Monday, December 25, 2017

Questions for 9-11 Truthers


  1. If the attacks were a false flag operation to justify invading Iraq, then why didn't the conspirators use Iraqi hijackers?
  2. If one justification for the invasion was Iraq possessing WMD's, then why didn't we simply plant WMD's in Iraq, maybe even stage a chemical attack on U.S. forces? Instead, the failure to find WMD's became a major embarrassment.
  3. If this was all about access to Iraqi oil, then why don't we now control Iraq's oil?
  4. Give an example of a controlled building demolition that began at the top.
  5. Why weaken the building at the top, when attacking lower would have trapped more people and resulted in faster collapse, and presumably, a stronger case for war?

Why People Don't Use Mass Transit

Thought Experiment

Note: this was originally written in 2005. Prices should be updated to current values but the conclusions remain unaffected.

One day in 1974 or so, I was sitting in my car (actually my thesis adviser's university car) inching across the George Washington Bridge on my way to Manhattan to meet a class where I was the teaching assistant. Suddenly I asked myself "Why am I doing this?" After all, I had alternatives. A bus ran right by the Lamont Observatory where I spent most of my time and went reasonably directly to the uptown bus terminal in Manhattan. From there I could take a subway straight to Columbia University. So as mass transit goes, it was a pretty straight shot. So why was I driving? Well, for openers, the mass transit really didn't save much time, especially counting waiting time at both ends and the transfer from bus to subway. And it was impossible to do anything productive riding mass transit. Plus there was no privacy or peace and quiet, which I finally decided was the major factor for me. And people in those days worried a lot about subway muggings (realistically, on the 7th Avenue IRT in the daytime, a minor risk), but carjacking was unheard of, so there was a safety issue.

Since I have never, in the 30 years since, seen any article by advocates of mass transit - not one -  that bothered to ask why people don't take mass transit despite all its supposed advantages, I thought it might be useful to explain why people prefer to drive instead of take the bus. Most advocates of mass transit dismiss drivers as selfish, short-sighted and unconcerned about the environment instead of asking whether mass transit itself is to blame for its own problems.

After this page was linked by another site, I got a number of responses that suggested a bit of clarification is in order. This page is not calling for abandonment of mass transit or extolling the virtues of the automobile. It is an attempt to lay out what mass transit is up against if it is to succeed. Pretending that the economic issues I describe can be made to go away is a guaranteed recipe for failure. They won't. Lots of people seem determined to illustrate the is/ought fallacy in action.

Also I've gotten a number of responses from people who say the factors I outline here don't apply because they spend their time on the bus or subway reading or relaxing. This amounts to an attitude all too common in environmentalism: everything will be just fine once people get enlightened and see things the way I do. But don't take my word for it - see the exchange at the end of this page. If you have access to a user-friendly mass transit system and can use the commute time productively, bully for you. I'm trying to explain why so many other people don't see it that way.

The Value of Time

Apart from the cost of wages, economic planners rarely acknowledge the value of individual time, but that has absolutely no impact on the reality that people themselves do put value on their time. As John Naisbitt pointed out in Megatrends, one of the first thing people do when they acquire some affluence is begin to buy back their time. They hire out boring or unpleasant tasks like food preparation, housekeeping, child care and repairs. (Home delivery services are even enjoying a bit of a resurgence as two-earner families find themselves increasingly pressed for time.) Failure to recognize the value of time to individuals leads to unproductive results.

Nowhere is this issue clearer than in attempts to deal with the problems caused by the automobile. Critics of the automobile point out that in addition to the direct costs of the automobile like fuel, maintenance, and depreciation, there is the cost of highway construction, environmental damage, tax subsidies, defense of oil supplies, and so on – a host of “hidden costs.” For example, The International Center for Technology Assessment, in The Real Price of Gasoline, and Stephen H. Burrington in Road Kill: How Solo Driving Runs Down the Economy, both estimated the real cost of driving a car at about a dollar a mile. They estimated the cost of a bicycle at twelve cents a mile.

I live eight miles from campus. At a dollar a mile by car, it costs $16 to commute. It takes about 20 minutes each way, so figuring my salary at $25 an hour, the cost comes to about $33. Occasionally I bicycle. It takes 45 minutes each way. The cost of bicycling alone is only $2 a day, but the time cost is $37. It costs $39 a day to commute by bicycle. By mass transit, I have to walk to the bus stop, go downtown, transfer, and travel a winding route to campus. Total fare is $2.50, and counting time walking to and waiting at the bus stop at either end, it takes at least 45 minutes to make the trip by bus, bringing the total cost to around $40.
There are plenty of good reasons to encourage mass transit, but arguments about the hidden costs of the automobile fall on deaf ears because people, unconsciously or not, factor time and convenience into their decision making. The average driver knows perfectly well why she drives.
The cost of a transportation system is first of all, any flat fare. Call that F. Then there's a cost per mile (call it C) and the mileage (M). The value of your time we can call S (salary per hour), and the time it takes to travel is T. So we have Cost = F + CM + ST. Time will be mileage divided by your speed (V), so we have Cost = F + CM + SM/V = F + M(C + S/V). We can see that cost increases with mileage (obviously), high time value (every minute traveling costs more) and low speeds.

Conclusion 1: Transportation Costs Less at High Speeds. High-speed commuter rail is a great solution if there's easy access at both ends. If you have to drive five miles to a transit station only to find the commuter lot full, you may as well drive. HOV (high occupancy vehicles) and mass transit lanes on freeways are another good approach to this issue. The best features of HOV lanes for private vehicles is they offer a positive incentive to carpool (you get to pass all the solo drivers), rather than the negative penalties that are the only solution many advocates of mass transit seem capable of imagining.

Corollary: Low Speed Limits Raise the Cost of Travel. They may cut fuel consumption and costs of accidents, but the time cost rises steeply. Where I live, a nearby suburb has a four lane street with a speed limit of 25 miles an hour. It could easily be raised to 40 with no significant safety risk.

Corollary: Interruptions Raise the Cost of Travel. How much gasoline is burned daily by cars stopping and accelerating at stop signs where there is clearly no oncoming traffic, or waiting at empty intersections for traffic lights? Probably half of all stop signs could be changed to yield signs. And it should be legal to proceed through a red light if there is no oncoming traffic. Accidents would be wholly the responsibility of the driver going through the light. School buses should be required to wait for traffic to clear before turning on their signals and discharging students.

Let's assume, as critics of the automobile say, that a car costs $1 a mile and also assume a car averages 20 miles an hour in city traffic. The cost of operating a car becomes M(1 + S/20). If we assume a bicycle costs 1/8 as much per mile and goes 10 miles an hour, then the cost of riding a bicycle is M(1/8 + S/10). The extra cost of driving a car per mile is:

Cost (car M=1) - Cost (bicycle M=1) =
(1 + S/20) - (1/8 + S/10) = 7/8 - S/20.

If the cost difference is positive, bicycle is cheaper. If it's negative, a car is cheaper. When the cost difference is zero, both forms of transportation are equal. Call that the break-even point. That happens when S/20 = 7/8, or S = 17.5. If S is less than 17.5 ($17.50 an hour or $35,000 a year) then the cost is positive, otherwise it's negative; it costs more to go by bike than by car.

Conclusion 2: Slow Transportation Penalizes Affluent Customers. And these are the people most likely to have their own cars and to move further from work.

Corollary: Affluent Customers Will Not Use Mass Transit. It's not that they're selfish, or that they don't care about the environment. It's not cost-effective. The higher your salary, the more wasteful mass transit is. The only significant exception is commuter rail provided the fares offer a savings over driving and parking and the comfort and privacy allow relaxation or work en route.

Corollary: Infrequent Transit Schedules Discourage Use of Mass TransitDuh. Or maybe not. My city is considering cutting frequency as a "cost-saving" measure.
If we assume the fare on a bus is $2, and there's no extra cost per mile, and buses average 15 miles an hour (because of stops and less direct routes), then the cost becomes 2 + S/15. The extra cost of driving is Cost (car) - Cost (bus) = M(1 + S/20) - (2 + SM/15) = M - 2 - MS/60. This is a bit harder to analyze because it's mileage-dependent. We can find the break-even point by making the cost zero and solving for S: S = 60(1 - 2/M). If M = 2, S =0; it always pays to drive because the cost of driving beats the flat fare. Regardless of how big M is, S is never greater than 60; if you earn over $120,000 a year, it always pays to drive. If M = 4, S = 30, and the break-even point is $60,000 a year. If you earn less, it pays to use mass transit.
But if the fare is $5, as it can be for long commutes, then S = 60(1 - 5/M). It never pays to take the bus for commutes less than 5 miles. For S = 30 ($60,000) a year, the break-even point is 10 miles - any longer than that and it pays to drive.

Conclusion 3: Flat Fares Discourage Use of Mass Transit for Short Commutes A fair number of cities seem to have figured this out and have free-travel zones downtown, unlimited travel passes, and similar offsets.
If traveling by car really does have high indirect costs not shared by public transportation, the case for making all mass transit free is so compelling you really have to wonder why advocates of mass transit don't propose it. Also, since a major cause of urban sprawl and congestion is the middle class moving to the suburbs, the obvious cure is to eliminate the problems that drive the middle class out. Unless there's some master plan to have buses, ambulances and fire trucks all get around on light rail, most of the indirect costs of the automobile will still plague mass transit. We can hope to lessen the dependence on petroleum, and hence ease prices and maybe reduce the defense threat. We might also hope to reduce the costs of road repair, reduce air pollution, and lessen the impact of the automobile.

There's a good reason why people who play the "hidden costs" game never factor in the value of personal time saved - it tips the balance so sharply in favor of existing technology that alternatives simply cannot compete. (Actually, when people say they "cannot" compete, they usually mean they will not compete because they don't think the rewards are great enough. Mass transit can compete against the private auto but it would require subsidies to the hated middle class and suburbs.)
One correspondent added:
An important wrinkle that I feel is missing from your analysis; Time saved in transit is added to my free time with my family, not to time at work. I value my time outside work much more than my hourly wage. That is why when my employer wants me to work more, he has to pay me time and a half. Or, when another firm wants to buy my extra hours, I charge them double to triple my hourly rate. (emphasis added) 
Therefore, your point is stronger than you present. The time I save by driving is extremely valuable to me. Much more than my hourly wage. I think I'm not alone.
Funny how evil corporations routinely recognize the value of personal time by paying higher than normal salaries for overtime, but enlightened mass transit advocates, who care so much about people and the good of society, somehow just don't get it.

Additional Factors

Exact Change

Is there a single, more stupid tactic for discouraging mass transit than requiring exact change? Especially when fares change frequently enough that a new user can't find out the fare except by calling the transit company? Hopefully, rechargeable fare cards will become universal enough to remedy this problem. Systems like BART and many European systems that use vending machines for fare, of course, don't have this problem.

Fixed Costs

In addition to the per-mile indirect costs of owning a car, there are fixed costs that exist whether you drive the car or not. Chief among these is depreciation. Depreciation is not that much of an issue for people who buy used cars and drive them as long as possible, but for those who buy new cars and trade them in regularly it's a major cost. Depreciation has to be added to the cost of whatever transportation the individual uses. If the person drives, depreciation is part of the cost of driving, obviously. If the person uses mass transit, depreciation is still part of the cost of using mass transit because the person has a car sitting in the garage unused, but still declining in value. In fact, all hidden costs have to be added to the cost of mass transit - you still pay taxes to pave roads and defend oil supplies whatever you do. Only out of pocket expenses count in determining the cost-effectiveness of mass transit versus the automobile, because the indirect and "hidden" costs are still there whatever mode of transport you use.

Once someone decides to buy a car, the economic balance shifts sharply in favor of driving. The only way to shift the economic balance in favor of mass transit is to create a system where it becomes feasible for large numbers of people to give up owning a car. A few moments' thought will suffice to reveal the requirements for such a system:
  1. The out of pocket costs must be the same or less for public transport as for private transport. You might get away with a slight overage if public transport offers a real premium in convenience or comfort, but it had better be a clear advantage to the consumer.
  2. The time costs have to be comparable. This means:
    1. Actual travel time has to be comparable. The convoluted fractal routes that buses typically travel to access the largest possible area with the fewest routes are a guaranteed recipe for a failed mass-transit system.
    2. The schedule has to be frequent enough that transfers have negligible time impact. If you occasionally have to run errands en route, the transfer time factor demolishes mass transit.
    3. The schedule has to be frequent enough that waiting time at the trip origin has negligible time impact.
    4. The system has to be dense enough that transit time from the final stop to the destination has negligible time impact. Walking half a mile in the pouring rain negates anything positive mass transit has to offer (and no combination of rain protection will keep you dry in a real downpour.)
  3. The system has to be more dependable than a private automobile. This means:
    1. Work stoppages and strikes are absolutely impermissible. I met some folks recently who saved on the outrageous hotel prices in Venice by staying in nearby Padua. Then, when it came time to catch their cruise ship, the trains were out because of a strike to protest President Bush's visit to Rome. Because, you know, people traveling from Padua to Venice are directly responsible for the war in Iraq and globalization. And labor activists wonder why unions fell out of favor in the U.S.
    2. The system has to have enough peak capacity to carry all passengers in reasonable comfort. Sitting down. With elbow room and a modicum of personal space.
    3. Routes have to be simple and absolutely fixed. Far too many systems vary routes with time of day, use the same number for different routes, omit stops or entire segments of the route at times, or change routes frequently. When I'm in a city and have a choice of rail or bus, I take rail every time, simply because you can't rip up tracks capriciously and reroute them. (I did see a city once where it happened - would you be surprised if I said it was Sofia, Bulgaria?)
    4. Information about the system has to be available everywhere. Every stop must have a map of the whole system with schedules and fare information, and the information must be current. Areas between stops must have frequent signs to the nearest transit stops.
    5. The system layout has to be predictable. Ever been in a city and walked to a major artery hoping to find a bus stop, only to find the buses don't run on that street? Instead the buses run down some residential street because the system is trying to cover the most ground with the fewest buses, or some alderman lives there and wants convenient bus transportation. And how about that system of identifying routes by the end of the line? Boy, that sure makes navigating mass transit in a strange city a breeze!
    6. Transportation has to be available at all times - 24/7/365. If you even occasionally find yourself going places on holidays or odd hours when transit is either unavailable or infrequent, you'll opt to get a car.
    7. Car pooling? If the passengers all have similar origins and destinations, it's an option. But if people need to vary their schedules, run errands en route, be out of town on business, and so on, it won't work. The lack of flexibility is probably the main impediment to car pooling.
  4. The system has to be absolutely safe. Law enforcement needs to be thorough enough, the penalties for crime severe enough and the judicial system hard-nosed enough that nobody would even think of committing a crime on a bus or subway. And there have to be strict rules of conduct. No, you do not have a First Amendment right to panhandle on the subway.

Cargo

In New York City, someone who lives alone might be able to buy groceries every single day and tote them home. But what about someone with five kids? What about someone who needs to transport sheets of plywood or drywall, concrete blocks or sacks of fertilizer? In a few places, buses have provisions for carrying bicycles, but for the most part people who have frequent needs to haul cargo have no real alternative to the automobile. Delivery services might alleviate this problem somewhat.

Groups

While visiting my parents in the San Francisco Bay Area some years ago, we decided to take a trip to Fisherman's Wharf via the BART system. There were six of us altogether. We found the lot at the BART station full, so we drove in to San Francisco. Even counting bridge tolls and parking, it only cost a little more than riding BART.

When transporting a group, cars almost always beat mass transit. Mass transit systems that fail to recognize that the unit of travel is the group, not the individual, are doing more to promote automobiles than Detroit ever could.

A Visit to Philadelphia

I don't share W. C. Fields' dark view of Philadelphia. I like the city very much. Putting it far above average for large cities is its direct rail link from the airport to downtown (that's changing as more and more cities come on line). So on a recent trip to Philadelphia, I booked a motel close to the airport to save expenses and took the train to the convention center downtown.

Both ways the train I intended to take was canceled, meaning I had to wait an extra half hour. At both ends of the trip there were fare machines out of service (although conductors will collect fares on the train). There was a bus link from the airport to my motel, and once I found the bus schedule that part of the trip worked smoothly. The buses actually were right on schedule. But it took a number of tries on the automated phone system to get the inbound schedule, and the Visitor Center downtown didn't have printed schedules. What, post the schedules at the bus stops? Are you mad? They needed those big plastic panels for advertising. At least the stops did indicate the lines that stopped there. And then there was the able bodied panhandler working the transit station downtown. All day. He hit me up coming and going, four hours apart.
On the whole, I got where I needed to go, but this anecdote illustrates all the minor indignities that mass transit advocates expect people to endure for the sake of society. And this is the state of affairs in a city with excellent mass transit. And we wonder why people prefer their cars.

Oh, and then I got the credit card bill for "long distance" calls from the airport to downtown to get schedule information. Factor that into the cost of mass transit because the information wasn't posted at bus stops or in the phone book, and the transit system didn't have a toll-free number.

Houston, You Have a Problem

From a Houston Chronicle story, August 7, 2008. The story details the travails of bus commuting in Houston. Spokespersons for the transit system claim:

Metro officials say they understand Jenkins and Camarillo's frustrations, but the street infrastructure has to be in place, said Jim Archer, manager of service evaluation. Roads don't go all the way through and many are incomplete, Archer said. "When you look at Airport (Blvd.), Airport would be a nice logical route except the road doesn't go all the way through," he said. "The streets make it very difficult for us to operate buses. ... This is not because of Metro."

Yet one of the people interviewed for the story takes anywhere from 80 minutes to two hours to commute, but when someone offers her a ride to work, "the commute time drops considerably — to 10 minutes." Somehow cars can cover the distance in ten minutes but buses can't, because it's "very difficult." But "This is not because of Metro."

What we got here are whining incompetents who can't, or won't, do their jobs.

Wrote one commentator:

The Irvington bus passes in front of my home. If I catch the bus to downtown, it is 1 hour 20 minute ride one-way and I have to walk 8 blocks to my office no matter what the weather. Since Metro discontinued the circulator system downtown, this adds another 20 minutes to the commute. If I drive to work, it is 25 minutes one-way and I park at the door and walk inside 20-feet. Let's see, 2 hours on the bus and walking 8 blocks in rain/cold/heat or 25 minutes and drive up to the door. Oh, let's double that for two-way-commute! ... dah ... Metro is a waste ...

Conclusions

In New York City, it can make sense not to own a car. Parking is prohibitive, the risk of damage from on-street parking is severe, and the transit system beats driving much of the time. In Moab, Utah, fuhgeddaboutit.
In sparsely-populated areas, there simply is no practical alternative to the automobile. People who live in those places need cars to get around and haul cargo. People who need to get to places not served by mass transit also have no alternative to the automobile. So what are the possible solutions?
  1. Inexpensive Rental Cars. The cost of auto rental has come down to the point where it's pretty affordable, but it needs to come down still further to make it a really viable alternative to using the private auto.
  2. Inexpensive Taxis. These need to be considered part of the overall public transit system. Fares need to be competitive with comparable distances on mass transit, and availability needs to be great enough to avoid significant time penalties.
Both of these have to be convenient and flexible enough that the time required to call a taxi or rent a car doesn't discourage use.
At off-peak times, there simply is no practical alternative to the automobile. The remedies are the same.
People who haul cargo have no practical alternative to the automobile. Remedies include inexpensive delivery services, but frequently bulk cargo purchases include small items or unanticipated on-the-spot purchases. Inexpensive shipping from the point of sale, or cheap truck rental, are additional possible remedies.
The only way to diminish reliance on the automobile is to create a mass transit system that is superior to the automobile by the standards of automobile users. In many circumstances the most effective system is the automobile and the only way to cut use of private automobiles is by supplying publicautomobiles, like rental cars and taxis. The sci-fi vision where you go up to a vending area, pop in a credit card, and drive off in a waiting car, needs serious consideration. Where density is high enough, the only way to cut reliance on private autos is with mass transit that is competitive with automobiles in out of pocket cost, speed, and convenience.
Attempts to promote mass transit through coercion will inevitably fail. Trying to make mass transit more competitive by raising auto registration fees, parking fees, bridge and tunnel tolls, gasoline taxes, and the like, will inevitably be seen for what it is: artificial manipulation of the marketplace to coerce drivers into using mass transit. Trying to encourage mass transit use by penalizing private auto use amounts to an open admission that mass transit cannot compete with the automobile.
Voodoo Economics won't workI have to pay taxes to build roads and defend our oil supplies whether I drive or not, and fire trucks, ambulances, and delivery vehicles need streets to drive on. Pretending that I somehow avoid those "hidden costs" by taking the bus is beneath stupid. Telling me that 45 minutes in a crowded, lurching bus is better or a more effective use of my time than 20 minutes in my car is a couple of levels below that.
Wishful thinking won't cut it. It will do absolutely no good to say all these problems will go away if we can somehow persuade Americans to accept higher density and move back in from the suburbs. Suburbs began to sprawl back in the days of streetcars. Americans do not want to live in high density settings. Why not just accept it and plan accordingly?
Studies have repeatedly shown two things: the more transportation is available, the more people spread out. Second, commuters start to get irritable when commute times exceed half an hour. Basically, commuters move out to a distance where they feel the time cost is acceptable, and get angry when the rules change. Moral: Americans like to spread out until other individuals do not seriously impinge on their freedom of action. Deal with it.

What Gated Communities Teach Us

I consider gated communities (and their cousins, the restricted covenant communities) loathsome. Whenever I hear about some homeowner embroiled in a dispute with his homeowners' association, I am torn between despising the homeowners' association for being so petty, and the homeowner for being so stupid as to live in such a place. But they are growing in popularity, and that has something to tell us, and we'd better figure out what that is. What do these communities offer?
  • Safety. Covenant communities merely merge into the surrounding neighborhoods, but gated communities are walled cities. Paradoxically, concern over crime seems to get worse as society gets safer and crimes, being rarer, become more newsworthy. Nevertheless, crime is a principal reason why affluent people leave cities. So if you want to revitalize the cities, extirpate street crime (people don't triple bolt their doors against inside traders or crooked lobbyists). Not reduce, not contain, not deter, extirpate it. Eliminate from public discourse any notion that crime is ever justified.
  • Decorum. Covenants don't merely regulate gross misbehavior; they manage fine details. Most of the people governed by them don't see it as intrusive to have to mow their lawns at specified intervals because they do that anyway. So people who don't share the covenanters' values may see such communities as repressive, but the covenanters themselves don't because they prefer to live that way. They want to live among people who share their standards of behavior to a high degree.
  • Personal Space. Americans like to spread out and always have. But what's wrong with living in an apartment complex and having lots of park space nearby? Why does it have to be personal space? Because personal space can be controlled. Your kid can pitch a tent in the back yard or build a tree fort (not in a lot of covenant communities, though). You can sit in your back yard and not worry about twenty people with loud radios and foul mouths parking right next to you. You don't have to worry about having your favorite picnic spot taken by someone else.
If you want to persuade people to move back into high density settlements, you had better figure out why so many people choose to live in restricted communities, and then see to it that the high density settlements offer the same advantages. Nobody has a right to disruptive, annoying, or anti-social behavior.
Incidentally, gated communities are murder on traffic patterns because they lack through streets and therefore channel large volumes of traffic into restricted arteries.

The End of Cheap Oil

What will happen when oil hits its peak (as it is close to doing?). Will that affect the decision to drive? Possibly. But consider:
  • Transit companies don't get fuel for free - they will have to raise fares to cover the extra cost. They may also cut routes and frequency to cut costs, adding to all the negatives that keep people off mass transit in the first place.
  • Generally speaking, when costs go up, mass transit systems cut schedules, raise fares, and generally do everything imaginable to discourage mass transit use.
  • Between the higher cost of living and higher taxes, people strapped for income will probably resist attempts to subsidize mass transit.
  • There will be pressure to increase social spending to help poor people cover home heating and cooling. Taxes will go up.
  • People forced to work second jobs to cover the increased cost of living will face a killer time cost. Their free time will be so diminished they will not want to spend it riding a bus. And they may well be forced to drive to get from job to job on time.
Prognosis: we may see a marginal shift to mass transit among users for whom the negatives aren't too severe: they're close to transit at both ends of the trip and the time and out-of-pocket costs are not too dissimilar. Car pooling is an obvious win-win, and if it's made easier, it may well take off. If you own a used car, cutting your mileage extends the life of the car and decreases repairs.

Europe Leads The Way

Europeans use mass transit far more than Americans because of the high population density, and dense and long-established transit systems. So how transit-friendly is Europe?

A Eurail Select Pass for five countries and ten days of rail travel is $748. That's $1500 for two people. I found a Volkswagen Passat (midsize) for ten days for $672. Toss in another $400 for gas and it's $1072. You do the math.

And America Follows

From this morning's paper, an article on traveling across America by train. Cost of a sleeper car from Portland, Oregon to New York City: $1792.90.

Drive: 3000 miles at 20 miles per gallon = 150 gallons of fuel, say $500. Three nights in good lodgings, another $500. Total: $1000. Your car will depreciate whether you drive or go by train. Of course, on a train you don't have driving fatigue and can read, watch the scenery, or chat. But then again, by driving you get to see all the scenery by day if you choose. Back in 1989 I took my family from Wisconsin to San Francisco and back by train. Even without sleepers it was a remarkably nice experience. But we found a rock bottom last-minute fare.

Fly? Boo, hiss, huge carbon footprint. Also $300 if you book in advance and catch a good fare. Plus the value of three days' time not spent traveling. Of course, if you want to see the country from the ground, that's not a factor.

Amtrak wonders why more Americans don't take the train.

Unclear on the Concept

So I get the following e-mail

You make a pretty common error in this analysis. You do not consider the context.The context is: What modern transportation infrastructure looks like is dictated primarily by massive public expenditure and use of the government's monopoly on mandate power. The transportation system dictates what our communities look like and how they operate.In your conclusions you state:
"Attempts to promote mass transit through coercion will inevitably fail."Perhaps. But I hope you are not one of those people who would characterize a revolutionary change in how public money is spent on, and public power is exerted for the transportation infrastructure as 'coercion', rather than as 'public policy choice'.

I wrote back:
"Whatever the context, people don't ride mass transit because it's costly in time and inconvenient. When that changes, we'll see the "revolutionary" change."
And got the following:

No, you still aren't getting it. With something like transportation and transportation infrastructure - context is everything. If you say something like "whatever the context", you are not grasping the heart/cause-effect of the matter. (Aaargh - slash construction. Already reason enough to stop taking him seriously)
"people don't ride mass transit because it's costly in time and inconvenient."Even when this question is asked narrowly by the individual, the question must be: costly in time and inconvenient compared to what? Plus, asking that question without context is meaningless.
There will always a whole range of possible answers to those questions depending on existing context. On top of that, the range of answers to those questions for a society will look DRAMATICALLY different depending on whether you are in a culture that is still committed to the folly of government subsidy and mandate/promotion of mass suburbanization - or whether your culture has learned that the majority of a modern human population should live in dense, mixed-use development patterns because it is the sensible, efficient and equitable way to configure modern society.
You are using the language of economics describing a theoretically free market with absolute knowledge by individuals, to describe transportation choice. Transportation infrastructure is and likely always will be about as far from a free market in widget 1 versus widget 2, 3 etc.. as anything will every be. To think of it in these terms is pretty meaningless - and sure to create a society that comes up with the wrong answer.

The context is obvious: it takes me 20 minutes to drive to work and 45 minutes to go by bus. It takes some people in Houston two hours by bus and ten minutes by car. Plus if I drive I can run errands during the day or after work. The idea that this choice involves a "theoretically free market with absolute knowledge by individuals" is straight out of cloud cuckoo land. It's all about what is personally convenient to me in my present life situation.

It's fairly clear where this is going. He considers suburbanization "folly" and that "the majority of a modern human population should live in dense, mixed-use development patterns because it is the sensible, efficient and equitable way to configure modern society." Society, in his view, has "come up with the wrong answer." He, of course, knows what's right and sensible. But that's not "coercion."
So I wrote back:

"No, you are failing to get the point. The context is that people find mass transit inconvenient and costly to them, at that time and place, compared to driving. Your elaborate denial game about people not realizing "the sensible, efficient and equitable way to configure modern society" doesn't change that. Indeed, as long as people like you fail to understand (or apparently deliberately choose not to understand) why people opt not to use mass transit, you will continue to rant ineffectively."

"Dense, mixed-use development patterns" may be "the sensible, efficient and equitable way to configure modern society" to you, but it is not to all those people who move to the suburbs. I see you live in Maine. If you like dense settlements all that much, why are you living out in a sparsely populated region? Why don't you live in inner city Boston or New York instead?
And got this:
They opt not to because the culture, in every form and power the culture has at its disposal, tells them not to.
The denial is on the part of individuals who claim what exists now in transportation infrastructure is some kind of natural and inevitable result, instead of a part of a specific socialized choice. Many individuals are in denial when it comes to realizing that changing any of the details of that socialized choice about the transportation infrastructure is not some nefarious coercion that did not previously exist. It would just be a new set of choices about a undeniably socialized thing: the public infrastructure that provides transportation.
I live in Maine because that is where a well paying job exists for me. The primary requirement I have for where I live is: that it be with my wife. I compromise a great deal to maintain that primary requirement. The culture fights everything (through the specific flavor of "coercions" now in force) that would me allow me to fulfill my prime requirement in where and how I live, while making a few less compromises.
Okay, so he's absolved from any responsibility because he's close to a well paying job and his wife. He has a valid personal reason for living far from a large city. Other people are just being selfish. Other people should modify their lifestyles for the good of society. They should either accept a worse job close to home so they don't have to commute as far, or accept crowded living conditions closer to their work. This guy "compromises a great deal" to satisfy his own lifestyle choices, but other people who take on the responsibility of maintaining their own home, getting up in the dark to get to work, and so on, well, that's just not the same thing. Wonder why his wife can't "compromise a great deal" and move into "dense, mixed use settlement" for the good of society? 

And if we put penalties and new taxes on commuters and suburbanites, well, that's not coercion, that's merely "a new set of choices." Talk about Orwellian doublespeak.

Bottom Line

You know, it really doesn't hurt me if you don't want to know why attempts to convert people to mass transit fail. Just keep doing what you're doing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Triumph of Post-Modernism. Happy?

The Alt-Fact World

In the New Yorker (May 20, 2016) Adam Gopnik wrote in "The Dangerous Acceptance of Donald Trump:"
"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,”
the poet Alexander Pope wrote, in lines that were once, as they said back in the day, imprinted on the mind of every schoolboy. Pope continued,
“Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
Before those famous schoolroom lines, Pope made another observation, which was that even as you recognize that the world is a mixed-up place, you still can’t fool yourself about the difference between the acceptable and the unacceptable:
“Fools! who from hence into the notion fall, That vice or virtue there is none at all,” he wrote.“Is there no black or white?Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain;’Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain.”
The pain of not seeing that black is black soon enough will be ours, and the time to recognize this is now.
Unfortunately for Gopnick, the pain was already upon us, inflicted by a generation-long assault on the concepts of truth, objectivity and rationality. And it all seemed so terribly enlightened, as long as it was being used to advance the "right" ideas. It liberated us from the constraints of having to conform to science, logic, and reason. It allowed us to impugn reason as a way of maintaining white male hegemony.  It even made it possible to ignore moral constraints that were inconvenient. It only became dangerous when conservatives began appropriating its methodology and rhetoric.

The Central Fallacy of Philosophy

Theologian Ian Barbour (1966) described four approaches to science. Naive or traditional realism regarded theories as concrete realities: critical realism regarded theories as reflecting an external reality but as imperfect and subject to revision. Instrumentalism considered only the utility of theories in describing phenomena, so that theories could only be described as "valid" or "invalid," not "true" or "false." Idealism views theories as mental constructs, a school of thought we might now call "constructivist."

N.T. Wright nicely described critical realism: 
I propose a form of critical realism. This is a way of describing the process of "knowing" that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence "realism"), while fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence "critical").
Barbour's approach has been criticized by people who object to any attempt to put theology and science on any kind of level playing field. Nonetheless, I think (as did Barbour) that most scientists can be described as critical realists. We no longer regard electric fields as little vortices, nevertheless there's something around electrons or protons. It exists even if we're not aware of it or expecting it, as we see if we get entangled in a plastic bag, pull clothes out of the dryer or reach for a doorknob after walking across a carpet (or carelessly touch a computer chip). The fundamental principle is there's a reality out there. There's a knower and a thing known. It doesn't depend on our preferences, beliefs, cultural upbringing, or desire.

So how do we know what this reality is? How do we know if we've got it? How do we go about studying it? How do we deal with people who have a radically different view of reality, or indeed deny its existence altogether?

These are great and deep questions. They lead to fascinating discussions about how we can know the world, how we reason and evaluate evidence, and how much we can trust our perceptions. The one thing they do not do is give us any grounds for disbelieving in objective reality. The notion that questions of epistemology (how we know) have anything at all to tell us about reality itself, or whether it exists, is a grand non-sequitur. The fact that reality is difficult to know does not prove anything at all about whether reality exists; that's like saying that because the English Channel is hard to swim across, it might not exist. I call this The Fundamental Fallacy of Philosophy

On Constructing Your Own Reality

Here are a few excerpts on the notion that we all construct our own reality. Philosophers will no doubt object that some of them are not "serious." That's utterly irrelevant. Nobody cares what serious philosophers have to say, and in fact the "non-serious" nature of some of these excerpts is good, because these are the things that impact public consciousness. 

Kristen Fox,  Your own personal mass reality, 1998.
http://www.consciouscreation.com/cc-journal/ccj-august-1998/your-own-personal-mass-reality-by-kristen-fox/

Note that this piece is almost twenty years old. Anyone who has never heard of any of the ideas expressed here has truly been living in a bubble. 
“Physical objects cannot exist unless they exist in a definite perspective and space continuum. But each individual creates his own space continuum… I want to tie this in with the differences you seem to see in one particular object. Each individual actually creates an entirely different object, which his own physical senses then perceive.” – The Seth Material by Jane Roberts p. 115
After I read this quote from the Seth Material, I started to examine what I believed I meant by the phrase “mass reality,” especially if each of us creates our own personal space continuum! Then, the following idea burst into my head: The division between personal reality and mass reality is as illusory as the division between ego and entity/oversoul. There is a division only as long as we choose to believe in it.
For the framework of this article, I define “mass reality” as the belief in a space continuum which exists objectively outside what we’d consider our own personal space continuum and would somehow seem to supercede (sic) our own choices, or personal reality. With this understanding, in “mass reality” a alternate set of beliefs holds true or there would be no point in distinguishing it from “personal” reality. Most often we’d think in terms of leaving our personal reality and interacting in “mass reality” when we go out in public or otherwise deal with “others.” And I define “mass EVENTS” as those events in physical reality in which we perceive ourselves as interacting with at least one “other” person.
When we believe in a mass reality outside of our own personal reality, we have CREATED that mass reality through belief. And yet, we are so used to thinking in these terms that we have difficulty looking at the concept of a “mass reality” as merely a BELIEF instead of REALITY. We each probably have “good reasons” for arguing either for or against the existence of “mass reality,” in which case we can ask ourselves why do we choose one or the other point of view? What would either maintaining or dissolving this division mean to us individually and emotionally?
Looking at this illusory division through the eyes of habitual creation, we are USED TO perceiving and interacting with others and ASSUME then that these others exist outside of ourselves. This is usually because we’ve associated ourselves solely with our singular physical focus for so long. And yet, when we interact with “others,” we are creating our physical experience of their ESSENCE in our own personal space continuum. Their essences DO exist independently, and yet the interaction and perception of them that we experience in physical reality are our creation of them in our own space continuums. We’ve drawn their essences to us and then create our own version of them to interact with.
This is a wonderful piece because it embodies so much of the "we create our own reality" philosophy. It's remarkable only in that it does it so explicitly and that it's still on line after almost two decades. 

The problem with debating a philosophy like this is it's so impervious to analysis and contradiction. "The division between personal reality and mass reality [exists] only as long as we choose to believe in it."

"When we interact with “others,” we are creating our physical experience of their ESSENCE in our own personal space continuum." does that mean that if someone is a misogynist, you can choose to experience him as an enlightened feminist instead? Somehow, I doubt it. And no, believers in creating your own reality will say that's not a valid argument because reasons. Like Riegler offers below.

Riegler, A. (2001) Towards a Radical Constructivist Understanding of Science
Foundations of Science 6 (1–3): 1–30.
Constructivism is the idea that we construct our own world rather than it being determined by an outside reality. Its most consistent form, Radical Constructivism (RC), claims that we cannot transcend our experiences. Thus it doesn’t make sense to say that our constructions gradually approach the structure of an external reality. 
"We construct our own world rather than it being determined by an outside reality." Could it possibly be clearer than that? Interestingly enough, George W. Bush didn't "construct his own world" when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. No, he lied. Because that was "determined by an outside reality." On the other hand, when Karl Rove said "when we act, we create our own reality," that wasn't at all like Radical Constructivism.
Radical Constructivism (RC) is the insight that we cannot transcend the horizon of our experiences. Experiences are all we can work with; out of experiences we construct our world. Thus, there are no mind-independent entities on which our cognition is based. This does not imply that Radical Constructivists deny the existence of such an objective world populated by mind-independent entities, the reality.
There are no mind-independent entities on which our cognition is based, but we're not denying an objective world exists. Whiskey...Tango...Foxtrot? The external world exists only in so far as it's expedient to the Radical Constructivist. Things crystallize into sharp objectivity when anyone tries to apply constructivism to legitimize anything the constructivist doesn't approve of.
Since the mind is operationally closed, i.e., semantically impenetrable, we cannot know any ‘external semantics’; thus we arrive at the Epistemological Corollary: Reality is neither rejected nor confirmed, it must be considered irrelevant
Give Rove his due. He, at least,  never said reality was irrelevant. But if you wonder where Rove came up with it, look to people like Riegler.
In neurophysiology, it is useless to search for neuron clusters whose activations correlate with external events in a stable referential manner. 
Oh, I don't know. Let me hook you up to an EEG and mash one of your fingers with a hammer. I bet we'd see "neuron clusters whose activations correlate with external events." Actually, neuroscientists hook people up to EEG's all the time to observe "neuron clusters whose activations correlate with external events in a stable referential manner."
Such insights also have impacts on communication and language. (a) Meaning is a human construct. It does not reside somewhere else and is not independent of the person who makes it.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
(b) Meaning cannot be transmitted as an entity. It is not in the words, gestures, symbols with which we express ourselves. 
The operational closure results also in a Methodological Corollary: Explanations are necessarily circular since there is no outside point of reference 5. Experience is thus a form of self reference 6. “Cognition serves the subject’s organization of the experimental world, not the discovery of an objective reality”,
Appealing to reality as the ultimate arbiter of (scientific) disputes gives rise to the belief that there exists a mind-independent reality (MIR) which defines what is true and what is not. What is the sense of clinging to such a concept which is the metaphysical extrapolation of our experiences (or observations)? Clearly, many psychological and social reasons can be put forward to account for this way of reasoning, among which we can find:
  • (R1) Claiming authority by referring to an external truth makes one’s own point of view unassailable (Mitterer 1994).
  • (R2) Justifying research expenses, as the true description of reality “…is what we are working for and what we spend the taxpayers’ money for” (Weinberg 1998).
  • (R3) In more general terms, claims of objectivity are for the purpose of forcing others to do what they would not otherwise do themselves (Maturana 1988).
  • (R4) Finally, realism is equated with seriousness and rationality. 
I just loves me a good conspiracy theory. People believe in realism only for ulterior motives like making one's point of view unassailable, justifying funding, coercing others and asserting authority. Just remember all the scientific controversies where realistic points of view proved eminently assailable, precisely because they were realistic.

Here's a personal scientific experience. I once tried to write a computer program to model phase diagrams, diagrams that show what happens when a mixture of different materials crystallizes from the liquid state. Most books present these as a series of rules. I found that trying to program the rules was impossible.

Then I had my epiphany. I'd simply model the evolution of the mixture itself, and just plot it on the diagram. Not only was that much simpler to program, It revealed all sorts of things I hadn't noticed before. I began teaching the subject from that perspective (http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/Petrology/beutect.htm).

So when I looked at the problem from an instrumentalist or constructivist perspective (it was all about what happened on the diagram), I got nowhere. Once I approached it from a realist perspective (there was a real molten mixture in a real system), it all came together.
From a RC perspective the purpose of science is not to seek for truth or to map out ‘reality’.There is no justification for an exclusive claim of objectivity. 
Critics of RC often conclude that because knowledge is constructed, the mind is in principle free to construct anything it wants. We must not forget that constructions are historical assemblies. The historical aspect imposes a hierarchical organization in which more recent additions build on older ones. Such a hierarchy causes mutual dependencies and thus canalization among its components. It severely restricts the degrees of freedom in the way constructions can be accomplished, as described by the Limitations of Construction Postulate. Therefore, the constructions of the mind cannot be arbitrary.
The crucial point is that observation can only be understood as invariants of these cognitive measuring devices. Therefore, they are strictly human-specific, and do not represent independent ontological elements of an outside reality. The notion of truth can no longer be used as a criterion to evaluate physical theories. Instead theory-building must seek for consistency. This leads to the RC-typical circularity as mentioned above. Furthermore, the fact that different set of cognitive operators brings forth a different cognitive phenotype makes it virtually impossible to communicate with beings equipped with that alternative operators. However, such beings do not necessarily have a less consistent or efficient world-view. 
Except, of course, when those alternative operators cause them to conclude, say, that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or homosexuality is a danger to society. Those are "false facts." 
Finally I want to point at an important issue which I call the Limitations of Construction Postulate. One of the most frequent arguments against constructivism consists of a mere question such as “Surely, you still believe that when the door is closed you cannot walk through it don’t you?”. It seems that an adverb inevitably sneaks in: Constructing our own world is equated with arbitrarily constructing our own world. However, RC is far from confusing both versions. Experiences are made subsequently. As such, they are connected with each other in a historical manner and form a network of hierarchical interdependencies. 
Perhaps the most offensive feature of this word hash is the use of "Postulate" to create a pretense of rigor. A postulate, in mathematics, is something like "Vertical angles are equal" (If two lines cross, the angles opposite the intersection are equal) That's a statement that can be used to derive or prove other facts, and it's justified because you can superimpose any two vertical angles and see that they are congruent. The truth of the postulate is demonstrated by external reality. The Limitations of Construction "Postulate," on the other hand, is "proven" by mere assertion. It says that RC doesn't mean you can't use RC to create arbitrary realities because you can't, because Riegel says so, and the believer in RC gets to decide what's "arbitrary." Of course, someone like David Duke or Donald Trump also has a hierarchy of interdependent experiences, but those somehow don't confer legitimacy on their worlds. Because that would be "arbitrary."


The problems with word salads like Fox's and Riegel's is they absolutely defy rational parsing. To be utterly crass about it, it's like trying to nail Jello to a tree. Their utterances, like Humpty Dumpty's, mean just what they choose them to mean.

Fake Facts

In 1999, Carroll Case wrote The Slaughter: An American Atrocity, alleging that over 1000 black soldiers had been massacred at Camp Dorn, Mississippi in 1943 and buried beneath what would later become a reservoir. The Army went to the unusual length of tracking the fates of every single soldier in the unit. Most of them ended up being sent to Siberia - actually the closest we could come to it - the Aleutians. They concluded that everyone could be accounted for and there had been no such atrocity.
"We had the whole area sealed off--it was like shooting fish in a barrel. We opened fire on everything that moved, shot into the barracks, shot them out of trees, where some of them were climbing, trying to hide. . . ."
So why would the Army conduct a mass murder on post, where it would be heard by everyone, probably seen by many and leave bullet-riddled and blood-splattered barracks to be fixed up by still more witnesses? Why not march the victims to a secluded area and massacre them out of sight? Or better yet, simply declare their training concluded and pack them off to the Aleutians? This has one of the classic earmarks of a crank conspiracy theory - a tendency to concoct Rube Goldberg mechanisms that any intelligent person could figure out how to accomplish better and more simply.

From "Camp Van Dorn massacre; Mississippi Massacre, or Myth? Army Tries to Put to Rest Allegations of 1943 Slaughter of Black Troops," By Roberto Suro and Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, Thursday, December 23, 1999; Page A04
Case (author of book) argues that the lack of any accounts by members of the unit shows that those the Army wanted killed were separated from those to be spared. As to the Army's reconstruction of personnel records for the more than 4,000 soldiers who served with 364th at Van Dorn, Case said, "I believe the records have been falsified."
Classic conspiracy thinking. Lack of evidence proves there was a conspiracy after all, and contrary evidence has been faked.
"This does not tell us anything about the actual history of blacks in America because there is no proof that it happened, but it does reveal something very interesting about the way people see that history," said John Sibley Butler, a professor of sociology and management at the University of Texas at Austin. "So many bad things happened to black soldiers during that time period that something like this supposed slaughter could have happened, and because of that, people can put aside the question of whether or not there is evidence and simply believe that it did happen," Butler said. 
How could you possibly ask for a more perfect rationalization for alt-facts? "So many bad things have happened as a result of government regulation that any horror story, even if demonstrably false, justifies believing in it."

Rationalism and Male Hegemony

Here are a couple of examples by women describing the radical feminist view of rationality.

Sabina Lovibond, "Feminism and the 'Crisis of Rationality'," New Left Review I/207, September-October 1994. 
There is a measure of consensus within feminist theory that rationalist values are in crisis—that the very arrival of women on the scene of intellectual activity necessitates a reappraisal of those values. [1] Sometimes the claim is that conventional scientific research procedure reflects an objectifying, control-seeking attitude to its subject-matter which can be regarded on psychological grounds as characteristically masculine; the large-scale entry of women into natural science could then be expected to lead to the development of a different, more empathetic and conservationist style of enquiry. [2] Sometimes there is an attempt to introduce new moral categories informed by feminist reflection on the shortcomings of ‘normal science’, such as Lorraine Code’s ‘epistemic responsibility’. [3] Sometimes however, and more iconoclastically, it is argued that reason is an inherently gendered concept—an element in a discursive system organized by the assumption of male superiority.
Noretta Koertge "On feminist critiques of science,"  Skeptical Inquirer, March-April 1995 v19 n2 p42(2)
As Daphne Patai and I interviewed faculty, students, and staff from Women's Studies programs for our book Professing Feminism, there emerged a complex picture of what we call "negative education" - a systematic undermining of the intellectual values of liberal education. And as Paul Gross and Norman Levitt have so impressively documented in Higher Superstition, it is the natural sciences that are under the heaviest fire. 
Young women are being alienated from science in many ways. One strategy is to try to redefine what counts as science. For example, instead of teaching about the struggles - and triumphs - of great women scientists, such as Emmy Noether, Marie and Irene Curie, and Kathleen Lonsdale, feminist accounts of the history of science now emphasize the contributions of midwives and the allegedly forgotten healing arts of herbalists and witches. More serious are the direct attempts to steer women away from the study of science. Thus, instead of exhorting young women to prepare themselves for a variety of technical subjects by studying science, logic, and mathematics, Women's Studies students are now being taught that logic is a tool of domination and that quantitative reasoning is incompatible with a humanistic appreciation of the qualitative aspects of the phenomenological world.
One suspects that the problem in the eyes of some feminists, as in the case of other anti-rationalists, is that reason is the last obstacle to a world of total solipsism. 

Narcissism and the Exploitation of Non-Western Philosophy

From "The Revolution That Didn’t Happen," Victor Stenger,  Huffington Post, July 18 2014, Updated September 17, 2014.
I disagree. In fact, no small portion of the blame for the excessive self-absorption that has characterized America for all this time lies at the feet of the proponents of the new mysticism. Anyone listening to New Age gurus, such as Zukav and Deepak Chopra, and modern megachurch Christian preachers, cannot miss the emphasis on the individual finding easy gratification, rather than sacrificing and selflessly laboring for a better world.
Holistic philosophy is the perfect delusion for the spoiled brat of any age who, all decked out in the latest fashion, loves to talk about solving the problems of the world but has no intention of sweating a drop in achieving this noble goal.
Reductionist classical physics did not make people egoists. People were egoists long before reductionist classical physics. In fact, classical physics has nothing to say about humans except that they are material objects like rocks and trees, made of nothing more than the same atoms—just more cleverly arranged by the impersonal forces of self-organization and evolution. This is hardly a philosophical basis for narcissism.
The new quantum holism, on the other hand, encourages our delusions of personal importance. It tells us that we are part of an immortal cosmic mind with the power to perform miracles and, as Chopra has said, to make our own reality. Who needs God when we, ourselves, are God? Thoughts of our participation in cosmic consciousness inflate our egos to the point where we can ignore our shortcomings and even forget our mortality.
The modern versions of traditional religions feed on this desire. Where once Christian preachers shouted hell-fire and brimstone from the pulpit, their successors in the very same sects now present the soothing message that we are all perfect, worthy, and destined for infinite happiness. The only sacrifice required is a regular check. Then Jesus will provide all.
The rising number who identify themselves as “not religious but spiritual” have not found the new Christianity either sensible or congenial. Unfortunately the new spirituality they find in quantum mysticism is just as much of a con game.
Mystical physics is a grossly misapplied version of ancient Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, which were based on the notion that only by the complete rejection of self can one find inner peace in this world of suffering and hopelessness. However, you won’t find selflessness in these religions as they are practiced in America today. I once attended a Buddhist meditation class in Boulder, which is a center for that sort of thing (Capra’s book was published in Boulder). The first thing we did was sit around in a circle and talk about ourselves. Needless to say, the meditation did not help me get rid of my own self-centeredness—and this wasn’t the only time I tried it.
Capra and his colleagues say they are putting a modern face on ancient Eastern philosophy. I say they are covering a noble edifice with graffiti. Where they see similarities between the new and the old mysticisms, I see only contrasts. Where they promote the new mythology as an antidote for self-absorption, I assert that they are manufacturing a drug that induces it. And while they blame rational science for the ills of the world, I hold rational science as a source of genuine hope for reducing the severity of this latest addiction, if only we and our successors have the wisdom to use it properly.

Bad Astronomy. Really Bad Astronomy

Flat earth believers are mostly considered a joke, but there's also a geocentrist movement, mostly consisting of uber-Catholics who assert the Church was right and Galileo was wrong. [1] Phil Plait examined the movement on his "Bad Astronomy" blog: "Geocentrism? Seriously." (September 14, 2010)

In this post, he makes the following utterly appalling statements:
I have two things to say that might surprise you: first, geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct.
When a "scientist" isn't willing to defend the truth of heliocentric astronomy," he should just get out of science and open a slot for someone who does take science seriously. Because those two statements are objectively scientifically illiterate.

First, "geocentrism is a valid frame of reference." Well, if you're thinking in terms of the rising and setting of the sun, it may be more useful - if you disregard literally everything else in the universe. It's useful in the sense that you can ignore the speed of sound in firing a pistol to start a race, a fiction that applies to nothing else. But if something is more than about 4 billion kilometers away, it would be moving at the speed of light.[2] All the outer planets are moving fast enough for relativistic length contraction to be obvious. Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft are moving faster than light. So geocentrism violates fundamental laws of physics. The evidence for distant objects moving faster than light is.... [crickets].

Okay, got it. You don't believe in relativity. So check this. Connect a bowling ball and a softball to opposite ends of a rod. Now spin the rod. It will spin around the center of mass. Watch the hammer throw in the Olympics or an ice skater pirouetting with his partner to see the same effect. Yet the earth has the moon and all the mass in the universe spinning around it, but doesn't move. Alone of all material objects in the universe, the earth doesn't obey conservation of angular momentum. Needless to say, observational evidence for such a claim is completely absent.

So we don't need to appeal to parsimony or Occam's Razor, we can dismiss geocentrism because it flatly violates the laws of physics. Needless to say, "heliocentrism is not any more or less correct" is simply ridiculous. Heliocentrism is more correct.

Then, amazingly, Plait concludes with
But the Universe doesn’t care how strongly you believe in something. If it ain’t right, it ain’t right. Geocentrism ain’t right. No matter how much spin you put on it.
Feel free to spend a few minutes gaping like a goldfish. If geocentrism "ain't right," then how in the world can it be a "valid" frame of reference and "no more or less correct than heliocentrism?" Once again we have "reality means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."


So when Plait took aim at climate denialists on March 28, 2017, I replied:
Question: who wrote this? "geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct."
Answer, YOU did, on September 14, 2010
If you're not even willing to defend the truth of heliocentric astronomy, what gives you any right to criticize climate denialists?
For years we've been awash in a sea of pseudo-intellectual rubbish: Science doesn't find truth, we all construct our own reality, science is a social construct. Now the right has picked it up. This is a wholly foreseeable result. Some people who foresaw it include Paul R. Gross, and  Norman Levitt: Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science;  Alan Sokal, and Jean Bricmont: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science; and Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt, and Martin W. Lewis: The Flight from Science and Reason. People have been sounding warnings for twenty years.
Notes
[1] In a weird sort of way, the geocentrists are right. Galileo is where it all went wrong. Specifically, it's where the Church went wrong. It could have stood up for intellectual honesty, instead it retreated into an ultimately futile attempt to defend authority by decree, using ever more sophistic and specious methods. 

[2] The apparent rotational velocity of the sky is w = 2 pi/86400 radians per second = 0.0000727 radians per second. At a distance r, the velocity of an object is v = wr. So where would v = c?  We have  r *0.0000727 =  300,000 (units in kilometers/sec). Thus r = 300,000/0.0000727 = 4.126 billion kilometers.

References

Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt:  Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science; JHU Press, 2011

Alan Sokal, Jean Bricmont: Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science; Macmillan, 1999

Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt, Martin W. Lewis, editors:  The Flight from Science and Reason; New York Academy of Sciences, 1996

Koertge, Noretta, ed. A house built on sand: Exposing postmodernist myths about science. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Boghossian, Paul. Fear of knowledge: Against relativism and constructivism. Clarendon Press, 2007.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” 
― Hannah ArendtThe Origins of Totalitarianism

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” 
― Hannah ArendtThe Origins of Totalitarianism


“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” 
― Hannah ArendtThe Origins of Totalitarianism