October 30th, 2006

Ad effigiem

Of all the habitual fallacies and prejudices that have poisoned the wells of reason in our time, none, perhaps, has been so destructive as what Owen Barfield christened ‘chronological snobbery’. This is the strange belief that modern ideas and habits, simply because they are modern, are inherently superior to those of former times. This belief has become so prevalent that it is now recognized as a category of informal fallacy in itself.

This snobbery is perhaps the last remaining vestige or outcrop of the once formidable massif of Victorian optimism. The belief in the inevitability of progress was dealt a crushing blow by the First World War, and even the belief in progress itself was drastically undermined by the rank flowering of cultural and moral relativism that took its shallow root in the decades after 1960. The Victorians were chronological snobs because they thought themselves the first geniuses on the earth, the evolutionary apex of a long history of fools. Modern relativists, in my experience, are chronological snobs because they believe we are all fools. Denying even the possibility of genius, they refuse to take lessons from a lot of uppity dead white men who think they have something to teach.

But whether you arrive at this position by the high road of egotism or the low road of relativism, the result is the same, and fatal to the reasoning faculty. Any other fallacy can be disproved by argument and evidence. Chronological snobbery will not hear the arguments, because they are the arguments of dead men. It will not look at the evidence, because the evidence is old. At bottom I suppose it is a cognitive disorder, somewhat akin to paranoia. The paranoiac believes everyone is conspiring against him, and cannot be persuaded otherwise, because everyone who tries to talk him out of his delusion is obviously part of the conspiracy. The snob believes everyone who disagrees with him is stupid, and cannot be persuaded otherwise, because everyone who tries to talk him out of it is a fool by definition.

If you read ancient or mediaeval books with real attention, or even look at ancient artefacts in a museum, you will quickly realize how little human beings have changed in the last five thousand years. Last Saturday, for instance, I went to see an exhibit of Egyptian art at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. It contained many second-rate or merely utilitarian pieces, which is the common fate of museum exhibits in provincial market towns, but that gave it a peculiar strength that could easily be lost in a first-class display. It was not in the least striking; in fact, it was striking for not being striking. It was fantastic in its ordinariness, like a Chestertonian Mooreeffoc turned inside-out.

People commonly go to Egyptian exhibits to see all the uncanny things the Egyptians did with their dead, stuffing sarcophagi with mummies and canopic jars with their entrails. The exhibit at the Glenbow was lacking in mummies, though it had some jars still said to hold the residue of their ancient contents. What it had instead, and that in abundance, was an assortment of bowls, jars, bottles, mirrors, board games, jewellery, knick-knacks, and impedimenta, such as you might find in any high-toned department store or curio-shop. Unlike a lot of later civilizations, the Egyptians had a taste for simplicity in small household items. Many of the things they made were indistinguishable from modern articles, except that they lacked the queer hieroglyphic inscription, MADE IN CHINA.

Likewise, when I went to the Field Museum in Chicago last July, and set eyes upon the string-seated chair from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuya, I felt myself in the awful presence of the Grandfather of Bauhaus. Apart from the gilding and the carvings on the side and back panels, I could probably order a virtually identical chair from this year’s IKEA catalogue. The materials and the manufacturing process have changed, but in three thousand years we have made no improvement at all in the art of supporting the human bum.
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Hubris, thy name is Gonzo!

Courtesy of sollersuk, who, however, is also Nemesis, and this here polis ain’t big enough for the two of us:


33% Extroversion, 100% Intuition, 100% Emotiveness, 47% Perceptiveness

You are a normally quiet person with very strong convictions and a marked activist streak. You have a clearly defined sense of right and wrong, and you like seeing people punished for their transgressions. You are Nemesis, goddess of punishment. You are a champion for the defenseless, you love poetic justice and, if karmic retribution doesn't have its say, then you'll have yours. You are astute, rarely fooled, and idealistic.

Your defining characteristic is your internal and inflexible system of morals. Because of your highly intuitive nature, you possess the theoretical nature required to define those morals, but you sometimes lack the ability to verbalize and expound on them, especially on the more nuanced parts of your worldview. Regardless, you have strong instincts which often prove to be correct, and rather than preaching, you act on them. You don't compromise -- ever.

You can sometimes be a person of great internal stress. You don't have double standards, and so you expect the same of yourself as you expect of others. You might find, sometimes, that you have just as hard of a time in living up to those expectations as the people around you. As a result, you are rarely at peace with yourself, but you're also likely to think of this in a positive light -- you're always forcing yourself to improve, and you avoid making mistakes.

You tend to be a private person, and don't like to talk much about those staunch morals of yours until, that is, they become violated. Once that happens, everyone is going to know exactly where you stand. You have a distaste of nihilism and intellectual relativism that will make you naturally compatible with scientists and certain kinds of philosophers, even if they don't share your activist streak.

Famous People like you: Goethe, Voltaire, Susan B. Anthony, Robert Burns

Similar Personality Types: Prometheus, The Oracle, Hermes, Orpheus

Avoid: Icarus, Dionysus, Agamemnon, Atlas

You may or may not be able to get along with an Odysseus -- it will depend on his/her upbringing.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
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You scored higher than 99% on Extroversion
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You scored higher than 99% on Intuition
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You scored higher than 99% on Emotiveness
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You scored higher than 99% on Perceptiveness

Link: The Greek Mythology Personality Test written by Aleph_Nine on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test