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Month: October 2013

Faustian Culture

A brief look at Spengler’s culture names. Same sources as in the previous post, I really ought to do better at linking my sources again. Uncited quotes are all from Decline of the West.


“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”



Spengler’s sense of the essences of different cultures is interesting. I’m also inclined to like it for paralleling my own thoughts about how older cultures are smart like us but are not actually like us. 

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Spengler’s Meaning of Numbers

I have sometimes talked about numbers as rhetorical devices. I’ve also talked about different concepts and isomorphs (representations of the same “thing”) affording different actions.

Simulation Gap: Discrete (hidden) models in games/software attempt to communicate nuanced experiential feedback to players/users.

Reducing to Numbers: Numbers are rhetorical devices that can take subtle interactions and make them explicit and discrete.

Playing Everything:

Computers are different than people. There are no fictions, there is no “spirit of the law“. There is only the law.

I didn’t think that there was much else to say on the topic beyond that. Numbers-as-rhetoric is a pretty cut-and-dry topic.

As I started looking into Spengler, I discovered that the first chapter of Decline of the West was titled “The Meaning of Numbers.”

I let Spengler do a lot of the talking here although I try to summarize and condense. He wrote about numbers quite a bit. 

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Spengler’s Winter


The next few posts are on the work and ideas of Oswald Spengler. He’s not a very warm or optimistic guy.

Some of this may be written awkwardly- if so, sorry. I wanted to let this post go early and get moving on this topic.
A summary of this post:

  • Social reality is as real to humans as physical reality is.
  • Hyperrealities are being sculpted continuously in our culture by rational institutions.
  • Oswald Spengler had a cyclic theory about how cultures grow and die, and we are in the Winter phase of his cycle.
  • Spengler’s Winter, the phase of Civilization, outlines how he believes our culture will die- along lines analogous to the death of cultures that preceded us.
  • Spengler would likely see kludge and media-manufactured [popularly approved!] hyperreal as the zenith of a particular phase of Winter politics.

 Optimism is cowardice.

-Oswald Spengler

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Tribe Dismantling: Confusion vs. Closure

I’m writing this sentence as I started outlining the notes that will become this post, on the 9th of October. I expect that when it automatically publishes, at noon of the 15th of October, the government is still shut down.

Unrelated, I swear: Soon I’m switching focus to Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West for several posts. I’ve read enough ammunition to put some notes down on a few ideas of his that I found interesting.


Epistemic Confusion (Dissolution)

The Champion archetype I proposed has one broad goal: To build a coherent, communicable creed that the tribe can rally around. He has to shout down other would-be authorities who might misdirect the flock, and he also has to solidify at least some of the creed into something very concrete and well-defined to avoid this:

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Apologetics II

 To understand something is to link it up with a concept or story; to communicate it is to link it up to a concept or story that is shared (and includes the process of building these shared concepts). –Sister Y

Earlier this year I read From Jesus to Christ: Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus. I loved it as a study of the early evolution of doctrinal thought- the very early, inter-book re-framing of the Jesus tale told between the different Gospels. There are two general moves that occur in the book’s readings of the Gospels that I thought were fascinating: the broad cultural context switch and the different viewpoints on the Jesus story that the gospels tell.

I hate to have to say this, but since this blog post is public: It might be more useful to keep in mind that my focus here is on rhetoric and not the actual content of Christianity.

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Apologetics I

Reflections on First Encountering Ethnomethodology effectively covers a few points I would’ve loved to make (and also re-articulates some ideas I already did mention). It’s a short read that I recommend. I wanted to pay particular attention to how she describes the sculpting of religious/political beliefs.

Concepts are socially created and maintained, but they are real enough to affect the world by ordering human thought and behavior.

I have always loved the idea of “apologetics”. I like the idea of there being a sort of established canon story and maybe a veneer of infallibility. I love the constant rationalization, the retranslation and semantic distinctions and interpretive works and addenda that slowly morph ideas that meant something to one audience at one time, into very different ideas that mean something new to a different audience. I enjoy the idea of the rhetorical acrobatics of the intelligent, zealous, heterodox early Christian writers, the careful “Communist” incrementalism/conservatism of Chinese reformers as they try to play social status games with the Authoritative Texts.

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A (Very Short) Pragmatic Primer

Next week, I’m going back to the topic of rhetoric, writing about apologetics.

Today, more quick notes. A simple paragraph on Pragmatism that I hope to return to later.

Pragmatism: Philosophical position that replaces Truth and Being with comedy and cold hard cash.

-R. Scott Bakker (@theDevilsChirp on Twitter)


 I was introduced to Pragmatism in college, by a statistics professor who happened to also teach this philosophy (his title: The Herbert A Simon Professor of Philosophy and Statistics…cough coughAs I had mentioned once before, the same year I learned about abduction in the context of design, I also was introduced to the formal concept of abduction as Peirce imagined it. A funny thing about Pragmatism is that many of its themes became so successful that they’re now taken for granted. There isn’t much of a single party line within Pragmatism, either, calling its continued existence into question. I wanted to credit at least the parts of the philosophy that I steal and bastardize from occasionally.
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I’m also posting tomorrow. But it’s a small one, then I’m done for the week.

For whatever it’s worth I am still thinking aloud at this point and I’m not selling anything. I’m not so sure I’ve sold it to myself. Just had to keep writing.

I should clarify, again, that in these matters I’m especially a layperson. Pinches of salt, everyone.


Flavors of Peace

From an article in the often-excellent Aeon Magazine:

Language conventions speak volumes, too. It is said that the Bedouin have nearly 100 different words for camels, distinguishing between those that are calm, energetic, aggressive, smooth-gaited, or rough, etc. Although we carefully identify a multitude of wars — the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, the American Civil War, the Vietnam War, and so forth — we don’t have a plural form for peace.

It makes evolutionary sense that human beings pay special attention to episodes of violence, whether interpersonal or international: they are matters of life and death, after all. But when serious scientists do the same and, what is more, when they base ‘normative’ conclusions about the human species on what is simply a consequence of their selective attention, we all have a problem.

Spurred by a discussion a few weeks ago, I was thinking about how “peaces” would be named. Surely there are many flavors of peace. Some peaces are tainted by varieties of conflict, or by their likelihood to devolve back into war- periods of instability and threatening, denouncing and military buildup, ethnic conflicts or crime waves, economic crises. Others might be defined by the resolution of a war (treaty-enforced peace, alliance-peace, military occupation). Still other kinds of peace are not defined because of how ill-defined the groups involved are (as it’s hard to war without differentiated warring groups) or by the shadow of a shared enemy (I imagine many fraternal states/cultures are forged by common enemies). Peace can also be the result of a shared history or shared military occupation. It could be a lack of interest by one or both parties in exploiting any particular aspect of the other- there’s nothing worth justifying the cost of war. Maybe the trade is too good to ruin things over. Most state peaces in history are probably the result of peer states that have roughly equal resources and power (or are members of coalitions of equal power and resources) and have no strong incentive to disrupt that stability.

EDIT: Jordan Peacock messaged me: “armistice, truce, surrender, ceasefire, union”. All often have proper names for their peace.

But there is definitely a special variety of peace that has been named definitively for centuries now:


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Notes on Historiography

I’m going to dump a lot of text this week. I’m not sorry at all about that.

I *am* a bit concerned that this week’s writing is further from my comfort zone. Next week I’ll scoot back into familiar territory (for me, anyway).

I started IDing (eye deeing, c’mon folks) my section headings so that I can keep my long posts but refer to sections when I’m linking to myself.

More tomorrow and Thursday. It was all the same writing session, and I don’t want a backlog.



This post is the compilation of three different thoughts I collected from old notes.

I. Attribution – A simple post I read from years ago about ideology and causation, just to keep in mind.

II. Schools of Thought – For purposes of contrast/context, a sample of different easily-identified historical attitudes. The last four are the most interesting to me.

III. Political Disclosure – Some statements that I operate from, and a few off-hand opinions in case you wanna fight.


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