Déjà Vu

“Periodic sackings are part and parcel of living in a major city.”

Honorius, 410 A.D.

Across The Great Divide

Well, here is something quite remarkable for our time: an actual “conversation about race” in which two people, with completely incommensurable axioms and worldviews, discuss the topic for a full hour without shouting each other down, or resorting to violence. (Astonishingly, there isn’t even any mention of Hitler.) The interlocutors are Jared Taylor, of American Renaissance, and one Amna Nawaz of ABC News — who, if it isn’t too simplistic to describe the landscape this way, neatly represent entirely opposite poles of contemporary Western social thought.

They do not, of course, alter one another’s views on the subject one iota, but they actually do manage to sit across from one another for an hour and just talk. (Right past each other, like a couple of neutrinos.)

Will this help anything? No, because their worldviews are, as I said above, incommensurable. It quickly becomes clear that Mr. Taylor and Ms. Nawaz can’t agree about the most basic values and units and categories by which any human mind frames and organizes and measures the world. There is almost no common ground even regarding truth itself — moral, historical, biological, cultural, political or otherwise. But at least the encounter, however futile, proceeded with a brittle civility, which is far better than usual for this sort of thing.

I won’t score the “debate” — what would be the point? (Well, OK, maybe I’ll just say that I think that Mr. Taylor’s presentation is far more consistent, and far better grounded in history and human nature, than Ms. Nawaz’s, which rests almost entirely on the tenets of the modern West’s dominant universalist religion.) Mainly I offer it as a gloomy example of how little commonality there is between these radically antagonistic visions of reality, and how little chance of any “conversation” making any difference to anything. Keep in mind that this entirely unproductive interview is as good as it gets.

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This is hilarious.

Roll Over, Beethoven

I was saddened yesterday to hear that Chuck Berry had died. (He was 90, and so it was bound to happen soon, but it was a jolt nevertheless.)

He was a majestic, and majestically stationary, feature of my generation’s musical landscape. He was always there, a great peak on its eastern horizon, and the shadow he threw across it at the dawn of rock music never seemed to grow any shorter.

He made his first record a year before I was born, and was already venerable by the time I started listening attentively to this nascent musical form, beginning in the early 60s. Probably my introduction to Chuck Berry’s music was the Beatles’ early covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock And Roll Music, but trying to remember exactly when you first heard a Chuck Berry song is, for an American musician of my age, like trying to remember your first cheeseburger.

He was a tremendously influential innovator, but unlike some of the artists he influenced — most notably, the Beatles — having discovered a new and fertile continent, he made himself comfortable at the water’s edge and remained there. But everyone who came later to explore and improve this new world did so by way of the city he founded, and they all picked up the local accent.

Here’s an example of that: Chuck Berry schooling a disciple you may recognize.

I’m sorry he’s gone, and grateful that he lived. Wish I could’ve watched him duckwalking through the Pearly Gates.

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Arms Race

We’ve devoted some space lately to the mutated and camouflaged religion (and not just any religion!) that goes by the name of Progressivism. (Once you’ve spotted it, you can’t un-see it; it’s as plain as this owl.)

But why the camo in the first place? Moldbug explains:

The question is: why? How did we fall for this? How did we enable an old, well-known strain of Christianity to mutate and take over our minds, just by discarding a few bits of theological doctrine and describing itself as “secular”? (As La Wik puts it: “Despite occasional confusion, secularity is not synonymous with atheism.” Indeed.)

In other words, we have to look at the adaptive landscape of ultracalvinism. What are the adaptive advantages of crypto-Christianity? Why did those Unitarians, or even “scientific socialists,” who downplayed their Christian roots, outcompete their peers?

Well, I think it’s pretty obvious, really. The combination of electoral democracy and “separation of church and state” is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity.

As I’ve said before, separation of church and state is a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. What you really need is separation of information and security. If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it’s a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer. Game over, you lose, and it serves you right for vaccinating against a nonfunctional surface protein.

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A Dangerous Place

The strategic-security situation has been a neglected topic here for a while. Time to catch up a little.

One of the most septic, and possibly most infectious, areas of conflict at the moment is Yemen, the site of a deepening proxy war between Islam’s major players. The nation is completely dysfunctional, with almost no chance of recovery, and it is a stronghold of al-Qaeda — an organization that is anything but “on the run”.

Recently the analyst Thomas Joscelyn testified before the Senate Foreign Relations committee on the situation in Yemen. His report is here. He was also interviewed by John Batchelor, and you can listen to the discussion here.

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Who Rules?

The political right is aboil over the latest judicial interference with President Trump’s efforts temporarily to restrict immigration from dangerous and unstable Muslim territories. The question is framed in terms of a heated battle for sovereignty in America, with the sense that the judiciary — which is to say, individual judges, with nothing to check their power, and keep them from going “rogue” — now seems to have the upper hand, in ways that the Framers never would have condoned, or even imagined possible

There is good reason to be concerned — although in this instance the law, especially the history of related case law, is far more complex than you might realize. Writing at Lawfare, Josh Blackman has offered a detailed analysis of these legal arcana, in three parts.

Part I discusses the Immigration and Nationality Act, Part II covers due process, and Part III looks at the Establishment Clause.

The posts are technical, long and detailed — but as we all know, the details are where the Devil is.

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Can Progressivism Really Be A Kind Of Religion?

William Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, having read my own recent item on William Deresciewicz’s article about Progressivism-as-religion, has just offered a post expressing his disagreement.

Bill writes:

It is true that leftism is like a religion in certain key respects. But if one thing is like another it does not follow that the first is a species of the other. Whales are like fish in certain key respects, but a whale is not a fish but a mammal. Whales live in the ocean, can stay underwater for long periods of time and have strong tails to propel themselves. Just like many fish. But whales are not fish.

I should think that correct taxonomies in the realm of ideas are just as important as correct taxonomies in the realm of flora and fauna.

These are fair points. I think, however, that a historical study of Progressivism reveals a much closer cladistic relation between the modern Left and a certain strain of American Protestantism than exists between whales and fish: it is more, I think, like a lungfish that has learned to live out of water. The question “at what point is such an animal no longer a fish?” is an interesting one, and Bill would likely insist that living in water is essential to being a fish; but I’ll say that if the move is recent enough that the critter still has its scales and fins and gills — and if its mommy was a fish! — then the distinction is much less clear.

Bill continues:

Leftism is an anti-religious political ideology that functions in the lives of its adherents much like religions function in the lives of their adherents. This is the truth to which Prager alludes with his sloppy formulation, “leftism is a religion.” Leftism in theory is opposed to every religion as to an opiate of the masses, to employ the figure of Karl Marx. In practice, however, today’s leftists are rather strangely soft on the representatives of the ‘religion of peace.’ (What’s more, if leftism were a religion, then, given that leftism is opposed to religion, it follows that leftism is opposed to itself, except that it is not.)

Or you could say that leftism is an ersatz religion for leftists. ‘Ersatz’ here functions as an alienans adjective. It functions like ‘decoy’ in ‘decoy duck.’ A decoy duck is not a duck. A substitute for religion is not a religion. Is golf a religion? Animal rescue?

My quibble with this is that it appears, implicitly, to assign all of the taxonomic distinction to the single feature of religion that modern secular Progressivism explicitly rejects: theistic metaphysics. For this reason Bill applies the alienans adjective ‘ersatz’. I would, instead, describe Progressivism as a ‘non-theistic’ religion, or a crypto-religion. In this sense the adjective functions more in the way ‘electric’ does in ‘electric guitar’. The electric guitar is a cladistic descendant of the original ‘acoustic’ form of the instrument, and has so many features in common with it that it seems wrong not to think of it as a kind of guitar, despite its not having a hollow body shaped and braced to amplify and project its sound.

As for Leftism being ‘anti-religious’, it is of course overtly so, but with a peculiar fervor that is, I think, strongly reminiscent of the bitter sectarian enmities we see among conventional religions. If you see the secular Left as being itself a masked religion, then one begins to see it as anti-‘religious’ in the same way that Protestants are anti-Catholic, Sunnis are anti-Shi’ite, etc.

We might say that there is in the human cognitive apparatus a religious module that can handle a variety of inputs, but which produces similar output, and that there is a universal tendency for it to want to latch onto something.

Bill writes:

Now let’s consider the criteria that Deresiewicz adduces in support of his thesis that the elite liberal schools are religious. There seem to be two: these institutions (i) promulgate dogmas (ii) opposition to which is heresy. It is true that in religions there are dogmas and heresies. But communism was big on the promulgation of dogmas and the hounding of opponents as heretics.

Communism, however, is not a religion. At most, it is like a religion and functions like a religion in the lives of its adherents. As I said above, if X is like Y, it does not follow that X is a species of Y. If colleges and universities today are leftist seminaries — places where the seeds of leftism are sown into skulls full of fertile mush — it doesn’t follow that these colleges and universities are religious seminaries. After all, the collegiate mush-heads are not being taught religion but anti-religion.

On the view I’m offering above, Communism simply hijacked the religion module with some novel input. And while Bill is right that “if X is like Y, it does not follow that X is a species of Y”, it also does not follow that if X is like Y, X is not a species of Y. It may or may not be.

Bill mentions environmental extremism:

Pace Deresiewicz, there is nothing religious or “sacred” about extreme environmentalism.

No? I took up this point two years ago:

The mythos, from Genesis to Redemption, has been transplanted almost entirely without alteration:

In the beginning, there was only God.

From God arose Man.

Before his Fall, Man lived simply, and in perfect harmony with God. It was a Paradise on Earth.

Then a disaster happened. Man acquired a new kind of Knowledge: knowledge that he did not need, but that conferred upon him enormous temptation. In his unwisdom, and against God’s wishes, Man succumbed. His new Knowledge gave him great power, but at a terrible cost: he had turned his back on God, and his Paradise was lost. In his exile, he would wield his ill-gained power in prideful suffering and woe.

But then came a Messenger, offering the possibility of Redemption: if Man were to renounce his awful Knowledge, and learn once again to surrender himself to the love of God, he would be forgiven, and could find his way back to Paradise. It would not be easy — it would require that he make terrible sacrifices, atone for his many sins, and give up his worldly comforts and much that he had come to love — but if his faith was strong, his Salvation could become a reality, and he could once again live in Paradise, in sweet communion with God.

In order to move from the old religion to the new one, we need only substitute “Nature” for “God” in the passages above. That the two conceptions are almost perfectly isomorphic, and that both are manifestations of the same underlying impulse, should be plainly evident. But perhaps one must be a heretic oneself to notice it.

Very shortly afterward, I had further confirmation from a top-tier environmentalist, Rajendra Pachauri, the director of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who said the following thing:

[T]he protection of planet earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.

Pace Bill, that seems pretty religious to me.

But the objections raised are good ones. If I want to say that X is a species of Y, then I should have some good reasons for doing so. Here are some that I had just offered in a response to our commenter Jacques, just before I saw Bill’s post:

In characterizing Progressivism as a religion I have in mind several things, for example:

1) The sacralization of various objects and concepts, such that an insufficiently worshipful attitude toward them is considered blasphemous;

2) The soteriological aspect of Progressivism, which aims always at some unattainable Utopia that is forever just out of reach;

3) The characterizing of dissenters as not just intellectual opponents, but as sinners and heretics embodying actual evil;

4) The important role of faith;

5) The suppression of factual inquiry in areas where articles of faith may be threatened;

6) The extent to which political and cultural norms and aims are expressed in terms of sin and atonement;

7) The historical (and behavioral) continuity of modern Progressivism with early American Protestantism, in a traceable sequence that retains the Puritan “mission into the wilderness” while gradually becoming more and more secularized and worldly.

I would agree that the religious impulse is well-nigh universal, and in that sense a great many outwardly secular worldviews might be seen as religious. I think, however, that Progressivism needs “outing” as such, especially given how many of the features of religion it instantiates, and how often it manifests outspoken hostility to traditional religions. (If nothing else, once you see it clearly as a crypto-religion the whole thing makes a lot more sense, and I like to help make sense of things.)

Finally, Bill lists some individual qualities that he considers essential to religion. They are:

1. The belief that there is what William James calls an “unseen order.” (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is a spiritual reality. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.

I’m not sure that Progressivism fails to meet this criterion. In particular I think that the Progressive belief in a kind of supernatural moral telos is plainly evident in phrases like “the right side of history” and “the arc of the moral universe bends toward Justice”.

2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that “our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves” to the “unseen order.” (Varieties, p. 53)

See above. See also where failing to “adjust” will get you on a college campus these days. (Or ask Charles Murray.) If adjusting to the unseen order is the supreme good, then willfully refusing to do so is to choose evil. This is clearly consistent with the way heretics like Murray are treated.

3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.

Is this not plainly evident, for example, in the ethnomasochistic self-abasement of liberal whites for their own racism? Is this charge of moral deficiency not made on every page of Howard Zinn’s Progressive Bible, A People’s History of the United States? Is it not at the core of radical environmentalism, as noted above?

4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.

This is exactly, for example, what whites are now told about their racism: that no matter how hard they try, they will always be racist, in ways they can never see or fully understand, simply because they are white.

5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.

Such as this. Or this.

6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.

Well, God is off-limits. But we can get pretty close.

7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.

I don’t think you could speak seriously about “the arc of the moral universe” without believing something like that.

In sum: the only salient difference, as far as I can see, between 21st-century Progressivism and conventional definitions of ‘religion’ is the absence of an explicit and supernatural concept of God — a concept that, if we look back at the centuries-long evolution and mutation of New England Protestantism in America, was gradually leached out (and, I would say, did not die, but went underground), leaving the sense of a sacred and urgent “mission” completely intact.

While we may dispute what does and doesn’t constitute a correctly defined “religion”, Progressivism is, in effect, a religion to the people who espouse it: it activates all the same behaviors, dispositions, and cognitive postures. What we might call the “religious stance” is, I believe, the most accurate way for the rest of us to confront it.

I doubt I will change Bill’s mind here (never an easy thing to do!), but I hope I’ve at least shown that there’s room for reasonable disagreement.

Comments are welcome.

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The Weaker Sex

Just ran across this: a study of hand-grip strength showed that 95% of males are stronger than 90% of females.

The abstract:

Hand-grip strength has been identified as one limiting factor for manual lifting and carrying loads. To obtain epidemiologically relevant hand-grip strength data for pre-employment screening, we determined maximal isometric hand-grip strength in 1,654 healthy men and 533 healthy women aged 20–25 years. Moreover, to assess the potential margins for improvement in hand-grip strength of women by training, we studied 60 highly trained elite female athletes from sports known to require high hand-grip forces (judo, handball). Maximal isometric hand-grip force was recorded over 15 s using a handheld hand-grip ergometer. Biometric parameters included lean body mass (LBM) and hand dimensions. Mean maximal hand-grip strength showed the expected clear difference between men (541 N) and women (329 N). Less expected was the gender related distribution of hand-grip strength: 90% of females produced less force than 95% of males. Though female athletes were significantly stronger (444 N) than their untrained female counterparts, this value corresponded to only the 25th percentile of the male subjects. Hand-grip strength was linearly correlated with LBM. Furthermore, both relative hand-grip strength parameters (Fmax/body weight and Fmax/LBM) did not show any correlation to hand dimensions. The present findings show that the differences in hand-grip strength of men and women are larger than previously reported. An appreciable difference still remains when using lean body mass as reference. The results of female national elite athletes even indicate that the strength level attainable by extremely high training will rarely surpass the 50th percentile of untrained or not specifically trained men.

I post this à propos of nothing in particular, other than as a general reminder that there are indeed natural categories in the world — and that they are not, post-modernist hallucinations notwithstanding, infinitely interchangeable. I’m sure some readers will find it intensely irritating.

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Magna Est Veritas

The insight that modern Progressivism is best understood as a religion (especially in the concentrated form it takes in the college campuses from which it emanates to the broader society) seems suddenly to be en vogue. (We reactionary types have been hammering this point for years, so it’s nice to see the truth prevail a bit.)

Here’s Andrew Sullivan, who also correctly notes the similarity of today’s Puritans to the original ones. (This is no coincidence; the apple does not fall far from the tree.) And here’s Frank Bruni in the Times.

That a lefty like Mr. Bruni should lament the current phase in the natural evolution of an entropic and descending ideology is further evidence of the “delamination” of the left that I mentioned in the previous post. He will also get no sympathy from us: this, Mr. Bruni, is the future you chose.

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There Is A Tide

In order correctly to understand the modern Left, it’s important to recognize it as a secularized religion. Tracing the development of this religion, from its origins in Protestantism, then Puritanism, then through its many transmutations in America — from sixteenth-century Massachusetts, through its northern and western Protestant expansion, through the “Awakenings” of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, through the secularizing influence of Univeralism and Unitarianism, through the sequential attachments of its “mission into the wilderness” to various sacred causes such as abolition, Prohibition, women’s suffrage, global government, desegregation, feminism, environmentalism, Blank-Slate biological universalism, open borders, LBGT-etc. activism, and global warming, to name some salient examples — has been a major project of the dissident and reactionary Right over the past couple of decades. I’ve written about it often.

The leftmost edge of the Left has accelerated sharply leftward in recent years. This has exerted tidal stresses on what was never a monolithic cultural bloc to begin with, and the laminae are starting to pull apart — with the result that many old-fashioned and relatively moderate liberals are beginning to see for themselves the unmistakable features of a fundamentalist and authoritarian religion beneath the contours of what they had previously imagined to be nothing more than a compassionate and humanistic political attitude. Given that many of these sorts pride themselves on their atheism, to see that they have been associated with a religion is immediately to declare apostasy.

Such a man is the essayist William Deresciewicz, who describes himself as “an atheist, a democratic socialist, a native northeasterner, a person who believes that colleges should not have sports teams in the first place—and … a card-carrying member of the liberal elite.” He is, however, appalled to detect a religion taking control of our academic institutions, and has written a good essay at The American Scholar to say so. You should read the whole thing, but I will offer a few excerpts.

Here’s the point, simply stated:

Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.

Some of us would say that he could be more specific — that in fact we are looking at a warped and camouflaged form of Calvinism here — but to see that this is very clearly and unmistakably a religion at all is the most important insight, and Mr. Deresciewicz has made it.

He continues (my emphasis):

What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.

Precisely correct. And where there is religion, there is heresy:

Which brings us to another thing that comes with dogma: heresy. Heresy means those beliefs that undermine the orthodox consensus, so it must be eradicated: by education, by reeducation—if necessary, by censorship.

… “The religion of humanity,” as David Bromwich recently wrote, “may turn out to be as dangerous as all the other religions.”

Mr. Deresciewicz also notes the tip, at least, of the anti-white iceberg:

It has long struck me in leftist or PC rhetoric how often “white” is conflated with “wealthy,” as if all white people were wealthy and all wealthy people were white. In fact, more than 40 percent of poor Americans are white. Roughly 60 percent of working-class Americans are white. Almost two-thirds of white Americans are poor or working-class. Altogether, lower-income whites make up about 40 percent of the country, yet they are almost entirely absent on elite college campuses, where they amount, at most, to a few percent and constitute, by a wide margin, the single most underrepresented group.

He also looks at the relative powerlessness of university faculties:

In the inevitable power struggle between students and teachers, the former have gained the whip hand. The large majority of instructors today are adjuncts working term to term for a few thousand dollars a course, or contract employees with no long-term job security, or untenured professors whose careers can still be derailed. With the expansion of Title IX in 2011—the law is now being used, among other things, to police classroom content—even tenured faculty are sitting with a sword above their heads. Thanks not only to the shift to contingent employment but also to the chronic oversupply of PhDs (the academic reserve army, to adapt a phrase from Marx), academic labor is cheap and academic workers are vulnerable and frightened. In a conflict between a student and a faculty member, almost nothing is at stake for the student beyond the possibility of receiving a low grade (which, in the current environment, means something like a B+). But the teacher could be fired. That is why so many faculty members, like that adjunct instructor at Scripps, are teaching with their tails between their legs. They, too, are being silenced. Whether they know it or not, student activists (and students in general) are exploiting the insecurity of an increasingly immiserated workforce. So much for social justice.

The author’s apostasy from this cryptoreligion is incomplete: while its promise of Heaven may be false, he still fears its Hell. For example, there’s this:

Students have as much merit, in general, as their parents can purchase (which, for example, is the reason SAT scores correlate closely with family income).

The” reason? That there is a far more obvious one, grounded in simple and evident facts of human difference and heredity, makes this a museum-quality sample of cult-Marx Blank-Slatism. But I quibble: that a self-described “card-carrying member of the liberal elite” should write an essay like this at all is impressive, and heartening.

It is, also, just maybe, encouraging as well. Here’s why:

I (and others) have argued that because of the radical skepsis at the heart of the modern Left — the legacy of the Enlightenment, in which nothing is exempt from the most withering and critical scrutiny — that there is no limiting principle, no bedrock, upon which this implacably descending ideological movement can ultimately come to rest.

(Two years ago I likened this to the collapse of massive stars. We might also borrow a different astronomical metaphor: it’s as if the Left, as it approaches its own singularity, is now crossing its Roche limit, where tidal forces begin to tear it to pieces.)

If, as the process accelerates, the Left continues to delaminate and disintegrate, perhaps only a smaller and smaller core will tumble into the abyss — as others, such as Mr. Deresciewicz, find bedrock, at last, below which they cannot descend.

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The Principle Of Least Action

“The ordinary man prefers easy ways so long as they may be followed, and is almost willfully heedless whether they end at last in a cul-de-sac.”

— H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, p. 359

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The Much-Needed Gap

Here‘s Christina Hoff Sommers on the widespread and persistent myth of the sexist “wage gap”.

Spooks, Rebukes, And Kooks

There is a fascinating spin war taking place over possible government surveillance of the Trump campaign. According to multiple sources, including the New York Times, there were wiretaps, and there were also at least two applications for surveillance to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts — one in June that was refused, and one in October that was granted. There have been multiple leaks and references to intercepted communications. General Mike Flynn has already been defenestrated as a result, and Jeff Sessions is under pressure. (Needless to say, to leak such material is a felony.)

Last week Mark Levin made all of this the subject of his evening radio show, and the next day Donald Trump complained about it in a tweet. For Mr. Levin’s trouble, he’s been lambasted as a deranged right-wing conspiracy theorist, and former National Security Director James Clapper went so far as to say on Sunday that the FISA-authorized surveillance didn’t even happen.

All that Mr. Levin did, however, was to comment on widespread reporting from the Times and other (ostensibly) reliable sources. It certainly seems as if the surveillance story was a popular one when it looked bad for Mr. Trump and his people, but is being backpedaled hard now that it the opposition is using it to cast an unfavorable light on the Obama administration (that is, for using the power of government to snoop on the opposing party’s candidate during a presidential election. Which would be bad).

(Speaking of the Obama administration, they did two remarkable things in their last days: one, Loretta Lynch signed an order greatly expanding the circle of agencies that can receive this sort of (very secret) intelligence without violating privacy laws, and two, the administration “scrambled” to spread the information as far and wide as they could.)

The story is murky and complex, and still very much in motion. I have no idea what the truth is. I do, however, have an excellent article for you that explains some of the legal arcana. A longish excerpt:

Here are the problematic aspects of the Obama surveillance on Trump’s team, and on Trump himself. First, it is not apparent FISA could ever be invoked. Second, it is possible Obama’s team may have perjured themselves before the FISA court by withholding material information essential to the FISA court’s willingness to permit the government surveillance. Third, it could be that Obama’s team illegally disseminated and disclosed FISA information in direct violation of the statute precisely prohibiting such dissemination and disclosure. FISA prohibits, under criminal penalty, Obama’s team from doing any of the three.

At the outset, the NSA should have never been involved in a domestic US election. Investigating the election, or any hacking of the DNC or the phishing of Podesta’s emails, would not be a FISA matter. It does not fit the definition of war sabotage or a “grave” “hostile” war-like attack on the United States, as constrictively covered by FISA. It is your run-of-the-mill hacking case covered by existing United States laws that require use of the regular departments of the FBI, Department of Justice, and Constitutionally Senate-appointed federal district court judges, and their appointed magistrates, not secretive, deferential FISA courts.

Out of 35,000+ requests for surveillance, the FISA court has only ever rejected a whopping 12. Apparently, according to published reports, you can add one more to that — even the FISA court first rejected Obama’s request to spy on Trump’s team under the guise of an investigation into foreign agents of a pending war attack, intelligence agents apparently returned to the court, where, it is my assumption, that they did not disclose or divulge all material facts to the court when seeking the surveillance the second time around, some of which they would later wrongfully disseminate and distribute to the public. By itself, misuse of FISA procedures to obtain surveillance is itself, a crime.

This raises the second problem: Obama’s team submission of an affidavit to to the FISA court. An application for a warrant of any kind requires an affidavit, and that affidavit may not omit material factors. A fact is “material” if it could have the possible impact of impacting the judicial officer deciding whether to authorize the warrant. Such affidavits are the most carefully drawn up, reviewed, and approved affidavits of law enforcement in our system precisely because they must be fully-disclosing, forthcoming, and include any information a judge must know to decide whether to allow our government to spy on its own. My assumption would be that intelligence officials were trying to investigate hacking of DNC which is not even a FISA covered crime, so therefore serious questions arise about what Obama administration attorneys said to the FISA court to even consider the application. If the claim was “financial ties” to Russia, then Obama knew he had no basis to use FISA at all.

Since Trump was the obvious target, the alleged failure to disclose his name in the second application could be a serious and severe violation of the obligation to disclose all material facts. Lastly, given the later behavior, it is evident any promise in the affidavit to protect the surveilled information from ever being sourced or disseminated was a false promise, intended to induce the illicit surveillance. This is criminalized both by federal perjury statutes, conspiracy statutes, and the FISA criminal laws themselves.

That raises the third problem: it seems the FISA-compelled protocols for precluding the dissemination of the information were violated, and that Obama’s team issued orders to achieve precisely what the law forbids, if published reports are true about the administration sharing the surveilled information far-and-wide to promote unlawful leaks to the press. This, too, would be its own crime, as it brings back the ghost of Hillary’s emails — by definition, FISA information is strictly confidential or it’s information that never should have been gathered. FISA strictly segregates its surveilled information into two categories: highly confidential information of the most serious of crimes involving foreign acts of war; or, if not that, then information that should never have been gathered, should be immediately deleted, and never sourced nor disseminated. It cannot be both.

Recognizing this information did not fit FISA meant having to delete it and destroy it. According to published reports, Obama’s team did the opposite: order it preserved, ordered the NSA to search it, keep it, and share it; and then Obama’s Attorney General issued an order to allow broader sharing of information and, according to the New York Times, Obama aides acted to label the Trump information at a lower level of classification for massive-level sharing of the information. The problem for Obama is simple — if it could fit a lower level of classification, then it had to be deleted and destroyed, not disseminated and distributed, under crystal clear FISA law. Obama’s team’s admission it could be classified lower, yet taking actions to insure its broadest distribution, could even put Obama smack-middle of the biggest unlawful surveillance and political-opponent-smear campaign since Nixon. Except even Nixon didn’t use the FBI and NSA for his dirty tricks.

Watergate would have never happened if Nixon felt like he could just ask the FBI or NSA to tape the calls.

Please go and read the whole thing, here.

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Omelet, Eggs

Roger Scruton, speaking of the evolutionary origins of human morality:

“Morality is like a field of flowers beneath which the corpses are piled in a thousand layers.”

Trouble In Paradise

Here is an interview of Daily Mail reporter Katie Hopkins by Tucker Carlson. Ms. Hopkins describes her recent trip to Sweden.

By the way, speaking of Sweden and Tucker Carlson, here’s John Derbyshire’s understanding of Donald Trump’s recent “last night in Sweden” remark that set off such a commotion:

It happened that Tucker Carlson over at Fox News, which the President is known to watch, had done a segment the evening before about crime among Muslim immigrants in Sweden. Plainly the President meant to say: “You look at what’s happening in Sweden, as I saw last night.” That sentence is syntactically more complex, though, so his mind fed his tongue something simpler.

It can happen to anybody. I’ve had embarrassing experiences, and so have you.

This sounds entirely plausible, I think. The “last night” part of the remark never really made sense to me.

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Okay, enough doom and gloom.

Here’s a picture of my grandson Liam, who is, if I am not mistaken, the cutest child that ever lived.


Murray On Middlebury

Following on our earlier post — and with thanks to our commenter Jason for the link — here are Charles Murray’s own remarks on having been assaulted by a violent leftist mob at Middlebury College last week. We read (the item refers to Professor Allison Stanger, who had invited Mr. Murray for an interview, and Bill Burger, the college’s Vice President for Communications):

I had expected that they would shout expletives at us but no more. So I was nonplussed when I realized that a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass. I instinctively thought, we’ll go around him. But that wasn’t possible. We’d just get blocked by the others who were joining him. So we walked straight into him, one of our security guys pushed him aside, and that’s the way it went from then on: Allison and Bill each holding one of my elbows, the three of us plowing ahead, the security guys clearing our way, and lots of pushing and shoving from all sides.

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

The three of us got to the car, with the security guards keeping protesters away while we closed and locked the doors. Then we found that the evening wasn’t over. So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that Bill had to inch forward lest he run over them. At the time, I wouldn’t have objected. Bill must have a longer time horizon than I do.

Again: Who? Whom? This is the real thing here, folks: a mob unafraid to do violence against its ideological enemies. If the New York Times and Hollywood celebrities are the good cop, this is the bad cop.

This is nothing new in America; it is nothing new in the world. But it is here, and it is here now — and if you are morally, politically, or religiously sympathetic to the ancient civic and cultural traditions of Western civilization, or to the historical American nation (or, indeed, to any of the human universals and natural categories that have given essential structure to every society that has ever flourished anywhere on Earth), then you, and all that you cherish, are what that mob seeks to destroy.

How long before someone is killed at one of these riots? How long before the motionless and tormented eagle reveals its “formidable beak and claws”?

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We offer a hat-tip to Nick Land for exhuming this two-year-old passage from John Glanton at Social Matter:

You have to admire the Left for its clarity of vision. It has identified its enemies, and it does what it can to drive them from the field. The recent fireworks in Indiana are a perfect illustration. Team blue knows that Christians are hateful homophobes, and so it goes to bat for the right of homosexuals to sue them over wedding cakes. The Right, with its characteristic acumen, mistakes this bushwhack for a principled stand. “Ah!” they say, “But if you support the right of a gay man to force a Christian to make a cake then you must support the right of the KKK to force a black baker to make a cake!” The average liberal couldn’t imagine a more irrelevant rejoinder. They aren’t making any such proposition at all. In their calculus, Christians (of the Not-fans-of-Pope-Francis type at least) are the bad guys and thus their interests are hateful and invalid and must be opposed. The KKK are bad guys and thus their actions are hateful and invalid and must be opposed. You attack bad guys. You don’t attack good guys. Whence the confusion?

The fact that they have such a clearly defined enemy is, incidentally, why the Left can mobilize effectively despite being a creaky, Frankenstein mass of mostly incompatible interest groups. Mexicans will ethnically cleanse blacks when their territories run afoul of one another, but they both vote for the same party. Homosexuals don’t always enjoy the gentlest of treatment from their Muslim friends, but they nevertheless routinely support Democratic politicians who promise more immigrants and “refugee resettlements” from all the vibrant corners of Africa and the Middle East. The Democrat coalition is organized not around a coherent vision of the future but a shared opponent.

See also the late Lawrence Auster on the Unprincipled Exception.

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The Big Bad Bear

John Derbyshire’s been asking: why is Russia our enemy?

I’ve wondered too:

A more enlightened worldview would see Russia — a great Christian nation, and one that has made priceless contributions to the treasure-store of Western civilization — as a natural ally in these perilous times. We have much in common, including ancient, existential enemies who gloat to see us fighting with with each other rather than uniting against them. Yet our stance toward Russia has been relentlessly bellicose, with our support of the Ukrainian revolution, and our actions in Syria, being only the most obvious examples.

Lewis Amselem, a.k.a “Diplomad”, seems as puzzled as we are.

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No Hate Here!

We’ve been hearing a lot about how the election of Donald Trump has brought a lot of haters out into the open. As Mr. Trump himself might say: so true. Here’s a thing that happened two days ago:

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College Professor Allison Stanger was injured by protesters Thursday evening as she was escorting a controversial speaker from campus. She was treated at Porter Hospital and released.

Charles Murray, a political scientist who has been criticized for his views on race and intelligence, was invited to speak on campus by a student group. He was greeted late Thursday afternoon outside McCullough Student Center by hundreds of protesters, and inside Wilson Hall, students turned their backs to him when he got up to speak.

College officials led Murray to another location and a closed circuit broadcast showed him being interviewed by Stanger, the Russell J. Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics.

As Stanger, Murray and a college administrator left McCullough Student Center last evening following the event, they were “physically and violently confronted by a group of protestors,” according to Bill Burger, the college’s vice president for communications and marketing.

Burger said college public safety officers managed to get Stanger and Murray into the administrator’s car.

“The protestors then violently set upon the car, rocking it, pounding on it, jumping on and try to prevent it from leaving campus,” he said. “At one point a large traffic sign was thrown in front of the car. Public Safety officers were able, finally, to clear the way to allow the vehicle to leave campus.

“During this confrontation outside McCullough, one of the demonstrators pulled Prof. Stanger’s hair and twisted her neck,” Burger continued. “She was attended to at Porter Hospital later and (on Friday) is wearing a neck brace.”

The reactionary case is getting easier and easier to make: nowadays the left jumps you, pries your jaws apart, and forces the red pill down your throat. (If you take an “accelerationist” view of how the left might be undone, you’re getting your wish.)

Also from the article:

Murray, who apparently was unhurt in the incident, is best known for his 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” for which he was criticized for an assertion that people of different races have different economic outcomes because of their inherent difference in intelligence.

Imagine that: framing an economic hypothesis based on something that is almost certainly true, is well supported both by basic evolutionary theory and objective data, and is, if nothing else, entirely plausible, uncontradicted by any obvious facts, and eminently worthy of reasoned debate. (Kill him!)

The item ends with the usual appeal to the hate-branding racketeers at the SPLC, who have somehow become as ubiquitous an “authority” in this context as “four out of five dentists” were in the toothpaste commercials of my youth:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Murray a “white nationalist” who has used “racist pseudoscience.”

Charles Murray is a mild-mannered fellow, of exceptional intelligence and perspicacity, who has done nothing more than to look closely at society, data, and human nature in an attempt to answer some vexing and persistent questions. He is, quite literally, a gentleman and a scholar, and is no more of a “hater” than Bruce Wayne’s Aunt Harriet.

If you’re wondering where the hate really is, here’s a tip: look at who is assaulting whom.

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Thanks In Advance

I’m sure you all have it marked on your calendars, but my birthday’s coming up in April. (I’ll be 61!)

If you still don’t know what to get me, have a look here.

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The Torments Of The Damned

In a heartwarming opinion piece today at the New York Times, Thomas Edsall laments the internet’s toxic effect on what it calls “democracy” — a term that, if I understand the piece correctly, is to be defined as a political system in which two political parties, and a few other “dominant organizations” (here, the Times clears its throat and points to itself), control all access to communication and political power.

Let’s have a look at the thing, from top to bottom. It begins by complaining that, in this frightening new era,

As the forces of reaction outpace movements predicated on the ideal of progress…

We’ve certainly been doing what we can — and now even the Times admits we’re winning. Let’s savor the moment, comrades.

… and as traditional norms of political competition are tossed aside…

Or, to put it another way, “as daylight finally shines on the corruption of Party machinery…”

… it’s clear that the internet and social media have succeeded in doing what many feared and some hoped they would.

Or, perhaps, what some feared and many hoped….

They have disrupted and destroyed institutional constraints on what can be said, where and when it can be said, and who can say it.

Fantastic. The mask is off. All we see here is the will to power.

Let us pause for a moment, to imagine that you, dear reader, have something to say. If so, would you like to be able to say it? Would you like to say it in print, in public, or online? Would you like to be able to say it now? Would you like to be able say it yourself?

Should these choices be yours? Not according to Thomas Edsall. They should be subject to the approval of “institutions” — such as the editorial board of the New York Times.

According to Matthew Hindman, a professor of media (who must, I suppose, be worried that the Devil will take him):

“… someone looking at the United States would have to be worried about democratic failure or transitioning to a hybrid regime.”

Such a regime, in his view, would keep the trappings of democracy, including seemingly free elections, while leaders would control the election process, the media, and the scope of free debate.

One of the chief absurdities of popular government in general is the notion that somehow, a nebulous “will of the people” emerges and takes form and flesh. It never does any such thing, because it can do no such thing. What happens, rather, is that the struggle for power becomes a competition among what Sir Henry Sumner Maine called “the Wire-pullers” (take a moment here to read this, from Sir Henry himself).

Consider the Democratic Party’s electoral process last year. Look at how enormously unpopular Hillary Clinton was, even among Democrats. Why was she the candidate? For one reason only: because she had been anointed by her party’s wire-pullers, who not only declined to offer any serious alternative, but also engaged in strenuous and often unethical machinations to make sure that her principal opponent was hammered down. Moreover, the only reason anyone got to hear about any of that was because the internet made it possible .

So: if “leaders” control the election process, that’s bad, but if the Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the New York Times, and Thomas Edsall do so, that’s good.

(Furthermore, how is fully open debate, unfettered by “institutional constraints”, less free, rather than more so?)

Next we hear from Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford, who, speaking of the Trump movement, makes the same lament:

… this sort of campaign is only successful in a context in which certain established institutions — particularly the mainstream media and political party organizations — have lost their power around much of the world.”

Have lost their what? Ah yes. Power. Sorry, old chap.

They are right to be worried. Here is Samuel Issacharoff (who is, to ensure diversity of opinion, another law professor, this time from NYU):

We are witnessing a period of deep challenge to the core claims of democracy to be the superior form of political organization of civilized peoples…

Indeed we are, and for very good reasons that were very well understood, right up to (and, it is important to note, during) this nation’s founding. Democracy had, throughout all of recorded history, a very bad track record indeed, for very good reasons. It requires some very particular conditions to work at all, and they are all conditions that the West has systematically destroyed.

The current moment of democratic uncertainty draws from four central institutional challenges, each one a compromise of how democracy was consolidated over the past few centuries. First, the accelerated decline of political parties and other institutional forms of engagement; second, the weakness of the legislative branches; third, the loss of a sense of social cohesion; and fourth, the decline in democratic state competence.

“Loss of a sense of social cohesion”, you say? I wonder how that could have happened. And a “decline in democratic state competence”, even as the West, relentlessly expanding its franchise while flinging open its borders, became more and more democratic? An impenetrable mystery.

Professor Issacharoff continues:

“Technology has overtaken one of the basic functions you needed political parties for in the past, communication with voters,” he said. “Social media has changed all of that, candidates now have direct access through email, blogs and Twitter,” along with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms.

Imagine that! Candidates having direct access to the people. It’s so awfully… democratic.

A little further on, Mr. Edsall asks: who benefits more from all of this, the left or the right? That leads us to this gem:

There is good reason to think that the disruptive forces at work in the United States — as they expand the universe of the politically engaged and open the debate to millions who previously paid little or no attention — may do more to damage the left than strengthen it. In other words, just as the use of negative campaign ads and campaign finance loopholes to channel suspect contributions eventually became routine, so too will be the use of social media to confuse and mislead the electorate.

In other words, when the electorate are confused and misled, it’s bad for the left. This, presumably, is because the left is the home of reason and truth. (You may disagree, of course. But only within approved institutional constraints.)

What’s interesting about this piece, and its curious implicit definition of “democracy”, is that the authors clearly realize how fraught with peril actual democracy is, and so they acknowledge that, rather than sovereignty resting with “the people” — which, as thinkers from Plato to the Founders well understood, is a buttered slide to disaster, chaos, and tyranny — it must in fact rest elsewhere. What’s got them all so chapped is that it they think it should rest with them, and they can tell they’re losing their grip on it. It’s the oldest story in the world.

There’s more. Read the rest here.

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The Remnant

Remember Supernova 1987a? (Of course you do.) Well, NASA’s been keeping an eye on it for you. Fantastic video and images here.

Salem 2017

A couple of months ago I was contacted by a woman named Lucy Diego, who was putting together an anthology of neoreactionary essays and wanted to know if she might use some of what I’ve written here. (I was happy to agree.)

Ms. Diego runs an art gallery in London that last year mounted an NRx-themed exhibit and hosted a series of talks.

A couple of days ago I saw this item in the New York Times. Apparently Ms. Diego, by hosting the show and talks, and by expressing an impermissible opinion on Facebook, has attracted the attention of an angry mob, who are now picketing her gallery and calling for its closure. As for Ms. Diego herself, she has reasons to be concerned for her own safety, according to the Times:

She noted that the police had advised her to stay indoors, and said that she had not left her house in several days, after receiving threats online.

We hear a lot these days about “hate”. This is what it actually looks like.

Ms. Diego would probably appreciate your expressions of support. You can reach her at info@ld50gallery.com.

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Closing The Circle

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Outline of History, written in 1920 by H.G. Wells. I’m halfway through the first volume of two. It’s a fine example of post-WWI Progressive-era thinking, and Mr. Wells was of course a wonderful craftsman, so I’ve been enjoying it enormously. (The entire book has been put online in a website of its own, here.)

In Chapters 12 through 14 — The Races of Mankind, The Languages of Mankind, and The First Civilizations, Mr. Wells described the gradual expansion of humanity, and human culture, eastward around the globe. It was a slow process, and it reached the Americas last. The earliest hominid settlers to the Western Hemisphere got here over a land bridge at the Bering Strait, but as the ice receded and the seas rose, that bridge was submerged, and the Americas were cut off.

We read:

And in these thousands of years during which man was making his way step by step from the barbarism of the heliolithic culture to civilization at these old-world centres, what was happening in the rest of the world? To the north of these centres, from the Rhine to the Pacific, the Nordic and Mongolian peoples, as we have told, were also learning the use of metals; but while the civilizations were settling down these men of the great plains were becoming migratory and developing from a slow wandering life towards a complete seasonal nomadism. To the south of the civilized zone, in central and southern Africa, the negro was making a slower progress, and that, it would seem, under the stimulus of invasion by whiter tribes from the Mediterranean regions, bringing with them in succession cultivation and the use of metals. These white men came to the black by two routes: across the Sahara to the west as Berbers and Tuaregs and the like, to mix with the negro and create such quasi-white races as the Fulas; and also by way of the Nile, where the Baganda (= Gandafolk) of Uganda, for example, may possibly be of remote white origin. The African forests were denser then, and spread eastward and northward from the Upper Nile.

The islands of the East Indies, three thousand years ago, were probably still only inhabited here and there by stranded patches of Paleolithic Australoids, who had wandered thither in those immemorial ages when there was a nearly complete land bridge by way of the East Indies to Australia. The islands of Oceania were uninhabited. The spreading of the heliolithic peoples by sea- going canoes into the islands of the Pacific came much later in the history of man, at earliest a thousand years B.C. Still later did they reach Madagascar. The beauty of New Zealand also was as yet wasted upon mankind; its highest living creatures were a great ostrich-like bird, the moa, now extinct, and the little kiwi which has feathers like coarse hair and the merest rudiments of wings.

In North America a group of Mongoloid tribes were now cut off altogether from the old world. They were spreading slowly southward, hunting the innumerable bison of the plains. They had still to learn for themselves the secrets of a separate agriculture based on maize, and in South America to tame the lama to their service, and so build up in Mexico and Peru two civilizations roughly parallel in their nature to that of Sumer, but different in many respects, and later by six or seven thousand years….

When men reached the southern extremity of America, the Megatherium the giant sloth, and the Glyptodon, the giant armadillo, were still living.

There is a considerable imaginative appeal in the obscure story of the early American civilizations. It was largely a separate development. Somewhen at last the southward drift of the Amerindians must have met and mingled with the eastward, canoe-borne drift of the heliolithic culture. But it was the heliolithic culture still at a very lowly stage and probably before the use of metals. It has to be noted as evidence of this canoe-borne, origin of American culture, that elephant headed figures are found in Central American drawings. American metallurgy may have arisen independently of the old world use of metal, or it may have been brought by these elephant carvers. These American peoples got to the use of bronze and copper, but not to the use of iron; they had gold and silver; and their stonework, their pottery, weaving, and dyeing were carried to a very high level. In all these things the American product resembles the old-world product generally, but always it has characteristics that are distinctive. The American civilizations had picture-writing of a primitive sort, but it never developed even to the pitch of the earliest Egyptian hieroglyphics. In Yucatan only, was there a kind of script, the Maya writing, but it was used simply for keeping a calendar. In Peru the beginnings of writing were superseded by a curious and complicated method of keeping records by means of knots tied upon strings of various colours and shapes. It is said that even laws and orders could be conveyed by this code. These string bundles were called quipus, but though quipus are still to be found in collections, the art of reading them is altogether lost. The Chinese histories, Mr. L. Y. Chen informs us, state that a similar method of record by knots was used in China before the invention of writing there. The Peruvians also got to making maps and the use of counting frames. “But with all this there was no means, of handing on knowledge and experience from one generation to another, nor was anything done to fix and summarize these intellectual possessions, which are the basis of literature and science.”

The chapter ends with this (my emphasis):

When the Spaniards came to America, the Mexicans knew nothing of the Peruvians nor the Peruvians of the Mexicans. Intercourse there was none. Whatever links had ever existed were lost and forgotten. The Mexicans had never heard of the potato which was a principal article of Peruvian diet. In 5,000 B.C. the Sumerians and Egyptians probably knew as little of one another. America was 6,000 years behind the Old World.

This reminded me of something: eleven years ago, I wrote a post about “ring species”. The example I gave was this:

In Britain are two species of seagulls called herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls. They are easy to tell apart; as you might already have guessed, the black-backed gulls have darker backs, and as befits two distinct species, they don’t interbreed. But if you keep an eye on the black-backed gulls as you travel east across the northern latitudes, their coloration becomes lighter and lighter, until, when you get round to North America, they are an intermediate grey. They continue to become lighter and lighter, until we get all the way back round to Britain, where — lo and behold — they are now the herring gulls.

I hadn’t thought of humans as a “ring species” before (well, in one sense, perhaps — see the bit about chimps and humans in the linked post), but as I was reading Wells on the familiar history of the New and the Old World it dawned on me that there was very little difference between the “ring” of black-backed and herring gulls and the story of Europe’s encounter with the Americas, in the latter half of the last millennium.

Well, there’s one big difference: unlike the gulls, when the human species finally closed its ring, it was as predator and prey.

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Court v. Constitution

By now you’ve probably heard about the flagrantly tendentious decision by the Fourth Circuit in Kolbe v. Hogan, which upheld a flimsy “assault-weapons” ban in Maryland.

The ruling is here. Here, here, here, and here are some responses.

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Land’s End

In its ongoing purge of all heterodox opinion, Twitter has now suspended Nick Land’s account, @Outsideness.

They have no possible pretext for doing so, other than the suppression and silencing of ideological dissidents. Nick Land has never threatened anyone, nor even used a profane word.

If you have any doubt that there is now an rapidly intensifying war going on between colliding views of society, history, government, and human nature, doubt no more.

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100 Years On

As dark allusions to the rise of Hitler circulate in the wake of the new administration’s immigration-enforcement initiatives, making the rounds tonight is this anonymous remark:

Clearly we must do what the world did after it recognized the horror of the Holocaust: come together in support of the founding of a Mexican homeland. A place where Mexicans can live free of the threat of deportation. A Mexican state, if you will, located in the ancestral homeland of the Mexican people.

As before, I think His Majesty’s government would view this with favour.

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Stockholm Syndrome

There’s been quite a fuss about Donald Trump’s having suggested that Sweden might be having problems digesting millions of profoundly alien, mostly Muslim, immigrants. The narrative conflict could not be starker: on the one side, a description of a formerly safe, homogeneous and peaceful Scandinavian nation descending into a darkening abyss of rape, fear, cultural disintegration, unpoliceable zones, and silencing of dissent, while on the other we hear an increasingly embattled Cathedral’s assurances that all of this is just “fake news” from the Far Right, and that things in Sweden, while admittedly a bit strained in places (just like they are everywhere, friends!), are really pretty swell overall — and that the good-hearted Swedes are of course much happier now, cheered and strengthened by the bracing tonic of Diversity, than they ever might have been in their benighted and racist past.

This is a propaganda war. As far as the global Progressive hegemon is concerned, the stakes are existential: its survival depends completely upon whether the minds of its subjects will continue to be suitable hosts for its memes, and that in turn depends upon whether it can continue to suppress the immune systems of the native cultures of the West. It has managed to do this very effectively indeed for seven decades now, but in recent years the disease has progressed so far, so fast, that millions of ethnic Europeans are now awakening to their peril, understanding — too late, perhaps — that they must resist or die.

I won’t do the Progressive clerisy’s work here; my sympathies are with the heretics. To that end, here’s a recent compilation from VDare to counter what you’ll be reading in the Times, and hearing on NPR.

So: which is it? Sweden-as-Eden, or Sweden bleedin’? Both sides can’t be right — and one hardly knows whom to trust anymore. What, then, is to be done?

In our new secular religion, belief in absolute human universalism and interchangeability is a fundamental moral imperative. Should Sweden, then, to “keep the faith”, carry on importing Muslims en masse, and hoping for the best? Or should it close its borders to them, thereby committing discrimination, the darkest possible sin?

The answer you’d expect from the Cathedral is of course the same one we get from the Times; this is not a coincidence. But if you’re willing to flirt with apostasy, here’s something to keep in mind (a kind of “Pascal’s Wager”, if you like): as I explained years ago in my post Simple Common Sense About Diversity And Immigration, immigration moratoria are easily reversible, while immigration is not. If your mistake turns out to be too little importation of profoundly alien peoples and cultures, well, you can always have more. If, on the other hand, you find out that your mistake was too much of it — as Sweden is doing now — it’s already too late.

Doesn’t all this seem perfectly obvious?

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With a hat-tip to Bill Valicella, here’s an item, by Alex Ross for The New Yorker, arguing that the Frankfurt School foresaw the rise of Donald Trump.

Did they? Well, we shouldn’t be surprised, because they labored to create exactly the ideological conditions in the postwar West — the deadly mind-virus of radical and pathologically altruistic non-discrimination — that, by opposing every normal means of cultural self-preservation until at last the West’s very survival was at stake, guaranteed at last the very reaction they had sought to prevent. (Perhaps it is similar, in a sense, to the way the overuse of antibiotics has given rise to deadly strains of bacteria.) The New Yorker has been disseminating this pathogen for decades.

Mr. Ross, however, sees none of this. He betrays this blindness in his last sentence:

[T]he fear is that the present antidemocratic wave may prove too strong even for Germany — the only country in the history of the world that ever learned from its mistakes.

“Learned from its mistakes”? I think not. What happened, rather, was that Germany was crushed by its enemies, subjugated, and forcibly re-educated. It “learned” nothing that it wasn’t taught, in the wake of the war, by the Frankfurt School itself. As we watch Germany now, its culture staggering in extremis from decades of memetic infection, it should be obvious that all it has done has been to exchange one catastrophic mistake for another.

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Quite Possibly The Stupidest Thing Ever Said

I heard it again just the other day. It’s from some sappy movie a few decades back:

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

What idiot wrote this? Love means constantly having to say you’re sorry.

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Friend Of The Devil

Steve Bannon’s reading-list has had our Brahmins on the fainting-couch. In this item, for example, Jason Horowitz of the the New York Times, searching for the “roots” of Mr. Bannon’s “dark” and “apocalyptic” worldview, notes with horror that our new presidential adviser has not only heard of, but has actually read Julius Evola. (So have I, for that matter; a while back I posted this deeply insightful passage from Men Among The Ruins on the horror of totalitarianism.)

Imagine: a well-read man of the Right, with brains and a plan, whispering into the President’s ear! In other words: we now have our very own Valerie Jarrett — and this scares the bejesus out of them.

Over at Social Matter, Arthur Sarsfield asks (my emphasis):

If Trump is the devil of America’s liberal civic religion, how can anything be worse than the devil? How is anything noteworthy beyond Satan being Satan in building a case against Satan? Is reading Evola worse than being literally Hitler? … If Hitler is in power, why should anyone care that Evola is his adviser?

Why, it’s almost as if Mr. Sarsfield’s been popping in at my place. Read the rest of his post here.

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In my ceaseless foraging for blog-fodder, I ran across this clickbait today:

10+ Hilarious Reasons Why The English Language Is The Worst

“The worst”? Au contraire, say I: what other language has such richness of idiom, precision and discrimination?

Anyway, off to the linked item I went. It began:

English is a mystery to all of us, whether you’ve been speaking it since day one, or you’ve just started to learn it. From its bizarre spelling rules to its free-for-all grammar, it’s a daily struggle just trying to form sentences that make sense.

For some of us, I suppose.

No wonder people are turning to emoji to express their thoughts.

Strewth! This is what’s called a “category error”. Here’s an example of a “thought”:

He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.

If you can express that with emoji, please astonish me by doing so. The comment-box is open.

The truth, I fear, is that if people are “turning to emoji to express their thoughts”, it’s because they are no longer being taught how to have “thoughts”. The world now runs on feelings.

Good Lord, what a mess we’re in.

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You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down

With a hat-tip to Nick B. Steves, here’s a post-and-thread you might like to read, if you have some time. The post, at the computer scientist Scott Aaronson’s blog Shtetl-Optimized, is a protest against the Trump travel ban, from a familiar perspective, and ends with a challenge to Trump voters: “go ahead, let me hear you defend this.”

He got his wish, and a (very) long and lively comment-thread has ensued. Among those representing the Right are “jim” (who will be familiar to you NRxers) and “Bran”, but the sharpest is a chap commenting as “Boldmug”.

As Bernoulli said of Newton, “we know the lion by his claw“, and it’s nice to see Mr. Yarvin on the ramparts again. He writes at considerable length in this thread, and applies the poignard to the clerisy with impressive skill (not to mention stamina, and obvious relish). I believe he’s grown restless on the sidelines, and we welcome him back to the fray.

A very tiny sample, on the Left’s conceit that they are “speaking truth to power”:

Let’s be real: which is stronger, the universities or the proles? West Virginia can take it in the tail for decades; if Berkeley (or worse, one of Berkeley’s pets) stubs a toe, it’s a monstrous violation of the Constitution and George Washington is spinning in his grave.

Where are you absolutely positioned on a line segment whose length is 1? To answer this question is to ask: how much room would you have to move left? How much room would you have to move right?

Berkeley can teach the Marines all about how to fight wars (which, the latest research tells us, can only be won with a sensitive grasp of intersectionality). Imagine if the Marines instead taught Berkeley how to socialize 18-year-olds.

So not only are you listening to only one side of this power dynamic. You’re listening to by far the most powerful side.

(See also this comment, in particular, which I won’t excerpt here.)

As I said, the thread is long — but if you are interested in seeing, not the usual shouting and name-calling, but serious combat between the Progressive intellectual hegemon and one of its most articulate critics, then go have a look.

Update: see also this excellent entry late in the thread, by commenter “Bran”, on the near-impossibility of productive political dialogue.

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Join Or Die

Our previous post touched on the inexorable encroachment of sensors and listening devices into every cranny of our lives. In the comment-thread I mentioned a “particular nightmare” of my own, and said I’d describe it in a new post.

It is this: given the exponential advances being made in brain-machine interfaces and nanotech, I see no obvious barrier to implantable communication interfaces. (The current state of the art is better at controlling things with our brains than receiving input, but work proceeds apace, and I’m sure things will accelerate briskly on both fronts.)

Imagine being able to send and receive messages across such an interface. At first it would be on the level of text-massaging, I suppose, but it’s hard to see any limit to the possibilities — images, emotional states, and perhaps the full range of qualia and subjective experience. The possibility, then, is actual mind-to-mind networking, and the accomplishment of this would be, I think, the starting point for a rapidly evolving, Borg-like aggregate. I really don’t think this is far-fetched at all, and I expect it to be within our technical capabilities in no more than a decade or two at most. It would be a truly radical — I believe the vogue word is “disruptive” — alteration of the human experience.

Would you sign on for such a thing? I have a feeling that if you didn’t, you’d very quickly be left behind — and any organized resistance to it would face impossible odds. It would be like fighting gods. What I think will happen will be that there will be some remnant who will not participate, and they will simply be left behind to die out.

That this scenario, which to me seems quite obviously likely, doesn’t seem to come up much in techno-futurist circles rather puzzles me.

Here’s another angle: Elon Musk advising us that we will have no choice, really, but to become man-machine hybrids. (I suppose with my artificial knee I’m on the way already.)

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Boil That Frog!

One thing I’ve been awfully leery of is the proliferation of sensors of every sort in every part of our environment. In particular I’m edgy about the new generation of devices, such as Amazon’s Echo, that just sit in your house and listen.

I realize that this ship has already sailed, really, in that we all now carry around smartphones that contain cameras, location sensors and microphones. (It used to be that if you wanted to, you could make sure they were turned off by taking out the battery — but with most of them, now, you can’t even do that. Am I being paranoid to think the switch away from removable batteries might be motivated by more than, say, reliable waterproofing?)

This latest wave of products, though, is another level of monitoring: we all know it’s right there listening, because that’s what we expect it to do. And apparently we’re just fine with that: these things are selling like hot-cakes.

Here’s an article about the road ahead — at least the few feet of it that we can see.

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The Devil You Know

In September 2015 I commented on the increasing political polarization of Europe, and the extent to which any middle ground was increasingly excluded. A longish auto-quote:

… [T]he entire continuum of political opinion on the question of immigration and and of the ethnic and religious composition of European nations has now been reduced, editorially, to a binary, Manichaean choice: either you signal, proudly and loudly, that you believe these questions should be of no importance to any right-thinking person, or you are, not to put too fine a point on it, a Nazi.

It needn’t have come to this. Had Europe followed a less aggressively xenophilic and oikophobic immigration policy over the past several decades — even along the same lines, but tempered by sensible and cautious moderation — moral virtue might still have been signaled at acceptable levels by the ethnomasochistic and culturally self-abnegating Left, while reactionary elements would have had nothing much to feed on. But the accelerating displacement of European ethnies by Muslim migrants had already got to the point where even ordinary people had started to have misgivings, and nativism had already begun to exert a gathering political influence throughout the Continent — and so this latest wave of “refugees” falls upon a European polity already awakened to its existential peril, and concerned enough to react.

The Cathedral, correctly sensing the threat to its hegemony, responded in precisely the way we should expect a secularized Protestant cryptotheocracy to behave:

Naturally, this reaction now provokes a counter-reaction by those in charge, using what has been their weapon of choice since the dawn of the Puritan era: public shaming (supported, in modern Europe, by whatever thoughtcrime and “hate-speech” statutes they can bring to bear). But shaming is only effective when the offender feels himself to be one against many; it is most effective of all when the would-be heretic has so internalized the social Panopticon that his heresy is snuffed out before it even rises to the level of speech. All it takes for the system to collapse, though, is for enough people to say what multitudes of others are thinking (and, in many cases, have been thinking for years), and that is exactly what is happening now in Europe.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so we see what would, in earlier times, have been an appeal to God. The impulse to invoke the transcendent remains intact, however, and so the clerisy reaches for the through-the-looking-glass version of supernatural Good that serves the purpose nowadays: worldly but equally infinite Evil.

As this tension reaches a crisis, we should naturally expect the shaming-weapon, in desperation, to be switched from “Stun” to “Kill” — and so dissent is now made equal to Nazism, or infinite evil. (Hitler occupies an interesting position in the West’s modern, secular religion: there is no longer any God or Christ to represent infinite Good, but in a roundabout, apophatic way we can still have our sense of the transcendent by using the infinitely evil Hitler as something resembling Christ’s antiparticle.)

Heresy is still heresy, same as it ever was. All that has changed is that before religion went undercover, the heretic was accused of rejecting God — while now, with God out of the picture, the heretic’s crime is now orientation toward the opposite pole: the tangible and worldly Hitler, a Satan for our times.

Adolf Hitler did very bad things, on the grandest possible scale. (The Nazis wiped out, for example, most of my mother-in-law’s family.) He clearly deserves prominent inclusion in any anti-pantheon (“pandemonium”?). But history is chockablock with extremely bad actors — a couple of whom were even Hitler’s contemporaries, and killed, just as mercilessly, even more millions of people. So why was it, then, when the puff of white smoke appeared in the Cathedral’s chimney, was it Hitler, and not, say, Stalin (who was by any measure every bit as malignant and murderous as Hitler) who emerged as the new antipontiff?

It’s a fair question, I think, and an interesting one, and I believe I could go a long way toward answering it (though I won’t do so here). Just to cross one thing off the list, though: to say that Hitler’s crimes were the worst of all because they were racist puts the cart before the horse: the elevation of European identitarianism to the direst of available sins is a postwar reaction to Hitler’s crimes. Hitler isn’t the postwar era’s secular Antichrist because he was racist. Racism, rather, is now the darkest of possible sins because it’s what Hitler did.

(If you think I’m wrong about this, go and read some mainstream prewar Progressive literature. You might start with Lothrop Stoddard’s The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under Man. Or you might try this one: The Rising Tide of Color Against White-World Supremacy.

If you’ve never heard of these books, and you’re a relatively normal, well-educated Westerner of the 21st century, you probably can’t even read these titles without a shudder of aversion — and yet Lothrop Stoddard was no extremist: he was a highly regarded public intellectual of his day, a respected, forward-thinking Progressive. His books were popular and highly influential. If NPR had been around in the 1920’s, he’d have been a regular. As far as the evolution of mainstream opinion is concerned, to get from that era of Progressivism to what it is today is a change on a par with the Cretaceous extinction — and yet it’s within living memory.)

So: as very, very bad as he surely was, the question remains: exactly how, given the tremendously stiff competition, did Hitler edge out all the others, and become the one and only Anti-God, the apex of transcendent evil? If you were born after World War Two, you probably haven’t asked yourself this question. No need — it’s something you just know. More than that, it’s a question you aren’t supposed to ask. (If you think I’m wrong about that, well, next time you’re at a party, try asking it. Or ask yourself this, readers: don’t you already feel that I’m getting a little “outside the pale” myself, right now? I’m feeling it too, enough to want to make clear that I’m not — hey, seriously! — a Nazi. That’s how potent, how fraught with religiosity, this is. In the old days, when they they encountered heresy, people worried about the fate of their immortal souls. Are you worried now, just a bit, about my soul?)

Well, asking this question is exactly what Mencius Moldbug did, in Part 1 of his essay An open letter to open-minded progressives. He understood that asking the question would bring out implicit assumptions, and internal inconsistencies, that might help us to understand the operating-system the Western world runs on nowadays. So he asked it: “What’s so bad about the Nazis?”

The framing is provocatively blunt. But if you read on, the question is a serious one: what was it about the Nazis that makes us see them as uniquely evil, given that others, such as Stalin, were arguably even more monstrous?

But to read on, after an opener like that, would be to flirt with the darkest of heresies. A quarantine is needed. And so we have, for example, this article in MacLean’s, entitled Steve Bannon’s Dangerous Reading List. We read:

Those who have tried to draw a line from Bannon to Curtis Yarvin, the computer programmer who blogs under the name Mencius Moldbug (Yarvin denies any links), have focused on a 2008 post in which the self-described neo-reactionary asks “What’s so bad about the Nazis?” aside, that is, from that Holocaust thing.

Bannon’s critics are attempting, of course, to firmly situate him on the wrong side of a very bright red line, with Moldbug’s comment itself dismissed as an instance of a favourite alt-right tactic—uttering provocations simply so the speaker can be amused by the outraged reactions.

But there is an actual link in thought, if not in person, here between Bannon’s interest in traditional and authoritarian ethno-nationalism and the alt-right’s admiring reappraisal of pre-genocide Nazis.

In other words: Get thee behind me, Satan! The analysis really goes no deeper than that, I’m afraid. Regarding the MacLean’s article itself, a little meta-analysis is possible, though:

Progressives are fond of quoting Martin Luther King’s remark about the “moral arc of the Universe”. If the moral universe really is the sort of reference-framework that admits of curvature, then Nazism, in postwar moral astrophysics, is a place where it bends itself right out of existence: a singularity. If Dr. King was a shining star in this moral firmament, then Adolf Hitler is Cygnus X-1. A merciful Nature, itself abhorring such a negative moral infinity, modestly shrouds it with an “event horizon” (at a distance with a fittingly German name: the Schwarzschild radius). For the protection of your soul, you can’t even look at the singularity itself: anything that gets too close is swallowed up by mere proximity to such evil, and vanishes forever.

And so: what to do about that Steve Bannon? Properly understood, the article says this:

“He is obviously already within the gravity well of the Hitlerian Singularity, and getting tantalizingly close to the event horizon.

All it should take is a little push…”

A perfect plan! — until you remember that business about parallel universes.

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With a hat-tip to the indefatigable JK, here’s an interesting little item: three Congressional IT staffers — brothers Abid, Imran, and Jamal Awan — may have been using their access to snoop.

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Ought v. Is

Here’s tart piece by Porter on Cass Sunstein’s vision of the Constitution. (I always enjoy Porter’s astringent writing, except for those doggone sentence fragments.)

Give Me The Child…

The National Association of Scholars has published a new report entitled “Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics”.

From the “executive summary”:

A new movement in American higher education aims to transform the teaching of civics. This report is a study of what that movement is, where it came from, and why Americans should be concerned.

What we call the “New Civics” redefines civics as progressive political activism. Rooted in the radical program of the 1960s’ New Left, the New Civics presents itself as an up-to-date version of volunteerism and good works. Thoughcamouflaged with soft rhetoric, the New Civics, properly understood, is an effort to repurpose higher education.

The New Civics seeks above all to make students into enthusiastic supporters of the New Left’s dream of “fundamentally transforming” America. The transformation includes de-carbonizing the economy, massively redistributing wealth, intensifying identity group grievance, curtailing the free market, expanding government bureaucracy, elevating international “norms” over American Constitutional law, and disparaging our common history and ideals. New Civics advocates argue among themselves which of these transformations should take precedence, but they agree that America must be transformed by “systemic change” from an unjust, oppressive society to a society that embodies social justice.

The New Civics hopes to accomplish this by teaching students that a good citizen is a radical activist, and it puts political activism at the center of everything that students do in college, including academic study, extra-curricular pursuits, and off-campus ventures.

New Civics builds on “service-learning,” which is an effort to divert students from the classroom to vocational training as community activists. By rebranding itself as “civic engagement,” service-learning succeeded in capturing nearly all the funding that formerly supported the old civics. In practice this means that instead of teaching college students the foundations of law, liberty, and self-government, colleges teach students how to organize protests, occupy buildings, and stage demonstrations. These are indeed forms of “civic engagement,” but they are far from being a genuine substitute for learning how to be a full participant in our republic.

New Civics has still further ambitions. Its proponents want to build it into every college class, regardless of subject. The effort continues without so far drawing much critical attention
from the public. This report aims to change that. In addition to our history of the New Civics movement and its breakthrough moment when it was endorsed by President Obama, we provide case studies of four universities: the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder), Colorado State University in Fort Collins (CSU), the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley (UNC), and the University of Wyoming in Laramie (UW).

NAS has 9 findings about the state of civics education nationwide, and 4 about the state of civics education in Colorado and Wyoming.

To see what those nine findings are, download the executive summary here. The full report is here.

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It turns out that “Publius Decius Mus”, who wrote the influential essay “The Flight 93 Election” back in September (we commented on it here) is Michael Anton, a former editor of the Journal of American Greatness.

He is now a member, I’m glad to say, of the Trump administration. Therefore he is also a Nazi.

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From a scathing editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal (my emphasis):

The Senate made history Tuesday when Mike Pence became the first Vice President to cast the deciding vote for a cabinet nominee.

The nominee is now Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The vote came after an all-night Senate debate in a futile effort by Democrats to turn the third Republican vote they needed to scuttle the nomination on claims that the long-time education reformer isn’t qualified. Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins had already caved, so Mr. Pence had to cast the 51st vote to confirm Mrs. DeVos.

She can now get on with her work, but this episode shouldn’t pass without noting what it says about the modern Democratic Party. Why would the entire party apparatus devote weeks of phone calls, emails and advocacy to defeating an education secretary? This isn’t Treasury or Defense. It’s not even a federal department that controls all that much education money, most of which is spent by states and local school districts. Why is Betsy DeVos the one nominee Democrats go all out to defeat?

The answer is the cold-blooded reality of union power and money. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are, along with environmentalists, the most powerful forces in today’s Democratic Party. They elect Democrats, who provide them more jobs and money, which they spend to elect more Democrats, and so on. To keep this political machine going, they need to maintain their monopoly control over public education.

Mrs. DeVos isn’t a product of that monopoly system. Instead she looked at this system’s results—its student failures and lives doomed to underachievement—and has tried to change it by offering all parents the choice of charter schools and vouchers. Above all, she has exposed that unions and Democrats don’t really believe in their high-minded rhetoric about equal opportunity. They believe in lifetime tenure and getting paid.

The article is behind the paywall, but if you use an “incognito” browser and Google the title — “The Real Democratic Party” — you should be able to read it.

I should say also that this is not to suggest in any way that the same sort of thing doesn’t happen on the Republican side as well; of course it does. It is an obvious and inherent liability of our system of government. What should also be obvious is that the bigger that government is, and the more powerful it is, the more it attracts — and welcomes — such unholy arrangements, and the more pernicious they become to the general welfare.

If we are to continue to embrace this form of democracy, then the only good answer to the problem is to curtail the size and power of the Federal apparatus itself. You would think that would be as plain as day — so why does it never happen? Because among the many inherent liabilities of complex representative democracies is that the Leviathan always seeks its own growth, with the political class generally acting in the role of parasitic symbiotes. (I’ll take this opportunity to recommend two books: Crisis and Leviathan, by Robert Higgs, and The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith.)

It is not easy to see a way out of this trap.

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Emotional Granularity And The Richness of Human Idiom

The range of human emotion varies widely not only among individuals, but also across cultures. There is a poignancy in an inexpressible emotion (there ought to be a word for that!) — but there’s a good chance that what is inexpressible in one language is pinpointed by a word or phrase in another.

Tim Lomas of the University of East London has set about collecting these idioms from all over the world. Learn more here.

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Could California Secede?

In the comment-thread to a recent post, our commenter Henry argues that Calexit, as the Golden State’s secession movement refers to its goal, is a non-starter. Is it?

Is secession prohibited by the Constitution? Not explicitly. By Constitutional interpretation? Well, there’s Texas v. White (1869). Wikipedia has excerpted some key passages from Salmon P. Chase’s majority opinion (my emphasis).

The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to “be perpetual.” And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained “to form a more perfect Union.” It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?

I beg to differ. It is not difficult at all to convey, in a written constitution, “the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words.” For example, the Constitution might have said:

“The Union of States hereby constituted shall be forever and always indissoluble.”

See how easy?

Moreover, I should think that any notion of “a perfect Union” would presume, at the very least, the willing participation of its members; a Union that a constituent party wishes so badly to leave that it is willing to go to war over it hardly seems “perfect” to me. So with all due respect, I think Chief Justice Chase rather badly missed the mark here.

The Chief Justice continued, referring to the recent Civil War:

Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law. The obligations of the State, as a member of the Union, and of every citizen of the State, as a citizen of the United States, remained perfect and unimpaired. It certainly follows that the State did not cease to be a State, nor her citizens to be citizens of the Union. If this were otherwise, the State must have become foreign, and her citizens foreigners. The war must have ceased to be a war for the suppression of rebellion, and must have become a war for conquest and subjugation.

Chief Justice Chase presents this as some sort of reductio ad absurdum. I see here a syllogism going something like this:

1) If the secession of the Confederacy were valid, then the Civil War would have been “a war for conquest and subjugation”.

2) The Civil War was not a war for conquest and subjugation.

3) The secession of the Confederacy was not valid.

If this all seems solid to you, you might like to ask a Southerner about premise 2).

Salmon P. Chase was born in New Hampshire. The concurring Justices were born in New York, New Hampshire, and Connecticut (as well as one who, though born in Maryland, went to college in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Yale, married a gal from Massachusetts, and settled in Illinois). The dissenting Justices, however, were all Southerners. (I suppose that’s why they call these things “opinions”.)

The fact is: the Southern states seceded from the Union, and the North forced them back in by defeating them in an exceptionally bloody war. You may claim a legal basis for it, if you like (and of course the North did like) but in the end, like so much of human affairs, it comes down to power. How else would you compel a seceding state to rejoin the Union except by “conquest” (i.e. the seizure of sovereignty by superior force, military or other), and “subjugation” (forcing submission to the will of the conqueror)?

It can certainly be argued that to secede from the Union is to renege on a contract, namely the Constitution itself. But the Constitution, to the extent that it is a contract at all, is a contract between the United States of America — and as soon as a state has seceded from that Union it considers itself no longer a part of that republic. Why would it consider itself bound by the Constitution of a nation it doesn’t belong to?

“No,” you might say, “to secede in the first place is a breach of contract.” But what gives contracts their binding power, in the absence of voluntary compliance? Only the coercive power of the sovereign — a sovereign to which a state in secession no longer believes it owes any obedience.

The question, then, is not a Constitutional one, but, as it was in the 1860’s, a matter of coercive power. If California were to secede, this means that the rump United States would have to decide whether to retake it by force.

Would it do so? The previous Civil War was a gruesome affair, costing over 600,000 lives. How would a sitting President, in the second decade of the 21st century, decide what to do?

Perhaps he would try and consult the nation’s mood, the national will. But what would be the national will be in a nation so deeply divided as ours? California, after all, is the mothership of Leftism in America: of radical environmentalism, open borders, sexual libertinism, and entropic postmodernism regarding every natural category. It media apparatus is the great antenna from which the liberal Narrative is broadcast, and its balmy littoral precincts are where the Cathedral’s wealthy and photogenic aristoi fly home to roost, in sumptuous isolation. All of this attracts a good deal of sympathy from a great many people throughout the Clinton Archipelago. (They may not occupy a lot of physical territory, but they are numerous, and they make a lot of noise.) How would they react to the sight of B-2s over the Golden Gate?

Admittedly, the secessionists in California might not be able to put up much of a fight; it’s hard to imagine Barbra Streisand or Lena Dunham striking fear into the hearts of the Marines. But I do believe that an awful lot of people in America would not only not want to reclaim California by force, but would be strongly sympathetic to its secession, and would even be inclined to move there once the dust settled.

On the other side of the coin, there would be an awful lot of people in TrumpLand who would be happy to see California go, and even happier to see local sympathizers hit the road for the new Utopia.

In short, a peaceful separation might be a great blessing for a nation stuck in a very bad marriage, and badly in need of a divorce. And so I very much doubt that if California secedes the result would be war.

But will California secede? There is certainly a movement towards it that is gathering steam, but it’s too soon to say. If I had to make a guess, though, I’d say that I rather think it actually might.

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I Drink, Therefore I Am

Why is there civilization?

To make beer, of course. Duh.

And That’s The Fake News, Folks. Now, Here’s The Fake Weather.

Here’s a story I think we’ll be hearing a thing or two about. From the Daily Mail:

The Mail on Sunday today reveals astonishing evidence that the organisation that is the world’s leading source of climate data rushed to publish a landmark paper that exaggerated global warming and was timed to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

A high-level whistleblower has told this newspaper that America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) breached its own rules on scientific integrity when it published the sensational but flawed report, aimed at making the maximum possible impact on world leaders including Barack Obama and David Cameron at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015.

The report claimed that the ‘pause’ or ‘slowdown’ in global warming in the period since 1998 – revealed by UN scientists in 2013 – never existed, and that world temperatures had been rising faster than scientists expected. Launched by NOAA with a public relations fanfare, it was splashed across the world’s media, and cited repeatedly by politicians and policy makers.

But the whistleblower, Dr John Bates, a top NOAA scientist with an impeccable reputation, has shown The Mail on Sunday irrefutable evidence that the paper was based on misleading, ‘unverified’ data.

It was never subjected to NOAA’s rigorous internal evaluation process – which Dr Bates devised.

His vehement objections to the publication of the faulty data were overridden by his NOAA superiors in what he describes as a ‘blatant attempt to intensify the impact’ of what became known as the Pausebuster paper.

And here’s Dr. Bates’s own account, courtesy of vox clamantis in deserto Dr. Judith Curry.

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Pour La Canaille…

Our commenter Robert has sent us a link from MindingTheCampus.org: What To Do When Angry Students Plan To Cancel A Speech. It is brief enough to quote in its entirety here (emphasis added).

So the Chancellor of the University of California put out a defense of free speech when violent rioters threatened to cancel a talk by a far-right agitator at Berkeley (see following item). So the violent rioters overwhelmed the insufficient force of municipal and campus police and canceled the speech. Then what have we learned here? That high-minded statements unaccompanied by not enough law-and-order often do little or nothing for free speech.

What to do? The same thing we advise whenever this happens: don’t let the censors win. Be sure to invite the speaker back, even if it is the obnoxious Milo Yiannopolous, after negotiating enough local police and enough rent-a-cops to handle the feral young. This will make your commitment to free speech very clear.

I approve (as would Tom Petty and Winston Churchill). And if that fails, of course, there’s always grapeshot.

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What Now?

In my previous post I mentioned the fault-lines dividing the nation, and said it seemed the ground was beginning to shake. There’s no question that the West’s tectonic plates, which have been locked for a long time now, have begun to slip; the collapse of the Democratic Party, and the ascension of Donald Trump, could not have happened without real seismic movement.

As a result, there has been a convulsive reaction on the Left: riots, mass demonstrations, an annulment/secession movement in California, boycotting of Senate confirmation hearings, and incendiary denunciations by every organ of the Cathedral. There has also been, to borrow from the Left’s own glossary, a general intensification of “othering”, at a level bordering on outright dehumanization. Those not enthusiastically supportive of the activist Left are no longer “conservatives”, or even “tea-baggers”; they are now Nazis — and, the label having been applied, it’s broadly considered justifiable, if not downright fashionable, to assault them. (Even the New York Times considers the question worth debating. If that’s what they say in public, one can imagine what their private sentiments might be.)

Last night, riots broke out on the Berkeley campus in response to an speaking engagement by Milo Yiannopolous. Certainly the ground is shaking a bit. The question we should ask, though, is whether these are foreshocks — the early tremors of an impending catastrophe — or aftershocks. To pursue the seismological metaphor, might it be that the plates having slipped, the shaking will gradually abate as the landscape settles into its new configuration? Or are we, as some are suggesting, on the brink of far greater shocks, possibly including civil war?

Best of all, of course, would be peaceful disaggregation — but so deeply interpenetrated are the opposing sides as to make that almost impossible. California may secede (with my blessing!), and so might Texas, and there are some geographic generalities that may offer other possibilities, but for the most part a split is going to be very hard to arrange. If it really does come down to war, think Rwanda. (And the Left will lose, badly.)

I don’t expect that to happen, though I do expect real violence to erupt here and there. Certain cities might not be safe places to be, without a lot of warning, and sooner than you think.

If you imagine the chief features of the modern left-wing activist, “impulse control” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. This means that they tend to behave badly in public, even when times are good — and for the American Left in early 2017, times are not good. It seems likely, then, that in the coming weeks and months, we will see more and more vandalism, disturbances of the peace, obstruction of public thoroughfares, shouting and insults, “getting in people’s faces”, and general obnoxiousness, as they feel power and representation slipping away. This in turn will alienate more and more of the quiet, middle-of-the-road sorts who might once have had some sympathy for their cause. In short, the more chaos they create, the more people will come to realize the primary importance of order. Order is one of those things, like air or water, that you don’t really appreciate until it’s in short supply — but when that supply is threatened, restoration becomes Job One.

So, the divorce we’d all love to see isn’t going to happen, I’m afraid, and so the sullen left, I’m sorry to say, will continue to be with us for the foreseeable future, and will continue to be a degrading, corrosive force. They will never sleep, and will pounce on any weakness, and there will be some very ugly outbreaks. But in their spasm of anger they are now going to present themselves so badly to the American people that they will lose a great deal of sympathy, and with it a great deal of power, for some time to come.

That’s how it seems to me tonight, anyway. (I might have a different opinion by morning.) Am I right? We’ll see.

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Earthquake Weather

Here’s me, three years ago:

America’s ideological landscape is like the continent itself: transected by deep fault-lines at the irregular boundaries of rigid plates. Though crushed tightly together, these great masses seek to move in different directions, and so they strain relentlessly against one another. The pressure builds, and builds — until, sooner or later, it must release itself in a destructive convulsion. …

The plates press and moan and grumble. The water in the wells is rising, and muddy. Dogs and cats fidget restlessly. Farm animals are balky and skittish. Migraines are up sharply, and radios are on the fritz.

It’s getting hard not to notice the ground starting to shake.

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