Significance, and Links

More on yesterday’s post about intuitive morality; the idea of “significance”, and Alastair Reynolds’ new novel; and links and comments.

First for today: I finished some thoughts in yesterday’s post (added at the bottom) about the drivers of intuitive morality. (In-group/out-group trumps justice and cooperation.)

Second for today: I find myself quite attracted to G.H. Hardy’s idea of “significance” in mathematics, and how in contrast, some mathematical ideas or applications, like chess, are unimportant, no matter how complex they might be. Significant, or serious, mathematical ideas are those that can be connected to other mathematical ideas, that in turn relate to our understanding of the real, or abstract, world. Chess is a game unto itself; so are all sports. Which is why I’ve found all of them, chess and sports, uninteresting.

Also, I’ve just finished a new novel by Alastair Reynolds, Eversion, that makes two other of Hardy’s points: that mathematical discoveries should be beautiful; and that for a mathematician, a truly new discovery, that remains true forever, is all a mathematician needs to secure his legacy. (More on the book later. These are incidental points … or maybe not, in the novel.)

Third, I’ll indulge again today in posting a bunch of links from the past few days, mostly about politics, and associated topics.

Alas, in the above terms, politics *is* significant, in that however irrational it is, it can affect our daily lives, and it can have long-term consequences. If not permanent consequences. Most of all, politics reveals the tendency and dangers of peoples’ short-term thinking. And, reflecting yesterday’s post, peoples’ tendency toward in-group/out-group thinking, the tendency to blame the out-group for whatever seems to be going wrong. Tribalism and ignorance seem to rule the world.

Vice, 4 Nov 2022: ‘Lizard Elite’ Conspiracy Theorist Banned from 26 European Countries, via, which quotes:

The Dutch government has banned the controversial British conspiracy theorist David Icke from entering the Netherlands and basically all of the EU over concerns he poses a threat to public order, officials announced on Thursday.

Icke, a former footballer and sports broadcaster who is one of the world’s most high-profile conspiracy theorists, had been scheduled to speak at a “peace” rally by a conspiracist movement in Amsterdam on Sunday.

The letter from Dutch immigration authorities announcing the ban also referred to the anti-Semitic overtones of Icke’s defining conspiracy ideology – that the world is secretly controlled by a global elite of shape-shifting, child-sacrificing reptilians.

A sports broadcaster. Yes, there are apparently people with so little understanding of how the real world actually works, that they believe comic-strip fodder like this.


Washington Post, Perry Bacon Jr., 4 Nov 2022: Opinion | The three reasons American elections are always so close

Not by education. It’s by policy, racial views, and socialization. The last I think is key:

A third factor entrenching the partisan divide is what scholars refer to as social polarization. Most voters don’t really have set policy or ideological views, even on racial or gender issues. But they have parents, spouses and friends; attend churches, synagogues and mosques; live in particular neighborhoods and cities; and consume certain kinds of media. Americans typically choose their party based on these social factors.

But there’s also, which the essay doesn’t mention, the simple dynamic of how opposing parties shift their stances back and forth in order to attract as many voters as they can. Thus Republicans, continually, tone down their harsh rhetoric about things they used to condemn but which have now become part of progressive society — like women’s voting, racial equality, gay rights, and so on. But not all of them; the MAGAs would take them all away. (And the Supreme Court, with three justices appointed by Trump, seem intent on doing so.)

And how, despite statistics (which most voters have no awareness of) that show that crime rates are far lower now than they were in the 1990s, the Democrats counter Republican anecdotes (always more powerful than statistics) about crime by… avoiding the topic. Or proposing sophisticated measures to prevent crime (not just to punish it) which when implemented don’t show immediate results, and so get voted out of office. (Chesa Boudin)


NY Times, Jamelle Bouie, 4 Nov 2022: This Is What Happens When Republicans Tear Off Their Masks

Even by the degraded standards of 2022, it has been shocking to watch Republican politicians and conservative media personalities respond to the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi — Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband — with lies, conspiracymongering and gleeful disregard for the victim.


Daily Kos via: “Kari Lake Calls For Repealing Obamacare, Rolling Back High School Math, Science, And History Requirements”

She’s one of the many Republicans who are saying that she will only accept election results if they win. Democracy? No.

Who says we have to have this many hours of science, this many of math and history? We can change that up.

Keep the kids dumb.


Washington Post, Dana Milbank, 2 Nov 2022: Opinion | Here’s what Paul Pelosi has in common with litter boxes

What does Paul Pelosi have to do with the placement of litter boxes in public-school bathrooms? The truth might make your tail twitch.

Last week in North Hampton, N.H., the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Don Bolduc, gave his supporters some hair-raising information.

“Guess what? We have furries and fuzzies in classrooms,” Bolduc informed them, according to audio obtained by CNN. “They lick themselves, they’re cats. When they don’t like something, they hiss.” A hissing sound could be heard in the room. “And get this,” he went on. “They’re putting litter boxes, right? Litter boxes for that.”

“I wish I was making it up,” the GOP nominee said.


Skeptic, Isaac Saul: Not Rigged!, subtitled “How We Know Recent Elections Are Not Fraudulent”

The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, 1 Nov 2022: The Dark Heart of the Republican Party, subtitled “Embracing the politics of sadism, the GOP base hits a new low.” (This is by a conservative whom I admire; I reviewed one of his books here.)


Slate, 31 Oct 2022: How the Absurd Conspiracy Theory That the Attack on Paul Pelosi Was a Lovers’ Quarrel Took Over the Right, subtitled “Thank Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, and Donald Trump Jr.”

Great examples of how conspiracy mongers just make things up, and the cynical followers are happy to repeat it. With Dinesh D’Souza and Donald Trump Jr. right in there.


Joe.My.God, 1 Nov 2022: Trump Spreads Claim Attack On Paul Pelosi Was Staged

It wasn’t. As many later news reports explained. Trump never retracts, or apologizes. His followers believe everything he says, because they have no connection with any other media.


Slate, 1 Nov 2022: The “Parental Rights” Lie at the Heart of GOP Efforts to Target LGBTQ Youth


Concluding with:

Washington Post, Alexandra Petri, 1 Nov 2022: Opinion | Vote for me to run elections, and you’ll never have to vote again

This is satire. Perhaps. There are Republicans politicians out there saying that if they are elected no Democrat will ever win an election again.

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