Yarvin On Moldbug

Curtis Yarvin, perhaps better known to some of you as ‘Mencius Moldbug’, is, in real life, a computer scientist, and, as far as I can tell, rather a gifted one. (For a while I shied away from using his real name, in order to protect his identity, but I think that cat is thoroughly and irreversibly out of the bag at this point.)

As Moldbug, he wrote for years on political theory at his blog, Unqualified Reservations. The ideas he developed there were sharply at odds with prevailing liberal, and even conservative, orthodoxy, and have had a reverberating influence. (Moldbug is widely considered to be the father of the burgeoning “neoreactionary” intellectual movement.)

Mr. Yarvin stopped writing as Moldbug some years ago. He had said most of what he wanted to say, I think, and wanted to focus on his professional work. But his identity became known, and as surely as night follows day his heterodox opinions started getting him in trouble with the social-justice commissars who police all public discourse these days. As a result he began to be banned from professional conferences.

Now it seems that one of those conferences, LambdaConf, has decided to defy the would-be censors and let Mr. Yarvin speak. As they should.

The story is here. Mr. Yarvin has also released a statement about his views, here. (I think its tone is far too apologetic, but I understand that this is a young father with a career he’d like to preserve, so I can hardly blame him for that.)

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Open Thread 13

Haven’t had one of these for a while. Ask me anything, propose a topic, chat amongst yourselves. Whatever you like.

Philippic, or Jeremaiad?

Some of each, I suppose. I’m talking about W. Lewis Amselem’s latest on Islam over at Diplomad 2.0. It is good strong stuff.

We read:

All religions, of course, have odd and cruel features in their old texts. Islam, however, is unique among major religions for never having had an enlightenment. It has undergone a reformation of sorts, but a retrograde one. In much of the world, Islam now lies closer to its 7th century origins than it did 100 or 200 years ago; it recedes into the past for inspiration and validation.

Quite right. “Radicalism”, in the sense of returning to one’s roots.

Per its fundamental writings and its widespread practices, Islam is about conquest, not coexistence or tolerance.

As for those fundamental writings: one thing that is not well understood by enough people in the West is that Islam’s relation to its sacred text is very different from Christianity’s. The holiest, most unshakable foundation of Islam is the belief that Mohammed is the Messenger of God, and that the Koran is nothing more or less than a literal transcription of God’s own Word. There is not even any question, as there is with the Bible, of errors and ambiguities introduced by translation, because God explicitly and deliberately transmitted his recitation to Mohammed in Arabic. The Koran itself, then, is an aspect of God made physically present in the material world. Many people mistakenly imagine the place of Mohammed in Islam to be analogous to that of Jesus in Christianity, and the Koran to the Bible, but this is mistaken; Mohammed, though a very special man indeed, was only a man, while in Christianity Jesus is very much more: He is believed to be God Himself, descended to suffer among us as a man. In the same way, the Koran is very much more than a Book; it is an extrusion of Allah into this world — given to us, as Jesus was, for our salvation. The Koran is therefore sacred to Muslims in the same way that Jesus is to Christians. (And when you defile or disrespect a Koran, you are not defiling a book; you are defiling God.)

Koranic literalism, therefore, is not a “radical” approach to Islam. Koranic literalism is Islam. This will not change.

Diplomad again:

Our immigration policies must change dramatically. Just as we, at one time, excluded Nazis, Fascists, and Communists, we now have the right to exclude practitioners of the totalitarian cult known as Islam. We have the right and obligation to fight and to exclude those committed to the violent overthrow of our way of life. The West derives no benefit from importing millions of Muslims. It is not a question of whether they belong to ISIS, AQ, Boko, or JI. Their core beliefs pose the threat as we have seen from the large number of native-born Muslims in the West who have gone jihadi–including, for example, Somalis here in the US. At a minimum, we do not need to import more Muslims. The Syrian refugee crisis is a scam and we must recognize it as such.

Quite so. I invite readers also to go back and have a look at my own post from last year on this “refugee” issue.

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It Ain’t Necessarily So

I’ve had absolutely nothing interesting or original to say for several days now. (This happens sometimes; even Rachmaninoff had almost nothing at all to say from 1897 to 1901.) So tonight I’m offering some excerpts from Sir Henry Sumner Maine’s Popular Government, published in 1885.

I’ve mentioned this book several times before. As “red pills” go it is one of the strongest, with an effect that will not wear off. If you, like most people, simply think it obvious that there is something special about Democracy, and that it stands head and shoulders above every other system not just practically but morally, this book should help you get over it. Above all, it will help you to understand that what we should want from government is to be governed well. Everything else is secondary, and as Sir Henry is at pains to point out often in his book, democracy is nothing more and nothing less than a form of government, one among many. As he remarked in his preface, “some assumptions commonly made on the subject must be discarded.”

These excerpts are taken from various places between pages 59 and 106. I have bolded some passages.

Democracy means properly a particular form of government. This truth … is the beginning of wisdom. There is no word about which a denser mist of vague language, and a larger heap of loose metaphors, has collected. Yet, although Democracy does signify something indeterminate, there is nothing vague about it. It is simply and solely a form of government. It is the government of the State by the Many, as opposed, according to the old Greek analysis, to its government by the Few, and to its government by One. The border between the Few and the Many, and again between the varieties of the Many, is necessarily indeterminate; but Democracy not the less remains a mere form of government; and, inasmuch as of these forms the most definite and determinate is Monarchy—the government of the State by one person—Democracy is most accurately described as inverted Monarchy.

… The successive French Republics have been nothing but the later French Monarchy, upside down. Similarly, the Constitutions and the legal systems of the several North American States, and of the United States, would be wholly unintelligible to anybody who did not know that the ancestors of the Anglo-Americans had once lived under a King, himself the representative of older Kings infinitely more autocratic, and who had not observed that throughout these bodies of law and plans of government the People had simply been put into the King’s seat, occasionally filling it with some awkwardness.

… Democracy, the government of the commonwealth by a numerous but indeterminate portion of the community taking the place of the Monarch, has exactly the same conditions to satisfy as Monarchy; it has the same functions to discharge, though it discharges them through different organs. The tests of success in the performance of the necessary and natural duties of a government are precisely the same in both cases. Thus in the very first place, Democracy, like Monarchy, like Aristocracy, like any other government, must preserve the national existence. The first necessity of a State is that it should be durable. Among mankind regarded as assemblages of individuals, the gods are said to love those who die young; but nobody has ventured to make such an assertion of States. The prayers of nations to Heaven have been, from the earliest ages, for long national life, life from generation to generation, life prolonged far beyond that of children’s children, life like that of the everlasting hills. The historian will sometimes speak of governments distinguished for the loftiness of their aims, and the brilliancy of the talents which they called forth, but doomed to an existence all too brief. The compliment is in reality a paradox, for in matters of government all objects are vain and all talents wasted, when they fail to secure national durability. One might as well eulogise a physician for the assiduity of his attendance and the scientific beauty of his treatment, when the patient has died under his care. Next perhaps to the paramount duty of maintaining national existence, comes the obligation incumbent on Democracies, as on all governments, of securing the national greatness and dignity. Loss of territory, loss of authority, loss of general respect, loss of self-respect, may be unavoidable evils, but they are terrible evils, judged by the pains they inflict and the elevation of the minds by which these pains are felt; and the Government which fails to provide a sufficient supply of generals and statesmen, of soldiers and administrators, for the prevention and cure of these evils, is a government which has miscarried. It will also have miscarried, if it cannot command certain qualities which are essential to the success of national action. In all their relations with one another (and this is a fundamental assumption of International law) States must act as individual men. The defects which are defects in individual men, and perhaps venial defects, are faults in States, and generally faults of the extremest gravity. In all war and all diplomacy, in every part of foreign policy, caprice, wilfulness, loss of selfcommand, timidity, temerity, inconsistency, indecency, and coarseness, are weaknesses which rise to the level of destructive vices; and if Democracy is more liable to them than are other forms of government, it is to that extent inferior to them.

… If we turn from the foreign to the domestic duties of a nation, we shall find the greatest of them to be, that its government should compel obedience to the law, criminal and civil. The vulgar impression no doubt is, that laws enforce themselves. Some communities are supposed to be naturally law-abiding, and some are not. But the truth is (and this is a commonplace of the modern jurist) that it is always the State which causes laws to be obeyed. It is quite true that this obedience is rendered by the great bulk of all civilised societies without an effort and quite unconsciously. But that is only because, in the course of countless ages, the stern discharge of their chief duty by States has created habits and sentiments which save the necessity for penal interference, because nearly everybody shares them.

If any government should be tempted to neglect, even for a moment, its function of compelling obedience to law—if a Democracy, for example, were to allow a portion of the multitude of which it consists to set some law at defiance which it happens to dislike—it would be guilty of a crime which hardly any other virtue could redeem, and which century upon century might fail to repair.

On the whole, the dispassionate student of politics, who has once got into his head that Democracy is only a form of government, who has some idea of what the primary duties of government are, and who sees the main question, in choosing between them, to be which of them in the long-run best discharges these duties, has a right to be somewhat surprised at the feelings which the advent of Democracy excites.

… Of all the forms of government, Democracy is by far the most difficult. The greatest, most permanent, and most fundamental of all the difficulties of Democracy, lies deep in the constitution of human nature. Democracy is a form of government, and in all governments acts of State are determined by an exertion of will. But in what sense can a multitude exercise volition? The student of politics can put to himself no more pertinent question than this. No doubt the vulgar opinion is, that the multitude makes up its mind as the individual makes up his mind; the Demos determines like the Monarch. A host of popular phrases testify to this belief. The “will of the People,” “public opinion,” the “sovereign pleasure of the nation,” “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” belong to this class, which indeed constitutes a great part of the common stock of the platform and the press. But what do such expressions mean? They must mean that a great number of people, on a great number of questions, can come to an identical conclusion, and found an identical determination upon it. But this is manifestly true only of the simplest questions. A very slight addition of difficulty at once sensibly diminishes the chance of agreement, and, if the difficulty be considerable, an identical opinion can only be reached by trained minds assisting themselves by demonstration more or less rigorous. On the complex questions of politics, which are calculated in themselves to task to the utmost all the powers of the strongest minds, but are in fact vaguely conceived, vaguely stated, dealt with for the most part in the most haphazard manner by the most experienced statesmen, the common determination of a multitude is a chimerical assumption; and indeed, if it were really possible to extract an opinion upon them from a great mass of men, and to shape the administrative and legislative acts of a State upon this opinion as a sovereign command, it is probable that the most ruinous blunders would be committed, and all social progress would be arrested. The truth is, that the modern enthusiasts for Democracy make one fundamental confusion. They mix up the theory, that the Demos is capable of volition, with the fact, that it is capable of adopting the opinions of one man or of a limited number of men, and of founding directions to its instruments upon them.

That’s enough for now, I think. If your system seems to tolerate it well, you may increase the dosage at your pleasure; for now, at least, this stuff is still available over the counter.

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Tay Tweets

I am not making this up: apparently Microsoft put a Twitter chat-bot online as part of an artificial-intelligence project, and after a few hours of online interaction it had turned into a Nazi.

Microsoft has since deleted its tweets, but some more of them are here.

The bot, called Tay, has now been taken down for “adjustments”. (With that nice Mr. O’Brien, in Room 101.)

Ah, AI. Our future. What could possibly go wrong?

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Buchanan on “Radical” Islam

The word “radical” — from the Latin radix, meaning “root” — is generally applied to someone who wishes to change a system down to its very roots. When it comes to what we in the West call “radical” Islam, however, the word would be much better understood to mean precisely the opposite: a system of belief and action that aggressively returns to Islam’s root for its meaning and methods.

Patrick Buchanan’s latest column addresses this with brevity and clarity. Here.

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Four Faiths

I’ve just run across a glum and deeply reactionary essay by Gregory Hood, written in November of 2014, on the spiritual exhaustion of the West, and the durable appeal of Islam. It examines four possible foundations for the future of our civilization: Christianity, paganism, techno-liberalism, and submission to Islam.

Some excerpts:

To most people, being a minority is alienating–even if no one is specifically insulting you, you recognize you exist at the sufferance of someone else. However, to many liberal Whites, this feeling comes as a relief. In a kind of parody of Christianity, powerlessness constitutes a certain moral authority because it removes the possibility that you can inadvertently oppress someone else…

…Lawrence Auster touched on a central reality of today’s Western Man in that dhimmitude is actually a pleasurable idea to many liberals because it would allow them to set down the burden of Whiteness. Christianity may have told Western Man that he was “born sick, and commanded to be well,” but it at least provided an answer in the grace of Jesus or the sacraments of the Church. In contrast, leftism tells Western Man that he is inherently sinful (or “privileged”) and that there is nothing he can do to escape from it except seek collective annihilation or submission.

On religion:

At the risk of sinking into mysticism, one explanation for religion is that it is a kind of “race consciousness” or evolutionary adaptation in its own right.

Almost certainly true, in my opinion; see my own old posts Is Secularism Maladaptive? and One God Further.

On Islam:

Islam is Nature’s solution. Like the Architect from The Matrix Reloaded, it is Nature’s way of saying that “There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.” It is stultifying, depressing, and tyrannical. It is an enemy of real culture, with the most militant variations smashing the tombs and shrines not only of other religious traditions, but of their own. Modern Wahhabism is funded by Western decadence, enabled by Western weakness, in many ways a product of Western postmodernism and self-hatred.

And lest what I say be misunderstood, it is obviously, laughably, and comically false. It is sustained by the protective cordon it has created around criticism. Yet believing that a pedophiliac illiterate transcribed the literal word of God still makes more sense than believing all men are created equal. Islam’s refusal to allow critical analysis of itself is a sign of strength, not weakness.

More importantly, there is already a sense among both Western progressives and conservatives that Islam is the future for European civilization.

The essay concludes on this grim note:

We fight in defiance of this future. Yet we must remember the desperation of our situation to lend strength to our arms and urgency to our actions.

Read the whole thing here.

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Coincidence?

Yesterday my server was down for several hours. This hardly ever used to happen, but lately I’ve had a lot of little outages, and my hosting company’s technical support (the company is Bluehost) has also been outsourced to India. It used to be that when I opened a live chat with tech support I would immediately be connected to a bright and eager tech in Utah; now the wait is long, and the person on the other end never seems particularly well-informed.

I have always really, really liked this company, and since I signed up in 2005 I have sung its praises to anyone who asked for a recommendation. (Here, for example, is a plug from 2013.) But the quality of the service and support have declined since they were bought by another outfit a while back. It’s a disappointment, and so yesterday I said as much on Twitter.

Guess what! Just today I got an email telling me that a file I’ve had stashed on the server for years constitutes a terms-of-service violation. The tone was chilling:

Upon review of your account, the following example file(s) that we found to be in violation of our Terms of Service are as follows. PLEASE NOTE: this is not an all inclusive list. You will need to fully review your account for addition files that violate the Terms of Service…

If these violations have not been rectified within 48 Hours of this notice, your account’s web site(s) will be deactivated, access to your account will be disabled, and you will need to call our service line, 888-401-HOST, option 6, to discuss and resolve the suspension of your account. If your account becomes deactivated, it (and all of its files, databases, and emails) will be subsequently deleted.

I’ve since gone and looked through all of my files; I think I’ve cleaned up everything that the company might object to. But if this site vanishes over the next few days, that’s why. (I’ve downloaded site backups, so if the worst does happen I’ll reappear, eventually, with a new host.)

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Our Progressive Religion

We hear a lot about “virtue-signalling” these days. The term is new, but the idea is not: its influence on American behavior is as old as the Puritan settlements of New England, from which it spread across the North, into our academic and cultural institutions, and became, in increasingly secular form, the chief feature of a long sequence of social crusades, continuing to this day throughout the West.

Central to the generally Calvinist beliefs of the Puritans was the idea that man was so rotten, so corrupted by sin, that to attain salvation on his own was beyond his power. The only path to Heaven, then, was through genuine faith, and such faith was only available as a contingent gift of God. Just living well wouldn’t do: one might be following God’s law merely for selfish reasons. Only “justification” — the divine act of grace — could be the basis of genuine faith, and of salvation.

That said, justified faith would surely inspire a person to live a Godly life, and so it follows that anyone who does not live such a life is obviously not among the chosen. Given also that it is impossible for anyone truly to know God’s will regarding his or her individual salvation, it makes sense to live as closely as possible to God’s law, and hope for the best.

As Edmund Morgan wrote in his 1966 book The Puritan Family:

Good works, then, however ineffectual to procure salvation, could be evidence of the faith that did procure it. And the desire to see this evidence in their conduct was with the Puritans night and day, driving them to ever greater moral exertions. Of course a “civil” life was no infallible sign of salvation, since it could be produced by external restraints as well as by faith, but an uncivil life was a sure sign of damnation. “If you are heedless of your works,” the Puritan ministers warned their congregations, “if you will live at randome according to your hearts desire you may be sure you are no believer.” Thus every Puritan did his best to obey the laws of God, to be a good citizen, and thus perhaps to bolster faith by concrete evidence of its existence.

A conspicuous act of virtue, then, strengthens hope in one’s own salvation. That it exacts a heavy cost makes it all the more potent.

Which brings us to yesterday’s testimony before Congress by Gina McCarthy, the head of the EPA. Story here.

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Commentus Interruptus

We had another outage today. Both this website and my email server were down for hours. (My hosting company, Bluehost, isn’t what it used to be, and I think I’m going to have to start shopping around for another service.)

Apologies to all.

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… So Shall Ye Reap

Jihad has struck the Continent again, this time in the capital city of the tolerant and progressive European Union. (Violent instability is centripetal, the analysts say. It has arrived.)

I’ll say it again: to allow mass immigration of Muslims is the stupidest and most irreversibly self-destructive thing that any Western nation can do. (The depth of this continuing incomprehension is on display in today’s Politico headline: “Why Do They Hate Us So Much?”)

But there is stupidity enough to go around: if the aim of jihad is to bring Europe into the Dar al-Islam, then this is the wrong way to do it. Such attacks may well awaken whatever remains of the West’s badly damaged immune system. (The Muslim Brotherhood, and those who operate its many front groups, CAIR, for example, understand this. Their sensible preference for “dawa” jihad over terrorism was the reason for the Ikhwan’s split with al-Qaeda.) The truly effective jihad — the slow and steady conquest of Europe not with bombs, but with wombs — has been underway, with brilliant success, for decades, with the eager support and assistance of those who have ruled for so long in the name of the European peoples.

If, however, the goal of these jihadists is only martyrdom in a continent-wide civil war, then that’s another matter. It may well come to pass — but only if, should all else fail, the West still has the virility to defend its thrones, hearths, and altars against this ancient and implacable foe. Parts of it still do, I think. Better war than submission.

The cognitive dissonance of the ruling classes, and the great rift between the indigenous people of Europe and their universalist overlords, will now deepen. Look for further instructive examples of Auster’s First Law.

The great tragedy is that it never had to come to this. Europe now gathers the harvest of its terrible unwisdom.

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Me Me Me Me Me Me

Here’s our Gentleman-In-Chief getting off the plane today in Cuba:

 

Notice anything?

As Ye Sow

Here’s a good one that’s been making the rounds today: Glenn Harlan Reynolds on How David Brooks Created Donald Trump. Money quote:

When politeness and orderliness are met with contempt and betrayal, do not be surprised if the response is something less polite, and less orderly.

Also, you may have noticed that our current president likes making friends with our enemies, and making enemies of of our friends. Here’s Ted Cruz on our new warm-and-fuzzy Cuba policy.

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Spring Has Sprung

“The grass has riz…”

That’s the beginning of a bit of English doggerel I learned at my dad’s knee.

According to EarthSky.org, spring (which arrived last night at 12:30 a.m. Eastern time) came earlier this year than it has since 1896. The reason?

The March equinox can come on March 19, 20 or 21. And 2016 has the earliest March equinox since the year 1896. Is it a coincidence that 2012 also had the earliest spring since 1896? No. Recall that both 2012 and 2016 are leap years. But 2016’s spring comes even earlier than the spring of 2012.

In a nutshell, this earliest spring is happening because the tropical year, as measured between successive March equinoxes, doesn’t have an even number of days (365.242 days). Our calendar, on the other hand, has an even 365 days in a common year and 366 days in a leap year.

The centennial year 2000 was a leap year, which causes the March equinox to arrive roughly three-quarters of a day earlier in the 21st century (2001-2100) than at corresponding years in the 20th century (1901-2000).

However, the suppression of the leap year in the centennial year 2100 will push the March equinox times upward again (by roughly one-quarter day) in the 22nd century (2101-2200). Why is 2100 not a leap year, by the way? It’s because, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar and stated that leap days should not be added in years ending in “00” unless that year is also evenly divisible by 400. (For instance, 2000 is equally divisible by 400, whereas 2100 is NOT). Read more about leap years here.

So … four years from now, in 2020, the March equinox will be earlier yet – on March 20 at 3:50 UTC (March 19 at 10:50 p.m. CDT).

Four years after that, in 2024, it’ll come earlier again – on March 20, at 3:06 UTC (March 19 at 10:06 CDT).

The March equinox comes earlier and earlier every leap year all through the 21st century (2001 to 2100).

If you’re considering Universal Time, the first actual March 19 vernal equinox will come in the year 2044 (March 19 at 23:20 UTC).

The earliest March equinox of the 21st century will occur in the year 2096 (March 19 at 14:03 UTC).

Plus – assuming you’re using Universal Time – the equinox will be on March 20 (Universal Time) for the coming four decades.

“… I wonder where the birdies is…

— The birds are on the wing!

But that’s absurd!

I thought the wings was on the bird!”

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Home Stretch

“Coming down the stretch, it’s Cankles out in front — but wait, here comes Rule Of Law! Rule of Law pouring it on now! It’s anybody’s race!…”

“Come on, Rule of Law! Move yer bloomin’ arse!!”

With thanks to the indefatigable JK, here’s more on the Clinton investigation.

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Diplomad on Conservatism

With a hat-tip to several readers who emailed me with the link, here’s a thoughtful essay by Lewis Amselem.

Sea and Sky

We had some dramatic weather around the Outer Cape yesterday.

Here are a few photos from the bluff above Maguire Landing in Wellfleet:

 

 

 

 

And here are some shots taken a little later on from High Head, overlooking North Truro, Pilgrim Lake, and Provincetown:

 

 

 

Here are two views of a “wall cloud” passing overhead, looking back toward High Head from Snail Road:

 

 

… and lowering clouds over Provincetown Harbor:

 

Finally, here are some sun-dappled clouds from a couple of weeks ago:

 

And the sunset view from Duck Harbor:

 

 

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Data Rot

Our pal Kevin Kim posted an item last week about the shuttering of Barnes & Noble’s Nook operation. (For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about — and it warms my heart that there may in fact be some of you out there — the Nook is Barnes & Noble’s electronic-book gizmo, their version of Amazon’s far more successful Kindle.)

Kevin writes:

When you “buy” a movie on, say, Amazon Prime, as I have done many times, you don’t really own it in the same way that you own a DVD of said movie. What you own is a license to go to Amazon’s site and access the movie. This feels like ownership for only as long as Amazon.com exists, which I suppose is fine if we think of Amazon as “too big to fail,” to misuse a term from almost a decade ago.

But consider Barnes and Noble, a company that, for a while at least, fancied itself Amazon’s rival. In case you missed it, Barnes and Noble is now closing down its international Nook store

… This turn of events has caused me to seriously rethink my current bad habit of buying movies off Amazon Prime and purchasing e-books instead of dead-tree books. Dead trees are actually an amazing storage medium, when you think about it: they can retain data for centuries with very little degradation (the pages might yellow, but the words and images remain clear), and when it comes to books, the only skill you need in order to access data is the ability to read. Despite my current e-bookish spending habits, I’m old-school at heart, so I’m partial to the heft and fragrance of dead-tree books. I may be part of the last generation to feel this way.

This is a topic that I’ve touched on myself from time to time. I love physical books — I have thousands of them — and even though some are very old indeed, they all still work just fine, without batteries or an Internet connection. But I do have a Kindle too, and it has many points to its credit: it’s small, holds hundreds of books, has built-in annotation software, and there is something very satisfying indeed about reading a book, coming to a passage or footnote that refers to some important source I’ve never read, and being able to acquire it on the spot. (Often, in my case, the book I want is so old that it’s out of copyright, and is available completely free of charge.)

But e-books are fragile, ephemeral, and dependent in a way that printed books (I suppose now we need a retronym for these, so I will call them “p-books”) simply are not. Let our politics descend into chaos, let a Carrington-class solar flare melt the electrical grid, let civilization revert to Mad-Max style post-apocalyptic anarchy, let the dead rise from their graves to walk again, tottering and gibbering and ravening for brains — and all of these p-books on my shelves will still deliver their content just as reliably as ever.

The other thing that nags at me, perhaps most of all, is this: e-books can change.

Whenever this topic comes up, I make a point of linking to this prescient post, written years ago by someone named Mark Pilgrim. (There is a particular irony in the fact that since I first linked to it seven years ago, the link has gone dead. I was only able to find a copy, after much searching, at the Internet Archive. Read it while you still can!)

Read Kevin’s post here.

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Yikes!

C’mon, FBI!

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

The big thing about this election is how strongly both the Democrat and Republican bases have pulled to the outside of their respective parties.

On the Democrat side we have Bernie Sanders threatening to block the party’s coronation of Hillary Clinton (if the FBI, or her poor health, doesn’t get there first). Heading into today’s round of primaries their share of elected delegates is too close to call, and the only thing that gives Mrs. Clinton an edge is her satchelful of “superdelegates” — party apparatchiks whose support is deliberately made independent of the electorate.

On the Republican side there is, of course, Donald Trump, who just keeps winning. The GOP strategy for a few weeks now has been to try to divide the vote to keep him from getting to the delegate count he needs, but now desperation is setting in, and it seems the party is increasingly willing simply to set aside the popular vote and do whatever it takes to block him at the convention.

What’s amusing here is the extent to which democracy itself is increasingly being exposed to the “wire-pullers” as an intolerable inconvenience, and to the people as a sham.

Magna est veritas, baby. Looks like it’s starting to prevail, a bit.

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I would use this Ring…

In yesterday’s post about the encryption controversy, I wrote:

My own feeling is that, death-by-government having had a vastly higher body count over the past century or so than even the bloodiest wars (and astronomically higher than any act of terrorism), we should choose to protect our privacy. Just in case.

A commenter argued for the government’s side, saying:

If you exclude the outliers, the toll falls dramatically.

My response in the comment-thread was that I found it hard to “exclude” the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. But there is more I ought to have said.

In a post from 2012 I wrote:

We like to think that we are much freer, in the modern liberal West, than our forebears were under the monarchies, autocracies, and dictatorships of the past. But the truth is that even under the most capricious and unenlightened despots, the lives of ordinary subjects long ago were rarely if ever affected directly by the sovereign, who lived in some far-off keep and was entirely unable to monitor or control the day-to-day activities of his people. But the advent of modern communication and transportation in the twentieth century, followed by electronic-record-keeping of financial transactions and other interactions, made possible a far greater degree of interference by the government in the minutiae of everyday life — and the development in the twenty-first century of small, ubiquitous sensors, connected in real time to intelligent and adaptive monitoring systems, will carry this trend to its logical endpoint: enabling the continuous monitoring of everything any of us does, anywhere, anytime.

If a government can become malevolent — and historical counterexamples would be a far shorter list than examples — then what hope is there for its people? Only resistance, and resistance, to be effective, must be organized. To be organized, in turn, requires communication and secrecy. This has been difficult enough in earlier times, when the omniscience of the sovereign was limited by distance and scale — and even so, sufficient surveillance was possible as to enable the great totalitarianisms of the last century to crush dissent for decades. (Some still do.) What, then, would be the power of a malevolent government sitting at the focus of a continent-sized Panopticon?

We carry in our pockets, nowadays, extraordinary devices. With them we send our mail, make telephone calls, read the news, watch movies and TV, listen to music, look up information, buy consumer products, and take photographs of our ourselves, our friends, and our surroundings. These devices have microphones that listen, and cameras that watch. They are aware of our location, and of the history of our movements. They can tell if we are moving, or sitting still. When we speak, they hear. When we hold them in our hands, they see what we see. And all of them are connected, unless we switch them off (which we never do, because who knows what we might miss?), to a great centralized electronic network.

In other words, we are bugged. (Happily, willingly, enthusiastically bugged, but bugged nonetheless.) If it were 1970, and you found that someone had planted a surveillance device in your home, how would you have reacted? Now, however, we line up for the latest model. We do so because it seems like a good deal: we expose ourselves to the possibility of surveillance because we get a lot in return, and because we trust in the benevolence of the government and the protection of the law.

Now think about the potential power that such a Panopticon — wholly unprecedented in the history of the world — would grant to a sovereign who wished to use it, not in a carefully limited way for the enforcement of the law, but for the consolidation and preservation of its own sovereignty. Is that not a fearsome temptation? Do you trust that those who wield political power over you will always resist it?

Finally, our commenter wrote:

Apple should relinquish the codes, given the omnipresent issue of Islamic terrorism and the gravity of the situation.

So this is the future we choose? Perhaps there are other things we might do (and should already have done, had we any sense) to keep Islam at bay — things that we won’t do if we think we can solve the problem by simply activating the Panopticon, and going back to sleep.

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The American Nations, 2016

With yet another hat-tip to hbd*chick, here’s a very interesting item from “Jayman” on Trump, democracy and demographics.

Well, Right

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

People are not voting for Trump (or Sanders). People are just voting, finally, to destroy the establishment.

Why is this so hard for so many people to understand?

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Tales From Decrypt

By now you have all heard of the DOJ’s effort to force Apple to unlock a phone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack. Here again we have an example of technology advancing far too quickly for our sluggish political institutions to keep up.

Codes and ciphers are as old as writing. What is new, obviously, is that people anywhere on Earth can now write to other, on portable devices, with zero latency, zero cost, and virtually no physical footprint.

Governments like to snoop. Governments are not always benevolent. When they are not, snooping is how they know where, and against whom, to project their power.

People like privacy. They believe their personal communications should be nobody’s business but their own. Moreover, they know that governments like to snoop.

Governments have the job of protecting public order. This is easiest in organically ordered societies, but the West is no longer an amalgam of organically ordered societies; it has been consciously and deliberately disordered for many decades. It is now a chaotic place, deeply infected with human pathogens that seek to cause it harm.

Human pathogens like privacy, too. It makes their work easier and more efficient. Attentive citizens of the West understand this. If they are sufficiently intelligent and attentive, though, they are also beginning to understand that the societies they live in have been deliberately disordered and weakened by their rulers. More and more of the people of the West are coming to realize that for some reason their own governments, like the pathogens those governments have opened the doors to, apparently also intend to cause them harm. (How else to explain, for example, what has happened to Europe?)

This means that their governments cannot rationally be understood as wholly “benevolent”. And when governments are not benevolent, snooping — on their own citizens — is how they know where, and against whom, to project their power.

So, the citizens are in what is sometimes called a “cleft stick”. Should they empower their governments to snoop, knowing that the government cannot be counted on to act benevolently toward them? Or should they resist, knowing that this will empower the pathogens now at large within their social organism?

My own feeling is that, death-by-government having had a vastly higher body count over the past century or so than even the bloodiest wars (and astronomically higher than any act of terrorism), we should choose to protect our privacy. Just in case.

Here’s one way to do that.

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Who? Whom?

The Washington Post asks:

Trump has lit a fire. Can it be contained?

This isn’t arson. It is the inevitable combustion of an oil-soaked pyre exposed to a continuous shower of sparks.

The Post should be asking: who built that pyre? It’s been long in the making, and its existence is due neither to accident nor negligence.

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Make Much of Time

I was remiss not to have noted here the death of the great George Martin, who left us, earlier this week, at the age of 90. He was a visionary artist, and by all accounts a gentleman. The Beatles would not have been what they were without him.

Now he is joined in death by Keith Emerson, who, sadly, appears to have taken his own life.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
  Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
  To-morrow will be dying.

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Truth And Consequences

With a hat-tip to our e-pal hbd*chick (whose blog you should be reading), here’s an article called The Bermuda Triangle of Science. It’s about a dangerous place where careers go to vanish.

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View From The Right

Nick Steves has posted this week’s reactionary roundup. He gave ‘Best of the Week’ to this essay by Mark Christensen, and it seems a good choice.

In the essay, Mr. Christensen quotes Mencius Moldbug:

All schools of libertarianism, whether Rothbardian or Randian or (nearly-stillborn) Nozickian, rest on the idea of limited government. Note the intrinsic absurdity of this concept. If some government is limited by its own volition, it can abandon these limits at any time. (Historical experience suggests that the “sacred-document” trick is of extremely limited utility in preventing it from doing so.) If the government is limited by some external power, it is not a government in the usual sense of the word, and we should direct our attention to the limiting power.

It is at this point that the libertarian typically reveals his inner democrat, and suggests that the sovereign power of the People will preserve liberty. First, this hasn’t exactly worked in practice. Second, true sovereignty demands actual military superiority, which may have existed in 1787 but has certainly gone missing since then. If the military of any modern country faced off against the rest of its population, each side being united, the former would win every time. And third, the State can escape this check quite easily, because it can indoctrinate its subjects to despise rebellion and love its motherly care.

Mr. Christensen continues:

The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham.

These are central reactionary ideas:

‣   That sovereignty always exists somewhere, and is conserved;

‣   That popular government, by slicing sovereignty into infinitesimals, makes possible its covert aggregation (by what Sir Henry Sumner Maine called “wire-pullers“) while creating a fiction, for the enfranchised multitudes, of owning a meaningful share of equably distributed sovereignty;

‣   That power is not, at bottom, physical in any way, but is rather a matter only of belief;

‣   That therefore politics, and power, are downstream, as Gramsci and the Frankfurt school understood all too well, from “metapolitics” — the laborious seeding of the culture with methodically inculcated values, and, where necessary, the uprooting of existing values to prepare the soil. (It is no coincidence, after all, that “cultivation”, “culture”, and “cult” all share the same Latin root cultus, which has, among its more familiar meanings, “worship” and “reverence”.)

Read Nick’s digest here.

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If You Don’t Mind…

Questions for mind-body dualists:

1) What features of mental life, if any, are instantiated in the physical body? Memory? Intelligence? Learned cognitive skills? To put this another way, what aspects of mind besides pure conscious awareness require a metaphysical explanation?

2) If any aspects of mind beyond pure awareness have do a non-physical basis, then why do physical changes to the brain affect them? Why, for example, would brain trauma affect memory and cognition?

3) If consciousness merely inhabits the body, rather than being a product of the brain’s substance and activity, why can we delete it at will with anesthesia? Even if what anesthesia does is to force consciousness to leave the body temporarily, why doesn’t our subjectivity stay with it, instead of switching off when the brain is drugged?

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Merciful and Mighty

There’s a good article by Mark Yuray, over at Social Matter, on making a career out of secular holiness. A longish excerpt:

More than 1 million illegal Middle Eastern and African migrants entered Germany in 2015, with the invitation of the German government. This year, hundreds of thousands have already arrived and a 1-2 million yearly migration from Asia and Africa into Germany is beginning to sound like the new normal. This migration is in contravention of EU and German law. It is opposed by majorities of people in Germany and in every country that has received any of these migrants. These migrants are unchecked, unvetted, uncontrolled and more than 13% of them completely disappear once in Germany, some 130,000 people.

As if the obvious danger of allowing millions of people, mostly young men, from countries that are smouldering craters or terrorist warzones wasn’t enough, these migrants have already been implicated in mass rapes, thefts, murders and unprecedented (for Europe) terrorism.

Sane observers, much like noticing how insane progressive activists are, will notice how insane the German government seems to be. Why import millions of useless and dangerous people every single year? Why take on these huge social and financial costs when Europe is already facing so many problems? Before the Migrant Crisis, Europe was facing a veritable Euro Crisis, a Greek Crisis, a youth unemployment crisis, and even an admitted integration crisis with legal non-European immigrants, and many other crises besides. All was not well in the Old World. Why would anybody willingly add this to a cluttered plate?

Sane observers of this crisis have been numerous, owing to its sheer preposterousness. They have made many sane points. If the German government wants to solve its demographic problem, why invite a group of migrants that are 80% male? They won’t be producing children. If the German government wants to solve economic problems, why invite Africans and Middle Easterners instead of Chinese and Vietnamese? Surely the Germans are aware that East Asians have a better reputation for productive work and education, and they are no less willing than West Asians to migrate to Europe, given the opportunity. If the German government simply thinks sheltering “refugees” is a humanitarian necessity, why not accept any refugees from the ongoing war in Ukraine?

If the government needed migrants to solve its problems, why did it wait until the migrants broke the border laws of eleven different countries to announce it? Why wasn’t the Merkel administration organizing mega-consulates in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to snatch up and legally fly all these migrants to Germany in 2012, 2013 or 2014? Lots of inconsistencies here.

Spandrell has had some theories on what’s going on in Germany. Frankly, I think the activist’s article from the top of this page provides a much better and more obvious explanation. Quite simply, arguing about the economic, humanitarian or demographic merits of the migrants is pointless because that assumes there is some reasonable entity in charge of Germany making reasoned decisions on what migrants to allow to enter Germany based on their relative merits weighed against each other in some kind of singular complex calculus. But that is wrong. There is nobody in charge of Germany, and the people making compartmentalized decisions about migration, multiculturalism and integration have absolutely no use for smart, intelligent, well-adjusted, economically productive and peaceful migrants.

The people working in public schools and universities, social agencies, left-wing political parties, federal ministries, humanitarian non-profits and the like actively want horrible migrants to arrive and stay in Germany. That the migrants are mostly male, unlikely to ever work a job, but very likely to commit a violent crime is not a negative for these people – it is an unambiguous positive, and they know it.

What could signal one’s belief in human rights, human equality, the power of government education and the true value of every human being more than importing 1 million of the people least likely to ever be re-educated or made valuable? And how else to gain power these days? With tens of thousands of at-risk jihadists in Germany every public school, university, social agency, left-wing party and non-profit is going to double in size, funding, and power. The more migrants, the more need for these people, and the more dysfunctional, the better – the more resources that will be necessary to sink and the more these people can skim off the top, and the more holiness they can proclaim and keep for themselves.

They might even get their face on the cover of TIME magazine. Sane solutions have been declared anti-democratic, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, hateful, anti-constitutional and evil a priori, so progressive solutions are the only ones allowed, even if they never work. In fact, the less they work the better – if they ever solved a problem, hundreds if not thousands of people would be out of an easy and high-status job.

Read the whole thing here. And keep in mind, folks, this kind of thing isn’t like religion. It is religion.

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“This Deal…”

Hot Air reports on a little wrinkle in the Iran deal. According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Islamic Republic might even be about to walk out on the thing altogether.

Well, on the bright side, at least they got all that money they’ve been wanting for so long before the whole thing fell apart.

It’s nice to see our friends doing well. Kinda makes you proud to be an American.

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It’s a Black Thing

Here.

I Kid You Not

Feminist glaciology. Not a parody.

Here.

Festering Europa

Gates of Vienna has posted two video clips taken from a discussion panel at the latest CPAC conference. The subject was the fate of Europe. (At this point it might well be a post-mortem; Europe has already gone far beyond the “tipping point”, and is now, barring a full-on revolt by its indigenous peoples, nothing more than a cut flower.)

The speakers are Lars Hedegaard and Paul Weston.

Mr. Hedegaard asks: why did Europe’s leaders allow this to happen?

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People, Get Ready

The evidence that most human traits are highly heritable — not just obvious physical traits, mind you, but cognitive and behavioral qualities and dispositions as well — is accumulating rapidly, and will soon be overwhelming. (In scientific terms it already is, but what is about to be overwhelmed is the nurturist and culturist dogma that has formed the foundation of the modern social sciences, and that has been the basis of half a century of completely ineffectual, and often disastrous, public policy.)

Charles Murray has called this an “unstoppable train” that would be arriving within the next three years. How long it will be before “race is a social construct” is replaced in public discourse by the far more plausible “societies are racial constructs” is anybody’s guess, but I’d say this item from the Boston Globe is a sign that the rails are beginning to vibrate.

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Live and Learn

A recent post by our friend Bill Vallicella exposes the philosophical ineptitude of militant atheists such as, in this case, Richard Dawkins. Here his target is the hidden axiom scientists (and I use the term in the sense of “those who practice scientism”) must rely on in order to deny the possible role of a Creator in the existence and evolution of the world. That axiom is, to paraphrase Bill’s words, “the rule that everything can and must be accounted for naturalistically, i.e., in terms of the space-time system and the laws that govern it.”

As a non-theist myself, I am intuitively disposed to accept that axiom. But I am no longer the pugnacious atheist I used to be, and I understand that this premise is an axiom, not a theorem, and is therefore unprovable, and that its negation — the proposition that there stands outside the space-time system a Creator responsible for the existence and evolution of the space-time system and its laws — is not, at least so far as I am aware, refutable.

This was, as you might imagine, a difficult pill for me to swallow — but this was because, having been marinated in scientism all my life, I had never bothered to engage with any serious philosophical opposition. That changed about ten years ago, when my online life began to bring me into contact with people like Dr. Vallicella, and through him, other theist philosophers, such as Edward Feser.

I am still an unbeliever, and a Darwinist, but the big difference is that I now understand that my framework for understanding the world rests on a doxastic choice, rather than on some bedrock truth that should be apparent as such to anyone of sufficient intelligence. (This unreflective assumption was in my case especially lazy and foolish, as I have all my life known religious men of exceptional intelligence — for example my own grandfather Ralph Calder, who was a Congregationalist minister in Scotland, and two very close family friends, namely the Rev. Robert Montgomery, chaplain of Princeton University, and the eminent scholar of Christian history, Dr. Horton Davies. That I never explored these questions with them during the decades of my youth when I knew them well, and saw them often, now grieves me more than I can say.)

Bill and I have our differences — in particular regarding his belief that consciousness is necessary for intentionality (see here for an old question of mine that he has never answered) — but on this he has persuaded me. I thank him for that. Let it not be said that nobody ever changes another’s mind by argument.

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Rise and Fall

I’ve lived in the same brownstone building in Park Slope, Brooklyn, since March of 1982. (Geological notes about the area here.)

When the lovely Nina and I first moved here, it was a sketchy neighborhood, having fallen into serious decline during the city’s general depression of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The neighborhood’s gracious architecture was in disrepair, and scarred with graffiti, and there were many Irish and Italian gangs. The day we moved in, I found a bullet in our area-way, and no car was safe on the street. (Our own car was broken into more times than I can remember, and was stolen twice.)

Things changed. The feckless Koch and Dinkins administrations gave way to the tough-on-crime Giuliani regime, which immediately instituted tougher policies — such things as “stop-and-frisk”, and the “broken windows” approach that cracks down on petty crimes on the idea that such low-level disorder has cascading, entropic effects.

Before long the neighborhood began to improve dramatically. Empty houses and storefronts found buyers and tenants, street crimes fell off sharply, property values began a decades-long rise (my neighbor Bob bought his three-story brownstone sometime in the 1970s at a very low price; its value has now increased sixtyfold.) Crack houses were gutted and renovated, and filled with young families. Old bars full of daytime drunks moved out; grocery stores, clothing stores, doctors, dentists, and good restaurants moved in.

Well, what goes up must come down. We have a new mayor now: a gangling Communist, a grievance-mongering social-justice warrior — and he has begun setting things in order (that is to say, dismantling hard-won order to pave the way for chaos). Many of the old, effective policing methods had to go — because, of course, they were racist — and as we noted in a recent post, in order to solidify this worldview as government policy for all time, there is now a movement afoot to extend the voting franchise to anyone who can find a place to live in the city, regardless of immigration status. Crime rates are tilting upward, and in yesterday’s news we learned of a new police detail assigned to look into an epidemic of slashings in the subways.

Yesterday afternoon my next-door neighbor, a woman in her nineties whom we have known for thirty-four years, was followed into her entryway, choked, and robbed at gunpoint. The story is here.

I realize that this is hardly Aleppo. But in high civilizations, decline is centripetal. That we are already seeing it here is not encouraging.

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Melting Pot? No, Just Melting

You’ve heard all about Donald Trump’s shocking notion to secure our borders, I’m sure. Have you heard about the recent chicanery by the Justice Department regarding voter-ID laws in four American states?

In brief, here’s what happened: the good people of Kansas, Georgia, Arizona, and Alabama, exercising their states’ right under the Constitution, decided to require that voters show ID. The Election Assistance Commission, which is a Federal agency that certifies voting systems, agreed to let them do so. This caused so irritated various leftist organizations that they filed a lawsuit in Federal court seeking an injunction against the EAC, in order to prevent the states from imposing this requirement.

So on one side, we have an array of left-wing activists, seeking to expand their franchise to include anyone who can show up at a polling booth. On the other hand, we have the DOJ, whose job it is to defend the government when it is sued.

But when the DOJ lawyers showed up in court, they immediately filed a pleading that agreed with the plaintiffs, and consented to the injunction they sought.

Think about how sneaky that is. If the EAC had simply refused to allow the states to require ID, they’d have had a fight on their hands, one that would probably have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. (And with one of the solicitors being Kansas’s Kris Kobach, they’d have had a real scrap on their hands.) But by playing it this way, they turned the lawsuit around, and then all they had to do was to show up and cave in. Their little rope-a-dope didn’t work, though, thanks to Judge Richard J. Leon (may he live long and prosper), who gave them the spanking they so richly deserved. Read the rest of the story here, and a follow-up here.

Meanwhile, here in New York City (where, under current management you’ll soon be singing this in the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium), voters soon won’t even have to pretend to be American citizens. More about that, here.

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Don Ho, Call Your Office

Here is something I had not heard about until today: it appears that water infused with tiny bubbles (and I mean really tiny, with diameters near the wavelength of visible light), has many useful properties. My first glimpse of this was here. I’m curious to learn more.

Here’s a remarkable statement (my emphasis):

Some studies have shown that fish raised in an environment with fine bubbles more than double the weight and size of fish in a control environment.

Crikey! It’s getting hard to keep up.

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The Marshmallow Test

In a 2013 post, Culture and Metaculture, I quoted a lengthy passage from the late Leszek Kolakowski’s Modernity on Endless Trial, in which he explains the way radical multiculturalism causes what I will call a kind of historical “stenosis”. As more cultures are added to the mix, all of which must be given equal weight, the area of “overlap” — the foundation of possible commonality in the new metaculture — becomes smaller and smaller. Because culture is heritage, the effect is that history is “tied off”, like a newborn’s umbilicus. (I’ve touched on this often, for example in my post Simple Common Sense About Diversity And Immigration.)

In Culture And Metaculture I wrote:

What remains of the high culture of the West in our new, barbarian metaculture is shrunken, withered, pecked by crows. As for the metaculture itself: what are its pillars? Where are its heroes, its mythos, its religion, its language, its great literature? Where are the commonalities that bind its people together? Gone, gone, gone.

Worse: where is its history? Not only gone, but despised. Our new “culture” has lost its sense of extension in time. Under modernity’s ascendant doctrine, the long history of the West is only a litany of sins, deserving not propagation, but repudiation. We have no legacy, no heritage, to cherish for posterity; we have pulled up our own roots. If our new American “culture” has any history worth remembering at all, it is no more than a few decades old, and consists almost entirely of the destruction of the past.

In our “brave new world”, then, we are cut off from both past and future, imprisoned in the present as no generation of people has ever been before. We have lost — jettisoned — both our rudder and our compass, and are unmoored and adrift.

In short, we have lost our sense of extension in time. Until now, every generation of every civilization saw itself as a living bridge between past and future — as heirs and beneficiaries of the productive labor of their forebears, and stewards of that treasure for children yet unborn. But now, having pulled up our roots (and salted the earth from which they sprang), we have no inheritance to cherish and preserve; that which we have not simply squandered, we have taught ourselves to despise. We have, therefore, nothing to offer our posterity, and so if we think of it at all, it is only to turn away in guilt, and to focus on what we can take for ourselves right now. If that weren’t enough, we also find ourselves in a time of exponential social and technological change. Even those of us who do seek to preserve our inheritance can hardly imagine how.

It’s often been said that civilization is, at bottom, the organization of “low time preference”: the deferral of present consumption to take advantage of the increase of the relative value of future goods. But in order for that strategy to work, one has to be confident in a stable future. When things change too rapidly, and we can no longer be sure that our efforts today stand a reasonable chance of bearing fruit in later years, it drives time preference toward the present. And that, in turn, undermines the very foundation upon which civilization is erected.

So when a civilization becomes unstable, or when the pace of change becomes too rapid, there is a cascading time-preference effect, a kind of negative-feedback loop that begins to take hold.

All of these things, then, work together: multiculturalism, through a process of historical “stenosis”, severs the past; this loss of heritage, in turn, diminishes a society’s sense of obligation to its ancestors, and stewardship for its descendants; rapid technological and social change diminishes the surety of the future. All of this drives time-preference toward the present — which manifests itself in hedonism, present consumption, loss of social cohesion (why pull together when there’s nothing to pull for?), and declining birth-rates. Finally, the foreshortening of time-preference attacks the bedrock of civilization itself, in an accelerating, destructive cycle.

It is the daunting task of the new Right to break this cycle, somehow.

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Is Wisdom Obsolete?

Our previous post argued that because the world is now changing faster than it ever has, with even the pace of change itself accelerating sharply, any conservative or reactionary ideology that seeks simply to roll back the clock is doomed to fail. What I said was that any hope for an effective New Right depended on whether it could draw for this “brave new world” a blueprint for a living, organic system, built on sufficient wisdom about the permanent features and variations of human nature as to be capable of effective adaptation to a rapidly changing environment.

In the comment-thread, our ex-pat e-pal Horace Jeffery Hodges (you should be reading his excellent blog) asked:

Wisdom is insight gained through reflection on experience, and it worked well as a guide to dealing with a future that would be similar to the past, but the future we face threatens to be radically unlike the past, so what role remains to wisdom?

It’s a stimulating question, and I am interested to hear what our readers have to say about it. I’ll get the ball rolling.

I agree with Jeffery that wisdom is insight gained through reflection on experience. I’ll say also that, like anything of value, it has to be paid for; a life composed entirely of luck and ease may be a pleasant road to travel, but without suffering (intentional suffering will do just as well as the aleatoric kind, if chance won’t steepen your path), you haven’t paid the toll.

There’s an old saw about a student and his teacher:

“Master, what is wisdom?”

“Good judgment.”

“But how do we learn good judgment?”

Bad judgment.”

But is wisdom nothing more than “a guide to a future that would be similar to the past”? It is that, of course, but I think it is much more than that; above all I think wisdom is knowledge of what it is to be human. Real wisdom, and the sort of wisdom we are going to need in these unpredictable times — when the only thing we can be sure of is explosive change — will be the ability to see what we must hold onto, and what we can let go of, in order to shape the future of human societies so as to let us live in harmony with the permanent features of our nature. Many people, for example Edmund Burke, Chesterton, and Hayek, have reminded us that our traditions condense and preserve a storehouse of knowledge and experience vaster than any mind can hold. (I’ve commented on this often myself, for example here.) But Jeffery is right; much of that experience was of a world very different from the one we will soon inhabit.

What makes this explosive transformation so unsettling is that our technology is changing faster than we are. We cannot know what this new world will be, but we are, willy-nilly, going to have to live in it. We must hope at least that we know ourselves.

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What Next?

Conservatives, and especially reactionaries, are often criticized as grumpy old geezers, yearning for a bygone world that is never coming back, and that was never, in fact, nearly as nice as they’d like to think it was.

This is a fair point. It’s only older folks who have the perspective to see what’s really changed, and what’s really been lost — and of course the world changes irreversibly, every day. Some changes, such as improvements in medical technique, or the recent proliferation of excellent breweries in America, are uncontroversially changes for the better. (Those were the only two I could come up with off the top of my head, but I admit my list is probably not exhaustive.) Others, however, really are a matter of perspective, involving complex trade-offs with long-term consequences that are still evolving. Others things are obviously much, much worse now than they used to be.

One thing is for sure, though, just as Omar the Tentmaker warned us so long ago:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Not only has the world changed irreversibly, it is going to change at an almost unimaginably faster pace in the next few decades.

Peter Diamandis of Singularity University has begun a series of posts about what’s coming up next. He lists eight powerful technologies, all of which are advancing at an exponential pace. They are:

1. Computation

2. Internet of Things (Sensors & Networks)

3. Robotics/Drones

4. Artificial Intelligence

5. 3D Printing

6. Materials Science

7. Virtual/Augmented Reality

8. Synthetic Biology

It’s easy to see that rapid advancement in any of these might have enormous social and economic effects, but they are all accelerating — and what’s more, advances in many of these fields immediately spur faster progress in the others. It’s very clear that, as much as things have changed in the last few decades, we ain’t seen nothing yet. (You can read Mr. Diamandis’s first two posts in this series here and here. I don’t know whether they will gladden or horrify you; I suppose that depends, for example, on whether the adjective “disruptive” puts you in a positive state of mind.)

Let’s face facts: the only way out of this mess is forward. (Or, as Churchill said, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going!”) So what’s the proper task of the Right, in these choppy and uncharted waters?

Here’s what it isn’t: getting behind this or that candidate in the next election. That’s like choosing which side of the barrel you’re going to sit on as you go over the Falls.

Here’s what it is, in three parts:

1) Understanding what happened. How did we get here, and why? How did the great promise of the Enlightenment, and of the Framing, bring us to this point? What can we learn from the way this experiment in popular government — which was, in 1787, a radical and previously untested inversion of the near-universal tradition of monarchy — has worked out? Looking back over the span of 230 years, what principles of government can we say were tested and failed? What principles were abandoned that we ought to have stuck to? What are the “system requirements” for such a program of ideas to run without crashing? Where were they met, and where were they not? We have faced a great many problems in the history of this experiment, and tried to solve them in many different ways. Which solutions worked? Which didn’t? Why? Finally, and these are perhaps the most important questions of all: How do we define “success”? What is the purpose of government? What is a happy society? How do we define human flourishing, especially given that different cultures and ways of living, rather than simply falling from the sky onto whatever human population happens to be passing underneath, are the specific, phenotypic expressions of particular peoples?

2) If we have managed to answer the many questions in part 1 — and while some of them have obvious answers, some are very hard — then we should see taking shape a set of general principles worthy of preservation and adaptation for the future. What can we discard? What, on the other hand, can we identify as being essential for our flourishing? Which principles were specific only to a particular time, or to a particular state of technological capacity? Which are universal enough to be adapted successfully to a world transformed by the extraordinary new powers that we are soon to possess — in particular, the power to alter the human genome?

3) Finally, we need to do our best to keep abreast of the pace of technological change, and to try to anticipate the ways in which it will change the context of human life. In particular, we will need to understand how it will distort the pressures and incentives that shape the channels in which human history flows.

Only when we have done all of this very difficult work — and it may well beyond our best efforts — can we work wisely and effectively to create a truly relevant and responsive Right, one that has any hope of restoring an organic and livable culture for our children. There is no doubt, as Peter Diamandis says, that “disruption” is ahead; my own feeling is that much of it is going to be profoundly unpleasant. But going backward is not an option; nor is trying to graft, in mechanical and simplistic ways, the vanished past onto a radically different future. “Disruption” may turn out to be an opportunity to rebuild some things of forgotten value in brand-new ways.

All of this is very grandiose, and very vague; I am really just thinking out loud (which is what blogs are so helpful for). The point I’m really trying to make here is that much of what we think of as the Right in the modern West is, for the most part, really nothing of the sort; it is either just the caboose of a fast train heading Left, or it is a kind of doomed and static nostalgia. What it is not, as far as I can tell, is a living, organic system, built on sufficient wisdom about the permanent features and variations of human nature as to be capable of effective adaptation to a rapidly changing environment. It must become this, or it will die. And much that is of incalculable value for human happiness will die with it.

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Music of the Spheres

Recently we noted a major scientific event: the detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO experiment.

The other day, the physicist and cosmologist Brian Greene visited Stephen Colbert (yes, I’m linking to Stephen Colbert) to give an explanation and demonstration of the experiment. Watch it here.

The big payoff: the actual “sound” of two black holes colliding. Wait for it!

h/t: my boy Nick.

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Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

I had occasion today to pay a visit to one of the websites on our sidebar: The Fallacy Files. It’s one-stop shopping for examples of logical fallacies; I hadn’t visited for a while, and I’m glad to see it’s still in business. Even more comprehensive than our political comment-threads, I think.

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Another Post About Physics

The results are still coming in as I write, but it seems Donald Trump has scored another crushing victory, this time in Nevada. It is becoming increasingly apparent that his campaign is, if anything, gaining momentum, and that he will likely be the one to take the field against whichever champion the Democrats put up in November. He may very well win.

From a quick survey of Twitter, it seems this is causing a good deal of concern over on the Democratic side of things. I’ve just read a lot of incredulous remarks about fascism, racism, bigotry, Hitler, how-could-such-a-thing-actually-be-happening-in-America, and so on. (As far as I can gather, the general idea seems to be that we are nothing more than a “proposition nation of immigrants”, or something like that, and so none of this makes any sense at all.)

Come on, people. This is all as lawful, and predictable, as the sunrise. Don’t they teach you anything in school anymore? Bueller? Bueller?

Pull a great and immensely heavy pendulum as far and as high as you can, as fast as you can. (Maybe you can even get some of your Republican friends to help.) Pull and pull and pull it, until your grip fails.

This is what happens next. Duh.

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Forward!

I want to thank everybody once again who emailed me in response to my previous post, and to all who commented. I had begun to have very serious doubts about whether I was really doing anything useful or helpful here, or just shouting up a drainpipe, and the many responses I received were enormously encouraging. Although I hate to single anyone out, the very first comment — a link to this essay by Albert Jay Nock — affected me deeply, and I thank the commenter (whose name refers to a strange and creepy idea known as “Roko’s Basilisk“) very much for posting it.

I do want to make some changes, though. I’ll still pound away, perhaps a little less exclusively, about political, social, and related issues. I will try to make the tone a little less polemic, though, which will mostly mean pruning some normative adjectives. (I certainly won’t shy away from, for example, pointing out that various extremely powerful parties have deep antipathies to American or Western traditions, that others are running what amounts to an international criminal syndicate masquerading as a charitable foundation, or that so-and-so is in fact a person of doubtful character, and so on — but I will try to rant a little less and explain a little more.)

I also intend to adjust the balance of topics so as to pay more attention to the things I used to write about, and new things besides. Yes, our civilization is still on a runaway train to the edge of a very nasty cliff, but the scenery is still attractive, and it is worth trying to enjoy the ride just a bit more.

The comment-policy needs improving. I realize threads can wander off-topic, though I will ask commenters to try not to; what I really need to eliminate, though, are insulting comments that do nothing to advance the discussion at hand. I am going to delete those. (I am not innocent of this myself, especially lately, and have been pretty short-tempered at times too, so I share this burden.) What I don’t want to have, on political or related threads, and will no longer allow, is mere name-calling and poo-flinging.

In order to have any productive discussion at all, however, there must be sufficient common ground. People with incommensurable axioms, or who use words to mean entirely different things, or whose disdain for the Other Side is so visceral as to make them think in purely moralistic (or as I see it, crypto-religious) terms about opposing views, simply cannot engage productively, and when I see that happening I’m going to shut it down, because it’s a waste of our time. In particular, it is a waste of my time to respond at tedious length to thousand-word comments based on a system of beliefs with which my own worldview, my own set of axioms, has little or no congruence. (An example of such incompatibility lies at the very heart of most “conservative/liberal” differences; it is, as a great many observers have explained, a difference about the malleability and the limits of human nature.) Often such comments pose — and often convincingly so to sympathetic or less-astute readers — as litanies of “facts”, but “facts” require context, and often require a great deal of unpacking before they reveal underlying assumptions, methodological vaguenesses, selection biases, and other hidden variables and liabilities. Facts are nothing without theories to connect them.

In short, if I am writing about political or social matters, I am doing so from my own viewpoint, which is, for the most part, traditionally conservative (or, perhaps more accurately, “reactionary”). I am skeptical about many things that most people, especially what I sometimes call “goodthinkful” people, hold as axioms. These include such intensely polarized topics as: so-called “social justice”; the relative values of various political systems and political enfranchisements; human biological variation; what to do about climate change; the value of tradition and traditional roles; the differences between the sexes; the value of hierarchies; and, I’m sure, many others that I don’t need to enumerate here. If the very fact that I would question any of the “progress” we have made in these areas irritates you, or strikes you as a sign of moral weakness, then you don’t belong here, and I’m going to tell you so. I will tell you also that my aim in examining all of this — even if you find it hard to believe — is simply to understand what makes for happy, harmonious, safe, fecund and prosperous societies. (Furthermore, I will add that the solution to that problem, in my opinion, varies a great deal for different human populations, and that a naive universalism about this is at the root of many of the woes of the modern world. If that irritates you, or strikes you as a sign of moral weakness, then you probably don’t belong here either, and I’m telling you so now. Stick around only if you think I might persuade you — and I ask you to be honest with yourself about that.)

That’s really all I have to say about all of this. I’ll probably excerpt some of what I’ve written above and stick it to the main page someplace.

Again I must thank all of you, as always, for reading this blog. It’s been nearly eleven years now, and this is post number four thousand forty-seven. I hope to keep at it for many years to come.

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What am I doing here?

Our commenter ‘Musey’, in response to our previous post about Special Relativity, wrote from Australia to tell me her husband Martin said I’d “explained that very well”.

Readers, if you look at my early archives you’ll see that I used to explain a lot of things in here that had nothing at all to do with political matters. I’m now so very deeply sick of writing and arguing about politics and decline — sick of picking unwinnable fights, preaching to the choir, alienating old friends, changing nobody’s mind about anything, and all the while making myself socially radioactive, that I might just go back, at least mostly, to other things.

Yes, as far as politics and society are concerned I do believe, as I explained to a commenter recently, that I see a great division widening in America; that our current course is unsustainable; that the traditional American nation, which generations fought and died for, is tottering, under continuous assault from within; that if we look to Europe we see a foreshadowing of what may well happen here; that it is hard for me to see how the deepening fissures dividing our nation can ever be bridged; that the original “operating system” installed at the nation’s founding is increasingly incompatible with the “hardware” it must run on today; that the nation is too vast and too diverse for a centralized government to manage it effectively; that there is a boiling anger in much of America that threatens to tear the nation to pieces; that human biodiversity is both real and vitally important to understanding both history and human societies, and that a great civilizational crisis will soon occur in the West, and in fact is already underway. I believe also that democracy itself has dangerous, perhaps inevitably fatal, liabilities, and that those liabilities are sharply increased by high heterogeneity and universal suffrage. I believe that the West has been committing voluntary suicide through mass Third-World immigration (particularly mass Muslim immigration, which is the fastest path to social and cultural self-extinction that any Western nation can follow.)

But I’ve said all this, by now, many times over. What has any of it accomplished? As far as I can see, absolutely nothing at all. So why bang on about it? It’s not like I don’t have other interests — and the late days of a great civilization, at least the part prior to violent collapse, can actually be rather a pleasant, crepuscular interval, for those with the means to enjoy it.

I really have to think this over.

(For examples of what this blog used to be like, you might have a look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

See also our linked series on free will, beginning here, and on the mind-body problem, beginning here. There’s lots more, but you get the idea.)

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How To Explain Special Relativity To Anyone Of Normal Intelligence In Ten Minutes

What we will explain is why, for objects moving uniformly in a straight line, time runs slower. We’ll use no mathematical symbols, and won’t even need any pictures!

OK, here goes:

Before we begin, you have to accept two facts. The first is that if you are in uniform motion, all the laws of physics appear exactly the same as if you were standing still. Think about it: if you are in a smoothly moving airplane, you can pour coffee into a cup, etc., just as if you were sitting on the runway. In short: if you are in a windowless box, unless you are accelerating, going around a curve (which is the same thing), etc., you can’t tell if you’re moving or standing still. Agreed? This is called the Principle of Relativity. The first person to point it out (that we know of) was Galileo.

The second fact is that the speed of light through space is constant, for all observers. This is just a curious fact of the world, but it’s been shown to be true. If I’m standing still, and a beam of light whizzes past me, and you take off after it at a million miles an hour, we are still both going to measure the speed of the receding beam at about 186,282 miles per second — a value known as c. I won’t belabor this part — but, for example, if the speed of light weren’t constant, then light coming toward Earth from a faraway planet when it’s moving toward us in its orbit would travel toward us faster than light shining from the planet when it’s moving away, and we’d see everything all out of sync. For that not to be true, there’d have to be some medium (like air for sound waves) that held the velocity constant. But we know there isn’t, thanks to the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887. Everybody, no matter how they are moving, always sees light moving at the same speed. That’s just the way it is.

The rest is really easy.

Imagine a special kind of clock. It consists of a mirror on the floor, a mirror on the ceiling, and a pulse of light that bounces endlessly back and forth between them. Call the time this takes one “tick”. Because the speed of light is constant, the length of the ticks are always exactly the same.

Now imagine mounting one of these in a railway car. Let’s also put a very accurate conventional clock on the wall of the car. They should run nicely in sync, because, after all, they are both very accurate clocks.

Now set the train in motion, whizzing by as you stand on the platform. (We’ll give the railway car a glass wall, so we can see in.) The train runs very smoothly and steadily. Inside the train is an observer (let’s call him Al) with his back to the window. The train runs so smoothly, he can’t even tell for sure if he’s moving at all.

For Al, each tick of the clock takes a constant time, which is the height of the car (i.e., the distance between the mirrors), divided by the speed of light.

But things are different for you, standing on the platform, watching the train go by. By the time the light travels the height of the car, the bottom mirror has moved down the track a little way (along with the rest of the train). And by the time it bounces back to the ceiling, the train has moved the same distance, again. This means that, as far as you are concerned, the light didn’t go straight up and down, but made a sort of zigzag down the track, which is a longer path. (To be specific, the length of each bounce is the hypotenuse of a right triangle that has the height of the car as one leg, and the distance traveled by the train as the other.)

Are we clear about this so far? Can you picture it?

What this means, then — because as far as you can see, the distance traveled by the light is longer on the moving train, and because the speed of light is always constant — is that each tick of the clock, as seen by you on the platform, takes longer than it does as seen by Al on the train. (Remember that Al doesn’t even know if he’s really moving or not, and so for him the light just seems to be bouncing straight up and down.) And if you think that this is just some jiggery-pokery involving weird light-clocks designed just to give this effect, remember that if the light-clock were to get out of sync with the wall clock, Al would notice, and would therefore be able to tell he was moving! But we already know he can’t possibly be able to tell in any way whether he’s moving or not, thanks to the Principle of Relativity.

So there it is: since time is what clocks measure, and since clocks tick slower on a moving train, then time runs slower on a moving train! Simple, right?

If you want to figure out just how much slower, it’s easy; it’s all just a bunch of right triangles, and a little algebra. You can do it. (Maybe I’ll do it for you in another post, but it’s really not hard at all.)

Last thing: that train gets shorter, too. If you want to understand that, just turn the clock so it’s lined up lengthwise down the train. I’ll leave that one to you.

So: want to have some fun? Teach a little kid how Special Relativity works. You’ll both feel great.

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Thomas Sowell Endorses Ted Cruz

His column begins:

Amid the petty bickering, loud rhetoric and sordid attack ads in this year’s primary election campaigns, the death of a giant — Justice Antonin Scalia — suddenly overshadows all of that.

The vacancy created on the Supreme Court makes painfully clear the huge stakes involved when we choose a President of the United States, just one of whose many powers is the power to nominate justices of the Supreme Court.

Read the rest here.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

Time to look away, for a moment, from the gloomy downhill parade of current events. Instead, here’s a look at one of the most difficult systems of Chinese martial arts, as performed by Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung. (The quality of the video is poor, but the quality of the kung fu is exquisite.)

I have to say — it’s a little difficult for me to watch this five weeks after knee replacement!

P.S. This site is a rich source of vintage videos, particularly of master performances of the system I’ve studied for 40 years, Hung Ga (a.k.a. Hung Gar, Hung Kuen, Hung Kyun). Here, for example, is our long-staff form, as performed by Wu Waan Fei in 1949.

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