May 13th, 2014

Karl Popper, changer

The Austrian philosopher of science Karl Popper, who emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1930s (when he was in his late 30s) and then to London, had flirted with Communism in his youth. Actually, he more than flirted with it, although it was a whirlwind romance that lasted only a few months, came to a bad end, and had a profound effect on his life and his thinking thereafter:

[Popper] remembers that, although he was obviously dissatisfied with the society of its times, he was uneasy because the party obviously promoted a kind of murderous instinct against class-enemies: he was told, however, that this was necessary and that, in any case, it was not meant too seriously; also that in a revolution only victory can serve; and finally that under capitalism there are every day more victims than in the entire revolution. Popper notes that he agreed reluctantly, with the feeling that he had to pay a high price regarding his morality. Something similar happened regarding lies, as the leaders sometimes said one day white and the following day black; this would happen whenever they received a telegram from Moscow with the corresponding indications. When Popper protested, he was told that those contradictions were necessary and should not be criticized, as the unity of the party was essential for the triumph of revolution: although it was possible to commit mistakes, it was not allowed to criticize them openly, because only the discipline of the party could carry a fast victory. Popper remembers again that, although he reluctantly accepted this, he felt that he was sacrificing his personal integrity to the party, and that, when he realized that the leaders were disposed to contradict themselves at any moment, his attitude towards communism suffered a crisis

This is familiar, isn’t it? The slavish devotion to the Party over all, including rationality, was required. Young as he was at the time (age 17), Popper had trouble believing that 2 + 2 = 5, even when the Party demanded it.

The incident that was Popper’s turning point was a demonstration organized by the Communists, in which he took part and where quite a few people were killed by the police. He later wrote:

“I felt that as a Marxist I bore part of the responsibility for the tragedy -at least in principle. Marxist theory demands that the class struggle be intensified, in order to speed up the coming of socialism…”

…[T]he people dead, at least some of them, were young workers: Popper thought that other people who, like himself, were students or intellectuals, had special responsibility for those workers, who relied on the intellectuals. The other is that, as he said many years later, he had approved of the demonstration because it was supported by the communist party; he perhaps had even encouraged the participation of other people; and perhaps some of them were among the dead.

He was also upset by the attitude of the communist leaders. He asked himself whether he had discussed seriously and critically the Marxist theory which served as the basis for the sacrifice of human lives, and he recognized that he had not done it. However, when he arrived at the headquarters of the communist party, he realized that the leaders had an entirely different attitude: revolution made unavoidable the existence of such a type of victims, and furthermore this meant a kind of progress because workers would become every time more angry against the police and so they would become more and more aware of their real class-enemies. Popper’s reaction was clear: he never returned there, and this way, as he commented later, he escaped the Marxist trap…

…[H]e described it in his autobiography this way:

“I was shocked to have to admit to myself that not only had I accepted a complex theory somewhat uncritically, but I had also actually noticed quite a bit that was wrong, in the theory as well as in the practice of communism, but had repressed this -partly out of loyalty to “the cause”, and partly because there is a mechanism of getting oneself more and more deeply involved: once one has sacrificed one’s intellectual conscience over a minor point one does not wish to give up too easily; one wishes to justify the self-sacrifice by convincing oneself of the fundamental goodness of the cause, which is seen to outweigh any little moral or intellectual compromise that may be required. With every such moral or intellectual sacrifice one gets more deeply involved. One becomes ready to back one’s moral or intellectual investments in the cause with further investments. It is like being eager to throw good money after bad. I also saw how this mechanism had been working in my case, and I was horrified.”

I don’t think I’ve come across a better description of the thought process of one type of person who is often attracted to leftism: the idealist. Popper, a supremely rational man, also hated war and was attracted to what he perceived as the pacifism of the Communists (they weren’t really pacifists, but he didn’t know that at the time). For a while, then, as a teenaged activist, his desire to believe he was joining in a good cause trumped his rationality and his ethics, but soon both asserted themselves because they were so strong within him.

But it’s easy to see how other idealists, less rational and less ethical, could keep going for a long time in the Communist cause. And of course idealists are not the only people attracted to the left—there’s an entire group, among them usually the leaders, who are attracted not in spite of the cruelty and power but because of it.

The experience formed the basis of what became Popper’s life work:

This sufficed to make of Popper a fallibilist, strongly suspicious of pseudo-scientific creeds: the Marxist pseudo-scientific prediction of a necessary course of history was very dangerous, and the first condition that Popper would require in the future to any allegedly scientific theory was that it should be held with an attitude of intellectual modesty, namely an attitude that recognizes the magnitude of our ignorance and never forgets that our theories are always tentative and partial trials to progress. Scientific certainty had showed itself deceptive and should be replaced by an attitude of learning through our unavoidable mistakes. Now, mistakes would begin to be considered not as an evil, but as the way which prepares real progress.

28 Responses to “Karl Popper, changer”

  1. waitforit Says:

    As Kant found, so Popper,
    holding God not proper
    means man’s differential
    is truth inconsequential.

  2. Richard Walls Says:


    Thank you for sharing Popper’s thought evolution; I suspect many of us in our younger years were similarly seduced but saw the light as we gained real world experience. I’m not sure there is anything that can drive the stake through the Marxist heart forever; it seems to be invincible.

  3. sdferr Says:

    What does Popper seek? Scientific certainty. By means of making a problem of scientific certainty. It’s a strange business, this. Stranger still though, that about Popperian political teachings (political! Ha!) on the one hand we see the one Popperian adherent, George Soros, and on the other hand another Popperian adherent, Mark Levin. What the hell twist is this?

  4. waitforit Says:

    Soros, Greenwald, Assange, and Snowden:

    and this:

    . . . but Neo’s point is not on the morality or efficacy of Popper’s change, just that there was certainly at least quite some distance between the youthful ideas and the latter philosophy. The larger point being, perhaps, that the nature of leftism does often reveal itself to a thinker.

  5. DNW Says:

    Neo quoting Popper:

    ” … the first condition that Popper would require in the future to any allegedly scientific theory was that it should be held with an attitude of intellectual modesty, namely an attitude that recognizes the magnitude of our ignorance and never forgets that our theories are always tentative and partial trials to progress.”

    This notion of provisionality, and intellectual modesty has as far as I can see been abandoned by the politically ardent in the so-called scientific community.

    Not only is your productive life conceived of theirs to dispose of ultimately, but your beliefs as well.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that there will be any room for the scientifically, or at least technically ill-educated in the future. What this portends for the stupid, I’d rather not say.

    But plaintively appealing for their “rights” to people who have world shaping power, who laugh at their metaphysics, and who don’t seem inclined to listen to “pointless” explanations anyway, is a sure losers hand. The choice is to learn it or submit.

    The sputtering indignation of the slothful weak as they are subsequently bullied and done-to by the will-to-power strong, is an interesting phenomenon in its own way.

    ” … science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when ‘complete’ what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today”
    The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions, Alex Rosenberg

    “I argue in The Atheist’s Guide that all the science we need to answer the “persistent questions” that keep most thoughtful people up at night, are physics’ rejection of final causes, entelechies, prior designs in nature, along with the 2d law of thermodynamics. Those two are enough to give us natural selection, and together with them it is enough to solve all the other problems most people have about reality, the meaning of life, the nature of the mind, free will, ethics and the trajectory of human history.

    But these established parts of science are of course not enough to answer all the scientific questions about these matters. To answer the questions of science (quite different from the limited questions of philosophy that people commonly ask themselves and their religious “advisers”) requires all the rest of science, including the parts that are still subject to development, change, revision, and even in a few cases, revolution. But nothing at the frontiers of any science is going to overturn the 2d law of thermodynamics, natural selection or the basic molecular biology of the neuron.”

  6. Artfldgr Says:

    his desire to believe he was joining in a good cause trumped his rationality and his ethics, but soon both asserted themselves because they were so strong within him.

    asI keep saying… there are no changes
    there is only the waking up to the fact that what your a part of is not representative of you, and so, separation occurs.

    people rarely change, but they often switch sides based on their current state of knowing (whether valid or not – as knowing is a form of belief)

    but such is the scam of no substance, the cargo cultism of the process… and its fascination with satan (harvard canceled their black mass – harmons lucifer bringer of light, and even alinsky too)

    you can learn a lot by realizing that when we glom onto an archetype, we do so as it fits our thinking as to how things are or should be or something or else.

    there are lots of people who pick vampires as an archtype, but not many who pick barney the purple dinosaur…

    in the past, man argued about the truth
    today, we argue if the truth exists at all

    is it anywonder that this atheist group picks satan as someone to admire? given that athiesm is the real form of satanism (and black masses are just commical), its not such a far walk

    What we do not oppose, we tolerate.
    What we tolerate, we accept.
    What we accept, we praise.
    What we praise, we practice.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    Immanuel Kant was a real piss-ant who was very rarely stable,
    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar who could drink you under the table,
    David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine who was twice as sloshed as Schlegel.

    There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach yer ’bout the raising of the wrist,
    Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

    John Stewart Mill, of his own free will, on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill,
    Plato, they say, could stick it away, half a crate of whisky every day,
    Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle, Hobbes was fond of his dram,
    And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart: “I drink, therefore I am.”

    Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed –
    A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed.

  8. Gringo Says:

    Dodger, thanks for reminding us of Monty Python’s rendition of the Australian school of philosophy, as practiced at the University of Hullabaloo.

  9. Ymarsakar Says:

    A cause is like firing up omelets. Depending on the person in charge, it can turn black or it can turn delicious. And sometimes it may turn from delicious to black. Not often the other way around.

  10. Matt_SE Says:


    Both quotes show an amazing lack of awareness of scientific history.
    Many theories were thought of as “settled science”…right before they were overturned: classical mechanics vs. relativity, atomic or “particulate” theory vs. quantum uncertainty, propagation of waves in “ether” vs. Maxwell’s equations, etc.

    Science is never “settled,” because science isn’t a destination but a journey.

  11. Matt_SE Says:

    While we’re on the subject of scientific quotes:

    Richard P Feynman : “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    Too bad Popper pre-dated Feynman…he could’ve saved himself a lot of trouble.

  12. Beverly Says:

    Folks, I think you need to see this: someone got into the 2014 “White Privilege Conference” and did some filming and interviewing of the attendees, who are teachers and educators [sic] from across America. Glenn Beck posted it today.

    It’s mind-boggling. And very, very dangerous.

  13. Matt_SE Says:

    Notice that socialist belief required suppression of individual rationality. Popper was eventually turned when he examined his premises.
    The story also demonstrates the mechanism of reinforcement: appeals to emotion, coupled with peer-pressure exercised either explicitly or through social cues.

    I’ve recently been exploring the idea of “leftism as religion.” It is similar to an emotion in that it is “beyond proof,” but in a more formal structure.
    I was thinking about Boko Haram’s idea that “western education is sinful.” I suppose they view it as so because, essentially, rationality interposes between the individual and faith.
    It then struck me that this may be an explanation of the leftist worldview. It seems to explain why leftists are impervious to reason: because the exercise of goodthink is an outward expression of faith. By engaging in reason, one is signaling apostasy. The profession of faith makes one “good,” the opposite makes one “bad.”
    Under this rubric, any discussion one has with a leftist using reason to attack their doctrine is dismissed out-of-hand, because you’ve already proven that you’re “the Other.”

    If this hypothesis is true, then when engaging with leftists one cannot use reason to prove any point, assuming you’re trying to persuade them.
    How then, does one “argue” with them?

    I’m currently looking into the methods of cult de-programming, aka “exit counseling.” This is preliminary, but these seem to be some of the main traits:

    Abduction or Separation. Done in order to remove the person or “victim/liberal” from further influence. Not really possible for our general purposes.
    Intervention. Family members confront the person directly, demonstrating their concern. This “safe” environment sets up the person to talk to the de-programming counselor. Basically, you establish your emotional connection to them and bona fides.
    Cult Technique Introduction. “Exit counselors will introduce a cult member to other examples of cult techniques, including video taped rhetoric from other cult leaders or video of other cult members. This introduction has two purposes. First, it shows them that the tactics and techniques of their cult leader are not unique to them alone. Second, it establishes some doubt as to the purposes and ideas of their cult leader. Exit counselors avoid pushing clients through this technique, preferring to let them work their way through the information until they come to the same realization.”
    For our purposes, an example might be video of Joe Biden speaking to a “normal” (i.e. white) group of liberals, followed by video of his infamous “They gonna put y’all back in chains!” statement to a black audience.
    This shows his hypocrisy and condescension.
    Cult Leader. “A careful, objective review of the cult leader and their past is provided for the client. Exit counselors give them the opportunity to question anything about their cult leader or even the validity of the evidence.”
    Obviously, Obama.
    Message. “Exit counselors will examine the ideas behind a cult, discussing the message of the leader and the way they interpret information. In the case of a religious based cult, the counselor may discuss the Bible in an honest and forward manner, giving their client the opportunity to find the flaws in their cult leader’s message.”
    Discussion of liberalism itself. We probably already engage in this.


    This may all be impractical. I could be flat-out wrong to try modifying these techniques. But I think the central idea is worth exploring: We need to find ways of persuading liberals that don’t rely on rational argument. At least, not in the “traditional” ways.

    Unfortunately for the sake of this experiment (though usually a benefit to me), I have no regular contact with liberal friends. So if neo-neocon or others who do have contact with such people could tell me if this makes sense or resonates, I would be interested to hear your opinions.

  14. Beverly Says:

    The White Privilege Conference, by the way, is a teeming Petri dish of just this kind of distorted, twisted “thinking.”

    I noticed a couple of things about it. The large audience is almost entirely white. The handful of people of color sound exactly like the white academics: dialect, accents (shudder) and all.

    The underground cameraman got some clips of the keynote speakers that are pluperfect examples of the genre. And all are oozing with sanctimonious loathing of their fellow honkies.

  15. waitforit Says:

    There was a superb and challenging article some months ago that postulated the real racists are the white elite who, in actuality, fear blacks, but cannot bear that fact, and in order to deny it and to protect themselves, require everyone to appease, agree, placate, and reward blacks.

    This is the best weblink I can find, for some reason, but in any case, this issue again shows that what the leftists slander with is a truth applicable against them.

  16. Matt_SE Says:

    I think I read that one, waitforit.
    It postulated that gun control was really aimed at violent blacks, didn’t it?

  17. waitforit Says:

    yessir, it did, and about six other topics: junk food taxes, climate change, the welfare state, affirmative action, plastic bag bans, abortion, and nanny statism.

  18. Ymarsakar Says:

    I could be flat-out wrong to try modifying these techniques.

    De-brainwashing methods exist, but they generally only are effective on people who want to leave the cult but for various reasons can’t or won’t.

    A true believer or merely a Leftist zombie, aren’t vulnerable to most of the methods. And even if they were, the next day they return back to the cult propaganda, regenerate their damage, because the conservatives are “drip dripping” the msg over decades.

  19. Ymarsakar Says:

    I’m not sure there is anything that can drive the stake through the Marxist heart forever; it seems to be invincible.

    They are like trolls, they regenerate.

    Like the Hydra Hercules had to defeat in his 12 Labors to atone for evil done, so the same is true about American patriots fighting the Left’s hydra principle.

  20. waitforit Says:

    Karl Popper was a changer and God bless him for it, but it didn’t give him or Ted Cruz or anyone else the platform. Only One has that and only He can destroy the destroyers. Until then, we man the watchtowers on the walls of Babylon.\\

  21. waitforit Says:

    Who are you?
    jWhere did you come from?\
    i’VE GOT the goods!
    lYou make another\\
    lmillhouse kennedy!
    Piece of rock from SPACE!\
    the powered joan of arc’s ajaai//

  22. Maggie's Farm Says:

    Weds. morning links

    David Warren: Against Happiness How sex rules our dreams – Gritty, emotional, smelly and dirty: new evidence supports Freud’s long-debunked theory that sex fuels our dreams Why we should celebrate the blessing of ‘diversity of income’ – or, if you pr

  23. Tara Says:

    Read “The Abolition of Man” by CSLewis. All will be clear.

  24. Faceless Commenter Says:

    there is a mechanism of getting oneself more and more deeply involved: one wishes to justify the self-sacrifice … With every such moral or intellectual sacrifice one gets more deeply involved

    Very recently I heard the term “escalation of commitment” in connection with abusive relationships. It summed up precisely my reasons for staying in one for three years, which I always described in a wordy sort of way; I didn’t know therapists had pegged the behavior so nicely.

    And now thanks to this column I see the same thing in liberals.

    But the only way my “commitment” to my abuser ended was that HE dumped ME in the end. When an individual absolutely kicks you out of his life, you really have to go. When a political party or ideology spurns you again and again, you CAN keep going back, hoping that eventually you’ll “get the right people in there” or that other political circumstances will change in your favor.

    Alas, maybe the liberal trap is even harder to escape than the two-party “escalation of commitment.”

  25. Ymarsakar Says:

    In a two person unit, there are only 2 poles of authority. Thus when one authority is destroyed and villified, it loses its effect.

    A political party or movement can always make excuses that this leader or that leader wasn’t the right one, that they didn’t do things the Lenin Way or the Stalin Way or whatever.

    So they can, yes, always find a new cult leader when the old one proves to be disloyal or broken or non useful PR wise.

    It’s because once evil is added to the mix, corruption becomes self sustaining, like capital creation in wealth via free market. Except evil doesn’t create minions, it corrupts existing resources. In a single political party, any single individual can become the leader, thus no single person’s death can wipe out an organization that can put anyone in power.

    The Democrats discovered that by creating a mythological culture of superiority in white Southerners, they could utilize propaganda and psychological control to get Southerners to fight for slavery, even though 1% of people, Democrats, owned slaves. A democracy, a perfect example of 99% of the population sacrificing their lives and freedom so that 1% of the true rulers benefit.

    A normal social political organization would recognize the problem and fix it. But like the black slaves of Democrats in modern US cities, the problems are obvious but not so obvious that the slaves accept them. It’s because the whip of the master is always there punishing anyone that steps out of line. It’s almost impossible to get the kind of social consensus and uniformity found in Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan WWII, Democrat Old South, or modern black and Jewish US voting demographics, without intense intimidation, control, and punishment via mind control.

  26. Beverly Says:

    The Democrats discovered that by creating a mythological culture of superiority in white Southerners, they could utilize propaganda and psychological control to get Southerners to fight for slavery, even though 1% of people, Democrats, owned slaves.

    The 1% figure is right. BUT the rest of the Southerners fought for INDEPENDENCE FROM THE LOATHED YANKEES.

    They didn’t give a crap about the slaves one way or the other. I oughta know: my family have been Southerners since 1607.

  27. Ymarsakar Says:

    BUT the rest of the Southerners fought for INDEPENDENCE FROM THE LOATHED YANKEES.

    That’s what the decision makers at the top told them and convinced them. But nobody except the pro slavery secessionists, wrote and voted on secession.

    They certainly didn’t get the vote of the Confederation’s greatest military leaders to see what they thought about a war.

  28. Ymarsakar Says:

    The Democrats of this time and day don’t give a cra about equal rights either, but their cannonfodder sure think differently.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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