Archives for posts with tag: religion

Oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium! [T]hat to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for “the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,” bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; and to the guilty man for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure from blood; and to the proud man a brief oblivion for Wrongs [unaddressed] and insults unavenged ….. Thou only givest these gifts to man; and thou hast the keys of Paradise, oh, just, subtle, and mighty opium!

Thomas de Quincey[1]

 [This is Fred. Phil’s out with exhaustion, heat and otherwise, and asked me to take over today’s lesson. This isn’t an easy thing to do, because he has a list of heavy-duty subjects to cover some day, but most are not in my area of interest, and I don’t know enough to lecture about the rest. It would take too long to research “Philosophical Aspects of Modern Rap,” or “A Linguistic Analysis of Feminist Theory,” or “Will Ancient Spells Work on Mars?” [Although that last one really looks interesting.[2]]

But we’re not blazing new paths today; there’s a deadline; so let’s look for an old subject, one we know something about. How about opioids and our collective addiction to them? Heroin, an opioid, has been around and afflicting people in this country for some time.[3] Opium, the original opioid, has caused problems in the East for centuries and has addicted folks in the West for generations. Most of us kind of know about these things, but ignore them. The current furor about opioids only erupted because there are synthetics now loose in the drug economy. They’re very potent, and deadly, and their users die at a high rate.

So why not frame our current situation with some history? Did you know that opium was a big problem in England in the 18th and 19th Centuries? And what’s the evidence for that? Well, for one thing there’s a very famous book, first published in London Magazine in 1821, that chronicles the opium addiction of an upper class Englishman. My friends in sociology say it’s a classic. The book tells us quite a bit about how the author got addicted, who supplied the stuff, and how many users there were.

It says London had a well-established opium trade in the early 19th Century. The author reported: “Three respectable London druggists, in widely remote quarters of London … assured me that the number of amateur opium-eaters … was at [that] time immense; and that the difficulty of distinguishing those persons to whom habit had rendered opium necessary from such as were purchasing it with a view to suicide, occasioned them [the druggists] daily trouble and disputes.”[4] So why would druggists back then worry about would-be suicides? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a legal requirement. But apparently the prospect of suicide didn’t inhibit sales all that much. The population of users “was immense.”

Also, opium addiction was not just an upper class London phenomenon. Blue-collar types in other parts of England were getting into it, “so much so, that on a Saturday afternoon the counters of the druggists were strewed with pills of one, two, or three grains, in preparation for the known demand of the evening.”[5] The author said this happened because, for a time, opium was less expensive than alcohol, so the working class went with the new thing. But, he said, if the pricing reversed, the new addicts would not follow. “[T]hose eat now who never ate before; [a]nd those who always ate, now [will] eat the more.”[6] That is, opium addicts, once made, would not go back to the old vices simply because the market ordered it.]

The book is Confessions of An English Opium-Eater: Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar, written by Thomas de Quincey.[7] He lived from 1785 to 1859, and was severely addicted from about 1813 until 1819. If you want to know more, there are some web-based biographies available[8]; but in my view they pretty much track the book; so that’s where we’ll concentrate. As to why De Quincey was a user, look at the quote that opens this piece. Opium held the keys to Paradise.[9]

De Quincey’s Life and Addiction

Or at least it did when he used opium sparingly, and at great intervals, for recreation. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Let’s look at the milestones on his road to and from addiction:

  1. Thomas de Quincey was born on August 5, 1785. His father was a merchant, just starting out, and had good prospects until he died, 7 years later. By my count, that would have been in 1792.
  2. Young Thomas had 4 guardians after that, and was shipped off to various schools for his education, apparently including Eton and an unnamed school at Oxford. “I was sent to various schools, great and small; and was very early distinguished for my classical attainments, especially for my knowledge of Greek. At thirteen I wrote Greek with ease; and at fifteen my command of that language was so great that I not only composed Greek verses in lyric metres [today, “meters”], but could converse in Greek fluently and without embarrassment …”[10]
  3. He tried opium for the first time at age 18, which would have been in 1803. He liked it, and over the next 10 years continued to use it “for the sake of the exquisite pleasure it gave me ….”[11]; but, he said, he spaced out the doses to preserve their effect, and that protected him “from all [the] material bad consequences”[12] of addiction. Or perhaps he just didn’t have the money to buy in quantity. Who knows?
  4. The situation changed in 1813, when he was 28. He had an eruption of a gastro-intestinal problem that first had hit him when he was a teenager. Apparently it was both painful and chronic; so much so that he began to treat himself with daily doses of his favorite drug. “It was not for the purpose of creating pleasure, but of mitigating pain in the severest degree, that I first began to use opium as an article of daily diet.”[13]
  5. He continued until he was thoroughly addicted, and didn’t kick the habit until 1819, six years later. How did he escape? By incrementally reducing his intake until he achieved a zero dose rate; and that wasn’t easy! He tried to do it in the early days, but failed. And he was a mess even after he succeeded. “Think of me as one, even when four months had passed, still agitated, writhing, throbbing, palpitating, shattered, and much perhaps in the situation of him who has been racked …. Meantime, I derived no benefit from any medicine, except one prescribed to me by an Edinburgh surgeon of great eminence, viz., ammoniated tincture of valerian.”[14]
  6. Valerian is an herb you can buy today at the vitamin store, but I’m not saying it will help you conquer opioids. So far as I can tell, there still aren’t any easy cures. Right now a cynic might say our technology isn’t much more effective than what was available to De Quincey 200 years ago. Reports are that there may be a vaccine in our future, but they’re speculative and a subject for a different blog.


His milestones sound pretty contemporary, don’t they? De Quincy, an occasional user of opium, the opioid of his day, liked it so long as he didn’t use a lot. Then one day he used it as a pain killer, began to take daily doses, and went straight down the toilet. And today what are our most popular pain medications? Opioids, for the most part. And where do we get them? Why, from druggists, doctors or street vendors, depending on our budgets. Oh brave new world, you look pretty old to me! I wonder, did 19th Century Londoners have street druggists like ours? If so, did they call them “pushers”? Or was everybody just a druggist?

I’m guessing it’s as hard to kick an opioid addiction today as it was for Thomas de Quincey. He said it was like being born:

[Some conjecture] that it may be as painful to be born as to die.  I think it probable; and during the whole period of diminishing the opium I had the torments of a man passing out of one mode of existence into another.  The issue was not death, but a sort of physical regeneration …. [15]

And once regenerated it was possible for him to be happy again. “[A]nd I may add that ever since, at intervals, I have had a restoration of more than youthful spirits, though under the pressure of difficulties which in a less happy state of mind I should have called misfortunes.”

Opium and its modern relatives can be very attractive until they take control of our lives. Thomas de Quincey discovered that, got out, and was better for it. Myself, I think it’s better not to get in.

See you next week!


[1] This quote is from Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Being an Extract from the Life of a Scholar. Believe it or not, this book is currently in print from the Oxford University Press.  It was first published in 1821 in London Magazine, then was picked up in 1886 by George Routledge and Son. You can find the hard copy on Amazon. However, in keeping with blog policy, we have found an alternate, free source for the text, this time in an eBook from Project Gutenberg.  Go to “This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at .” Henceforth the eBook will be cited as “Opium Eaters at __.” Page numbers, if given, will be approximations. The eBook version doesn’t appear to have such things. See Opium Eaters at Part II, The Pleasures of Opium, p. 28-29 for our quote. Even our quote is just a small part of what he actually wrote.

[2] I also like his partial draft of “Faces and Other Things on the Planets,” in which he argues that with modern digital technology any collection of pixels can be morphed into anything else, so why believe NASA’s pictures of celestial objects or any pictures at all?

[3] Check out the Wikipedia posting at for more information on this subject.

[4] See Opium Eaters at To the Reader, p. 3.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. “… I do not readily believe that any man having once tasted the divine luxuries of opium will afterwards descend to the gross and mortal enjoyments of alcohol ….”

[7]  See note 1.

[8] See, e.g., the home page for the most recent printed edition of De Quincey’s book, at ; and the Wikipedia entry for him at .

[9] The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has a ridiculously shortened version of the original. See Knowles [editor], Oxford  Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2004) [hereafter, ODQ at __]  at Thomas de Quincy, p. 264, n. 20. “Thou hast the keys of Paradise oh just, subtle and mighty opium.” That reads like someone’s note on a page, next to the real thing, rather than a genuine effort to reflect the original.

[10] See Opium Eaters at Preliminary Confessions, p. 5.

[11] See Opium Eaters at Preliminary Confessions, p. 4.

[12] Id.

[13] See Opium Eater at Preliminary Confessions, p. 4-5

[14] See Opium Eaters at Part II, June 1819, p. 46

[15] See Opium Eaters at Part II, June 1819, p. 46


It is my belief that there are absolutes in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what words meant and meant their prohibitions to be ‘absolute.’

Hugo Black[1]

[This is Larry, and I’m not here to talk about sociology and the law. I’ll leave that to others. But today I’ll supplement the last blog, the one by Phil, our resident philosopher, with some facts. Even in a blog it’s nice to have a few of those, isn’t it? In it Phil paraphrased a quote from Hugo Black, one of the great liberal justices of the mid-20th century Supreme Court. Unfortunately while the paraphrase was interesting, the original was nowhere to be found. Phil said he’d get back to you [us] when he found it [the original quote]. That job has fallen to me, because I know the source. You see, Justice Black said it, or something like it, on television in 1968, and I remember the program. But luckily I don’t have to rely on my aging grey cells for the details, because his wife memorialized the whole business in 1982[2].]

But before we get to that, let’s talk for a moment about the person. Hugo Black was an important judge in his day. He joined the Ku Klux Klan in his early days, but soon left it. He discussed all that business back in 1937[3] and pretty much didn’t address it again. I’ve always thought it’s a good thing when somebody who joins a radical group changes his [or her] mind. I certainly don’t think Justice Black did anything wrong by dropping out. People make mistakes, and then correct them. For sure, that’s better than doing nothing.

As a judge he was famous for having said that there are absolutes in the Bill of Rights, although he never said that the whole thing was. “[I] did not say that our entire Bill of Rights is an absolute.”[4] But he did think, for example, that the part of the First Amendment that said “Congress shall make no law respecting any establishment of religion,[5]” was pretty much that way. “Now if a man were to say this to me out on the street … I would think: Amen. Congress shall pass no law. Unless they [the Founders] just didn’t know the meaning of words. That’s what they mean to me. Certainly they mean that literally.”[6]

Justice Black took much the same approach to pornography, which he saw as unsavory and poorly defined, but still opinion speech fully protected by the First Amendment[7]; and to the accused’s right not to incriminate him[or her]self, protected by the Fifth. These decisions were unpopular with many and as a result, the Court [and Justice Black] got a lot of negative mail. Are you surprised?

Don’t be. Even today Conservatives on AM Talk Radio complain about the Fifth Amendment and how it protects an accused, and Liberals don’t seem to care for the First Amendment very much. They really detest speech that offends them, especially if it’s uttered by President Trump. Conservatives also complain about Justice Black’s Klan membership, as though that somehow vitiates all of his subsequent legal work. “Because you once belonged to a bad organization, you never can have an opinion on something important that disagrees with mine?” Interesting argument.

But enough of that! We’re still looking for the famous quote that nobody can find. Well, here it is:

When Justice Black was asked about his negative mail – i.e., about the stuff he received – he answered what could have been a softball question with precision. “Do you think, Mr. Justice, that most Americans understand the Constitution?” He said: “No.”

I think most of them do not. I think most of them are sure they do—better than the Court. People don’t know it. I get letters all the time; I get many letters. People who don’t have a good idea of grammar; they’re certainly not good letter writers, and they’re telling me that “You ought to get off the Court and—.” Some of them tell me to go to Russia. “Go back to Russia.” Well, that’s too far for me to go back since I’ve never been there. But they think they know it. And their idea is all the same. You can trace it to the same thing, doesn’t make a difference what it is, what their experience is, or why they’re mad at the Court. It’s all because each one of them believes that the Constitution prohibits that which they think should be prohibited, and it permits that which they think should be permitted.[8]

So there we have it: The famous quote that Phil couldn’t find, but paraphrased anyway. Justice Black sure didn’t mess around, did he? Make of it what you will.

[Larry is signing out and leaving the building.]





[1] See The Supreme Court Historical Society, Publications, 1982 Yearbook (2008) at Hugo Black, A Memorial Portrait, p. 120, 148 . This will be cited as Memorial Portrait at p.  __.

[2] Id.

[3] See Memorial Portrait at p. 133. He discussed it in a radio address in 1937, and decided not to “raise the topic” again. “That is the subject I do not intend to revive. The newspapers do enough of that.”

[4] See Memorial Portrait at p. 127.

[5] We use the National Archives as our source for the wording of the Constitution, its Amendments, etc. It’s accurate and free. You can find the 1st Amendment there, at  The full quote is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

[6] See Memorial Portrait at p. 127, 128.

[7] See n. 3.

[8] See Memorial Portrait at p. 148.

[So it’s December again and time for us to do another piece on the end of the world. People worry about that at the winter solstice; I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because the days are dark and cold, and nobody’s religious these days. A friend once told me that when religion goes out superstition invades. Of course, he’s religious, so he has a bias; but there’s no denying that apocalyptic speculations are more popular in December than they were when I was a kid. Back then we concentrated on Christmas, instead.

Remember the Mayan calendar, and  how people claimed that everything would end one December because the Maya predicted it? I thought that was nonsense at the time; it rested on the notion that because the calendar ended on a certain day, that was a prediction. Perhaps there was a page 2 that we simply hadn’t found. Page 1 was a huge stone slab, weighing tons; we should have dug around for a while to find out if there were more carved stones in the area. Or perhaps the ancient Maya simply ran out of energy; after all, eventually they failed as a civilization; and hadn’t gotten around to finishing. Or, and nobody wants to admit this, perhaps the Maya were making a prediction, but were wrong. After all, we all make mistakes from time to time, and the Maya were only human. Or did you think otherwise?]

Oh, sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Phil, this blog’s resident [amateur] philosopher, and I’m going to discuss other, more scientific threats to our world, and more specifically, the possibility that something big from outer space will fall on us some day. We did a blizzard of posts last month, and one of them briefly mentioned that, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), nothing like that would happen this month.

The threat’s real enough, although remote, and there’s lots of good TV that describes the general problem. I’m particularly fond of a recent program put out by National Geographic.[1] You can find it at  It says our astronomers know most of the really big things that might hurt us, but really don’t know much about the smaller, but still dangerous stuff.

Specifically, according to that program there are:

  • Approximately 940 objects 1 kilometer or larger that might threaten us; of those we have found 86%. If one of these hits, life as we know it might change dramatically, even if we survive for a time.
  • Approximately 50,000 objects 100 meters or larger that might threaten us; of those we have found 10%. That’s a wide range, don’t you know? The effects could range from a localized catastrophe to something much more deadly to us and the world.
  • Approximately 2,000,000 objects 30 meters or larger that might threaten us; of those we have found less than 1%[2]Even one of the small ones [30 meters] could make a real mess if it hits where people are.[3]

Of course, unlike the Mayan Calendar these numbers are not written in stone. They’re simply the current estimates of specialists working in the field.

As you might guess, NASA has programs to locate all of these objects, determine which ones, if any, will eventually strike us, and how much damage they might do. NASA’s current findings are summarized in its “Sentry Risk Table,” which is available the public.[4] No security clearance is required to access it.

Let’s get back to basics for a minute. Mostly we’re worried about asteroids striking our planet. An asteroid is a small body in the inner solar system that orbits the Sun. [5]   Asteroids generally are rocky or metallic in nature. So which ones threaten us? Any big one, if its orbit might intersect our own around the Sun.  These are called Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).[6]

Why do I say “might?” Either an orbit will or won’t intersect ours; that should be simple to calculate, and once we have the answer, it shouldn’t change. Right? Not really. We’re not talking about watchmaking here. The orbits of these things are calculated based on observations of small, dim objects seen at a considerable distance. That kind of data must be verified, cross-checked, corroborated for accuracy, and so forth. Also, orbits may change. An asteroid’s path around the sun may take it to places where it collides with other objects, or is affected by their gravity. And, if one actually comes near us that alone might affect its orbit in the future.

NASA currently assigns an “impact hazard” rating to near-earth objects to quantify their potential danger to the planet. To do this it uses two different rating systems, the so-called Torino Scale, and the more recent Palermo Scale. I don’t pretend to understand the math involved[7], but the basic concepts are relatively simple.

The Torino Scale This considers (i) the likelihood that an object will actually collide with our planet, (ii) the severity of that impact, if it occurs, and (iii) assigns a hazard rating based on a combination of the two. The rating may be expressed as a color or a number. Thus, for example, if an object is unlikely to collide with the earth, or is so small that it would burn up in the atmosphere, it would be labeled “white” or rated a zero [“0”]. (no hazard). If another object definitely will hit the planet, and is so large that it may affect the future of civilization as we know it, that would be labeled “red” or rated “8 – 10”.

Red [“8 – 10”] events occur perhaps once every 100 thousand years.[8]

The Palermo Scale[9]  The newer Palermo Scale considers the same factors as the Torino Scale – i.e., (i) an object’s orbit and the likelihood that it will hit the Earth at some point and (ii) if it does the amount of damage it might do. It also compares that result with so-called background hazard, i.e., with “the average risk posed by objects of the same size or larger over the years until the date of the potential impact,” [10] and from that derives a single hazard rating.

  • A rating of +2 or above indicates the hazard presented by the object is 100 times [or more] greater than a random background event;
  • A rating less than −2 indicates the object will have no likely consequences for us; and
  • A Palermo Scale value of 0 indicates that the event “is just as threatening as the background hazard.”[11]

Some criticize the Palermo scale as confusing to the layperson, i.e., to you and me, because it often produces negative ratings that imply “a less than zero chance of impact.” [12] That’s not the intention. Negative numbers indicate that risk is lower than the so-called “background hazard,” not non-existent. Nevertheless, under Palermo only “[p]ositive values suggest that some level of concern is merited.”[13]

Now let’s go back to the NASA Sentry Table[14] and see what threatens us.            If you open it and look to the right, you’ll see that NASA obligingly records both the Torino and Palermo values for each object listed, and that, for the most part, the Torino values are “0” and the Palermo values are comfortably negative. That’s pretty much the case for all items on the list [18 pages worth] except, of course, where ratings have yet to be calculated. So are we home free?

Yes, for the moment. But remember, we don’t know everything about what’s up there in the sky, and that’s why we keep looking.[15] There could be bad news lurking. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if something pops up as potentially dangerous, stays on the list for a while, is studied and examined, then is taken off [the list]. Over time that’s happened to quite a few NEOs.[16]

So for now the situation in outer space is favorable to humans. There’s nothing really big scheduled to fall on us. If civilization as we know it is really going to end, it looks like we’ll have to do the deed ourselves.

[1] See National Geographic, Star Staff, Asteroid Attack (documentary) (May 27, 2016). The hypertext Link to the program is given in the text, above.

[2] You can get this information by scrolling about a third of the way through the program.

[3] The surface of the Earth is 70% water, more or less.

[4] See NASA, Near Earth Object (NEO) Program, Sentry Risk Table (updated periodically), available at

[5] Inner solar system means “inside the orbit of Jupiter.” See the discussion in Wikipedia at Asteroid,

[6] See NASA, Near Earth Object Program, NEO Groups at  Although we’re discussing asteroids this time around, NEOs also include comets.

[7] Want to try? Take a look, for example, at, O’Leary, Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale (Presentation) (11 January 2013), available at

[8] If you want to know more about the Torino Scale, check out the Wikipedia entry on it at

[9] See NASA, Near Earth Object Program, The Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale, available at

[10] If you want another view of the Palermo Scale, check out the Wikipedia entry on it at

[11] See note 8.

[12]  See World Wide Words, Investigating the English language across the globe, Palermo Scale, available at

[13] Id.

[14] See note 3.

[15] See NASA, Near Earth Object Program, NASA Releases Near-Earth Object Search Report (last update, 12/03/2016), available at

[16] See, NASA, Near Earth Object Program, Objects Removed, (no current update) available at

The individuals of the submerged mass may not be very wise. But there is one thing they are wiser about than anybody else can be, and that is where the shoe pinches, the troubles they suffer from.

John Dewey[1]

[It wasn’t easy, you know. I mean, it wasn’t easy to find that quote. I knew it existed because many, many years ago one of my excellent teachers told me about it, and the reference stuck, waiting to be used. But let’s back up. John Dewey was a philosopher, who was active in the 19th and 20th Centuries. He died in 1952.[2] He was very influential in his day, and a lot of his early work is in the public domain; Project Gutenberg, for example, lists 17 early titles you can download for free.[3] Our quote doesn’t come from any of those; but instead from a partial excerpt of another piece available on the internet.[4]

Unfortunately, the remaining online material seems to be firmly under the control of something called the Dewey Center, hosted by Southern Illinois University.[5] This includes the book where our quote was born, The Public and Its Problems [PAIP], published in 1927.[6] That’s where Dewey first put forth his view of cobblers and other experts, and why they should listen to the public, and that’s the reference we really wanted.

So if you want a copy of John Dewey’s later works – including PAIP  –  you have to order it from a cooperative library, if there is one in your area; and then you have to wait. Good luck on that. If you’re on a schedule, even one as loose as ours, there’s really no time to deal with surly librarians and the mysteries of inter-library loans. Also libraries are insular places, accustomed to a known set of users, usually the very young, the old or the unemployed; and librarians tend to get upset when strangers arrive to look at their books.

Now you may think I’m being unkind, and certainly I don’t have anybody specific in mind when I say this; but really, if you have the time to experiment, try going to a library you don’t ordinarily visit and see for yourself. Are the staff immediately “on guard” when you, the stranger, show up? Do they inspect and patrol the area where you sit? What about the users? Are they agitated? Do they glance furtively in your direction, spend a lot of time walking by wherever you are, and otherwise just mill around? Do you feel like someone who has wandered into the territory of a hostile tribe? If so, you’re correct! And what do hostile tribes do to strangers?]

Moving on, lacking the book we wanted, we did something we normally don’t; we relied on secondary sources. Dewey’s book, the primary source, was more or less unavailable when we needed it, so we moved on to essays about the book. Fortunately there were some good ones out there, one by Melvin Rogers [7] and others by Shane Ralston[8] and Tony DeCesare.[9] [By the way, I don’t know any of these people; I’m judging them strictly on what they wrote, and how helpful it was.] They’ll have to do for this post, although perhaps I’ll add some of Dewey’s later work to our library in the not-too-distant future.

So why are we even talking about John Dewey? Well, because he best explains what’s going on this primary season, and identifies a malady that’s common to both Republicans and Democrats. Think about it for a moment. The Democrat Establishment seems bent on nominating Hillary Clinton to run for President later this year, but she’s having a lot of trouble making that happen. She’s being opposed by an obscure senator from Vermont, a Socialist rather than a Democrat, who runs with crowd-sourced funding and wins primaries. If she is nominated, her opponent in the general election no doubt will be Donald Trump, a billionaire who has been around for a long time, but is relatively new to the Republican Party. The Republican Establishment really doesn’t like him – he’s not Conservative enough for them – but, after a brutal primary season, he’s got the votes. So it looks like they’re going to kiss and make up.

So what’s common to both? Hillary Clinton, a child of her Establishment, represents it well; she’s promising to continue down the path of Barrack Obama, although most likely at a snail’s pace; but many Democrats simply aren’t buying that program at any speed. They want something new [or perhaps old, like socialism] and different, not the same old nostrums. Donald Trump, on the other hand, competed in a field of 15 [or 16, I forget which] other candidates, most of whom vehemently declared that they were far more Conservative than he. He won out, I would submit, because he didn’t promise to do the same old GOP kind of things. Like it or not, he proposed junking a lot of past strategies and programs, in order to “make America great again.”

Not to make too fine a point of it, there’s great dissatisfaction in the electorate. Hillary Clinton is fighting in the name of the status quo, and that’s not working very well. Donald Trump styles himself an outsider, argues for change, and has profited from it. And why is the electorate of both parties so disturbed, and why didn’t politicians realize it sooner? Well, this brings us back to John Dewey.

Back in the 1920’s public intellectuals had a great debate about just how useful voters really were in managing a democracy. One group, as exemplified by Walter Lippman, a great pundit of that time, argued that ordinary citizens aren’t really competent to govern. They act on stereotypes, because they’re too busy and ignorant to do otherwise, and really don’t understand where their best interests lie. It’s far better to leave actual government to leaders and experts, who “can render superior evaluations and decisions, since they have the time and training to collect ‘intelligence’ and craft appropriate policy instruments.”[10] Or, put another way, ”[t]he average citizen cannot come close to having the scope and depth of undistorted knowledge of the world necessary to manage political affairs.”[11] Of course, citizens do have the right to vote, but they should confine their other political activities to “occasional mobilizations” to support or oppose those who actually govern.[12]

John Dewey didn’t go that far. Expertise is a wonderful thing, to be sure; especially when the experts are correct. But how do you know when they are? In Washington, D.C. we have experts of every stripe and caliber, with lots of opinions on every issue, each competing for the attention of our leaders. They can’t all be right, so how does one pick and choose? Is it just a matter of ideology? If so, then we’re not talking about expertise; we’re talking about religion, and revealed truth that must be accepted regardless of facts.

Dewey didn’t recommend granting all authority to experts and leaders. He agreed that the public are not always the brightest bulbs in the national basket, but didn’t agree that they should be ignored. If our experts and leaders were cobblers, they would know how to make shoes; but that wouldn’t guarantee that the shoes will fit everyone [or anyone, for that matter] who buys them. If you want to make shoes that fit, you have to ask the customer if they do. The shoemaker and the customer have to be partners.[13] If the experts [today, the elites] don’t do that, they leave the public at the mercy of political power, “rather than in control of directing that power toward beneficial ends.”[14]

So what’s happening today? Well, in my opinion Hillary Clinton’s difficulties and Donald Trump’s successes both show the same thing: that large numbers of voters are very unhappy with their lives. Metaphorically speaking, the policy shoes devised by our elites pinch badly. There’s blood on the floor and possibly gangrene in the future.  What exactly are voters unhappy about? I haven’t done a poll, but I’ll guess that the root cause is money:  Most people don’t have enough of it. Instead they have bad jobs [if any] with no future, bills, unexpected expenses, bill collectors, incessant calls, immigration and global outsourcing.

The shocking thing is that our elites, and their media, don’t seem to understand this. I guess they don’t pick up on it because they, themselves are financially secure, and don’t have the problem. It must be great to be insulated that way from your and my reality.

Your friend,

G. Sallust


[1] This is from John Dewey, an American philosopher of the 19th and 20th Centuries. He died in 1952. If you want to know more about him, take a look at the Wikipedia article at For those of you who are more academically inclined, there’s also a pretty good write-up on John Dewey in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at  Dewey’s Political Philosophy,

[2] See n. 1.

[3] For a list of all the Dewey books at Project Gutenberg, go . One of the notable titles available there is Dewey, How We Think (Heath, 1910), available at For another list of free downloads go to the University of  Pennsylvania at

[4] It’s excerpted from School and Society, John Dewey, Democracy and Educational Administration (April 3, 1937), at p. 457-67. The excerpted version, not the original, is available from the University of Nevada, Reno, i.e., at

[5] See The Dewey Center, at

[6] See Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Holt, 1927) Wikipedia has a brief description of the book, at

[7] See Contemporary Pragmatism, Rogers, Introduction: Revisiting the Public and Its Problems (June, 2010), available at  Hereafter this will be cited as Rogers at __.

[8] See Philosophy in Review, Ralston, John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry (book review) (2014), available at . Hereafter, the book review will be cited as Ralston at __.

[9] See Philosophical Studies in Education, DeCesare, The Lippman-Dewey “Debate” Revisited, The Problem of Knowledge and the Role of Experts in Modern Democratic Theory (2012), available at Hereafter this article will be cited as DeCesare at __.

[10] See Ralston at p. 12.

[11] See DeCesare at p. 109.

[12] Id. at 110.

[13] See Ralston at p. 12. “He [Dewey] agrees with Lippmann’s discussion of stereotypes and the poverty of the public’s knowledge in decision making [ . . . ] Yet, he takes issue with both the emphasis Lippmann places on educating “officials and directors” over and against the public and his corollary belief that experts do not need to be informed by or receive input from the public.’ In reviews of Lippmann’s two books and in The Public and Its Problems, Dewey proposed a more optimistic and collaborative solution. It is perhaps best captured in his shoe analogy: the shoe wearer qua citizen understands where the shoe is poorly fitted (‘pinches’), whereas the cobbler qua expert understands how to address the problem of poor fit (‘how the trouble is to be remedied’); so, the best solution is for them to partner in the enterprise of good governance.”

[14] See Rogers at p. 4.

Without lies humanity would perish of despair and boredom.

Anatole France[1]

[You may recall that, shortly before the Pope’s visit, we put out a blog on global warming and the political furor about whether it exists. [2] Lots of people claim to know the science of the issue, but rarely discuss it. Instead they employ strategies to avoid the central question – i.e., whether the globe is, in fact, warming – and try to focus the debate on other matters which are, in fact, irrelevant to it. This is an old rhetorical ploy, of course, fully documented by Jeremy Bentham back in 1824.[3]  Nevertheless, it’s very much used today by politicians, commentators and ideologues.

And lo and behold – there’s that phrase again[4] – the very next day the Washington Post published an opinion piece that pretty much made our point.[5]  Basically it argued:

The Pope is coming, and he has an opinion on global warming! He thinks it is [warming, that is.]! He’s wrong! His ideas are “demonstrably false.” Why? Things were bad back in the Middle Ages. Fossil fuels made the industrial revolution possible, and we’d all be a lot worse off without that! “Our flourishing requires affordable, abundant energy for the production of everything from food to pharmaceuticals.”  Historically only economic growth has ameliorated poverty. Capitalism makes it happen. Pope Francis lived under “the rancid political culture of Peronist populism” so his views are not to be trusted. The world “spurns” his church’s teachings, so he’s pivoting to the environment issue to curry favor with the public. “He stands against modernity, rationality, science and ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies…”[6]

This is a condensation, I might add; and, as always, we recommend that everyone read the original. It has lots more adjectives, reasons why the Pope isn’t trustworthy, etc.  

Obviously the author doesn’t read Elemental Zoo Two, or Jeremy Bentham, for that matter. The Pope makes a point about science; he thinks our globe is warming, because today we humans burn too much fossil fuel. The burning releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which helps our planet retain heat from the sun. Too much additional carbon dioxide will tend to over-heat the planet. Apparently many scientists agree.[7]

Why then is his opinion “demonstrably false?” Because people didn’t worry about this kind of thing until recently? Because the Pope has a bad background, or teaches unpopular things or is trying to ingratiate himself with the liberal media? Because he’s just not modern enough to have an opinion? That’s weird!

I called Phil and asked him to look at the article, apply Jeremy Bentham, and make some comments. He agreed, but like most contributors, said I couldn’t edit his opinions for content. As usual, I agreed. I have enough trouble keeping track of the grammar.

Help me out, Phil!]

And I will. But first, for new readers let’s talk briefly about Bentham. He lived from 1748 to 1832; was a well-known philosopher in his day; and wrote a lot about political rhetoric. Those papers were collected by a friend and published in 1824 as The Book of Fallacies.[8] You might say that, even today and for all its faults, that book is pretty good index to the ways politicians fool the public.

The original isn’t easy to read, but once you settle into it, you’ll see what I mean. Bentham originated, or at least popularized the notion of a political fallacy. Basically political fallacies are the rhetorical tricks and dodges politicians use to divert us from the merits of a dispute, and refocus our attention on irrelevancies and, most likely, on emotion. Politicians [or commentators] who do this generally are not very smart, or think their audience is stupid, or both.[9]

Now let’s move on to the opinion piece in the Washington Post.

Fossil Fuels Were Vital to the Industrial Revolution

This argument is, basically, our ancestors were wiser than us, and for that reason we should continue to do what they did.[10] We should follow the “Wisdom of the Ancients.” So if fossil fuels were essential to the industrial revolution, we should continue to burn more and more of them no matter what.

If you believe that “experience is the mother of wisdom,” says Bentham, then you have to recognize that we, who live today, are more experienced than those who came before us. We’re still alive and learning; they aren’t. So we have the benefit of their experience, plus ours. In a very real sense the older generations were younger than us, in that they knew less then than we do now.[11]

No doubt our ancestors were great consumers of fossil fuels, quite likely because they knew of no better way to generate the energy they needed. But we know more than they did; we know, for example, how to conserve more, use less and exploit alternative sources of energy; and we know, or strongly suspect, that the environmental cost of continuing with fossil fuels at the present rate, or increasing it, might be catastrophic. So given that, it makes perfectly good sense to abandon the “wisdom” of prior times and look for new solutions.

Capitalism Made Economic Growth Possible

This is basically the “Wisdom of the Ancients” repackaged. Capitalism, it is said, drove progress from the late medieval period through the 19th Century. If that’s true, then we should continue that mode of development forever. There is nothing to be learned from our experience with it in the 20th and now the 21st Centuries.

Why is that persuasive? As Bentham says, our forefathers may have been pretty smart for their times, but we probably know more than they did, because we come after them. We have the benefit of their experience, and ours as well. So if capitalism has to be reined in a bit to avoid a climate catastrophe, economic collapse, or even gross unfairness to the majority of us, I’m good with that. Circumstances change, and sometimes rules must change with them.

Rancid Political Culture Under Juan Peron

The Pope says, we’re generating too much carbon dioxide [and other greenhouse gasses]; and the answer is: “You believe that because you were raised in a ‘rancid political culture.’” Really? What does his early life have to do with the effect of carbon dioxide on our planet’s surface temperature?

This and the next two entries are examples of Bentham’s “fallacies of danger” or, more specifically, of the ones used by “vituperative personalities.”[12] There are six of them, but they’re very similar. They take the form of personal attacks and are supposed to divert our attention from issues to personalities. “Of the fallacies belonging to this class, the common character is the endeavor to draw aside attention from the measure to the man.”[13] Or, today I suppose we’d say: “from a proposal to the person making it.”

Basically the argument is that the Pope is a bad man because he lived when a bad man ruled Argentina. So if true, which I doubt, does that make everything the Pope supports bad?

Usually there are bad people in every large group. Suppose, for example, there are 535 members in a legislature, and each of them proposes laws. Are the laws proposed by the good people the only good ones? What if A, a good person, proposes a law, and B, a bad one, supports it? Is the law good or bad? If A proposes the law on Monday, is it good then? And if so, does it become bad only when B lends his support on Tuesday?[14]

The point, of course, is that proposals have to be evaluated on their own merits, not on the merits of their supporters. This is especially true when they involve matters of science. We have a way of determining such things. It’s called the scientific method; it doesn’t involve personalities; and, by the way, there’s really not much dispute about whether global temperatures are rising.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [the IPCC] reports “[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”[15]

Now there’s an inconvenient fact the Post columnist didn’t mention!

Catholic Church’s Teachings Are Spurned by Many

The church teachings referenced here are the ones dealing with contraception, abortion, gay marriage and so forth. Since they’re not relevant to the question of whether the Earth is warming, why bring them up? I guess from the Conservative perspective the better question is, why not? Liberals generally don’t like these teachings, so let’s change the subject and discuss them rather than the science of global warming.

Bentham calls this the “Imputation founded on identity of denomination,”[16] and counts it as a political fallacy because, of course, its sole purpose is to encourage people to distrust the speaker rather than examine what he says about the issue at hand.[17]

Pivot to Environmentalism

The Pope is advocating on environmental issues because he wants to make the Catholic Church more acceptable to the mainstream media. He has a bad motive; therefore his proposal – to reduce greenhouse gasses – is bad.[18] As you might guess from the foregoing, Bentham also rejects this form of argument. First, it’s problematic, because it’s hard to know anyone’s true motives; one can only speculate; and second, if the Pope is right, it would be absurd to reject his proposal “on account of the motives of its author.”[19]

And is the Pope right? Well, once again we have to go to science, not demagoguery, to determine that. See above.

The Pope Stands against Modernity, etc.

This one is a bit hard to classify. Remember, the question is whether society should cut back on its appetite for fossil fuels, either by conservation or through developing new energy sources, or whether it should continue on the old way, merrily burning oil, etc. and dumping carbon into the atmosphere. The Pope advocates new initiatives; cutting back, alternative fuel sources, etc.; not sticking with the wisdom of our ancient industrialists. Why? Because there’s new information out there! Scientists know better, now. Conservatives don’t want to change. So really, who is “standing against modernity?”


[Thanks, Phil, and we’ll end on that note. One thing that bothers me about Conservatives is that they don’t seem to understand even simple points about science. For example, the Pope has been quoted as saying “God always forgives, people sometimes forgive, and nature never forgives.”[20] So the article we’ve discussed immediately asks “Is Francis intimating that environmental damage is irreversible?” Probably not, I would say. After all, his proposal is that humans should cut back on the total greenhouse gasses they dump into the atmosphere. Why do that if it’s too late? Of course, there is a big difference between reversing something, and ameliorating it.

Actually, I think the Pope’s comment should be interpreted as nothing more than a point about science. For example, if you’re foolish enough to jump off a 20 story building, your rate of acceleration – until you go splat! – can be calculated. Also, it  will be the same if you manage to jump 19 times more. Nature will not forgive you. You will not be able to debate with Nature about it. You will not be able to flap your arms and fly away. So the best thing to do, if you’re worried about your health, is not to jump. That’s what the Pope is saying about global warming. Don’t jump!

At least, that’s what I think.]

[1] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2004) at Anatole France, p. 331, n. 20.

[2] See the blog of 09/19/2015, Fallacies of Delay, available at

[3] See Bentham & Bingham, The Book of Fallacies (Hunt, 1824) (Nabu reprint, circa 2010). Nabu reprints are photocopies of the original, so page citations necessarily are to the 1824 edition. Hereafter, the book will be cited as Political Fallacies at ___.

[4] See the blog of 05/31/2015, Addendum, available at .

[5] See Washington Post, Will, Pope Francis’s fact-free flamboyance (Sunday, September 20, 2015) at p. A21.

[6] Id.

[7] We’ve discussed this before. See the blog of 09/05/2015, Pope Francis Comes to America, available at   .

[8] See Political Fallacies at p. 339, 340.

[9] See Political Fallacies at p. 359, 360: “Upon the whole, the following are … in common to all the several arguments here distinguished by the name of fallacies: (1) Whatsoever be the measure at hand, they are, with relation to it, irrelevant … (7) on the part of those who … give utterance to them, they are indicative either of improbity or intellectual weakness, or of a contempt for the understanding of those on whose minds they are destined to operate.”

[10] See Political Fallacies at Chapter II, The Wisdom of Our Ancestors, p. 69 -81.

[11] See id. at p. 71: “In giving the name old or elder to the earlier generation … the misrepresentation is not less gross, nor the folly of it less incontestable, than if the name of old man or old woman were given to the infant in its cradle.”

[12] See Political Fallacies at Part II, Fallacies of Danger, Chapter I, Vituperative Personalities, p. 127 – 142.

[13] Id. at p. 128.

[14] See id. at 131: “Among 658 or any such large group of persons taken at random, there will be persons of all characters: if the measure is a good one, will it become bad because it is supported by a bad man? If it is bad will it become good if supported by a good man? If the measure be really inexpedient, why not at once show that it is so?”

[15] See IPCC,  Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, available at and specifically, the Summary for Policymakers, at §B, Observed Changes in the Climate System, available at

[16] See Political Fallacies at p. 137 – 140. By the way, our copy of this book is missing a couple of pages from this section.

[17] See also Fallacy of Distrust, p. 154 – 157. The implied argument might be: If we accept what you say about global warming, then at a later date you’ll try to convince us that abortion, birth control, etc. are wrong. So we had better reject your views on global warming.

[18] Id. at 129: The form of the argument is: “he is actuated by a bad motive, therefore the measure is bad …”

[19] Id. at 133: “The proposer of the measure, it is asserted, is actuated by bad motives, from whence it is inferred that he entertains some bad design. This, again, is no more than a modification of the fallacy of distrust; but one of the very weakest; 1. because motives are hidden in the human breast; 2. because, if the measure is beneficial, it would be absurd to reject it on account of the motives of its author.”

[20] This is the abbreviated version. You can find the correct quote at National Geographic, Nature Never Forgives: 7 of Pope Francis’s Greenest Quotes available at