Open Thread 7

All yours, folks.

Oh, And By The Way

Do you like your little town just the way it is? Does it seem appropriate to you that, as free Americans, our communities ought to enjoy local control of zoning, schools, and other civic concerns?

Well, enjoy it while it lasts, you racist, because the Transformer-In-Chief has other plans.

Things are moving awfully fast these days, no?

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The Culture War: Dispatch From The Front

The other day, in the context of the gagging and grinding-into-the-dust of a dissenting Oregonian baker, I mentioned Tom Nichols’ observation about the difference between authoritarians and totalitarians: that the former only cares about what you do, while the latter must also control what you think. Totalitarians demand not only obedience, but conversion.

Mr. Nichols has since condensed his thoughts into a brief post, which is now making the rounds on the Right. An excerpt:

It is not enough for these Americans to say: “I have had my day in court and prevailed.” In effect, they now add: “You do not have the right to hold a different opinion, even if you lose in the public arena. You may not hold on to your belief as a minority view, or even as a private thought. And if you persist and still disagree, I will attack you without quarter and set others on you to deprive you of your status in your profession, of your standing in your community, and even of your livelihood.”

…This attitude promises social warfare without end, because there is no peace to be had until the opposing side offers a sincere and unconditional surrender… For the new totalitarians, prevailing in the courts or at the ballot boxes isn’t enough if there’s still a suspicion that anyone, anywhere, might still be committing thoughtcrime.

We see this attitude in the remark made by BuzzFeed’s editor, Ben Smith, on the Supreme Court’s homosexual-marriage ruling:

“We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.”

We see the same attitude toward climate-change dissidents, whose letters and comments are now blocked by various mainstream media outlets (even as yet another distinguished scientist joins their ranks), and in the opportunistic pogrom against all symbols of the Confederacy, and against those Southerners who honor their Civil War dead. We saw it in the ruination of Brendan Eich and Jason Richwine, and we see it today in the ongoing effort to destroy Donald Trump for his willingness to speak frankly about illegal immigration.

(To his credit, Mr. Trump has not backed down at all — and his obduracy has won him grudging admiration from many, including me, who have always seen him as nothing more than a braggart, fop, and buffoon. He remains, of course, all of those things and more, but here he is saying what many scores of millions of Americans are thinking. The traditional American nation is dying by mass Third World immigration — no, make that “being murdered”, because the effect is intentional — and everybody knows it. Now, in the wake of a spate of horrifying crimes by sheltered illegal aliens, Mr. Trump’s remarks — as well as Ann Coulter’s impressively well-researched book on the topic — seem suddenly to have tapped into a reservoir of resentment among ordinary Americans at having been ignored by their own government for decades on this issue.)

Among the Zinn-soaked vanguard of this campaign, the belief that the nation itself is irremediably tainted by its wicked racial and economic history seems increasingly prevalent. Here, for example, is Vox’s Dylan Matthews (who is not, as far as I know, a crypto-reactionary monarchist) arguing that it would have been better all round if the American Revolution hadn’t happened at all. Perhaps we will soon see calls to ban not only the Battle Flag of the South, but the Stars and Stripes as well.

As Richard Fernandez wrote last week:

“We are now living through a great period of extinction, through an epoch of idea-death. Christianity, the nuclear family, individual initiative, the notion of country, the very idea of gender, even the primacy of survival are in the process being declared surplus to requirements. A thousand ideas, the bloom of the forest, are being bulldozed into the soil by those all too certain of themselves.”

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May Cause Flashbacks

Making the rounds today is a neural-network project from Google called DeepDream. It’s an open-source effort to train neural networks to recognize images (for you programmers, the code is here). I haven’t had any time to give this a close look, but if I understand correctly, when the system is presented with an unfamiliar image it tries to make sense of it in terms of images it has already seen — breaking down the new image and mapping known image fragments onto it wherever it can.

What’s attracting attention is the psychedelic imagery this thing produces. Some of it is eerily beautiful, while other images and animations are, I think, profoundly disturbing. It resembles very closely the visual effects produced by hallucinogenic drugs — a constant “filling-in” of every part of the visual field with half-formed and tentative patterns in continuous motion.

At this webpage, for example, is what the DeepDream code did when applied to a scene from the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (This animated GIF shows you how unsettling the effect can be.) Here is a video clip that shows what the software can do with a man’s face. Here is a page with more images, and links to other sites that will run the DeepDream process on pictures you upload. There is also a Reddit page.

I’m going to download this thing and see if I can get it running.

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Just a few topical ones:

‣   Patrick Buchanan (pre-Greek-referendum-result) on the E.U.’s worsening cohesion.

‣   Milton Friedman saw this coming.

‣   Dark Independence-Day ruminations by Dymphna.

‣   On spree killings.

‣   Your tax dollars at work (well, if you live in Oregon’s Gresham-Barlow school district).

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Troubleshooting Gun Violence

A recent exchange on Twitter (another urgent call for gun bans, in reaction to the spree-killing in Charleston) reminded me once again the extent to which gun-control zealots are driven, not by reason and wisdom, but by missionary Utopianism, cultural resentment, naive and sheltered pacifism, and lust for social control. (As someone once said, gun control isn’t about guns, it’s about control.)

In the wake of this mass murder, here are some facts we should keep before us if we wish to examine the issue of gun violence rationally, in the way that a trained engineer would begin diagnosing and fixing a problem:

1) The only thing that stops a spree-killer is armed resistance.
2) Spree-killers know this, and so they seek out “gun-free” zones in nearly every case.
3) Spree killings, however, for all their emotional effect, are only a tiny fraction of gun homicides.
4) If you subtract the gun-homicide rates of America’s violent inner cities, America’s rate falls to European levels.
5) America’s inner cities already have punishingly strict gun laws, yet have staggeringly high rates of gun violence.*
6) There are other places, like Vermont and Switzerland, that have very high rates of gun ownership, and very low rates of gun violence. (Vermont has, effectively, no gun laws at all.)
7) There are hundreds of millions of guns in private ownership in America, and the right to keep and bear them is guaranteed by the Constitution. There is no realistic possibility of making them go away.

(*If your response to #5 is to say that guns flow to these places from nearby areas with looser gun laws, then you must explain why homicide rates in those places are so much lower.)

In the comment thread to my January post Degeneracy Pressure, I examined the data on gun-homicide rates and gun ownership, to see if they were correlated. I am reposting some of that comment here.

First I looked at murder rates in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. I scatter-plotted that against the rate of gun ownership in each of these places. Here’s what the resulting graph looks like:

In statistics, correlation can range from -1 to 1; a value of 0 means that there is no correlation at all. The correlation I found for homicide rates vs. gun ownership was moderately negative, at -0.25. This means that states with higher rates of gun ownership are not more, but less likely to have a higher murder rate.

Then I did the same thing worldwide. I looked at homicide rates vs. per-capita gun ownership for 173 nations. Here’s the graph:

As you can see, the trend is still negative. The negative correlation is slightly less, at -0.16. (Getting closer to no correlation at all.)

If you have a problem and want to solve it, first you have to understand what its causes are. The lack of correlation between gun ownership and gun violence demonstrated above should make it clear that the mere presence of guns is not the root cause of the problem. (I grew up in rural New Jersey, where just about every household owned guns, and we kids all grew up shooting them. We did not, however, shoot one another.)

If the goal is low rates of gun violence, then rather than jumping to the conclusion that the only answer is enhancing government restrictions and prohibitions of gun ownership (when the rate of gun ownership, as demonstrated above, shows no correlation with the desired result), the thing to do is to look at instances in which a low rate of gun violence happens naturally (for example, Vermont and Switzerland). We should then compare these communities with those in which the problem persists despite all attempts to solve it, and persists despite implementing the very solutions that gun-control zealots wish to impose nationwide (e.g., inner-city Detroit and Chicago). We should ask: In what ways do these places differ? This, and only this, will give dependable indications as to the real cause of the problem. Salient factors will emerge, to be controlled for one by one in subsequent analysis.

It may be that what emerges from such analysis does not lend itself comfortably to social-engineering solutions (or may not even be considered acceptable for public discussion). We seem to forget these days that not all complex problems have acceptable or feasible solutions, and that any such solutions as may exist may not involve government action. But as someone who has spent his adult life troubleshooting complex systems, I can say this with confidence: unless and until you understand what really causes a problem, you will never reliably fix it.

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Or, Woe to the Vanquished, Part II.

What’s the difference between authoritarians and totalitarians? As Tom Nichols observed recently: the former only cares about what you do, while the latter must also control what you think. They demand not only obedience, but conversion.

Things are moving fast these days. This acceleration is exactly what we should expect as things fall apart, in a shrinking world. The temperature and pressure are rising.

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Woe To The Vanquished

From the latest Radio Derb, here’s a corking rant by John Derbyshire on the latest national frenzy: the destruction and damnation of all symbols of the Confederacy. It’s so good that I reprint it here in full, with some emphasis added.

Back there in our April 11th podcast I noted the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse that ended the American Civil War. Quote from myself:

Both commanders behaved with grace and professionalism at the surrender. I find it very moving to read about.

End quote. I followed that with a brief reading from Shelby Foote’s narrative of the surrender.

A few weeks later — earlier this month, in fact — I stood in Wilmer McLean’s parlor, where the surrender ceremony actually took place, complete with replicas of the tables where Lee and Grant sat.

The day before that, travelling around Virginia, my wife and I had visited Monument Avenue in Richmond, a beautiful broad boulevard decorated at intervals with fine statues. The statues are, in order from south to north, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Confederate Naval Commander Fontaine Maury, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, and Richmond-born tennis champion Arthur Ashe.

Those magnificent statues impressed on me again, as the story of the surrender had, the terrible gravity of war, and the supreme importance of the lead participants in a war behaving towards one another with proper gentlemanly forbearance, as a counter to the horror and cruelty that are inseparable from the business of waging war.

A key factor here is how the victor deals with the vanquished. The barbarian standard is the one set by Brennus the Gaul: “Woe to the vanquished!” The barbarian victor grinds the beaten enemy beneath his heel, laughing as he does so. Civilized nations have not always been above this kind of behavior, either, as the victorious allies showed after World War One, with vengeful and vindictive policies that are generally, and in my opinion credibly, blamed for bringing on World War Two.

Civilized nations are mostly better than that, though. We don’t generally massacre, enslave, or reduce to beggary the nations we defeat. After the allies defeated Japan in WW2 we let them keep their Emperor even though Hirohito had been, at least theoretically, a key decision-maker in Japanese war policy. We let them keep their other national symbols, too: The national flag of Japan today is the same as the one flown a hundred years ago. Then we helped them rebuild their economy.

When the war is a civil war, a civilized tolerance towards the defeated enemy, his sensibilities, his symbols, his grief for his dead, and his wish to honor their sacrifice, is doubly necessary. Victor and vanquished have to live together as fellow citizens — tolerant of social differences, but firm in the belief that they must function together as citizens of a single nation.

Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant understood that. The architects of the post-WW2 global peace understood it — men like George C. Marshall, George Kennan, and Douglas MacArthur.

The Trotskyite fanatics who control today’s public discourse do not understand it. Or rather: They understand the principle, but despise it. They represent, essentially, a regression to barbarism, to the ethics of Brennus the Gaul. For them, it is not sufficient that the defeated enemy has been defeated. He must also be humiliated, his symbols defaced and burned, his face pushed down into the mud. Woe to the vanquished!

These fanatics will not rest until all those fine statues on Richmond’s Monument Avenue have been defaced and destroyed; until every street or square named for a Southern hero has been renamed for some black communist, philanderer, or crook; until every trace of what our ancestors believed, felt, and fought for has been discredited and mocked.

Just today I read in the New York Post some yammering fool telling me that Gone With the Wind, one of the best American movies ever made, from a very fine novel, should be hidden away in museums for fear it might offend someone.

Well, here’s what I say to that. The hell with these vandals and their barbarian values! The Civil War was fought by Americans of courage and honor on both sides. Inevitably one side won and the other lost, so that instead of two separate nations we ended up with two distinct sections within one nation. Each can honor the valor and sacrifice of the other, without loss of face or honor.

That’s how mature people behave. That’s how mature nations behave. That’s how Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant behaved. That’s how George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur behaved. That’s how Americans at large behaved until recently; until Cultural Marxism fixed its clammy grip on the national soul, insisting that all right is here, all evil is there, and all dissent from official dogma is sick and cruel.

We are relapsing into barbarism, ladies and gentlemen. The current campaign against the South and its symbols — what I call the Cold Civil War — is the manifestation of that relapse. The South accepted its fate, as defeated peoples must. Out of that acceptance came a great modern nation, the U.S.A. of the 20th century. That nation is now being destroyed by people who hate it. American patriots, and everyone who believes in civilized values, should resist that.

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Here We Go

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Call It Caitlyn

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the most numerous vertebrate on Earth: the bristlemouth.

What Is It Like To Be A Bat?

From a corporate presentation I’m watching just now, in order to earn my daily crust:

“We need to create an ideation methodology across various stakeholder groups and provide full-circle communication.”

Killing Them Softly

The Supreme Court ruled today on a case about the constitutionality of lethal injection. From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 on Monday to uphold a procedure used by states to carry out executions by lethal injection.

The justices were considering a challenge brought by death-row inmates in Oklahoma, who allege that the use of a sedative called midazolam has resulted in troubling executions that violate the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Problematic executions in Oklahoma and elsewhere have captured national headlines since early last year.

As I argued last year, this is a problem of cowardice, not medical technology. What a prissy little nation we’ve become.

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Two Down

There’s a pair of sad items in the news today: obituaries for Chris Squire and Walter Browne.

Chris Squire you probably knew. He was the bass player for the rock group Yes, and was the only person to have played on every one of its albums. I was, and am, a huge fan of the band’s “main sequence” period: the albums from The Yes Album (1971) through Relayer (1974). (The group’s 1972 record Close to the Edge is, I think, one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.) Mr. Squire’s innovative style, and unmistakable sound, influenced generations of bassists. I’m very, very sorry to hear of his death from leukemia at 67.

The other obituary was for someone you’ve probably never heard of, but who was, in certain circles, something of a “rock star” in his own right: chess grandmaster Walter Browne. He was a brilliant player, and was a fixture at the chess tournaments I used to play in at the McAlpin Hotel back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. There was always a crowd around his board, and when the weekend’s rounds were over, it was, more often than not, Mr. Browne who walked off with top honors. You can read about him here.

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Off Topic

OK, for a change of pace, here’s a tribute to Ringo from Vinnie Zummo, a guitarist I used to work with. Very Beatle-y indeed.

Two Chief Justices In One!

Another day, another fundamental reordering of American society by the Supreme Court — this time, as expected, by just one man. The decision is just out, and I haven’t had time to read it yet. I did see this, though, from Chief Justice John Roberts:

Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.

What a difference a day makes.

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More On King v. Burwell

Here’s a really excellent piece by Yuval Levin on today’s ruling, and its consequences for the rule of law.

In the majority ruling, Chief Justice Roberts justified his renunciation of textualism thus:

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health-insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.

This is an enthymeme, however — a chain of reasoning with a hidden and implicit premise. In this case the missing premise is that to interpret the statute as Mr Roberts wishes it to be, in contrast to the clear text of the law as written, will in fact improve health-insurance markets. But opponents of the Affordable Care Act, on the other hand, disagree with this: they believe that the law, as modified by the Court (or, for that matter, unmodified), will harm, not improve, health-insurance markets.

Resolving such debates, and writing laws that embody their resolution, is the role of legislatures, as the elected (and thereby accountable, at least in principle) representatives of the people — not the Court. This decision, therefore, is an audacious usurpation, by the judiciary, of the Constitutional authority of Congress.

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The Web Of Obligations

Beautiful piece here on the memory of the Civil War.

Shall we, like the Taliban, destroy our statues with dynamite because they offend a prevailing dogma? Shall we disinter the bones of our ancestors like the radical Jacobins of the French Revolution did, scattering their unearthed remains to the winds – first to be reviled, then ever to be forgotten?

Read the whole thing here.

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Well, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on King v. Burwell today. By now you know the result. What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

As usual, Antonin Scalia stood on the burning deck. Some excerpts from his dissent:

This case requires us to decide whether someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary gets tax credits. You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it. In order to receive any money under §36B, an individual must enroll in an insurance plan through an “Exchange established by the State.” The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a State. So an Exchange established by the Secretary is not an Exchange established by the State—which means people who buy health insurance through such an Exchange get no money under §36B.

Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words “established by the State.” And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words “by the State” other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges. “[T]he plain, obvious,and rational meaning of a statute is always to be preferred to any curious, narrow, hidden sense that nothing but the exigency of a hard case and the ingenuity and study of an acute and powerful intellect would discover.” Lynch v. Alworth-Stephens Co., 267 U. S. 364, 370 (1925) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved. …

It is not our place to judge the quality of the care and deliberation that went into this or any other law. A law enacted by voice vote with no deliberation whatever is fully as binding upon us as one enacted after years of study, months of committee hearings, and weeks of debate. Much less is it our place to make everything come out right when Congress does not do its job properly. It is up to Congress to design its laws with care, and it is up to the people to hold them to account if they fail to carry out that responsibility.

Rather than rewriting the law under the pretense of interpreting it, the Court should have left it to Congress to decide what to do about the Act’s limitation of tax credits to state Exchanges. If Congress values above everything else the Act’s applicability across the country, it could make tax credits available in every Exchange. If it prizes state involvement in the Act’s implementation, it could continue to limit tax credits to state Exchanges while taking other steps to mitigate the economic consequences predicted by the Court. If Congress wants to accommodate both goals, it could make tax credits available everywhere while offering new incentives for States to set up their own Exchanges. And if Congress thinks that the present design of the Act works well enough, it could do nothing. Congress could also do something else altogether, entirely abandoning the structure of the Affordable Care Act. The Court’s insistence on making a choice that should be made by Congress both aggrandizes judicial power and encourages congressional lassitude.

A dark day, with more to come.

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Around The Horn

Bill Vallicella has opened comments on that post I mentioned a few days ago, if you’d like to add any thoughts of your own. Meanwhile, Kevin Kim has put up his own response to William Cawthon’s essay about the South, here.

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Carthago Delenda Est

In the wake of the Charleston shootings, there has been a new chorus of calls for the obliteration of symbols of the historic South.

For balance, here is an essay, by William Cawthon of the Abbeville Institute, about the crushing of Southern identity by the hegemonic ideology of the Protestant North over the past half-century.

If one were looking for a succinct theoretical model by which to interpret all of U.S. and Western history since the founding of the Puritan settlements of the seventeenth century, an excellent candidate would be “Massachusetts conquered the world”.

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Is The Enlightenment To Blame?

Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, replies to a question of mine, here. It’s a good and thoughtful response. When time permits (which it doesn’t at the moment), I’ll have some thoughts of my own to add. Bill has told me he will open the comment-box for that post (a rare move for him these days), so maybe I will do so over there.

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The Peter Principle

A timely passage:

[P]olitics and the pulpit are terms that have little agreement. No sound ought to be heard in the church but the healing voice of Christian charity. The cause of civil liberty and civil government gains as little as that of religion by this confusion of duties. Those who quit their proper character to assume what does not belong to them are, for the greater part, ignorant both of the character they leave and of the character they assume. Wholly unacquainted with the world, in which they are so fond of meddling, and inexperienced in all its affairs, on which they pronounce with so much confidence, they have nothing of politics but the passions they excite. Surely the church is a place where one day’s truce ought to be allowed to the dissensions and animosities of mankind.

– Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution In France, 1790

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This Is The Future You Chose

We’ve been hearing a lot, lately, about Rachel Dolezal, Bruce Jenner, and other stories of historic magnitude, but awfully little about China’s “hack” of the Office of Personnel Management’s records — which, in this Information Age, is roughly on a par with Pearl Harbor.

Why put “hack” in scarequotes? Because — wait for it — we gave root access to programmers in China.

More here.

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You’ve Got To Feel It In Your Bones

Here’s an interesting find: a correlative connection between arthritis and solar cycles.

I Can’t Do That, Dave

There’s an item in the Independent today announcing that “Self-driving cars may have to be programmed to kill you“.

As is so often the case, dear Readers, you heard it here first.

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When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Appear

Over at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson offers an astringent assessment of Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Read it here.

This Is Your Civilization On Acid

In a post from January called Degeneracy Pressure, I remarked on the similarities between a collapsing star and a collapsing civilization. In both cases the differentiated parts of the system that once created stabilizing and uplifting forces have been transformed, by an irresistible alchemy, into a homogeneous, inert mass that exerts a crushing gravitational pressure. One by one, as catastrophic thresholds are crossed, the structural members of the system fail and give way, until at last nothing remains to give it form — and the star, or the civilization, falls in upon itself and winks out of existence.

Of course the analogy is not perfect. A star is a simple thing, really, and the course of its collapse is, in general terms, entirely determined by its mass and a few physical laws. A civilization is not so simple, but its collapse does, nevertheless, proceed in what we might call a ‘lawful’ way, and we can identify some of the principles at work.

For example:

One of the central mechanisms by which high civilizations seem always to fail is by declining birthrates among their most successful and intelligent classes — the very segment of the population that is necessary for carrying forward the civilization’s ever-increasing heritage of knowledge and culture, and for providing sufficient numbers of offspring in the succeeding generation having the qualities, both innate and acculturated, that are necessary to receive it.

To connect this to our stellar-collapse analogy, we could say that the mass of accumulated culture becomes too great for a shrinking structure to bear. But unlike the physical structure of a star, the scaffolding of civilization can fail not only by quantitative, numerical attrition of its load-bearing members, as described in the quoted passage, but also by their qualitative degeneration and decay.

Given that what gives a culture its form is essentially ‘memetic’ — an aggregation of ideas, lore, mythos, history, music, religion, duties, obligations, affinities, and aversions shared by a common people — an advanced civilization is subject to corrosion and decomposition by ideas. And the most corrosive of all such reagents in the modern world is one that our own culture bequeathed to itself in the Enlightenment: the elevation of skepsis to our highest intellectual principle.

Radical doubt, as it turns out, is a “universal acid”; given enough time, there is no container that can hold it. Once doubt is in control, there is no premise, no tradition, nor even any God that it cannot dissolve. Once it has burned its way through theism, telos, and the intrinsic holiness of the sacred, leaving behind a only a dessicated naturalism, its action on the foundations of culture accelerates briskly, as there is little left to resist it.

Because it is in the nature of doubt to dissolve axioms, the consequence of the Enlightenment is that all of a civilization’s theorems ultimately become unprovable. This is happening before our eyes. The result is chaos, and collapse.

Our reader and commenter Dom, in our most recent Open Thread, has linked to an article that illustrates this process.

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Open Thread 6

Questions, comments, or whatever you’d like. The floor is yours.

Through The Looking-Glass

Here’s a story that’s making a stir today: apparently one Rachel Dolezal, the leader of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is a white woman who has been passing herself off as black.

It’s been said* that “to learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize.” I now offer you Pollack’s Principle of Privilege:

To learn where true privilege lies, simply see how people choose to identify themselves.

Once upon a time, people of mixed race did everything they could to “pass” as white. No longer. The mulatto Barack Obama ostentatiously identifies himself as black, while pallid Elizabeth Warren listed herself in the legal and academic community as a “Native American”.

Another sign of this inversion of privilege is that membership in groups considering themselves ‘oppressed’ is as tightly restricted as an exclusive country-club, and for the same reasons. No sooner had the news about Ms. Dolezal came out than she was denounced as a scurrilous pretender to victimhood. But people only defend what has value. In a right-side-up world, no sane person would ever bother fighting to keep others from seeking low status — but they will do whatever it takes to wall off their privileges against unqualified pretenders.

As I wrote in a similar context last fall:

To those with any sense of history, that this bickering is happening at all is actually a sign of tremendously luxurious social conditions: if we were grappling with the Black Death, or a sacking by the Mongols, we’d never get around to any of these things. Another sign of this is the curious inversion of status that characterizes the grievance culture: as is always the case in human affairs, it is a competition for status — but in this case the rules have been reversed so that the highest status within the grievance community is awarded to those who can demonstrate the lowest status in the broader culture. It is as if the grievance culture is a little ‘virtual machine’ running inside the Western cultural operating system; it is only the smooth functioning of the external OS — peace, prosperity, tolerance, etc. — that makes running the virtual grievance-culture ‘game platform’, with its amusingly inverted status polarities, possible at all.

In the end, of course, real power wins. When the ‘external OS’ that supports this platform stops running, natural inequalities will assert themselves, as they always do. And I think it’s safe to say, if I may extend the technical metaphor, that the machine is already ‘running hot’.

* Update, June 16th: commenter ‘Gerry’ has informed us that the quote about learning who rules over you, which I had originally attributed to Voltaire in this post, was not written by Voltaire at all, but by a neo-Nazi named Kevin Alfred Strom. I stand corrected.

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Two From Hoffer

I’ve often mentioned and quoted the longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer. Here are a couple of passages from his book Reflections on the Human Condition, which was published in 1973:

The untalented are more at ease in a society that gives them valid alibis for not achieving than in one where opportunities are abundant. In an affluent society, the alienated who clamor for power are largely untalented people who cannot make use of the unprecedented opportunities for self-realization, and cannot escape the confrontation with an ineffectual self.

Even more timely, if that’s possible:

If a society is to preserve its stability and a degree of continuity, it must know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life. At present, most nations are threatened more by their juveniles within than by enemies without.

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Seldon Smiles

It appears that Curtis Yarvin, a.k.a. Mencius Moldbug, has been banned from speaking at a major tech conference because of his political opinions.

For those of you who don’t know the name: for several years beginning in 2007 ‘Mencius Moldbug’ wrote, at his blog Unqualified Reservations, a series of essays articulating a new, reactionary synthesis of traditional ideas as a way of understanding the problems of modernity. These essays have been enormously influential in the intellectual circles now known as ‘neoreaction’ or the ‘Dark Enlightenment’. (Perhaps the best introductions to the Moldbug oeuvre are the series of posts gathered here and here. Do have a look.)

I”m sure nobody was less surprised than Mr. Yarvin himself: his excommunication is, as blogger Dante D’Andrea argues here, exactly what neoreaction itself would predict.

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Man Of The People

Here is the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius:

M. Fabius seeks an international arrangement to impose strictures upon the sovereign nations of the world in an attempt to control the Earth’s climate. (That such an arrangement will also transfer aspects of that sovereignty to gentlemen such as himself and his professional colleagues is, I believe, what is called a “lagniappe”.)

Were we to ask him, I am sure that Monsieur Fabius would speak with approval about the spread of modern liberal democracy. I’m sure that he would agree, as would all educated and bien-pensant Westerners, that it has been a great blessing to the modern world, and that for any member of our enlightened community of nations to take up any other form of government would be a retreat into darkness.

I note with interest, however, this news item from a week or two ago:


I suspect that M. Fabius, along with the like-minded American President with whom he hopes to consummate his ambitions, attaches quite a different meaning to the word “democracy” than you or I might.

If, reader, you happen to be an American, by all means feel free to bristle a bit, if you like. Reflect also, perhaps, upon the stubbornness of hierarchy and inequality, and how they always find a way.

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Flavor Implosion

I had no idea such a thing was even possible, but here it is:

Gird your cheeks. You’ve been warned.

Open Thread 5

Have at it.


My mother, who died in 2006, would have been 80 years old today. My remembrance of her is here.

Service Notice

Away for a couple of days. Will respond to comments as time permits.

There Lie They, And Here Lie We

Theodore Dalrymple:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

h/t: @jokeocracy

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Science Is Never Settled

From the indefatigable JK: a medical story that might be a pretty big deal.

Comic Relief

With a hat-tip to Bill V., here’s an amusing clip from Egypt.

I have no idea whether the subtitles are accurate, other than in the few spots I’m able to pick out a word or two. (Any Arabic speakers among you, readers?)

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In The Gloaming

Sorry, readers, if the last two items seemed a bit glum, even for me. (I guess it’s kind of a Kübler-Ross thing.) I’ll try to cheer up a bit, and enjoy the decline. The autumn years are not without their comforts, for both a nation and a man.

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No Exit

In our previous post we linked to Victor Davis Hanson’s gloomy column on the many symptoms of Western decline. Our e-pal David Duff also sent along a link to a similar essay entitled Like Cattle Before a Thunderstorm. Both of these pieces acknowledged a widespread sense of foreboding, but both also showed a curious paralysis, of the kind we experience in a nightmare:

Why is this? Why should a scholar and critic of Hanson’s erudition be unable to offer any prescription? Why is the American nation so inert in the face of onrushing calamity? The signs, after all, are there for all to see; in particular, what should attract everyone’s attention is the collapse of great urban centers such as Detroit and Baltimore. That major port cities in a nation of imperial power, in peacetime, should fail so utterly in a mere half-century is almost without historical precedent — while for such cities to collapse at all is, without any exception of which I am aware, a sign of impending general disintegration.

As I said in the previous post, I believe the answer is that it is increasingly clear, to more and more of us, that nothing can be done. It will be for future historians to say just when we crossed the “event horizon”: some may pick out the Wilson administration, while others may look at the Depression years, or the Sixties; others yet may move the Schwarzschild radius all the way out to 2012. (Some already look farther back, all the way to the beginning of the Enlightenment.) But it is plainer and plainer that it’s been crossed, and that all future timelines take us, at accelerating velocity, through the singularity. It may take years, or even a generation, to get there — but already the tidal forces have begun their irresistible work.

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Don’t Worry. Despair.

Over at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson reads us a litany of national woes. He has chosen as a preface a too-familiar epigraph:

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
– W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

The article begins:

Things are starting to collapse, abroad and at home. We all sense it, even as we bicker over who caused it and why.

Indeed they are, and indeed we do. (Why, you’d almost think Professor Hanson had been spending time in one of the Internet’s darker corners.)

Elsewhere, Heather Mac Donald comments on the sharp uptick in violent crimes in our nation’s urban centers, as a consequence of what has been called the “Ferguson Effect”:

Almost any police shooting of a black person, no matter how threatening the behavior that provoked the shooting, now provokes angry protests, like those that followed the death of Vonderrit Myers in St. Louis last October. The 18-year-old Myers, awaiting trial on gun and resisting-arrest charges, had fired three shots at an officer at close range. Arrests in black communities are even more fraught than usual, with hostile, jeering crowds pressing in on officers and spreading lies about the encounter.

Acquittals of police officers for the use of deadly force against black suspects are now automatically presented as a miscarriage of justice. Proposals aimed at producing more cop convictions abound, but New York state seems especially enthusiastic about the idea.

The state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, wants to create a special state prosecutor dedicated solely to prosecuting cops who use lethal force. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would appoint an independent monitor whenever a grand jury fails to indict an officer for homicide and there are “doubts” about the fairness of the proceeding (read: in every instance of a non-indictment); the governor could then turn over the case to a special prosecutor for a second grand jury proceeding.

This incessant drumbeat against the police has resulted in what St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson last November called the “Ferguson effect.” Cops are disengaging from discretionary enforcement activity and the “criminal element is feeling empowered,” Mr. Dotson reported. Arrests in St. Louis city and county by that point had dropped a third since the shooting of Michael Brown in August. Not surprisingly, homicides in the city surged 47% by early November and robberies in the county were up 82%.

(In my grimmer moments, which are not infrequent, I’d have to wonder whether the “Ferguson Effect” is in fact an unintended consequence. To chalk it up to mere stupidity and unwisdom on the part of our elected officials would be the more charitable assumption, but the case for doing so is not persuasive.)

Recently I was invited to join a monthly discussion-group for the “Dissident Right”; it’s a convivial dinner-and-drinks affair at an “undisclosed location” in New York. The guest lecturer last month was a prominent conservative intellectual, and the author of several books. He gave a very engaging talk, but with a dispiriting message: there is simply no effective right-wing political opposition in America anymore, and no “critical mass” from which one can be expected to arise. Even as the ostensibly “conservative” GOP holds the upper hand in both houses of Congress, the nation moves faster and faster to the Left. And as others have pointed out: even if they wanted to, the Congress and the Judiciary simply cannot respond rapidly enough to the actions of an aggressive Executive — Congress because of the democratic limitations of a large legislative body, and the difficulty of assembling filibuster- and veto-proof majorities, while the Judiciary can initiate nothing at all on its own. Moreover, we are in such a late stage of this “progressive” disease that we are long past the point where a presidential victory, even by an actual conservative, can make any long-term difference to the morbid prognosis.

Furthermore, we are in the late stages of a kind of decline that is inherent in democracy itself, in which a gradual expansion of the franchise, culminating in universal suffrage, leads inexorably to short-sighted governance, the consumption of future assets for present-day luxuries, and the general dissipation of a nation’s vigor. As Fitzjames Stephen wrote in 1874:

The substance of what I have to say to the disadvantage of the theory and practice of universal suffrage is that it tends to invert what I should have regarded as the true and natural relation between wisdom and folly. I think that wise and good men ought to rule those who are foolish and bad. To say that the sole function of the wise and good is to preach to their neighbors, and that everyone indiscriminately should be left to do what he likes, should be provided with a ratable share of the sovereign power in the shape of the vote, and that the result of this will be the direction of power by wisdom, seems to me the wildest romance that ever got posession of any considerable number of minds.

So, here we are, in a runaway train, with a foolish and angry mob at the controls. We have not the numbers to storm the engine. What to do? Neither Hanson nor Mac Donald offer any prescription.

The historically literate reactionary’s answer is: nothing. We can do nothing, other than to hope we survive the inevitable wreck, to learn from our mistakes, and perhaps to carry something forward.

Writing at Outside In, Nick Land explains (my emphasis):

Neoreaction, as it tends to extremity on its Dark Enlightenment vector, frustrates all familiar demands for activism. Even if explicit anti-politics remains a minority posture, the long-dominant demotic calculus of political possibility is consistently subverted — coring out the demographic constituencies from which ‘mobilization’ might be expected. There is no remotely coherent reactionary class, race, or creed … from which a tide-reversing mass politics could be constructed. In this respect, even the mildest versions of neoreactionary analysis are profoundly politically disillusioning.

Because of the reactionary’s emphasis on organic and traditional societies, the idea of any sort of reactionary activism based on revolutionary compulsion — an externally applied force that, history shows, generally assumes the form of terrorism — is a self-abnegating absurdity. Therefore, Mr. Land argues:

Demotist activism finds its rigorous neoreactionary ‘counterpart’ in fatalism … Rather than attempting to make something happen, fatality restores something that cannot be stopped.

There’s a word for what Mr. Land prescribes: horrorism.

It is thus that the approximate contours of the horrorist task emerge into focus. Rather than resisting the desperation of the progressive ideal by terrorizing its enemies, it directs itself to the culmination of progressive despair… It de-mobilizes, de-massifies, and de-democratizes, through subtle, singular, catalytic interventions, oriented to the realization of fate. The Cathedral has to be horrified into paralysis. The horrorist message (to its enemies): Nothing that you are doing can possibly work.

“What is to be done?” is not a neutral question. The agent it invokes already strains towards progress. This suffices to suggest a horrorist response: Nothing. Do nothing. Your progressive ‘praxis’ will come to nought in any case. Despair. Subside into horror. You can pretend to prevail in antagonism against ‘us’, but reality is your true — and fatal — enemy. We have no interest in shouting at you. We whisper, gently, in your ear: “despair”. (The horror.)

That’s enough for now, I think. Enjoy your weekend.

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Open Thread 4

As always: a placeholder for for free association, idle chat, bibulous logorrhea, and confessions of the heart. (Or, perhaps, for the introduction of serious topics or questions.)

Hold Your Nose And Click

I think it’s safe to say that this The New Republic article — The White Protestant Roots of American Racism — is the worst piece of “journalism” you’re going to see all day. I was about to give it the severe beating it deserves — particularly with respect to Puritanism, Calvinist soteriology, and the central role of American Protestants in the abolitionist movement — but the comment-thread at the article itself has already done a pretty fair job, it seems.

TNR was once a respectable organ of the Left. No longer.

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Charles Murray on the SAT

We hear a lot in the mainstream media about the correlation between family income and student achievement. The assumption is usually that it is the affluence itself that causes, by some unjust and remediable social mechanism, favorable outcomes for children of well-to-do families. But a more parsimonious explanation — one that will be obvious to denizens of this corner of the blogosphere — is that there is another factor that causes both the affluence and the achievement.

Charles Murray explains, here.

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Gradually, Then Suddenly

In a response to our recent post on the entropic influence of the political Left, commenter ‘Epicaric’ wrote:

It is my impression … that these forces have accelerated of late, shedding its once linear progression for a pace far more geometric in nature.

This is entirely ‘lawful’, and is exactly what we should expect. All of the erosive forces at work here — demographic displacement by poorly assimilated immigrants, low birthrates among cognitive elites, multiculturalism, galloping secularism, centralization of Federal power at the expense of local government, anti-traditionalism, hedonistic apathy, instutionalized disparagement of America’s history, mission, cultural heritage, and mythos, and behind it all the universal acid of radical doubt that is the “poison pill” of the Enlightenment itself — all of these things attack and corrode the horizontal ligatures of American civil society, leaving behind only an atomized population with no binding affinities save their vertical dependence upon a Federal leviathan that is, increasingly, the source of all guidance and blessings.

What this means is that as these forces do their work, they weaken at every point our society’s structural integrity — even as the disintegrative influences, particularly the destructive action of demographic replacement, intensify. It follows naturally, then, that the pace of decay accelerates.

In passing, we should note also that this horizontal ‘unbinding’ is, of course, a natural precursor for Fascism. The ancient symbol of the Fasces, from which the movement took its name, is a bundle of wooden rods, individually weak, but lashed together with an external binding. It is the perfect symbol for a society that has lost its organic, endogenous coherence, and so must be united by an artificial and external power.

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What is the Right?

In our last Open Thread, our resident liberal gadfly Peter, a.k.a. ‘The One Eyed Man’, left a comment citing the late Richard Hofstadter to the effect that the political Right (in particular, the “dissident” Right whose views are often summarized in these pages), exhibits a “paranoid style”.

Several of us responded in the ensuing discussion. But each time I read the original comment, and the Hofstadter passages it quotes, the more perfectly paradigmatic it all seems of the unreflective perceptual biases of the Left.

In particular, where the analysis goes off the rails is in the way that it mischaracterizes the traditionalist Right’s view of the Left in this conflict of ideologies:

“The enemy [i.e., as cited here, the influential man of the Left] is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman — sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed, he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.”

But this is not how those of us on the dissident Right see this at all. Correctly understood, the core features of modern Leftism are not an exogenous historical anomaly, brought about by the individual will of aberrant masterminds to “deflect the normal course of history”, but are instead an entirely predictable social and historical force, perfectly consistent with a coherent understanding of human nature and the pitfalls of democracy. A movement toward the Left, and ultimately toward despotism and collapse, is the “normal course” of history, in exactly the same way that the “normal course” of a river is to run downhill.

Indeed, the phenomenon is even more general than either history or human nature: in conformance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, it is in fact a manifestation of entropy — of the wearing down of complex and specific structures, the destruction of the particular in favor of the general, and the relentless erosion of all of the gradients, distinctions, and disequilibria that are the only possible source of usable energy, and therefore useful work, in any system.

The ‘One Eyed Man’ quotes, as an example of right-wing “paranoia”, our commenter Whitewall’s likening of the Left to “termites, roaches, bed bugs, ticks, mold, radon”. But these comparisons are more than an expression of simple revulsion: all of these things are agents of decay, of disorder (in radon’s case, the actual decay of atoms themselves). In this way, Whitewall’s remark reveals an implicit understanding of the Left as, above all, an entropic historical force.

So: if the Right seems Manichaean, it is because the Right correctly perceives its role not as one side in a contest between two equally contingent, and arbitrarily chosen, approaches to government, but rather as a bulwark against entropy itself: against disorder, decay, and the “heat death” of the civilization it seeks to defend. Hofstadter’s emphasis (like Peter’s) is on political compromise, and to this he owes his reputation as a level-headed centrist. But the historically literate Right understands that any compromise with entropy is ultimately futile, because all such compromises are necessarily a unidirectional movement toward greater disorder. (We understand also, to our sorrow, that disorder always wins in the end — but to preserve what we can, for as long as we can, clearly requires nothing less than our best efforts.)

None of this is to say, of course, that there aren’t clever, charismatic, and extremely dangerous people on the Left, with resentful or self-serving motives and destructive intentions. But they are specific, particular, contingent phenomena — opportunistic infections. The focus of the reactionary Right, on the other hand, is on a universal, natural process, by which order yields to disorder; the political Left is merely its aspect in human societies.

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That “Science” Guy

John Derbyshire give Bill Nye’s nose a tweak, here.

Open Thread 3

Have at it, folks.

When One With Honeyed Words But Evil Mind Persuades The Mob, Great Woes Befall The State

Yesterday President Obama gave a commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy. He devoted much of it to brazen propaganda about “climate change”, including even going so far as to make it a scapegoat for Islamic violence and political chaos in the Mideast and Africa. We’re all well-accustomed (perhaps “inured” would be a better word) to tendentious, defensive, and accusatory buncombe from this White House, but when it comes to industrial-strength agitprop bullshit, this is, perhaps, a new low.

I was all set to give it a thorough fisking, and had already begun to gather the facts and figures, but that tireless climate gadfly Monckton beat me to it, while doing a far more thorough job than I’d have managed. Read his response here.

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