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  • A Parliament of Clocks

    Posted by Shannon Love on March 26th, 2007 (All posts by )

    I think an old parable explains why the professional subcultures of articulate intellectuals, such as academics in the humanities, artists and journalists, all experience such enormous pressures to conform to the same viewpoint.

    In the parable, a king wants to buy some clocks and travels to the Bavarian village were the ten best clockmakers in the world keep their shops all along one street.

    As he enters the street all the clocks in all the shops strike 1 o’clock in one massive group chime. The king marvels at the great accuracy of the clockmakers of the village, but a few moments later he hears another group chime. After investigating he finds that all the clocks in 9 of the 10 shops show the same time but that all the clocks in the 10th shop show a different time by several minutes. Puzzled, the king calls all the clockmakers together and ask why the clocks in the 10th shop do not chime at the same time as all the clocks in all the other shops.

    The owner of the odd shop out immediately steps forward and says that due to his unusual skill and innovation his clocks keep more accurate time than the clocks of the other shops. The other shop owners protest loudly. The king is at a loss. The town lacks a master town clock or sundial, so he has no means of determining which clocks keep the best time. Confused, he decides not to buy any clocks and leaves town. Angered, the owners of the 9 agreeing shops burn down the shop of the odd man out to prevent such confusion from arising again. Now when someone comes to town, all the clocks will chime at the same instant. Customers will not become confused and everyone will sell more clocks.

    The clockmakers destroy the nonconforming clockmaker among them because they know that as a practical matter we judge the accuracy of clocks by consensus. Absolute time does not exist. Essentially, a parliament of clocks votes on the correct time. (Even scientifically, this is true.) By fiat, we say that the clocks that deviate from the consensus time are inaccurate, but logically that need not be so. Different technologies or different levels of care in setting, winding or servicing the clocks could lead to the minority clocks being more accurate. However, if all the clocks agree, then no lay person will have grounds for suspecting that the majority clocks don’t keep accurate time.

    As a practical matter, articulate intellectuals face the same problem. They deal in areas in which no means exist for easily or quickly falsifying and testing their ideas. Like the king with the clocks, lay people looking at their work from the outside cannot evaluate the accuracy of their work. No means exist to make an objective measurement that would determine the accuracy of a particular literary criticism. Historians agree that certain events occurred at certain places and times and then argue furiously over the events’ import and consequences. Journalists do the same thing. Various theories in many academic fields knock around for decades before simply fading away, apparently because people grow bored with them.

    In order to maintain their power and position within society, articulate intellectuals must convince the larger population that they really do have a superior understanding of the issues they study. The do so using a parliament of clocks. By enforcing rigorous conformist standards on their members, they seek to create the illusion of accuracy by making it appear that all people knowledgeable in a particular field all reach the same conclusion. If all the supposed experts in a particular field all tell the same story the lay people are much less likely to guess that none of the experts know what they are talking about.

    You can see this effect quite clearly in the herd mentality of journalists. Researchers have shown that journalist rapidly converge upon the same perspective on even very complex stories. Why? Well, how does an ordinary consumer of news media judge whether a particular news story is accurate? Simple, they check with another news source. What if the different sources disagree? What grounds does the consumer have for determining which source is correct? The consumer might conclude that none of the sources are making an accurate report and they may stop consuming news media. The media prevents this from happening by converging on the same story. If every source that the consumer can reasonably check tells the same story, then the consumer won’t have grounds for doubting any of the sources. (Notice that news outlets brag that they get stories before the competition, not that they provide superior information to the competition.) Back in the ’70s when a tiny handful of media outlets dominated, trust in the media ran very high. Only with the coming of cable and the Internet did trust in the media begin to seriously erode when consumers began to see that not all news sources held the same perspective. Like the king, they began to wonder just which shops really sold the accurate clocks.

    The desperate attempt to substitute consensus for accuracy shows up in the articulate intellectuals’ perspective on everything from artistic critique to climatology. When people really cannot prove what they believe, they must resort to peer pressure to keep people from questioning them. Yet history, both recent and ancient, shows that elite consensus fails far more often than it succeeds. Without some means of objective falsification such as experimentation, functional technology, military victory or business success, the consensus of any group merely serves the social needs of the group and not the decision making needs of the broader society.

    Contemporary leftism is the politics of the articulate intellectual and it is clear that leftists care more about creating the appearance of their own infallibility than in telling the time.

     

    42 Responses to “A Parliament of Clocks”

    1. david cohen Says:

      In what purporsts to be an analysis of inellectuals, which then drifts off to media and news, we discover in the final sentence that–it only applies to the Left! Most of us get our news from papers that in turn usually get their news from news agencyu (ie, Reuters). Many of us check various papers and stations and find that the same story is carried in nearly the exact same way. If we seek opion, to the right or to the left, we turn to editorials or columnists, be they of the left or of the right. And yes: we are believers in the governbment that gives us precise time without thousands of clockmkers if we seek accurac y.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      David Cohen,

      Two things require explanation: (1) Certain professions, such a college professors in the humanities and media are dominated by ideological Leftist and (2) Leftist exhibit certain systematic defects in their reasoning i.e. they make the same mistakes repeatedly in different areas. These two phenomenon are linked.

      Leftist dominate certain professions because Leftist ideology arises from the world view imposed on individuals by those professional subcultures. In short, Leftism reflects the world view of articulate intellectuals and not he other way around. The fact that articulate intellectuals produce nothing but persuasive communications means that they must continually sell themselves to the broader public. They must constantly remind everyone how smart, creative, insightful and above all right they are all the time.Since they cannot prove or test their ideas in any meaningful way, they instead attempt to create the illusion truth by making it appear that no rational educated person could possibly disagree with them.

      It is no coincidence that respect for the media and academia has collapsed. It is no coincidence that the Left has not fielded a single new idea in 30+ years. Their need to maintain the social identity as an intellectual elite has caused them to fail in the roles they nominally preform. Individual intellectuals cannot deviate from the herd because this would shatter the illusion of total consensus. With that, all creativity dies.

    3. Bob Mitze Says:

      I agree the phenomenon makes sense, and also that as of today it applies to the left since that’s where the consensus has settled. But I think the phenomenon is independent of left or right. In Victorian England wasn’t the consensus similarly self reinforcing, but on the conservative side?

      This seems like a good place to separate the logic from the data. Self reinforcing occurs when there is no independent check and consistency rules. In contrast in science where independent experiments can falsify a theory, consensus counts for nothing. Of course science is still done by humans so there are no guarantees. After all the only axiom that’s always true is “remember, I could be wrong.”

    4. david foster Says:

      Interesting theory. But how would it work as a mechanism?…surely the people/organizations in question are not all getting together and resolving that “we’d better all tell the same story so that people will take us seriously!” Are you thinking of this as something that happens below the conscious level?

    5. James A Pacella Says:

      David: it works as an echo chamber or self-enforcing feedback loop. There is no conspiracy per se.. its just that they’re all fish and no one realizes their wet.

    6. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Very good

    7. Shannon Love Says:

      David Foster,

      But how would it work as a mechanism?

      Simple peer pressure and people’s natural tendency to avoid actions that will draw the condemnation of their peers. . No one coordinates the action but when many independent individuals make the same choices for the same reason, the effect looks coordinated. If someone does take a stand, then they find professional doors and networks closed to them Academia, for example, controls people by the simple expedient of refusing to grant degrees and tenure to those who disagree to strongly with the senior members of a field.

      All human social groups engage in this sort of behavior. You see it even in the sciences. However, the professions of the articulate intellectuals differ significantly in that they have no non-human feedback. They have no solid, short term events that can prove them wrong. Human choices and only human choices dictate their success or failure. If they do not conform they will not succeed.

    8. Al Ferrer Says:

      Very interesting theory, and very much in line with my experiences at a (self-declared) Marxist college. I was just wondering whether anybody might have a pointer to the study mentioned in the entry (`Researchers have shown that journalist[s] rapidly converge upon the same perspective on even very complex stories.’) One thing I should like to add is that these subcultures also are willing to invest more resources into achieving the image of infallibility and a uniformity of perspective — in my experience, to a much higher degree than people in scientific or engineering, which tends to put off members of the latter communities.

    9. Jay Manifold Says:

      I can think of a variety of centrist or right-wing political stances that are also products of an unthinking conformity. It’s part of a more general phenomenon, which Andrew Cline has described here; although his subject is journalism, many of the structural biases, especially narrative bias, apply to other fields as well. In general, time grazing around on Rhetorica.net is time well spent.

    10. bluhawkk Says:

      “I believe that good philosophers fly alone, like eagles and not in flocks like starlings. It is true that because eagles are rare birds they are little seen and less heard, while birds that fly like starlings fill the sky with shrieks and cries, and wherever they settle befoul the earth beneath them.” …..Galileo

      It is difficult and exhausting to constantly question, to look at all sides, and then to not be able to come to a resolute conclusion. It is equally difficult and exhausting to constantly monitor for one’s own biases.

    11. James A Pacella Says:

      I didn’t find Andrew’s article all that interesting.. all he did was do his best to diminish the extent to he will agree that the media is biased to the left. And tried to get away with a content less moral equivilence.. though you can tell he didnt push it too hard because the fact the media is so overwhelmingly leftist-biased he would probably wouldn’t have much credibilty if he went too far in denying it.

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      I was just wondering whether anybody might have a pointer to the study mentioned in the entry

      IIRC, the study was done pre-internet by a guy at the University of Mississippi.

    13. Shannon Love Says:

      [Note: This comment was accidentally post by Veryretired on another thread so I moved it here]

      It’s almost funny to read the desperate attempts to reduce the point of the article to some sort of “oh, everybody does it, so it doesn’t matter” kind of neutered non-meaning.

      Yes, people tend to adopt the general viewpoints of the groups they associate with, regardless of political placement on the spectrum.

      However, there is a distinct difference between marching in an intellectual lockstep with the failed collectivist doctrines and social critiques that have resulted in social and economic disaster everywhere on earth they have been implemented, and agreeing with the great part of the rest of your peers that freedom is a good thing, or that due process is a valuable legal rule, or that evidence matters and must be taken into account, even if it contravenes one’s previous position.

      The relentless effort to make everything just another case of equivalence, regardless of context or reasonably foreseeable consequences, is, in point of fact, another very powerful example of the kind of “groupthink” that Shannon is pointing out.

      As we watch Venezuela or Zimbabwe slide into the collectivist abyss, joining such luminary states as North Korea, Cuba, Iran, the SE Asian marxist states, and the former Burma, to name a few, how many of the academic types Shannon refers to are standing at their podiums giving yet another lecture about how Marx’s theories apply to the 21st century critique of politics/economics/literature/whatever, as if none of the disasters of a century of Marxism had ever happened.

      If a biologist had adopted Lysenkoism, and preached and taught it relentlessly for the past several decades, there would be no question he or she was detached from valid scientific theory, and had drifted into the same sort of “religious” belief never never land as the creationists or astrology buffs or UFO abduction believers.

      It is not some benign “oh, everybody does it” deal, like all married couples argue, or everybody worries about having enough money to support their lifestyle.

      There are people posing as intellectual guides who have an enormous cultural impact over time who are dispensing the intellectual equivalent of the flat earth society.

      When you look around at the US, the west, or the world in general, and wonder why thngs seem to be so confused, violent, and irrational, just remember that the same intellectual doctrines that brought us fascism, marxism, and massive welfare statism are still the chosen viewpoints in much of “soft” academia. And the moral vacuum which allows such “snake oil” to dispensed to impressionable young people is a significant aspect of the context which makes this problem much more important than “oh, everybody does it”.

    14. Grotius Says:

      …all experience such enormous pressures to conform to the same viewpoint.

      Or it could be that this is a general tendency throughout the range of human activity, etc. In other words, it ain’t unique to journalists, academics, etc.

    15. Grotius Says:

      Anyway, to use a historical example, it is bit like Nicias’ perdicament before the Athenian assembly on the eve of the invasion of Sicily. Namely, Nicias tried to make such an invasion look like a terrible and uncertain burden, but this only fed into the preconceived desire to invade Sicily. Thus the Athenian assembly turned a moderate expedition to one which – on Nicias’ advice – could potentially break the bank, so to speak. The Athenian assembly had preconceived notions that they could not be dissuaded from and this they took information which should have given them pause and used it as a means to further justify an invasion.

    16. outraged Says:

      I’d like to quote a nugget from the original post:

      “The desperate attempt to substitute consensus for accuracy shows up in the articulate intellectuals’ perspective on everything from artistic critique to *climatology.* When people really cannot prove what they believe, they must resort to peer pressure to keep people from questioning them.” (emphasis added)

      Oh, is THAT what this is about? Global warming is a product of left-wing groupthink. I don’t profess to judge the science myself, but when the only people left in the field who question the phenomenon are either scattered cranks and/or are paid by corporations, a layman can safely draw conclusions. I think the tide started turning for the public when even the Bush administration had to put polar bears on the endangered species list…

      I don’t deny that we all think in packs most of the time. We need to do so, for survival. As noted above, however, right wingers are just as likely to fall into groupthink. Who was baying for an invasion of Iraq that was guaranteed to bring democracy and peace not just to Iraq but the entire region via domino effect?

    17. Grotius Says:

      Outraged,

      As noted above, however, right wingers are just as likely to fall into groupthink.

      Some left and rightwingers seem to like to argue that their ideology makes them immune to – or allows them to resist – groupthink.

      One of the things that Leo Strauss discussed – and that scholars* of Strauss have discussed as well – was his distinction between doing philosophy and being a partisan. Well I think their a lot of ideologues out there who think they are doing the former, while in fact they are doing the latter.

      *I’ll plug Steven Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss now.

    18. Jonathan Says:

      Oh, is THAT what this is about? Global warming is a product of left-wing groupthink. I don’t profess to judge the science myself, but when the only people left in the field who question the phenomenon are either scattered cranks and/or are paid by corporations, a layman can safely draw conclusions. I think the tide started turning for the public when even the Bush administration had to put polar bears on the endangered species list…

      I think the media and political treatment of GW has a lot of groupthink characteristics. I’ve read and read of critiques by climate scientists of the supposedly unassailable case for significant anthropogenic GW, and I’ve also read criticisms of the critiques. Rarely do the criticisms deal with the substance of the anti-GW arguments. Usually they impugn the credentials or sponsorship (or supposed sponsorship) of the GW skeptics, as you have done. IME this kind of hostile treatment of contrary views is characteristic of situations where a consensus is not supported by evidence. Indeed it looks to me (though I could be mistaken) as though the skeptical view on GW is gaining adherents, as arguments from authority by GW proponents have increasingly (and inadvertently) drawn attention to rational critiques and to the evidence underlying those critiques.

    19. Shannon Love Says:

      Outraged,

      Global warming is a product of left-wing groupthink.

      No, the belief that a consensus of scientist constitute scientific proof is a product of left-wing group think. Since consensus determines the success or failure of an idea in the world of the articulate intellectual, they assume that the same standard applies to science as well. It doesn’t.

      I don’t profess to judge the science myself, but when the only people left in the field who question the phenomenon are either scattered cranks and/or are paid by corporations, a layman can safely draw conclusions.

      Really, would you like a long list of now long abandoned ideas that once represented the scientific “consensus?” How about scientific racism? If you would like a much closer example, just look back to 1980 and see what the consensus was on the status of the world’s supply petroleum and other sources of energy. The same people and institutions that now push the hypothesis of Catastrophic Anthrogenic Global Warming then pushed the idea of the “Energy Crises” i.e. the idea that supplies of all energy sources were shrinking and would continue to do so forever. Just as now, the only people who gainsaid that consensus were derided as scattered cranks or corporate shrill. Guess who turned out to be correct?

      Anyone can question the assertions of any scientist. As Carl Sagan once pointed out, a core concept of science is that mere arguments from authority are worthless. Only experimental proof counts. You should ask two questions about concept of Catastrophic Anthrogenic Global Warming: (1) Is the idea falsifiable i.e. could one make an observation here-and-now that would prove that the effect was NOT occurring. (2) Barring (1) Does the field of climatology have a demonstrated track record of forecasting long term climatic trends? The answer to both question is no. There is no phenomenon that we can observe today that would demonstrate that CAGW was NOT occurring and climatologist have no proven track record for predicting climate.

      Given that we have lived through similar political hysteria with a scientific consensus within living memory and that climatologist cannot falsify CAGW nor have a proven track record to fall back on anybody has the right to be very skeptical of the idea.

    20. Grotius Says:

      Jonathan,

      As far as I can tell the media rarely treats “scientific issues” (yeah, that’s a really, really lame phrase) with the sort of nuance, etc. that research deserves and that scientists generally engage in themselves.

    21. Grotius Says:

      Shannon Love,

      If you would like a much closer example, just look back to 1980 and see what the consensus was on the status of the world’s supply petroleum and other sources of energy.

      There wasn’t one. There was plenty of spirited debate in 1980 over the issue amongst academics. The same was true in the realm of politics.

      The same people and institutions that now push the hypothesis of Catastrophic Anthrogenic Global Warming then pushed the idea of the “Energy Crises” i.e. the idea that supplies of all energy sources were shrinking and would continue to do so forever.

      I suspect a large proportion of the folks associated with claims of problems associated with resource or now dead. It being, you know, TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS later.

    22. sol vason Says:

      There is one remarkable exception to this theory. Robert Parker the Wine Advocate whose contrary views somehow prevailed and caused a revolution in wine making,

    23. Grotius Says:

      Shannon Love,

      (1) Is the idea falsifiable i.e. could one make an observation here-and-now that would prove that the effect was NOT occurring.

      Sure, if one could find data from measurements (the ones that they use now go back to the 19th century) as well proxies (e.g., ice cores, tree cores, certain corals, etc.) that demonstrated that were in a general cooling trend. That would falsify any and all “global warming” claims. Now that is a broader sort of falsification than you were probably looking for, but nevertheless, it does falsify the more specific “global warming” claims you directed your statement to.

    24. Shannon Love Says:

      Grotius,

      There was plenty of spirited debate in 1980 over the issue amongst academics.

      Not really. Everybody bought into the idea. The very name “energy crisis” stamps it as a universal phenomenon. It was at least as real to people back then as CAGW is today. Perhaps even more so since people had to confront it every time they gassed their cars or paid their utility bills.

      I suspect a large proportion of the folks associated with claims of problems associated with resource or now dead. It being, you know, TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS later.

      You must be young to think of 27 years as wiping out an entire generation. Someone who was 40 in 1980 would only be 67 today. Al Gore was already a member of the House. Ralph Nader, Edward Kennedy, Tom Harkin and all the rest are still alive and kicking. Paul Elrich. the grand high priest of over population and resource depletion is right out there in front hawking global warming even though he was dead wrong about everything in the 70’s. Other actors are still around as well.

      Sure, if one could find data from measurements…

      The question of whether the earth is warming isn’t the question. At any arbitrary point in time the earth is in a warming or cooling trend. The question is whether we are in an anthrogenic warming trend and if so the degree of that trend. At present there appears to be no way to distinguish between anthrogenic causes and something like solar forcing.

    25. Tyouth Says:

      Outraged’s comment: “however, right wingers are just as likely to fall into groupthink” as the left is.

      Well yes, that’s true but groupthink on the American right is far less dangerous.

      The conservative “groupthink” is much less likely to make mistakes and false, expensive, unnecessary changes simply because they don’t change as readily. Groupthink by those who look for radical change (the left, in our case) is much more dangerous because it can result in change. And, afterall, the point is that “groupthink” is not much less than the maddness of crowds, isn’t it?

    26. Grotius Says:

      Everybody bought into the idea.

      So, what happened after 1980? If everyone bought into the idea and there was no debate on the matter then why were few to none of the prescriptions ever adopted? Could it be, gosh, that there were lots of folks who opposed these ideas. Hmm, might be.

      Al Gore was already a member of the House. Ralph Nader, Edward Kennedy, Tom Harkin and all the rest are still alive and kicking. Paul Elrich. the grand high priest of over population and resource depletion is right out there in front hawking global warming even though he was dead wrong about everything in the 70’s. Other actors are still around as well.

      So was Al Gore big on the “resource depletion” issue in his early terms in Congress?

      The point is of course that these aren’t really the “same people” by any stretch of the imagination and most of the scientists involved in climate change studies probably have little to nothing to do with the past movement you refer to.

      Sure, if one could find data from measurements…

      Your claim was that it wasn’t falsifiable. Well, it is falsifiable.

      Tyouth,

      Well yes, that’s true but groupthink on the American right is far less dangerous.

      Yeah, conservative groupthink only got us into this mess in Iraq.

    27. Shannon Love Says:

      Grotius,

      So, what happened after 1980?

      Reagan did away with the windfall profit tax and Thatcher let the price of North Sea Oil float at market price. The Left denounced it as all a plot to enrich the evil oil companies of course. By 84 oil supplies climbed to the point that the OPEC cartel collapsed and the entire episode evaporated. The concept of the Energy Crisis as a permanent problem caused by a physical shortage of energy sources was taken with absolute seriousness across the board. Even people in the oil industry believed and they should have known better. It formed the basis of national economic and security policy. Take everything you see today about global warming and increase it by an order of magnitude to get a feel for the omnipresence of this concept from roughly 74-84. The idea was taken so seriously that they formed a cabinet level Department of Energy which we still have today.

      So was Al Gore big on the “resource depletion” issue in his early terms in Congress?

      Not much more than anyone else. Gore was a conservative back then. My point was that Gore’s age echelon had already entered their professional lives and that yes many of the same individuals who pushed the energy crises so hard then push global warming today. All the major environmental groups did so as did nominally neutral institutions like the NSF and various UN organs.

      If you are the kind of person who accepts arguments from authority then you should realize that those very same authorities got a much simpler question completely wrong only a couple of decades ago. They feel prey to a political hysteria then, why should we trust them now.

      Well, it is falsifiable.

      You obviously do not understand the idea of falsification. Tracking temperature changes tells us absolutely nothing about what causes those changes. We want to test whether (1) human activity is driving temperature change and (2) if the degree of human driven change warrants expanding state power and crippling the planetary economy.

      The phenomenon I am describing is not group think. Rather it is the desperate need to project the illusion of veracity by presenting a unified front to all. Leftism is the politics of the articulate intellectual. Leftist define both problems and solutions such that they can only be affected by articulate intellectuals. Unfortunately, articulate intellectuals deal with types of information for which no test exists. In their world, group consensus alone determines the veracity of an idea. Mavericks cannot challenge the consensus because they cannot provide irrefutable proof that their ideas work.

    28. Grotius Says:

      Shannon Love,

      Reagan did away with the windfall profit tax and Thatcher let the price of North Sea Oil float at market price. The Left denounced it as all a plot to enrich the evil oil companies of course. By 84 oil supplies climbed to the point that the OPEC cartel collapsed and the entire episode evaporated.

      This pretty clearly means that not everyone agreed with the prognosis.

      The concept of the Energy Crisis as a permanent problem caused by a physical shortage of energy sources was taken with absolute seriousness across the board.

      Yet somehow the prescriptions of those who advocated this never went into law? Your own statements illustrate that not everyone bought into this “across the board.”

      It formed the basis of national economic and security policy.

      You are probably referring to the highly contested report put out by the Carter administration. It was roundly criticized from many quarters at the time.

      My point was that Gore’s age echelon had already entered their professional lives and that yes many of the same individuals who pushed the energy crises so hard then push global warming today.

      I don’t believe one has two similar cohorts here, but let’s just accept that for the time being. Advocating an incorrect position in the past doesn’t say anything necessarily about a current position.

      You obviously do not understand the idea of falsification. Tracking temperature changes tells us absolutely nothing about what causes those changes.

      Maybe I don’t, but tell me why I am wrong in light of the following statement (I’m not into personalizing things). If the data demonstrated that we were in a cooling trend then the current claims about catastrophic anthropocentric climate change would be demonstrated to be false. Correct? After all, anthropocentric climate change of the type that is claimed to be going on predicts a warmer world (generally), right? But if it is a generally cooler world then well, you get the point. By those means it is falsifiable. Now such measurements can’t by themselves demonstrate that claims about anthropocentric climate change are right (though one can draw strong inferences from them), but they could concievably demonstrate that they are wrong or at least flawed.

      The phenomenon I am describing is not group think.

      Sure it is. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a duck.

      Leftism is the politics of the articulate intellectual.

      As opposed to articulate intellectuals who are right-wing in prediliction?

    29. Ginny Says:

      Of course, Shannon is perceptive and I don’t disagree with him. This desire for consensus is not necessarily bad – it isn’t like I want to spend a lot of time with the kind of guy that is always fighting “the man” or “the system.” But our desire to “fit in” is not the same as thought nor as being right.

      Still, hubris underlies many apocalyptic visions – that and a belief that both nature and human nature would be perfect, if it just weren’t for man in the first case and society in the second. I’ve never had much patience with that way of looking at things – whether from Rousseau or Al Gore (and the hypocrisy of both doesn’t help). And how many of us feel that we are right when the people agreeing with us are people who – because of our power, our status, or that they just like us and don’t give a damn – prefer to agree with us than argue? We believe, of course, that they are agreeing with us because we are right. That is the kind of hubris you get in an organization that is corrupt or inefficient, it is one that you are likely to get when an organization is riven with nepotism or cliques. The clique of the watchmakers that agree with one another actually think they do have the right time. That is hubris.

      Nature’s big, history’s long – it seems to me to be hubris that believes we can screw it up so quickly. But what do I know? It seems to me that doing some conservation isn’t a bad idea. Of course, a certain hubris also argues that America is at fault (even though our energy use has relatively stabilized) – the anti-American voices are often as hubristic as the pro-American ones. And it is hubris to deny the third world its chance to join cultures with longer & healthier life spans, shorter work weeks, more time for play & culture.

    30. Shannon Love Says:

      Grotius,

      Your own statements illustrate that not everyone bought into this “across the board.”

      My point was that a far higher level of consensus existed about the energy crisis than exist about global warming today. There was a far less Left/Right division then than now. Not even Reagan et al believed that the problem would simply vanish within 5 years. Rather, they believed that a free market approach would best improve the situation. Reagan could only get rid of the windfall profit tax because it had been imposed by Presidential fiat by Carter in lieu of the previous price controls. If he would had to get through congress he probably would have failed.

      The best evidence however comes from the fact that the collapse of oil prices in 84 caught every one by surprise. A lot of people lost their shirts including Bush. If people hadn’t been caught up in the hysteria more people would have seen the bust coming.

      Advocating an incorrect position in the past doesn’t say anything necessarily about a current position.

      It does if you use the same axioms and the same intellectual methodology. The idea is the same in both crises: the unregulated economy is careening towards some disaster and the power of the state must be increase in order to head of the catastrophe. They make the same claims about consensus and they make the same accusations about the corrupt motivations of those who disagree with them. I think it is very fair to ask if the same flaws that led them to embrace the idea of the energy crisis also leads them to embrace the idea of CAGW.

    31. A. Scott Crawford Says:

      Ginny…

      Love the analogy of the clockmaker.

      “The clockmakers destroy the nonconforming clockmaker among them because they know that as a practical matter we judge the accuracy of clocks by consensus. Absolute time does not exist. Essentially, a parliament of clocks votes on the correct time. (Even scientifically, this is true.) By fiat, we say that the clocks that deviate from the consensus time are inaccurate, but logically that need not be so. Different technologies or different levels of care in setting, winding or servicing the clocks could lead to the minority clocks being more accurate. However, if all the clocks agree, then no lay person will have grounds for suspecting that the majority clocks don’t keep accurate time.”

      Allow me to add to this, for you see, “Scientifically” this is NOT true. And due to the fact that “time” is pretty much the domain for all of experimental science, the clockmaker whose clocks WERE more accurate would produce all sorts of seeming miracles to whomever was wise enough to ignore the 9 clocks that chimed in unison and purchased a clock from ONE of them and two clocks from the “accurate” fellow.

      Ironically, this is something no less a icon than Issac Newton write about in his opus magnum… for were one to hear 9 chimes that all worked identically all the time, one would be able to tell one thing for certain… that those clockmakers were cheating in some fashion. Over the years, the clockmaker whose clocks operated using a more accurate mechanism would SEEM more and more “off” the others, but in fact, would not be.

      NOW. Let us imagine that one of the Kings very wisest of advisors HAD secretly purchased a number of the oddball clockmakers produce PRIOR to his destruction by the Confederacy of Dunces that were the 9 others…. for this is a description Jonathan Swift would have considered apt. The King would be none the wiser, nor would any other kings or Countries anywhere else, as the fools had burned out their only master. But as this wise minister HAD in his possession ACCURATE clocks that he used for the benefit of his Kings people, ALL SORTS of things would be demonstrably superior in that Kingdom as if by magic. It’s ships would more accurately navigate. It’s calenders would require greater predictive power. It’s scientists would find that they discovered flaws in their experiments with greater consistantcy, and etc.

      In fact, people would look at this as if it were magic, when really it was the work of a single wise minister who knew when to ignore his boss and when to keep a secret.

      But what of the poor clockmaker who was burned out? What WAS his secret? For the secret of his clocks greater accuracy was the REAL prize. It’s doubtful that the Kings wiseman would be able to reverse engineer his excellent clocks. And as history marched on, and technology improved, without that secret the clocks would stay the same.

      There is a saying in Latin, “multitudos non ratione ducitur sed impetu”, the multitudes are led not by reason, but by impetuousness… This goes for the multitudes of “intellectuals” as well as peasants… For the wise man would have been even wiser if he’d remembered that he merely BOUGHT the clocks that were more accurate, and didn’t create them. For it was the GENIUS of that one clockmaker that was the thing of beauty and value, not the produce of his genius.

      Issac Newton didn’t publish his opus for 17-20 years, and when he finally did, it was estimated that less that twenty people in the entire world understood it’s value. Just as those today who read Newton’s snippits on “alchemy” pooh pooh it as ignorant mysticism typically fail to grasp that Newton APPLIED the alchemy to the Royal Mint to IMPROVE the purity of the Gold content in Englands coinage, and thus the value of the specie for the whole of the Nation. People understood THAT, even if they didn’t really understand his books on Experimental Philosophy (as he called it). So when Newton died, his funeral possession was more grand than that of the greatest monarch in Europe.

      This is the difference between “Genius” and the produce of genius. The Assembly will always kill it’s Socrates in the end. The Monarch will always have St. Thomas More beheaded. And as Andrew Jackson so sagely wrote, “When you’re right, you have a majority of ONE”.

    32. Shannon Love Says:

      A. Scott Crawford ,

      I agree with the main thrust of your post but I was thinking in terms of the most fundamental aspects of the phenomenon we call time.

      How do you know the super accurate clock in your computer keeps the “correct” time? Why you synchronize it with a hyper accurate clock such a that at the U.S. Naval Observatory. How does the Observatory know that its master clock keeps the “correct” time? Why they use an atomic clock that tracks the intensely periodic decay of radioactive isotopes. How do they know that the radioactive decay is highly periodic? Why they synchronize it with the predictable movements of the planets. How do they know the planet’s movements are constant as they think? Why they measure them with atomic clocks!

      The basic problem is obvious (and that is before you start throwing things like Relativity and Quantum time into the mix.)

      In truth, we don’t measure the “flow” of something called “time.” What we really measure is the degree of correspondence between the changes in the states of various natural phenomenon and certain technological artifacts. The true function of clocks is not to “measure time” but to under go the exact same change in state as other clocks or a natural phenomenon. They do not measure, they coordinate. We call a clock accurate if it coordinates with other clocks or periodic phenomenon within a certain degree of precision and we call it inaccurate if it does not.

      As a practical matter, some clocks are more accurate than others and people who use the more accurate clocks will gain a significant real world advantage. Down at its rawest level, however, there is no such thing as absolute time.

    33. Jonathan Says:

      Yes, time is an metaphor, not a variable.

    34. Ed Driscoll.com Says:

      Honor And The Future Of Journalism…

      Orrin Judd explores where honor lies in the future of journalism. Meanwhile, Ed Morrissey sounds like he agrees with my assessment of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s possibly limited future:When nationally-known columnist and blogger James Lileks revea…

    35. Professional Linguist Says:

      Great article!

      I have a Ph.D. in Linguistics and am intimately familiar with several subfields within the discipline. This is the best explanation I have ever read for the herd mentality of so many otherwise bright people. There are iconoclasts, but they are marginalized.

      Someone earlier in the thread is misreading the article to imply that everyone toes the party line. The arrticle clearly says this is not so, but that there is a price to be paid for being heterodox. This conforms exactly to my experiences in linguistics.

    36. WayneB Says:

      Shannon Love – There is a difference between verifying your clocks against the natural phenomena and merely verifying them against other clocks, when the other person is also verifying their clock against yours. The latter is self-referential and not balanced by any external observations, and can ultimately become completely out of synch with the natural world. The former is always referenced by the external world, which is, after all, what they were designed to do in the first place.

      Think of it this way: Two people go to a football field and start at one goal post, sight in on the other goal post, then blindfold themselves and start walking. Along the way, they periodically reach out and touch each other’s shoulders to make sure they are going in the same direction. How likely are they to make it within arms reach of the other goal post? They are both going the same direction and speed, so the have “consensus”. This would be the method of the 9 clockmakers.

      Now, another person does the same thing, except that every 5 steps he pulls the blindfold down to check his direction against the actual goal. He’s referencing the real world to verify and correct his path, like the scientists who compare their clocks to other natural phenomena. He’s going to be more likely not only to reach his destination, but to deviate less from the path along the way. On top of that, an endless progression of others can follow him without ever seeing the goalpost at the other end, and STILL get there with less deviation from the path than the two with their “consensus”. (That would be the computers synchronizing with the Naval Observatory clock).

    37. daniel a Says:

      the reason the determinations of the parliament of clocks is not necessarily accurate is that the parliament is a closed system, a club.

      if it was open – to all epople of every expertise (and none), and if their determinations were ever-adjusting, then it would be accurate, as a marketplace is.

      the “global warming consensus” is being tested in the marketplace of ideas, but not in the clubs, not in the REAL parliaments.

      agw is being tested and where it is tested it fails.

      clubs have narrowier interests than open markets, and that perverts the results.

    38. Sneakeasy's Joint Says:

      Liberals and Clocks…

      God, this is brilliant! In order to maintain their power and position within society, articulate intellectuals must convince the larger population that they really do have a superior understanding of the issues they study. The do so using a parliament…

    39. The so-called “national conversation” has been neither. Top news stories have been determined by a “20-person protection racket” in a few square blocks in Manhattan. « The Future of News Says:

      […] out of mindlessly following the Times’ lead? Driscoll supports the contention of Chicagoboyz’s Shannon Love that this mainstream news outlet consensus allows all outlets to project an illusion of accuracy. […]

    40. The so-called “national conversation” has been neither. Have top news stories been determined by a “20-person protection racket” in a few square blocks in Manhattan? « The Future of News Says:

      […] out of mindlessly following the Times’ lead? Driscoll supports the contention of Chicagoboyz’s Shannon Love that this mainstream news outlet consensus provides outlets with protection from being singled-out […]

    41. The so-called “national conversation” has been neither. Have top news stories been determined by a “20-person protection racket” within a few square blocks in NYC? « The Future of News Says:

      […] out of mindlessly following the Times’ lead? Driscoll supports the contention of Chicagoboyz’s Shannon Love that this mainstream news outlet consensus provides outlets with protection from being singled-out […]

    42. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » The New Individualist Says:

      […] He seemed to particularly like my Parliament of Clocks metaphor. […]