In Mala Fide

Here’s a good summary of the Clinton email skulduggery.

Can we have an indictment, please? That convention’s getting closer and closer, and I want my whisky.

Round Up The Usual Suspects

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to an item about race over at the Huffington Post. The post is an interview of David Livingstone Smith, a professor of philosophy from the University of New England. The title of the piece is Race Delusion: Lies That Divide Us, so you know where it’s going right up front.

Professor Smith’s argument consists of making a perfunctory nod to the reality of human diversity — then setting up an enormous straw-man, knocking it down, and using a continuum fallacy to deny the existence of race.

First the nod:

The idea that races are invented will probably sound crazy to a lot of people. They’ll think of it as a silly idea that only an academic who’s out of touch with the real world could come up with. Surely, there are visible features such as skin color, hair texture, facial morphology, and body build that set the races apart from one another!

It would be foolish to pretend that there aren’t obvious biological differences between human beings and that these differences are tied to certain geographical regions. If you’re a light-skinned person with blue eyes you very probably had lots of ancestors from northern Europe, and if you’re a dark-skinned person with tightly curled dark hair you very probably had lots of ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa. Nobody worth listening to denies these facts about human diversity…

Except some sweet-toothed Scotsmen, I suppose. But there you are, that’s out of the way: there are heritable human traits, and long-separated human populations differ in those traits.

Now for the straw-man:

Phenotypic diversity is a fact, but race is a theory. It’s what we call a folk-theory. It’s a way of trying to explain human diversity by positing that there are a small number of “pure” types (races) of human beings—black, white, etc. According to the folk-theory, everyone is either a member of one of these pure types or a mixture of them.

Got that? When anyone speaks of racial differences, what they mean is that there are a few (five or so, I guess) monolithic and sharply defined races, that we can think of as five genetic “knobs”. So black people have the “Negroid” knob set to 10, and the “Caucasian”, “Asian”, “Amerindian”, and “Australoid” knobs all set to zero. Barack Obama and Beyoncé have at least two knobs turned up, and maybe some people have all five.

It’s a folk-theory! (For racist folks.) Professor Smith isn’t having any of it, though, and neither should you:

This theory of race is false, for all sorts of reasons.

And so it is. We agree. The problem, though, is that pretty much nobody — very certainly nobody in the HBD or “race-realism” community — ever said such a thing. It is an absurdly simplistic caricature of the variation of human groups.

Racial differences are not, of course, a matter of five or so knobs. What distinguishes different human groups is their average position in a vast polygenetic space, with thousands of individual variables. It is the large-scale clustering of particular combinations of these variables in this multidimensional gene-space that distinguishes what we conveniently call “races”, but we can identify, and parse, these differences at many levels of granularity. (Our ability to do so is accelerating rapidly.)

As bad as this is, it gets worse:

We seem to assume that every member of a race shares some deep characteristic or “essence” that is unique to that race—something “in the blood” or in the genes that’s innate, unchangeable, and inherited biologically from one’s parents.

Here Professor Smith says that the “folk-theory” he’s up against also includes a belief in complete uniformity within races: so that whatever trait you pick, “every member” of the given race will instantiate it identically. This is an even easier target, of course; all you’d need to refute it, even for “folk-theory” folks, is a single black who doesn’t have rhythm, or an Oriental who isn’t inscrutable. But again it’s just a silly straw-man; the reality is that what varies between groups is the statistical distribution of heritable traits. (Seven-foot-tall Dinkas are far commoner than seven-foot-tall Inuits, but that doesn’t mean that they tower over them.)

So, down goes the straw-man:

The notion that there are racial essences doesn’t have a shred of scientific support. In fact, it’s totally incompatible with what science tells us about human variability.


It’s pure fiction, but it’s a fiction that’s stubbornly rooted in our ordinary ways of thinking.

Well, not in Professor Smith’s way of thinking, of course, and not in mine, nor that of anyone else I know. Just “ours”.

I promised you a continuum fallacy. Here it is:

…the biological traits that are conventionally associated with race—like skin color—vary continuously across geographical regions. Imagine taking a slow train from equatorial Africa to Scandinavia. As you travel north, the skin color of the people that you see lightens gradually. So any line that you choose to draw between so-called white people and so-called black people is bound to be arbitrary.

As is any line we draw between children and grownups, hot and cold, good and bad, tall and short — or wisdom and rubbish. And of course, being all of one species, and with the distributions of alleles in a given population being determined by local selection pressure, we would expect that there would be gradual transitions between them. (See this post of my own from long ago.) But Professor Smith is saying that because there aren’t sharp boundaries, all differences between human groups are nugatory.

The very same consideration applies to all the other “racialized” traits as well.

And what might those be? Let’s review:

It would be foolish to pretend that there aren’t obvious biological differences between human beings and that these differences are tied to certain geographical regions. If you’re a light-skinned person with blue eyes you very probably had lots of ancestors from northern Europe, and if you’re a dark-skinned person with tightly curled dark hair you very probably had lots of ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa. Nobody worth listening to denies these facts about human diversity…

Why are the only traits Professor Smith mentions as heritable and diverse related to appearance? Nearly all human traits, including cognitive and behavioral ones, are highly heritable, which means that those supremely important qualities, too, will be differently distributed in different groups. Care must be taken, though, that this should never even cross the reader’s mind — and so, to illustrate human variability, all we may speak of are superficial variations in appearance: the color of our eyes and skin, and the curliness of our hair.

This, then, is the current condition of intellectual discourse on human biodiversity. It is a hugely important topic, with enormous ethical and social ramifications that, for everyone’s sake, we should all care about examining carefully and getting right. But to sweep reality under the rug like this is worse than unhelpful, and this article is little more than crimestop.

Read the whole thing here.

Related: the “motte-and-bailey” style of argument. Here.

Related content from Sphere

It Can Happen Here

In San Jose last night, supporters of Donald Trump were assaulted by an angry mob as they left a campaign rally.

Nobody should be surprised by this. It is all a perfectly conformant and predictable manifestation of the West’s rapidly advancing social and political disease. It will continue to get worse, probably much more quickly than all but the most pessimistic of us would expect.

As I wrote a year ago:

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.

Related content from Sphere

The Death of Culture

A German newspaper editor, Anna Sauerbrey, posted a chilling opinion piece in the New York Times the other day. It illustrates with depressing clarity a recurring theme of this blog: the necessarily destructive effect of multiculturalism upon human societies. Her piece begins:

In Germany, a big question is back on the table: What is German — and how German do you have to be to belong to Germany? With the arrival in 2015 of 1.1 million refugees and migrants, it’s an important issue. But rather than having a reasoned debate, the extremists have already taken control. For a disturbing number of Germans, the answer is culture, including religion.

That’s the message coming out of the Alternative for Germany, an upstart right-wing party that has drawn double-digit support in recent state-level elections.

There’s certainly no doubt about her stance: despite the government having managed to settle 1.1 million Muslim “refugees and migrants” in a single year (the equivalent of importing 4 million to the U.S.), the “extremists”, with their “upstart party”, have “already taken control”. Well, I say, if they’ve taken control, they’re doing a pretty lousy job of it.

Modern Western multiculturalism depends upon the elevation of two axioms to sacred principles. One is the belief in human universality, which entails a fortiori the belief that all culture is contingent and transferable. The other is that equality is the greatest social good. They go well together: a belief in universality implies that inequalities are necessarily a matter of historical happenstance or malevolent human agency, and therefore remediable.

Readers will know that our editorial position favors neither of these axioms, and views culture not as something that falls from the sky onto whatever human population happens to be passing underneath, but as the “extended phenotypes” of various human groups. As I wrote in an earlier post:

The idea is a simple one: a biological organism has both a genotype, which is the sum of its genetic information, and a phenotype, which is the physical result of the expression of the genotype — the term “phenotype” usually being understood to refer to the organism’s body. [Richard] Dawkins’s fertile insight was that the phenotype extends beyond the body, into the wider world.

For example: a beaver has a beaver genome. This expresses itself in the usual beavery way: big front teeth, webby feet, and a broad, flat tail. But the “extended” phenotype is much more than that: it consists of felled trees, a dam, a lodge, and a pond. In this view, that pond is as much a part of the beaver’s gene-expression as its teeth. Bird’s nests, spiderwebs, and honeycombs — things in the world that themselves contain no genetic information — are as much a manifestation of genomes as wings and stingers.

In H. sapiens, the social animal par excellence, the extended phenotype quite naturally includes culture. And just as we see variation among subspecies for, say, bowerbird nests, we should expect to see that long-isolated human populations, whose genomes have been subject to widely varying selection pressures throughout their history, will create different, often very different, cultures — cultures as distinct as their physical appearance. And so we do.

Ms. Sauerbrey explicitly rejects and denies this view:

Anti-Muslim sentiment is just one element in the party’s fairly coherent, nativist concept of national culture. The preamble to its program promises to preserve “our occidental and Christian culture, our nation’s historical and cultural identity, and an independent German nation of the German people.” The party refers to German culture as the “einheimische Kultur” — native culture — and describes the German nation as “a cultural unit” under threat from immigrant cultures. Its program for the state election in Baden-Württemberg in March stated: “Germany’s cultural foundation is being smashed by immigration.”

For many liberals and centrist conservatives, culture is defined as the ways a person or group does things. For the Alternative for Germany, it is much more — a natural fact, the core of a person or group’s essence, a thing, not a set of practices.

The lines are very clearly drawn here: for Ms. Sauerbrey, culture is not, and clearly must not be, a “natural fact” — an expression of any essential qualities shared by a people of common ancestry. If that were so, it would mean that the people themselves were not identical to all other people — and so would violate the axiom of universality. Because this axiom is, in the West’s secular religion, now a sacred principle, it means that anyone who denies it is promoting heresy, and is therefore an enemy and an existential threat.

Consider everything that Ms. Sauerbrey — a German! — must reject in order to hold this view. Look at the towering edifice of German culture, and the conspicuous particularities of the German people throughout history. Can she really believe that all of that might just as likely have sprung from Dinkas, or Eskimos? Such is the power of religion.

In our post Culture and Metaculture, we quoted Leszek Kolakowski on the impossibility of synergistic polycultural fusion. Kolakowski began by quoting this passage from Toynbee:

Our own descendants are not going to be just Western, like ourselves. They are going to be heirs of Confucius and Lao-Tze as well as Socrates, Plato, and Plotinus; heirs of Gautama Buddha as well as Deutreo-Isaiah and Jesus Christ; heirs of Zarathustra and Muhammed as well as Elijah and Elishah and Peter and Paul; heirs of Shankara and Ramanujah as well as Clement and Origines; heirs of the Cappadocian Fathers of the Orthodox Church as well as our African Augustine and our Umbrian Benedict; heirs of ibn Khaldun as well as Bossuet; and heirs, if still wallowing in the Sebonian bog of politics, of Lenin and Gandhi and Sun Yat-Sen as well as Cromwell and George Washington.

He replied:

In a trivial sense we are already the heirs of these men, in that we live in a world they all helped to shape; but Toynbee clearly has in mind a heritage in a stronger sense, a positive continuity of ideas. But in order that our descendants may be heirs in this sense, we must admit that everything that makes the values and ideals of these people incompatible today will lose its significance; and then, far from having them all as our spiritual ancestors, we will have no one at all.

The difference between Catholics and Protestants could conceivably vanish, but then Bossuet and Cromwell will not so much become synthesized by our descendants as vanish altogether, losing what was specific and essential to each, and heritage will have no discernable meaning. It is, similarly, difficult to imagine how someone who values spiritual liberty might one day consider himself the heir of Lenin or Mohammed. We can imagine the question of liberty losing all significance in some future society that is perfectly totalitarian and accepted as such by its members; but in that case our descendants will indeed be the heirs of Lenin, but not of George Washington. In short, to imagine our grandchildren combining all these conflicting traditions into one harmonious whole, being at once theists, pantheists, and atheists, advocates of liberalism and totalitarianism, enthusiasts of violence and enemies of violence, is to imagine them inhabiting a world lying not only far outside the scope of our imagination and prophetic gifts but also beyond the possibility of any tradition whatsoever; which means that they will be barbarians in the strictest sense.

To create the new metaculture, muticulturalism cannot not add cultures together, due to the points of contradiction and conflict that are, in turn, manifestations of the innate differences of the peoples whose cultures they are. Instead, it can only proceed subtractively, by stripping away particularities, until it finds commonality at some baser level — and as more peoples and cultures are added to the mix, more and more must be pared away. Among the first things to go are the natural cohesion and public trust that organic cultures enjoy; these natural assets must be replaced prosthetically, by an act of power imposed from above. That this artificial, top-down structure in turn creates new inequalities even as it scrapes away familiar liberties must simply be tolerated as the price we pay for our salvation. Ms. Sauerbrey acknowledges all of this:

Asked in 2000 what he thought went into German Leitkultur, [Christian Democratic Party member Friedrich] Merz pointed to the Constitution and to women’s rights. But it’s no use making refugees swear an oath on women’s rights. Germans won’t control what they think. But Germany can help them understand the laws protecting women’s rights — and reinforce them.

She might more plainly have said:

“These people will never fit in with us naturally, as we Germans organically and effortlessly fit in with each other. They don’t think like us! But we can force them to obey our law, rather than their own instincts, affinities, aversions, traditions, moral principles, ancient folkways, and religious doctrine. That should work just as well, right?”

In her last paragraph, the author says:

A modern nation state cannot be built on an ontological notion of who belongs and who does not, whether it’s outright ethnic or pseudo-cultural.

To which I reply: why not?

Note here that Ms. Sauerbrey cannot even manage to say “cultural”. We have got to the point now in the decomposition of the West where even the idea of an actually existing culture is offensive: because its particularity is an intolerable heresy, the whole of German culture — Beethoven, Bach, Schiller, Goethe, Luther, Heine, Kant, Gauss, Liebniz, Wagner, Kepler, Hegel, and all the rest of it — can no longer even be permitted to be real, and so it must be seen as a “pseudo-culture”. What an enormous, and catastrophic, delusion.

Read the whole thing here.

Related content from Sphere

Creative Destruction

Here’s a question for abortion absolutists:

A woman wishes to write a book about abortion. In order to give her work perspective and authenticity, she decides to become pregnant in order to experience an abortion herself. Being of independent means, she will pay all of the medical expenses.

Is there anything morally wrong with what she plans to do? If so, why?

Related content from Sphere

You Are a Slow Learner, Winston

From the mail, yesterday:



Not quite what the Framers had in mind, I think.

Service Notice, and Open Thread 15

We have house-guests this holiday weekend, and it would be unsociable of me to roost at the computer. Back next week. The floor is yours, if you like.

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Ah, what a lovely morning.

Why? Well, it’s a balmy spring day here in the Outer Cape, where the air is fresh and fragrant, the little birds are singing, and the trees are stretching their new leaves in the golden May sunshine.

Even better, though, a new report from the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General makes it abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton violated the Federal Records Act in her handling of sensitive email. And it was just a couple of days ago that we learned that over just the last two years, Mrs. Clinton has soaked her corporate cronies for twenty-one million dollars in “speaking fees”, i.e. baksheesh paid up front for an interest in her Presidency.

Over at the Observer, Austin Bay comments on the OIG report, here.

Readers may recall that I made a wager last year with our erstwhile “progressive” gadfly The One-Eyed Man, in which I staked a good bottle of whisky on the proposition that Hillary Clinton would not only never be President, but wouldn’t even be the Democratic nominee. I’ll confess that I’ve been a little edgy about this lately; I hadn’t expected that the Dems would field such a thin field of candidates, and I’d thought that pretty much anyone with a pulse (or even just a soul) could knock this rasping succubus off the ticket. But now, with all of this, and with Mr. Trump running even (or better) with Mrs. Clinton in the polls, hope springs anew.

Meanwhile, over breakfast I spotted this fine post about “World War T” over at Social Matter. (The author is allegedly one “Hadley Bishop”, but as the mathematician John Bernoulli exclaimed upon seeing Newton’s anonymous solution to the “brachistochrone problem”, we “recognize the lion by his paw”.) More on that topic shortly, I think.

Related content from Sphere

Something is Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is

Well, maybe some mainstream conservatives are actually beginning to. Here, for instance, is Rod Dreher, rising from the fainting couch (h/t to Porter):

The media have soft-pedaled this thing, but when it gets right down to it, all the diversity rhetoric in the world is not going to matter when a man recognizes that in voting Democratic for president, he is voting for a party that wants to send mentally disturbed males into his daughter’s locker room, and call it justice.

Eventually, the provocations of Social Justice Warriors, especially when they are race-based, is [sic] going to empower the militant whites, especially those drawn to pagan masculinity, and they are going to do what the rest of us would not do: Fight. This, because the best — that is, those who want peace, civility, and tolerance — lack all conviction to defend the conditions under which we can have those things against their enemies… White liberal middle-class society and many bourgeois conservatives have demonized within themselves, collectively and individually, the instinct that would have given them the strength to fight civilization’s enemies on the Left and on the Right.

Eventually? Welcome to the future, Rod. It’s just starting now.

Related content from Sphere

“Cucked by Zuck”

An entertaining item by Milo Yiannopoulis, here.

My own feeling about this: Facebook can do what it likes, and anyone on the Right who expects fair treatment from Mark Zuckerberg is a fool.

Related content from Sphere

Paul Gottfried’s Latest

Paul Gottfried has a new book out. I’ve mentioned Professor Gottfried here before (in particular, I strongly recommend his books Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State); his latest is called Fascism: The Career of a Concept.

The word “fascism” has become little more that a polemic catchall used by liberals to refer to whatever ideas they detect to their right; Gottfried makes clear that in his opinion the term now has “no meaning at the political and journalistic level.”

But is fascism, rightly understood, a creature of the Left or the Right? Pace Jonah Goldberg, as well as everyone on the Left, the question is not a simple one, and one of Gottfried’s aims in this book is to make a close examination of the points of contact that the various forms of fascism have had with both Left and Right. He also seeks to explain why fascism is so broadly reviled in the modern West, while Communism, which killed more people in the last century than fascist movements (and vastly more than the holotypic Italian Fascists ever did) still enjoys such a warm reception.

I’ve just begun reading it. Gottfried’s books are, perhaps, a little demanding for the lay reader who isn’t accustomed to this sort of scholarly material, but they are always rich in insight and detail, and for those of you who are interested in understanding how the modern world came to be in such a pickle, they are very helpful indeed.

Related content from Sphere


Retweeted today by Christina Hoff Sommers:


We’ll Tweet Again; Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know Venn

Bernie Sanders has suggested that Hillary Clinton is unqualified for the Presidency. As you might imagine, I didn’t need much persuading, but after seeing this tweet, I’d say the case is closed:


Related content from Sphere

This Sceptical Doubt…

While taking a three-mile constitutional this afternoon (we of the American Right never, of course, forget the importance of constitutionals), I had a listen to John Derbyshire’s latest Radio Derb podcast. It was a particularly good one, with fine segments on immigration, automation, and social engineering. You can listen to it here, or read it here.

One theme that Mr. Derbyshire touched on was what he calls “The Bathroom Wars” (and which others have called “World War T”). (I’ve hardly written about this one at all, although of course I have opinions about it that are consistent with this website’s overarching editorial themes. It’s all just so fatiguing sometimes.)

Derb had this to say:

I’m still having trouble taking this seriously. How on earth did we get to the point where restroom usage is a major national issue?

This looks to me like another case of Thinking Too Much. A lot of life, including social life, goes much better if you don’t think about it too much.

That used to be — until, I mean, the week before last — that used to be how we coped with public restrooms. If you were a guy, you went to the guys’ room; if a gal, to the gals’ room. If you were honestly confused about your sex, you went to whichever room your presence in would be less likely to cause comment and fuss. The amount of brainpower, of cognitive energy, you put into the matter of bathroom-going was very close to zero.

Obvious guys did not go into the girls’ room, or vice versa, because it would have been gross bad manners to do so. A person who insisted on doing so would cause pointless trouble and ill feeling. If he or she was doggedly persistent, or made a habit of barging into the other sex’s restroom, the authorities might intervene with a prosecution for some catchall misdemeanor like “disturbing the peace” or “causing a public nuisance.” This practically never happened though. Mostly people just minded their manners.

That was a rule-governed society, a society in which there were right and wrong ways to behave. Most people most of the time behaved the right way, out of consideration for others and the desire for a life not daily roiled by unnecessary commotion. The rules came first, and most of us followed them without thinking — from habit, and unspoken social understandings. Laws were just a backstop, for dealing with the occasional antisocial delinquent.

Now that’s all turning around. Rules count for less and less; everything has to be overseen by the federal Department of Justice.

This is the legalistic despotism foreseen by de Tocqueville two hundred years ago, in which federal power, quote, “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate,” end quote.

Very well said, I think. And readers may recognize the Tocqueville quote, which I’ve cited here myself a few times. Here’s a larger excerpt of that passage, from Chapter VI of Democracy in America:

I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

In Derb’s transcript is a link to an essay of his from 2003 called The Importance of Not Thinking Too Much, which touches upon another of this blog’s themes: that one of the bequests of the Enlightenment upon the people of the West was the “universal acid” of radical doubt. Derb quotes one of the Enlightenment’s heaviest hitters, David Hume:

This sceptical doubt … is a malady, which can never be radically cur’d, but must return upon us every moment, however we may chace it away … Carelessness and in-attention alone can afford us any remedy. For this reason I rely entirely upon them…

At the time Hume wrote this, his ideas were a drop of acid in an ocean of tradition and common sense. Things are very different now. I don’t think he and his colleagues could really have imagined what they were unleashing upon the world.

Related content from Sphere

A Mint, Mr. Creosote?

When you are spending other people’s money, there’s very little incentive to cut costs. With a hat-tip to Michelle Malkin, here’s a splendid example: a million-dollar coin-toss.

If ever there was a huge, complex, brittle, and unstable system in need of a reboot, well, folks, you’re living in it.

Related content from Sphere

Defending Self-Defense

Just a few months ago we mentioned Judge Richard Leon, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Back then we praised him for putting the kibosh on a sneaky little maneuver by the DOJ regarding voter ID.

Well, this patriotic magistrate deserves our kudos once again: he has just ruled against D.C.’s “shall issue” laws restricting concealed carry. Story here, ruling here.

Related content from Sphere

B.L.M. vs. Reality

A good piece by Heather Mac Donald, here.

Inequality is Forever

Inequality is intractable. I’ve written about this often. Innate inequalities — the unequal distribution of superior qualities — naturally create social and economic inequalities, and the only way to level these natural differences is by the creation and imposition of new inequalities of power. It follows, then, that a social movement (or, properly understood, a secular religion) that uses “inequality” (and its inevitable correlate, “discrimination”) as an alias for “evil”, that interprets all naturally occurring instances of inequality as the result of oppressive and voluntary agency, and that makes “victims” of such inequalities sacred objects and holy martyrs, is actually, and necessarily, engaging itself in the acquisition of power, and the creation of new inequalities. It simply cannot be otherwise, platitudes about the “right side of history” and arguments based on egalitarian moral axioms notwithstanding.

I was looking for something in Lawrence Auster’s archives the other day, and ran across this:

Since liberals are against unequal power relationships, they must deny that they exercise power themselves. They always present themselves as the “progressives” come to end inequality, rather than as the power wielders. The result is that liberal power is invisible and unaccountable, and is thus more unequal, undemocratic, and corrupting than the traditional power relations it is replacing, which, unlike liberalism, do not deny their own hierarchical component.

Exactly correct. How I do wish he were still with us.

Related content from Sphere

Tractatus Logico-Multiculturalus

(1) One of the most important ways that cultures differ is in their normative biases.

(2) When composing a multicultural Venn diagram, the intersection can only contain non-contradictory elements of the cultures being combined.

(3) Norms are often contradictory in a way that, say, food is not. (Food, and music, the most commonly cited blessings of multiculturalism, are non-normative. To the extent that music is considered normative, it becomes subject to cultural exclusion.)

(4) Thus multiculturalism preferentially strips away normativity from the public square, to be replaced only with such artificial norms as are necessary to suppress traditional normative expression.

(5) Every acculturated human is normatively inclined to do, and publicly to favor, the things that his culture prescribes — and to avoid, and publicly criticize, what his culture forbids. (Even though normative prescriptions and proscriptions must, in principle, subtract absolute liberties, in an organic culture they do not do so in a meaningful way, because we do not feel our liberty diminished by compulsions or prohibitions regarding things we would or would not do anyway.)

(6) All of this is suppressed by multiculturalism. Perceived liberty is diminished, because we must not publicly say or do things that we would otherwise do.

(7) This means that the public personae of citizens of a “multiculture” are reduced to only those norms and qualities that are in the intersection of the Venn diagram. The more cultures we mix, the smaller that intersection gets, until humans, in their public role as citizens, are reduced to the basest sorts of commonality.

(8) This causes an increasing tension between every citizen’s public and private persona, decreasing his natural connection to the community and ambient “culture”.

(9) Thus, by suppressing the public expression and accommodation of ambient and internalized norms, multiculturalism breaks down organic social order and cohesion; it can only be replaced by a top-down, external order that acts on citizens only as instances of the stripped-down humanity described in (7).

Related content from Sphere

Death Wish

Here’s another video clip: a hair-raising tornado chase.

Nothing Is Real

Great, simple video here from a young Swedish woman.

The Real Victimhood

Our recent post, Douthat and Reaction, featured a link to a video clip of a young woman disrupting a speaking event at the University of Massachusetts. She is seen flailing her arms and shouting obscenities — in short, having a child’s temper-tantrum.

The video clip has gone “viral”, and its star has been the object of widespread ridicule. It’s easy to understand why — and frankly, hard not to join in — but it’s important for those of us who are older and wiser to look at this a bit more thoughtfully. Despite her being of an age that would, in an earlier era, have made her a “young adult”, our prevailing culture of pathological infantilization has ensured that the person having the tantrum really is still just a child.

Not a day goes by that we don’t see a story about “microaggression”, “triggering”, and the need for “safe spaces”. (See here, for example.) But when we jeer and mock these “snowflakes”, we must be mindful of the context: we have ascribed to them agency as adults, usually without considering that their upbringing and indoctrination has done everything to prevent such agency from coming into existence. At every turn they have been swaddled and coddled, buffered and shielded from the consequential realities of the world.

What’s more, the universal acid of Leftist postmodernism has dissolved all of the natural and organic categories and structures that have traditionally been available for children and adolescents to adopt, and orient themselves to, as they seek to create their adult personalities. In all previous eras, these templates provided a necessary scaffolding for a person still under construction; now they are all broken down and discarded. The result is that these wretched children must now create themselves almost entirely ex nihilo, which must be a terribly — perhaps I should say inhumanly — difficult thing for a person to do. One of the greatest challenges of adolescence is learning self-confidence; it is hard enough when one has a reliable, time-tested model upon which to build oneself. How much harder it must be when you are expected to create it all from nothing! Is it any wonder, then, that they are inordinately vulnerable to challenges and criticism? What have they got to stand on, to fall back on? The answer is: nothing — because the Left has systematically destroyed it all, in its quest to create an artificial order consisting only of a cloud of dependent human atoms and the State.

In this sense, then, the puling students that shock us every day with their weakness really are victims: of a monstrous macro-aggression, lasting more than half a century now, against everything that might have made it possible for them to be fully realized adults.

Related content from Sphere

The Citadel Lives Up To Its Name

Here’s a gratifying item from today’s news:

The Citadel Denies Prospective Student’s Request to Wear Hijab

Whether this will stand — and whether it is actually an early indication of some kind of limit having been reached at last, or simply the corpse of the West giving a little twitch — remains to be seen.

Related content from Sphere

Bayesed and Confused?

You’ve probably heard of Bayes’s Theorem, but if you’ve yet to get your head around it, here’s a nice visual explanation, including a simple Bayesian explanation of the perplexing “Monty Hall problem” (which we last discussed in here way back in 2009).

(Also, from the same website, here’s another Bayes tutorial.)

Related content from Sphere

Douthat and Reaction

Ross Douthat of the New York Times has been nibbling, lately, at NRx’s red pill, and has recently written both a column and a blog-post on neoreaction that seem at least partly sympathetic. For a man in his position, that is, as Orwell reminded us, a “revolutionary act”: to the extent that the movement has been mentioned at all elsewhere in the mainstream press — and it has gained enough momentum recently that it has had to be mentioned — it has only been to “point and splutter”, and to anathemize it, dogmatically and falsely, as “white-supremacist” heresy. Mr. Douthat, on the other hand, seems at the very least to be able to handle this hazardous material without the usual risk of anaphylaxis, or even, perhaps, a perceptible histamine response. (One suspects that he is actually developing a taste for the stuff, and is saying less than he thinks. I can hardly blame him on either count: he’s a smart guy.)

Today we have a good response to Mr. Douthat’s overture, from Mark Christensen of Social Matter. It is more than just a specific reply, though, as it covers a lot of the fundamentals of neoreaction (and so I recommend it to curious readers).

Here are some excerpts.

On the rejection of human universalism:

Reaction proper has always taken human biodiversity as one of several factors which impact civilizational order and evolution. If Douthat is asking whether reaction can accept the “Liberal Creationist” belief that human evolution stopped 10,000 years ago (at least from the neck up), then the answer is obviously no. However, it is worth noting that reaction differs from some parts of the alt-right, in that it sees race as merely one of the elements which sovereign power must work with, rather than as a sufficient condition for a healthy society. The answer to global ethnocultural diversity is a global diversity of political regimes. The liberal idea that Sweden and Syria ought to have the same form of government is ideological derangement.

On the illusion of popular sovereignty in present-day America:

…Douthat’s pondering on whether reaction can abandon its illiberal view of political order requires a more in-depth response. Presumably, when Douthat means despotism, he is referring to rule by a non-democratic elite and the embodiment of sovereign power in a ruler or group of rulers unconstrained by constitutions, rule of law, or axiomatic moral principles. If they abide by certain norms or customs, this is voluntary. When pressed, their power is limited only by nature and by competing political powers, either within the state or outside it. The ruler or rulers are ultimately guided by personal judgement and how they choose to navigate the realities of rule and politics, rather than by legal systems of regulation.

The reactionary answer to outrage at this view of political order is simple: “please present an existing alternative.” Now, most Americans would state that the Republic–however corrupted by Big Money or Big Government or what have you–is ultimately based on the Constitution. No part of the Republic’s governing bodies have total sovereignty, and they are restrained by the limits of the constitutional framework. There even exists a body whose job it is to make sure that make sure that the Constitution is being followed: the Supreme Court. But this body is the subject of strange disputes.

Republicans and Democrats have bitter struggles over whether the presiding judges will be conservative or liberal. It seems that when conservatives read the Constitution it says conservative things, and when liberals do it says liberal things. But then the Constitution in and of itself is not the foundation of the Republic; rather, the judgement of the Supreme Court is! The nation of laws is ruled by those who interpret what the law is. This even applies to seemingly unequivocal parts of the document. The rights to life and due process, for instance, are interpreted in ways consistent with the USG’s security requirements.

Obviously, reactionary theory begins with a rejection of some aspect of modernity as, at best, a dead end, and more accurately a grievous error in need of correction. But in favor of what, exactly?

The reactionary tradition … sets forth a drive towards order, harmony, and the organic hierarchy which derives from seeking excellence through discipline. This conclusion is what divides the reactionary from the liberal, and what lies at the center of the reactionary aesthetic.

Were the reactionary position to gain substantial ground, institutions which have long based their legitimacy on serving the cause of democracy and revolution would immediately lose it, since these claims would be exposed as lies and manipulation. Men such as Nicolas Gomez Davila, the later Heidegger, and Julius Evola attempted to live according to a philosophy of life which embraced duty, inner discipline, and transcendence.

This code reflects the values which aristocratic classes formalize at the high points of civilizational achievement. Roman senators praised virtus and popularized Stoic philosophy, the knights of Christendom learned chivalry, the Japanese samurai classes developed Bushido. The common function of these elite codes was to inculcate in the elite classes an ethic which would lead them to rule responsibly and thus maintain their position in the social order. Of course, in all cases there existed those who deviated from these principles and instances where those principles failed or were ignored. But it should be noted that their goal was precisely the development of a personality which could understand the purposes of these codes and reliably judge when exceptions might be necessary to fulfill them.

This is a crucial point: the very essence of the tradition that reactionary thought seeks to articulate and to preserve is discipline. What is discipline? Its most essential quality is the subordination of the self to something higher. (It shares this meaning with the word “disciple”.) It is only through discpline — the discipline of the craftsman, the scholar, the scientist, the artist, the healer, the warrior, the monk — that we can defy gravity, that we can raise some part of ourselves above the basest aspects of our nature. This is at the heart of the reactionary’s emphasis on hierarchy: if there is nothing above us, why bother to ascend? In the thermodynamic terms I am fond of here, discipline is profoundly anti-entropic.

The modern Left’s antipathy to hierarchy, then, can also be understood as an antipathy to discipline, and therefore to order, and to excellence. Think of discipline, dear Reader, and you will have imagined everything that this is not.

Read Mr. Christensen’s article here.

Related content from Sphere

Keeping Me Honest

Our newest commenter, Jacques, is holding my feet to the fire once again in the comment-thread to our recent post on the “Black Pill”. (These things tend to scroll down and disappear, so I thought I’d mention it; J. is prying open some old (i.e., eternal) questions I haven’t written about in years.)

Related content from Sphere

A Potpourri From Dr. V

Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, is in fine form this week. Yesterday he published an excellent meditation on free will, and today he’s breathing fire upon the political Left:

It is hopelessly naive to think that we can have comity without commonality… we have reached the point where we agree on almost nothing and that the way forward will be more like war than like civil debate on a common ground of shared principles.

Quite so. More and more people are starting to understand that the nation has become, to the point of irreconcilability, a “house divided against itself”. What we have seen so far this year is, I think, just the beginning.

Related content from Sphere

False Alarm

In case you missed it: Actual Climate Scientist Judith Curry posted an item a few weeks ago linking to a forceful essay by Mario Loyola on climate-change activism. The Loyola essay is behind a paywall at The American Interest, but that publication offers non-subscribing visitors one free article a month, so you ought to be able to read it (if you can’t, try using your browser’s “incognito” mode). Dr. Curry also offers substantial excerpts in her own post.

Go read it all; it’s well worth your time.

Related content from Sphere

On Genetics and Intelligence

From Stephen Hsu’s blog, here’s a video of an hour-long panel discussion with Dr. Hsu, Steven Pinker, and Dalton Conley on the subject of genetic engineering and the heritability of human traits, particularly intelligence.

This topic is a minefield in the West, and so great care is taken, and necessary pieties uttered — and some obvious, elephant-in-the-room topics are completely ignored. There is, however, a clear consensus that (a) almost every human trait is significantly heritable; (b) that intelligence is real, quantifiable, and predictive of life outcomes; (c) that intelligence, like every other human trait, has a significant genetic basis; and (d) that both our understanding of polygenic traits and our ability to edit the genome are advancing exponentially.

Dr. Pinker repeatedly expressed doubt about the likelihood of rapid adoption of eugenic applications, however. He points out that human cloning has been possible for a long time now, but is still illegal everywhere, and that while breeding for intelligence has also been possible forever, no society seems terribly interested in doing it. (One might object that Dr. Pinker himself could arguably be seen as the output of such a process.) He generally seems confident in the power of tradition and taboo to keep a lid on this sort of thing. I think he is very wrong about this.

Dr. Hsu, on the other hand — who is an adviser to the BGI Cognitive Genomics research center in Shenzen, China, that is working hammer and tongs to advance this technology — seems not to share Pinker’s opinion here, and I think that, given the venue (the 92nd Street Y, in New York City), he was holding his cards close to his chest. (I know people who know Dr. Hsu, and my understanding is that he thinks it very likely that we will be able to engineer human IQs hundreds of points higher in fairly short order.)

The social and moral implications of this technology are enormous, probably much more so than most people have really imagined, and progress in this area is accelerating. One deceptive feature about exponentially rising curves is that if you use the slope at any given point to extrapolate future values of Y, you are always vastly underestimating, so our sense of the rate of change here — and our sense of having time to deal with it — is quite certainly wrong. There are in fact three different curves here: there is the rate of technological change, which is soaring into the sky; there is the much slower rate at which we can comprehend and predict, in moral and intellectual terms, what the implications of the technology will be; and slowest of all there is the rate at which the society, and in particular the law, can accommodate those changes. These three curves are peeling apart very quickly now.

Of the three panelists, by far the least interesting, I thought, was the social scientist Dalton Conley, whose most notable contribution was to take a swipe at the work of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. Indeed, he made claims about the trending effects of assortative mating that struck me as flat-out wrong, but I will do some homework before I comment further about that.

Anyway, have a look. Your comments are welcome as always.

Related content from Sphere

Service Notice

Yet another outage today with my hosting service. Apologies to all.

Right : Left :: Order : Chaos

I’ve written often about the many isomorphisms between society and thermodynamics (see, for example, here, here, and here). The subject came up again in the comment-thread to our previous post.

Our reader Robert, a.k.a. “Whitewall”, noted the ceaseless efforts of the political Left to “force change where no change is needed or even wanted.” He added that “a workable contentment among people is somehow intolerable to them.”

This is a belt-high meatball for the thermodynamic metaphor, if you will permit me a meta-metaphor (or, perhaps I should say, a meta-meataphor). In thermodynamic terms, the relentlessness of the Left’s assault on order and hierarchy is easily understood:

It’s a mechanical, entropic process, like water finding every crack and fissure as it seeks the lowest level.

It is entropic precisely in the sense that it levels and flattens everything, as order yields to disorder. In particular, it levels the gradients that are necessary, in any thermodynamic system, for the possibility of useful work. Ultimately, everything will be undifferentiated from everything else. (Is that not the obvious endpoint of our secular religion’s pathological mission?) It is this flattening, correctly understood as a thermodynamic exhaustion, that is why Leftism always reduces societies to economic and cultural rubble.

The action of the Left is always to reduce potential; it leaves everything it touches in a lower-energy state. It breaks mountains into scree; it dismantles cathedrals to build hovels.

Related content from Sphere

Blue, Red, Black

I’ve often mentioned a popular neoreactionary metaphor, the “red pill” (in fact I did so just two posts ago). Now, with a hat-tip to the latest edition of Nick Steves’ weekly roundup, we offer you an essay by Brett Stevens about another existential medicament: the black pill.

What is the black pill? In a word, it’s nihilism.

Nihilism is a topic I’ve also mentioned often in here. It lies in wait everywhere alongside the naturalistic path, and a panoramic view of its yawning abyss awaits every traveler who follows that path all the way to its end. I’ve stared into that chasm for a very long time now. I have formed some conclusions about it.

One of those conclusions is that the abyss is where the naturalistic path goes. There is no bridge at the end: the abyss is so deep that there is no place you could put the pilings, and anyway, there’s nothing on the other side. (Think of the “Troll’s Tongue”, below, but without the scenery.)

Nevertheless, I’ve always rejected nihilism in the form it’s usually presented — which is as an excuse, if not an outright mandate, for presentism, hedonism, relativism, anomie, and the other mortal afflictions of the modern secular West. It’s hard to stare at the Void for long without feeling the chill of meaninglessness, and despair, seeping up out of its bottomless darkness. You need warm socks.

I don’t like meaninglessness, and I see no upside in despair. But here I am, standing on the Troll’s Tongue, cantilevered way out over, well, nothing. I have a feeling many of you are too.

Well, buck up. The happy fact is that we have a world to live in, and a pretty nice one, too. We find ourselves in useful bodies, with clever brains. We are exquisitely adapted and configured to model the world around us in ways that enable us to flourish and prosper — and what’s more, we’re bright enough to understand, if we make the effort, just what makes us flourish, and why. There is beauty in the world, and wisdom, and good food and drink, and children and families and communities, and there are stories to tell and songs to sing. In times of doubt and confusion, we have the guidance of conscience and tradition to help us build organic societies that are harmonious with the varieties of our nature. Above all, there is Love, in all its forms.

If naturalism is right — if the abyss is real — then we get to choose what to do with that enormous fact. Yes, we can choose to despair, if we like — but we can just as well choose not to. Despair is crippling, it is painful, and above all, it is pointless.

For those with the capacity to understand it correctly, what seeps out of the abyss is not despair, but liberty. With liberty comes responsibility, because what we do is entirely up to us. And with responsibility come meaning, and purpose, and duty, and all the things we thought we had lost.

Read Mr. Stevens’ article here.

Related content from Sphere

Mission Accomplished

While we in the moribund West gabble self-congratulatory nonsense about the “right” and “wrong” sides of history, China — which doesn’t bother with such rubbish — is rapidly reconfiguring itself. It has always been aware of the risks that Western infection brings, and so it is clamping down on foreign influences, and on the free expression of ideas (such freedom of expression being itself a Western notion, of course, and a relatively recent one at that). Foreign journalists and NGOs are leaving the country, and homegrown muckrakers are being rounded up, pour encourager les autres.

Meanwhile, China’s regional expansion made another great leap forward this week, with word that their Navy will begin land-reclamation work at Scarborough Shoal, just west of Luzon.

What has made this great expansion possible? The great wealth that China has accumulated through, among other things, its openness to global trade and influences — and in particular, the 3.6 trillion-dollar trade surplus it has racked up against a decadent and profligate United States since the year 2000. That kind of money will buy a lot of nice new things, including a robust and rambunctious military, and a fat class of loyal political dependents.

Now China, having banked a substantial fraction of the wealth of the West, has the luxury of letting itself “be itself” once again, in far more comfortable circumstances. We will point, and sputter, but little more than that, I think. Really, it’s about all we can manage these days, anyway.

Related content from Sphere

Democracy: Taking On Water

Today I read an item in The Atlantic about an amusing story from the UK. Apparently Her Majesty’s Government has commissioned, at great expense, a state-of-the-art climate-research ship. The vessel needed a name, and so the public was asked to provide one. They did. The winner of the poll, by a large margin, was “Boaty McBoatface”.

This did not sit well with the Science Minister, Jo Johnson. (What is is with these Cabinet-level Johnsons, by the way? They’ve got ‘Jo’, and we’ve got ‘Jeh‘.) Mr. Johnson has announced that given “the serious nature” of ship’s mission, to wit, to “address global challenges that affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people, including global warming, the melting of polar ice, and rising sea levels”, the people’s choice is simply unacceptable.

This, in turn, has not sat well with the demos — who would like to know just who, if their collective will is to be so summarily ignored by some snooty toff named Jo, is supposed to be the sovereign around here anyway? From this little spat, it seems, has arisen a “national conversation” on the nature of Democracy, and more than a few people are starting to get the idea that the whole thing might not be everything it’s cracked up to be. (Which, of course, it isn’t.) The fancy red ship is turning out to be a big red pill.

Reaction is in the air, people. Suddenly it’s everywhere you look.

Related content from Sphere

Energy Is Life

I’ve mentioned the fossil-fuels advocate Alex Epstein several times in these pages, most recently back on April 13th. Here he is making his case last week before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Note in particular the odious, and evidently wholly unlettered, Senator Barbara Boxer mocking Mr. Epstein (at 7:20, and again at the very end) for presuming to opine on the “oughts” of our public policy. Her grounds for doing so? That he is a philosopher, not a scientist. That she can do so entirely unironically makes clear just how badly in need of rudimentary instruction she in fact is — not only in philosophy, but also in the historical and intellectual foundations of our civilization, and of the very government in which she wields such a persistently malignant influence.

Related content from Sphere


Time to start betting back to regular operations around here, I think. It was good to take some time off, and I thank all of you who visit here regularly for your patience. I’ll confess that it’s been a little harder lately for me to keep to daily blogging; I’ve had many distractions, and I do feel occasionally that I’ve already said everything I have to say. (I’m sure I will get over it.)

Readers may have noticed that this website was down again for a while on Friday. I thought it was Bluehost coming after me again (as they seem to have done a few weeks ago, the day after I remarked on Twitter that their service wasn’t what it used to be). But when I called them this time I was immediately connected to a very helpful representative, who explained that I had come under a spam attack. I was already using a spam filter, but in order to get the site back up I had to activate a “Captcha” plugin as a bulwark against spam-bots. This means, dear readers, that you will have to demonstrate your humanity in order to comment. (That said, I’m sure that my left-leaning critics will be surprised that the thing lets me post anything at all.) Sorry for the inconvenience, but such are the times.

One of the reasons that I’ve been less inclined to write much is that I feel the need, for now at least, to read and think more, and to say less. I’ve got a stack of books I want to get to, and there are only so many hours in the day. Another reason is that I’ve been focusing a lot of attention lately on music and recording, which I’ve neglected for too long. (I’ve been putting together a mixing room, and have been catching up on recent audio technology.)

Among the books I’ve been reading is Forrest McDonald’s Novus Ordo Seclorum (1985), a truly outstanding account of the historical and intellectual origins of the Constitution. Mr. McDonald, who died earlier this year, was Professor of History at the University of Alabama. He was also an extraordinarily diligent scholar, a witty and engaging writer, and a staunch conservative. If you want to understand how the Framers meant this nation to work, and why, you will find no better source.

An excerpt, chosen almost at random, shows the relevance of Professor McDonald’s analysis to current reactionary thought (I have bolded a key passage):

“Speaking broadly, even grossly, one may characterize American schools of republican thoughtas being in two categories: those which reduced their principles into systems or ideologies, and those that did not. Those which did — again speaking broadly, for there were shades and overlappings, and the substantive differences are clearly visible only at the extremes — may likewise be characterized in two categories. One, the more nearly classical, may be described as puritan,; the other, more modern, may be described as agrarian.

The two versions of ideological republicanism held a number of attitudes in common, the most crucial being preoccupation with the mortality of republics. (“Half our learning,” said [Thomas] Dawes, “is their epitaph.”) The vital — that is, life-giving — principle of republics was public virtue. It is important to understand just what these two words signified. Like their Greek counterparts, polis and arete, they did not connote what is suggested by the idea of Christian virtue, with its emphasis upon meekness, passivity, and charity; quite the opposite, for the Christian concept of virtue was originally formulated as the central ethic of a counterculture that arose as a conscious protest against the classical culture of manliness. Nor did the public (or the polis) include everybody. Not coincidentally, public, like virtue, derives from Latin roots signifying manhood: “the public” included only independent adult males. Public virtue entailed firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength, and above all, unremitting devotion to the weal of the public’s corporate self, the community of virtuous men. It was at once individualistic and communal: individualistic in that no member of the public could be dependent upon any other and still be reckoned a member of the public; communal in that every man gave himself totally to the good of the public as a whole. If public virtue declined, the republic declined, and if it declined too far, the republic died. Philosophical historians had worked out a regular life cycle, or more properly a death cycle, of republics. Manhood gave way to effeminacy, republican liberty to licentiousness. Licentiousness, in turn, degenerated into anarchy, and anarchy inevitably led to tyranny.

What distinguished puritanical republicanism from the agrarian variety was that the former sought a moral solution to the problem of the mortality of republics (make better people), whereas the latter believed in a socio-economic-political solution (make better arrangements).

It appears things are proceeding right on schedule.

Related content from Sphere

Service Notice, and Open Thread 14

Need a few days offline, folks. Back later this week, or early next.

One Cheer for OSU

With a hat-tip to our reader Henry, here is a link to a video of an Ohio State University employee explaining to a group of student protestors that if they do not vacate the building they are occupying, they will be arrested and expelled.

It’s a beginning, and a welcome one, although in my opinion the tone here is far too conciliatory and apologetic. When you’re dealing with children having tantrums, you do not negotiate. But at least OSU seems to have realized who the grownups are, and that’s not nothing. It’s no surprise that they’re a bit out of practice; hopefully they will get better at this sort of thing as time goes by. We’ll see.

Related content from Sphere

April 13th

We note, as always on this date, the natal day of Guy Fawkes, Thomas Jefferson, F.W. Woolworth, James Ensor, Butch Cassidy, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, Robert Watson-Watt, Samuel Beckett, Harold Stassen, Stanislaw Ulam, Eudora Welty, Howard Keel, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Ken Nordine, Don Adams, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Seamus Heaney, Paul Sorvino, Jack Casady, Tony Dow, Lowell George, Al Green, Ron Perlman, Christopher Hitchens, Max Weinberg, and Garry Kasparov.

And your humble correspondent: 60 today, folks.

Related content from Sphere

Nature Vs. Nurture

Over the transom today came a link (thank you, Bill K.) to Diplomad’s latest salvo: At War with the History of Mankind.

Dip makes the point that a central tenet of modern Leftist ideology (which is, as I and others have argued at length, essentially a cryptoreligious belief-system) is to make Nature sacred, and mankind profane (my words, not his, but the idea is the same). He notes that this is, in humanist terms, a noxious perversion:

Above all else, the history of mankind is one of struggle against nature, against Gaia. Wearing clothing, seeking shelter, hunting animals, creating agriculture, building cities, developing medicines, and devising public health schemes, among others, are all efforts by mankind to defeat nature and, yes, to overcome Gaia — a murderous entity if ever one existed.

Quite so. Modern environmentalism, in its ostentatious self-abnegation before the Sacred, differs only in style from medieval self-flagellation: it seeks grace and salvation through flamboyant gestures of atonement. (While we’re on the subject, white ethnomasochism is another fine example: as Lawrence Auster noted years ago, the sacred objects in that case are ethnic minorities.)

Nowhere is this religiosity, and its quest for martyrdom, more perspicuously self-evident than in the global-warming movement, and its profoundly anti-humanist crusade against fossil fuels. Alex Epstein, the author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (which, if it were up to me, would be required reading for anyone eligible to vote in any Western nation) published a fine piece about this last week in Forbes.

In his essay, Mr. Epstein notes that we seem always to be losing the argument with the Left on what is now called “climate change”, and he explains that this is because, as so often happens, we fail to clarify our axioms. Key excerpts:

In naming an energy or environmental ideal, it is essential to recognize that an energy or environmental ideal is not a primary—it depends on the more fundamental question: What is the overall ideal we should strive for, in energy, environment, and everything else?

My answer is: the overall ideal is to maximize human well-being. While most Americans would agree with this ideal if and when it was made explicit, this ideal is almost never made explicit—and it is not driving our energy debate whatsoever. The ideal that is actually driving our debate without being noticed, the ideal that underlies the anti-fossil fuel ideal, is the ideal of minimizing human impact

To reach the right conclusion on what to do about energy, we need to be clear on our moral goal, our standard of value—and that the right standard of value is maximizing human well-being rather than the environmentalist standard of minimizing human impact. If we look at the big picture, both positives and negatives, of fossil fuels by the standard of maximizing human well-being, we find that short-term and long-term they improve every aspect of life by increasing mankind’s ability to use machines—including our capacity to make a naturally dirty environment far cleaner and our capacity to make a naturally dangerous climate far safer.

If we look at the risks and side-effects of fossil fuel use, we see that they are incomparably smaller than the benefits. This is also true for other forms of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy such as nuclear and hydroelectric. Thus, short-term and long-term, the energy policy ideal is energy liberation

If the moral case for fossil fuels and energy liberation flows from a humanist standard of value, where does the moral case against fossil fuels and energy liberation flow from?

It flows from one of the most popular moral ideals of our era, the ideal of being “green”—minimizing our impact on the planet. This ideal is completely contrary to human well-being. Despite claims that human beings live on a nurturing but fragile planet that we must tread lightly on to survive, nature does not give us a good standard of living; we need to create it by dramatically impacting—transforming—nature. In doing so, we want to maximize human well-being, which means minimizing human-harming impacts—but we want to make as much impact on the planet as necessary.

When fossil fuels are discussed, the green standard is invariably applied by both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans regularly accept the minimizing impact ideal left and right, whether by accepting “renewable” (vs. life-enhancing) as an ideal—or by obsessing over every exaggeration of our climate impact but spending no time celebrating our climate mastery—or by calling more attention to the birds killed by wind turbines than the people who would be killed if we had to rely on wind turbines.

Both sides agree: the ideal is to find the form of energy that has as little “environmental impact” as possible. This is an application of the green ideal: to minimize our impact on the planet. This must be rejected and replaced with the ideals of human well-being (or human progress) and energy liberation. Those are the real ideals, and those can be used to rapidly win hearts and minds.

Whenever I discuss any energy and environmental issue with anyone, near the very beginning I make sure to ask: “Would you agree that our goal here is to find the policy that will maximize human well-being? Would you agree that we need to look carefully at all the costs and all the benefits to get to the right answer?” It’s often necessary to bring up the non-impact issue explicitly: “Would you agree that to maximize our well-being we need to impact the world in all kinds of ways and that impact is not a bad thing but often a good thing? That we just want to minimize impacts that harm us?”

That reframing may seem simple or go unnoticed, but the resulting framework changes everything.

If we reframe the debate, making our ideals explicit, we can both win supporters and champions of the right policies, and expose the evil and anti-humanism of the wrong policies… Framing the debate with maximizing human well-being as the ideal enables us to better reach the truth—and for that reason it makes it far, far easier to persuade others of the truth—in every issue and sub-issue. When made explicit, this ideal is compelling to the vast majority of people, much more so than the anti-impact ideal (or no ideal). It transforms our view of fossil fuels (and energy liberation) from self-destructive addiction to life-enhancing technology. The person who advocates this ideal conveys deep confidence and obvious sincerity.

Read the whole thing here.

Finally, I also have to give a nod to James Delingpole, who in this related article (which also links to, and quotes, the Epstein essay), gives us a splendidly apt coinage: wind turbines as “eco-crucifixes”.

Related content from Sphere

Equal Time

It’s “Equal Pay Day”, so here’s a video by Christina Hoff Sommers on this evergreen gripe.

Through the Looking-Glass

“What a curious world this is!” thought Alice. “Everything is upside-down and backwards!”

“We are ruled by the oppressed, the only sin is to believe in sin, the only tradition is the destruction of tradition, ‘anti-racism’ means loathing white people, and ‘education’ means un-learning one’s culture!”

She nibbled thoughtfully on the little cake the Mad Hatter had given her. She could already feel herself beginning to change, but into what, exactly, she had no idea.

“It all reminds me of something I read once, long ago. Whatever could it have been?”

“Oh, I remember!”



Suddenly Alice felt very strangely indeed, as if she were growing and getting very much smaller at the same time.

“Oh dear,” she thought. “What will happen next? I do hope this will all end well, but I rather think it won’t.”

Related content from Sphere

Is This A Great Company, Or What?

In his book Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Douglas R. Hofstadter discussed the idea of “recursive acronyms”. He gave as an example the acronym TATO, which stands for “TATO And TATO Only”.

The expansion goes like this:

2. TATO And TATO Only
3. (TATO And TATO Only) And (TATO And TATO Only) Only
4. ((TATO And TATO Only) And (TATO And TATO Only) Only) And ((TATO And TATO Only) And (TATO And TATO Only) Only) Only

… and so on.

Why am I mentioning this?

Well, I insure my car with GEICO. (They provide excellent service, by the way, and I recommend them highly.)

GEICO, is, of course, an acronym; the firm was founded in 1936 as the Government Employees’ Insurance Company. But just the other day I got a claim form in the mail, and saw this at the top of the page:


That gecko’s been reading himself some Hofstadter, I think.

Related content from Sphere

Low Ceiling

Our previous post — a link, with excerpts and brief commentary, to an essay by Dennis Prager on how leftism and statism step in to fill the void left by religion — seems to have left some readers puzzled. Here are some further thoughts of my own:

The religious impulse, the need for sacred objects, and the hunger for salvation will always find some form of social expression. (This is because what makes religion adaptive in the first place is its effect on group cohesion.)

Religion wants a “skyhook”: something above us upon which we can depend, and with which we can make a kind of contract. In return for our faith, and for a promise of effort and self-sacrifice in the required virtuous forms, we are given protection, or even salvation.

As children, we trust in the protection of our fathers and mothers, and we submit to their authority in return. But even as adults, the world around us is still chaotic and merciless, and to have so many things beyond our control is frightening and stressful. We know that as adults we must make our way somehow in the material world — but we are finite, and we know in our bones that the mysterium tremendum is not. Dwarfed by this infinitude, we seek to attach ourselves to something transcendent; salvation in God is our warrant against that great chaos.

When the supernatural basis for all of this is removed — when God dies — we’ve lost our skyhook; the warranty is void. But we are no less overborne by the chaos and mystery we face. We continue to seek the transcendent, but the sky is now empty, and the heavens have lowered. Having sliced off the apex of the sacred pyramid — the unifying presence of God — we are left with a truncated, frustrated hierarchy. God had been the Absolute from which both the natural world, and all human agency, emanated, but now the roots of both Nature and the soul of Man are exposed and disconnected.

We have not, however, lost our sense of awe, and of transcendent beauty and mystery, when we contemplate the natural world — and so in our new, sawed-off religion, we preserve Nature as a sacred object. (Indeed, with God now departed, many of us now promote Nature to fill his place.) And having lost God as the agent and guarantor of our protection and salvation, we must set our sights, and pin our hopes, upon the only thing we can still discern above us: the State.

The State! It is a low and shabby God, but it’s all that’s left. Needs must, when the Devil drives.

Related content from Sphere

Dennis Prager on Secularism

Dennis Prager published an insightful item yesterday, entitled “A Note to Conservatives Who Are Secular”.

We read:

The vast majority of leading conservative writers, just like their liberal colleagues, have a secular outlook on life. With few exceptions, the conservative political and intellectual worlds are oblivious to the consequences of secularism. They are unaware of the disaster that godlessness in the West has led to.

Most leading Republicans and most of the wealthy donors to the Republican Party — in addition to virtually all libertarian politicians and think tank scholars — are either uninterested in the death of Judeo-Christian religions and values in America and the West, or they’re OK with it. They think that America can survive the death of God and religion, that fiscal and other forms of conservatism without social conservatism can preserve America.

This is true about some, but far from all, conservative writers and thinkers. But it is certainly common enough; there are many who continue to imagine the United States as nothing more than a “proposition nation”: a set of legal abstractions with a border and an economy. There are also conservatives who, though respecting the social importance of religion, adopt a naive universalism as regards religious heterogeneity — which can obviously be a profoundly divisive force — and who discount the incompatibility of some religions with Western norms. But it has been clear to me for some time now — and as an unbeliever myself, it was a hard pill to swallow — that secularism itself is maladaptive.

This, however, is exactly correct:

And why do secular conservatives think so many affluent and well-educated Americans have adopted left-wing dogmas, such as feminism, socialism, environmentalism and egalitarianism as their religions? Because people want to — have to — believe in something. And if it’s not God and Christianity or Judaism, it’s going to be some form of Leftism. Why are evangelical Protestants, theologically conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews and practicing Mormons almost all conservative? Because they already have a religion and therefore don’t need the alternate gods of leftist faiths, and also because Judeo-Christian religions have different values than leftist religions.

Just so: the religious impulse is a constant in human societies. It can be repurposed, but it is always there.

Read the rest of Mr. Prager’s article here.

Related content from Sphere

Bend That Arc!

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made it the law of the land that owners of property could not refuse to sell or rent it on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. In 1988 the list was expanded to include family status and disabilities.

Absent from this list of criteria was criminal history. Legislators understood it to be within their mandate to stop property owners from simply selling or renting as they saw fit, but nevertheless stopped short of forcing them to share their premises (in the case of rentals) with known criminals.

That reasonable limit on government interference, however, belonged to a bygone era, in which individuals were assumed to possess adult human agency, and therefore to be responsible, as individuals, for their actions. But, to quote Daniel Dennett on the subject of free will, “if you make yourself small enough, you can externalize everything” — and so we now will do with criminality. In real-estate transactions, applicants are now to be considered, not as the authors of their own life-histories, but merely as different flavors of otherwise identical atoms.

How so, you ask? Well, you see, it appears that one flavor of those atoms somehow ends up convicted of crimes a lot more often than the other flavors do. But because all human atoms are — by incontrovertible axiom and fiat — otherwise identical (and very, very small!), there can be no intrinsic attribute, no “hidden variable” that could possibly account for this. So the only remaining explanation is that there is something entirely external, something vastly larger than any human particle, that irresistibly deflects certain flavors of atoms into our courts and prisons.

This means, in turn, that any evaluation we might make based on criminal records is, by the same incontrovertible axiom and fiat, invalid. (Anyway, another word for what we call “evaluation” is “discrimination”. Need we say more?)

For your enlightenment, then, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued these guidelines. They are based on no legislation, but rather on the sharply ascendant and marvelously flexible concept of “disparate impact“. What’s interesting, and perhaps novel, about this example is that what’s “disparate” here, and thereby causing the “impact”, is the actions of the affected group itself.

Related content from Sphere

Cutting Them Off at the Pass

We haven’t said much about the situation in Europe lately, but with warmer weather coming, “migrant” flows will increase, and the social and political climate is going to heat up as well.

Already, as we see here, the Schengen idea is becoming unsupportable.

I will be in Vienna in July. I wonder what things will be like by then. (Forgive the lack of any sort of analysis, but I haven’t been doing my homework on this lately. That will change. My daughter now lives in Vienna, and I feel that for the past few months I have neglected my paternal obligation to focus the Eye of Waka on the deteriorating situation in Europe.)

Related content from Sphere

Schrödinger’s Trout?

Our reader Henry has sent us this interesting item, in which we learn that fishes and quanta have more in common than we thought.

My Little Chickadee

A black-capped chickadee, to be precise. (Beech Forest Trail, Provincetown, MA, last Thursday.)


On Intentionality

Commenter “Jacques”, last seen (by me, at least) over at Maverick Philosopher, has joined our recent thread on consciousness and intentionality. (Discussions on older posts can often go on unsuspected by other readers, so I thought I’d mention it. Also, it’s a nice change from the grim topics we usually handle around here these days.)

Related content from Sphere