Retweeted today by Christina Hoff Sommers:
Bernie Sanders has suggested that Hillary Clinton is unqualified for the Presidency. As you might imagine, I didn’t need much persuading, but after seeing this tweet, I’d say the case is closed:
While taking a three-mile constitutional this afternoon (we of the American Right never, of course, forget the importance of constitutionals), I had a listen to John Derbyshire’s latest Radio Derb podcast. It was a particularly good one, with fine segments on immigration, automation, and social engineering. You can listen to it here, or read it here.
One theme that Mr. Derbyshire touched on was what he calls “The Bathroom Wars” (and which others have called “World War T”). (I’ve hardly written about this one at all, although of course I have opinions about it that are consistent with this website’s overarching editorial themes. It’s all just so fatiguing sometimes.)
Derb had this to say:
I’m still having trouble taking this seriously. How on earth did we get to the point where restroom usage is a major national issue?
This looks to me like another case of Thinking Too Much. A lot of life, including social life, goes much better if you don’t think about it too much.
That used to be — until, I mean, the week before last — that used to be how we coped with public restrooms. If you were a guy, you went to the guys’ room; if a gal, to the gals’ room. If you were honestly confused about your sex, you went to whichever room your presence in would be less likely to cause comment and fuss. The amount of brainpower, of cognitive energy, you put into the matter of bathroom-going was very close to zero.
Obvious guys did not go into the girls’ room, or vice versa, because it would have been gross bad manners to do so. A person who insisted on doing so would cause pointless trouble and ill feeling. If he or she was doggedly persistent, or made a habit of barging into the other sex’s restroom, the authorities might intervene with a prosecution for some catchall misdemeanor like “disturbing the peace” or “causing a public nuisance.” This practically never happened though. Mostly people just minded their manners.
That was a rule-governed society, a society in which there were right and wrong ways to behave. Most people most of the time behaved the right way, out of consideration for others and the desire for a life not daily roiled by unnecessary commotion. The rules came first, and most of us followed them without thinking — from habit, and unspoken social understandings. Laws were just a backstop, for dealing with the occasional antisocial delinquent.
Now that’s all turning around. Rules count for less and less; everything has to be overseen by the federal Department of Justice.
This is the legalistic despotism foreseen by de Tocqueville two hundred years ago, in which federal power, quote, “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate,” end quote.
Very well said, I think. And readers may recognize the Tocqueville quote, which I’ve cited here myself a few times. Here’s a larger excerpt of that passage, from Chapter VI of Democracy in America:
I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.
In Derb’s transcript is a link to an essay of his from 2003 called The Importance of Not Thinking Too Much, which touches upon another of this blog’s themes: that one of the bequests of the Enlightenment upon the people of the West was the “universal acid” of radical doubt. Derb quotes one of the Enlightenment’s heaviest hitters, David Hume:
This sceptical doubt … is a malady, which can never be radically cur’d, but must return upon us every moment, however we may chace it away … Carelessness and in-attention alone can afford us any remedy. For this reason I rely entirely upon them…
At the time Hume wrote this, his ideas were a drop of acid in an ocean of tradition and common sense. Things are very different now. I don’t think he and his colleagues could really have imagined what they were unleashing upon the world.
If ever there was a huge, complex, brittle, and unstable system in need of a reboot, well, folks, you’re living in it.
Just a few months ago we mentioned Judge Richard Leon, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Back then we praised him for putting the kibosh on a sneaky little maneuver by the DOJ regarding voter ID.
Inequality is intractable. I’ve written about this often. Innate inequalities — the unequal distribution of superior qualities — naturally create social and economic inequalities, and the only way to level these natural differences is by the creation and imposition of new inequalities of power. It follows, then, that a social movement (or, properly understood, a secular religion) that uses “inequality” (and its inevitable correlate, “discrimination”) as an alias for “evil”, that interprets all naturally occurring instances of inequality as the result of oppressive and voluntary agency, and that makes “victims” of such inequalities sacred objects and holy martyrs, is actually, and necessarily, engaging itself in the acquisition of power, and the creation of new inequalities. It simply cannot be otherwise, platitudes about the “right side of history” and arguments based on egalitarian moral axioms notwithstanding.
I was looking for something in Lawrence Auster’s archives the other day, and ran across this:
Since liberals are against unequal power relationships, they must deny that they exercise power themselves. They always present themselves as the “progressives” come to end inequality, rather than as the power wielders. The result is that liberal power is invisible and unaccountable, and is thus more unequal, undemocratic, and corrupting than the traditional power relations it is replacing, which, unlike liberalism, do not deny their own hierarchical component.
Exactly correct. How I do wish he were still with us.
(1) One of the most important ways that cultures differ is in their normative biases.
(2) When composing a multicultural Venn diagram, the intersection can only contain non-contradictory elements of the cultures being combined.
(3) Norms are often contradictory in a way that, say, food is not. (Food, and music, the most commonly cited blessings of multiculturalism, are non-normative. To the extent that music is considered normative, it becomes subject to cultural exclusion.)
(4) Thus multiculturalism preferentially strips away normativity from the public square, to be replaced only with such artificial norms as are necessary to suppress traditional normative expression.
(5) Every acculturated human is normatively inclined to do, and publicly to favor, the things that his culture prescribes — and to avoid, and publicly criticize, what his culture forbids. (Even though normative prescriptions and proscriptions must, in principle, subtract absolute liberties, in an organic culture they do not do so in a meaningful way, because we do not feel our liberty diminished by compulsions or prohibitions regarding things we would or would not do anyway.)
(6) All of this is suppressed by multiculturalism. Perceived liberty is diminished, because we must not publicly say or do things that we would otherwise do.
(7) This means that the public personae of citizens of a “multiculture” are reduced to only those norms and qualities that are in the intersection of the Venn diagram. The more cultures we mix, the smaller that intersection gets, until humans, in their public role as citizens, are reduced to the basest sorts of commonality.
(8) This causes an increasing tension between every citizen’s public and private persona, decreasing his natural connection to the community and ambient “culture”.
(9) Thus, by suppressing the public expression and accommodation of ambient and internalized norms, multiculturalism breaks down organic social order and cohesion; it can only be replaced by a top-down, external order that acts on citizens only as instances of the stripped-down humanity described in (7).
Here’s another video clip: a hair-raising tornado chase.
Great, simple video here from a young Swedish woman.
Our recent post, Douthat and Reaction, featured a link to a video clip of a young woman disrupting a speaking event at the University of Massachusetts. She is seen flailing her arms and shouting obscenities — in short, having a child’s temper-tantrum.
The video clip has gone “viral”, and its star has been the object of widespread ridicule. It’s easy to understand why — and frankly, hard not to join in — but it’s important for those of us who are older and wiser to look at this a bit more thoughtfully. Despite her being of an age that would, in an earlier era, have made her a “young adult”, our prevailing culture of pathological infantilization has ensured that the person having the tantrum really is still just a child.
Not a day goes by that we don’t see a story about “microaggression”, “triggering”, and the need for “safe spaces”. (See here, for example.) But when we jeer and mock these “snowflakes”, we must be mindful of the context: we have ascribed to them agency as adults, usually without considering that their upbringing and indoctrination has done everything to prevent such agency from coming into existence. At every turn they have been swaddled and coddled, buffered and shielded from the consequential realities of the world.
What’s more, the universal acid of Leftist postmodernism has dissolved all of the natural and organic categories and structures that have traditionally been available for children and adolescents to adopt, and orient themselves to, as they seek to create their adult personalities. In all previous eras, these templates provided a necessary scaffolding for a person still under construction; now they are all broken down and discarded. The result is that these wretched children must now create themselves almost entirely ex nihilo, which must be a terribly — perhaps I should say inhumanly — difficult thing for a person to do. One of the greatest challenges of adolescence is learning self-confidence; it is hard enough when one has a reliable, time-tested model upon which to build oneself. How much harder it must be when you are expected to create it all from nothing! Is it any wonder, then, that they are inordinately vulnerable to challenges and criticism? What have they got to stand on, to fall back on? The answer is: nothing — because the Left has systematically destroyed it all, in its quest to create an artificial order consisting only of a cloud of dependent human atoms and the State.
In this sense, then, the puling students that shock us every day with their weakness really are victims: of a monstrous macro-aggression, lasting more than half a century now, against everything that might have made it possible for them to be fully realized adults.
Here’s a gratifying item from today’s news:
Whether this will stand — and whether it is actually an early indication of some kind of limit having been reached at last, or simply the corpse of the West giving a little twitch — remains to be seen.
You’ve probably heard of Bayes’s Theorem, but if you’ve yet to get your head around it, here’s a nice visual explanation, including a simple Bayesian explanation of the perplexing “Monty Hall problem” (which we last discussed in here way back in 2009).
(Also, from the same website, here’s another Bayes tutorial.)
Ross Douthat of the New York Times has been nibbling, lately, at NRx’s red pill, and has recently written both a column and a blog-post on neoreaction that seem at least partly sympathetic. For a man in his position, that is, as Orwell reminded us, a “revolutionary act”: to the extent that the movement has been mentioned at all elsewhere in the mainstream press — and it has gained enough momentum recently that it has had to be mentioned — it has only been to “point and splutter”, and to anathemize it, dogmatically and falsely, as “white-supremacist” heresy. Mr. Douthat, on the other hand, seems at the very least to be able to handle this hazardous material without the usual risk of anaphylaxis, or even, perhaps, a perceptible histamine response. (One suspects that he is actually developing a taste for the stuff, and is saying less than he thinks. I can hardly blame him on either count: he’s a smart guy.)
Today we have a good response to Mr. Douthat’s overture, from Mark Christensen of Social Matter. It is more than just a specific reply, though, as it covers a lot of the fundamentals of neoreaction (and so I recommend it to curious readers).
Here are some excerpts.
On the rejection of human universalism:
Reaction proper has always taken human biodiversity as one of several factors which impact civilizational order and evolution. If Douthat is asking whether reaction can accept the “Liberal Creationist” belief that human evolution stopped 10,000 years ago (at least from the neck up), then the answer is obviously no. However, it is worth noting that reaction differs from some parts of the alt-right, in that it sees race as merely one of the elements which sovereign power must work with, rather than as a sufficient condition for a healthy society. The answer to global ethnocultural diversity is a global diversity of political regimes. The liberal idea that Sweden and Syria ought to have the same form of government is ideological derangement.
On the illusion of popular sovereignty in present-day America:
…Douthat’s pondering on whether reaction can abandon its illiberal view of political order requires a more in-depth response. Presumably, when Douthat means despotism, he is referring to rule by a non-democratic elite and the embodiment of sovereign power in a ruler or group of rulers unconstrained by constitutions, rule of law, or axiomatic moral principles. If they abide by certain norms or customs, this is voluntary. When pressed, their power is limited only by nature and by competing political powers, either within the state or outside it. The ruler or rulers are ultimately guided by personal judgement and how they choose to navigate the realities of rule and politics, rather than by legal systems of regulation.
The reactionary answer to outrage at this view of political order is simple: “please present an existing alternative.” Now, most Americans would state that the Republic–however corrupted by Big Money or Big Government or what have you–is ultimately based on the Constitution. No part of the Republic’s governing bodies have total sovereignty, and they are restrained by the limits of the constitutional framework. There even exists a body whose job it is to make sure that make sure that the Constitution is being followed: the Supreme Court. But this body is the subject of strange disputes.
Republicans and Democrats have bitter struggles over whether the presiding judges will be conservative or liberal. It seems that when conservatives read the Constitution it says conservative things, and when liberals do it says liberal things. But then the Constitution in and of itself is not the foundation of the Republic; rather, the judgement of the Supreme Court is! The nation of laws is ruled by those who interpret what the law is. This even applies to seemingly unequivocal parts of the document. The rights to life and due process, for instance, are interpreted in ways consistent with the USG’s security requirements.
Obviously, reactionary theory begins with a rejection of some aspect of modernity as, at best, a dead end, and more accurately a grievous error in need of correction. But in favor of what, exactly?
The reactionary tradition … sets forth a drive towards order, harmony, and the organic hierarchy which derives from seeking excellence through discipline. This conclusion is what divides the reactionary from the liberal, and what lies at the center of the reactionary aesthetic.
Were the reactionary position to gain substantial ground, institutions which have long based their legitimacy on serving the cause of democracy and revolution would immediately lose it, since these claims would be exposed as lies and manipulation. Men such as Nicolas Gomez Davila, the later Heidegger, and Julius Evola attempted to live according to a philosophy of life which embraced duty, inner discipline, and transcendence.
This code reflects the values which aristocratic classes formalize at the high points of civilizational achievement. Roman senators praised virtus and popularized Stoic philosophy, the knights of Christendom learned chivalry, the Japanese samurai classes developed Bushido. The common function of these elite codes was to inculcate in the elite classes an ethic which would lead them to rule responsibly and thus maintain their position in the social order. Of course, in all cases there existed those who deviated from these principles and instances where those principles failed or were ignored. But it should be noted that their goal was precisely the development of a personality which could understand the purposes of these codes and reliably judge when exceptions might be necessary to fulfill them.
This is a crucial point: the very essence of the tradition that reactionary thought seeks to articulate and to preserve is discipline. What is discipline? Its most essential quality is the subordination of the self to something higher. (It shares this meaning with the word “disciple”.) It is only through discpline — the discipline of the craftsman, the scholar, the scientist, the artist, the healer, the warrior, the monk — that we can defy gravity, that we can raise some part of ourselves above the basest aspects of our nature. This is at the heart of the reactionary’s emphasis on hierarchy: if there is nothing above us, why bother to ascend? In the thermodynamic terms I am fond of here, discipline is profoundly anti-entropic.
The modern Left’s antipathy to hierarchy, then, can also be understood as an antipathy to discipline, and therefore to order, and to excellence. Think of discipline, dear Reader, and you will have imagined everything that this is not.
Read Mr. Christensen’s article here.
Our newest commenter, Jacques, is holding my feet to the fire once again in the comment-thread to our recent post on the “Black Pill”. (These things tend to scroll down and disappear, so I thought I’d mention it; J. is prying open some old (i.e., eternal) questions I haven’t written about in years.)
It is hopelessly naive to think that we can have comity without commonality… we have reached the point where we agree on almost nothing and that the way forward will be more like war than like civil debate on a common ground of shared principles.
Quite so. More and more people are starting to understand that the nation has become, to the point of irreconcilability, a “house divided against itself”. What we have seen so far this year is, I think, just the beginning.
In case you missed it: Actual Climate Scientist Judith Curry posted an item a few weeks ago linking to a forceful essay by Mario Loyola on climate-change activism. The Loyola essay is behind a paywall at The American Interest, but that publication offers non-subscribing visitors one free article a month, so you ought to be able to read it (if you can’t, try using your browser’s “incognito” mode). Dr. Curry also offers substantial excerpts in her own post.
Go read it all; it’s well worth your time.
From Stephen Hsu’s blog, here’s a video of an hour-long panel discussion with Dr. Hsu, Steven Pinker, and Dalton Conley on the subject of genetic engineering and the heritability of human traits, particularly intelligence.
This topic is a minefield in the West, and so great care is taken, and necessary pieties uttered — and some obvious, elephant-in-the-room topics are completely ignored. There is, however, a clear consensus that (a) almost every human trait is significantly heritable; (b) that intelligence is real, quantifiable, and predictive of life outcomes; (c) that intelligence, like every other human trait, has a significant genetic basis; and (d) that both our understanding of polygenic traits and our ability to edit the genome are advancing exponentially.
Dr. Pinker repeatedly expressed doubt about the likelihood of rapid adoption of eugenic applications, however. He points out that human cloning has been possible for a long time now, but is still illegal everywhere, and that while breeding for intelligence has also been possible forever, no society seems terribly interested in doing it. (One might object that Dr. Pinker himself could arguably be seen as the output of such a process.) He generally seems confident in the power of tradition and taboo to keep a lid on this sort of thing. I think he is very wrong about this.
Dr. Hsu, on the other hand — who is an adviser to the BGI Cognitive Genomics research center in Shenzen, China, that is working hammer and tongs to advance this technology — seems not to share Pinker’s opinion here, and I think that, given the venue (the 92nd Street Y, in New York City), he was holding his cards close to his chest. (I know people who know Dr. Hsu, and my understanding is that he thinks it very likely that we will be able to engineer human IQs hundreds of points higher in fairly short order.)
The social and moral implications of this technology are enormous, probably much more so than most people have really imagined, and progress in this area is accelerating. One deceptive feature about exponentially rising curves is that if you use the slope at any given point to extrapolate future values of Y, you are always vastly underestimating, so our sense of the rate of change here — and our sense of having time to deal with it — is quite certainly wrong. There are in fact three different curves here: there is the rate of technological change, which is soaring into the sky; there is the much slower rate at which we can comprehend and predict, in moral and intellectual terms, what the implications of the technology will be; and slowest of all there is the rate at which the society, and in particular the law, can accommodate those changes. These three curves are peeling apart very quickly now.
Of the three panelists, by far the least interesting, I thought, was the social scientist Dalton Conley, whose most notable contribution was to take a swipe at the work of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. Indeed, he made claims about the trending effects of assortative mating that struck me as flat-out wrong, but I will do some homework before I comment further about that.
Anyway, have a look. Your comments are welcome as always.
Yet another outage today with my hosting service. Apologies to all.
Our reader Robert, a.k.a. “Whitewall”, noted the ceaseless efforts of the political Left to “force change where no change is needed or even wanted.” He added that “a workable contentment among people is somehow intolerable to them.”
This is a belt-high meatball for the thermodynamic metaphor, if you will permit me a meta-metaphor (or, perhaps I should say, a meta-meataphor). In thermodynamic terms, the relentlessness of the Left’s assault on order and hierarchy is easily understood:
It’s a mechanical, entropic process, like water finding every crack and fissure as it seeks the lowest level.
It is entropic precisely in the sense that it levels and flattens everything, as order yields to disorder. In particular, it levels the gradients that are necessary, in any thermodynamic system, for the possibility of useful work. Ultimately, everything will be undifferentiated from everything else. (Is that not the obvious endpoint of our secular religion’s pathological mission?) It is this flattening, correctly understood as a thermodynamic exhaustion, that is why Leftism always reduces societies to economic and cultural rubble.
The action of the Left is always to reduce potential; it leaves everything it touches in a lower-energy state. It breaks mountains into scree; it dismantles cathedrals to build hovels.
I’ve often mentioned a popular neoreactionary metaphor, the “red pill” (in fact I did so just two posts ago). Now, with a hat-tip to the latest edition of Nick Steves’ weekly roundup, we offer you an essay by Brett Stevens about another existential medicament: the black pill.
What is the black pill? In a word, it’s nihilism.
Nihilism is a topic I’ve also mentioned often in here. It lies in wait everywhere alongside the naturalistic path, and a panoramic view of its yawning abyss awaits every traveler who follows that path all the way to its end. I’ve stared into that chasm for a very long time now. I have formed some conclusions about it.
One of those conclusions is that the abyss is where the naturalistic path goes. There is no bridge at the end: the abyss is so deep that there is no place you could put the pilings, and anyway, there’s nothing on the other side. (Think of the “Troll’s Tongue”, below, but without the scenery.)
Nevertheless, I’ve always rejected nihilism in the form it’s usually presented — which is as an excuse, if not an outright mandate, for presentism, hedonism, relativism, anomie, and the other mortal afflictions of the modern secular West. It’s hard to stare at the Void for long without feeling the chill of meaninglessness, and despair, seeping up out of its bottomless darkness. You need warm socks.
I don’t like meaninglessness, and I see no upside in despair. But here I am, standing on the Troll’s Tongue, cantilevered way out over, well, nothing. I have a feeling many of you are too.
Well, buck up. The happy fact is that we have a world to live in, and a pretty nice one, too. We find ourselves in useful bodies, with clever brains. We are exquisitely adapted and configured to model the world around us in ways that enable us to flourish and prosper — and what’s more, we’re bright enough to understand, if we make the effort, just what makes us flourish, and why. There is beauty in the world, and wisdom, and good food and drink, and children and families and communities, and there are stories to tell and songs to sing. In times of doubt and confusion, we have the guidance of conscience and tradition to help us build organic societies that are harmonious with the varieties of our nature. Above all, there is Love, in all its forms.
If naturalism is right — if the abyss is real — then we get to choose what to do with that enormous fact. Yes, we can choose to despair, if we like — but we can just as well choose not to. Despair is crippling, it is painful, and above all, it is pointless.
For those with the capacity to understand it correctly, what seeps out of the abyss is not despair, but liberty. With liberty comes responsibility, because what we do is entirely up to us. And with responsibility come meaning, and purpose, and duty, and all the things we thought we had lost.
Read Mr. Stevens’ article here.
While we in the moribund West gabble self-congratulatory nonsense about the “right” and “wrong” sides of history, China — which doesn’t bother with such rubbish — is rapidly reconfiguring itself. It has always been aware of the risks that Western infection brings, and so it is clamping down on foreign influences, and on the free expression of ideas (such freedom of expression being itself a Western notion, of course, and a relatively recent one at that). Foreign journalists and NGOs are leaving the country, and homegrown muckrakers are being rounded up, pour encourager les autres.
Meanwhile, China’s regional expansion made another great leap forward this week, with word that their Navy will begin land-reclamation work at Scarborough Shoal, just west of Luzon.
What has made this great expansion possible? The great wealth that China has accumulated through, among other things, its openness to global trade and influences — and in particular, the 3.6 trillion-dollar trade surplus it has racked up against a decadent and profligate United States since the year 2000. That kind of money will buy a lot of nice new things, including a robust and rambunctious military, and a fat class of loyal political dependents.
Now China, having banked a substantial fraction of the wealth of the West, has the luxury of letting itself “be itself” once again, in far more comfortable circumstances. We will point, and sputter, but little more than that, I think. Really, it’s about all we can manage these days, anyway.
Today I read an item in The Atlantic about an amusing story from the UK. Apparently Her Majesty’s Government has commissioned, at great expense, a state-of-the-art climate-research ship. The vessel needed a name, and so the public was asked to provide one. They did. The winner of the poll, by a large margin, was “Boaty McBoatface”.
This did not sit well with the Science Minister, Jo Johnson. (What is is with these Cabinet-level Johnsons, by the way? They’ve got ‘Jo’, and we’ve got ‘Jeh‘.) Mr. Johnson has announced that given “the serious nature” of ship’s mission, to wit, to “address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the melting of polar ice, and rising sea levels”, the people’s choice is simply unacceptable.
This, in turn, has not sat well with the demos — who would like to know just who, if their collective will is to be so summarily ignored by some snooty toff named Jo, is supposed to be the sovereign around here anyway? From this little spat, it seems, has arisen a “national conversation” on the nature of Democracy, and more than a few people are starting to get the idea that the whole thing might not be everything it’s cracked up to be. (Which, of course, it isn’t.) The fancy red ship is turning out to be a big red pill.
Reaction is in the air, people. Suddenly it’s everywhere you look.
I’ve mentioned the fossil-fuels advocate Alex Epstein several times in these pages, most recently back on April 13th. Here he is making his case last week before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Note in particular the odious, and evidently wholly unlettered, Senator Barbara Boxer mocking Mr. Epstein (at 7:20, and again at the very end) for presuming to opine on the “oughts” of our public policy. Her grounds for doing so? That he is a philosopher, not a scientist. That she can do so entirely unironically makes clear just how badly in need of rudimentary instruction she in fact is — not only in philosophy, but also in the historical and intellectual foundations of our civilization, and of the very government in which she wields such a persistently malignant influence.
Time to start betting back to regular operations around here, I think. It was good to take some time off, and I thank all of you who visit here regularly for your patience. I’ll confess that it’s been a little harder lately for me to keep to daily blogging; I’ve had many distractions, and I do feel occasionally that I’ve already said everything I have to say. (I’m sure I will get over it.)
Readers may have noticed that this website was down again for a while on Friday. I thought it was Bluehost coming after me again (as they seem to have done a few weeks ago, the day after I remarked on Twitter that their service wasn’t what it used to be). But when I called them this time I was immediately connected to a very helpful representative, who explained that I had come under a spam attack. I was already using a spam filter, but in order to get the site back up I had to activate a “Captcha” plugin as a bulwark against spam-bots. This means, dear readers, that you will have to demonstrate your humanity in order to comment. (That said, I’m sure that my left-leaning critics will be surprised that the thing lets me post anything at all.) Sorry for the inconvenience, but such are the times.
One of the reasons that I’ve been less inclined to write much is that I feel the need, for now at least, to read and think more, and to say less. I’ve got a stack of books I want to get to, and there are only so many hours in the day. Another reason is that I’ve been focusing a lot of attention lately on music and recording, which I’ve neglected for too long. (I’ve been putting together a mixing room, and have been catching up on recent audio technology.)
Among the books I’ve been reading is Forrest McDonald’s Novus Ordo Seclorum (1985), a truly outstanding account of the historical and intellectual origins of the Constitution. Mr. McDonald, who died earlier this year, was Professor of History at the University of Alabama. He was also an extraordinarily diligent scholar, a witty and engaging writer, and a staunch conservative. If you want to understand how the Framers meant this nation to work, and why, you will find no better source.
An excerpt, chosen almost at random, shows the relevance of Professor McDonald’s analysis to current reactionary thought (I have bolded a key passage):
“Speaking broadly, even grossly, one may characterize American schools of republican thoughtas being in two categories: those which reduced their principles into systems or ideologies, and those that did not. Those which did — again speaking broadly, for there were shades and overlappings, and the substantive differences are clearly visible only at the extremes — may likewise be characterized in two categories. One, the more nearly classical, may be described as puritan,; the other, more modern, may be described as agrarian.
The two versions of ideological republicanism held a number of attitudes in common, the most crucial being preoccupation with the mortality of republics. (“Half our learning,” said [Thomas] Dawes, “is their epitaph.”) The vital — that is, life-giving — principle of republics was public virtue. It is important to understand just what these two words signified. Like their Greek counterparts, polis and arete, they did not connote what is suggested by the idea of Christian virtue, with its emphasis upon meekness, passivity, and charity; quite the opposite, for the Christian concept of virtue was originally formulated as the central ethic of a counterculture that arose as a conscious protest against the classical culture of manliness. Nor did the public (or the polis) include everybody. Not coincidentally, public, like virtue, derives from Latin roots signifying manhood: “the public” included only independent adult males. Public virtue entailed firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength, and above all, unremitting devotion to the weal of the public’s corporate self, the community of virtuous men. It was at once individualistic and communal: individualistic in that no member of the public could be dependent upon any other and still be reckoned a member of the public; communal in that every man gave himself totally to the good of the public as a whole. If public virtue declined, the republic declined, and if it declined too far, the republic died. Philosophical historians had worked out a regular life cycle, or more properly a death cycle, of republics. Manhood gave way to effeminacy, republican liberty to licentiousness. Licentiousness, in turn, degenerated into anarchy, and anarchy inevitably led to tyranny.
What distinguished puritanical republicanism from the agrarian variety was that the former sought a moral solution to the problem of the mortality of republics (make better people), whereas the latter believed in a socio-economic-political solution (make better arrangements).
It appears things are proceeding right on schedule.
Need a few days offline, folks. Back later this week, or early next.
With a hat-tip to our reader Henry, here is a link to a video of an Ohio State University employee explaining to a group of student protestors that if they do not vacate the building they are occupying, they will be arrested and expelled.
It’s a beginning, and a welcome one, although in my opinion the tone here is far too conciliatory and apologetic. When you’re dealing with children having tantrums, you do not negotiate. But at least OSU seems to have realized who the grownups are, and that’s not nothing. It’s no surprise that they’re a bit out of practice; hopefully they will get better at this sort of thing as time goes by. We’ll see.
We note, as always on this date, the natal day of Guy Fawkes, Thomas Jefferson, F.W. Woolworth, James Ensor, Butch Cassidy, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, Robert Watson-Watt, Samuel Beckett, Harold Stassen, Stanislaw Ulam, Eudora Welty, Howard Keel, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Ken Nordine, Don Adams, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Seamus Heaney, Paul Sorvino, Jack Casady, Tony Dow, Lowell George, Al Green, Ron Perlman, Christopher Hitchens, Max Weinberg, and Garry Kasparov.
And your humble correspondent: 60 today, folks.
Over the transom today came a link (thank you, Bill K.) to Diplomad’s latest salvo: At War with the History of Mankind.
Dip makes the point that a central tenet of modern Leftist ideology (which is, as I and others have argued at length, essentially a cryptoreligious belief-system) is to make Nature sacred, and mankind profane (my words, not his, but the idea is the same). He notes that this is, in humanist terms, a noxious perversion:
Above all else, the history of mankind is one of struggle against nature, against Gaia. Wearing clothing, seeking shelter, hunting animals, creating agriculture, building cities, developing medicines, and devising public health schemes, among others, are all efforts by mankind to defeat nature and, yes, to overcome Gaia — a murderous entity if ever one existed.
Quite so. Modern environmentalism, in its ostentatious self-abnegation before the Sacred, differs only in style from medieval self-flagellation: it seeks grace and salvation through flamboyant gestures of atonement. (While we’re on the subject, white ethnomasochism is another fine example: as Lawrence Auster noted years ago, the sacred objects in that case are ethnic minorities.)
Nowhere is this religiosity, and its quest for martyrdom, more perspicuously self-evident than in the global-warming movement, and its profoundly anti-humanist crusade against fossil fuels. Alex Epstein, the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (which, if it were up to me, would be required reading for anyone eligible to vote in any Western nation) published a fine piece about this last week in Forbes.
In his essay, Mr. Epstein notes that we seem always to be losing the argument with the Left on what is now called “climate change”, and he explains that this is because, as so often happens, we fail to clarify our axioms. Key excerpts:
In naming an energy or environmental ideal, it is essential to recognize that an energy or environmental ideal is not a primary—it depends on the more fundamental question: What is the overall ideal we should strive for, in energy, environment, and everything else?
My answer is: the overall ideal is to maximize human well-being. While most Americans would agree with this ideal if and when it was made explicit, this ideal is almost never made explicit—and it is not driving our energy debate whatsoever. The ideal that is actually driving our debate without being noticed, the ideal that underlies the anti-fossil fuel ideal, is the ideal of minimizing human impact…
To reach the right conclusion on what to do about energy, we need to be clear on our moral goal, our standard of value—and that the right standard of value is maximizing human well-being rather than the environmentalist standard of minimizing human impact. If we look at the big picture, both positives and negatives, of fossil fuels by the standard of maximizing human well-being, we find that short-term and long-term they improve every aspect of life by increasing mankind’s ability to use machines—including our capacity to make a naturally dirty environment far cleaner and our capacity to make a naturally dangerous climate far safer.
If we look at the risks and side-effects of fossil fuel use, we see that they are incomparably smaller than the benefits. This is also true for other forms of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy such as nuclear and hydroelectric. Thus, short-term and long-term, the energy policy ideal is energy liberation…
If the moral case for fossil fuels and energy liberation flows from a humanist standard of value, where does the moral case against fossil fuels and energy liberation flow from?
It flows from one of the most popular moral ideals of our era, the ideal of being “green”—minimizing our impact on the planet. This ideal is completely contrary to human well-being. Despite claims that human beings live on a nurturing but fragile planet that we must tread lightly on to survive, nature does not give us a good standard of living; we need to create it by dramatically impacting—transforming—nature. In doing so, we want to maximize human well-being, which means minimizing human-harming impacts—but we want to make as much impact on the planet as necessary.
When fossil fuels are discussed, the green standard is invariably applied by both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans regularly accept the minimizing impact ideal left and right, whether by accepting “renewable” (vs. life-enhancing) as an ideal—or by obsessing over every exaggeration of our climate impact but spending no time celebrating our climate mastery—or by calling more attention to the birds killed by wind turbines than the people who would be killed if we had to rely on wind turbines.
Both sides agree: the ideal is to find the form of energy that has as little “environmental impact” as possible. This is an application of the green ideal: to minimize our impact on the planet. This must be rejected and replaced with the ideals of human well-being (or human progress) and energy liberation. Those are the real ideals, and those can be used to rapidly win hearts and minds.
Whenever I discuss any energy and environmental issue with anyone, near the very beginning I make sure to ask: “Would you agree that our goal here is to find the policy that will maximize human well-being? Would you agree that we need to look carefully at all the costs and all the benefits to get to the right answer?” It’s often necessary to bring up the non-impact issue explicitly: “Would you agree that to maximize our well-being we need to impact the world in all kinds of ways and that impact is not a bad thing but often a good thing? That we just want to minimize impacts that harm us?”
That reframing may seem simple or go unnoticed, but the resulting framework changes everything.
If we reframe the debate, making our ideals explicit, we can both win supporters and champions of the right policies, and expose the evil and anti-humanism of the wrong policies… Framing the debate with maximizing human well-being as the ideal enables us to better reach the truth—and for that reason it makes it far, far easier to persuade others of the truth—in every issue and sub-issue. When made explicit, this ideal is compelling to the vast majority of people, much more so than the anti-impact ideal (or no ideal). It transforms our view of fossil fuels (and energy liberation) from self-destructive addiction to life-enhancing technology. The person who advocates this ideal conveys deep confidence and obvious sincerity.
Read the whole thing here.
Finally, I also have to give a nod to James Delingpole, who in this related article (which also links to, and quotes, the Epstein essay), gives us a splendidly apt coinage: wind turbines as “eco-crucifixes”.
It’s “Equal Pay Day”, so here’s a video by Christina Hoff Sommers on this evergreen gripe.
“What a curious world this is!” thought Alice. “Everything is upside-down and backwards!”
“We are ruled by the oppressed, the only sin is to believe in sin, the only tradition is the destruction of tradition, ‘anti-racism’ means loathing white people, and ‘education’ means un-learning one’s culture!”
She nibbled thoughtfully on the little cake the Mad Hatter had given her. She could already feel herself beginning to change, but into what, exactly, she had no idea.
“It all reminds me of something I read once, long ago. Whatever could it have been?”
“Oh, I remember!”
Suddenly Alice felt very strangely indeed, as if she were growing and getting very much smaller at the same time.
“Oh dear,” she thought. “What will happen next? I do hope this will all end well, but I rather think it won’t.”
In his book Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Douglas R. Hofstadter discussed the idea of “recursive acronyms”. He gave as an example the acronym TATO, which stands for “TATO And TATO Only”.
The expansion goes like this:
2. TATO And TATO Only
3. (TATO And TATO Only) And (TATO And TATO Only) Only
4. ((TATO And TATO Only) And (TATO And TATO Only) Only) And ((TATO And TATO Only) And (TATO And TATO Only) Only) Only
… and so on.
Why am I mentioning this?
Well, I insure my car with GEICO. (They provide excellent service, by the way, and I recommend them highly.)
GEICO, is, of course, an acronym; the firm was founded in 1936 as the Government Employees’ Insurance Company. But just the other day I got a claim form in the mail, and saw this at the top of the page:
That gecko’s been reading himself some Hofstadter, I think.
Our previous post — a link, with excerpts and brief commentary, to an essay by Dennis Prager on how leftism and statism step in to fill the void left by religion — seems to have left some readers puzzled. Here are some further thoughts of my own:
The religious impulse, the need for sacred objects, and the hunger for salvation will always find some form of social expression. (This is because what makes religion adaptive in the first place is its effect on group cohesion.)
Religion wants a “skyhook”: something above us upon which we can depend, and with which we can make a kind of contract. In return for our faith, and for a promise of effort and self-sacrifice in the required virtuous forms, we are given protection, or even salvation.
As children, we trust in the protection of our fathers and mothers, and we submit to their authority in return. But even as adults, the world around us is still chaotic and merciless, and to have so many things beyond our control is frightening and stressful. We know that as adults we must make our way somehow in the material world — but we are finite, and we know in our bones that the mysterium tremendum is not. Dwarfed by this infinitude, we seek to attach ourselves to something transcendent; salvation in God is our warrant against that great chaos.
When the supernatural basis for all of this is removed — when God dies — we’ve lost our skyhook; the warranty is void. But we are no less overborne by the chaos and mystery we face. We continue to seek the transcendent, but the sky is now empty, and the heavens have lowered. Having sliced off the apex of the sacred pyramid — the unifying presence of God — we are left with a truncated, frustrated hierarchy. God had been the Absolute from which both the natural world, and all human agency, emanated, but now the roots of both Nature and the soul of Man are exposed and disconnected.
We have not, however, lost our sense of awe, and of transcendent beauty and mystery, when we contemplate the natural world — and so in our new, sawed-off religion, we preserve Nature as a sacred object. (Indeed, with God now departed, many of us now promote Nature to fill his place.) And having lost God as the agent and guarantor of our protection and salvation, we must set our sights, and pin our hopes, upon the only thing we can still discern above us: the State.
The State! It is a low and shabby God, but it’s all that’s left. Needs must, when the Devil drives.
Dennis Prager published an insightful item yesterday, entitled “A Note to Conservatives Who Are Secular”.
The vast majority of leading conservative writers, just like their liberal colleagues, have a secular outlook on life. With few exceptions, the conservative political and intellectual worlds are oblivious to the consequences of secularism. They are unaware of the disaster that godlessness in the West has led to.
Most leading Republicans and most of the wealthy donors to the Republican Party — in addition to virtually all libertarian politicians and think tank scholars — are either uninterested in the death of Judeo-Christian religions and values in America and the West, or they’re OK with it. They think that America can survive the death of God and religion, that fiscal and other forms of conservatism without social conservatism can preserve America.
This is true about some, but far from all, conservative writers and thinkers. But it is certainly common enough; there are many who continue to imagine the United States as nothing more than a “proposition nation”: a set of legal abstractions with a border and an economy. There are also conservatives who, though respecting the social importance of religion, adopt a naive universalism as regards religious heterogeneity — which can obviously be a profoundly divisive force — and who discount the incompatibility of some religions with Western norms. But it has been clear to me for some time now — and as an unbeliever myself, it was a hard pill to swallow — that secularism itself is maladaptive.
This, however, is exactly correct:
And why do secular conservatives think so many affluent and well-educated Americans have adopted left-wing dogmas, such as feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism as their religions? Because people want to — have to — believe in something. And if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism. Why are evangelical Protestants, theologically conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews and practicing Mormons almost all conservative? Because they already have a religion and therefore don’t need the alternate gods of leftist faiths, and also because Judeo-Christian religions have different values than leftist religions.
Just so: the religious impulse is a constant in human societies. It can be repurposed, but it is always there.
Read the rest of Mr. Prager’s article here.
In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made it the law of the land that owners of property could not refuse to sell or rent it on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. In 1988 the list was expanded to include family status and disabilities.
Absent from this list of criteria was criminal history. Legislators understood it to be within their mandate to stop property owners from simply selling or renting as they saw fit, but nevertheless stopped short of forcing them to share their premises (in the case of rentals) with known criminals.
That reasonable limit on government interference, however, belonged to a bygone era, in which individuals were assumed to possess adult human agency, and therefore to be responsible, as individuals, for their actions. But, to quote Daniel Dennett on the subject of free will, “if you make yourself small enough, you can externalize everything” — and so we now will do with criminality. In real-estate transactions, applicants are now to be considered, not as the authors of their own life-histories, but merely as different flavors of otherwise identical atoms.
How so, you ask? Well, you see, it appears that one flavor of those atoms somehow ends up convicted of crimes a lot more often than the other flavors do. But because all human atoms are — by incontrovertible axiom and fiat — otherwise identical (and very, very small!), there can be no intrinsic attribute, no “hidden variable” that could possibly account for this. So the only remaining explanation is that there is something entirely external, something vastly larger than any human particle, that irresistibly deflects certain flavors of atoms into our courts and prisons.
This means, in turn, that any evaluation we might make based on criminal records is, by the same incontrovertible axiom and fiat, invalid. (Anyway, another word for what we call “evaluation” is “discrimination”. Need we say more?)
For your enlightenment, then, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued these guidelines. They are based on no legislation, but rather on the sharply ascendant and marvelously flexible concept of “disparate impact“. What’s interesting, and perhaps novel, about this example is that what’s “disparate” here, and thereby causing the “impact”, is the actions of the affected group itself.
We haven’t said much about the situation in Europe lately, but with warmer weather coming, “migrant” flows will increase, and the social and political climate is going to heat up as well.
Already, as we see here, the Schengen idea is becoming unsupportable.
I will be in Vienna in July. I wonder what things will be like by then. (Forgive the lack of any sort of analysis, but I haven’t been doing my homework on this lately. That will change. My daughter now lives in Vienna, and I feel that for the past few months I have neglected my paternal obligation to focus the Eye of Waka on the deteriorating situation in Europe.)
Our reader Henry has sent us this interesting item, in which we learn that fishes and quanta have more in common than we thought.
A black-capped chickadee, to be precise. (Beech Forest Trail, Provincetown, MA, last Thursday.)
Commenter “Jacques”, last seen (by me, at least) over at Maverick Philosopher, has joined our recent thread on consciousness and intentionality. (Discussions on older posts can often go on unsuspected by other readers, so I thought I’d mention it. Also, it’s a nice change from the grim topics we usually handle around here these days.)
Here’s a nice visualization of sorting algorithms. (If you’re interested.)
Here’s the latest really cool thing that you absolutely must have. It just stands in your room, listening to everything you say, and transmitting it over the Internet to… someplace. It’s only $129, and it’s “always getting smarter”!
Crisp Dolby Sound!
Everybody’s going to want one. Don’t be left out!
And, as the old song goes, you can get it if you try. Story here.
This should be instructive! (Economics 101: If you subsidize something, you get more of it.)
P.S. Nick Land comments here.
In the excerpt we posted the other day from Sir Henry Maine’s Popular Government, the author explains that the chief feature of what we call Democracy is that it is an upside-down monarchy, in which, somehow, the multitude is sovereign.
But how, wonders Sir Henry, can a multitude express its will? In what sense can it even be said to have a singular will? (Students of esoteric work will know how hard that is even for a man, who in his undeveloped condition is himself not one, but many. How could it be possible for a multitude?)
The answer is that it cannot. We may flatter a congeries of hundreds of millions as our “sovereign”, and we may make the same obeisances to it that we would a king, but in point of fact there is nothing resembling an actual sovereign in the mass of the people; there is only something more akin to an applause-meter. No sovereign “will” can be expressed until some proxy is put upon the stage, or in the dock.
What is sovereignty? What does it mean to have sovereign power? It means the freedom to control events according to one’s own choices — and even more importantly, to determine what the range of choices will be. But when the sovereign is not a man, but a mass, this is impossible. All that a mass can do is to select, by the volume of its applause, from the menu it is given.
Do you think, lovers of democracy, that you actually have sovereign power? I don’t mean the mass of you, because none of you is a multitude. I mean you.
Curtis Yarvin, perhaps better known to some of you as ‘Mencius Moldbug’, is, in real life, a computer scientist, and, as far as I can tell, rather a gifted one. (For a while I shied away from using his real name, in order to protect his identity, but I think that cat is thoroughly and irreversibly out of the bag at this point.)
As Moldbug, he wrote for years on political theory at his blog, Unqualified Reservations. The ideas he developed there were sharply at odds with prevailing liberal, and even conservative, orthodoxy, and have had a reverberating influence. (Moldbug is widely considered to be the father of the burgeoning “neoreactionary” intellectual movement.)
Mr. Yarvin stopped writing as Moldbug some years ago. He had said most of what he wanted to say, I think, and wanted to focus on his professional work. But his identity became known, and as surely as night follows day his heterodox opinions started getting him in trouble with the social-justice commissars who police all public discourse these days. As a result he began to be banned from professional conferences.
Now it seems that one of those conferences, LambdaConf, has decided to defy the would-be censors and let Mr. Yarvin speak. As they should.
The story is here. Mr. Yarvin has also released a statement about his views, here. (I think its tone is far too apologetic, but I understand that this is a young father with a career he’d like to preserve, so I can hardly blame him for that.)
Haven’t had one of these for a while. Ask me anything, propose a topic, chat amongst yourselves. Whatever you like.
Some of each, I suppose. I’m talking about W. Lewis Amselem’s latest on Islam over at Diplomad 2.0. It is good strong stuff.
All religions, of course, have odd and cruel features in their old texts. Islam, however, is unique among major religions for never having had an enlightenment. It has undergone a reformation of sorts, but a retrograde one. In much of the world, Islam now lies closer to its 7th century origins than it did 100 or 200 years ago; it recedes into the past for inspiration and validation.
Quite right. “Radicalism”, in the sense of returning to one’s roots.
Per its fundamental writings and its widespread practices, Islam is about conquest, not coexistence or tolerance.
As for those fundamental writings: one thing that is not well understood by enough people in the West is that Islam’s relation to its sacred text is very different from Christianity’s. The holiest, most unshakable foundation of Islam is the belief that Mohammed is the Messenger of God, and that the Koran is nothing more or less than a literal transcription of God’s own Word. There is not even any question, as there is with the Bible, of errors and ambiguities introduced by translation, because God explicitly and deliberately transmitted his recitation to Mohammed in Arabic. The Koran itself, then, is an aspect of God made physically present in the material world. Many people mistakenly imagine the place of Mohammed in Islam to be analogous to that of Jesus in Christianity, and the Koran to the Bible, but this is mistaken; Mohammed, though a very special man indeed, was only a man, while in Christianity Jesus is very much more: He is believed to be God Himself, descended to suffer among us as a man. In the same way, the Koran is very much more than a Book; it is an extrusion of Allah into this world — given to us, as Jesus was, for our salvation. The Koran is therefore sacred to Muslims in the same way that Jesus is to Christians. (And when you defile or disrespect a Koran, you are not defiling a book; you are defiling God.)
Koranic literalism, therefore, is not a “radical” approach to Islam. Koranic literalism is Islam. This will not change.
Our immigration policies must change dramatically. Just as we, at one time, excluded Nazis, Fascists, and Communists, we now have the right to exclude practitioners of the totalitarian cult known as Islam. We have the right and obligation to fight and to exclude those committed to the violent overthrow of our way of life. The West derives no benefit from importing millions of Muslims. It is not a question of whether they belong to ISIS, AQ, Boko, or JI. Their core beliefs pose the threat as we have seen from the large number of native-born Muslims in the West who have gone jihadi–including, for example, Somalis here in the US. At a minimum, we do not need to import more Muslims. The Syrian refugee crisis is a scam and we must recognize it as such.
Quite so. I invite readers also to go back and have a look at my own post from last year on this “refugee” issue.
I’ve had absolutely nothing interesting or original to say for several days now. (This happens sometimes; even Rachmaninoff had almost nothing at all to say from 1897 to 1901.) So tonight I’m offering some excerpts from Sir Henry Sumner Maine’s Popular Government, published in 1885.
I’ve mentioned this book several times before. As “red pills” go it is one of the strongest, with an effect that will not wear off. If you, like most people, simply think it obvious that there is something special about Democracy, and that it stands head and shoulders above every other system not just practically but morally, this book should help you get over it. Above all, it will help you to understand that what we should want from government is to be governed well. Everything else is secondary, and as Sir Henry is at pains to point out often in his book, democracy is nothing more and nothing less than a form of government, one among many. As he remarked in his preface, “some assumptions commonly made on the subject must be discarded.”
These excerpts are taken from various places between pages 59 and 106. I have bolded some passages.
Democracy means properly a particular form of government. This truth … is the beginning of wisdom. There is no word about which a denser mist of vague language, and a larger heap of loose metaphors, has collected. Yet, although Democracy does signify something indeterminate, there is nothing vague about it. It is simply and solely a form of government. It is the government of the State by the Many, as opposed, according to the old Greek analysis, to its government by the Few, and to its government by One. The border between the Few and the Many, and again between the varieties of the Many, is necessarily indeterminate; but Democracy not the less remains a mere form of government; and, inasmuch as of these forms the most definite and determinate is Monarchy—the government of the State by one person—Democracy is most accurately described as inverted Monarchy.
… The successive French Republics have been nothing but the later French Monarchy, upside down. Similarly, the Constitutions and the legal systems of the several North American States, and of the United States, would be wholly unintelligible to anybody who did not know that the ancestors of the Anglo-Americans had once lived under a King, himself the representative of older Kings infinitely more autocratic, and who had not observed that throughout these bodies of law and plans of government the People had simply been put into the King’s seat, occasionally filling it with some awkwardness.
… Democracy, the government of the commonwealth by a numerous but indeterminate portion of the community taking the place of the Monarch, has exactly the same conditions to satisfy as Monarchy; it has the same functions to discharge, though it discharges them through different organs. The tests of success in the performance of the necessary and natural duties of a government are precisely the same in both cases. Thus in the very first place, Democracy, like Monarchy, like Aristocracy, like any other government, must preserve the national existence. The first necessity of a State is that it should be durable. Among mankind regarded as assemblages of individuals, the gods are said to love those who die young; but nobody has ventured to make such an assertion of States. The prayers of nations to Heaven have been, from the earliest ages, for long national life, life from generation to generation, life prolonged far beyond that of children’s children, life like that of the everlasting hills. The historian will sometimes speak of governments distinguished for the loftiness of their aims, and the brilliancy of the talents which they called forth, but doomed to an existence all too brief. The compliment is in reality a paradox, for in matters of government all objects are vain and all talents wasted, when they fail to secure national durability. One might as well eulogise a physician for the assiduity of his attendance and the scientific beauty of his treatment, when the patient has died under his care. Next perhaps to the paramount duty of maintaining national existence, comes the obligation incumbent on Democracies, as on all governments, of securing the national greatness and dignity. Loss of territory, loss of authority, loss of general respect, loss of self-respect, may be unavoidable evils, but they are terrible evils, judged by the pains they inflict and the elevation of the minds by which these pains are felt; and the Government which fails to provide a sufficient supply of generals and statesmen, of soldiers and administrators, for the prevention and cure of these evils, is a government which has miscarried. It will also have miscarried, if it cannot command certain qualities which are essential to the success of national action. In all their relations with one another (and this is a fundamental assumption of International law) States must act as individual men. The defects which are defects in individual men, and perhaps venial defects, are faults in States, and generally faults of the extremest gravity. In all war and all diplomacy, in every part of foreign policy, caprice, wilfulness, loss of selfcommand, timidity, temerity, inconsistency, indecency, and coarseness, are weaknesses which rise to the level of destructive vices; and if Democracy is more liable to them than are other forms of government, it is to that extent inferior to them.
… If we turn from the foreign to the domestic duties of a nation, we shall find the greatest of them to be, that its government should compel obedience to the law, criminal and civil. The vulgar impression no doubt is, that laws enforce themselves. Some communities are supposed to be naturally law-abiding, and some are not. But the truth is (and this is a commonplace of the modern jurist) that it is always the State which causes laws to be obeyed. It is quite true that this obedience is rendered by the great bulk of all civilised societies without an effort and quite unconsciously. But that is only because, in the course of countless ages, the stern discharge of their chief duty by States has created habits and sentiments which save the necessity for penal interference, because nearly everybody shares them.
… If any government should be tempted to neglect, even for a moment, its function of compelling obedience to law—if a Democracy, for example, were to allow a portion of the multitude of which it consists to set some law at defiance which it happens to dislike—it would be guilty of a crime which hardly any other virtue could redeem, and which century upon century might fail to repair.
On the whole, the dispassionate student of politics, who has once got into his head that Democracy is only a form of government, who has some idea of what the primary duties of government are, and who sees the main question, in choosing between them, to be which of them in the long-run best discharges these duties, has a right to be somewhat surprised at the feelings which the advent of Democracy excites.
… Of all the forms of government, Democracy is by far the most difficult. The greatest, most permanent, and most fundamental of all the difficulties of Democracy, lies deep in the constitution of human nature. Democracy is a form of government, and in all governments acts of State are determined by an exertion of will. But in what sense can a multitude exercise volition? The student of politics can put to himself no more pertinent question than this. No doubt the vulgar opinion is, that the multitude makes up its mind as the individual makes up his mind; the Demos determines like the Monarch. A host of popular phrases testify to this belief. The “will of the People,” “public opinion,” the “sovereign pleasure of the nation,” “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” belong to this class, which indeed constitutes a great part of the common stock of the platform and the press. But what do such expressions mean? They must mean that a great number of people, on a great number of questions, can come to an identical conclusion, and found an identical determination upon it. But this is manifestly true only of the simplest questions. A very slight addition of difficulty at once sensibly diminishes the chance of agreement, and, if the difficulty be considerable, an identical opinion can only be reached by trained minds assisting themselves by demonstration more or less rigorous. On the complex questions of politics, which are calculated in themselves to task to the utmost all the powers of the strongest minds, but are in fact vaguely conceived, vaguely stated, dealt with for the most part in the most haphazard manner by the most experienced statesmen, the common determination of a multitude is a chimerical assumption; and indeed, if it were really possible to extract an opinion upon them from a great mass of men, and to shape the administrative and legislative acts of a State upon this opinion as a sovereign command, it is probable that the most ruinous blunders would be committed, and all social progress would be arrested. The truth is, that the modern enthusiasts for Democracy make one fundamental confusion. They mix up the theory, that the Demos is capable of volition, with the fact, that it is capable of adopting the opinions of one man or of a limited number of men, and of founding directions to its instruments upon them.
That’s enough for now, I think. If your system seems to tolerate it well, you may increase the dosage at your pleasure; for now, at least, this stuff is still available over the counter.
I am not making this up: apparently Microsoft put a Twitter chat-bot online as part of an artificial-intelligence project, and after a few hours of online interaction it had turned into a Nazi.
Microsoft has since deleted its tweets, but some more of them are here.
The bot, called Tay, has now been taken down for “adjustments”. (With that nice Mr. O’Brien, in Room 101.)
Ah, AI. Our future. What could possibly go wrong?
The word “radical” — from the Latin radix, meaning “root” — is generally applied to someone who wishes to change a system down to its very roots. When it comes to what we in the West call “radical” Islam, however, the word would be much better understood to mean precisely the opposite: a system of belief and action that aggressively returns to Islam’s root for its meaning and methods.
Patrick Buchanan’s latest column addresses this with brevity and clarity. Here.
I’ve just run across a glum and deeply reactionary essay by Gregory Hood, written in November of 2014, on the spiritual exhaustion of the West, and the durable appeal of Islam. It examines four possible foundations for the future of our civilization: Christianity, paganism, techno-liberalism, and submission to Islam.
To most people, being a minority is alienating–even if no one is specifically insulting you, you recognize you exist at the sufferance of someone else. However, to many liberal Whites, this feeling comes as a relief. In a kind of parody of Christianity, powerlessness constitutes a certain moral authority because it removes the possibility that you can inadvertently oppress someone else…
…Lawrence Auster touched on a central reality of today’s Western Man in that dhimmitude is actually a pleasurable idea to many liberals because it would allow them to set down the burden of Whiteness. Christianity may have told Western Man that he was “born sick, and commanded to be well,” but it at least provided an answer in the grace of Jesus or the sacraments of the Church. In contrast, leftism tells Western Man that he is inherently sinful (or “privileged”) and that there is nothing he can do to escape from it except seek collective annihilation or submission.
At the risk of sinking into mysticism, one explanation for religion is that it is a kind of “race consciousness” or evolutionary adaptation in its own right.
Islam is Nature’s solution. Like the Architect from The Matrix Reloaded, it is Nature’s way of saying that “There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.” It is stultifying, depressing, and tyrannical. It is an enemy of real culture, with the most militant variations smashing the tombs and shrines not only of other religious traditions, but of their own. Modern Wahhabism is funded by Western decadence, enabled by Western weakness, in many ways a product of Western postmodernism and self-hatred.
And lest what I say be misunderstood, it is obviously, laughably, and comically false. It is sustained by the protective cordon it has created around criticism. Yet believing that a pedophiliac illiterate transcribed the literal word of God still makes more sense than believing all men are created equal. Islam’s refusal to allow critical analysis of itself is a sign of strength, not weakness.
More importantly, there is already a sense among both Western progressives and conservatives that Islam is the future for European civilization.
The essay concludes on this grim note:
We fight in defiance of this future. Yet we must remember the desperation of our situation to lend strength to our arms and urgency to our actions.
Read the whole thing here.