Service Notice

After much wrangling with Bluehost, I believe the server-side caching problems we’ve been having with the site are now fixed. Please leave a comment if you see any more odd behavior.

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Nye’s Quadrant

For today, some climate heresies:

In a post at her blog, Actual Climate Scientist Judith Curry discusses a diagram that divides scientific work into four quadrants. The corners of the diagram represent high vs. low priorities on two different axes: the pursuit of some kind of practical utility (X), and the pursuit of basic understanding (Y). In the upper-left corner — pursuit of basic understanding, with low concern for practical application — we have someone like Niels Bohr, or Isaac Newton. In the opposite corner — application above all, with just enough understanding to make a thing work — there’s Thomas Edison. The upper-right corner, where understanding and utility combine in equal measure, is occupied by people like Louis Pasteur.

Who gets the bottom left? In Dr. Curry’s post, we find it occupied by the skeletal scaremonger and cult-Marx cult-hero Bill Nye. Have a look here, and be sure to visit the many links.

We also have some remarks from a recent lecture by another anathematized Actual Climate Scientist, Richard Lindzen. In it he continues in his role as vox clamantis in deserto; all he has ever tried to do is patiently to explain that there are many good reasons for any critical thinker to approach the subject of climate change with wariness and circumspection, and to make clear that the Science is far less “settled” than we are led to believe.

Drs. Curry and Lindzen are not cranks or shills; they are highly credentialed experts who simply will not mute themselves and get in line. For this they are shunned and reviled with all the viciousness that a great and powerful religious establishment can bring to bear.

From the closing paragraph of Dr. Lindzen’s presentation:

[T]here is one thing that should spark skepticism in any intelligent reader. The system we are looking at consists in two turbulent fluids interacting with each other. They are on a rotating planet that is differentially heated by the sun. A vital constituent of the atmospheric component is water in the liquid, solid and vapor phases, and the changes in phase have vast energetic ramifications. The energy budget of this system involves the absorption and reemission of about 200 watts per square meter. Doubling CO2 involves a 2% perturbation to this budget. So do minor changes in clouds and other features, and such changes are common. In this complex multifactor system, what is the likelihood of the climate (which, itself, consists in many variables and not just globally averaged temperature anomaly) is controlled by this 2% perturbation in a single variable? Believing this is pretty close to believing in magic. Instead, you are told that it is believing in ‘science.’ Such a claim should be a tip-off that something is amiss. After all, science is a mode of inquiry rather than a belief structure.

Read the whole thing here.

Coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef has been in the news lately. It can only be due to global warming, right? Well, no: it may very well be the result of falling sea levels in the region, due to El Niño. (Have you heard any mention of this coherent and persuasive explication in the mainstream media? Of course not.) Learn more, in considerable detail, here.

Finally, see also this comprehensive takedown, from 2014, of the (apparently) unkillable “97% consensus” myth.

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Harris And Dennett, Again, On Free Will

After posting the Sam Harris interview with Charles Murray last week, I browsed through some of Dr. Harris’s other podcasts. Among them I found a conversation with Daniel Dennett on a topic about which the two of them have had a public spat: free will.

Both of these men are, obviously, uncommonly intelligent and articulate, and while each has made arguments on important matters that I find unpersuasive — Harris on the existence of an objective foundation for morality, Dennett on the illusory nature of consciousness, and both of them on what they consider to be the fatuity and obsolescence of religion — I’ve admired both of them for their curiosity, diligence, and willingness to take unpopular positions.

Free will is, of course, a difficult topic that has vexed philosophers and laymen alike for a very long time. I’ve written about it myself at some length. (See the post category here, or the linked series of posts beginning here.) I find Dennett’s position — a carefully threaded form of “compatibilism”, as laid out in his books Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves — persuasive. Sam Harris doesn’t, and wrote a short book of his own to say so. In a review, Dennett called the book a “museum of mistakes”, and there was some tense back-and-forth in print between the two of them. (See the links below.)

Last summer Harris and Dennett both attended a conference in Banff, and during a break in the action sat down in a bar to talk about it all. The result is this podcast, in which they examine their disagreements with refreshingly civilized collegiality. My impression is still that Dennett’s position comes much closer to getting at what is true and important about free will than Harris’s — so much so, in fact, that it rises to the level of what is sometimes called “pwnage”. But you should make up your own minds. It’s an interesting and penetrating discussion.

Have a listen here.

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Put Some Cant In Your Rant

If, like me, you often have trouble finding just the right word, perhaps these will help: A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1811, and the Dictionary of Cant and English Slang, A Collection of the Canting Words and Terms, both ancient and modern, used by Beggars, Gypsies, Cheats, House-Breakers, Shop-Lifters, Foot-Pads, Highway-Men, &c; from 1737.

I’ve lifted these from the excellent blog From Old Books. I think that makes me a “heaver“.

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The Science Guy

Once you have listened to the podcast offered in our previous post — a thoughtful and informative discussion of complex topics by two thoroughly civilized adults — I invite you, for perspective, to watch this video by the latest champion of our dying society’s hegemonic cryptoreligion. I refer to that grimacing ectomorph, Bill Nye, who seems suddenly to be everywhere — and who presumes, along with the equally insufferable mediocrity Neil DeGrasse Tyson, to lecture the rest of us about “science” (lectures that seem always to be more like what used, in my day, to be called “propaganda”, or sometimes just “rubbish”).

Look at this astonishing video, which consists of a bulky middle-aged woman warbling about her enthusiasm for every imaginable variety of sexual perversion, while squatting and waddling about the stage in a leotard. Read the song’s lyrics, helpfully captioned for the hearing-impaired. (I understand that they are by Mr. Nye himself.) Learn all about this graceless woman’s insatiable vagina, and about the cultural and spiritual importance of “butt stuff”.

Watch it all, if you can. Reflect on the fact that in the eyes of the mandarins who shape our popular culture, this man — this gangling scarecrow from Hell — is a suitable choice for the instruction and moral guidance of our children, while men like Charles Murray are reviled in our nation’s press and the halls of our academies, and are physically assaulted when they dare to speak in public.

Watch this video and ask yourself how on earth any high culture could possibly have sunk so low in such short years. Think of all that we have squandered and lost. Think of what it means for your children, and theirs.

And yes, by all means, please feel free to burn with rage.

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Sam Harris Interviews Charles Murray

Here’s something to listen to: a roving two-hour conversation between Sam Harris and Charles Murray. Of particular value is their discussion of the hard reality of intelligence, and of its measurability, its heritability, and the cross-cultural reliability of intelligence tests.

Also: the word that changed the history of the world.

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Service Notice

There’s been some odd behavior here – strange lags between publishing and items appearing, and comments appearing under the wrong author’s name. I don’t know what’s going wrong, but I do recall there being a recent WordPress update.

I’ll try to sort it out. I invite affected commenters to leave a comment on this post to see if the problem is limited to the previous one. One thing I have noticed: forcing a browser-cache refresh (Ctrl + F5 on Windows) seems to help.

Update: the problem persists. I have contacted Bluehost, but so far have not had much help. For now, please be sure to force a cache refresh (CTRL + F5) when reading or commenting. If the blog vanishes, this is why; I will either be making repairs or finding a new hosting company. (If comments fail altogether, readers can email me using the address in the “About” page.)

Further Update: Deleting cookies for malcolmpollack.com in my Chrome browser may have fixed the problem. Please try this; instructions are here.

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The Serpent

Here’s an excerpt from a column by Ulrich Baer – a “vice-provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity” at NYU — in yesterday’s New York Times:

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

That’s quite a mouthful. Let’s examine it before swallowing.

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks.

This may be true in private life — an employee certainly can’t expect to be able say anything he thinks in a business meeting, or a child in her parents’ home, without consequences. But if we are talking about the law, and therefore about public institutions, then the matter is clear: with the exception of a few extremely narrow and clearly defined exceptions, the freedom to say “anything anybody thinks” is explicitly enshrined in the First Amendment. This applies with particular relevance to exactly the sort of speech that is coming into question in recent years, namely opinions about political, social, and scientific controversies.

It means balancing the inherent value of a given view…

The “inherent value”? According to whom? It’s our differing valuations of ideas and viewpoints, descriptions and prescriptions, that makes the airing of opinions and arguments so vitally important in the first place, and that makes their suppression so dangerous. If everyone agrees about a thing, what is there to discuss? If there’s no dissent, why have a First Amendment at all?

…with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.

Yes, of course — but the answer to that is simple and obvious: don’t suppress speech.

Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents…

Is it not precisely the “right to participate in political speech as political agents” that the author of this essay proposes to limit? Is that not what recently happened, for example, to Charles Murray and Christina Hoff Sommers, presumably with Provost Baer’s approval?

…can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

Let’s leave aside “attacked” and “demeaned”, which in this context simply mean “disagreed with”, or “disapproved of”. But “questioned”? This is the darkest and most revealing word in Mr. Baer’s essay. His position, just to make it clear, is that there are questions we must not be permitted to ask.

Excuse me, Mr. Baer, but: permitted by whom? The Left is fond of railing at inequalities of power. Who, then, shall wield the power to decide what others may question?

Forgive me for asking.

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Breather

I’ve been too busy over the past few days to put pen to paper (or pixels to page). The world seems more frantic than ever, and it’s hard to keep up.

So, here’s a pause, a musical interlude, for you; let it be a little five-minute fermata. The music is by the lavishly gifted composer and arranger Vince Mendoza, and it was recorded and mixed by your humble correspondent, way back in 1990.

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Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

We still have music. And dogs. And musical dogs.

It Ain’t Necessarily So

I’ve said from the beginning that the prevailing narrative about the chemical-weapons attack in Syria — in brief, that Assad did it — makes no sense. I’ll say this, too: not only does it make no sense, but it so obviously makes no sense that any sensible person should doubt it in the absence of overwhelming evidence.

Yet two days later President Trump launched a cruise-missile attack on Syria on the basis of this narrative, which could hardly have been confirmed so quickly even if it were true. In doing so he may have achieved some ulterior goals — to impress Xi Jinping, perhaps, and to weaken the mainstream media’s relentless Trump-is Putin’s-puppet narrative — but it was a terribly impulsive move, and has done serious damage to any hope of better relations with Russia. I was shocked when it happened, and deeply disappointed.

After the Tomahawk salvo, the Trump administration put out a report arguing that Assad was indeed behind the gas attack. This week an eminent academic, Theodore Postol (who is a professor emeritus of science, technology, and national-security policy at M.I.T., and a former high-level Pentagon adviser) has published a detailed analysis of the administration’s report and the available evidence. He has concluded that it is, not to put too fine a point on it, rubbish. The evidence, says Dr. Postol, shows that the sarin container was not dropped from the sky, but positioned in the middle of a road and smashed open by a bomb mounted directly on top of it.

Dr. Postol’s report is moderately technical. You can read it here. You can also read an excellent summary of the reasons to doubt the Trump Administration’s account of the attack, here.

For all of this I owe a hat-tip to John Batchelor and Stephen Cohen, who discussed these matters on Tuesday evening. You can listen to their conversation here.

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A Progressive Cassandra

A few years back I re-read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which I had first read as a teenager, far too young to appreciate it. Upon re-reading it I realized that it was among the most accurately prescient works of speculative fiction ever written, and when I saw a reference to it online just now I went back to look for the post I was sure I had written at the time, but apparently never got around to writing. I’ll remedy that, briefly, here.

What makes BNW so spectacularly farsighted? Three things, at least:

First, and least, is that it foresaw the enormous expansion of the managerial state, and the reduction of human life to a closely supervised pursuit of pleasure, stripped of all higher purpose or any sense of the transcendent.

Second, it predicted, decades before the mechanism of inheritance was understood, that we would soon achieve technical mastery of genetic engineering.

Most important of all, though, is that it foresaw the radically entropic dissolution, for social and ideological ends, of what is, in human terms, the primary natural category — namely the distinction between male and female. Furthermore, Huxley clearly understood that this could only happen if reproduction was completely decoupled from sexual activity, and indeed from all human experience. Only technology could make this possible.

In this era of entropic postmodernism regarding every aspect of human nature and experience, Huxley’s vision is the only logical way to sustain the march of atomizing, deracinating, and dehumanizing “progress” that has overtaken Western civilization. That Aldous Huxley saw this all so clearly in 1931 is, to put it mildly, remarkable.

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Altar-ed State

Mencius Moldbug:

…in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.

With that in mind, here’s a good item from Hanson today, on the demands a certain religion makes on its adherents.

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What Can I Say?

At the moment I must confess to being almost utterly exhausted, for some reason, by news and events. It’s not for lack of material to comment on: the Western polity is disintegrating, our nuclear fleet is steaming toward North Korea, there’s a mad killer on the loose, and that’s just the stuff above the fold — but none of it seems surprising, or even terribly interesting anymore. Frankly I’m having a hard time thinking of anything to say about it that I haven’t already said, or that hasn’t been said many times over by others. What’s happening is simply what anyone who’s been paying attention will have expected to happen, for explicable (and, by now, well-explicated) reasons.

What we can count on from this point forward is acceleration. I’ve written before about the similarities between the human world-system and the behavior of gas particles in a shrinking container: as the average distance between particles decreases, the pressure and temperature go up. That distance, in the human world, is now falling toward zero, and reactions that would have happened very slowly, if at all, in a cooler and more spacious world are now happening faster than we can comprehend, or adjust to. (The pace of this change has been increasing for centuries, but the acceleration was slow at first. It is slow no longer.)

As I wrote in 2013:

As the temperature and pressure continue to increase, what will happen? It seems likely that there will be increasing chaos in the human world, as systems and structures designed for a larger, cooler, slower world can no longer keep up with the pace of change. In universities, students majoring in technical fields find that much of what they’ve been taught is out of date even before they graduate. Governments struggle to control and regulate technology that is already obsolete by the time new laws come into effect. Centralized, detailed governance at the scale of large nation-states is too large, too inertial to keep up with the rate of change; we may soon see such political entities breaking apart under the increasing heat and pressure…

In short, the smaller and hotter the world is — in other words, the more likely it becomes that any two “particles” will impinge on each other in a given time — the more volatile, reactive, unstable, and “twitchy” it becomes. As volatility and the rate of change increase, it becomes more and more difficult for systems and institutions that operate at a constant pace — the legislative processes of large democracies, for example — to respond effectively to innovations and crises.

So! – here we are. (And if you think things are moving fast now, just wait a little.)

I’ll add this:

As the accelerating impingement of the horizontal present becomes overwhelming in human lives, it becomes harder and harder for any ordinary person to think about anything else. The past seems too irrelevant, the future too unstable and unpredictable, to give much thought to either. The effect of this narrowing presentism is that faith in institutions and traditions erodes, as these essential structures, which till now have been the framework and scaffolding of every culture and society, lose their necessary foundation: the reassuring solidity of extension in time. And as stabilizing structures crumble, chaos increases.

What has happened so far was predictable — but what will happen after a few more years of this acceleration is not. It is probably right to say, as many have said, that we are very rapidly approaching some sort of Singularity, with conditions so novel that the laws that have channeled history to this point may well no longer apply. One thing to keep in mind also is that linear extrapolations at any point of an exponentially rising curve will always underestimate the future Y value of the function. Things are going to come faster than you think.

So: with all this in mind, I find myself with less and less to say about the kaleidoscopic details, about the news of the week, about the gathering whirlwind of social debris flying past my window. I am more inclined simply to stand, as best I can, well back.

The focus may be a little different here, and posts perhaps less frequent, for a bit.

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“Maintaining A Thesis At All Costs”

Daniel Dennett has a new book – From Bacteria To Bach And Back. I haven’t read it, though I likely will.

Thomas Nagel reviews it, here.

High Mileage, And Out Of Warranty

I’m sixty-one today. That’s getting on a bit, but fortunately I have the body of a twenty-five-year-old. (It’s in the trunk of my car, if you’d like to have a look.)

As always, we extend natal salutations to: 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.

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Riddle, Mystery, Enigma

Every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. Eastern time, Professor Stephen F. Cohen appears on John Batchelor’s radio show for an hour-long discussion of America’s difficult relationship with Russia. I try not to miss it, because Professor Cohen’s expertise is profound, and his insights often differ sharply from what we are fed by government and the mainstream media.

Given recent events, this weekly interview is more valuable than ever. You can download a recording of last night’s discussion here.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

Sorry for the lack of original content here lately – I’m weary of the news, and temporarily abandoned by the Muse.

Here’s something out of the ordinary for you, then: a huge clown in whiteface channeling Johnny Cash to sing “Pinball Wizard”. (That would be extraordinary enough all by itself, but this man has a voice, and a musical gift, as large as his towering frame. Have a look at his other videos as well – for example this one.)

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“A Symbol Of National Sovereignty In Its Battle With Globalism”

From Imprimis, the monthly newsletter of Hillsdale College, here is an outstanding article by Christopher Caldwell: How To Think About Vladimir Putin.

I would excerpt it here, but it’s all so good that I’ll just urge you to go read the whole thing.

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Damned If He Does, Damned If He Doesn’t

Here’s yesterday’s headline from the New York Times, delivered apparently without irony:

Syria Strike Puts U.S. Relationship With Russia At Risk

The nice thing about propaganda is you can turn on a dime to keep the target in the crosshairs.

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The Merchant of Venom

Don Rickles is dead at 90. Little by little dies an era.

Fog Of War

The NightWatch newsletter comes over the transom in the wee hours every night. From today’s edition:

Special comment for new analysts. It always is wise to investigate as many versions of a story as are available. Each adds something to the reconstruction of what happened. The open source coverage of the chemical attack at Khan Shaykhun on 3-4 April is the latest example of the need to reserve judgment until the facts are established by credible evidence.

Open source coverage has established beyond doubt that a chemical attack or incident occurred. The Syrian rebel leaders are consistent in blaming the Syrian air force as having dropped chemical bombs. The government is equally insistent that it has no chemicals to use. Both have motives to lie. Both have used chemicals in the past, but only the rebel version of the latest incident received attention at the UN and in mainstream news coverage.

 
There is another version of what happened worth considering. For example, the London based news website Ra’y al-Yawm published the following version of events.

“Syria: Sources Confirm That the Explosion of a Chemical Manufacturing Workshop Belonging to Armed Factions is Responsible for Killing Scores in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib. Syrian Army Denies Possessing Chemical Weapons, and Russia Denies Conducting Raids in the Area.”

“Military sources in Syria have spoken to our correspondent about accusations against the Syrian and Russian air forces of using chemical materials and toxic gases in an attack that killed or wounded scores of people in Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib countryside.”

“The sources stated that a workshop used for fitting rockets with poisonous gas payloads exploded in Khan Shaykhun, killing or wounding the workshop’s personnel and causing a release of toxic substances that injured nearby civilians.

The news website is anti-American, but also very pro-Palestinians and pan-Arab. It is no friend of the Syrian government.

In terms of Means Opportunity and Motive (MOM), both sides could be responsible. Various rebel opposition groups have posted video images of their chemical weapons labs from time to time. We know some rebel groups use chemicals. The alternative story raises a question as to whether Western intelligence agencies knew or suspected that the rebels had a chemical or other weapons storage facility in Khan Shaykhun. If so, the location would be a target.

As to opportunity, an air attack would provide credible cover for a disastrous accident or for an accurate aerial bombing of a rebel weapons storage location that contained chemicals as well as conventional weapons. The alternative is plausible and similar events have occurred outside conflict situations, such as the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984.

As for motive, the war is going against the rebels. They have an urgent need for outside help to restrain the Syrian government forces and the Russians.

As for opportunity, the fighting in Idlib has not seemed to be going so poorly for the government that it required a chemical attack to cause a breakthrough. There is credible evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons to try to reverse deteriorating tactical situations or to break hard core resistance. We do not have the sense that either condition applied to Khan Shaykhun.

Syria and Russia are less careful about civilian casualties than Western powers have tried to be. The Russians and Syrians tend to consider civilians in rebel held areas to be sympathizers or actual supporters of the rebels. The rebels also are not careful about killing civilians, sending them back to Allah, they say.

The above statements are about general intent to use chemicals, past practice and present means.

As for this attack, the Syrian air force is essentially a subset of the Russians. Both have motives to lie about a chemical attack, but both have no motive to conduct a chemical attack because the fighting is going their way. We judge the Russians would know whether Syrian aircraft dropped bombs with chemical weapons. Their denial is self-serving, but that does not make it a lie.

There is much about the ground battle situation that is not known. We remain agnostic about who was responsible for yet another disaster in Syria.

The point of this essay is that the other explanation confutes the rebel story and cautions against a quick rush to judgment based on only one side of the story. One point of certainty is that both sides have used chemical weapons in the war. One of the practices that analysts are prone to indulge is called “premature closure,” which means drawing a hard conclusion before all the pertinent evidence has been discovered.

Meanwhile, the war drums are getting louder here in the West, and even Donald Trump seems willing to dance. Lewis Amselem, A.K.A. “DiploMad”, has just written a post called Syria: The Siren Song of War. He asks exactly the right question:

Bottom line: Do we have the ability to “repeal” Assad? Yes. Do we have the ability to “replace” Assad? I doubt it.

Also: Scott Adams “calls bullshit”.

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Is Assad A Fool?

The world is in an uproar about the apparent gas attack in Syria. Western nations, and the Western media, have blamed Bashar al-Assad. The Russians say their man Assad didn’t do it; that a conventional bombing strike against a rebel storehouse must have released toxic substances that were to be used in chemical weapons.

I have no doubt that Mr. Assad is a brutal and ruthless man, and I do not ascribe to him any moral compunction that would have stayed his hand. I must say, however, that I have no reason to doubt that he is shrewd and intelligent, and so I cannot imagine that he would not have seen the colossal stupidity of making such an attack — especially right now, when the world, which is so weary of this civil war and the chaos it has caused, had all but abandoned the idea of removing him from power. Was there some tactical gain he achieved — with a gas attack, far from the front lines, that killed a hundred or so people, many of them civilians and children — that could not have been accomplished with conventional ordnance? If so, I can’t see it.

For Assad to have done this thing, then, makes no sense. It certainly makes far less sense than the alternatives: that the Russian account is correct, or that it was a false-flag operation mounted in reaction to the diminishing prospect of a Syrian regime change.

These considerations are, it seems to me, so obvious that I think it is their relative absence from the mainstream discussion of this event that wants explaining. (It’s certainly just the thing if you want to make a case for U.S. action against the regime, and by proxy, against Russia.)

Always ask: cui bono?

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Into The Sunset

This from our e-pal Bill Keezer just now:

California Senate OKs statewide illegal immigrant sanctuary bill

Educated readers will recall that United States history already includes some examples of such “nullification”; for fans of peace and order, or of the Union as presently constituted, the precedent is not particularly encouraging. Leaving that aside, however, one effect of this, should it become law, is that it would create a great flood of illegals deciding, like Jed Clampett, that “California’s the place you oughtta be!” The effect on California’s already-overstressed public services, healthcare, education, and prison system should be instructive.

A parting thought, if you will forgive the harshness of the metaphor: the combination of this initiative, and its likely effect, with growing support for “Calexit” puts me in mind of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the fleas.

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This, Or A Warm Gun

“The teacher asked once what did we talk about when we talked about happiness. And then one student said that happiness is what happens when you go to bed on the hottest night of the summer, a night so hot you can’t even wear a tee-shirt and you sleep on top of the sheets instead of under them, although try to sleep is probably the most accurate. And then at some point late, late, late at night, say just a bit before dawn, the heat finally breaks and the night turns cool and when you briefly wake up, you notice that you’re almost chilly, and in your groggy, half-consciousness, you reach over and pull the sheet around you and just that flimsy sheet makes it warm enough and you drift back off into a deep sleep. And it’s that reaching, that gesture, that reflex we have to pull what’s warm – whether it’s something or someone – towards us, that feeling we get when we do that, that feeling of being safe in the world and ready for sleep, that’s happiness.”

― Paul Schmidtberger, Design Flaws of the Human Condition

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Time Out

It’s been a busy few days, with little time to write. (Nor, to tell the truth, have I had much I’ve wanted to say.) I spent the weekend playing music with friends, which is a much healthier pastime than brooding on the great sucking vortex that forms the current, crepuscular era of Western culture and politics.

With regard to said vortex, however, here are two recent gleanings: Victor Davis Hanson on the Alt-Left, and the irrepressible Jim Goad (good on substance, if not exactly my kind of style) on this endless Trump-Russia business.

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A Profound Crisis Is Inevitable

Evola:

Indeed, no one can ignore the deep crisis of the ‘rationalising’ of existence attempted by bourgeois culture, given the many examples of the emerging of the irrational or ‘elemental’ (in the sense of the elemental character of a force of nature) through the fissures of this culture on every level.

Today, with the return of this obsession with ‘rationalising’, there is a tendency to render service to an ideal that is not political but ‘social’ and which belongs to physical comfort, and to marginalise and discredit everything that is comprised of existential tension, heroism and the galvanising force of a myth. But it has been correctly pointed out that a profound crisis is inevitable at the point when prosperity and comfort will finally become boring. The early signs of this crisis are already apparent. They consist of all those forms of blind, anarchic and destructive revolts embraced by a youth that, precisely in the most prosperous nations, notice the absurdity and senselessness of an existence that is socialised, rationalised, materialistic, and dominated by the so-called ‘consumer culture’. In these revolts, this elementary impulse finds no object and, left to itself, becomes barbaric.

– Fascism Viewed From the Right, 1964

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Red-Collar Work

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been reading The Outline of History, published in 1920 by H. G. Wells. I’m still at it — I tend to have several books going at once, and this two-volume item is about 1,200 pages long.

I’ve just read the brief entry on the conquests of Timurlane (Tamerlane) — who, as I’m sure you know, was very good at conquering, but not so much at anything else.

We read:

[I]n the fifteenth century a last tornado of nomadism arose in Western Turkestan under the leadership of a certain Timur the Lame, or Timurlane. He was descended in the female line from Jengis Khan. He established himself in Samarkand, and spread his authority over Kipchak (Turkestan to South Russia), Siberia, and southward as far as the Indus. He assumed the title of Great Khan in 1369. He was a nomad of the savage school, and he created an empire of desolation from North India to Syria. Pyramids of skulls were his particular architectural fancy; after the storming of Ispahan he made one of 70,000. His ambition was to restore the empire of Jengis Kahn as he conceived it, a project in which he completely failed. He spread destruction far and wide; the Ottoman Turks — it was before the taking of Constantinople and their days of greatness — and Egypt paid him tribute; the Punjab he devastated; and Delhi surrendered to him. After Delhi had surrendered, however, he made a frightful massacre of its inhabitants. At the time of his death (1405) very little remained to witness to his power but a name of horror, ruins and desolated countries, and a shrunken and impoverished domain in Persia.

The dynasty founded by Timur in Persia was extinguished by another Turkoman horde fifty years later.

It’s a dreary story, and I think we should all be glad not to have lived through it. One thing in particular, though, stuck in my mind. In case you missed it:

Pyramids of skulls were his particular architectural fancy; after the storming of Ispahan he made one of 70,000.

My word, I thought to myself, what a thing to have to assemble. I decided to do some calculations.

Let us assume that the pyramid in question is square, and not triangular, and not based on some other polygon. (I can’t confirm this, but it seems likely, as the square pyramid was by far the most popular kind in the ancient world.) If that’s so, then the total skull-count would have to fit in somewhere along the square-pyramid number series, which begins with 1, 5, 14, 30, 55, 91, 140, 204, 285, 385, 506, 650… (This sequence, by the way, is item A000330 in the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences.)

The general formula for the nth item is (n (n+1) (2n +1)) / 6.

The 58th entry in this sequence is 66,729, while the 59th is 70,210. (Timurlane himself, by the way, may not have been familiar with this formula. I would hate to have been standing around watching this thing go up if he got close to the end and realized he was a few skulls short.)

We’ll go with the closest approximation, and say that the pyramid Timurlane built in Ispahan used 70,210 skulls, which means it was 59 skulls on a side, and 59 layers high.

How big is that? Well, we’ll need to simplify, I think, by assuming spherical skulls. (I hate to do it, but I don’t have all night here, and at least it isn’t as bad as this. And no Cromwell jokes, please.) The average male human skull has a circumference of 22 inches or so. Dividing by pi, we get a diameter of 7 inches.

So now we need to calculate the height of a square pyramid of stacked 7-inch spheres 59 layers high. The formula for that, where d is the diameter of the spheres, and n is the number of spheres on each side of the square base, is: d + d(n-1)√1/2.

The result? Timurlane’s pyramid of 70,000-odd skulls at Ispahan was 24.5 feet high. The base was 34.4 feet on a side (59 x 7″).

Now comes the tough part: how the hell do you build such a thing? How do you climb up that slippery mess, neatly piling skulls, without knocking the whole thing down? The only way I can imagine would be to have built some sort of superstructure from which people could dangle as they dropped the skulls into place. What an effort!

I have a feeling Timurlane himself didn’t hang from ropes placing skulls; if I know anything about Army work, this would be the sort of thing he’d have delegated. Did he have a skull-pyramid team that traveled with him? I bet he did. It’s pretty specialized work.

For some reason, Mr. Wells is silent on this important historical question, so I decided to look on Google just now. I didn’t find much of anything about how Timurlane did it, but I did find this.

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“That’s Why You Have The Leaking.”

Well, there you are, then.

The Caravan Passes

Over at Social Matter, William Fitzgerald has posted this excellent analysis of the Gulenist movement’s role in last year’s coup attempt in Turkey. If you have any interest in this sort of thing you should make sure you read it.

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It Ain’t Broke. Here’s How To Fix It.

If you’re like me, you may be feeling “out of step” because you’ve been having trouble adopting the Progressive way of thinking about things. You have to watch everything you say in public, and your maladjusted belief system may have cost you friendships, or even your job!

Have you found that despite all this, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t unsee all of that stubborn “reality” right before your eyes?

Well, folks, help is on the way! Soon you’ll be able to fit right in. It turns out that to think like you should, all you need to do is disable parts of your brain.

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Anything Goes

Here we have a perfect example of what the late (and greatly missed) Lawrence Auster called the Unprincipled Exception:

Hijab becomes symbol of resistance, feminism in the age of Trump

The Muslim hijab as a symbol of Western-style feminism? Could anything be more obviously absurd? Clearly, then, absurdity doesn’t matter here: this is nothing more than the grabbing of whatever is closest to hand and using it to bludgeon an opponent. It is like an angry housewife throwing the dishes.

Feminists: both you and Islam have a common enemy, namely the traditional culture of the West. Islam will, of course, gladly help you destroy it.

But do you really imagine that once you have leveled and pulverized Western masculinity and femininity — and by doing so, have brought down the twin pillars of your civilization — you will then make agreeable terms with Islam?

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Class and Mobility

Sturdy class structures, although they may diminish individual opportunity, keep superior genes, when they arise, within each class. In doing so, then, they strengthen classes at every level.

High social mobility, by contrast, tends to “boil off” superior individuals, who, when they are given the opportunity to do so, move up and out — taking their genes with them. In this way every class, at every level, loses its best people to a class above it. Because the class system is not bottomless, this means that the lowest classes continuously deteriorate, while more gifted individuals cluster in the higher classes. (This latter tendency is perhaps mitigated, somewhat, by the somewhat lower likelihood of inferior higher-class individuals moving downward in class.) This necessarily increases social inequality, and therefore social tension. It also instantiates the “Peter Principle”, in that individuals will rise until they find their level of social or professional incompetence, then stay there. This leads to the presence at every level of individuals who are not naturally well-fitted members of that class. This has an entropic and disordering effect on organic hierarchies.

On the other hand, too rigid a class structure prevents the ascension of exceptional individuals, and so not only thwarts individual liberty, but also blunts the leading edge of a society’s progress and accomplishment.

So: What is the proper balance? What is it that we should be seeking to optimize?

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Cloaks And Daggers. Especially Daggers.

In his latest column, Patrick Buchanan weighs in on the Trump/Russia story.

The propaganda war is ablaze: the MSM would have you believe that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the election — although nobody has ever produced, or even claimed, that there is any evidence of collusion for this purpose (beyond various people having contacts and connections), given any particulars of any conversation (let alone of any quid pro quo), or so much as suggested that the vote was tampered with in any way. Indeed, all that is known to have been compromised, by somebody, are the emails of John Podesta and the DNC — which revealed only the unethical machinations of the Democrats, in collusion with the media, to help ensure the coronation of Hillary Clinton. The New York Times also reported that the Obama administration, in its last days, altered privacy rules and disseminated this classified intelligence to multiple government agencies, including those of foreign countries.

Meanwhile, multiple felonies have plainly been committed in the repeated disclosure to the media of what should have been carefully secured intelligence.

Where is all this going? As a friend of mine used to say: “you tell me, and we’ll both know!” It seems safe to say, though, that there’s much, much more to this story — and that the stakes, on both sides of the aisle, couldn’t be higher. We are headed for a very interesting spring and summer.

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We Are Down On Bended Knee

Earlier this month we posted an interview with the Daily Mail reporter Katie Hopkins. In that interview, Ms. Hopkins described for Tucker Carlson what she had found on a recent trip to Sweden.

Here is an opinion piece from Ms. Hopkins on yesterday’s attack in London.

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… As Usual

We’ve heard an awful lot about how the election of Donald Trump has emboldened and “enabled” hate-filled right-wingers to express themselves with vandalism and assault. In particular there’s been a rash of swastika-scrawling, and of bomb-threats against Jewish centers.

When these things happen, we on the dissident Right simply wait, knowing that the odds are very good indeed that it’s a false-flag job, and that the perp will turn out to be some member of the group ostensibly (and ostentatiously) victimized. This is because we know a thing or two about the two sides here, and the way they behave. As I said in a post on this topic back in December:

Most conservative, traditionalist sorts are fonder of order than chaos, of tidiness than graffiti, of civility than insult, of police than hooligans, of those who obey the law than those who break it, etc. In short, they are much less likely to deface public buildings with graffiti, and to lie to the police about things that didn’t happen, than the good souls who brought you Ferguson, Baltimore, Occupy Wall Street, the Rolling Stone rape story, the Michael Brown mythos, and so on. Even when they are sufficiently aroused to assemble in protest, they do not break things, or defecate on flags and police cars. They show up, mill around for a while, tidy up after themselves, and go back to their homes and jobs.

The pattern is extremely consistent:

1) Some act of vandalism or assault against an oppressed minority is reported: a swastika, a noose, unwitnessed harrassment or bullying, a bomb threat, etc.;

2) The “mainstream media”, and their avid consumers among blue-empire Goodwhites, are noisily and flamboyantly appalled that such right-wing “hate” still exists in The Current Year;

3) Eventually the perp is exposed, and turns out not to have been any sort of righty at all, but rather a member of the oppressed minority, or some generic lefty seeking to cast opprobrium upon Badwhites;

4) The offense is swept from memory, and the story swiftly interred by the media;

5) Repeat.

Here and here are this week’s examples.

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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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Stick-To-It-Ivity

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 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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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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