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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Back

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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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!”


WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

 

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.”

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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:

1. TATO
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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It Takes All Sorts

Here’s a nice visualization of sorting algorithms. (If you’re interested.)

It Was a Bright Cold Day In April

Here’s the latest really cool thing that you absolutely must have. It just stands in your room, listening to everything you say, and transmitting it over the Internet to… someplace. It’s only $129, and it’s “always getting smarter”!

Crisp Dolby Sound!

Everybody’s going to want one. Don’t be left out!

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Nice Work If You Can Get It

And, as the old song goes, you can get it if you try. Story here.

This should be instructive! (Economics 101: If you subsidize something, you get more of it.)

P.S. Nick Land comments here.

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Livin’ the Dream

In the excerpt we posted the other day from Sir Henry Maine’s Popular Government, the author explains that the chief feature of what we call Democracy is that it is an upside-down monarchy, in which, somehow, the multitude is sovereign.

But how, wonders Sir Henry, can a multitude express its will? In what sense can it even be said to have a singular will? (Students of esoteric work will know how hard that is even for a man, who in his undeveloped condition is himself not one, but many. How could it be possible for a multitude?)

The answer is that it cannot. We may flatter a congeries of hundreds of millions as our “sovereign”, and we may make the same obeisances to it that we would a king, but in point of fact there is nothing resembling an actual sovereign in the mass of the people; there is only something more akin to an applause-meter. No sovereign “will” can be expressed until some proxy is put upon the stage, or in the dock.

What is sovereignty? What does it mean to have sovereign power? It means the freedom to control events according to one’s own choices — and even more importantly, to determine what the range of choices will be. But when the sovereign is not a man, but a mass, this is impossible. All that a mass can do is to select, by the volume of its applause, from the menu it is given.

Who writes the menu?

Do you think, lovers of democracy, that you actually have sovereign power? I don’t mean the mass of you, because none of you is a multitude. I mean you.

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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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