Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Martha Nussbaum's Fragile Goodness Gracious Me

Martha Nussbaum, in the foreword to a new edition of 'The Fragility of Goodness' writes-

For it could hardly be denied that the ability to function as a citizen, the activities involved in various types of love and friendship, and even the activities associated with the major ethical virtues (courage, justice, and so on) require external conditions that the agent's goodness cannot by itself secure. 

Why not?
In so far as the agent's goodness is good for something, as opposed to the fellow being a good-for-nothing, external conditions are irrelevant because he kicks their ass if they try to fuck with him. Indeed, fear of being slapped silly, causes external conditions to go all smarmy and anxious to please when this hero is around.

... events beyond our control may do harm, including ethical harm. 
Harm, as critics of Mill pointed out long ago, is a meaningless word. It suffices for scarcity to exist- i.e. for actions to have an opportunity cost- for all events, whether or not they are in our control, to cause harm.
If ethics is concerned with harm, then all harm is ethical harm.

However, the remedy is not far to seek. What is required is a Structural Causal Model- i.e. the discrimination of arrows of causation and the determination of how to disrupt and change their outcome.

The contemplation of possible harm, without the thing actually happening, is sufficient for good people to carry on in an ethical manner. External conditions don't matter- only their possibility does. A regret minimising course would already have been established, either that or the information set would expand, and thus no exogenous change in circumstances poses any scandal to ethics or the lived life of the polity.

That is, events beyond our control may affect, for good or ill, not only our happiness or success or satisfaction, but also central ethical elements of our lives: whether we manage to act justly in public life, whether we are able to love and care for another person, whether we get a chance to act courageously. 

Nonsense. Either events were stochastically anticipated and a Regret minimising course was already charted- and this includes provision against Knightian Uncertainty- or else what Nussbaum is describing is a wide eyed virgin wandering naked through a forest of dicks. It may be, by sheer luck, that she emerges from that forest with her maidenhood intact and the right dick firmly in her grasp or she may drown in a torrent of splooge emitted from a host of Brett Kavanaugh type dickheads.

Regret encompasses notions of happiness, success, satisfaction, doing the right thing, acting justly in public life, loving and caring for another person and being able to act courageously and to acquit oneself well in the resulting combat.

Regret minimisation need involve no tragedy of a Promethean type. It need not bar us from Empimethean experimentation. It merely puts eggs into different baskets and hedges its bets and maintains an epistemic curiosity about the world. Thus 'luck' does not affect it because it is alert to detect changes in the information set before they crystallize into events.

No doubt, Greek poets living a very long time ago didn't spell all this out in the language of Measure theory or by the use of directed graphs. Still, they weren't stupid. There is no reason to read into their effusions a stupidity or savage mentality that simply wasn't there.

Thus even without raising the issue of luck's role in making us wise, or courageous, or just in the first place, we can see that it appears to have an important ethical role, in making us able or not so able to act virtuously, and thus to lead ethically complete lives.

Luck can play no role in our choosing to minimize regret precisely because it is a Muth rational, Hannan consistent, strategy. If I bet all my savings on a horse- I am relying on luck. If I invest my savings according to the canonical portfolio choice theory, people would say I was prudent and not relying on luck at all.

 To the poets, as to at least some of the philosophers, it seemed difficult to deny that a person incapacitated by a long-term disfiguring disease, or a person thrown into prison and tortured, or a woman raped by the enemy and cast into slavery, has been denied at least some ethically significant elements of human flourishing. 

It was also difficult to deny that cats are not dogs. So what? Not denying the bleeding obvious does not constitute anything epistemic. It is stupidity or Sophistry, nothing more.

Such people are not only unhappy: they also do and exchange fewer of the things that make for a completely good human life. Only by identifying the flourishing life with a virtuous state of character, then, or with certain activities, especially intellectual contemplation, whose performance seems to be least dependent on external conditions, could one even plausibly maintain that the good person cannot be dislodged from flourishing.

It is not plausible to maintain that a person of any sort cannot be dislodged from flourishing. Why? Suppose you are making this argument. Your opponent smashes your head in. You start drooling and can't finish your sentence and stagger around for a few moments before toppling down emitting vast quantities of fecal matter from your anus. Not only do you lose this particular debate, but you start getting frowny-face Awful emojis on 'Rate my Professor' with a lot of student's complaining about the smell emanating from your rotting corpse which is just so disrespectful and like totally as much a trigger as your notorious refusal to recant your 'first wave' criticism of Judith Butler.


 But such narrow views of human flourishing were, as they still are, profoundly controversial.

Nonsense! The workaround was to believe in the immortality of the Soul- Heaven and Hell or Reincarnation and Moksha or some combination of all four.

There was no profound controversy. The thing was foolish. Regret minimisation required the creation of ontologically dysphoric hedges and so they were produced quietly and without fuss. It is a different matter that rents associated with the creation of monopolies or monopsonies of such hedges generated a lot of heat and dust, obscuring matters but there was no controversy regarding the notion that a guy who had had his head kicked could continue to enjoy life and have a lot of mates round for his birthday party or continue to have a flourishing practice at the bar.

 To omit friends from an account of flourishing, for example, seemed to Aristotle, despite his generally strong interest in stability, to leave human beings with a life that is so impoverished as to be not worth the living.

To omit food from an account of flourishing would not impoverish life. It would not lead to starvation. Why? An account of flourishing has zero connection with actual flourishing. Nussbaum says that Aristotle said something very very stupid. But he didn't actually. The stupidity is all on her side.

 That exposure to luck was a central theme of post-Aristotelian Greek philosophy had never been doubted, although that aspect of Hellenistic ethics remained to be more systematically scrutinized.  

What is this shit? Human beings know that bad shit can go down. They also know that windfalls can occur. Like every other species which arose by natural selection, at the macro-level, human beings follow a Regret minimising strategy. They also do this in the management of their households. This is Economics. The underlying maths and stats was not known to the Greeks but their heuristics can be explicated by our more advanced algebraic apparatus. We can repair the defects in their reasoning to recover something meaningful and worthwhile.

Nussbaum, however, is determined to treat the Greeks as ignorant imbeciles so as to say the stupidest possible things about them.

But the extent to which Plato and Aristode shared the preoccupation of the tragic poets with luck's role in shaping the lives that humans manage to live was less widely acknowledged, as were many related lines of continuity between the poets and the philosophers. 

WTF? Luck has no role in anything save slapstick comedy. The Chorus, in Oedipus Rex, doesn't go 'OMG! How unlucky can one guy be? You killed your Dad & are fucked your own Mummy! Like the fella once said, ''aint that a kick in the head?'

Why is Nussbaum writing such shite? The answer is that she has very stupidly translated 'tuche' as 'luck'. Actually the word means contingent outcomes- a fate- which is what 'Regret minimization' concerns itself with. Thus, Oedipus could have protected himself against fate by exercising prudence- more especially by not making himself the possible subject of his own decree. There is an impulsive, Epimethean, angle to his tragedy but, chastened by suffering, he becomes instrumental in teaching the akrebia of the implacable Erinyes, a mellowing economia or rule of equity, such that those ghastly hags turn into gracious Euminedes.

Plato was saying- as Indians or Jews of the period might have said- if you have perfected yourself, nothing bad can happen to you. It is only your body, not your soul, which is subject to contingency. Aristotle was saying what the Yoga philosophers or the Shraman Saints also said- viz. you can only cultivate your soul in company with like-minded others (suhrit praapti) and thus there is an economic and even political aspect to the Community (Sangha) needful for Platonic flourishing.

This is perfectly reasonable. The reason 'Regret minimization' is a good individual strategy is because it is Muth rational, even if the transmission mechanism is only mimetic or such as might be modelled by cellular automata. Thus, at the macro-level the thing is Evolutionarily Stable. It is precisely an intuition that there is a coordination game here and that the Schelling focal point can be made salient in a culture's Paideia, which causes all archaic Cultures to appear similar or to arrive at the same Wisdom literature.

Robert Aumann has found Game Theory in the Torah. In the Mahabharata, the Just King must explicitly learn Statistical Game Theory. Greek Literature can be viewed through this prism. After all, these guys were very successful traders and administrators and wrote books on Economics as well as Geometry and Biology and so forth.

Nussbaum didn't grow up in some shack in war-torn Southern Sudan. She attended the best schools and Colleges. She could have used the tools of contemporary Decision theory to help her understand the public intellectuals of a vibrant and dynamic period in Greek history. She refused to do any such thing. Instead she shacked up with the idiot Sen because she already believed that everybody else is very very stupid and doesn't get that a very poor person who keeps getting raped and robbed is worse off than a very rich person who doesn't keep getting raped and robbed.

 It seemed to me that the segmentation of the professions in modern life had obscured from us the evident truth that in Athens of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E., the tragic poets were widely regarded as major sources of ethical insight. 

WTF? Obscured from whom? I suppose Nussbaum means people teaching Classics at Ivy League. But, that is a shite subject. People teaching it are bound to be as stupid as shit. So what if they remained blind to the 'evident truth' that Aeschylus and Sophocles were writing about maintaining one's character under adversity and how a person's character may be so strengthened by suffering as to offer Society an avenue of collective redemption? All that these worthless pedants were required to do was to show up sober for classes and not masturbate in public.

The philosophers set themselves up as competitors, not simply as colleagues in a related department.

WTF? A philosopher set up an Academy. It contained no Literature Dept. offering Chairs to the Tragic Poet du jour. It did feature some instruction in Maths. That's why it became famous. Maths aint shite. STEM subjects are the only thing which should be studied at Uni. Otherwise, even bright kids will turn into Nussbaums writing shite like-

And they competed in form as well as in content, selecting strategies that seemed most likely to reveal to their pupils the sorts of facts about the world that they took to be true. Thus, an ancillary theme of the book is the debate about those strategies and the faculties that they address. The tragic poets maintained, and in their choice of literary forms displayed, the belief that powerful emotions, prominently including pity and fear, were sources of insight about the good human life. 

Emotions may or may not give insight into the good sandwich or cozy human life or nice Nicraraguan horcrux of the neighbor's cat. A belief regarding this can't be action guiding. Nor is it something that a class of people might wish to maintain. Why? The thing is stupid.

Perhaps Nussbaum means 'the Greek tragic poets thought that getting the audience to experience profound emotions would cause 'catharsis'- they would be purged of quotidian shit and emerge chastened and refined by the spectacle.' Unfortunately, that thing is better done by getting people together to stone an adulterer to death or to watch a heretic burn. Even an animal sacrifice can have this effect. The Greek tragic poets whom we remember were far removed from any such grossness. No violence occurred on stage. Nor was any demagoguery tolerated. The redemptive suffering of the ancestors associated with specific places was dwelt upon in a grave and stately manner. The emotions of pity and terror were transmuted into an acceptation of wisdom as minimising regret for the transitory nature of all things.

Then, before the audience dispersed, a boisterous comedy was put on and so the evening ended on a note of surfeit and good cheer.


Plato denied this, developing a view of ethical understanding that separates intellect as much as possible from the disturbing influences of sense and emotion.

Coz, he was into Maths. That was his big innovation. He linked elite paideia not to writing high minded shite for the Law Courts but rather to a type of intellectual achievement whose success was not contingent.

A sensible person, reading Plato, would study the Math of their own period. That would enable them to interpret Plato in a manner adequate to their own age.

Failure to do so leads to the writing of stupid shite-
 Aristotle, I argued, returned to at least some of the insights of the tragic poets, both about the vulnerability of flourishing to disaster and about the ethical relevance of emotions in informing us about the significance of such reversals. 

Coz he wasn't much cop at Math. On the other hand, he was Alexander's tutor and, as such, the subject of attack by the older type of Sophist who had no time for abstract study and saw rhetoric as the 'applied' aspect of every discipline which, by reason of its direct relation to Power, should constitute the exclusive Paideia of the rising elite.

In contemporary moral philosophy, discussions of vulnerability and luck had been surprisingly absent at the time Fragility was published, despite their ongoing human importance. 

Thirty years later we can see that 'discussions of vulnerability and luck' were wholly useless. The thing was an availability cascade allowing some Professors, like Nussbaum herself, to pose as saviours of the subaltern. Ludicrously, Nussbaum lectured the people of Gujerat for re-electing Modi. How fucking self-deluded can you get? Did she really think Indian people were going to say 'Nussbaum is smart? She knows about India?' No! They said 'this woman has shit for brains. She is ignorant.'

'Fragility' has died a death. The term 'anti-Fragile', however, has entered the vocabulary of Decision theory. Anti-Fragile mechanisms are Regret Minimising. They can be assessed for Hannan Consistency. Saying very poor people who are constantly being raped and robbed have fragile well-being doesn't help anybody- even yourself. Why? People soon understand you have shit for brains and are a shameless self-publicist.

Few of us now believe that we live in a world that is providentially ordered for the sake of the overall good; few even believe in a teleology of human social life moving toward greater perfection. 

Nobody ever believed that, under conditions of diminishing returns, very poor people having more and more babies, for whom nobody would provide, would participate in a 'teleology of human social life moving toward greater perfection.'

True, there will always be STEM subject mavens who think they have, or who actually have, figured out a way to create increasing returns. Then, provided Nussbaum or Sen type shitheads are disintermediated, some coalition can adopt that new mode of production and things start to improve. That's what happened when scientists like Norman Borlaug & Swaminathan managed to shout down the stupid assholes at the Planning Commission and get the Green Revolution off the ground. Shitheads like Sen kept carping about how this increased inequality but they couldn't stop Indian people getting enough to eat for a change.

And yet, or so it seemed and seems to me, the contemporary ethical consequences of granting that we live in a world that is in large part indifferent to our strivings had not been fully investigated. 

Nonsense! We have all fully investigated this before the age of 5. I recall telling Mummy to stop all War and Poverty and Naughtiness otherwise I'd refuse to go potty. She said she would but she didn't.
The sad thing is I still go potty all the time.

Fragility was thus also intended as one preliminary step in such an investigation. 

Dr. Nussbaum, standing in for Dr. Watson, says to Sherlock Holmes- 'before we investigate the mysterious case of the world being indifferent to our strivings, a preliminary step would be...'
'I'm way ahead of your, Dr. Nussbaum', Holmes replies, 'our preliminary step must be to sodomise the cat. I was able to deduce that from the cigar ash upon your vagina which you thrust at me over the breakfast table when Mrs. Hudson told you I'd eaten the last of the kippers. Anyway, don't worry about the cat. I have buggered it already and so we can quickly solve the enigma of the world being indifferent to our strivings because of the dastardly machinations of Dr. Moriarty. Kindly stop thrusting your vagina at me. I've been doing a lot of coke and feel kind of fragile.'

I still support most of the arguments of Fragility, both interpretive and substantive. For example, I still think that Aristotle's conception of the human being, and of practical deliberation, is of great importance for contemporary ethical and political thought; 

Contemporary ethical and political thought is done by people well versed in contemporary decision theory. Darwin's conception of the human being is important. Aristotle's isn't. This doesn't mean we need to interpret what Aristotle wrote in the stupidest possible way. On the contrary, we can always repair Aristotle in such a manner that kids forced to study his texts don't get dumber than is needful.

and I believe that the depiction of the plurality of goods and of conflicts among them that we find in both the poets and Aristotle offers insights that are absent from much of contemporary social reasoning. 

WTF? Contemporary social reasoning is nothing but Political Economics in which trade-offs are evaluated all the time. Maths is needful here. Nussbaum type pi-jaw or Sen-tentious shite can go hang.

Consider Nussbaum's theory of the emotions which, she says, is influenced by the Stoics-

 I believe that (the Stoics) provide us with the nucleus of the account we need, if we are to make plausible the idea that emotions reveal ethical reality.

Anything can reveal anything to anyone provided an appropriate signal processor supervenes. Cigar ash on a vagina can reveal to Sherlock Holmes that Dr. Moriarty is up to his old tricks- in this case, his machinations are causing the world to become indifferent to individual strivings.

It is plausible to say that some people, as part of a wider evolutionarily stable strategy, have an emotional detector for fraud or malfeasance or injustice or mendacity or whatever and that if follows that emotions can reveal ethical reality. It is equally plausible to say some people have ESP. What happens next is laboratory testing and an examination of the underlying research methodology and statistical analysis.

Alternatively, if someone has given a 'white box' account of the Structural Causal Model involved, then we can tinker with the thing directly. This would mean we could have a targeted recruitment and training initiative such that our Homeland Security Agents would 'emotionally' know whom to strip search, thus giving the anal cavities of the rest of us a much needed respite.


 Arguing that emotions are forms of evaluative judgment that ascribe to things and persons outside the agent's own control great significance for the agent's own Flourishing, the Stoics go on to argue that all of these judgments are false, and that we ought to wean ourselves from them to the extent that we can. 

That is perfectly sensible. You shouldn't stalk the girl you fancied in High School. You should accept that what you saw in her was actually something inside you and that you should store it up and cherish it till you find that 'life-partner' who feels the same way about you.

An externalist theory of value is stupid. It's the first fallacy one learns about in Econ. Diamonds aren't intrinsically better than pieces of coal. In some circumstances, you might trade a beautiful diamond for a shovelful of coal. Everything depends on what you need at the time.

I ultimately reject that normative vision in its simple form, although I do think that it has a lot to offer us in the area of unwise attachments to money, honor, and status. 

Money, honor and status are positional and strategic. They expand the choice menu. It is perfectly reasonable to trade some or all of these things for a superior menu. It is wholly foolish to detach oneself from them because of a stupid misprision of what the Stoics said. Obviously, if holding money makes you vulnerable, that is reflected in your choice menu. Under certain circumstances you trade the thing for something which will make you safer. The Chinese have a saying 'when the Empire is well governed, appear as a savant; when it is ill governed, appear as a drunken beggar'.

No one ever said 'attach yourself to something which is a mere instrument'. Everybody always says 'keep the thing till you can trade it advantageously- that is in a regret minimizing manner'.

The Stoics' analysis of emotions as value judgments, however, is independent of their controversial normative theses. Suitably modified, I believe that it can provide the basis for a contemporary philosophical account of the emotions

Why hold such an absurd belief? Emotions are biological. They are 'Darwinian algorithms of the Mind' which have a signalling and screening function. Thus they affect Social Choice. So, a contemporary philosophical approach to Emotions would be game-theoretic (because that is the discipline which unites Evolutionary Biology & Social Choice theory).

If one is shite at Maths and is paid to study the Stoics, one can look at Stoic Economists- or, at least the manner in which they are critiqued by Epicurean Economists- and reconstruct their philosophy in terms of Analytical Economics.

It is easy to verify which 'open problems' in Math underlie contemporary Econ and thus one can identify the questions where philosophy has not been foreclosed.

Nussbaum didn't bother doing anything of this sort. She produces a 'contemporary philosophical account' which we already know is shite coz. it makes assumptions we know to be false because Mathematicians have closed the underlying question. In particular, she assumes no Complexity or Concurrency problems in cognitive processes. So we know for sure she is ignorant and not contemporary at all.

Furthermore, she is a hermeneutic vandal destroying the meaning of the texts she is supposed to study and teach.

In order to be adequate, the Stoic theory needs three major sorts of modification. First, it needs a plausible account of the relationship between adult emotions and the emotions of children and nonhuman animals. (The Stoics implausibly denied that children and animals had emotions.) 

This is sheer nonsense. All that is necessary is to say heteronomous beings (whom we can define as not benefiting by adopting a regret-minimizing strategy) have moods. Autonomous people have emotions. If a kid is crying or a cat is purring anxiously, we can do something very quickly which causes a completely different mood. A guy with a hangover is being obstreperous. He appears to genuinely be in a rage. Buy him a drink and the transformation is instantaneous. Why? The guy is an alkie. He needs help. Only after he has been cured of his addiction can he take responsibility and genuinely express remorse or act in a regret-minimizing way.

The Stoics weren't really speaking of emotions. Rather, the word they used, signified 'passions' of a certain type. However, we can interpret them as inputs into a Regret minimising strategy.

Developing such an account leads us to broaden the Stoic cognitive analysis to include a wider range of types of cognition, such as perceptions and nonlinguistic beliefs.

Crap! Stoicism has no difficulty with perceptions or nonlinguistic beliefs or apophatic types of knowledge. It is comfortable seeing ghosts and reading the past lives of humans in the faint lines crisscrossing the palms of their hands.

However, these things can remain a 'black box'. There is no need to give an account of them. It doesn't matter whether a Schelling focal point, or a Muth Rational solution, is effectively computable. It is enough that the neighborhood is salient.

 Second, the theory needs a good account of cultural variation in emotion. 
Why? The thing can be a black box. The only reason to demand it be a white box is if the Stoics had a white box for emotions in their own culture.

They didn't because otherwise they could reverse engineer the thing and do mechanism design on that basis. They never claimed to be running the world, so we know they didn't have a white box. Rather, their 'epoche'  was not 'bracketing' but a black box simply.

The Stoics convincingly demonstrated the extent to which social norms become internalized in the architecture of our emotions; 

No they didn't. The thing can't be done. Emotions don't have an architecture any more than they have indoor plumbing or a futon or a poster of a girl  holding a tennis racket in one hand while the other lifts her skirt to scratch her naked bum.

but they thought the relevant norms were basically similar in all societies, and thus devoted too little attention to subtle variations. 

That was sensible. Stoicism flourished at a time when the homonoia of Empires was expanding at the expense of idiosyncratic Tribal Republics.

Finally, the Stoic theory needs a genetic story of the how adult emotions develop out of the archaic emotions of infancy and childhood. 

If a story is needed, an inveterate story-teller can quickly concoct one. Here's an example- once upon a time there were some archaic emotion of infancy and childhood. They started getting gay with each other. Nanny beat them and sent them to bed without their supper. The Pumpkin Fairy took pity on these archaic emotions and waved her magic wand turning them into adult emotions. This enabled them to beat the fuck out of Nanny and steal all the money in her handbag. After that, they set forth into the world and had lots of adventures.

This genetic story complicates the theory in many ways, suggesting that adult emotions typically bear the traces of powerful early experiences that involve a disturbing ambivalence toward loved objects. 

This 'disturbing ambivalence' would only arise if you were sick in the head and needed to spend a lot of money seeing a therapist. Unfortunately, the American Medical Association decided that the Therapy was bogus. The whole thing was a scam.

If one adopts a version of the Stoic theory of emotion, even in this highly altered form, one will need to acknowledge, in consequence, that the guidance given by emotions is sometimes ethically good and sometimes bad.

The guidance given by tossing a coin or examining tea leaves is sometimes good and sometimes bad. That is why a proper Hannan consistent Regret minimising strategy should be computed.

Only an idiot would first vandalise the Stoic theory- which we can interpret as 'take the Regret Minimising course' rather than act upon your passion of the moment- and then admit that the result was just as random as tossing a coin or examining the entrails of a sacrificial animal.

 Emotions are only as reliable as the cultural material from which they are made

That is why sensible people ignore 'cultural material', just as they ignore what astrologers say or whether they are feeling happy or sad or angry at the time when the decision has to be made.

A good philosophical critique of cultural norms will entail a critique of culturally learned emotions.

But such a critique would still be worthless. I have a good philosophical critique of Vultural norms- where Vultural means Culture as viewed from the Vulture's perspective- but the thing is useless. It isn't worth doing so it doesn't matter whether it is done well or very badly. Academic Research Programs, where worthless shite- like Nussbaum's- predominates, concern themselves with useless things so as to continue to burgeon in an adversely selective manner.

If Nussbaum had just kept her mouth shut about Modi, Indians would have thought a PhD under her supervision might not be useless. But that's the thing about useless subjects- they cause useless pedants to witter on in an useless manner about anything under the Sun.


While the Stoic view thus poses some problems for anyone who would rely on the guidance of emotion, it also holds out hopes for societal enlightenment that are ignored by at least some Enlightenment theories, for example Kant's, which tends to treat emotions as relatively unintelligent elements of human nature. The Stoic view suggests that while change is not easy, it is possible for the personality as a whole to become an enlightened one, by combating the value judgments that constitute unwise anger and hatred.

The use of positivist methods featuring Structural Causal Models and equations does an even better job. What matters is using the right techniques. The more successfully one does so, the more irrelevant emotions and value judgments become.

Suppose we are appalled by the cruelty inflicted by Hitler and his minions. Our anger and hatred motivates us to action. However, it may misfire- as the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris misfired by triggering Kristallnacht which in turn showed the Nazi regime that Anti-Semitism, even of the most bestial kind, was actually a vote winner. However once anti-Nazis could start work on things like the Manhattan project, they could put aside 'value judgments' and 'anger' and 'hatred' or anything else that might cloud their judgment.

It may or may not be desirable to have an enlightened personality just as it may or may not be nice to have an engaging sense of humour or a third nipple. The fact is 'enlightened personalities' have achieved nothing.  Dispassionate Scientific Research has achieved a great deal. It may be that reading about Stoicism helps some people to feel better. So what? Others may feel better after watching Buffy the Vampire slayer or having a wank.

Nussbaum takes a different view. She thinks her worthless shite has magical powers to change Society and purge it off negative emotions. There was once a Maharishi who made a lot of money claiming to be able teach his disciples to levitate. His big idea was to have teams of 'yogic flyers' hovering in the air all over the place. This would cause Society to let go of naughty tendencies and become very nice. I believe this Maharishi founded a University.

Now, it may be that 'Transcendental Meditation' has some health benefits. Maybe it helps people who would otherwise get addicted to drugs or run around humping anything with a pulse. Nussbaum's shite, on the other hand, can have no such health benefit. It just makes a stupid Academic Availability Cascade stupider yet.

 the adoption of a cognitive type of emotion theory still suggests directions far societal improvement that will not be evident to us if we consider the emotions to be simply urges or pushes, without rich intentionality or cognitive content. We should think that the proper goal for a just society, for example, is not merely the suppression of racial hatred; it is the complete absence of such an emotion, to be brought about through forms of public discourse and (especially) public education that teach mutual respect among all citizens. 

Anything that happens in 'public discourse' or 'public education' has an opportunity cost. Time spent on saying 'be nice. Don't be nasty.' is time which could have been used to draw attentions to new techniques and technologies which could make lives safer and more satisfying.

Any shit-head can say 'Be nice. Don't be nasty.' We need to disintermediate shit-heads from public discourse and public education. Experience shows that shit-heads- even if they are Mahatmas or Maharishis- are wholly useless- or, indeed, actively mischievous. By contrast, spreading useful ideas or techniques enables a Society to rise up.

Vinobha Bhave left rural Bihar worse off than he found it. Nitish Kumar has done the opposite. Why? Bhave talked about Virtue. Kumar helped spread a Scientific attitude and a popular resistance to corrupt practices, even if such practices enriched their caste-fellows.

'Mutual respect' is meaningless. In the abstract, I may respect the hell out of you while watching you starve. What is helpful is trade based on comparative advantage. If you are starving, I provide you with food in return for some service for which you have a lower opportunity cost ratio.

My accountant and my personal trainer have no respect for me at all. The one thinks I'm a profligate, the other that I'm a fat sack of shit. But both are very helpful to me because I pay them so as to stay out of the Bankruptcy court or the Clinic for the morbidly obese.

What one does matters. What one feels or thinks or intends does not matter unless it causes you to do something useful. Nussbaum has done nothing useful. She thinks she has helped 'international development' but hasn't at all.

During the past twelve years, I have drawn on Aristotle to develop a political theory and a theory of the ethical bases for international development that is a form of social-democratic liberalism, closely related to the views of Maritain, Green, and Barker.

Maritain, T.H Green & Earnest Barker were stupid. They helped nobody and inspired nothing. Their views were incoherent if not vacuous.

Drawing on Aristotle is drawing on stupidity and ignorance. Science has moved on a lot. Draw on evolutionary game theory by all means. Don't keep banging on about some long dead pedant.

 Althougb at times I bave been interested in close textual interpretation of Aristotle's views, I have primarily aimed to develop a view of my own that, though in some sense Aristotelian in spirit, departs from Aristotle in many ways, both in the direction of liberalism and in the direction of feminism.

And what was the result? Are societies more liberal because of your work? Have women benefited at all?

 In collaboration with economist Amartya Sen,  but developing a normative political proposal that is independent of Sen's comparative use of capabilities as a measure, I have argued that an account of certain central human capabilities should provide political planning with a focus: as a necessary minimum condition of social justice, citizens should be guaranteed a threshold level of these capabilities, whatever else they also have. Capabilities may also be used comparatively, as an index of quality of life in diverse nations. 

What has been the result? You and Sen added noise to signal. Your approach meant that Venezuela, under Chavez, was held up as a shining example even though it was sowing the seeds of a humanitarian disaster.

'Political planning' has to do with incentive compatible mechanism design expressible as a vinculum juris- a bond of law. States can claim to be providing a 'threshold level of capabilities' by borrowing money or taking advantage of a windfall, but they soon renege on that commitment. Bernie Madoff too claimed to be providing a 'threshold'- i.e. a stable rate of return no matter how the market performed- for his clients. But Madoff does not have sovereign immunity which is why he is in jail.

There is no need to drag Aristotle into the argument that we should look after vulnerable people in our Society. Indeed, there is no need for Professors to get involved. It would be better to have a You Tube video, uploaded from a camera phone, showing some poor and desperate person asking for help. There are good Economists- i.e. those who do 'first order' work- who can quickly work out how to help such people at a very affordable price. They can also ensure that the thing 'pays for itself' in the long term- i.e. it can create a virtuous circle.

By contrast, saying we must establish a minimum threshold for everybody- including refugees from far off places- causes voters to oppose Social Insurance schemes. They believe that they will pay more and get less. Thus Sen & Nussbaum's virtue signalling is actually highly mischievous and counter-productive.

Goodness is anti-fragile because it concerns itself with solving 'first order', idiographic, problems. It learns from its mistakes.
Nussbaum's notion of Goodness is fragile because it is 'second order' and nomothetic. It can grapple with nothing real. Thus it just gets stupider and shriller and more and more nonsensical. The consequence has been that the West, under pressure from voters, has increasingly resiled from a 'Rights based' approach. The US has quit the UN Human Rights Council. The Brits want out from the EU Human Rights Court. China, whose status keeps rising as Trump is more and more reviled, is now trying to shift the whole focus of the UN towards defending National Sovereignty and letting Human Rights go hang.

There may have been a time when Sen & Nussbaum appeared 'on the right side of History'. It is now clear that their stupidity actually helped change History's course. By adding useless dimensions to the Policy Space they paved the way for 'McKelvey chaos'- i.e. corrupt agenda control.

To reverse this trend, it is important that young people ignore or deride Sen-tentious shite or Nussbaum-nonsense. Do 'first order' work. Don't shit higher than your arsehole by pretending to have a handle on Aristotle or some other Dead White Male. Also, if you are doing a non-STEM subject, quit Higher Education as soon as possible. It will rot your brain.



Sunday, 23 September 2018

Steve Pinker vs Homi Bhabha & cashing in on Enlightenment

Professors, it is shocking to learn, are contractually obliged to sometimes encounter, or even lecture to, young people in between making money by writing worthless books. This necessity preys upon their minds. What if the young people turn upon them and crack open their skulls and feast upon their brains? The Professors would still be able to write their books without their brains but still they may have serious misgivings about being the victim of a cannibalistic mob.

How should Professors react to this clear and present danger? Two Professors at Harvard show the way forward. On the basis of their debate, given below, we learn that what Professors should do is pretend there was something called 'the Enlightenment' and that telling stupid lies about this imaginary event can help suppress the cannibalistic instincts of young people on College Campuses.

Consider the following dialogue between Steve Pinker & Homo Bhabha. Steve is White, Bhabha is Brownish. My remarks are in bleck. 
Steven Pinker: ''The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious, trite, old-fashioned.
They may seem trite? They are fucking trite! There has never been any Religious or Cultural Paideia which has not celebrated reason and sympathy and which has not developed systems of logic and deontics to promote their application.
This is true even of 'transgressive' epistemic systems.
Voodoo and Wicca practitioners drone on about the importance of abiding by their absurd rules and being mindful and empathic and so forth.

Nobody ever says we must apply stupidity and callousness to enhance human flourishing.  Yet, as a rule, stupidity is all that is on offer.  People who make a living talking about human flourishing have to very quickly develop a level of callousness equal to a sociopath to keep going through the motions of appearing to be on the side of the angels and to be purveying urgent truths.
I wrote this book because I have come to realise that it is not.
A very convenient realisation. But it is unnecessary. Anyone who has written a worthless book has an incentive to merely pretend to believe that saying something which is obvious and trite and old-fashioned is actually vitally necessary now, more than ever.
More than ever, the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense.
A defense against whom?  Boko Haram? That's the only group which is against books and knowledge and science and so forth. 
We take its gifts for granted: newborns who will live more than eight decades, markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears at the flick of a finger and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection, sons who are not sent off to war, daughters who can walk the streets in safety, critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket.
Who, in America, takes for granted stuff they have to pay for? Maybe, kids who are still on their parent's health insurance. But, they soon have to fend for themselves and discover that health care is very very expensive. The same is true for 'clean water'- for which they have to pay the water company- and electricity and gadgets and so forth.

Americans who live in bad neighborhoods know very well that if they criticize powerful gang members they will get shot. They may also get jailed, if they can't afford a high price attorney, for a minor infraction because of a nexus between for-profit prisons and the judicial system.

Both sons and daughters may, for purely economic reasons, find themselves forced to sign up for never ending foreign wars where daughters are more likely to be raped by their own colleagues and sons to be disabled for life, rather than killed outright as happened in the old days.
But these are human accomplishments, not cosmic birthrights./
No kidding! Has Pinker ever met an undergrad who said 'God created my apple phone' ?
In the memories of many readers of this book—and in the experience of those in less fortunate parts of the world—war, scarcity, disease, ignorance, and lethal menace are a natural part of existence. We know that countries can slide back into these primitive conditions, and so we ignore the achievements of the Enlightenment at our peril. […]
The Englightenment did not invent Electricity or even understand the germ theory of disease. It was ignorant.  An Enlightenment paideia could and did flourish under primitive conditions for the vast majority.
The ideals of the Enlightenment are products of human reason, but they always struggle with other strands of human nature: loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking, the blaming of misfortune on evildoers. […]
It is sheer magical thinking to associate economic and technological changes with what a bunch of dead pedants wrote in books nobody, outside wholly worthless University Departments, bothers to read. 

Ideals don't struggle with 'other strands of human nature'. Why? They are too plastic. The quickly morph into 'loyalty to the tribe'- because the tribe can be represented as embodying the ideal- and 'deference to authority'- because the Great Leader can be represented as the greatest Scientist ever- and as for 'the blaming of misfortune on evildoers', that is what Pinker is himself doing. He pretends that people who don't endorse his silly thesis are bad guys who imperil human progress.
If you are still unsure whether the ideals of the Enlightenment humanism need a vigorous defense, consider the diagnosis of Shiraz Maher, an analyst of radical Islamist movements. “The West is shy of its values – it doesn’t speak up for classical liberalism,” he says. “We are unsure of them. They make us feel uneasy.” Contrast that with the Islamic State, which “knows exactly what it stands for,” a certainty that is “incredibly seductive” – and he should know, having once been a regional director of the jihadist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.”'
Shiraz Maher left Hizb ut Tahrir after the London bombings- in other words, the moment he himself could have been Gunatanomoed. The British Government had put some money on the table for ex-Islamists and Maher jumped at the opportunity. But, Maher is old news. Why not quote Katie Hopkins instead? 

Homi Bhabha: “Every serious writer should be taken at his word, and I want to start with the pith of Steven Pinker’s argument: “More than ever, the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense”. A worthy cause that prompts the question: Who has put the Enlightenment in the dock? And who should be called to the witness box?
This is the wrong question. If someone says 'x requires defence', the right question to ask is 'what is the opportunity cost to benefit ratio of providing that defence?'  One way of defending oneself against ISIS terrorists is to chant Buddhist mantras. But, the opportunity cost of doing so is not spending money on drone striking the fuck out of those murderous bastards. Writing yet another worthless book about the Enlightenment is even less effective than chanting Buddhist mantras because the sight of Buddhists being decapitated may get the Chinese and Japanese and Thais and so forth into the fight. However, Pinker writing tosh will have no positive effect whatsoever.
  Steven’s wholehearted defense valiantly rounds up the usual suspects —fundamentalism, obscurantism, prejudice, irrationality—but the historical amalgam of Enlightenment ideas, ideals and values doesn’t set his prose racing. He hits his stride when he puts his finger on the pulse of the present—enlightenment, now!  
Nonsense! Zen Buddhists say 'satori now'. Pinker does not. Instead, because he has a worthless book to sell, right now, he says there's something special about how things are now which makes it urgent that people spend money buying his stupid shite.
“Now” is more than a time signature that gives Steven’s title a sense of urgency; it is an important measure of our progress. Too often, those who take the long view, what historians call the longue durée, blow away the repetitive and rebarbative perils that have shadowed the modern age—slavery, imperialism, world wars, genocide, the holocaust, tyranny, inequality, poverty—which appear as mere glitches in the ascending graph of modern civility: aberrations in the forward march of enlightenment progress.
Really? Who are these people 'taking the long view'? Name and shame the bastids, Bhabha. Ring them up in the middle of the night and shout at them- 'Why are you blowing away the repetititive and rebarbative perils that have shadowed the modern age, you fucking cunt! Don't you know this is very naughty of you? Kindly stop it or I'll report you to the Principal.'. 

Back in India, when Bhabha was growing up, there was a set essay for the Eighth standard Hindi exam- 'Vigyan- Vardan ya Abhishap?' 'Science- boon or curse?' The correct answer was 'Science is good if it is used for good things. It is a curse if it is used to do very naughty and wicked things'. 

The same could be said about Religion or Cheese fondling or anything else under the Sun. 
Steven robustly defends the record of social and political progress that he sees as the evidence of ‘enlightenment now. It is here that we diverge. Steven believes that we take the enlightenment’s gifts for granted; I believe that in embracing these gifts, we must look the gift-horse in the mouth. We must calculate the cost at which they come—a price paid largely by those who do not belong to “our crowd”. 
Sheer nonsense. If we do Science and improve our Technology, we pay a price- Science and Technology are costly to do. It is not the case that we benefit while poor people somewhere else pay the price. It is a different matter that we could use a Technological edge to rob or otherwise fuck over poor people who couldn't invest in Science the way we could. However, in order to prevent being fucked over, we would have to invest in Science anyway. How we use it is up to us.
 One of the great gifts of enlightenment thinking is intellectual self-critique and ethical self-questioning.
Intellectual self-critique was a feature of ancient Greek and Jewish and Indian and Chinese thought. So was ethical self--questioning. Enlightenment thinking was somewhat below, not above, the average in this regard because it was associated with despotic monarchs or entrenched oligarchies.
Enlightenment progress must also have its day in the witness box. Now. 1. Newborns may become octogenerians one day, but now: “U.S. infant mortality rates (deaths under one year of age per 1,000 live births) are about 71 percent higher than the comparable country average”.[Bradley Sawyer and Selena Gonzales, How does Infant Mortality in the U.S. Compare to other Countries?  Kaiser Family Foundation, July 7, 2017]
This has nothing to do with 'Enlightenment progress'. It is purely economic. That is why there is variance between comparable advanced countries.
According to a June 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute, the black child poverty rate as of 2016 was 30.8%, as compared to 10.8% of whites and 26.6% of Hispanics. The overall rate (for all groups) was 18%. The comparison year the Economic Policy Institute gives is 1976, when it was at 40.6%. 
What does this prove? Nothing save that only Economics matters. Enlightenment can go hang.
2. Somewhere over the rainbow markets may well be overflowing with food, but now in the U.S. (to say nothing of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, India, Uganda, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc.): “In 2016, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans were food insecure, equating to 42 million Americans including 13 million children. [Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh, Household Food Security in the United States in 2016, ERR-237, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2017]
Markets are currently overflowing with food largely because of Scientific progress. Distribution is a different matter. Its pathologies can only be studied under the rubric of mechanism design- about which the Enlightenment philosophers had nothing to say because they lacked the mathematical and statistical nous.
3. Clean water at the flick of a switch, sanitation at the pull of a flush, but now:“Globally, 663 million people live without easy access to clean water and 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation facilities.” [UNICEF]
What is Bhabha saying? That Enlightenment is a magic that meanly discriminates against poor brown people? We should scold Enlightenment and threaten to tell its Mommy that it isn't playing nice. Then, Enlightenment will be sent to bed without any supper and will weep bitter tears of remorse.
4. The world’s knowledge is in your palm, and the globe may be in your shirt-pocket, but now: “There is a clear and highly uneven geography of information in Wikipedia. Europe and North America are home to 84% of all articles… There are remarkably more articles (7,800) written about Antarctica than any country in Africa or South America.” [Geographies of the World’s Knowledge, Convoco Foundation and Oxford’s Internet Institute, 2011]
Chee! Chee! Enlightenment baba you are doing dirty on Africa and South America! Why you are so obsessed with Antarctica?  Due to why such naughtiness? Should be ashamed of yourself, isn't it?
5. After the diasporas and statelessness of World War II, we said never again, but now: “If the world’s forcibly displaced [65 million] were a country, it would be the 21st largest in the world—about the size of the United Kingdom.” [Save the Children]
Who the fuck said 'never again'? Stalin? Mao? Anyone who mattered?
My purpose is not to play the “numbers game”.  I am well aware that we owe to Enlightenment reason our sense of a historical archive through which we measure our progress and support our claims with facts and figures.
Sheer nonsense! We owe a 'historical archive' featuring 'facts and figures' to accountants employed by Imperial or National bureaucracies who tracked 'progress' for purely fiscal reasons. If these bureaucracies did not already exist, Enlightenment philosophy had no power to magic them into existence or change how they operated.
In pointing out these ongoing failures or deficits of enlightenment now, I believe that humanist reason and liberal progress have always been contradictory and conflicted processes of advancement. And this is not only because they have been waylaid by “other” ideologies of  “loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking”, or have somehow passed their sell-by date. Enlightenment reason works with the necessary paradoxes of progress, and thinks through the conundrums of reason. Humanist progress is fraught with the inequities of power and privilege; it is, at times, forgetful of justice and mercy while piously uttering never again. Kant’s foundational essay What is Enlightenment? suggests that “public reason” can only free us from the “immaturity” of dogmatism and prescriptivism because enlightenment “reveals to us a strange and unexpected pattern in human affairs (such as we shall always find if we consider them in the widest sense, in which nearly everything is paradoxical)”. Paradox, in the Kantian sense, is not merely an inevitable fact of life; it is a carefully constructed principle of ethical judgment and political decision-making.
Kant's essay founded nothing. The American  Revolution had already occurred. The Separation of Church and State was an accomplished fact for Harvard's students of the period. Kant, who came from a backward country, was still wittering on about Princes- like Fredrick the Great or Catherine the equally Great.  He thought it a paradox that only a very powerful despot with lots of troops and secret policemen and the ability to chop anyone's head off could allow free thought of a type which challenged the Church and traditional hierarchies and 'embedded' forms of behaviour. That's why the English speaking people ignored the silly pedant. They knew, from their lived experience, that a 'limited monarchy' or Republic under the Rule of Law could function as well, or better, than any autocratic Empire. History confirmed this view again and again. Only a professional idiot- i.e. a Professor of Eng Lit- could think Kant wasn't a fool who was widely ignored for that very reason.

This is what Kant actually wrote-
Republics were already daring to say 'argue as much as you like' and, it turned out, they were still cohesive enough to defeat any external enemy or put down any internal schism. Kant, mouldering away in a backward part of the World, under a dynasty which would zigzag between Liberalism and reactionary Militarism, didn't get the memo. There was no Kantian philosophy in the Anglo-Saxon world till Universities expanded so rapidly that they started to teach any old bollocks. 

Only worthless shite can be founded on paradoxes. There is no 'inevitable fact of life' which features any paradox. That's why Medicine is a scientific discipline, as is Physics and Chemistry and so forth. Carefully constructed principles avoid any paradox or aporia. Carelessly constructed principles don't. That's why, even if a Chief Justice is an idiot, her law clerks are the smartest of the young graduates from the top Law Schools.
John Stuart Mill was well aware of the moral paradoxes of progress and classical liberalism’s complicity with imperialism when he profoundly questioned his own identity as a democrat in his country and a despot in someone else’s.
Right! Once he got his pension from John Company he started questioning stuff. So what? The guy wrote books. People who write books have to pretend to care deeply about some shite or the other so as to get other people to buy their shite. 
“Global doubt” on the part of the empowered in the North and the South, Amartya Sen suggests, is the only way to ensure that equity and justice prevail in making any claim to global progress.
Really? That's the only way? Howsabout actually doing something useful instead of talking Sen-tentious shite? I may doubt that Gravity exists and encourage you to doubt its existence as well. The fact of the matter is that Gravity is highly inequitable and unjust which is why my ball sac now hangs down to my knees and my man boobs, too, droop pendulously. Still even if everyone on the Planet indulged in 'Global doubt' regarding Gravity, the thing would not disappear. 
Confronting liberalism’s confidence with its complicities, putting the enlightenment’s “gifts” in the witness box, as I have done above—these principles of critical self-questioning and the paradoxes of progress are the enduring values and political virtues of Enlightenment thought from its very earliest contested and cosmopolitan origins. (Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment, 2001; Enlightenment Contested, 2008).
Really? That's what will get Trump out of the Oval office? How fucking stupid and utterly delusional are these Harvard Professors?
What Shiraz Maher sadly fails to understand is that the best of the legacy of enlightenment liberalism now is that it does not belong to the “West”; it belongs as much to the non-violent independence movement in India as it does to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S.; as much to the pioneers of Islamic internationalism as to the liberation theologists of Latin America; as much to the feminist and LGBTI movements the world over as to climate change activists across the globe.
India's independence movement- as Bhahba should know- owes nothing at all to 'Enlightenment liberalism'. On the contrary, the Indian comprador class adopted its terminology to resist full Independence on the basis of universal suffrage. Only after Congress adopted a wholly vernacular message and method of mobilisation did it gain salience as an opponent rather than collaborator of the Raj.

Islamic internationalism is based on the affirmation of Divine Revelation. It has nothing to do with enlightenment liberalism for the excellent reason that there are plenty of Quranic verses and hadith and hermeneutic principles which can justify any rational measure that improves welfare.

The liberation theologian of Latin America draw upon Marx as well as Catholic 'Corporatist' ideas. They have nothing to do with Enlightenment liberalism or neo-liberalism. 

Feminists and LGTB activists are fully aware that Enlightenment Liberalism accorded women and gay people a lower- 'heteronomous'- status. 

You cannot bomb out of existence the most transformative aspects of democratic humanism because of their dissemination across the world; nor should you ever condemn a great tradition of moral life and civic community --- Islamic or otherwise --- on the evidence of its sectarian movements or its dangerous demagogues.
Now is the time to build arguments; not necessarily to win them. That is the humane lesson we learn from the world’s diverse and plural enlightenments.”
 This is a bad lesson. Building worthless arguments is a waste of resources. 
Steven Pinker: ''I share Homi Bhabha’s concern that the world has too much preventable suffering. But in enumerating examples as the “costs at which [the gifts of Enlightenment] have come,” he has, I believe gotten the history and causality backwards. 
There is no history or causality here. Nor were there any 'gifts of the Enlightenment' as opposed to returns on resources invested sensibly. 
The suggestion that today’s ills are “perils that shadowed the modern age” assumes that before the modern age, people enjoyed abundant and evenly distributed longevity, food, sanitation, peace, and knowledge. Then the Enlightenment happened, and rational liberal humanists plundered the toilets, Wikipedia articles, and other resources from “those who do not belong to ‘our crowd.’” 
FALSE! I personally witnessed Milton Friedman stealing toilets in New Delhi a few years before I was born. 
This is not how history unfolded. The natural state of humanity, at least since the dawn of civilisation, is poverty, disease, ignorance, exploitation, and violence (including slavery and imperial conquest). It is knowledge, mobilised to improve human welfare, that allows anyone to rise above this state.
Knowledge mobilised to improve human welfare is the subject of Mechanism Design.  It is something Pinker knows nothing about. 
As I show in Enlightenment Now (and its prequel, The Better Angels of Our Nature), this progression is not just a theoretical expectation from the laws of thermodynamics and evolutionary biology.
WTF? The 'theoretical expectation' from the laws of thermodynamics has to do with entropy. Enlightenment is not a 'Maxwell's demon', but good Mechanism Design can be.

Evolutionary biology has no teleological laws. Pinker know that well enough. Why is he pretending otherwise? The answer is that he has been selling silly books based on crap Statistical methodology.
It’s visible in scores of graphs that plot global well-being over time. 
A situation where there are 'scores of graphs' is one where whatever it is they are tracking has been rising. When the bad times come, the graphs disappear. 

The Great Escape (as Angus Deaton calls it) is necessarily uneven, with some regions and cultures benefiting before others catch up. That is not a “paradox of progress” but an absence of miracles. Good ideas and their fruits cannot blanket the planet instantaneously. 
Nor can cats. Why does nobody mention the cats?  A book tilted 'Cute Cats Now!' would probably outsell one titled 'Enlightenment Now!' and have equal epistemic value.
Thus Homi’s ahistorical list of contemporary inequities means the opposite of what he implies. In every case, the numbers were far worse in the past, and are continuing to improve, often vertiginously.
But not because of 'Enlightenment liberalism'. Rather, it is highly authoritarian regimes, drawing upon indigenous political traditions, which have brought about 'vertiginous' improvements in life-chances over the last four decades. 

Poverty can't reproduce itself if it isn't allowed to. Even ignorance requires resources to continue to propagate itself.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, no one had access to improved sanitation. In 1990, 2.8 billion did; today, the number is 5 billion and growing. 
Since 'improved sanitation' means 'improved since 1770, Pinker's statement is tautological. Adequate sanitation is what matters. It is likely that improvements in Medicine meant that population growth could occur even as sanitation worsened for billions of people who would not otherwise have existed or reproduced.
Getting the history and causality right matters, both morally and practically. Homi’s commentary falls into a way of thinking in which the ultimate moral good is sameness, rather than well-being, and in which progress is propelled by political struggle, rather than the expansion of reason and sympathy. My view is different. Morally speaking, a world in which 33% of the children die in all countries is inferior to a world in which 0.3% of children die in more fortunate countries and 7% die in less fortunate ones (particularly when even that percentage is falling). And identifying the forces that raised human welfare in the past shows us the ways in which we can reduce suffering and danger in the present. These include advances in know-how such as carbon-free energy and waterless toilets, and reassertion of the ideal of universal human rights over the pre-eminence of a nation, faith, tribe, or class. I suspect that “liberation theology” will play little role. 
So 'know-how' matters. But 'Enlightenment' isn't know-how. It is pi-jaw.  
I agree with Homi that it’s a mistake to equate Enlightenment ideals with The West (and to be fair to Shiraz Maher, who knows a thing or two about non-Western, non-Enlightenment ideals, it’s clear in context that he was not doing this). Not only have ideals such as science, secularism, and tolerance periodically emerged in non-Western civilisations, but the West itself never went all in for Enlightenment humanism and has always indulged counter-Enlightenment movements such as romanticism, nationalism, Fascism, religious fundamentalism, and reactionary ideology. If these sound familiar, it reminds us why we ignore the achievements of the Enlightenment at our peril.'' 
WTF? Nationalism led to Nation States investing in Science and Technology in a competitive manner. This is what killed off the Liberal Arts and the pretence that it could counsel the 'Philosopher Prince' or enable the elite to propagate a 'Noble Lie'.
Homi Bhabha: "I was hoping for a productive conversation with Steven Pinker --- after all we both adhere to the values of enlightenment --- but he is intent, for reasons that elude me, on polarising the exchange.

People who adhere to the values of enlightenment can only have productive conversations if they discuss alethic matters. But this also true of those with obscurantist values or indeed any or no values at all. 

If the subject of discussion is meaningless, egregiously false, or wholly nonsensical, any discussion is bound to end either in unseemly sexual acts or else a 'polarisation' of a silly type.
To do so, he has to accuse me of  “assumptions” that simply do not exist in my argument. To attribute to me (or anyone else) the ignorant, ahistorical view “that before the modern age, people enjoyed abundant and evenly distributed longevity, food, sanitation, peace, and knowledge” is preposterous; to assert, as Steven frequently does, that “The natural state of humanity, at least since the dawn of civilization, is poverty, disease, ignorance, exploitation, and violence” is equally reductive and historically naïve.
I assumed nothing at all about the pre-modern past, either gory or glorious, because I was addressing Steven’s vaunted global claims for enlightenment now: for instance, his prediction that children have a life expectancy of eighty when, in America alone, infant mortality rates are now 71% higher than all comparable countries in the West. Etc. Etc.
Oh dear.  A higher infant mortality rate correlates with higher life expectancy for a given cohort of children because less viable infants die at birth or soon after.  Pinker's claim is reasonable. Bhabha's objection is ignorant.
What on earth is “ahistorical” (Steven’s accusation) about my engaging with the here and now in America, certainly one of the world’s relatively enlightened places? Unlike Steven’s implacable polarisations, I believe that any mature argument has to deal with praise and blame.
Childish arguments deal with praise and blame. Mature arguments don't save in a juristic, protocol bound, context. 
As I said, I take my stand with Kant’s view in What is Enlightenment that any purposeful exploration of progress must import paradoxes and contradiction into the act of judgment and self-reflection. Otherwise all you do is to take potshots at straw men and women.
Kant wasn't an idiot. He didn't say 'import paradoxes into the act of judgement'. On the contrary, he developed a theory of categories so as to get around antinomies which would otherwise vitiate discourse. Russel's theory of types, or category theory, or Voevodsky's 'univalent foundations' all do the same thing. That's why their type of maths is useful for actual physics, not surrealist pataphysics.

Bhabha is a moron.  All Kant said was that it was paradoxical, in the Eastern Europe of the late Eighteenth Century that Enlightened Despots can do more to roll back the power of the Church and the Country Squires than 'Civil Society'. Obviously, Americans of the period knew Kant was wrong. A Republic under the Rule o Law could do even better. There was no paradox at all- just the ignorance of a backwoods pedant.
My desire for a measure of equality, fairness, and justice in assessing how enlightened we are now is again misinterpreted by Steven as claiming that the “ultimate moral good is sameness.”
Bhabha says he wants a metric of Enlightenment which incorporates a 'equality/fairness' yardstick.  Why does he not produce one? Is it because he is too stupid or too lazy or that this desire of his can be gratified by a wholly mental masturbation?

If Bhabha refuses to specify the metric he uses, he can't refute Steven's interpretation of it. Why should we take his word that Steven misinterpreted him? Suppose I say 'the abc conjecture has been proved' and you reply 'you are assuming that Mochizuki's refutation of Scholze's objection passes muster'. I then say 'you are deliberately misinterpreting me. The abc conjecture is that the next letter is d, not e as all you fucking Fascists ignorantly believe.' Have I vindicated myself? Nope. I've just shown I'm a moron.

This is what Bhabha is doing. He doesn't understand Kant. He doesn't understand Statistics. What does he understand? Let us see-
 Of course, Steven, progress is uneven, which is why paradoxes and historical ironies must be carefully considered and which is why Amartya Sen argues that without norms of equity, opportunity, and choice it is difficult for people to develop their diverse and different capabilities.
WTF? Erosion is a natural phenomenon. It is uneven for purely material reasons. This does not give rise to any paradoxes or historical ironies. If we hire a guy to halt erosion, he does not have to give any careful consideration to paradoxes or ironies or what some stupid philosopher said hundreds of years ago.

The dissemination of a new technology is uneven for purely material reasons.  It can be sped up by smart decisions or slowed down by stupid ones. 

Animals can develop diverse and different capabilites and do so in the same way that our species does. Sen may think otherwise but he hasn't helped anyone- least of all the students of that Nalanda University of which he was Chancellor. The poor things couldn't even get yoghurt!
But to suggest as a principle of progress, as Steven does, that “some regions and cultures benefit before others catch up” doesn’t at all explain why some regions, cultures and communities never seem to catch up fast enough.
Actually, there is a simple explanation for this. The retarded section of that population expands faster than the advanced section.  This can be easily modelled mathematically. 
Go play catch-up with black children in the US whose poverty rate has improved by 10 percentage points in 42 years, as my colleague Henry Louis Gates pointed out to me.
African American Economists- some of the smartest people in the profession- know very well what needs to be done and what forces prevent it being done. Worthless Sen-tentious shite or Kantian shite or Po-Co stupidity is part of the problem, as Thomas Sowell showed, not part of the solution.  
Go play catch-up with Indian Untouchables (Dalits) whose economic and political fate is largely untouched by India’s progress 70 years after Independence.
Again, Dalit intellectuals have approached this problem in a scientific manner. Dr. Ambedkar had two PhDs in Econ, one from Columbia, the other from the LSE. He was a also a barrister and great constitutional lawyer.  Bhaba-blather and Sen-tentious shite is what Dalit intellectuals have had to battle. 
This is not to attack enlightenment, as Steven would insist; it is only to usefully and properly trouble our collective conscience and consciousness.
This is the crux of the problem. If worthless shitheads like Bhabha and Sen and so forth get to pretend they care about Dalits then, because they are Professors at Colleges which have great STEM subject Departments, they can fuck things up for very poor people. But only if we let them. That is why we must, in foro conscientiae, confront their hypocritical stupidity as and when it appears and refute their shitty little arguments while telling them, in no uncertain terms, to go fuck themselves. 
Most art historians admire the great architectural and aesthetic progress displayed in the Taj Mahal while deploring, at the same time,the barbarisms inflicted on the workers who constructed the building.
What fucking barbarism is this cunt talking about? Is he really so stupid as to believe the old story about the workers having their hands chopped off or eyes put out so they could never again make anything as beautiful? The truth, as everybody knows, is that billions of Hindu slaves were forced to masturbate and then simultaneously ejaculate so as to dye the Taj to its present colour. 
Most historians I know admire the remarkable modern system of railways that the British bequeathed to India while, at the same time, deploring the barbarisms of Empire as a modern form of expropriation and oppression that, in many instances, violated the freedom and dignity of the Indian people.
Most historians, we all know, are shite. So what? Who cares what they deplore or admire? What matters is that trillions of Hindus are still being forced to jerk off and splooge over the Taj Mahal so that it can look pretty and white for when some fucking foreign dignitary turns up to get photographed in front of it. 
This plurality of perspectives, in argument and evaluation, eludes Steven’s frame of mind.
That's a good thing. A frame of mind shouldn't have plural perspectives any more than a window frame should. If a mind does so, it is schizophrenic. If a windowpane does so, it isn't attached to a wall but just spinning around anyhow.
Progress isn’t necessarily linear, nor is it inevitably evolutionary.
If Progress can be measured, it must be linear in at least one dimension. If it involves beings who arose by natural selection it must be evolutionary. 
Human agency, scientific rationality, and historical contingency chart the course of progress,
To chart a course means to plan a path. Only 'human agency' can do so- unless Bhabha believes in his ancestral angels. What is the point of writing sentences like this? The thing is Victorian bombast. It is Babu English. Some mofussil bureaucrat writing a speech for a Junior Minister can indulge in such bromides. But Bhabha has been at Harvard for more than a decade. 
which is why the only way to properly appreciate the great contributions of enlightenments across the world now is to set up mirrors that reflect their achievements and failings.
Oho! Baba wanting to set up mirrors is it? How sweet! He wants to see his own ass-hole and watch as it goes toot-toot.
Enlightenment thinking is, quite properly, a work in progress. The best way to defend the Enlightenment is to stop being reductionist about it."
Very true! If only Einstein hadn't been so fucking reductionist in defending Enlightenment, Hitler would never have come to power.  
Steven Pinker: "I am accustomed to seeing the epithet reductionist used to dismiss any attempt to bring clarity and evidence to bear on 'paradoxes', 'ironies', and 'contradictions'. It was just such an attempt at theoretical clarification (and not the setting up of a straw man) that led me to place Homi’s list of contemporary problems in the context of two hypothetical (and deliberately extreme) histories.
Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism against alternatives from left-wing, right-wing, and religious ideologies. Much of the defense consists of documenting the underappreciated progress the world has made since the Enlightenment. In what way is Homi’s list of current ills relevant to this argument? Much depends on the historical trajectory: whether Enlightenment ideas and institutions have, overall, made people better or worse off compared to what prevailed before. As soon as you acknowledge the facts of progress (with a statistical appreciation of shades of gray), it’s no 'paradox' or 'contradiction' that these advances did not penetrate 100% of the human population instantaneously, or that poverty and oppression continue to exist.  Only if these maladies had been caused or worsened by Enlightenment ideas, introducing suffering that never existed before, would they be relevant to the case at hand.
Statistical thinking also resolves pseudo-paradoxes such as that “children have a life expectancy of eighty when, in America alone, infant mortality rates are now 71% higher than all comparable countries in the West.” An expectancy is an average, and yes, some countries fall below the average.It’s true that acknowledging the variation among cultures does not, by itself, explain why some don’t catch up as quickly as others. But neither does “troubling our collective conscience and consciousness.” Only good social science can do that, and Enlightenment Now reviews some of the major findings.
This is Pinker's mistake. There is no such thing as good social science. There is good Maths and good Stats and both can be used to efficiently represent a Social Decision space or fitness landscape. But both are highly idiographic- indeed, must be so- and thus yield no nomothetic 'laws' of the Nineteenth Century sort. 
The case of the United States is instructive. America’s underperformance can be attributed in part to its resistance to Enlightenment humanism and its secular institutions.
Nonsense. This is a story about bad mechanism design and rent seeking and McKelvey chaos and so forth.
The US is the most religious of Western democracies, and across countries and states, religious belief is inversely correlated with measures of health and well-being.
Rubbish. Religious belief can't be measured. Some proxies for it may correlate with anything you like. The thing itself can't.  
Speaking of straw men, it’s ironic that Homi thinks I need to be told that “progress isn’t necessarily linear, nor is it inevitably evolutionary,” or that “human agency, scientific rationality, and historical contingency chart the course of progress.” Enlightenment Now documents exactly those ideas in unprecedented depth."

Which is why it is shite.