The Forgotten Fascists

Fascism was born to inspire a faith not of the Right (which at bottom aspires to conserve everything, even injustice) or of the Left (which at bottom aspires to destroy everything, even goodness), but a collective, integral, national faith.

― José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of Spanish Fascism

My grandmother was born in February 1937 in Málaga, which was at the time a stronghold against the Spanish fascists. The day after she was born, the hospital was evacuated, most of the city which hadn’t already left was evacuated, and they all walked 125 miles, five marathons, along the coast to Almería. My newborn grandmother, her mother, her father, and her three older brothers travelled by night and hid by day, so that the air force could not see them and mow them down. Around five thousand Malageños, approximately one in three, were killed in that exodus. Another five thousand Malageños stayed behind, and did not evacuate. Many of those were raped, and all of them were killed and buried in mass graves.

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Transformative Learning

The correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth. Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbors for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get to some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his own flame, his own intellect, but is happy to sit entranced by the lecture, and the words trigger only associative thinking and bring, as it were, only a flush to his cheeks and a glow to his limbs; but he has not dispelled or dispersed, in the warm light of philosophy, the internal dank gloom of his mind.

― Plutarch

Learning is often conceived of as some kind of accumulation of knowledge. The sedentary nature of our schools encourages this passive outlook of precious knowledge poured out from teachers onto students, for them to pour forth once again onto their exams. Much of what is taught in schools serves only this purpose, and a wise student simply discards the trivialities foisted onto them ― Napoleon's birthday, or the isle to which he was exiled, or the names of all sixty characters in Tolstoy's War and Peace. A student wiser still would never bother to learn these in the first place. By some travesty, students are graded on many of these frivolities, as if they bore any relation to future competence or marked some intellectual asset which might be redeemed at some future date.

How much of our educational energy is devoted to such futility? Modern students rightly learn its uselessness, and learn that such classes are a bore, and learn that life consists of far richer things.

Real learning is transformation, not accumulation.

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Democracy and Dialogue

When I speak of reason or rationalism, all I mean is the conviction that we can learn through criticism of our mistakes and errors, especially through criticism by others, and eventually also through self-criticism. A rationalist is simply someone for whom it is more important to learn than to be proved right; someone who is willing to learn from others — not by simply taking over another's opinions, but by gladly allowing others to criticize his ideas and by gladly criticizing the ideas of others. The emphasis here is on the idea of criticism or, to be more precise, critical discussion. The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff. He is well aware that acceptance or rejection of an idea is never a purely rational matter; but he thinks that only critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgement of it.

― Karl Popper

The ancient Greeks are often credited with the invention of two of the most important social technologies in the history of the world ― democracy and philosophy. The time between the two fills barely the blink of an eye in a timeline. How could these two massive advances have independently occurred so quickly?

It is because they are not, in fact, separate social technologies. They are, rather, both forms of a single technology, one single innovation which transformed their society and which still transforms ours: dialectic.

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Reason Can Die

It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.

― Galileo Galilei

There is a presumption nowadays that "progress" is an inevitable improvement, that the slow meandering of culture will by some invisible hand of morality tend towards an ever greater good. "The arc of the moral universe is long", Theodore Parker once said, "but it bends toward justice". Those words pronounce a sense of safety, assuring us that our hard-fought battles, once won, stay won forever.

But that is not true.

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Bloodless Progress

The war of ideas is a Greek invention. It is one of the most important inventions ever made. Indeed, the possibility of fighting with words and ideas instead of fighting with swords is the very basis of our civilization, and especially of all its legal and parliamentary institutions.

― Karl Popper

Death is the favorite tool of evolution. Each new generation, with its various mutations and innovations, is winnowed and pruned by contact with hard reality or by competition with its contemporaries. This holds clearly, not only in the evolution of our biology, but also in the evolution of our society. When innovation prompts the gears of progress, lives are often crushed between in their turning.

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Demon in the Mind

I will suppose...that some malignant demon, who is at once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me;

I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth, colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams

– Descartes

A new bogeyman now haunts our dreams, our courts, our civic discourse. At your every turn, its threat compels you to look over your shoulder, checking and checking again whether your decision was made under its nefarious influence. Words which would have before passed innocently by now demand critical scrutiny, to be tested for any trace of the impurity. Worse, even when no trace can be found there is no relief – it only means the menace has burrowed deep beneath your ability to detect it.

The phantom of "unconscious bias" is here, inside your mind.

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Careful the things you say, children will listen
Careful the things you do, children will see, and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
  To learn what to be
Careful before you say, "Listen to me"
Children will listen

— Sondheim

Words are tools, and wielded well they craft and build, or support and care. Each word is a tool given to all, blind to chance of birth, granted to every age. Among these tools, there are a few which hold within them such power that their discovery by children leads to profound fascination.

Of these lectical fixations, one stands above all, a terror that cuts through the thickest crowds and alarms any adult who hears.

That dreaded word is "no".

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Against 'Make America Great Again'

Where did it all go wrong?

Today America is divided, more than I have ever known it to be. Algorithmically reinforced bubbles of thought have desynchronized our descriptions of reality, so that to our fellow citizens, our words sound like gibberish. Excommunication, until recently derided as one of the worst dehumanizing features of religion, has become apparently fashionable again, and has brought along a harsh sentence for sense-making, a penalty for acts of cognitive empathy and reconciliation.

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Now, I Write

The putting of thoughts onto a page has always felt magical to me—something about carefully weaving words into a tapestry to most fully display all the wonder an idea can hold. For years now, thoughts have clung to the back of my mind in disorder, hopeful for their eventual release, but I had turned my mind elsewhere, never thinking I was quite ready for the task.

But of late, unamusing musings have haunted my mind, seeking their escape. The ideascape which I had fostered is, it seems, not quite so buffered from outside forces as I had imagined it to be. My garden of ruminations waiting to be written someday has become a battleground insisting on claiming its voice now.

So now I write because I must,
    because these ideas demand the words they are due,
    because I cannot betray Truth, no matter the cost,
    because Truth is best of all that is good.