Line of the day from the comments section here

I think the Brits were both immoral and very smart to shift the Puritans off to the colonies.

And is said in response:

Unfortunately we didn’t get rid of them all, and failed to load the boat such that the plimsol line would have been well submerged, thus they disastrously made it across the Atlantic. I hope we don’t make that mistake next time.

And as really needs to be said, such Puritanism is self generating, there are prodnoses in each and every new generation.

Which is rather why we have to get into space: so that we\’ve a new asteroid to send them to, each and every generation.

30 thoughts on “Line of the day from the comments section here”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    Britain produces people who react against the Puritanism of British life each and every generation. They are often great fun. I loved Alan Clarke’s diaries for instance. London is all the better for people like Tom Baker.

    But on the other hand they produce nothing much for the rest of us except entertainment.

    Now if you look at the footage of the Moon project, you see a lot of boring engineers who, no doubt, went home to the same wife every day and never even thought of cheating on her. Products of that Puritan culture you all hate so much.

    So sure, we could kill them all. And no doubt those that left would have a great time drinking, whoring, snorting Peruvian happy dust and so on. For about two years. When they would all starve to death.

    Western, modern, technical civilisation rests on those boring much despised dorks. Without them the rest of us have nothing. As you can see in countries which don’t have them. I doubt Angola has many Puritans for instance. Or Brazil.

  2. Unfortunately, the “puritanism==success” justification is nonsense. Have a read up on the party lifestyle of the eggheads on the Manhattan Project, for instance. Von Neumann’s era of intellectuals couldn’t think straight without a cocktail easily to hand, and Feynman was famous for enjoying tittie bars.

    Correlation does not equal causation. The west is innovative and has a tendency towards puritanism. The latter does not cause the former. Britain, for instance, began the industrial revolution during the liberal interregnum between puritan eras, and lost its industrial lead at the height of puritanism, as the pursuit of respectability overwhelmed the pursuit of innovation, leading to the stagnation of an industrial base reliant on captive imperial markets which collapsed with the Empire.

    Puritanism is not sense, or sobriety, or moderation. It is the pursuit of public virtue as an end in itself; it is the taking of pleasure from the absence of pleasure; self mortification, or masochism as we call it now. America did not reach the moon thanks to its Temperance Movement. It did so despite it. Big difference.

  3. I should also add that the socio-political cancer now widely believed to be destroying the western world- currently called “Progressivism”- is the latest incarnation of Puritanism.

  4. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “Unfortunately, the “puritanism==success” justification is nonsense.”

    Good thing I did not make it then.

    “Have a read up on the party lifestyle of the eggheads on the Manhattan Project, for instance. Von Neumann’s era of intellectuals couldn’t think straight without a cocktail easily to hand, and Feynman was famous for enjoying tittie bars.”

    Oh my God. The entire Manhattan project and all you can come up with is that they liked a cocktail? Feynman, in later life, did become a little strange. But he married his first wife when he was a PhD student. It is unlikely he ever had sex before. After his wife died, he waited years before he married again. He was a typical dork who took some advantage of the 1960s. But not many.

    “The west is innovative and has a tendency towards puritanism. The latter does not cause the former. Britain, for instance, began the industrial revolution during the liberal interregnum between puritan eras, and lost its industrial lead at the height of puritanism, as the pursuit of respectability overwhelmed the pursuit of innovation, leading to the stagnation of an industrial base reliant on captive imperial markets which collapsed with the Empire.”

    Sorry but that is rubbish. The Industrial Revolution was the work of people excluded from institutions like Oxford because they were puritans. Often literally. It was the work of Quakers and other non-conformists. Whatever else the rest of Britain was doing, the people who made it all possible came from the most repressive backgrounds imaginable.

    “Puritanism is not sense, or sobriety, or moderation. It is the pursuit of public virtue as an end in itself; it is the taking of pleasure from the absence of pleasure; self mortification, or masochism as we call it now.”

    That seems the definition of sobriety to me. And yes, you’re right. It takes a great deal of self mortification to spend twelve years in Higher Education after twelve years in school to produce a PhD in engineering for instance.

    “America did not reach the moon thanks to its Temperance Movement. It did so despite it. Big difference.”

    An unsubstantiated opinion that would be more interesting if there was the slightest reason to think it was true.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    3 Ian B – “I should also add that the socio-political cancer now widely believed to be destroying the western world- currently called “Progressivism”- is the latest incarnation of Puritanism.”

    You are entitled to whatever opinions you like, but you are not entitled to whatever facts take your fancy. The progressive movement, as two seconds looking at the historical record would show, is and always has been opposed to the Christian puritan legacy in the West.

    I mean even if you had done as much research as, say, watching Kevin Bacon in Footloose, you would know this.

  6. Well, I don’t get my historical understanding from Kevin Bacon, so I have to defer to your superior knowledge.

    I recommend reading a history book or two, in which you will discover that the Progressives grew out of the puritan evangelical movements- most plainly, the Temperance Movement.

    I can only conclude from your many posts that you are yourself an evangelical puritan of some description, so arguing is probably going to be futile, especially as Tim’s blog isn’t one that tends towards 200 posts in the comments sections.

    You might want to bear in mind though that the heart of industrialisation was not Quaker chocolate factories. But, their puritan model villages were the template for modern progressivism, since deployed on a national scale. Quakers and Methodists became Progressives became Garden City Socialists became the New Left became the Third Way. Labour is a Christian Socialist party (“the Methodist Party”). God was displaced by government along the way, but the one constant is the Puritan zeal for social engineering.

    Max Weber was wrong. It wasn’t the puritan element of protestantism that created capitalism. It was western Europe’s cultural legacy of proto-liberalism that did it.

    The key to understanding is to spend more than two seconds looking at the historical record. You might want to try that some time.

  7. You might also bear in mind that the reason the Puritans were barred from Oxford and public life was to try to stop them recreating the horror of Cromwell’s ghastly regime. Once we let them back into the corridors of power, liberalism collapsed again, culminating in the current petty puritan despotism.

    Like I said before, it would have been far better for everyone if they’d all been on that boat, and it had sunk half way.

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “Well, I don’t get my historical understanding from Kevin Bacon, so I have to defer to your superior knowledge.”

    You should try.

    “I recommend reading a history book or two, in which you will discover that the Progressives grew out of the puritan evangelical movements- most plainly, the Temperance Movement.”

    You are now shifting the goal posts again. The word “progressive” has changed in America as the word “liberal” has. Modern progressives and liberals have little to nothing to do with the Progressives of the 1920s or the Liberals of the 19th century.

    “I can only conclude from your many posts that you are yourself an evangelical puritan of some description”

    Knock yourself out assuming what you like.

    “You might want to bear in mind though that the heart of industrialisation was not Quaker chocolate factories.”

    Indeed. But Abraham Darby had something to do with it.

    “Quakers and Methodists became Progressives became Garden City Socialists became the New Left became the Third Way.”

    Sure. As they stopped being Christians they took up Socialism instead.

    “Max Weber was wrong. It wasn’t the puritan element of protestantism that created capitalism. It was western Europe’s cultural legacy of proto-liberalism that did it.”

    That must be why Catholic countries in the south of Europe industrialised so fast and so easily. Or the north for that matter.

  9. Modern progressives and liberals have little to nothing to do with the Progressives of the 1920s or the Liberals of the 19th century.

    Curious assertion. You seem to be in some kind of denial here, presumably to erect an artificial barrier between the 19th century overtly religious puritans and the modern nominally secular ones like, er the intensely religious New Labour (Gordon Broon, son of the manse, or Tim’s friend Ritchie, the Quaker).

    There is a direct lineage. All these words- progressive, liberal, socialist, what have you, they mean different things to different people. So we can argue all day about them. The general movement starts with the evangelicals, turns into the Progressive movement, then dallies with marxism awhile, then turns into whatever we now choose to call them. As such, I tend to just call them all Progressives since they are of the same kidney, but you can call them what you like. The motivations and ideals- a state of social virtue created by collective action- are the same. The first wave Temperance Movement and the current second wave are the same social formation, for instance.

    The easiest way though is to just look at the current Progressive formations and it is quite clear that they are puritan in nature- the ascetic Greens, vegetarians, feminists (intensely Victorian puritan in the most stereotypical sense, that bunch), public health movement, and so on. There is direct and obvious ideological continuity.

  10. Now if you look at the footage of the Moon project, you see a lot of boring engineers who, no doubt, went home to the same wife every day and never even thought of cheating on her. Products of that Puritan culture you all hate so much.

    As someone with an engineering degree, I disagree with about every single statement here. Firstly, engineers, boring? What a philistine you are. Engineers get the best of both worlds, we get to appreciate the beauty of the humanities and the beauty of mathematics and science. Plus you’re talking about guys who were working on the frigging moon project! On what weird social scale is that boring? Don’t you even feel a little bit of whiff of excitement at the moon project? If the Puritan attitude is that engineering is boring then that’s another count against the Puritans.

    Secondly, engineers have affairs and get divorced like other people. I know of plenty of “complex” social relationships at engineering school. And lots of heavy drinking. Engineers include a wide range of political and lifestyle attitudes, while some engineers may be Puritans, it’s not the case that all engineers are Puritans. (And quite frankly, the ones who share your belief that engineering is boring tend to stop being engineers).

    Thirdly, Puritanism isn’t just about living your own life as suits you, it’s about trying to enforce your lifestyle on other people.

  11. He was a typical dork who took some advantage of the 1960s.

    I think you are using the English language in an unusal way:
    Typical: Exhibiting the qualities, traits, or characteristics that identify a kind, class, group, or category
    Dork: A stupid, inept or foolish person.

    Feynman: Noble-prize winning physicist.
    How is it remotely typical to win a Noble prize in Physics? How typical is it amongst Physicists?

    I can sort of understand the mindset to think that engineering is boring, though the inability to imagine that it might be interesting to anyone else shows a limited mind. But to think that Feynman mentally was typical of anything, or stupid, or inept or foolish, is torturing the English language.

    It takes a great deal of self mortification to spend twelve years in Higher Education after twelve years in school to roduce a PhD in engineering for instance.

    <sarcasm mode> Of course, it’s not like anyone could, you know, actually enjoy engineering. After all, according to SmfS, it’s all boring, and of course all engineers are boring, and it’s just like jolly nice that we have some people around who, out of a misplaced sense of Puritanism, are willing to do all this hard work to support Western civilisation, it’s not even remotely possible that they could be enjoying it. There’s nothing exciting, after all, when, after 10 days of painstaking debugging, screaming and tears, the project you’re working on finally works. And while we’re at it, it’s totally boring to be able to look at things and understand what’s going on behind them. </sarcasm mode>

  12. There is nothing wrong with living a Puritan lifestyle. Its wanting to impose it on others that should be a capital offence.

  13. <EmThere’s nothing exciting, after all, when, after 10 days of painstaking debugging, screaming and tears, the project you’re working on finally works.

    I’ve normally abandoned the project when the time comes to see if it works. Stay low, move fast.

  14. One of the reasons to develop space is that it will give somewhere for those who don’t want to be ruled by Luddite government parasites to go. That might even lead to the parasites being overthrown as the example of new innovative cultures sinks in.

    There are other reasons such as that it will make humanity immensely wealthy.

  15. So Much For Subtlety

    Tracy W – “As someone with an engineering degree, I disagree with about every single statement here. Firstly, engineers, boring? What a philistine you are.”

    Absolutely. I work on my philistinism as it happens. A lot of work went into that.

    “Plus you’re talking about guys who were working on the frigging moon project! On what weird social scale is that boring?”

    I didn’t say their work was boring. I said they were. Which to be honest they probably were.

    “Don’t you even feel a little bit of whiff of excitement at the moon project?”

    But engineers are often not as exciting as the stuff they work on.

    “If the Puritan attitude is that engineering is boring then that’s another count against the Puritans.”

    I have no idea if it is not. I suspect it isn’t. Does it matter?

    “Secondly, engineers have affairs and get divorced like other people.”

    Oh. My. God. The thought of engineers having affairs. Come on, you are being silly. It is kind of a pity this is being held up as something to aspire to, but I bet they don’t as often as other people do.

    “Engineers include a wide range of political and lifestyle attitudes, while some engineers may be Puritans, it’s not the case that all engineers are Puritans.”

    For some reason they have to decide they are going to spend years and years of studying, with little chance of meeting women, in order to qualify for their profession where they will not be paid all that much. In the meantime the jocks who beat them up in school are scoring babes. The unattractiveness of this career option is probably why so many of them come from even more puritanical Asian cultures these days.

    “Thirdly, Puritanism isn’t just about living your own life as suits you, it’s about trying to enforce your lifestyle on other people.”

    That is interesting because I didn’t notice anyone defining puritan either way.

  16. So Much For Subtlety

    Tracy W – “I think you are using the English language in an unusal way”

    And I think you are wasting my time by taking one small feature of Feynman’s life and blowing it up as if every other aspect of his life was lived on the same level in either an unintentional act of stupidity or a deliberate attempt at malice.

    The fact that Nobel prizes in Physics are often won by dorks does not mean they are not, in their general lives, dorks. It means some of them are really really smart. Which we knew.

    “I can sort of understand the mindset to think that engineering is boring, though the inability to imagine that it might be interesting to anyone else shows a limited mind.”

    So you not only insist on foisting on me an opinion I have never stated, you also insist on developing it further into a critique I have never made? Amazing. At what point is it reasonable to say that Affirmative Action is f**king up engineering because when I was a lad it was actually hard to get into and required brains?

    ” Of course, it’s not like anyone could, you know, actually enjoy engineering.”

    Really? And in those twelve years of high school and another decade of university, how much engineering do students actually do?

    “and it’s just like jolly nice that we have some people around who, out of a misplaced sense of Puritanism, are willing to do all this hard work to support Western civilisation, it’s not even remotely possible that they could be enjoying it.”

    Yes, it is nice that they are willing to do it. And no doubt they come to enjoy it when they finally finish. But when they are 14 they know nothing of the joys of engineering. Any more than a student starting out on the cello knows the pleasures of playing Bach properly. It takes years of repression, forgone pleasures and a lot of preparation before they do.

    I can forgive the stupidity and the refusal to read, but wasting my time like this is dumb.

  17. …….For some reason they have to decide they are going to spend years and years of studying, with little chance of meeting women, in order to qualify for their profession where they will not be paid all that much. In the meantime the jocks who beat them up in school are scoring babes…….

    So engineering degrees are longer than other subjects?

    Engineering is generally pretty well paid, and often a good stepping stone to senior management.

  18. SMFS has obviously never been to an engineers’ pub. Believe me, if everyone in this profession were as puritanical as he believes I’d have sought my laughs elsewhere and become an accountant.

    Actually, reading one’s history one finds that the ranks of evil (ie socialism) are filled with a curious and unholy mix of puritan prodnoses and libertines. About the only common trait they exhibit is a distinct lack of common sense – something even pissed up mining engineers at Madame Fifi’s can demonstrate.

  19. Where you guys are getting in a tizz is that you fail to appreciate that there’s a peculiar variety of puritanism that can derive from engineering that’s entirely different to the other sort.
    Engineering is an almost unique subject. It’s truths stay truths irrespective of progress. A physicist has to accept that his most cherished theories may one day be overturned. A biologist likewise. Engineers don’t. A Roman aqueduct was a superb piece of engineering. Today we might do it differently & maybe better but you could still build that Roman aqueduct in the same way with the same materials & it’d work just the same. Not only would it work any time. It’d work anywhere. Build it out of ice to transport liquid ammonia on Titan. No problem.
    Engineers enjoy this certainty & they’re apt to extend it to human affairs. Because something works in one situation they’re inclined to believe it’ll work in any situation. That there are definitive answers to problems, all they need is to be applied. Start thinking like that & it’s not long before you’ve designed a repressive puritan state designed to operate like a machine that you then force on others.

  20. To put it in more elegant terms; engineering principles are not falsifiable in intellectual terms. An aeroplane flies or it doesn’t. A building stays up or it falls down. You can’t make it collapse by thinking about it.
    Produces a unique worldview.

  21. SmfS Oh. My. God. The thought of engineers having affairs. Come on, you are being silly.

    Okay, so let me see, you claimed that the engineers who worked on the Moon project never even thought of cheating on their wives. I note that in my experience engineers do have affairs. And now you’re calling me silly for engaging with your arguments? Is this some sort of warning to me, that you are just making stuff up as you go along?

    So you not only insist on foisting on me an opinion I have never stated

    May I remind you that you said:

    It takes a great deal of self mortification to spend twelve years in Higher Education after twelve years in school to produce a PhD in engineering for instance.

    You also said:

    For some reason they have to decide they are going to spend years and years of studying, with little chance of meeting women, in order to qualify for their profession where they will not be paid all that much. … The unattractiveness of this career option

    Now what was that thought behind that, except that there could be no interest in doing engineering in its own right? If doing engineering is interesting in its own right, then it doesn’t require a great deal of self-mortification. If doing engineering is interesting in its own right, then there’s a reason to do it even if you don’t meet lots of women and aren’t paid all that much.

    Really? And in those twelve years of high school and another decade of university, how much engineering do students actually do?

    I presume you meant 12 years of school, not high school. The 13 years of school (high, intermediate and primary) I did was a sunk cost by the time I started my engineering degree, I took nearly as much maths and physics though as I could achieve at high school. The three years of my degree did involve a lot of engineering projects.

    But when they are 14 they know nothing of the joys of engineering. It takes years of repression, forgone pleasures and a lot of preparation before they do.

    This statement is false. By the time I was 14 I had been teaching myself to programme for about 3 years. And plenty of engineering students at uni had been spending that time bread-boarding circuits, souping up cars, etc. Why do you think that so many magazine and websites are devoted to hobbies like ham radio, etc, if there’s no interest in them until people have undergone years of repression, forgone pleasures and lots of preparation?

    You seem to have this idea that engineering is something that can only be done at some great advanced level. But the rewards start off earlier, anyone can try to get something working.

    I can forgive the stupidity and the refusal to read,

    I’m fine with you forgiving yourself for stupidity, we’re all stupid from time to time, but for the second part, how about, rather than forgiving yourself for refusing to read what you yourself wrote, you instead read what you wrote in the first place?

    … but wasting my time like this is dumb.

    I agree with you that wasting your time like this is dumb, but the fix is in your hands. You can either start making arguments that you expect people to engage with seriously (rather than ones that you yourself call silly), or you can set about learning from what I’ve already said. Personally, I enjoy the process of arguing for its own sake, and also responding to your misunderstandings is sharpening my understanding of the pleasures of engineering, so I’m not wasting my time at the moment, even if you are incapable of gaining anything from this.

  22. Yep, we do have a peculiar world view but you miss one important point: Engineers also know how to spot failures. When applied to the affairs of man, they tend to prompt questions like:

    If all previous attempts at creating a a repressive puritan state have failed why the chuff do idiots keep trying to create one?

    The problem is that at this point we generally decide humans are beyond redemption and retire to Madame Fifi’s for some refreshment and entertainment in a more convivial at,osphere.

  23. “Yep, we do have a peculiar world view but you miss one important point: Engineers also know how to spot failures.”
    A slight digression to illustrate this:

    Had to get a building control officer in to retrospectively OK a bit of construction. His first impression was that the thing was holding itself up by its own bootlaces. Was impossible. Well, we were both standing on it so that theory wasn’t going to fly. Spent the next hour helping him prove himself wrong to his profound satisfaction.
    Now imagine a similar situation with a tax accounting pretend economist of our acquaintance….

  24. It’s truths stay truths irrespective of progress. … Engineers don’t.

    It depends I guess on what you define truth as. Buildings sometimes collapse unexpectedly. And ideas about what is the best way of doing something change more frequently.

    More generally, it may well be right that engineers fall into the error of thinking an economy can be managed like a machine more often than those people in other subject areas. My objection here was to the idea that engineers are, in general, Puritans.

  25. A building collapses, first response of an engineer is to find out why & not make the same mistake again not continue constructing identical buildings in the hope that one will stay up. Socialism anyone?

    As for SMfS’s view of NASA & the Apollo Project, how much of that is garnered by public perception of NASA at the time. NASA was a child of the 50’s. The McCarthy years. A lot of its top people were ex-military. The’naughts came from military aviation. John (Mr Clean) Glenn. Clean white shirt(regulation pens in pocket) & tie was the uniform. What those guys did in their personal lives they kept to themselves on pain of losing their jobs

  26. To follow from #24 maybe that’s why so few engineers try to pontificate on social matters. (I’ll treat architects as a special case. Anyone whose had to sort out he problems architects cause knows why they’re regarded as artists with pretensions.)
    Contrast that with writers, painters, musicians, bloody fashion models FFS. All whose failure or success is subjective.
    When a bridge collapses it ain’t a subjective experience. Nobody asks “How was it for you?”

  27. SmfS, on the point of whether Feynman was a dork, I remind myself of my past experience that it’s generally pointless trying to argue about the meaning of words.
    I think what you meant was that Feynman was what I would call a nerd or a geek – ie someone very very smart, and engaged in technical matters, but perhaps with limited social skills. I consider that a compliment to a person.

    As for the typical point, well I suppose that going to topless bars is reasonably typical behaviour for a man. I’ll give you that one for Feynman.

    If you find engineers boring, I suspect that’s for the same reason that I find languages in conversations I don’t speak boring – because I don’t understand them.

  28. Feynman, by his own admission, was a bit socially inept in his early years. So, he did what a really, really smart person with an engineering or scientific mindset who was a bit socially inept would do: he sought out people who seemed to know what they were talking about, observed them, asked them how they did it, and then went off chasing girls around the various faculties he worked until he was notorious. He got his leg over more fillies than Lester Piggott.

    I think some people just can’t see the attraction of the power of really knowing how something works. We even have our own term for it: grokking. If you don’t by now grok quantum mechanics or software engineering or microwave comms then perhaps you never will know that feeling (I’ve done all three at the academic/professional level.) So I’m an engineer. I doubt very much that anyone who knows me well would class me as a conformist, and certainly not a puritan. In fact, from extended observation of the genus, I’d say libertarian/non-conformist attitudes are significantly more prevalent among engineers than among the general population, or indeed among that segment of the general population that is held to be roughly similarly situated (doctors, lawyers, accountants, people who write nonsense for the bloody awful tax-dodging Guardian – but I repeat myself.)

    There’s so much cool stuff out there. You can pick up a copy of Mathematica for $300 and go exploring the wilder shores of maths, just for kicks. Or take open source. I’ve worked on open source stuff, and I’ve worked with it. You can make money doing both. You can have a blast doing both. And if I’d been able to buy an Arduino microcontroller board to tinker with for $25 when I was 14 I’d have been very happy, in between doing all the other things that normal teenagers do. Instead I had to hand-code 6502 assembler language, but you’d better believe I knew the Commodore 64 kernel coming and going. I was an engineer then, and it was fun.

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