One for the dog lovers

Are dogs’ mouths really cleaner than humans’?

All dogs lick themselves. Some eat their own feces. Humans (most of ’em, anyway) do not. So how in the world can the mouth of a canine be cleaner than that of a person? Simple — it can’t. According to ABC News, this is basically an urban legend. However, unlike the one about the psycho killer with the hook, this story has a grain of truth. Although the mouth of a typical dog is full of bacteria, it’s “species specific.” So, if a dog were to lick a person, most of the germs wouldn’t transfer. “Bottom line — you’re more likely to get a serious illness from kissing a person than kissing a dog.”

The myth may have stemmed from the way pups lick their wounds. A dog’s tongue gets rid of dead tissue so wounds heal faster. Perhaps folks concluded that dog saliva is “healthy.” Hardly the case, but you shouldn’t be afraid of licks. They might be gross, but they’re not dangerous.

And here are a whole lot more things about dogs that you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Nicholas Gruen talks in Melbourne

Sorry for confusion, this is posted for Nicholas.

Invited by the indefatigable impresario of ideas Race Mathews to talk to the Fabian Society I’ll be doing so this Wednesday evening. The topic is the economic and social significance of open source software as a new mode of production, and I’m still working on the slides.

Please come if you’re interested, and it would be great to see any Troppodiles there. After the show we’ll retire to Toto’s pizza bar, so you’re invited if you want to come.

You have to pay the Fabians a small charge for entry to the talk – see over the fold. You can read this article I wrote on Open Source for Policy Magazine if you want to do a bit of pre-reading, though the talk will not assume any prior knowledge of what ‘open source’ software is. Please feel free to let me know you’re coming in comments or by email. And please let anyone else know who you think might be interested.

“New Models of Social Production: Open Source and its economic and social significance.”
Meeting details are 6 for 6:30pm to 8pm, Wednesday, 13 September, in Meeting Room 1, Trades Hall (Victoria Street Entrance), Cnr Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton. Australian Fabian Society members $6, non-members $8, concession $3.

OSE Condensed Chapter 25 Has History Any Meaning?

History has no meaning, I contend. But this contention does not imply that all we can do about it is to look aghast at the history of political power, or that we must look on it as a cruel joke. For we can interpret it, with an eye to those problems of power politics whose solution we choose to attempt in our time. We can interpret the history of power politics from the point of view of our fight for the open society, for a rule of reason, for justice, freedom, equality, and for the control of international crime. Although history has no ends, we can impose these ends of ours upon it; and although history has no meaning, we can give it a meaning.

In this chapter Popper is revealed as something like an existentialist (without hysteria) with the message that history has no meaning but we can give it meaning! Continue reading

OSE Chapter 24. The Revolt Against Reason

“The conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time.”

This is a big chapter, 26 pages, as befits a topic that has generated such a mountain of literature, much of it confused and confusing due to (a) the numerous meanings of “reason’ and ‘rationality’ and (b) the many and varied arguments and objections that are raised against the idea of using evidence and discussion to improve our plans and practices.

Section I spells out the kind of rationalism and rationality that Popper is prepared to defend, “an attitude that seeks to solve as many problems as possible by an appeal to clear thought and experience, rather than by an appeal to emotions and passions”. In case people get the idea that Popper had no time for the emotions it is helpful to note his comment (in this chapter) that a life without emotions such as love would hardly be worth living. Further, he suggested that a deal of passion is required to make an impact in any field of human endeavour, including science. Continue reading

OSE Chapter 23. The Sociology of Knowledge

This chapter signals what Ian Jarvie later called Popper’s “social turn”, his recognition that whatever objectivity and rationality we can achieve cannot be attributed to special qualities of mind but to the give and take of criticism in a community.

Two dangerous ideas were emerging in intellectual circles at the time: one was the idea of controlling social change by means of largescale central planning, the other was the theory of the social determination of scientific knowledge.

In our own time of still more rapid change, we even find the desire not only to predict change, but to control it by centralized large-scale planning. These holistic views (which I have criticized in The Poverty of Historicism) represent a ompromise, as it were, between Platonic and Marxian theories. Plato’s will to arrest change, combined with Marx’s doctrine of its inevitability, yield, as a kind of Hegelian ‘synthesis’, the demand that since it cannot be entirely arrested, change should at least be ‘planned’, and controlled by the state whose power is to be vastly extended.

Moving on to the subject of this chapter, Popper refers to the Marxist doctrine that our opinions, including our moral and scientific opinions, are determined by class interest, and more generally by the social and historical situation of our time. The main target is Karl Mannheim who apparently anticipated by some decades the strong sociology of science that came later in the wake of T S Kuhn. Continue reading

OSE Chapter 22. The Moral Theory of Historicism

It is this moral radicalism of Marx which explains his influence; and that is a hopeful fact in itself. This moral radicalism is still alive. It is our task to keep it alive, to prevent it from going the way which his political radicalism will have to go. ‘Scientific’ Marxism is dead. Its feeling of social responsibility and its love for freedom must survive.

Given that Marxism cannot provide either reliable prophecies (nothing can) or advice on the piecemeal reforms that might achieve desired outcomes (Marx regarded that as Utopian) what accounts for the power and impact of Marxism?

It seems that Marxism surfed at least three “waves” of thought. Each was immensely powerful in its own right, and working in synergy the combination was practically overwhelming. One of the “waves” was the immense authority of science among educated and progressive people 150 years ago. The other was the Judao-Christian moral imperative to promote justice and especially to help the poor and the weak. A third wave was the economic illiteracy of radicals and conservatives alike. This meant that the positive function of free markets (especially for the able-bodied poor) was never understood by enough people to resist the manifold interventions of the state which almost invariably aggravate the problems they are supposed to ameliorate.

Near the end of the previous chapter Popper wrote that “in Marxism the religious element is unmistakable. In the hour of their deepest misery and degradation, Marx’s prophecy gave the workers an inspiring belief in their mission, and in the great future which their movement was to prepare for the whole of mankind.”
In this chapter Popper outlined the moral theory that underpinned Marxism, a somewhat paradoxical situation given the official line on materialism and determinism which at least theoretically ruled out any attempt to think our away towards an improved social order by organized reforms. So how do we find the moral theory in Marxism?

But although Marx was strongly opposed to Utopian technology as well as to any attempt at a moral justification of socialist aims, his writings contained, by implication, an ethical theory… By laying such stress on the moral aspect of social institutions, Marx [implicitly] emphasized our responsibility for the more remote social repercussions of our actions; for instance, of such actions as may help to prolong the life of socially unjust institutions. But although Capital is, in fact, largely a treatise on social ethics, these ethical ideas are never represented as such….

Far from promoting an explicit moral theory, Marx excoriated those moralists, especially churchmen, who were in favour of the system that he regarded as the cause of misery and exploitation. Furthermore, the Marxist scheme did not provide for autonomous or freestanding moral principles.

Marx and Engels preferred to look upon their humanitarian aims in the light of a theory which explains them as the product, or the reflection, of social circumstances. Their theory can be described as follows. If a social reformer, or a revolutionary, believes that he is inspired by a hatred of ‘injustice’, and by a love for ‘justice’, then he is largely a victim of illusion (like anybody else, for instance the apologists of the old order). Or, to put it more precisely, his moral ideas of ‘justice’ and ‘injustice’ are by-products of the social and historical development. But they are by-products of an important kind, since they are part of the mechanism by which the development propels itself. To illustrate this point, there are always at least two ideas of ‘justice’ (or of ‘freedom’ or of ‘equality’), and these two ideas differ very widely indeed. The one is the idea of ‘justice’ as the ruling class understands it, the other, the same idea as the oppressed class understands it. These ideas are, of course, products of the class situation, but at the same time they play an important part in the class struggle—they have to provide both sides with that good conscience which they need in order to carry on their fight.Marx’s moral theory is, of course, only the result of his view concerning the method of social science, of his sociological determinism, a view which has become rather fashionable in our day. All our opinions, it is said, including our moral standards, depend upon society and its historical state. They are the products of society or of a certain class situation. Education is defined as a special process by which the community attempts to ‘pass on’ to its members ‘its culture including the standards by which it would have them to live’, and the ‘relativity of educational theory and practice to a prevailing order’ is emphasized. Science, too, is said to depend on the social stratum of the scientific worker, etc.

In contrast to that rigid position on the “social determinism” of our ideas, there is usually a diversity of views available (at least in an open society as opposed to a closed or tribal society) and that diversity provides scope for choice, for critical discussion, for the opportunity to choose between options and, more important, there is space to create new options and opportunities.

Marx’s determinism was in conflict with his activism and his moralism, so the end result is that people who try to take on board the whole package are reduced to confusion and contradiction on moral issues. They cannot offer any way to think our way through moral problems, especially the most important task of all. That is the critical appraisal of the basic ideas that guide our efforts at social reform, just in case they are false with the result that the practical applications of our ideas produce the opposite of the intended outcomes.

Principled and humanitarian Marxists would have to be apalled at the outcome of the social revolutions that have been achieved under the red flag, but they seem to have huge problems in coming to grips with the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of radical reforms. The rascals!