Friday Funny – an inconvenient lesson from 60 years ago

Someone, I can’t recall who, sent me a link to this over a week ago before Fakegate exploded. I’ve had it open in my browser since. Published in 1951, it seems prescient as we look at the global warming affair today. These ten commandments would apply well to the “robust” science of global warming. I wonder if Mr. Gore appropriated #9 for his own use?

Bertrand Russell A Liberal Decalogue (1951)

Note

This Liberal Decalogue first appeared at the end of the article “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism” in the New York Times Magazine (16/December/1951). It was then included in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 3,  1944-1967.
It shows the usual sharp mind and tongue of Bertrand Russell, never more at ease as when presenting his unconventional ideas. From panarchy.org


Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

1.
Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
2.
Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
3.
Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
4.
When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
5.
Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
6.
Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
7.
Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
8.
Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
9.
Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
10.
Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
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65 thoughts on “Friday Funny – an inconvenient lesson from 60 years ago

  1. What a beauty! Thanks so much for sharing it certainlt seems to resound well with today’s major issues

  2. Excellent. This makes me proud of being a British lefty again. A feeling its been hard to maintain recently while discussing Gleick’s crimes with my fellow lefties on the Guardian.

    We used to believe in ethics as a cause not a cause to justify no ethics.

    Thank you for the reminder from history.

  3. This is not funny.
    This is dead serious.
    Apparently the “liberal” of today is actually the real fanatic.
    Awesome post!

  4. Another good one from Russell which I came across recently. It seems to apply to many “climate scientists.”

    Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.

    Impact of Science on Society, ch. 1 (1952)

  5. “prescient” just does not seem to be an adequate comment in light of the Gleick affair..

    It is interesting that this is labelled a A Liberal Decalogue given the (assumed) leanings in the climate debate.

  6. I can see why you left this open throughout this turmoil. It directly addresses the current situation in an extraordinary prescient way. While he could not have known that such a perfect test case would materialise, the warmists had plenty of time to heed his advice. They didn’t and the chickens are now coming home to roost.

  7. I like these statements but since I am not absolutely certain of them and have no respect for their authority what am I left with ….

    The self contradiction of logical positivism sneaks into a lot of what Russel says.

  8. Those ten commandments should be a poster in every classroom from junior high up world wide.

    Not primary schools because little children should surely be learning the basics: how to read; how to write words and numbers; how to type; multiplication tables; basic arithmetic and geometry; general knowledge; basic grammar; spelling lists; etc. But after that …

    I noted Russell’s ‘new’ decalogue was addressed to teachers, not to their students. As you observed, Anthony, prescient indeed. I wonder how many excellent young scientists’ careers will be ruined once this CAGW scam crashes against either the Scylla or Charybdis of ideological or political (fiscal?) reality.

    The current situation is so sad because it is so unnecessessary. With goodwill the animosity and the circling-the-wagons mentality could have been minimized but there was none from the CAGW Keepers of the Faith: even to this day they insist their models are right and everybody else in the world is wrong.

    So sad. So ridiculous.

  9. Be skeptical, be honest, don’t appeal to authority, don’t use power to oppress others in thought nor deed. Can’t say I know any liberals who align with the above commandments.

  10. I’m not sure about #7. Some opinions, though eccentric, are just plain wrong. Other opinions, although not eccentric, have lasted eons and are no less true for that.

  11. Thank you very much for posting this, Anthony. I have just been having a heated debate about liberalism with a friend on facebook, and was encouraged to see this here. Was it Russell who defined a sceptic as simply one who “withholds judgement”? Being open to new findings, not promoting absolute certainty about what is clearly incomplete knowledge, and finding pleasure in intelligent dissent. These are the things we need to strive for.
    Rick

  12. “1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.”

    Russell must have occasionally regretted that. Wittgenstein was a student of his, and one day Russell asserted that there were no rhino’s in the classroom. Wittgenstein said he didn’t accept this assertion, so Russell went round the classroom looking under all the desks to see if any rhino’s were hiding there.

    Russell knew 50 years early how climate scientists would feel when confronting “skeptics”.

  13. Amen to that. Unfortunately posted on the wrong website – should be compulsory reading for warming absolutists.

  14. It is worth pointing out for the benefit of contemporary American readers, that Bertrand Russel is using the word “liberal” in its true meaning, devoted to liberty, not in the way 20th century New Deal politics has debased it. “Libertarian” might be a close, if clumsy, substitute today.

  15. I think that the Classical Liberals of the 19th century came into contact with the “scientific ” socialism or Marx, and transformed themselves into “Progressives”. They believe in making progress moving forward to a brave new world of reason. Not a bad aspiration, but unfortunately the rationality occasionally leads into policies (e.g., eugenics) that we have decided are not quite where we want to go. The enviro movement is another branch of this movement and it appeals to the desire of all of us to live in a clean (i.e., not polluted) environment. How could anyone argue with that concept?

    What we have now is the progressives losing the argument about AGW on the basis of reason, so they turn to the alternative methods used by other “progressive” totalitarian govts of the 20th century, described very well in the Russell quote. They are frustrated that the world doesn’t work the way they think it should, so they do whatever it takes “to be effective”. Start with logic that uses data that supports your arguments, then try the carrot, then the nudge, pricing methods, and finally, the stick. See, e.g., alcohol and tobacco.

    These are the people who are running our society, and controlling the MSM that informs us about them.

  16. John Brookes says:
    February 24, 2012 at 4:06 am

    jonnyboy, this is how your future Prime Minister is is going to deal with AGW climate scientists.
    PS: not all climate scientists are wrong.

    :-)

  17. The old definition of liberal always seemed to me to be of someone with a generous, tolerant outlook, open to dissent and discussion, much as that list implies. Virtually the opposite, in every respect, of the new American definition of liberal, which seems to me to be of someone of a narrow, intolerant outlook, riven with PC rather than thoughtfulness, and not at all interested in discussion (or rather they might use that word to describe their hectoring and determination to impose their views on others) since they are on a permanent crusade of some kind or another. Once that used to be on behalf of the workers, but now that they have been abandoned, it is on behalf of the even vaguer term, the environment, or for some group with a suitable grievance. People on crusades don’t have much time for talk (‘the time to act is now, the time for talk is over’, and suchlike), most especially if the talker is raising challenges to them.

  18. Back in ’51, the term “Liberal” was describing what we now call “Classic Liberal”.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Classical liberalism is the philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets.”

    In 2012, this is more of the US’s Conservative stance and seems to match up quite well with the Tea Party movement.

    From the Tea Party website (theteaparty.net):


    The Tea Party movement is a grassroots movement of millions of like-minded Americans from all backgrounds and political parties. Tea Party members share similar core principles supporting the United States Constitution as the Founders intended, such as:
    • Limited federal government
    • Individual freedoms
    • Personal responsibility
    • Free markets
    • Returning political power to the states and the people

    I believe the Libertarian Party also supports much of the “Classic Liberal” position, too.

  19. Splendid stuff. As a fellow (though far less distinguished …) philosopher, I have my issues with ‘Bertie’, but there’s no denying that he was very good indeed at plain-language explanation. (And in anycase, I’m sure my ‘issues’ would delight him, vide No. 5.) A fine exposition of the traditional liberal position, albeit not of the current US usage of the word.

  20. The meaning of liberalism has definitely changed these days. No wonder why some people say that liberalism is a mental disorder these days. I used to be liberal thinking that’s how it is but as I get older (thanks to the internet), it is definitely not what I thought it’d be. I suppose libertarian would be a better term for myself. It is pretty sad that the “liberals” have to resort to pulling out race card on me when it has nothing to do with racism at all. I am only against junk science, that’s all after what I have been through against saturated fat and cholesterol causing heart disease and sun scare that is responsible for wide spread vitamin D deficiency. You would think liberals would be more educated and open minded about these but that was not the case for me.

  21. I have printed these out, I am most definitely going to keep them handy for a long time to come.

    this dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about lately, how totally inappropriate all of our political labels are today. I imagine that’s quite intentional, since labels are just marketing and marketing rules our world now.

    In American politics, the movement that identifies as “conservative” is actually quite Radical, wanting to overturn the current government status quo in almost every way. Because of this they have the same weaknesses and flaws that Radicals throughout history have had. Radicals love to smash things, but they never have very strong ideas of what they want to put in place of them. Which is why Radical movements go wrong so much of the time.

    But the vast majority of those who call themselves “liberals” in America are in fact Reactionary Conservatives, dedicating to preserving the status quo ante no matter what it costs, whether or not it makes any sense. (see: social security, medicare) As such, they have an even weaker position than the Radicals since they are dedicated to maintaining an edifice which, in the long run, cannot be maintained and which must fall.

    And there is a huge problem with the label “progressive”, for what does a “progressive” do when progress stops and social and economic regression sets in?

    To be a Liberal in the tradition of Bertrand Russell is the only set of beliefs that will carry you through ups and downs, hard times and good. What a pity there are so few left! And the rest don’t even understand what we’re talking about.

  22. These truisms are hardly “Liberal.” Russell was being political by claiming they are.

    #5 is either bad advice or phrased badly. If he means ‘have no respect for the intellectual authorities others cite,’ then maybe he’s getting close to good advice. He should have said not to depend on the authority of others to win an argument for authority often is hollow. If he means be disrespectful of everyone with intellectual authority, then he’s definitely wrong.

  23. Ayn Rand on logical positivists (from For the New Intellectual):

    As a defense against the Witch-doctory of Hegel, who claimed universal omniscience, the scientist was offered the combined neo-mystic Witch-doctory and Attila-ism of the Logical Positivists. They assured him that such concepts as metaphysics or existence or reality or thing or matter or mind are meaningless—let the mystics care whether they exist or not, a scientist does not have to know it; the task of theoretical science is the manipulation of symbols, and scientists are the special elite whose symbols have the magic power of making reality conform to their will (“matter is that which fits mathematical equations”). Knowledge, they said, consists, not of facts, but of words, words unrelated to objects, words of an arbitrary social convention, as an irreducible primary; thus knowledge is merely a matter of manipulating language. The job of scientists, they said, is not the study of reality, but the creation of arbitrary constructs by means of arbitrary sounds, and any construct is as valid as another, since the criterion of validity is only “convenience” and the definition of science is “that which the scientists do.” But this omnipotent power, surpassing the dreams of ancient numerologists or of medieval alchemists, was granted to the scientist by philosophical Attila-ism on two conditions: a. that he never claim certainty for his knowledge, since certainty is unknown to man, and that he claim, instead, “percentages of probability,” not troubling himself with such questions as how one calculates percentages of the unknowable; b. that he claim as absolute knowledge the proposition that all values lie outside the sphere of science, that reason is impotent to deal with morality, that moral values are a matter of subjective choice, dictated by one’s feelings, not one’s mind.

  24. Actually, I think that list SHOULD be posted in schools at all levels. Behind the secretary’s desk, in every principal’s office, and on the wall of the Superintendent’s office and school board meeting room. It will be on my wall and I currently teach special education at the Elementary level.

    It is a given that adults should adhere to this list. But it is never too early to teach children how to question and say NO, as well as yes.

  25. What I’ll sign up for is being liberal minded. And hopefully, having a sense of humour. A person with those two characteristics is usually going to be pleasing company.

  26. Brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable, but probably not to the taste of the CAGW cult’s true believers.

  27. It’s great for you to publish this list of Ten Commandments of the Old, New, constant Left. My first thought is: What kind of an adult do you get when you raise your children this way? Well, now we know, we get doKtor Gleick’s, doKto Mann’s, et al.

    The best irony is that doktor Gleick was just voted, CEO. Chief Ethical Officer!

  28. Iren says:
    February 24, 2012 at 2:20 am

    “I can see why you left this open throughout this turmoil. It directly addresses the current situation in an extraordinary prescient way”

    Or, post-scient. The same conditions and memes have been floating around since antiquity. We ping-pong back and forth in an endless volley, with “liberals” of today changing the established order to become the reactionaries of tomorrow, and vice versa.

  29. Russell’s Flying Teapot

    “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
    ― Bertrand Russell

  30. Anyone living by any “Dictate” has not will or intellect of their own.

    The “dictate” of the LEFT…is that “we” are destroying the environment. They are completely igonorant of history.

  31. Robert of Ottawa says:

    I’m not sure about #7. Some opinions, though eccentric, are just plain wrong. Other opinions, although not eccentric, have lasted eons and are no less true for that..

    You don’t understand #7. What you say is correct, but it does not oppose the point of #7. Number 7 does not state that all eccentric opinons are correct, it says that not all eccentric opinons are incorrect. Observing (or asserting) that all accepted opinons were once considered eccentric is offered as evidence of that.

    These ten principles might as well be titled “the sceptics decalogue”. They are anathema to the likes of the “Climate Scientists”, who operate on false certainty, hiding adverse data, stifling debate, abusing power, telling lies, and asserting their own authority as proof. These principles also address the advocates of “consensus science” whether amongst scientists or the general public, as they accept and appeal to the authority of the “Climate Scientists”.

    Contrast #9 of this Sceptics Decalogue:

    Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

    with the Creed of the Climate Scientist, per Stephen Schneider:

    On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

  32. Not only are ‘liberals’ now the illiberal among us, the self-styled ‘progressives’ are, if anything, anti-progress. Go figure.

    /Mr Lynn

  33. Start with logic that uses data that supports your arguments, then try the carrot, then the nudge, pricing methods, and finally, the stick. See, e.g., alcohol and tobacco.

    Tobacco taxes – how we punish schizophrenics.

    Schizophrenia and Tobacco

    Evidently we are not as liberal as our polished halos would indicate.

  34. One must not confuse modern Liberals with historical Liberals. I wish modern Libs would all read this and take it to heart.

  35. Anthony wrote – “Someone, I can’t recall who, ” It was me :) (I think)
    I just sent the link in the submit story form and since I am not I writer I left it to Anthony to come up with something.
    Big Smiles from Slovakia

    REPLY: Thank you, been a bit busy this week. – Anthony

  36. “obviously, “Liberal” meant something different back then”

    In fact it did. We have exactly turned the definition of liberal 180 degrees. Liberal was the notion of individual rights and the idea that the state is subordinate to the people. The “Statist” notion that the regime is all powerful was the “conservative” (meaning in this case ‘not wanting change’) or “Tory” position where the crown or the government was all powerful and the people were ruled over by the state.

    What we consider to be “conservative” notions these days are the classical liberal ideas.

  37. redc1c4, as you correctly noted, “obviously, “Liberal” meant something different back then…”

    Unfortunately, you didn’t follow through with your observation since “Conservative” also meant something very different 60 years ago than it does today.

  38. re: “Liberal” vs “Conservative”

    Remember that this was written in the early ’50s. At the time, the word “liberal” had a meaning and connotation closer to what we now call “libertarian”.

  39. Thank you for posting that Sean A and Anthony, it was a pleasure to read the antidote to fanaticism.

    Pamela Gray says:
    February 24, 2012 at 6:35 am
    Actually, I think that list SHOULD be posted in schools at all levels. Behind the secretary’s desk, in every principal’s office, and on the wall of the Superintendent’s office and school board meeting room. It will be on my wall and I currently teach special education at the Elementary level.

    It is a given that adults should adhere to this list. But it is never too early to teach children how to question and say NO, as well as yes.

    It’s a pity the fanatics have practically won in hiding Common Law (Natural Law) with the deflection ‘democracy’ as something to be lauded and aimed for, all the better to hide our liberties from us..

    “Government cannot grant freedom to the people because freedom belongs to the people by birthright. Government exists not to give the people liberty, but to protect their liberty.”

    http://www.britsattheirbest.com/freedom/f_british_constitution.htm

    “The whole structure of our present jurisprudence stands upon the original foundations of the common law.”
    US Justice Joseph Story

    I’ve never heard of the following happening in England, but I did read somewhere that an American jury did just this not long ago:

    “Common Law establishes every person’s right to a jury trial and the freedom of juries to declare a person innocent. If a jury believes that a person has been charged under an unjust law, it has the right to acquit.”

  40. The Royal Society’s motto:
    ‘Take nobody’s word for it’
    Furthermore, pay no attention to authority or consensus; the last refuges of the climate rogues.

  41. Carmen D’oxide, read up on classic liberalism and you will feel refreshed. Also read Feynman, eg: “Science is the system of not believing experts.” Authorities and “experts” should be given no more nor less respect than any other person. Their opinions also stand only on their merits.

  42. Myrrh says:
    February 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm
    …I’ve never heard of the following happening in England, but I did read somewhere that an American jury did just this not long ago:

    “Common Law establishes every person’s right to a jury trial and the freedom of juries to declare a person innocent. If a jury believes that a person has been charged under an unjust law, it has the right to acquit.”

    The principle is known as “jury nullification”. It is anathema to the court system generally, for a variety of reasons. Judges usually forbid lawyers from raising the principle and will often declare a mistrial if they believe that there has been an attempt to “suborn” the law in this fashion. It doesn’t always work in favor of the underdog. Some trials involving police officers in NYC come to mind.

  43. Allan M said @ February 24, 2012 at 2:08 am

    Another good one from Russell which I came across recently. It seems to apply to many “climate scientists.”

    Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.

    Much as I admire Russell, he was most likely wrong here. Aristotle was a great observer. The Git has an “extra” tooth at the right hand end of his upper jaw. It’s entirely likely that he failed to account for unerupted teeth in the jaw of an examined female. Here are a few of Aristotle’s observations:

    He was the first to realize that whales and dolphins are mammals, like humans.
    He discovered that birds and reptiles are anatomically similar.
    He was the first to detect that embryos have beating hearts.
    He explained animal migration and extinction.
    He also recognized that humans are part of the animal kingdom.

    As late as the 19thC, his description of the sex life of sea urchins, long assumed to be incorrect, was discovered to be accurate.

  44. I am a great admirer of Russel, but, like Pompous Git, I too think he was a bit harsh on Aristotle.
    Perhaps both Mrs. Aristotles were short of a tooth or two.

    And if he had gone around Athens accosting strange women and asking them to open their mouths, he would most likely have got a punch in the eye or some very interesting offers.

  45. RoHa said @ February 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    I am a great admirer of Russel, but, like Pompous Git, I too think he was a bit harsh on Aristotle.
    Perhaps both Mrs. Aristotles were short of a tooth or two.

    Hopefully not their front teeth :-)

  46. There should be an 11th “Never excuse behaviour in your friends which you would find inexcusable in others.” After all, if the Climategate hacker/whistleblower gets dismissed there will not be the same schadenfreude here as has accompanied Peter Gleick’s demise.

    Myrrh “I’ve never heard of the following happening in England, but I did read somewhere that an American jury did just this not long ago: “Common Law establishes every person’s right to a jury trial and the freedom of juries to declare a person innocent. If a jury believes that a person has been charged under an unjust law, it has the right to acquit.””
    There was a case in England a few years where a father shot and killed the man who had raped his daughter. He was acquitted by a jury despite there being one doubt about his action.

  47. They’ve just changed the law in Ireland, from the only recourse allowed if being attacked in one’s own home was to run away to one can [now] defend oneself..

    This “jury nullification” is interesting – do you have in the US, and I’m not sure I’m going to explain this well enough, what exists in Common Law in Britain – that police can’t pass off legislation, acts of parliament, as if they are “lawful” – the term “lawful” being particular to Common Law, and so the only Law in Britain, while legislation and acts of parliament even when called “legal”, are not therefore “lawful”?

    Constraints of memory, but I recall something about the police if challenged on the “legality” of something they are saying is illegal and quoting some law – could be anything, ‘it’s illegal not to have a road tax’ for example, must not claim that this is the law if asked ‘under which law’? There’s some paragraph that sets out that if the police say it is law then they are committing fraud.

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