George Lakoff Framed Himself

I’ve been a fan of George Lakoff’s writings on cognitive linguistics since reading Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things around 1990. Later, I observed his foray into political advocacy with increasing concern for him as the trajectory from expected savior to derided scapegoat became increasingly obvious. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education gives us a retrospective, Who Framed George Lakoff, on Lakoff’s failure and eventual flameout as a political philosopher.

But the Chronicle stops short of the conclusion it could and should have reached, which is that George Lakoff framed himself. The man is a brilliant linguist, but never delivered better than an idiot’s travesty of his own best work when he tried to apply it to winning political campaigns.

Really. How else is one to react to Lakoff’s central, signature contention that conservatives see government as a “strict father”, liberals see it as a “nurturant parent” , and that by re-framing political discourse to reinforce nurturant-parent images Democrats could win over swing voters and more elections?

George Orwell once said “Some ideas are so ridiculous that only an intellectual can believe them”, and this struck me as a prime example; when I first heard my man Lakoff was pushing it, I found myself laughing in incredulous disbelief. Absent from Lakoff’s theory was any sense that for many people government does not fit the emotional frame of any kind of parent, being regarded instead in the way the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended — as (in George Washington’s words) “like fire, a dangerous servant and a terrible master”.

To see how fragile Lakoff’s theory really was, consider that even if it actually described the entire Democratic and Republican voter bases effectively, taking the framers of the Constitution seriously (or a prevalence of any alternate frames about government) among even a bare majority of the minority of swing voters would render it useless.

Lakoff’s assumption that the government-as-parent model pervaded the thinking of most voters was a comfortable prejudice projected on the entire political landscape from his own paternalistic and rather condescending brand of left-liberalism. Just as insidious was his belief that mere shifts in rhetoric could magically fill the vacuum that had opened up at the heart of Democratic Party ideology after Reagan, as not just the New Deal electoral coalition but New Deal redistributionist ideas ran out of steam.

To the extent Lakoff succeeded in teaching other left-liberals these premises, he crippled them rather than helping them. This seemed obvious to me even in Lakoff’s rising-star days, and conservatives must have noticed something similar since they by and large never bothered to even laugh at Lakoff, much less refute him.

The Democrats were dimmer. It took them a bit less than a decade of semi-idolizing Lakoff through two disastrous election cycles to notice that “reframing” wasn’t earning them anything much but mockery. And now his name is mud.

This is a bit of a tragedy, because where Lakoff’s conclusions weren’t infected by his politics he was undoubtedly right about quite a number of things, including the limits of rationality in political thinking and campaigning. Never mind that he was partly recycling conclusions that had been reached much earlier by Georges Sorel and the founders of the U.S. itself, who designed a representative democracy in large part out in fear of the emotionalism and fickleness of mobs; Lakoff’s work might have served at least as a useful reminder in modern language of some of these basics.

But Lakoff framed himself. Like many left-liberals, he lived (and probably still lives) in a sort of bubble world where intentions are everything, history has no place and economics is not permitted to intrude; there was no concept in his model of politics that political issues might have meanings for voters that could not be trumped by glib “reframing”. This was an academic’s sort of conceit, and reality repaid it in the usual way.

56 thoughts on “George Lakoff Framed Himself

  1. “conservatives see government as a “strict father””

    That’s not true. Conservativism was hijacked very much the same way as Liberalism by Progressives: Conservativism was hijacked by religious fundies in America and nationalist ideologues in Eastern and Southern Europe. Shit, Goldwater even warned y’all that bad shit will happen if the fundies manage to hijack it: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Barry_Goldwater so no one should act surprised, really.

    Originally Conservativism wasn’t father-ish. It was simply a practical approach to politics, based on experience, moderation, toleration, and compromise, and a strong aversion to abstract theories and ideologies because society is just too complicated to model it by them, esp. if we take free will into consideration.

    It had much in common with Classical Liberalism as defined by Locke, but did not borrow anything from it, it’s the other way around. Locke wasn’t an ideolologue: he distilled his Second Treatise out of actual political practice & tradition, and turned it into a theory. While Conservatives simply followed the very same political tradition without caring much about theories. Practice was first and the theory later. For example, Edmund Burke had written a good defense of the free market in 1795, for example: http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Burke/brkSWv4c4.html – but this defense is based on experience, not theories, so it’s NOT been borrowed from Classical Liberals. But yet, the actual politicies desired are similar.

    What makes Conservativism hard to understand is that because it rejects abstract theories about politcs and relies instead on experience, it’s hard to define, hard to grasp. I think Michael Oakeshott summarized it more or less correctly: http://www.worldandi.com/public/1988/september/mt6.cfm

    I’d suggest reading Michael Oakeshott, G.K. Chesterton (f.e. Orthodoxy) and Eric Voegelin – their “original” Conservative political ideas are the most unusual and interesting of them all. Honestly. At least read the Oakeshott-review I linked above, it’s considered a huge heresy in this Rationalistic age, quite exciting :-)

  2. Recommend Russell Kirk’s book on conservative thought, which traces Burke’s thought to modern times. It challenges many of the views on conservatism, especially those parlayed in the political arena.

  3. The lesson I draw from Lakoff is that being an expert in one domain doesn’t necessarily make you an expert in another domain. I’m surprised you didn’t mention that other linguist turned political activist.

  4. As the referenced article states, the Obama campaign is essentially a Lakoffian one. Considering that politics tends to be a lagging indicator of philosophical currents, I suspect that Obama is strictly a passing phase. Even if he wins, which I doubt, he’s unlikely to serve two terms.

    I personally could count the Republicans on one hand who wanted government as a “strict parent.” For the most part, they talk only about what they DON’T want the government to do. I think the “strict parent” idea stems from the delusion common on the left that they are personally much more fun, more open, more sexy people, as opposed to all those uptight right-wingers. And anything those right-wing freaks do that lefties lack the balls to do is obviously politically incorrect, so ha ha ha it doesn’t count, la la la la la I can’t hear you….

    If anyone has done a lousy job of messaging it’s the “conservatives.” I use the quotation marks because there is very little conservative about right-wing politics; it is in fact a dynamic philosophy which has (1) ended the economic decline of the 1970′s through lower taxes and regulations; (2) restored the US as a military power after its post-Vietnam decline; (3) for two decades made dirt-cheap prices for energy (and, although those prices are currently high, current indications are that they are headed toward very low levels once again); (3) changed the foreign policy of the US from one at best accepting, and at worse supporting, foreign dictatorships, to one based on expanding worldwide political and economic freedom; (4) brought about the downfall of one of the worst despotic systems in history, Communism, with very little violence; (5) prevented the establishment of socialized medicine in the US, thus maintaining our role as the laboratory of new medical procedures; (6) abolished welfare for able-bodied adults; (7) restored the right to keep and bear arms through concealed-carry and the Heller decision, thus bringing violent crime to a lower level than Europe; and (8) planting a freely elected government in the heart of darkness, the Islamic Middle East, thus providing hope that perhaps soon dictatorships will be largely a thing of the past. (And no, that’s not a utopian dream; certainly there will be many despotic elected governments around to mess things up for a long while. Monarchies are mostly a thing of the past, but it hasn’t resulted in a perfect world). Currently it looks as if the next accomplishment will be a full opening up of our energy reserves on a vast scale, probably MUCH vaster than even most optimists realize. (Think fusion).

    In spite of this record of impressive accomplishments, the GOP still is largely seen as representing the status quo, because the Democrats want to “progress” to a world in which everyone is in an old folks’ home having lots of sex.

  5. [quote]Like many left-liberals, he lived (and probably still lives) in a sort of bubble world where intentions are everything, history has no place and economics is not permitted to intrude;[/quote]

    It’s stunning how well that describes childhood.

  6. The problem with Kirk is that he was something akin to a BBC sitcom parody of a Conservative: “Kirk declined to drive, calling cars “mechanical Jacobins”, and would have nothing to do with television and what he called “electronic computers.” He picked up from Burke what’s wrong (lamenting the passing of the age of chivalry), ignored what’s right (f.e. the idea that natural rights shouldn’t implemented as an ideological recipe but allowed to manifest in common law), and drawed idiotic romantic images of small villages untainted by the “evil” of industrial civilization.

    A movement that has such supporters doesn’t even need enemies.

    I’d rather read John Kekes, he is a sensible guy and his considerations about the prevalence of evil in history are worthy of consideration for more or less everybody, regardless of political convictions: http://www.deepleafproductions.com/utopialibrary/text/kekes-conservatism.html

  7. “I use the quotation marks because there is very little conservative about right-wing politics.”

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” – Barry Goldwater

  8. It’s not the liberals who have a monopoly on paternalism. I grew up in a conservative Christian environment, and I noticed a tendency to see liberals, gays, pornographers and other “undesirables” as wayward children who needed to be spanked. Of course, liberals want to do the same thing to groups that they don’t like, such as people who make too much money.

    I suppose Lakoff failed to realize that people who seriously believe in government, left or right, often enter “discipline and punish” mode.

  9. Whatever Lakoff has said, he can’t be as bad as the other linguist turned public intellectual: Noam Chomsky. I used to think Chomsky had some interesting things to say…but after reading some objective histories of the Spanish Civil War, and then looking back at his BS propaganda piece (“Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship”), I lost my respect for him as a generic intellectual (not as a linguist, although I don’t know much about that).

    Public intellectuals (the sort of generalized smarty-pants that get interviewed on NPR and do political stuff in addition to whatever field they’re a *real* expert in) are a regrettable development. At least if Lakoff and Chomsky are representative of that sort of person. It makes sense, though, that someone who is considered the brightest in his original field would become so full of himself that he suddenly realized that he was an expert in like, everything.

  10. >Whatever Lakoff has said, he can’t be as bad as the other linguist turned public intellectual: Noam Chomsky

    Chomsky is a nasty piece of work, certainly, but he wasn’t the topic of the post. I can’t write about everything, there isn’t time :-)

    >Public intellectuals (the sort of generalized smarty-pants that get interviewed on NPR and do political stuff in addition to whatever field they’re a *real* expert in) are a regrettable development

    There was a time when the net effect of this class of celebrity wasn’t so bad. That was before Willi Munzenberg built his Trust operation and figured out how to manipulate them on Stalin’s behalf; the Soviets continued his tactics with great success after the KGB murdered Munzenberg himself in 1940. Given that the Soviet Union fell in 1992, I’m estimating the role of public intellectual might re-earn some of its respectability after about 2050.

  11. all i know of this chap is the linked article and the discussion here, but apparent immediately is a key flaw: an equating of “liberal” with “Democrat”

    regardless of culture-specific label, across every country i’ve lived in the “left”, and especially “The Left”, are notable for being even less liberal than “The Right”. rather, the Left tends to hijack by label-adoption (“embrace and extend”) the minority-protecting worthiness/virtue of the “liberal” label as a key element of their own drive for political power.

    there’s none more closed-minded than the politically correct. virtue-voguing by any other name smells just as foul.

  12. David,

    “I grew up in a conservative Christian environment” – why do you call these people conservative? I know they call themselves so, but if you don’t accept the Progressive’s hijacking of the term “liberal”, you shouldn’t accept it either. If Conservativism has anything to do with Christians – and even that I doubt – it’s not the Protestants, but the oldschool Catholics who are the closest to it, who had a broad mind, were capable of fine distinctions, understood the importance of culture and were strongly influenced by the much more healthier Ancient tradition, from Socrates to Cicero. See, Thomas Aquinas, an archetypical Conservative of the Catholic subtype – he had all Conservative virtues from a terrificly broad and deep education to a good sense of humour – said “Beware of the man of only one book.” What are these Fundies if not men of only one book i.e. ideologues?

    There is a clear and unsolvable difference here: either they are conservative or Aquinas was. They can’t both be. One of the must not be.

    ESR,

    “Chomsky is a nasty piece of work, certainly, but he wasn’t the topic of the post. ” OTOH he has a terrific intelligence that scares me. He has at least 20 points more IQ than me and at least 5-10 points more than you. And even though our ideas are different in many fine details, you and I are closer to the truth I think than Chomsky, despite his advantage in IQ. So it seems a higher IQ does not necessarily mean you are right and those who are simpler are wrong. So therefore other things must count in the search for truth: wisdom, experience, common sense, honesty and so on. Does it fit into your rationalistic, scientific worldview?

  13. Saltation,

    agree, but bring this point to its logical consequence. This was true back in the XIX. century, for J.S. Mill and Lord Acton, and back in the XVII. century, the French Revolutionaries – at the end of the day, the meaning of the term “liberal” almost disappears, because it was hijacked so often. At the end of the day, those handful of people who are left, who are truly broad-minded, are exactly the ones who have never called themselves liberals: Locke, Jefferson etc.

  14. >He has at least 20 points more IQ than me and at least 5-10 points more than you

    I won’t accept that premise without actually seeing Chomsky’s IQ score.

  15. Ken,

    “Considering that politics tends to be a lagging indicator of philosophical currents” – indeed. Interestingly, what tends to be a bit quicker to adopt the prevailing tends of philosophical thought is architecture. Take a look at buildings built in the last 10 years, especially government-built ones and you’ll probably have a feel for what will happen in politics.

  16. shenpen, esr:
    >>He has at least 20 points more IQ than me and at least 5-10 points more than you
    >I won’t accept that premise without actually seeing Chomsky’s IQ score.

    i’m with eric on this one. i’ve not seen anything by chomsky that smacks of intelligence. i have only seen (deliberate?) aping/playing up to subcultural behaviours in a status-needy manner. extremely similar to wittgenstein et al. deliberately obfuscatory language masking a paucity of ideas and understanding. read in isolation of his adoration, he typically comes across as retarded, like a barbie who grew up in a university arts department (i have 3.5 degrees — i’m jaded, not jealous).

     
    i actually just popped back in because i realised i’d forgotten to say:
    from the linked article:
    > The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics With an 18th-Century Brain (Viking)
    call me childish, but i found this laugh-out-loud amusing

  17. There is much insight in the original post and the above comments. It’s a subject I’ve pondered for years, starting in my freshman year at college when I decided I didn’t really know what my politics should be. In my innocence I decided that I would just see what the smart people believed, and believe that. Well, in a few weeks I realized that there were smart people and stupid people on all sides of every political issue, and since then I’ve seen nothing to contradict that. Political beliefs track emotion much more than intelligence.

    Lakoff (like many others) understands this, but he ignores the other factors in political belief mentioned above, and like other contemporary postmodernists/leftists, fails to see what his analytical tools would say about his own positions. E.g.: They’ll ask “What’s the matter with Kansas?” (“Why don’t the rubes vote for the increases in socialism we elites are sure will help them?”), but never ask “What’s the matter with the academics who are stuck on discredited economic theories and don’t understand why they’re outvoted by the rubes?”

  18. Another linguist turned political activist (by way of software engineering), Dmitry Orlov, weighs in on the Russia-Georgia conflict. His conclusion: Georgia is undoubtedly the aggressor. By shelling South Ossetia, which is composed of Russian citizens, Georgia has committed an act of war on Russia and thus initiated the violence.

    This war seems to confirm my theory about “terrorists” and “dictators”: namely, that being a brutal thug is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be considered a terrorist or dictator in the eyes of the American government/media: to be so considered you must also deny American business interests access to important resources or markets. This is certainly the case with Russia, who want to control the flow of oil in the region. The structured narratives about who is the “good guy” and who the “bad guy” in this conflict are all carefully managed by Western/American propaganda machines to drum up support for yet another battle in the war to control the earth’s remaining resources.

  19. To the above I should also add: Brutal thugs who support American business interests are narratized as “allies” and “partners”. In addition to Saakashvili, see also: Pinochet, Saddam before the Kuwait invasion, etc.

  20. Ken,

    Conservatism only keeps winning because it promises that our way of life will continue uninterrupted, no matter the cost. Jimmy Carter’s energy policy (derided by conservatives as a “prescription of sweaters and lowered expectations”) was unpopular, but it is the only tenable one on a spherical planet with dwindling resources. Sooner or later, we will have to accept the fact that we will either lower our standard of living or have it forcibly lowered for us. If lives, natural resources, and the planet itself are sacrificed on the altar of “high standard of living”, what does that buy us except a hastening of the day when we realize that money cannot be eaten? How much of our standard of living is pure cancerous excrescence? Most personal automobiles, and with them the MASSIVE EPIC FAIL of land management that is suburbia, are strictly speaking not necessary for survival, and we could live lives of abundance without them.

  21. Jeff, thanks for that Orlov link. Fabulous article.

    I’m still at a loss why the state department is rushing in to vilify Russia, though. I don’t believe that it’s as simplistic as Orlov’s last paragraph makes it out to be.

  22. Daniel Franke,

    I don’t either, which is why I added my own commentary regarding the energy wars. I think the morality play we are subjected to is another propaganda setup in order to justify violence to protect our oil pipelines in the region.

  23. Jeff,

    the core question to ask about the way of life, especially when it comes to energy: why do people have to travel quite a lot to get to work, another quite a lot to shop etc.?

    And the answer is twofold. First, more or less everybody prefers living in houses with gardens to apartments if they can afford so. I grew up in an apartment and when we moved to a house at the age of 16 I instantly felt it as a huge improvement. A decentralized way of living is preferred, for many reasons. I don’t think that in the foreseeable future people will prefer to live in hives if they have a choice.

    OTOH business benefits from concentration, of economies of scale. Decentralized living, centralized working and shopping: that’s the main reason for this waste of not only energy, but much more precious time. It could be different: telecommuting, groceries to your door. Maybe it will be.

    And zoning laws make the situation much worse than it should be.

  24. And the importance of this approach lies in that it does not require making sacrifices. The point is not to go on holidays or to sweat. Not even to take the train. The point is, why do I waste 30-40% of my daily free time on commuting and what could be done about it. This is the number one thing I dislike in my life. Time is the most precious thing we have and to spend 1.5-2 hours every day in a car or on a train is just plain crazy. And finding a solution for that would reduce the need for fossil fuels too as a secondary effect.

  25. This Orlov looks like a slimeball of enormous proportions to me. http://www.energybulletin.net/node/23259 – “The Jails Race once showed the Soviets with a decisive lead, thanks to their innovative GULAG program. But they gradually fell behind, and in the end the Jails Race has been won by the Americans, with the highest percentage of people in jail ever.” This is just disgusting.

  26. >Sooner or later, we will have to accept the fact that we will either lower our standard of living or have it forcibly lowered for us.

    Horseshit and nonsense.

    Have you learned nothing from the last century of ephemeralization and substitution? Go read up on the Ehrlich-Simon bet. Resources are not dwindling, because the most important resource — design information — is exploding.

  27. >Have you learned nothing from the last century of ephemeralization and substitution? Go read up on the Ehrlich-Simon bet. Resources are not dwindling, because the most important resource — design information — is exploding.

    After Reading R. Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path, I believe that most conflicts in the past have been over access to resources. Since resources were scarce, they had to be rationed, either by some central authority, or by supply and demand. Access to resources, therefore, was a political issue. If you wanted something someone else had, you either had to convince the other party to give it to you, or take it by force (or enlist a third party, such as the government, to do so.)

    Now that we are shifting from a resource-based to information-based economy, it seems that technology is rewriting the rules of scarcity. Now there’s room for everybody. Ephemeralization makes coexistence a reasonable political goal.

  28. Eric,

    Go read up on the Ehrlich-Simon bet.

    Sure — as soon as you read up on the Jevons paradox. The sad fact is the more our technological society innovates the more consumptive and resource-intensive we become. Look up the data for ecological footprint and you will find that the more developed and capitalistic a society is the more resource-intensive it is. The United States tops the list at 9.6 global hectares per capita.

    And by the way, right now we’re in overshoot, consuming 20% more resources than the earth has the ability to regenerate long-term.

  29. This is just disgusting.

    How so? The fact that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, surpassing Russia some time in the mid-nineties, is a well-documented fact.

    And if you look at the ethnic breakdown of who is filling those prisons, you cannot escape the conclusion that the U.S. criminal justice system is racist down to its rotten core.

  30. >Sure — as soon as you read up on the Jevons paradox.

    Have done so, and am not impressed. The real-world fact is that U.S. demand for oil is falling. Simon’s cornucopianism is predicting aggregate commodity prices and demand correctly; the Jevons paradox argument is not. The latter seems to be nothing but yet another tiresome rationalization for emotionally-driven catastrophism.

  31. >And if you look at the ethnic breakdown of who is filling those prisons, you cannot escape the conclusion that the U.S. criminal justice system is racist down to its rotten core.

    Possible, but not a conclusion justified by the evidence. Blacks, at 12% of the U.S. population, commit 50% of crime. On that basis alone we should expect a race-blind justice system to have a 4:1 ratio of black to white prisoners. There are other, more plausible hypotheses than racism to account for any remaining discrepancy; classism is one.

    UPDATE: In fact, the statistical analyses at La Griffe du Lion do a pretty good job of showing that the racial disparity is entirely accounted for by group differences in the propensity to criminality.

  32. You seem to have completely missed the point that George Lakoff is just a Karl Rove mole dispatched to perform a strategic demolition of the Left.

  33. RE: Georgia,

    I just do not believe the black sea oil is that much of an issue in this fight. The pipeline runs through Ajara, which is rather safe. The aid given to Georgia involved CI training to pacify the Pankisi gorge.

  34. Jeff,

    please don’t make me call you names. I try not to but… how the heck can one consider two systems equivalent where one of them sends people for mere political dissent without due process to camps which are practically death camps due to lack of food and very cold weather, and the other is jailing people who did commit crimes with due process in prisons to provide adequate food, heating, medical care etc.? (OK there are two problems 1) large number of inmates who did nothing wrong except for possessing drugs 2) prison rape, but still they are WAY far away from equivalent.) In my political vocabulary GULAG-relativism is equivalent to Auswitz-relativism, something that decent people look upon with horror. There is one world of difference between something that’s evil to it’s core and something that’s mere unfair and has some mistakes about it, and to understand this difference is where morality merely begins. Ehh… it’s really something I shouldn’t have to explain… don’t relativize evil. Ever. Don’t compare it to something unfair, imperfect, but fixable. If you start doing it a whole canyon of the darkest sort of nihilism opens under your feet. Don’t go down that road. Just don’t. That road leads to the loss of what makes us human.

  35. I don’t see any paradoxical about the Jevons Paradox. Innovation moves the whole marginal utility scale of a given resource lower, but we still keep climbing that scale, that curve. For example we are very high on the marginal utility scale of bronze – it’s just not much use anymore.

    However, while we are at it – someone mentioned in the Oderint discussion about 2 years ago that Fischer-Trops plant become profitable at 32 bucks a barrel. Shouldn’t we start to see some of them being built?

  36. >However, while we are at it – someone mentioned in the Oderint discussion about 2 years ago that Fischer-Trops plant become profitable at 32 bucks a barrel. Shouldn’t we start to see some of them being built?

    Not quite yet. IIRC the Fischer-Tropf process requires huge quantities of water.

  37. >There is one world of difference between something that’s evil to it’s core and something that’s mere unfair and has some mistakes about it, and to understand this difference is where morality merely begins.

    Yes, but expecting American leftists to understand this distinction is, in my experience, hopeless.

  38. Lakoff could not see the connection between opposing high tax rates and supporting the death penalty…

    Well, I can. High tax rates were a part of the liberal or progressive program of social engineering – taking a large share or even most of the citizens’ money from them to be spent by the state according to the progressives’ direction. Opposing the death penalty was part of the same agenda of social progress.

    There is nothing in the least surprising that those on the other side of one of these issues would be on the other side of the other.

    Certainly there are some who weren’t. but the pattern is clear.

  39. Jeff,

    Some other thoughts on resource usage. We really shouldn’t sweep everything under the umbrella term “resource”. For example metals can be easily recycled. I wouldn’t be too worried about them. Wood takes a while to grow, but with a bit of foresight we can plant enough in advance if we foresee higher future demand. Soil? That’s trickier. It can be replaced by hydroponics, but that’s expensive. Manufacture soil, mix sand with compost? Maybe, but sounds expensive. This might become a problem. However, this is something advanced industrial societies get right – what is really bad for the soil is low-tech hack-and-burn agriculture. Anyway, the point is that “resource” is a too general umbrella term, and different resources should be thought about differently.

    I think at the end of the day the only really important resource is energy. Given enough energy, we could do crazy stuff like take the C out of CO2, press it into diamonds and build houses out of it. (But what would I use to drill a hole into the wall? :-) ) Enough energy + a barren desert = paradise, that’s the way I understand how engineering works, which might be wrong.

    And from an energy point of view there are reasons to be optimistic. The way things look now, clean increasingly means cheap, and that’s a powerful motivator. I think we’ll see a huge bubble coming in clean energy: the usual Fed-generated fiat money investment + frenzied private investment, the usual Austrian cycle. I think in year or so, when the recession bottoms, it’s going to be a good idea to buy clean energy stocks and get out, well, around 2014 or so when the bubble’s gonna reach it’s top and start to burst. Just like dot-com or housing.

  40. I think at the end of the day the only really important resource is energy.

    BINGO. Which is why all this talk about ephemeralization and substitution is a bunch of cornucopian nonsense without proven energy technologies to back it up. There is currently no substitute for conventional oil in terms of EROEI (energy returned on energy invested). None. Zip. All the unconventional sources and “alternative energy sources” we now have at our disposal are far more expensive than conventional oil in terms of land usage, manpower, and of course energy, and all the alternatives combined can not match the energy output we once enjoyed with oil. The only end result is a net decline in energy, and hence, in wealth.

    Enough energy + a barren desert = paradise, that’s the way I understand how engineering works, which might be wrong.

    You’re righter than you know. Try going to the Coachella Valley in California sometime, which is where Presidents frequently make their home when they retire. Sun, sand, and, er… more sand. :) But the immense wealth in the region has funded irrigation and water pipelines to make the place into a habitable, even pleasant, oasis. I’m to understand that other similarly wealthy communities are blossoming in desertified regions of the Southwest, around cities like Albuquerque, NM and Phoenix, AZ.

    Such flagrant expenditures of energy are only possible in an era of abundant energy which means it will take only one severe energy shortage to turn those places into ghost towns. You can bet your ass that the power brokers who live in these communities will try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

    Another, far more important, component of engineering is making the best use of the resources (raw materials, energy, and what Eric called “design information”) you have. Separating CO2 molecules is currently not a cost-effective source of carbon, and if you design fossil-fuel-burning systems with disregard for CO2 emissions in the hopes that one day we’ll be able to reclaim all that carbon and build the Diamond Age with it then you’re a retarded dreamer, not an engineer. Hypothesizing about what might be possible if you had infinite energy at your disposal is a fun cornucopian masturbation fantasy, but regrettably the Earth is a sphere, and all spheres are finite; therefore, the Earth is finite.

    Eric,

    The real-world fact is that U.S. demand for oil is falling.

    EPIC LULZ. Did you read the article?

    “The decline in U.S. consumption in the first half of 2008, reflecting slower economic growth and the impact of high prices, was the largest half-year consumption decline in volume terms in the last 26 years, when, in the first half of 1982, consumption dropped by nearly 800,000 bbl/d,” the Energy Information Administration says in its monthly energy report.

    No substitution or ephemeralization going on here, I’m afraid.

  41. >There is currently no substitute for conventional oil in terms of EROEI (energy returned on energy invested).

    Wrong. Nuclear fission will do nicely.

    >Did you read the article?

    Yes. Now go reread “the impact of high prices”. That’s what drives substitution; it’s the market, working.

  42. Let’s test the Oakeshottian analysis by applying it to the Georgian situation and see how well it fits results from other kinds of analysis. The Oakeshottian method is that basically despite all the rhetorics to the contrary, people rarely act driven by theories, ideologies, or principles, because they are lacking in modelling the complexity of the world. Therefore people tend to act driven by experience: experience gained from what they did before and/or closely observed others doing, and they try to apply that to the new situations, new problems, even when it’s not a very good fit.

    The one thing Orlov got right in that Georgia has a largely hedonistic, epicurean culture. And mountanious countries tend to develop a live and let live, mind your own biz way of thinking (Switzerland, Tibet) as fucking with others is usually too costly and it’s easy to stop others from fucking with you. Kind of an Italian Alps, I guess, let’s leave each other alone and cook something delicious, that sort of culture. This sort of experience doesn’t really allow for fierce nationalism, of invading those two territories just because they want to be independent. It must have some other reason that they attacked, it’s almost sure. With such kind of experience if South Ossetians and Abkhazians would have just said “OK, we’ll manage on our own, KTHXBYE”, they would not have attacked, something else must have happened. They just don’t have experience in this sort of “let’s dominate others in the name of the integrity of our sacred Nation” thing. I don’t think they think this way, I don’t think they acted out of nationalistic zeal, I don’t think they are agressors.

    OTOH Kremlin has a long history of experience of imperialism, to the point that I can hardly imagine them acting any other way. They simply don’t have experience in any other kind of politics than outright domination.

    Adding these two together it’s likely that the Georgians are the good guys in this case.

    Does it fit the other kinds of analyses?

  43. shenpen:
    >GULAG
    throttle down your outrage for a second– he’s not equating political oppression with criminality. he’s being ironic for laughs. the whole “gap” reference is a clear signal of intended light-heartedness in that minor aside. think: Doctor Strangelove. get your head in that frame of thinking, then re-read the slide&notes. it’s a drollery– no more.

    eric:
    >>There is currently no substitute for conventional oil in terms of EROEI (energy returned on energy invested).
    >nuclear
    :) i was just going to say that.
    *true* greenies argue FOR nuclear power. as does for example the founder of GreenPeace (now reviled by the latter inhabitants of his creation for being politically incorrect).

    >Have done so, and am not impressed. The real-world fact is that U.S. demand for oil is falling.
    hear hear. even larger: the *world-wide* de-coupling of wealth from oil seems strongly to have reached a key transition point about 4 years ago. note the graph here, plotting global GDP against global oil production. one’s a straight line, the other became a flat line in 2004.

    >Simon-Ehrlich wager
    did you find the quote of Ehrlich’s self-justification (“According to Paul Ehrlich’s website:”) as laugh-out-loud funny as i did? yep, after building a thesis which absolutely requires non-renewables to be MORE sensitive to population pressure than renewables, he seeks to claim that the wager was meaningless because non-renewables are not a useful test, only renewables are. “no, child, the opposite is the case.”

    David Deloney:
    >After Reading R. Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path, I believe that most conflicts in the past have been over access to resources.
    most conflicts have been initiated for Social reasons, not resource reasons. true, once conflict has been initiated, resources become critical and the usual barriers to seizing them have been discarded, so you see war-in-progress bids for resource-rich territory (hence for example germany’s invasion of the ukraine in WWII). but note that the usa is currently in afghanistan and iraq at the moment (and previously in vietnam and korea, and before that in europe even when it was in its best economic interests to simply maintain the extant friendly relations with germany), whereas if (oil) resources were a prime trigger of invasion they would currently be in nigeria and venezuela.
    and the Silicon Valley Purely For Self-Defence Force Honest Mate would have seized 1 or 2 key mines in africa years ago: the entire world’s modern technology currently depends utterly upon their rare earths and those unique deposits have ~90% of the global proven reserves.

  44. Shenpen,

    Do a little research into the prosecution patterns for crystal meth (a drug commonly associated with rural whites) and those for crack cocaine (commonly associated with inner-city blacks). And understand fully that crack was introduced to this country’s streets by Ronnie Reagan’s CIA contacts to fund our proxy war against the Sandinistas. The disproportionate incarceration of blacks in America may not reach the scale of the Russian gulag, but it’s more than just a little unfair.

  45. >And understand fully that crack was introduced to this country’s streets by Ronnie Reagan’s CIA contacts to fund our proxy war against the Sandinistas.

    That charge was insane when it was first made in the 1980s and has not grown any saner since. The disparity in sentencing between powdered and rock cocaine is indeed unjust; there’s no need to damage a good argument by coupling it to nutcase ravings.

  46. “Nutcase ravings” corroborated by some of the drug dealers and cops who were there when it happened, backed by the Kerry Committee’s Congressional investigation, and, eventually admitted by the CIA itself.

  47. >and finally admitted by the CIA itself.

    Adjust your medication. The story you quote says the contras sold drugs in the U.S., not that their “CIA contacts” did. This is not news, and is not equivalent to the CIA itself importing and selling cocaine.

  48. Eric, perhaps I phrased it wrong.

    I never said that the CIA itself imported and sold cocaine; only that they lent aid or protection to some of their contacts, like Oscar Danilo Blandon, to smuggle and sell cocaine in order to fund the Contras.

    The point being that even as the Reagan administration was launching its “Just say no” campaign it was lending support and protection to the people putting those drugs on the street in the first place.

  49. >Eric, perhaps I phrased it wrong.

    The Left has been “phrasing that one wrong” for twenty years, and I’m way past fed up with dishonesty and/or disconnection from reality it implies. It couldn’t possibly be that Blandon and his buddies pulled a fast one of the CIA; oh, no, it has to have been an eeeevil conservative plot to fuck over black people. Meanwhile, you promulgate the most obvious garbage from any anti-American source as though it were gospel. Conservatives may be wrong about almost everything else that matters, but they’ve sure got the hypocrisy, fecklessness, and downright evil of the Left nailed.

  50. >Yeah — for about four years. After that, then what?

    Japan and France have been running a mostly-nuclear power-generation capability for ten times that long with net positive energy output. And there are always breeder reactors.

  51. When you consider how many people are in jail because they violated laws put together to target people of certain races (the drug laws, for instance), how many are jailed for consensual crimes, the penchant of our police for framing people (Tulia, TX comes to mind-but it’s not an isolated incident), the casual brutality with which most prisoners are treated, the way jails are operated for a profit (the Gulag was, too-doubters can pick up Anne Applebaum’s book and check her references), the way many prisons are essentially run by the criminals in them, the political power of the people who run the prisons (especially in the state of California, where the Prison Guard Union works very hard to increase the number of people in jail)-well, when you take all that into consideration, our current penal organization has a lot of uncomfortable similarities to the Gulag. The big differences are that we do not, for the most part, imprison people for dissidence (except during political conventions and big events, when our dissidents are locked up in free speech cages), and the Soviets didn’t consider rape to be part of the sentence.

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