A DoubleQuote for Anders

[ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

One of my hobbies is finding apposite quotes to juxtapose — I call them DoubleQuotes and think of them as twin pebbles dropped into the mind-pool for the pleasure of watching the ripples…

And I particulartly enjoy it when one of my DoubleQuotes manages to span different sensory streams — aural, visual, verbal, numerical, cinematic — as here, with text and image.

This one’s for Anders Sandberg.


I’d been carrying around the quote from WikiLeaks for a few days, but it was running across the Dresden Codak via Anders’ Andart blog today that gave me the second “dot” to connect with the first.

5 thoughts on “A DoubleQuote for Anders”

  1. And here I thought I was the only ChicagoBoy up for a quick game of Dungeons and Discourse. Of course, there is also the Advanced Dungeons and Discourse version for all you philosophical/role-playing heavyweights.

    The juxtaposition of both the Persian and Post-Modernist immunity to causality is apt because they both spring from the same cosmological underpinning: a belief that the operation of the universe is essentially arbitrary and unbounded by fixed rules. This is especially true when talking about the domain of human affairs.

    Our modern Western concept of causality comes from the idea of the clockwork universe in which the universe is a deterministic machine that follows preset rules such that if the rules say A causes B, then that is always true in all times and places. The clockwork universe is a very recent idea in Western culture and dates only to the time Descartes and Newton.

    Prior to that time, the Western concept of causality closely paralleled the Persian one (and indeed most pre-scientific cosmologies) in that they viewed the functioning of the universe to be merely the arbitrary whims of supernatural personalities. Most polytheistic cosmologies assumed that supernatural politics drove all natural phenomena as supernatural personalities reacted to events out of human social emotions, domination, pride, envy, jealously, vainglory, status anxiety, insult, humiliation etc. This is were the idea that the divine could be placated like a human comes from.

    In the pre-scientific view, there are no rules. In modern terms, all reality was virtual. They conceived of the universe as vast video game in which the supernatural personalities were the programers who altered the game continuously on the fly. Magic was the process of “reprogramming” reality usually by using specific words or symbols in specific patterns much like we today use to create computer programs.

    In such an arbitrary and shifting universe driven by human emotional concerns, the idea of fixed causality had no more meaning that it would in a human social or political context wherein action A might produce effects B,C,D…Z based on the whims of the individuals involved.

    This type of model arose because pre-scientific peoples had very little means to predict or control nature. Almost everything except human social and political actions lay outside their control. With rare exceptions, in most cultures, individual success was almost entirely a matter of formal or informal politics. Status, wealth, property and physical security depended solely on a web of political interactions. Only a tiny minority could thrive by special knowledge or skill. They therefore came to see all existence as being types of human factors.

    Persians (and many other non-Western cultures) can only process events (natural and otherwise) in terms of human politics. The political dynamics become the only reality. This is where you get ideas such as something is true or has happened because a politically powerful person say so.

    Post-modernist by contrast do not believe in causality because a causal world makes them less important. Post-modernists are people with no other skills than creating narratives so they have rationalized a world model in which everything is just a narrative and that therefore the spinners of narratives (for all practical purposes) define reality. They have inverted the ancient idea of supernatural personalities creating reality by assuming the role of the divine themselves. They’er created a delusional little world in which they are little godlings able to shape the world to their whim by simply fabricating a new story. They claim they are the programmers for the little video game we all find ourselves living in.

    Post-modernism is an exercise in egocentric, narcism by lightweight pseudo-intellectuals.

  2. Fantastic! I hadn’t met the comic until earlier today, and now i learn there’s actually a game out there… Thanks, Shannon!

    I’ve never played an RPG, but fifteen years ago I wrote a piece or two for “Vision Quest” Magazine, edited by Mitchell Gross, one of the proponents of dice-free role-play.

  3. Wow, great stuff, Shannon. May I forward it on with attribution?

    Love the wording “Persian aversion” in the first quote. Also, I knew Yazdi in the early 70s when he lived in the Satan USA and was, unknown to me at the time, helping to plot the revolution, complete with an important mystery guest from Paris… A few times, Ibrahim, who fled the Shah and was given (unneeded) sanctuary and good employment as a doctor here, sat in our living room and told us how venally corrupt, morally profligate and bullying this country is.

    I realize he’s considered a dissenter these days, but, after reading some articles on his current politics and grasp of history in which he had a hand, I’m convinced he doesn’t understand the causality of reap-sow. (Um, that’s inverted, but you know what i mean;))

  4. Well, Shannon, we’re getting into some pretty deep philosophical waters here.


    Your pre-deterministic western ideas about causality would presumably include those of Aquinas, who taught in the Summa Contra Gentiles, III 70.8 — precisely with respect to causality and omnipotence — that “the same effect is not attributed to a natural cause and to divine power in such a way that it is partly done by God, and partly by the natural agent; rather, it is wholly done by both, according to a different way”.

    As for the Iranians, they have certainly had their share of brilliant philosophers, and al-Ghazali’s skepticism has been specifically described as prefiguring that of Descartes by some five centuries.

    And it’s not as though the subject of causality hasn’t been a matter of debate in our own day, either. Thus the physicist David Bohm writes in The Bohm-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity and science, p 16:

    I would say that neither determinism nor indeterminism (causality or chance) is absolute. Rather, each is just the opposite side of the whole picture . Wherever there is one of these categories, there must also be the other. Our method should be to begin with something that goes beyond both of these categories, viz., the infinite and eternal totality. We want to get to know what the totality is and how indeterministic it is. The role of indeterminism is merely to describe the fact that causal relation in time does not exhaust the whole of being. It does not mean absolute lawlessness, but only that any particular chain of lawful relationship is limited, ie not completely universal in its domain of validity. These limits leave room for new relations and new kinds of totalities to come into existence. In terms of a sufficiently broad context, all laws and all limits to these laws are seen to follow from the fact that the whole (which includes time as well as space) is indeed a kind of unity.

    Which is really not that far from Dogen Zenji, who said, “originally, there is no difference between first and last, cause and effect” ” “Cause is not before and effect is not after; the cause is perfect and the effect is perfect” and “Though effect is occasioned by cause, they are not before and after, because the before and after are nondual in the Way.”


    But that’s philosophy — ancient or modern, eastern or western – what about this business of negotiation and the market-place?

    I suspect that negotiating with the Iranians — who have been bazaaris for centuries, millennia even — is something that takes an understanding of cultural nuance of the sort that G. Whitney Azoy gives us for Afghanistan in his book, Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan.

    Again, it’s an area that interests me, but not one in which I’d claim any expertise – but surely the anthropologists could tell us more than a diplomat who seems to have little but contempt for those to whom he is our representative.

  5. A quick hat-tip to Zenpundit, who pointed me to Spengler’s AsianTimes review of Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, which looks to be a very interesting book, and relevant to both Shannon‘s points and my own.

    James McCormic‘s review of Lee Smith’s The Strong Horse earlier this year on Chicago Boyz also looks relevant here.


    I’d like to add that a rich understanding of the philosophical and anthropological issues we’ve been discussing — whatever one’s opinion of the comparative value of the different philosophies discussed — will IMO help us understand AQ and the way in which bin Laden “plays” to a Muslim audience, as Michael Vlahos details in Terror’s Mask (search the .pdf using keyword: Hikayat).

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