# Leonhard Euler, Denis Diderot, Augustus De Morgan, William Gillis, and the Weaponization of Scientific Knowledge Authority

There is a story, universally known to mathematicians, about Leonhard Euler, Denis Diderot, Catherine the Great, and the epistemological authority of mathematics. It apparently first appeared in English in Augustus De Morgan‘s book A Budget of Paradoxes:

Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of [Catherine the Great]. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the Court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The Empress was much amused, but some of her councillors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. The Empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest’s tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented: though the name of the mathematician is not given, it was Euler. He advanced towards Diderot, and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction: Monsieur, $\frac{(a + b^n)}{n} = x$, donc Dieu existe; repondez!1 Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.2

# How I’m Using Mastodon Now

This essay is not a review of anything, it’s not a polemic, it’s not aimed at convincing you to act or refrain from action, it’s not a comprehensive introduction to a subject — it’s certainly not advice! It’s not essential, it doesn’t generalize, and I’m not even choosing my words carefully.1 I’m only writing it to avoid writing the essay I’m writing to avoid writing the essay I know I have to write. But it’s more than just a way to avoid writing other stuff, it’s some things I wish I could have read about Mastodon a few months ago, so I thought I’d write them down for other people.

# Anarchism isn’t a fantasy and it’s not a political theory — it’s a collective name for whatever forms of society can exist without murder as a political tool

When people say anarchism is a fantasy I believe they’re thinking of the apparent impossibility of setting up an anarchist government, imposing it on people, voting it into place, getting everyone to agree to its terms. They’re thinking of what would have to precede the first day of anarchism if anarchism were to be somehow instituted somewhere. And of the difficulty of keeping anarchism in place, protecting it against threats, maintaining it. This is a mistake.

Anarchism begins when people stop being coerced whereas political systems rely on coercion both at their beginnings and for their maintenance. Forcing people to stop being coerced is a contradiction in terms. Anarchism can’t be instituted or put in place, it can only coalesce. Anarchism starts when people stop obeying authority. So how do we get to a society without coercion? What’s the path to the anarchist utopia?

# Don’t Take Crenshaw — The Physical and Racial Geography of Bette Davis’s Famous Joke About Fountain Avenue

Apparently Johnny Carson once asked Bette Davis to tell him the best way for a young actress to make it to Hollywood. Her response, now a hot but still deliciously subpop tagline for the tens of thousands of industry-adjacent hipsterati who have tattooed it into their flesh, named trendy cultural objects for it, painted murals incorporating it, splashed it across Twitter feeds and everywhere, was “take Fountain.”1

# The Relative Invisibility of Policing in Contemporary Capitalism

Skill improves with experience. An experienced artist may be able to paint with one quick line something that would previously have taken a whole canvas full of brushstrokes. This is an individual process, but it happens in society as well. Social systems also become more efficient with increasing experience.1 A shepherd with a dog, a fence, and an ATV can control more sheep of the sort bred to respond to those tools with less effort than could ever have been done without them. They’re all elements in a social system.2

Policing in the United States is also a social system, founded in the need to control enslaved human beings. The very visibility of the horrors of slavery, the constant terrorism required to hold human beings in bondage, was a weakness in the system. The enslavers’ legal technology didn’t constrain their brutality towards their victims, so any systemic restraint must have gone towards stability. Isolation of slaves was one solution to this problem, a solution adopted by England with the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which kept slaves out of sight in the Americas even as the blood soaked money continued to pour into the treasury.

# State Violence, The Diamond/Water Paradox, and an Invisible Axiom of Classical Economics

The diamond/water paradox is a name given to the fact that water has infinitely high use value but only minimal exchange value whereas roughly the opposite is true for diamonds. Apparently economists have been trying to untangle this putative problem for centuries, but my thesis is that it’s actually no problem at all. It seems paradoxical only because these economists have completely ignored the role of state violence in creating value and maintaining capitalism. Without state violence there would be no capitalist economy for them to study and prices of things would be very different than they are now.1

People need water, food, and shelter to survive. For a million years of human history people found countless successful ways to meet these needs directly, for themselves, their families, their communities, without being violently forced by zillionaires to cede a share of the value they created. Fundamentally, capitalism is possible only because if you charge money for those needs and kill anyone who tries to meet them without paying you can force masses of people to labor for your benefit.2

# Marqueece Harris-Dawson Really Got To The Heart Of The City’s Role In The Conflict Between Tenants And Landlords When Speaking Yesterday About The Just Cause Eviction Ordinance

Yesterday during the LA City Council’s discussion of the eviction moratorium Marqueece Harris-Dawson quietly made a really important and really radical point when questioning the deputy city attorney in attendance. He asked her if the law would mean that a landlord could evict a tenant for any reason “and [the City of Los Angeles will help [them].” She responded that “the City would be permitting that to happen.” The difference of course is that in MHD’s version the City plays an active role, the role of violent enforcer,1 whereas in the DCA’s version the City is like a passive referee, whose role is merely to regulate voluntary transactions between private parties.

He’s right, of course, and she’s lying. And I don’t mean she’s mistaken. The principle MHD is referring to is well-known to lawyers. It’s the principle on which the Supreme Court decided Shelley v. Kraemer. This is popularly known as the case which outlawed racial restrictions in real estate transactions, but that’s not exactly right. What the case did was outlaw government enforcement of racial restrictions in real estate contracts. Without state enforcement, which necessarily means violent enforcement, racially restrictive contracts, many of which still exist, are meaningless.

# Local control over land use may or may not be a bad idea but it’s not its racist origins that make it so

Have you heard that local control over land use1 is bad because it’s racist and was invented to promote white supremacy?2 I mean, I have too, but it’s a nonsensical position, not least because people with the power to pass laws in this country, and I don’t mean legislators especially, but the people who control legislators, are all white supremacists and have always been white supremacists.3 White supremacy is their ecological niche and they couldn’t survive outside it.

Every law they pass supports white supremacy in one way or another.4 This is a fact as true now as it was in the days when only slaveholding plantation owners were allowed in legislatures.5 If a law’s having been passed to support white supremacy were a reason to repeal it we’d have to repeal every law on the books.6 The constitution would have to go as well.7 That’s an extrinsic reason why the idea is nonsensical, but it’s also intrinsically nonsensical.

# If it’s actually true that building more homes makes the rent go down then it’s also true that intentionally keeping units vacant will increase profits

If you pay any attention to online housing discourse you’ve heard repeatedly that we can eliminate homelessness by just building more houses. The most idiotic versions of this theory rely on the (putatively obvious) idea that if the demand for a good is fixed then the price is roughly inversely proportional to the supply. My personal feeling about all theories like this is that they are framing phenomena created by state violence as if they were the result of universal natural laws, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them.

In particular we can learn that this supply/price assumption implies that under apparently normal market conditions landlords with more than a few units can maximize their profit by intentionally keeping apartments vacant to artificially restrict supply. If it’s actually true that increasing housing supply functionally decreases housing costs then all else being equal it will lead to house-hoarding. This appears to be a contradiction in the theory.