trying to 'out' me as trans by insisting that if I am not going to do so I must come out as 'cis'. But cis has been defined as a position in which a doctor I never truly met had power over me by virtue of assigning me my gender or my sex, according to which set of gender metaphysics you've chosen to wield. For the very same reason I cannot in good conscience 'come out as autistic' I can't 'come out as cis', nor even really think that the concept of 'cis' is advancing the cause of trans liberty in the way it was intended to. I rather fear it has set it back, and precipitated the uncivil war between lesbian feminists and trans activists by bringing two rival concepts of gender metaphysics into vicious conflict.

At the very least, ought I not to state what my pronouns are, to show solidarity with the trans community? Well, on this I suppose I really could come out, as the most coherent statement I can make about 'my pronouns' would be "make your best guess, I won't be offended", which I feel confident some trans supporters would find deeply offensive. But I'm not going to come out as something just to offend people - that really would be a betrayal of who I am. And I seriously don't care if you call me he, she, che, or beep boop beep as long as you respect me and my ideas. If you feel its meaningful to share your pronouns, knock yourself out, but please don't force me into identifying as something that really doesn't describe me very well, whether its trans or cis, or anything else. I can respect your meaningful categories of existence without having to live in them.

There again, I could come out as bisexual in that I am capable of having sexual feelings for people irrespective of whether they possess a vagina while I quite evidently have a penis. Indeed, all my earliest stumbling steps towards sexuality were obviously gay, for all that the great love affairs of my life have been with women (and mostly unrequited at that, my wonderful wife notwithstanding). But bisexual is another of those terms that just doesn't quite ring true to who I am, and at best it has been a term of convenience to use while hanging out with the LGBT crowd at University of Manchester in the early 90s. And even then, I never really pushed any aspect of that as part of my identity. I wasn't hanging out with those wonderful people to find a lover, it was just that I adored performing karaoke with a community that sings with almost as much passion as black Christians.

I suppose I could come out as straight (are we allowed to do this yet...?), but again, since I have and can have sexual feelings for non-female people that feels like the wrong label. And now we have 'pansexual' as an option, but it's hard for me to read that word and not think it means "I'll f___ anything", which simply isn't true about me in any sense. I always strived to have sex with few people, not many, and my proudest sexual achievement was choosing not to have sex with a woman who wanted me but whom I did not respect, even though as a horny undergraduate I really wanted to get laid. Basically, I don't quite understand the concept of sexual 'conquest', since what I was seeking while I was dating was solace rather than gratification, a kindred spirit rather than a throwaway sexual partner. I love sex, but not enough to engage in it indiscriminately. Honestly, if there's a word in circulation that describes my sexuality other than 'human' I don't know what it would be.

Maybe I could come out with my trigger warnings. But I think I only have one, and its people talking about trigger warnings as if their prior trauma was a weapon to beat others over the head with, and not something to be approached with sensitivity. And I worry greatly about this shift from respect being something that exists between us as our natural state of being, as the Enlightenment philosophers once saw the matter, to becoming an excuse to turn to the law of nations towards enforcing behavioural norms that then inevitably become anything but respectful. I will be as respectful of your prior traumas as I can be, and I hope you can afford the same courtesy to me... but please don't try to order me about and claim it's a question of respect. There is enough of a shortage of respect these days without undermining it yet further.

So I guess there's only one thing left that I can come out about, something that I'm embarrassed by, something that others might identify with but would also never consider coming out as, because none of us have ever come out as this before, and there's a tangible shame attached to being this way. Something that I have been derided for, and that I might take further derision from coming out about. But it's the only thing left in my bucket of identities that I can hope to come out about, and it feels about time to break free and come out as something...

I am a person who pronounces 'melee' as 'muh-lee', not 'may-lay'.

What the hell, you may be thinking, you cannot possibly be serious! But I am. Thanks in part to Nintendo's Smash Brothers franchise, almost nobody today is mistaken about how 'melee' is supposed to be pronounced, yet I still say 'muh-lee', and I do so because I learned 99% of my vocabulary from reading books, and when I read Tom Moldvay's Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons in 1981 my French was too rudimentary to recognise the expected pronunciation of the word. So I said 'muh-lee', and still do. And this is embarrassing, of course, because it's not the done thing, it's not what everyone else does. But it is also who I am. I am a person who says 'muh-lee'.

And saying this, bringing this out into the open, I feel a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I hope that I live to see that others have the courage to come out as a person who says 'muh-lee'. I hope and pray that some day the lexicographers who maintain the Oxford English Dictionary (a colossal two volume 'Shorter' version of which has pride of place on one of my bookshelves) will include this pronunciation as an accepted alternative, and recognise the thousands of us tabletop role-players who say 'muh-lee'... But it probably won't happen, since we are an endangered species now that reading books has been replaced with watching videos, and tables have been replaced with mandatory screens. This vital aspect of who I am is perhaps already incomprehensible to a great many people.

Although I write these words in jest, I do so in utter seriousness - as a Discordian, I understand that jokes can be serious, that serious things can be funny, and that humanity has a giant stick up its butt that we not only cannot remove we don't want to. And that's hilarious, and tragic, and wonderful, and terrible, and much more besides. Because to be human is not to be just one kind of thing, and any attempt to reduce the immense diversity of human experience to preconceived boxes to check or uncheck is either vile or naïve, and every set of prescribed labels we make is ultimately just a means of excluding yet another way of being human, indeed, all those other ways of being we have not even begun to think about.

I deeply and wholly desire we could just respect one another as fellow equal beings and not as some preset political identity above and beyond 'human', not because political identities aren't important - they surely are! - but because replacing our diversity of experience with preset political identities is damaging to the human experience. Perhaps worse is exporting those preset identities around the world as gospel truth, and even asking those in other countries to pay for the privilege of being exposed to our narrow view of how things must be via entertainment media. This is a terrible way of building political communities that can negotiate between the conflicting conceptions of a good life that inevitably collide when we assert our own truths as necessary categories that others must adopt in their thinking.

The truth is, I am many things, probably many more than the things I have chosen to talk about in this piece. And you are too. Yes, you may need to come out, especially if you have found some truth about yourself that is painful to admit, but even more painful to deny. That, after all, is why in the late twentieth century those who knew that homosexuality was an essential part of who they were had to come out, they had to do it in order to be true to themselves, and to encourage others to do the same, so that they could show solidarity with one another. But please don't come out just to draw attention to yourself, and try not to come out in a way that fails to respect the diversity of those around you. Come out because you must, not because you don't know what else you can do to get noticed.

I remember being utterly disgusted in 1991 by the fuss that was being made about Freddie Mercury when he came out in his dying weeks as gay... I think it annoyed me at the time (it does not now), because he was hailed as heroic even though the stakes were so low at that point in his life it seemed to dilute any viable concept of heroism to do so. But more than that, I came to realise he didn't in fact come out as gay at all. Indeed, he never adopted any such identity in his lifetime. He came out as having HIV and of dying of AIDS, and the press drew their own conclusions, especially since he was in a long-term relationship with a man. They had to fit him into a box. But they could have instead put him in the box marked 'Parsi' or 'Zoroastrian' (another persecuted minority, and one with far less political power than the gay community), or the box marked 'South Asian' or 'Non-White' (he was born on the island of Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara) and no doubt much more beside. But the press, or the public, should never be the ones to try to assign someone their identity. The process of establishing who we are is personal to ourselves, and always must be.

Be who you must be. Testify as to who you are if you need to - and especially if you know there are others who need the inspiration of your courage so that they too can be who they must be. But please, stop wielding identities as weapons to beat your neighbours with, and please try to curtail the extent that national law intrudes upon what has always been - what always must be - a deeply personal matter. I am a person who says 'muh-lee'. But that is not all of who I am or could be. Respect me, first and foremost, the way I respect you: as a fellow human being. If we can do that, perhaps we might yet find a way of living together.

Are you a person who says 'muh-lee'? Consider coming out! At time of writing, there is only one person in the world to whom this identity applies to.


Intermission and Ice Cream

IntermissionAre you old enough to remember when movies stopped after the first few reels and a person came down the aisles to sell ice cream...? I think this was all over by the end of the 1980s. The last movie I recall with an intermission was David Lynch's sumptuous adaptation of Dune, which he apparently hated - a view shared, I think, by most of the audience at the screening I was at in 1984! I am a fan of intermission as a concept, and grateful that it survives in the theatre if not in the movie theatre.

And in the spirit of Intermission, please take this opportunity to get your own metaphorical ice creams, as I'm not ready to resume my musings on our tortured relationship with the sciences just yet. The new pieces for the Philosophy of Science mini-campaign are coming along quite robustly, but they're fighting among themselves as some things want to come out that I hadn't originally intended and I'm having to give them space to breath. As a result, I don't think I'll be running the second act until April.

In the meantime, I shall leave you with an intermezzo piece on personal identity that actually connects to a forthcoming Philosophy of Science piece but stands better on its own. It turned out to be about Freddie Mercury. But it was always also about me. And I suspect it's also about a few other people as well... maybe everyone. We'll see. It's called 'Coming Out'. You can read it tomorrow.

Please return to your seats before the next reel commences.


Introducing... Twilight Tunnels

The incredible new project from ihobo games: Twilight Tunnels. Coming from the far future soon!Twilight Tunnels Logo

Wield powers of Time, Space, Mass and Energy in the first ever Ultratech FPS Dungeon Crawler, set against the final days of Planet Earth in the year 7,600,000,000 AD

  • Quantum Elements: manipulate Time to see the past and slow foes, or use Space to hover, lift, and bend light, Mass to apply incredible shattering force, or Energy to vaporise steel!
  • Unleash Weaponry Forged at the End of Time: choose two weapon patterns from anywhen in history before each Raid, then seek Elemental power sources to weave them into your hands!
  • 10 minute Survival Raids: you begin each Raid with nothing, but with one advantage - a choice of which Quantum Element power source you appear next to… Choose wisely!

High risk, 10 minute, ultratech dungeon raids – can you survive?

Elemental Lighting v2bc.Composite + transparencyThese four screenshots show how the world looks when wielding each of the four Quantum Elements - the tunnels beneath the Dying Earth look completely different depending upon which power source you choose to nanoweave your weapons. Four Quantum Elements, infinite tactical variations!


Remembering the Wretched Firewatch

The good and excellent critic of all media, Jed Pressgrove, has kindly replied to last year's A Tale of Two Walking Simulators: Firewatch with his own thoughtful diatribe, Remembering the Wretched Firewatch. Here's an extract about which I have no disagreements whatsoever:

Nothing between 2016 and today has convinced me to stop hating the term “walking simulator.” I don’t believe it’s an acceptable descriptor, as you suggest. I believe it’s an abomination similar to Metroidvania (which gives too much credit to Castlevania), roguelike (used by, for the most part, people who have never played Rogue and thus don’t know what it’s “like”), shmup (toddler’s gibberish), and Soulsborne (what did Bloodborne even accomplish that warrants this reference?). 

You can check out Jed's acerbic vitriol (not directed at me, I might add!) over at his always opinionated, always fascinating Game Bias blog, the rumours of the death of which were clearly greatly exaggerated! (Also, if it seems wrong to take a year to reply to a letter, please note that it took me four years to reply to Jed's original review of Firewatch... There is no concept of time in the Republic of Letters - only virtuous discourse!)

Cross-posted from ihobo.com.

 


Fun with Fascism

A blog-letter to Chris Billows of The Journals of Doc Surge as part of the Republic of Bloggers. This letter contains discussion of death statistics which some people may find distressing.

Banksy.Flower ThrowerDear Chris,

Fascists! Fascists everywhere! They're after your jobs, they're after your homes, they're after your unborn children! They want to take away your rights, they want to take away your healthcare, they want to take away your very lives! Oh the terrible things they do, these fascists, and the worse things they want to do - we must rise up and force the State to come crashing down with all the power of the law and its enforcers so that the fascists can be quelled and dispelled. In short, we must become fascists or else the fascists will win!

Many thanks for your blog-letter, Too Comfortable to Consider Politics, which puts me back in dialogue with a rather old version of myself, 2006's younger model, who was still willing to write about Temperament Theory. Why did I stop...? It wasn't that I thought this model had lost its heuristic value, it is still a great tool for the kind of cartoon thought experiments that go on in Considering Politics, and I certainly don't consider Big 5 to have solved any of the methodological flaws that bedevil these kinds of personality inventories. But I came to realise that mainstream psychologists were very defensive of their territory - despite not really having worked out what that territory was, or what a 'mainstream' version of psychology might actually look like. I thought it best to pick other battles.

I began to write more and more about philosophy, because it satisfied my desire for more complex and subtle ways of thinking, and while I did not stop reading and writing about psychological issues, I did so mainly from the perspective of Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance and Paul Ekman's emotion theories going forward. These were the most secure islands in the stormy seas of psychology, and terribly helpful for understanding how and why we play games too. But I still have conversations in terms of Temperament Theory with others who share the terminology, just as I can still talk about God with a Christian or a Hindu, or riff on materialist themes with a positivist... what we say often needs to reflect who we are speaking with. 2006-me did not need to consider this; he just wrote what he was thinking about. In the interim I have become more focused upon why I am writing, and that changes what I write about too.

I believe you are broadly correct in your analysis of the role of comfort in Western Liberal Democracy, which ever since hearing eclectic French musician's Rubin Steiner's album Say Hello to the Dawn of Paradox, I have begun (in a somewhat impish fashion) to think of as 'Industrial Liberal Fascism'. But this 'F' word is one we cannot safely use to communicate, alas, because it inconveniently means different things to different people. Originally, of course, 'Fascist' was a specific political party in Italy, and the name descends from the Italian word 'fascio', meaning just 'group'. As a crude approximation, we might take Mussolini's doctrine for national government as consisting of three key elements:

  1. A dictatorship…
  2. …where violently repressive means…
  3. …enforce an inescapable role for the state

Depending who you talk to, you’ll hear Fascism talked about as a right-wing, ultranationalist movement, or you’ll hear how liberal political advocates in the 1920s secured the rise to power of Mussolini’s fascists (both correct, by the way). Liberals in the US identify ‘fascism’ with (1) and (2) in the definition above, and conservatives with (2) and (3), by substituting ‘ideologically repressive’ for ‘violently repressive’ or by associating ‘violence’ with different acts (abortion, for instance). As a result, ‘fascist’ is an insult that can be used against left or right with equipoise, with the inevitable result that the everyone in the US can become hysterical about the rise of fascism in their nation without ever once noticing their own complicity in bringing this about.

Your allegation is that political disenfranchisement occurs because people get too comfortable, and engaging in politics is "a form of social warfare" that therefore only happens because people are forced out of their comfort zone by the loss of welfare (both in the sense of well-being, and in the sense of government programmes for supporting citizens). But this analysis, while broadly correct, perhaps misses two subtle distinctions about 'comfort' and 'politics' that I should like to tease out in reply.

Let us start with 'comfort'. We are an imaginative species - indeed, the most imaginative species we know. It gives us almost everything worthwhile in human life, but it also inevitably causes enormous problems because we can imaginatively project ourselves into other situations that we do not understand without ever once noticing our lack of understanding. Thus, for instance, the rush to provide computers to so-called 'Third World' countries. These computers have caused tremendous problems for us, but we don't like to think about that, and we prefer to see them as a source of comfort, which of course they are as well. Therefore, anyone without those computers has missed out. We ought to send those poor people abroad computers. Or, to put it another way, having reorganised these geographic regions into vassal states of our seafaring empires and gearing their economies solely for exporting resources to the 'First World' we now want to sell them 'First World' technology and increase the power and influence of profit-centred organisations like Google and Apple that it is far from obvious can be trusted at home, let alone further afield.

Similarly, I am at a loss to understand why advocates for the Trans community in the US felt it necessary to try and wield influence in British politics. My trans friends in the UK were not, in fact, crying out for this 'assistance' (although I have no trans friends under the age of 30, so perhaps younger people were?). But as a result of this attempted political intervention, the trans community has lost a great deal of support on this side of the Atlantic, and in the past five years violence against trans people has skyrocketed (in the most extreme assessment, quadrupling in that period). Not to mention the verbal abuse that US trans advocates have piled upon British lesbians and their allies (and vice versa!)... a "form of social warfare" indeed. And a heartbreaking one; as a long-time supporter of the wonderfully eclectic rag-tag alliance that flies a rainbow as its flag, it has been devastating to watch the trans and lesbian communities go to political war against each other, bringing to a savage end a co-operation that may well have been the last gasp of the civil rights movements.

Yet this depressing turn of affairs has been dwarfed by the even more bleak and dispiriting events of 2020, when the worst respiratory infection pandemic in some fifty years or so was rendered far, far more destructive and damaging by the descent of the medical discourses into a state of pseudoscience. Thus, in strict contradistinction to the urging of both epidemiologists and the WHO, the UK government let loose its duplicitous war cry of "follow the science!" before initiating a string of draconian national lockdowns that have sacrificed an entire generation's mental health and prospects, and unleashed hardship disproportionately upon our poorer citizens - all against an infection that was arguably already endemic, and all without adequate scientific monitoring to determine the terrible effects of this brutal quasi-fascist experiment. And what do you know, the point of origin of the disruption of the very research networks that could have helped us make good decisions when they were desperately needed was once again the United States, where the political left and the political right argued between a conception of the pandemic that was wildly over-exaggerated and one that was utterly dismissive, with the net result that many people who would not have died last year did in fact do so, including those middle aged people with heart disease or diabetes who died at home rather than risk going to hospital and catching an infection that was quite unlikely to have killed them.

The tragedy of SARS-CoV2 is not just what it has caused in each country, although this is devastatingly sad, but also what it has prevented happening between countries. While we do not yet have the WHO's estimated global mortality statistics for 2020, we have already had a warning from Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, about what the disruption of the support networks for malaria treatments in Africa last year will ultimately mean - namely between 10,000 and 100,000 additional deaths on top of the 400,000 that die from this disease every year, the vast majority of them babies and toddlers. I fear we will completely ignore these casualties, brushed under the carpet as merely another unfortunate consequence of the COVID-19 situation. Yet we might just as well link these heart-breaking deaths to a lack of support from their former colonial oppressors, who were too busy arguing about face masks to prove to the world, rather than to their neighbours, that black lives really do matter.

Make no mistake, this entire debacle represents the greatest collective failure of world citizens and their governments since World War II - which, to be fair, was several orders of magnitude more tragic as a global event. It is also the greatest failure of the scientific community in my lifetime, and I cannot escape the feeling that those two points are directly connected to one another. And just as in the case of US trans advocates inadvertently making the situation worse for trans people in the UK by trying to help them, the additional catastrophe that was the response to COVID-19 - the myriad harms of which will take years to fully understand - seems once again to have been caused at root by the political dysfunction of the United States, where hatred of fascism has led to a worsening of those disparate conditions claimed by either side as fascism.

I have acceded to your point about 'comfort' lessening political engagement, but my counterpoint is that comfort is a product of our imagined circumstances, not our actual circumstances. The very place where comfort was most readily available in terms of shelter, food, and entertainment was also the place where tremendous political capital was expended in the urgent battle against the double-headed coin of duofascism, which paints all our political 'enemies' as fascists while ignoring the resulting fascist tendencies in our own political demands. Thus it is fear, as it so often has been throughout history, rather than loss of comfort per se, that has been driving political crusades in the United States that have had devastating effects elsewhere in the world, whether we are talking in terms of the hatred cruelly directed at trans people, the British government's descent into quasi-fascism powered by the collapse of scientific discourse, or the soul-numbing losses of hundreds of thousands of black children whose lives, it seems, did not really matter after all.

If I leave our discussion there, it would be to fail to learn anything from the disaster of a year that was 2020, and that I could not bear. So let us turn to the other subtle point I want to discuss, that in connection to 'politics'. When you describe politics as "a form of social warfare", you are describing what currently happens under this name. Duofascism - the fascist tendencies of both antifascists and their rivals - lies behind this grotesque alternative to democracy we are currently pursuing in those parts of the world fortunate enough not to have far worse, far more oppressive, far more convincingly fascist regimes in charge. It is what I have called 'politics as war', where the purpose of political action is to defeat your enemies. And this is one of the worst conceptions of politics we could fall for, since there is almost no point at all in having democracy if you are not going to use it to negotiate a good life for everyone in our political community, which requires us to understand their visions for what a good life might be.

Democracy presumes a common political identity, a demos, as the Ancient Greeks put it. I think they had an easier job because, in the first place, these original democratic communities were only cities and therefore orders of magnitude smaller political bodies than those we wrestle with today, and in the second place, they didn't in fact offer political voice to everyone but solely to their elites. On this latter point, we are fast heading the same way, if we did not in fact already arrive there quite a while ago. When there is an authentic political community, when we belong to a demos, we can talk to one another about our needs, wants, and fears, and we can disagree productively and hence negotiate how we can each make ourselves a good life without demanding of others that which causes intolerable harm to their hopes of making a good life for themselves.

Duofascism, if we set aside the histrionic denunciation of those other fascists that are nothing like us, rests on the demand that the State must do certain things our way regardless of the harms this causes to our fellow citizens. As such, it is anti-democratic because it prevents any possibility of forming a demos. But oh, the things the United States has been able to achieve whenever it can form a united political community! Let us never forget that it was citizens of the United States like Eleanor Roosevelt that were the driving force behind the original human rights agreements during that hopeful time after the second World War when, as Michael Moorcock reports of Britain after the wars, everyone seemed to be working together to build a better life for all. Just because that didn't last is no reason for us not to try again.

These are dark times, and not just because of this particularly nasty respiratory virus and the terror that scurrilous journalists have stoked about it. But the sole thing we need to get beyond the democratic impasse is a laying down of hostilities and a re-opening of the possibility of forming political communities together. We lose sight of this all too often because 'politics as war' is what we have become accustomed to, and so we are willing to become fascists to stop fascism. But it is not the only way, and it is not a good way, nor will any good come from continuing to pursue a politics based solely upon hatred of the other side to our disturbingly mirrored political coin.

Let us try something new, or rather, something old that we can make anew. Let us give democracy a try instead.

With unlimited love,

Chris.

Only a Game will return later this year.


A Case Study in Pseudoscience

Contains ideas some people may find distressing.

Microscopic Crystals

The science is clear! Masks save lives/don't work! But which is it, and even more importantly how can we know? To answer this wildly contentious question - one which so many on either side are utterly convinced is entirely settled - we first have to understand why this topic has not yet even been adequately debated, much less resolved beyond dispute. Join me, if you dare, on a disturbing journey through a scientific story from the United Kingdom in 2020, a tale that centres upon the world's second oldest university, Oxford...

First, however, a polite warning. This is a hot button issue, and therefore one with a high risk of triggering cognitive dissonance in those who have committed to a specific side...  But if we care about the sciences, we cannot simply consent to keeping our mouths shut rather than debating the ambiguities of a live research question, regardless of how much of a minefield it becomes. In so much as the truth about this topic is currently known, the only two certain claims I can ascertain are that there is not enough good quality evidence to settle the debate definitively, and there is no longer even anything that might be called a debate, since both sides are now intractably locked into their beliefs. This kind of situation is a paradigm case of what I have called pseudoscience, the collapse of even the possibility of productive scientific work occurring.

Our story begins relatively early last year, as thousands of armchair epidemiologists took to social media to declare what was or wasn’t true on a great many topics that were far more complicated than anyone seemed to realise. A great deal of that complexity comes from the fact explored last week, namely that the sciences are discourses, series of conversations via written texts. This has the unfortunate consequence that the act of interpreting the evidence is seldom as simple (as the armchair epidemiologists apparently believed) as sifting out the ‘good evidence’ and discounting the ‘bad evidence’ - and doubly so since the evidence that is rejected in such a procedure is very frequently cast out as a result of confirmation bias rather than for any sound reason.

Not long after the social media platforms began to descend even further into a verbal war zone, severe disagreements broke out in the United Kingdom between medical researchers and practitioners about a newly proposed medical intervention for COVID-19, namely community masking. It's important to make a distinction here: use of personal protective equipment in hospitals is radically different from asking the population as a whole to deploy face masks; there are disagreements about the former as well as the latter, but since our interest in this case study is not in resolving these disputes but rather in examining them, it will be helpful to recall that the question that was being debated in the UK was not 'are face masks ever effective?' but whether we should require the general population to wear face masks to help stop the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus. It was over this discussion specifically that medical scientific practice almost entirely collapsed in the UK.

The crisis point can be traced to a pivotal moment in June. Two months earlier, Trisha Greenhalgh of Oxford University and half a dozen other medical professionals had argued in a piece for the British Medical Journal that while “direct, experimental evidence for benefit is not clear cut”, we should follow the precautionary principle and recommend face masks for the public all the same. Intriguingly (and this will be important later), they also made the following remarks:

...trials have shown that people are unlikely to wear them properly or consistently, which is important since prevention depends on people not repeatedly touching their mask, and on all or most people wearing them most of the time.... the trials cited above have also shown that wearing a mask might make people feel safe and hence disregard other important public health advice such as hand washing and social distancing...[these] arguments may have been internally valid in the trials that produced them, but we have no evidence that they are externally valid in the context of covid-19. “The public” here are not volunteers in someone else’s experiment in a flu outbreak—they are people the world over who are trying to stay alive in a deadly pandemic. They may be highly motivated to learn techniques for most effective mask use.

In June, Professor Greenhalgh and her colleagues returned to follow up on their original piece. There had been enormous swathes of comments in the meantime, and heated arguments about the risks that might potentially be involved, not to mention how this proposal could be justified in terms of the precautionary principle, which cautions doctors not to use unproven interventions about which there is a potential risk of harm. Surprisingly, in responding to their critics the authors did not engage with any of the concerns that had been raised. Rather, they declared the myriad objections colleagues had presented as “straw men” (misusing the term, incidentally) and announced that the UK ought to do what they had suggested anyway. A week later, the UK government mandated community masking by law, with escalating fines for non-compliance. This led the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine (like Greenhalgh, also based at Oxford University) to run an unprecedented opinion piece denouncing the decision as politically motivated and scientifically unsound. From that point on, the outbreak of pseudoscience corrupted the discourse and little productive discussion on this topic has yet re-emerged.

An interesting aspect of the CEBM’s rebuttal was that it was entirely couched in terms of how the research had been conducted up until the year before, and the lack of strong supporting evidence - including mentioning the calls that had been made for further research on the efficacy of different kinds of face mask after previous epidemics that had never been followed up. Even if the CEBM's response was marred by the kind of righteous outrage that also corrupted discussion on social media, it is clear that (at the very least) they understood the role of the discourse in validating scientific claims, and saw the risks involved in pretending there was no prior understanding on the topic that might have made certain advocates of community masking more cautious than they were. In the sciences, scepticism can be both a blessing and a curse, but the absence of adequate scepticism - or the refusal to listen to it - almost always heralds mistakes, and sometimes disastrous errors. It is why allowing disagreements is essential to the work of the sciences, and every attempt to prevent such arguments from taking place fosters pseudoscience.

It is worth pausing briefly to point out that when I claim the medical discourse in the UK devolved into pseudoscience over this issue (and a parallel argument can almost certainly be constructed for the US, but I have spent less time examining the discourse there) I am not making any kind of claim about the truth of the competing claims about community masking. From the UK perspective, one side came to the table with a hypothesis that this intervention would be effective at preventing the spread of a respiratory virus, acknowledged the evidence they had at the time was inconclusive, recognised some of the specific risks involved in pursuing this intervention but claimed that - as a precaution - we ought to adopt the community masking anyway.

The positive argument made for the intervention was essentially ‘it might save lives and we might avoid the known harms so we must do it’. Yet as a purely logical matter, this is poor reasoning, and as a medical question the precautionary principle could not plausibly be applied on this basis (as some pointed out at the time, it cautions the exact opposite of what was done). Thus right from the outset, the necessary discussion on the topic was on dangerous ground. But this certainly does not exclude the possible benefits of community masking; rather, what was indicated was an urgent need for trials to establish the balance of benefits to risks. In ignoring the ambiguous state of knowledge regarding the potential harms, the discourse failed and we entered the condition of pseudoscience.

If we had remained in a state of productive scientific discourse, what should have happened next was commissioning studies to gather evidence to resolve the ambiguities. Yet this did not happen, and still has not happened, and it is incorrect, as British evidence-based medicine practitioner Margaret McCartney shrewdly observed, to claim that the evidence could not be gathered because it would be unethical to do so:

Another argument is that large scale trials, say of face mask use in schools, are impossible, because of the belief that every child would need a guardian to consent, making recruitment practically impossible. But this is deeply problematic. This suggests that the government can choose and implement any policy, without requiring any individual consent, as long as it is not called a trial. For as long as this double standard is allowed to persist, giving less powerful results and unnecessary uncertainty, people may come to avoidable harm. Nor does valuable information come only from randomised controlled trials. Complex interventions require multiple disciplines and types of research for assessment. But where are they? [Emphasis added]

Furthermore, it is rather strange that Greenhalgh and her colleagues specifically identified a key risk associated with mask use (touching an infected mask - see the quotation above), but set this aside by claiming that the public would be “highly motivated to learn techniques for most effective mask use.” Yet the British government provided negligible guidance on effective mask use to the public. Considerable expense was put towards promoting the idea on television and other media that the British public should wear masks, but almost none at all on what good mask technique ought to consist of. Notes on the government website, however, did provide numerous important warnings - about not re-wearing used masks, about storing used masks in plastic bags etc. - none of which I have seen practiced by anyone but myself in months and months of government-enforced mask wearing. Nor were any studies conducted to even check the quality of the mask technique that was occurring in the community! Once the law was passed to mandate face masks, even those concerns openly acknowledged by the medical professionals who had called for community masking in the UK were simply ignored.

If you had suggested to me in 2019 that the British government was going to mandate a medical intervention on weak evidence and then commission no studies to verify either the efficacy or the safety of that intervention I would have at the least raised an eyebrow, and at the worst asked what you were smoking. Yet this is precisely what happened. The entire affair has caused me quite considerable distress, not because I know the truth of the matter (community actions are far more complex research subjects than most people seem to realise), but because I would never have believed in 2019 that it would take just eight weeks to disrupt the capacity for the medical networks of the United Kingdom to act as scientists, nor that anyone would propose to use the force of law to compel everyone into a medical intervention the case for which had never even been adequately debated, let alone investigated. It is doubly amazing to me that anyone can use phrases like “following the science” or, worse, “the science is clear!” in a situation where the truth is that the required scientific work has not yet been adequately conducted.

The concern I am raising here is rather independent of what transpires to be the truth about community masking if and when scientific discourse is restored. Even if future evidence did eventually validate the hypothesis, it would not change the fact that the British government acted improperly by enforcing penalties by law for non-compliance with an intervention they apparently had no intention of confirming was effective, nor indeed of ruling out the possible health risks suggested by earlier mask studies - perhaps most significantly that cloth face masks, improperly used, might increase the rate of infection (as the CEBM commentary points out, and as Greenhalgh and colleagues acknowledged was a risk). There was more than enough evidence in April to formulate a hypothesis, but nowhere near enough to settle the issue unequivocally - as indicated by the fact evidence-based medical practitioners in both England and Scotland publicly spoke out against both the lack of good evidence and the abject failure of the British government to commission any new studies to gather it.

I can think of no better name for this depressing collapse of the medical discourse in the UK than pseudoscience. This condition destroys the ability of the sciences to operate by undermining our capacity to disagree, which is fundamental to the pursuit of scientific truth. What's more, once this situation occurs, the problem is no longer constrained to the topic that initiated it, and alas creates ample opportunities for unscrupulous people to manipulate the truth for personal profit while the scientific networks are effectively disabled. Thus in November 2020, the British Medical Journal's Executive Editor Kamran Abbasi issued an unprecedented editorial about the suppression of scientific research in the UK's most respected medical forum declaring:

Science is being suppressed for political and financial gain. Covid-19 has unleashed state corruption on a grand scale, and it is harmful to public health. Politicians and industry are responsible for this opportunistic embezzlement. So too are scientists and health experts. The pandemic has revealed how the medical-political complex can be manipulated in an emergency—a time when it is even more important to safeguard science.

This is not some off-the-cuff remark by an armchair epidemiologist on social media, this is the Executive Editor of a major British journal issuing an editorial for the express purpose of lambasting the British government for "state corruption on a grand scale" and "opportunistic embezzlement", this latter point relating to the news story (reported in October by the BMJ) that the government had handed out contracts without tender for face masks and other protective equipment, some of which was not even fit for purpose. (I note for context that Abassi appears to have remained agnostic about community masking - although not about Facebook censorship over the issue). How curious that this serious breakdown in scientific discourse did not even warrant a mention in any British news source! But then, each of the channels, each of the newspapers had already picked a side on the face mask issue, so they simply ignored and discredited any and all contrary viewpoints... thus the journalists followed the scientists into pseudoscience too, if they did not in fact lead them into it.

Logically, if the US medical community had not descended onto this crooked path immediately beforehand, we would be hard pressed to explain how this could have happened in the UK at all (it is exceptionally unusual to argue to undertake a precautionary measure while admitting the evidence for it is still inconclusive, for obvious reasons). However, since I have not examined these earlier discussions in any great depth, I leave it open whether there might be some other explanation besides the most obvious one, namely that the UK's pseudoscience outbreak was caused by a metaphorical infection of human thought that spread from the other side of the Atlantic where political partisanship had already destroyed any possibility of clear scientific thinking at a time when it was most needed.

Hence the epidemic of armchair epidemiologists who dealt with every contrasting perspective by the expedient means of summarily discounting the views of anyone who disagreed with them. Yet for their chosen position to be in any way credible, these partisans still have to explain why they have needed to discredit so many people who are well-versed in the medical sciences. As this UK case study hopefully makes clear, whichever stance is taken in 'masks save lives/don't work', at least one senior academic at the prestigious Oxford University, plus hundreds more academics at other faculties around the world, will be on the other side. How far are you willing to go in your crusade of denouncements and discreditings just to uphold a specific interpretation of the still-ambiguous evidence as being both clear and irrefutable? Will you say that their political beliefs misled them, while yours miraculously had no effect on your truth-finding powers...?

Accepting this as an outbreak of pseudoscience, on the other hand, provides both an explanation for this otherwise incomprehensible lack of collective discernment, and a potential solution as well: restore debate over the key disagreements, and either conduct the required research or entirely withdraw the legal requirement for community masking in the UK (or wherever you happen to live). Without embracing dissent, there can be no legitimate scientific position on community masking at all, only the counter-productive war of bias-against-bias I have named pseudoscience. The sooner we accept this, the fewer lives we will lose to these two infections - the deadly SARS-CoV2, and the even deadlier outbreak of pseudoscience it has fostered.

As long as we pretend that this issue is resolved beyond further dispute, rather than trapped in a limbo where such resolution is impossible to reach, the more people will die who did not need to. Not because some people wouldn't wear masks, but because we have collectively destroyed the ability of the sciences to do what they do best: to investigate ambiguous situations and explore all the possible explanations for the evidence gathered thus far. The science is clear? No, it almost never is. But our guilt in undermining the work of the sciences is all too clear, and for this I fear we should all feel greatly ashamed.

Comments welcome, but please don't comment angry! If this piece enrages you, please wait a short while before replying.


Every Science is a Discourse

Einstein ReadingWe celebrate Albert Einstein as the greatest scientific genius of the preceding century, yet we tend to focus solely upon his theories in physics when we do so. In the 75 years since his death, we have continuously taken steps to place greater importance upon science and mathematics and to downplay the importance of the humanities. Yet Einstein himself would have cautioned against taking this path. He remarked, in a piece for the New York Times in 1952 (and please forgive his exclusive use of male pronouns, which at the time was entirely usual in English): 

It is not enough to teach a man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he – with his specialized knowledge – more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions and their sufferings, in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow men and to the community. These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not – or at least not in the main – through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the ‘humanities’ as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.

How fascinating that at the time he was writing, the danger Einstein saw was that only history and philosophy would be taught in the humanities! Today, neither subject is a priority at most universities, and the humanities as a whole have been relegated to a lesser status next to so-called STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) subjects. Einstein, as this quote and others like it attest, was against this elevation of the sciences above the humanities, against the specialisation that has become the hallmark of contemporary higher education... he saw great danger on the path that we were already upon in the 1950s. We did not listen.

Today, even those of us who value both the humanities and the sciences for their unique contributions to human flourishing will tend to treat the former as worthy and the latter as useful. The impression is thus that the humanities are an optional extra, while the sciences are doing the real work in advancing human knowledge. Indeed, it sometimes seems that what distinguishes the humanities from the sciences is that humanities scholars merely ‘talk’ while scientists ‘do’. But this is an illusion brought about by the impoverished state of our philosophy of science. In actuality, every science is also a discourse. Not understanding this subtle point leads to a great many errors.

Giant Shoulders

The story we like to tell about Einstein's scientific work, and the tales we tell of Galileo and Newton as well, have a nasty habit of valourising these theoreticians and natural philosophers as lone heroes fighting for truth against the Church or some other orthodoxy (e.g. the ether, in Einstein’s folk history). Almost always, these tales are mythically exaggerated - even to the extent of falling into magical science, as previously discussed. Regarding Galileo, Paul Feyerabend is not the only historically-inclined philosopher of science to observe that it was the Church at that time who was more “faithful to reason” in the famous dispute. As Charles Taylor puts the matter: “If we look at the period we’re examining, we see that the mantle of sober scientists was often seized by the defenders of orthodoxy.” In each and every case, looking at what scientists came to accept afterwards is an inadequate way of understanding how they reached these new understandings, which always entailed disagreements being worked through by a community.

What I find particularly fascinating about the relationship between the sciences and their discourses is that contemporary scientists - quite unlike Einstein and natural philosophers like Newton - typically do not understand themselves as being in a discourse at all. I would suggest this shortcoming happens precisely because scientists today are trained in blinkered specialist degrees and do not receive a university education in the sense that Galileo or Newton would have understood, and that Einstein championed. For the natural philosophers, to go to university was to be prepared to understand the world as a coherent whole - a universe, hence ‘university’ (both terms coming from the Latin, ‘universus’ - whole, complete). There was no concept of humanities vs sciences for these scholars, and although there was for Einstein, he urged us to pursue both and considered the humanities to be so important that a good education ought to revolve around it.

A university education in the classical sense required you to understand, for instance, that Newton’s laws of motion spring from Newton’s writings, which were part of a mathematical discourse with his predecessors and peers. Not without good reason did Newton famously claim to be “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Conversely, while I was studying physics at the world-class physics department at the Schuster Laboratory in Manchester, every theory was presented to the undergraduates as if it had come from nowhere, just a magical free-standing edifice, a roof without walls to support it. Humanities scholars broadly understand their fields as sustained by their texts, while contemporary science students are taught misleading nonsense like ‘the scientific method’ instead (see the earlier discussion for why this is incoherent), although I note that, to their credit, no professor at University of Manchester ever suggested any such thing to me. Alas, a great many people today seem to foolishly believe that ‘the science’ speaks for itself, yet that it does so through them, as indeed oracles claimed of the gods that spoke through them (another manifestation of magical science, perhaps...?).

Every scientist is part of a discourse - and they ignore this to their (and sometimes our) peril, most especially because training in one field does not automatically give you expertise in all fields. Newton is not the only one who stood on the shoulders of giants, every scientist (every scholar in every discipline, in fact) necessarily does so, and every mythic image that conceals this poses risks to scientific practice. As much as I have dabbled with being a polymath since graduating, I have only ever managed this by committing to learning new discourses and being willing to both listen and talk to practitioners in those other fields - as I had to do in 2011 with aesthetics and 2012 with the evolutionary sciences in order to write about them for my first two philosophy books. To conceive of the sciences as uncovering truth without borrowing those giant shoulders is to deceive yourself. The sciences are community practices, and have always been so.

Einstein's Hope for the Future

We take Einstein as a scientific hero with good cause, but like his natural philosopher predecessors he did not associate knowledge with intense specialisation, but rather with co-operation within and between disciplines. Remember that Einstein performed no experiments to verify his theories (although he designed one experimental instrument, his “little machine”, which does not appear to have worked) - he didn't need to conduct his own practical research; he could count on the physicist community to be curious enough to want to consider all the possibilities with care, because of their shared commitment to determining the truth of each situation.

As much as I admire the sheer elegance of his mathematical derivation of special relativity, which I studied in high school, there is an Einstein quote that for me sums up his genius more than anything else:

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem – in my opinion – to characterize our age. If we desire sincerely and passionately for the safety, the welfare, and the free development of the talents of all men, we shall not be in want of the means to approach such a state. Even if only a small part of mankind strives for such goals, their superiority will prove itself in the long run.

The message here may not be immediately clear: it is not enough for scientists - nor indeed anyone seeking to serve humanity as a whole - to be siloed away in a specialism ‘perfecting means’. Yet because we have become so good at doing this, because our means (our technology) have become so powerful, we could easily achieve a state of near-universal human flourishing if only that was the goal we should wish to undertake. It was Einstein’s hope that we would. Yet we did not, and still do not, in part because Einstein’s generation of scientists were the last that learned their science as a discourse, and thus did not look down upon the humanities as somehow lesser, requiring the self-deceit that the sciences transcend human discourse to speak directly with the universe - or as Einstein would say, with God. Einstein would not have said that the moral truth was given by God, however, but discovered by us, through pursuing our disagreements in the humanities, which are at least as important as the sciences when properly understood.

The mission statement I take Einstein to be laying out here is not one I associate with spreading high technology indiscriminately around the world, thus bringing the community-rich ‘Third World’ down to the impoverished social state of our so-called ‘First World’, nor with dictating for all what a technological good life should (or worse, must) be. On the contrary, the safety, welfare, and the free development of the talents of all humanity will be quite seriously threatened by our technology if we do not change how we think about it, a topic I have explored in The Virtuous Cyborg. Rather, I take Einstein as participating in a prior discourse (a lowly humanities discourse...), that of the Enlightenment philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, whose major works Einstein had already read at age 16. I take it, therefore, that Einstein was proposing to work towards what Kant suggested was the “merely possible” future state where we can support everyone in pursuing their own chosen ends provided they do not prevent others from pursuing their own ends. Both pseudoscience and magical science disrupt our ability to do this, in part by obscuring the truth that both the humanities and the sciences are vital discourses we cannot afford to disrupt, a fact that has alas become obfuscated by this very division of human thought.

This schism in knowledge - a grenade whose pin was accidentally pulled by Kant in his rethinking of the university system - now threatens everything the Enlightenment strived towards. For me, the best reason to pursue philosophy of science - to take part in the discourse about the discourses of the sciences - is to help fulfil Einstein’s dream of ensuring the safety, the welfare, and the free development of the talents of all humanity, an ideal originally espoused by Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, and others like them. In so doing, I join Einstein, Wollstonecraft, and Kant’s discourse, without of course ever speaking to them. It is my hope, vain though it might be, that more might still follow us - but I fear this will not happen without a seismic shift in our understanding of the contributions both the humanities and the sciences make towards our collective knowledge, and with it a vast and long overdue improvement to our philosophies of science.

Comments always welcome.


Roger Moore’s Dangerous Teenager

A blog-letter to Jed Pressgrove of Film Quarantine as part of the Republic of Bloggers.

Roger MooreDear Jed,
A short while ago, whilst working through all the James Bond movies, you declared that you were coming to the conclusion that was no such thing as a good Roger Moore Bond film. But I have quite a different take: there’s no such thing as a bad Roger Moore Bond movie - only different ways to appreciate the brilliance of Roger Moore Bond movies. Yes, they are sexist, but markedly less so than Sean Connery Bond movies. Yes, they have content that if filmed today would be outrageously racist, but they were not filmed today and the cringes of hindsight do not undo the gains for cultural inclusion these films may strangely have achieved. Indeed, so much do I rate the late Roger Moore’s stint as Bond that for our first family movie night experience, my wife and I choose these films for my three sons to share with us. Are we mad? Probably. But there is definitely method to our madness and I should like to share that with you without any attempt to persuade you that your perception of these films is mistaken. It is not. I rather suspect you just haven’t the prior experience required to enjoy these particular (very particular!) movies.

My wife is from Tennessee like you (unless I’m mistaken) and comes to Bond on my suggestion having really loved the first (and only the first) Austin Powers film. As such, the Sean Connery Bond movies were a Where’s Waldo? extravaganza for her! “It’s Doctor Evil!” she exclaimed upon seeing Blofeld for the first time because, well, of course it undeniably is. When we finished watching the first Roger Moore outing, Live and Let Die, she declared “I don’t know if that was the best movie I’ve ever seen or the worst.” That is the greatest description - and highest praise! - of Moore’s Bond films I can imagine. For you must be able to enjoy bad movies for what they are good at to love Moore as Bond. The 1981 Clash of the Titans is quite the same; it’s a masterpiece. It’s also a cinematic dumpster fire with LA Law’s Harry Hamlin totally unable to anchor his own action movie and upstaged quite inevitably by Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion menagerie.

This brings me to the first reason to love these films: Derek Meddings. A special effects genius at a time when such things required immense practical skill, Meddings is best known for his amazing work with Sylvia and Gerry Anderson on their incredible Supermarionation shows like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. My boys and I are working through these on Saturday mornings (along with classic Doctor Who), and are currently enjoying Stingray. Meddings contributed model work to five of the seven Moore Bond films, and was Oscar-nominated for Moonraker. You can spot a Meddings model shot from a mile away, although I do wonder if you have to have watched those classic 1960s sci-fi puppet shows to truly appreciate the craft involved. Appreciation flows from our prior experience; I never appreciated shot composition until I watched Seven Samurai, still my favourite film of all time. But Kurosawa movies are brilliant in almost every way. That’s not what Moore’s tenure as Bond is about. Meddings work carries a lot of appeal for me, holding the same joy as a beautiful matte painting, which is so much more wonderful than anything you can do in CGI to my eyes. I’m so delighted Meddings won an Oscar for his work on the 1978 Superman film. He was to miniature shots what Harryhausen was to stop-motion: a legend.

Neither is Meddings the only such mythic cinematic contributor to these films. John Barry, perhaps the greatest and most influential orchestral film composer Britain has produced, does some of his best work during Moore’s run, although his work with Shirley Bassey is more striking in the earlier Bond films and his magnum opus is arguably Louis Armstrong’s "All the Time in the World" from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which I believe we both rate highly as a Bond film). I think, on balance, his score for that movie and for You Only Live Twice are a head and shoulders above his work for Roger Moore, but the British Film Institute did pick up on the score for Moonraker as one of Barry's ten best. I personally think videogame orchestral scores almost always draw from Barry when they are not instead stealing from John Williams. But the significantly insignificant difference here is that John Barry is British.

This British connection is important. Unlike my wife, I’m British, quite the mongrel actually - half English, quarter Scottish, with Italian and Belgian bloodlines also in my family history too. Roger Moore is the most British of all the Bonds, and his movies are so intimately caught up in British culture that comedian Steve Coogan could write a comedy scene in which his most enduring character (Alan Partridge from The Day to Day) recites verbally the entire opening sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me - including those lurid Maurice Binder titles - in an utterly hilarious irritable deadpan. It's worth noting, then, that Moore was the first English Bond. Connery? Scottish. Lazenby? Australian (not British). And afterwards: Dalton? Welsh. Brosnan? Irish (not British). It's only when we get to Craig that we get English again. And what a step down that is, from Moore to Craig - although presumably not for you!

Britain, of course, has an extremely chequered history from its time as a world power, which peaked in the nineteenth century, just as the United States' empire is peaking seems to be peaking in the twenty first. In 1973, when Live and Let Die arrived, Britons (especially the English, but not only...) were rather struggling to get to grips with the reality that whiteness is not Britishness. This was especially the case with respect to the burgeoning West Indian population - half a million arrived between 1948 and 1970 seeking jobs, which they were expressly invited to emigrate for but whose welcome was not always (or indeed often) warm. But there were still vanishingly few black actors on TV in the 70s. Doctor Who is one of a rather short list of shows to have had multiple black actors in key roles by Moore's debut. Britons were simply not used to watching black people in 1973. And then here is Live and Let Die - a suave, black supervillain, multiple black henchmen all with great charm - and none more so than dancer Geoffrey Holder as the quite literally marvellous Baron Samadhi. And black allies who are there for something more than just being killed! The message to spellbound Brits watching was that black people can be spies and criminal masterminds, just like white people. Yes, there’s massive influence from Blaxploitation films at work here. But the benefits for British cultural integration should not be underestimated. 

So too with Vijay Amritraj and Kabir Bedi in Octopussy. Okay, we have to endure every cringe-inducing Indian cultural stereotype imaginable - but at a time when the Indian population of Great Britain were almost entirely invisible on recorded media, here is a film saying Hindus and Silkhs can be spies and superpowered villains too. The location shots from Udaipur are among the greatest in the entire Bond movie run, although as with the miniatures shots I mentioned above it takes a certain kind of film appreciator to enjoy location shots independently of their role in the narrative. Still, watching Amritraj pal up with Moore sends a clear message that Indian people can be superspies too - and that counts for something. Please do not underestimate these gains because they are tied up with casual racism... acceptance that Britishness need not entail whiteness begins with films like these, and while I do not know what black and Asian people in the 1970s made of them, the predominantly white audience for the movies here in the UK were, I suggest, subtly and positively affected by the inclusion of heroes and villains of colour. Even if these actors were not themselves British, they opened doors in the media industries for black and Asian actors who were.

What of Moore himself? Here we cannot tell any story without first acknowledging the centrality of Sean Connery to the Bond mythos. He embodies the phrase that was ironically said (by film critic Raymond Mortimer) in connection with the first Eon Productions Bond movie without Connery: "James Bond is what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like between her sheets." This is of course a problematic claim unless it is preceded with the phrase “in the imagination of men...” Which men? Why, 1960s stereotype men of course who, on the basis of Connery’s Bond, fantasise about striking women across the face so that they will then want to have sex with them - something Connery’s Bond does with embarrassing frequency.

But not so Roger Moore’s Bond. Whilst still sexist by contemporary standards, his version of the iconic character is markedly more respectful of women in that his technique for attracting women isn't to physically abuse them. Clearly, Bond is still at heart an adolescent power fantasy - but what action hero is not? More than that, Moore’s Bond isn’t just a fantasy for teenage boys, he is emotionally a teenage boy - with his distinguishing feature being that unlike any actual teenager he is written with the skills, gadgets, and sheer luck to actually succeed at everything instead of merely falsely believing that they would do so. Moore’s Bond is an absurdly dangerous teenage boy in a man’s body, who is always inches away from death by misadventure but is repeatedly saved by script immunity or, more often as not, by the magical science provided by Q’s gadgets.

Moore’s casting was not any kind of accident. His quasi-predecessor, George Lazenby, had the fatal flaw of not being Sean Connery, while Moore had the immense benefit of not being George Lazenby. Moore was chosen precisely because he had already shown himself more than capable of playing a gentleman spy, having done so as Leslie Charteris' 1920s hero Simon Templar in the TV show of The Saint, which aired from 1962 to 1969. Templar is a thief not a secret agent as such, but he is still very much part of the spy thriller genre broadly construed. And like Moore’s Templar, Moore’s Bond is impossibly skilled, implausibly righteous (yet never quite good, per se), and bucks authority with a glint in his eye, an impish grin, and more than a few raised eyebrows. Transplanting Moore into the Albert R. Brocolli film series was a safety play - and boy, did it work! The movie series’ success grew substantially during Moore’s tenure - he even got to ‘win’ against Connery in the much publicized ‘Bond vs Bond’ box office duel of 1983, when Octopussy outgrossed Never Say Never Again.

What I love most about Moore’s dangerous teenager is that quite unlike the brutal, emotionally stunted Bond of Daniel Craig, or the woman-beating Bond of Connery, Moore’s Bond is always respectful to those serving in the military (but never entirely to the civil command, which Bernard Lee's and Judi Dench's M represent) and largely avoids being a murderer - except for two instances, which apparently Moore himself was vehemently opposed to. Yes, enemies are killed, but largely in self-defence. Moore’s Bond is a warrior with honour, something quite unthinkable in contemporary cinema without transplanting the story back in time more than a hundred years. In the twenty first century, our spies and military are now permitted to murder even our own citizens with unquestioned yet utterly questionable impunity. But Moore’s Bond has an ethic to his spycraft that is as unrealistic as the magical science of his gadgets, but that makes him far easier to love because we somehow want to believe that spies could be this noble, even though we know they are not.

As I said at the outset, it’s not my intent to convert you to Moore, but rather to show how Moore’s Bond is tied up with British culture in a way that Connery’s Bond really isn’t (although some of his filthiest puns - penned by children's author Roald Dahl for Your Only Live Twice - require a grounding in British schoolboy humour to appreciate). Connery (Scottish) and Brosnan (Irish) are the most Americanized Bonds - and very enjoyable for it! But Moore is quintessentially English, his Britishness rooted in Oxbridge, the Officers’ Training Corps, and London gentlemen’s clubs (by which I do not mean strip clubs!). As problematic as this may be in retrospect - the false equation of Britishness with Englishness being a papering over of the aforementioned whiteness problem - it has an inherent charm that is also part of the appeal of Sherlock Holmes, another quintessentially English hero with magical science at his disposal.

I love Moore’s Bond, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of why in this short missive - why, I haven't even mentioned how they let the always astonishing Grace Jones design her own wardrobe in 1985's A View to a Kill, which must surely be the greatest costumes ever seen in a franchise known for its outlandish clothing. There's so much to adore in these films once you let them beguile you, but I think appreciating Moore as Bond requires either an openness to archaic Englishness as an aspect of Britishness (which is also helpful for appreciating classic Doctor Who), or an ability to enjoy an action movie purely as a pulp romp and not as cinema, per se. The Moore Bond movies may indeed be bad films, but they are among the greatest bad films ever made. It has been a pleasure sharing them with my three young boys, and I hope in writing this letter that I can give you at least a glimpse of why that might be so.

Please continue to be the good and excellent person you are, and to write about films, games, and whatever else you choose to discuss. If you should find the time to reply, I would love to hear your thoughts on any of this, or indeed on the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, which I personally view in quite similar ways, as allowing a vast raft of phenomenal black musical talent a cinematic spotlight they could never have had at that time without teaming up with white comedians. 

With love and respect,

Chris.

Comments and further blog-letters are always welcome!