Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On the Decline of Wisdom

The Dissenting Sociologist began a post recently with a quite striking sentence:
The principle that “the wise shall govern the strong” is a law of Nature so basic that human society is inoperable and indeed altogether inconceivable without it. Democracy as such is an illogical Utopian fiction that doesn’t exist anywhere and cannot. In human society anywhere we find it, men in the physical flower of their youth allow themselves to be bossed around by senior men they could easily overwhelm, and legitimate authority assumes the form of a pyramid such that positions of authority, by definition, are fewer to the extent that the scope of authority attached to them is greater."
And my immediate thought was to wonder: this is a fascinating idea. Is it actually true?

The second sentence is definitely true. Society would definitely be better ordered if the first sentence were also true. But the universe isn’t usually ordered the way we would like it.

So what would be the similar, purely positive version of the same idea that might be closer to being true? I’d say that the elite will always rule over the masses. Like most, if not all, seemingly universal truths in the social sciences, it has a somewhat tautological aspect – the elites are defined as the ruling class, because ruling itself confers status. Sometimes the rulers are priests, or warriors, or kings, or judges, or bureaucrats. But everywhere there are the leaders, and the led.

Power is always jealously sought, even if not actively contested at every point in time. And so any elite must be savvy enough to at least maintain their own supremacy against other contenders for power. If you are incompetent enough, you probably won’t stay in power that long. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to be competent at any task other than maintaining your own power. You can run your country into ruin and beggary, as many long-lived dictators have done, as long as you maintain your own power. So you can definitely have an evil, psychopathic elite. But a sufficiently incompetent elite is a fragile equilibrium, at risk of collapsing. This also is the strongest evidence against frequent claims that some or other presidential candidate is a moron – Trump, Bush, Kerry, whoever. There are simply too many other people viciously vying for the presidential job for any true moron to get that close to succeeding.

Of course, the number of true psychopaths is rather small. So most leaders will have at least some regard for their people. And so if there is a general quality of intelligence and good judgment needed to maintain power, that will hopefully flow over into competent administration of the rest of the country (perhaps one of the biggest mercies the world provides, actually). The main hitch here, of course, is that psychopaths (though numerically few) are disproportionately attracted to power, and ruthless in the methods they are willing to use to obtain it. Hence the horror of the many dictators of the 20th century, from Mao to Mugabe.

A lot of elites will have a need to occasionally augment their ranks with competent administrators who can help them secure their rule. And this is where the starting quote is quite interesting, particularly with regard to exactly what qualities are being sought. What is needed is competence. But this can come from a number of different base qualities.

Reactionaries are generally drawn to old ideas, and wisdom is one such concept. Wisdom connotes judgment, nuance, experience, and a sense of doing what is right. It is related to its less lofty and less mystical relative, good judgment (of which wisdom is in some sense the pinnacle). It is not surprising that these are also associated with age – if someone is wise beyond their years, it is because wisdom is generally thought to be more likely to reside in the elders of a society.

Wisdom, dear reader, is a quality whose heyday has largely passed. The thoroughly brilliant Google NGram viewer charts the decline for us.

It should not therefore come as a surprise to find that modern society, which places relatively less emphasis on wisdom, should also come to have less respect for the elderly relative to the young.

So if the elites aren’t selecting on wisdom, but have to select on competence (broadly defined), what else are they selecting on?

Here’s one answer:

First ‘clever’, then ‘smart’.

‘Wise’ has been more or less declining as an idea since 1820 or so. Its decline was also marked by the rise of ‘clever’ – more intellectual, but in a way that seemed to prioritise shrewdness and savvy behavior, as opposed to good judgment.

But the big rise of late has been ‘smart’. This goes mostly to intelligence, raw cognitive firepower. This is a trait that (at least at an individual level) is generally considered to be inherited at birth, and which displays itself more in youth than old age.

The modern ideal of innovative success is the young tech CEO. Mark Zuckerberg is assuredly smart, and often described as such. I have yet to hear anyone praise him as wise.

The other striking aspect of this perception is that if good decisions are thought to come mostly from being smart, then they are something that one is either just born with, or can acquire merely by turning one’s gigantic brain to the subject at hand. And since every man flatters himself that he is smart, he is thereby largely relieved of the obligation of humble study at the feet of those that have come before him. Hence the modern progressive wet dream of the show ‘The West Wing’ – brilliant young minds elevated straight from their Harvard Political Science undergrad education to being White House advisors, solving the world’s problems as understudies to a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics (or at least Hollywood writers’ limited conception of one).

Intellect alone is presumed to be able to solve the world’s problems, from Syria to Washington.

Good judgment, by comparison is considered far too prosaic a quality to be encouraged, and wisdom seems almost archaic.

I am far from convinced that this shift in emphasis has been for the good.

Monday, September 12, 2016

On Kings and the Accident of Birth

We live in an era with an extraordinarily limited imagination with respect to alternative worldviews.

In the eternal present tense of the liberal mind, the past is not only alien, but almost incomprehensible. Whig history gets imbibed deeply without even understanding what it is. The net effect is that nobody is encouraged to think honestly about why people in the past thought the things they did. Most strikingly, there is no empathy towards one’s ancestors as having genuinely-held beliefs which may have had sensible underpinnings. The only acceptable explanations are those that flatter our own conceit. So the mass of people in the past must either have been evil (by comparison with which we are virtuous), or they must have been na├»ve dupes who were conned by a small evil elite (by comparison with which we are savvy and worldly).

Unsurprisingly, these absurd narratives quickly run into large obstacles of incomprehension.

Take, for instance, the institution of monarchy.

Everyone who is anyone agrees that democracy is not only the most effective form of government, but the most just.

So why did absolute monarchy persist in so many countries, for so many thousands of years, if it was both unjust (and thus likely to inspire resistance) and ineffective (and thus able to be outcompeted by better forms of government)?

It’s a puzzle, no?

Let us grant something obvious, but not widely appreciated. A system of government that was able to rule France for 800 years, or rule England for similar period, must have had at least something quite significant to recommend about it. How else could it accomplish the task of administering huge countries for so long, with far weaker technologies of coordination, if it was marked only by injustice, incompetence and tyranny? Wouldn’t the people have risen up long before they did?

Here is another possibility that simply cannot be imagined by most people today.

Many absolute monarchs were genuinely popular.

Not because the people were duped. Not because they were afraid of expressing contrary opinions. Because the subjects genuinely liked their hereditary kings. Because these Kings did a good job of ruling. Not all, but many of them.

Such a possibility is highly confronting to modern sensibilities, but surely it must be considered as at least a hypothesis. The historical record is there - something kept them working for a very long time. If we can’t conceive of why kings might have been effective, perhaps this means that they weren’t effective, or perhaps we just have a failure of imagination.

I think part of the mistake comes from misunderstanding how kings came about.

When people think about an absolute monarch in a western country, they think about establishing a monarchy today. And since they don’t know how monarchs came to exist, they substitute the following hypothetical – we take a person in society, and given them absolute power.

Let us put aside for the moment the question of whether kings actually have absolute power.

Even before that, the natural question arises in the progressive mind: who gets to be king? And since this is purely a hypothetical, the answers cover an equally large range of hypothetical figures, namely everyone in society. Giving one randomly chosen person control of everything strikes them, somewhat understandably, as risky and ill-advised.

But kings were not randomly chosen people, and it simply doesn’t make sense to evaluate monarchy as if they were.

More importantly, the ways in which kings weren’t random redound strongly to their advantage.

Who is the king today in a monarchy? The son of the previous king. Phrased only like this, it presents a chicken and egg argument that doesn’t tell us much.

Rather, to get anywhere we need to understand the origins – who was the first king in any given lineage? This is the basis from which the rest stems.

The answer, nearly always, is a great military leader, a commander of men able to unite his people into an army, and successfully coordinate them in battle to subdue their previous rulers. Robert the Bruce became king of Scotland after a ten year period where Scotland had no king. At the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce began the battle by fighting Henry de Bohun in single combat, killing him by splitting his head open with an axe. Robert then led the Scottish troops into battle. That doesn't sound like a randomly chosen level of valor, strength, and ability to lead men. 

If I were a Scot, besieged and ruled by the hated English, I would be pretty damn pleased to have such a man in charge of my country. The fact that he wasn't elected in a vote would not trouble me one jot.

When William the Conqueror fought the Battle of Hastings, he had to rally his fleeing troops, and led the successful counterattack against the English forces. Talk about courage and calmness under pressure.

In medieval battles it was very difficult to command an army without personal courage and skill. You don’t get to be miles behind the front line, picking up a telephone and giving orders. You will be in the fray, fighting alongside your soldiers, giving wise orders, and convincing people to obey them through your personal authority. If you're insufficiently good at that job, you're dead, like King Harold

A man that can command, inspire and make wise choices in war has at least a decent shot of doing the same thing in peace. At the barest minimum, he has a much better chance of doing so than a randomly chosen citizen at the time.

In the language of economics, Kings are endogenous. It makes no sense to ask what would happen if we elevated a random person to be king. The only person who would ever get to be the first king is someone with enough personal qualities to establish themselves as such.

The person who would have had the greatest opportunity to establish himself as King of America, should he have wanted to do so, was probably George Washington. He had to tell his subordinates to address him as ‘Mr President’, not ‘Your Highness’. His stepping down, rather than ruling on until he died or was voted out, was considered very surprising. King George III said that if Washington in fact returned to his farm and thus renounced power, it would make him the greatest man in the world. One suspects he did not expect to be called on this claim.

Admit it, the prospect of King George Washington is not an immediately frightening one,. And how did he get to have this level of popular support and gratitude? By bravery and military genius. He was an outstanding leader of men long before he won an election. 

In perhaps the most credible alternative universe where America had a monarch, it would not be Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

It would be a descendant of George Washington.

So let’s establish that we’re reasonably happy with King Washington I. How might we feel about his descendants?

If behavioral genetics has taught us anything, it’s that nearly every personality and cognitive trait we care to measure has a significant degree of heritability. George Washington’s offspring will not be the same as George Washington, but they will share many of his traits simply due to genetics.

Not only that, but the environmental factors are also encouraging. The future kings are raised in an environment where they also get passed on to them all the cultural ideas and learning of the previous king, which again tends to reinforce the behaviours that worked the previous time. Moreover, prince regents have been apprenticed from a very young age to the task of ruling, learning the trade from those that came before. All of these factors tend to reinforce the behaviours of kings over time, and encourage whatever caused the first king to be successful to continue to be present in his successors.

But still, genetic advantages wane with mean reversion. This is the major weakness of monarchy. It also applies to family firms, where the brilliant entrepreneur is succeeded by his somewhat less successful son, and his hopeless wastrel grandson.

Acting against this, however, is an opposing force. Kings also tended to marry queens who were themselves descended from other successful bloodlines. This means that both sides of the family tree tend to be selected from people who displayed a capacity for leadership.

So we can’t even just evaluate a hypothetical King Washington X by looking at the current descendants of George Washington. The marriage patterns would likely be different, the education and training they received would be different, and thus so would the descendants themselves.

Does this mean that monarchy always worked brilliantly? No. Sometimes monarchs die before their children are ready to rule, or die without children, or have idiot worthless children. It's not perfect.

Does it mean that it almost certainly worked better than most people today imagine? Absolutely. We at least have an answer to our question at the start - why might  it have lasted so long?

Does it mean we should switch back to it? Your mileage may vary.

But don’t get this far and still ask the wrong question!

“We” will not switch back to monarchy.

Should America end up as a monarchy, it will be because a monarch worthy of the title of king has commanded the country and been elevated to the position.

And at that point, it will probably work pretty well.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What's the value of a Bill of Rights?

The standard mythology of the right is that the constitution established separation of powers and limited government. By restricting the power of the federal government through the enumerated powers and the bill of rights, the constitution thus restricts the ability of the government to tyrannise its citizens.

Well, that's the theory. The first clue that something has gone awry in this theory is that nobody talks any more about the enumerated powers as an obstacle to tyranny. Hey, wasn't the federal government only supposed to be able to legislate on a small number of specific topics? Like, for instance, the following (courtesy of the excellent A Crime A Day)

Okay, so the Federal Government now can legislate on absolutely anything that isn't explicitly prohibited by the Bill of Rights. This may seem to violate the text of the constitution, but that's just because you haven't paid enough attention to the penumbras and emanations.

Part of what we're running into is the problem Moldbug described quite aptly - limited government is a fiction because sovereignty is conserved. Who is doing the limiting? If it's the judiciary, then the judiciary is sovereign.

There are no governments by pieces of paper, only governments by men. If the judges choose to follow what's on the paper, then the paper wins the day. If they don't, then it doesn't.

But to bring the matter full circle, are the judges really sovereign? Can they decide anything they want?

Well, maybe. Judges didn't used to be so sovereign. Back in 1832, Andrew Jackson (apocryphally) said of a Supreme Court decision "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!". This was the Presidential equivalent of 'How many divisions has the Pope?'. Indeed, the similarities between the Pope vis a viz Stalin and the Supreme Court vis a viz the President are striking. There are relatively few federal officers directly answerable to the court across the land, which means that the courts are reliant on other people and branches of government to enforce their decisions. If everyone else chooses to obey, it is partly out of a) convention, and b) a quasi-religious reverence that got attached to Supreme Court decisions after Brown v. Board of Education. 

In other words, if the Supreme Court is sovereign, then it resembles the messy reality of what being King was actually like, rather than the textbook theory of absolute power. To wit, a large part of the skill of being king was knowing what orders would actually be obeyed and carried out, and limiting one's instructions to those. A king who goes too far in his estimation of his subjects' obedience and starts getting openly disobeyed won't stay as king very long.

At the moment, the Supreme Court just gets obeyed, out of a sense of duty. But if they pushed things too far in one go, that sense of duty might evaporate, and with it the whole prestige of the court.

And at last we see where written constitutions, or Bills of Rights specifically, might finally have some effect.

In particular, a statement on a piece of paper can serve as a strong coordination device- these things are disallowed under our system of government. Now, the sovereign is he who decides the exception, and a sovereign supreme court can decide when a particular constitutional provision doesn't apply.

But unlike the medieval kings (who obtained their right to be king by virtue of birth), the Supreme Court is in a bind. A substantial amount of its influence comes from the belief, even if deluded, that the court is actually following the piece of paper. Overrule that too explicitly, and the masses might lose their will to obey.

In order for this to work, however, the issue has to be something that a) people care about enough to challenge the nobility of the Supreme Court, and b) that people can agree on widely when the provision has been breached.

So which provisions might actually have a shot at forcing the court to do something that its individual members might not prefer to be done?

In this regard, 'Equal Protection' will be almost completely nugatory as a restriction on the court's personal preferences. What the hell does it guarantee? What needs to be equal with what? In fact,the very ambiguity lets it get used as a sword, to apply whatever leftist idea is the order of the day.

So what are the two areas that the Supreme Court has blinked on, at least relative to the view that Cthulu only swims left?

The big one was DC v Heller, when the Supreme Court unusually rejected the opportunity to gut the 2nd Amendment by claiming that it only allowed people the right to join a militia. 

This would have quite likely risked a total shitstorm, because gun owners really, really care about their guns, and every single one of them would have gone insane over this. I suspect some justices recognised this, and stepped back from the precipice. 

(Incidentally, this seems to be exactly what John Roberts did with Obamacare, changing his decision at the last minute rather than risking the court suddenly becoming public enemy number one with leftists, the court's natural constituency at the moment).

The other case, curiously, is the First Amendment.

Now, on the face of it, you may think that America has all sorts of restrictions on free speech, and you'd be right.

But you can rest assured that there is nothing on the books as repulsive as Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia, or the loathsome Human Rights Commissions in Canada that Mark Steyn had to battle with for years, or the repugnant British prosecutions of people for racist tweets.

On the issues that the left cares about, America still has fewer governmental prohibitions than nearly all comparable western countries. 

Now, it may be that America is just more conservative on this stuff. But if you look at how rabidly leftists at American colleges treat these issues, or how radioactive accusations of racism are, it's hard to countenance that.

Rather, I think that Congress and the Courts haven't yet had the gumption to make a big push to overturn this, because unlike equal protection, it would be pretty indisputable that the provision had been ignored.

In the case of free speech, I am sadly pessimistic about its long term prospects. At some point, when the hysteria over racism becomes sufficiently widespread, expect the Supreme Court to carve out some unprincipled exception that 'hate speech is different from free speech'.

But they're not there yet, because it would still be a risky move. 

In the rest of the world, however, it wasn't. Without the coordination mechanism of a long-standing bright red line, people just sat there and took it.

In the US, they'll probably end up taking it too, but the piece of paper maybe bought us 20 years or so.

That may not be much in the long run, but it's something.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Making the human race better

Let me ask you, dear reader, a fairly straightforward question.

Suppose that you and your wife or husband are about to have a child. All else equal, would you like your child to be smarter, or dumber? You will love your child either way, of course, so that's not the issue. But if you could take a vitamin supplement during pregnancy that would give them an extra 10 IQ points, would you do it? Let's assume it's a wholly natural supplement. There's a risk of childhood malnutrition without it, which will permanently harm their intelligence.

Taking the supplement would certainly make their life somewhat easier, and increase the chances that they could come up with important business and scientific advances that could benefit society. Lord knows parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on education after the fact to try to achieve exactly the same goal.

So to ask a slightly weaker question - does the prospect of such a vitamin supplement shock, horrify and disgust you? Is it repugnant, equivalent to the Holocaust, for parents to love their children so much that they wish them to be slightly smarter? Is it wrong to wish for these benefits for your neighbour's children, or your friends' children? If you're not an IQ booster, substitute in adjectives like 'taller', 'more attractive' or 'healthier' - the logic is exactly the same.

I am pretty sure the answer to this is 'of course not'.

So now, question number two.

Would society as a whole be better off if all prospective mothers took this pill? If you could make all the children in society smarter, healthier and more attractive, would that be a net benefit to society, or not? Would that be a project that we should undertake?

As it turns out, that project already has a name.

That name is eugenics.

Eugenics is, of course, in the popular discussion on the subject, literally Hitler.

And I personally find this the most unfathomably braindead attitude I can imagine.

In the case of eugenics, the objections to it are especially vague, and seem to descend into Godwin's Law territory even faster than most political issues, because eugenics is often explicitly presented as a motivation for the Holocaust. This is of course yet one more example in a long list that support the claim that "Hitler makes everybody stupid". Hitler butchered 6 million Jews in a horribly cruel manner. Therefore, we should be entirely unconcerned with whether the human race is on net getting smarter or dumber, or whether the prevalence of genetic health disorders is becoming more common or less common. Not quite so compelling when you spell it out now, is it? That's The Magic of Hitler, that you never bothered to notice this before now.

To begin with a quibble - it's pretty bizarre to claim that the Holocaust discredits eugenics, because the Holocaust seems about the least eugenic policy I can imagine. Ashkenzi Jews have a mean IQ of 113-116 for crying out loud! I can scarcely imagine a more disgenic policy than killing them off wholesale. If Hitler was a eugenicist, he was the worst one in history, save perhaps Pol Pot, who deliberately killed anyone who seemed even vaguely smart. I don't think his monstrous actions teach us anything about eugenics.

Part of the reason for all this nonsense is that the term eugenics came to conflate two quite different concepts. The first is the general aim of improving the genetic stock of the human race. The second was a specific set of policies that got applied to do this.

If you can't change the genes of a population directly, you can still change their frequency. In terms of the existing population, we can't instantly clone adults, but we can kill them. In terms of children, we can either have policies designed to encourage more children from the people we want, or policies designed to discourage having children by the people we don't want.

Now, to give opponents their (very limited) due, a number of the policies implemented to achieve eugenic aims were in fact quite horrible. Killing entire populations is of course repugnant. Forced sterilisations of the disabled, the retarded or the mentally ill are something that we find very troubling and immoral.

Because this is a touchy subject, let me emphasise that I share the above concerns.

So for the purposes of argument, let us specify in advance, to allay any possible fears, that we shall rule out any policy whatsoever designed to specifically discourage anyone from having children, let alone killing anyone.

But what about the last category? What about just encouraging high-functioning, good people to have more children?

What in God's name is wrong with that? Why shouldn't that be something to be celebrated? Trying to bring more happy, healthy capable children into the world is about as far from the Holocaust as I can possibly imagine. So why on earth does it still get tarred with the same brush? Is it really so repugnant to increase tax breaks for rich parents? Is it appalling to run ad campaigns in low-crime-rate areas encouraging people to have more children?

Marketing and associations being what they are, I think we need a new term to describe the specific set of policies that encourage higher birth rates by well-adjusted people. I humbly submit 'progenetic policy' (a play on both genetics and progeny). But any new term would be helpful to sever people's inane association with things like forced sterilisations.

By this point in time, we have an overwhelming body of evidence from behavioral genetics that large amounts of personality traits and behaviors are significantly heritable, and have sizable genetic components. As a result, if you have more children being born with good genes, you will get more good outcomes. Isn't this something you'd want? This would seem obvious to me, but apparently it's not to a lot of people.

And the thing that is most perplexing to me about the current antipathy towards thinking about these questions is that not thinking about these issues doesn't make them go away.

Because the broader side of eugenics goes on whether you think about it or not.

There is no opt-out here. There is only eugenics, disgenics, or stasis.

Either the genetic traits associated with pro-social behavior, or IQ, or anything else, are becoming more prevalent in the population, less prevalent in the population, or they are staying at the same rate. So which is it? Which would you like it to be? When you design a new policy, it will either cause those frequencies to go up, or go down. This seems like something worth thinking about in advance.

You may not be interested in progenetics.

Progenetics, unlike Trotsky's quip about war, is not interested in you either.

But it is very interested in your children.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

OMG, did you hear what Trump said yesterday?

Why, exactly, do people spend so much time talking about the US election?

There is an argument that this election is particularly important, that the contrast between the candidates is large, and that the consequences for the US will be important. It's natural, therefore, that people should care.

There is definitely an element of truth to this. The only question is magnitude - how much does this actually explain? In the case of Americans, it's hard to say for sure.

So let's try a related question - why do foreigners spend so much time talking about the US election?

Being back in the old country, conversation over here turns to the subject of Trump with about the same regularity as it did in America. Which is to say, frequently. I have heard far more conversations about Trump than about Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's Prime Minister.

It's hard to argue that the consequences for Australia of the election are particularly far-reaching. Defense links will continue. Trade links will continue. It is certainly hard to argue that the consequences are farther reaching, in the short term, than the actions of Australia's own government.

This is the placebo test. If you take out the factor you think  is really important and get pretty much the same result, it suggests that the factor wasn't as important as you thought  it was.

So why do Australians care about American elections? Well, for the same reason that Australians listen to American music more than Australian music (see here if you don't believe me). Because it's mostly just entertainment, and the US is the cultural hegemon.

In other words, a substantial amount of the interest in politics seems to fill the role of gossip. Nobody knows their neighbours much any more, so we need to find some common ground of people to share titillating stories about what someone-or-other said the other day.

And for this purpose, anyone will do the trick. More importantly, co-ordinating on the same set of gossip topics is useful for facilitating conversation with strangers from lots of places. It's the reason why local politics made way for state politics, and state politics mostly made way for federal politics. Partly this is because of the shift in power, but partly it's just a usefully agreed-on topic to talk about.

And in the case of foreigners, it also fills another useful aspect of gossip - feeling superior to the subject being discussed. Gossip is the revenge of the powerless against the powerful, taking vicarious pleasure in their misfortunes and mishaps. Is it thus surprising that countries which are smaller and subordinate enjoy mocking the leaders of Leviathan, especially those of a conservative bent?

I think that this is one of the aspects of democratic systems that  helps explain why it's been useful to keep the form of democracy even as substantive power gets transferred to the judiciary and the bureaucracy. The Romans knew that you needed bread and circuses to keep the people occupied and in check.

Trump may or may not be a circus you enjoy per se, but that never really mattered, as long as he kept you engaged. Like all gossip, only the unusually honest will admit that they like it as gossip. Mostly it has to get dressed up in more important excuses to not feel tawdry.

The fate of the country depends on it, after all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The technology-dependence of sexual morality

From the distance of the present, especially for young people, the sexual morality of the past seems very odd. 

In particular, the idea of very strong and widespread norms against sex outside of marriage is something that is hard to actually conceive of.

Progressives find the idea repugnant, and can't imagine why anyone would ever have supported it.

Conservatives and reactionaries can be on board with the idea, but still, it actually stretches the imagination to think of what it would be like for everyone in Europe to agree with the idea.

But this is mostly a failure of imagination, albeit an understandable one.

What would be the minimum number of changes necessary in society that would reverse the change entirely?

You could rout all the current progressive institutions, and replace them with Islam, or the Catholic Church of 100 years ago, but these are not really minimalist changes. We want a societal Rube Goldberg machine, where we set off small changes somewhere else that get us the same outcome. 

There's an assumption buried there that the change might be reversible, of course, and perhaps it isn't.

But if it is, a good starting point is the set of things that might explain why the old regime got replaced by the new.

My suggestion - to understand pre 20th Century sexual morality, all you need to do is imagine a world without any good contraceptives, abortion, or birth control in general.

Which, by the way, was what it was like.

You can talk about the pullout method, or the rhythm method. But do you think these are going to be reliable for a teenage boy having a dalliance for the first time with a maid? Probably not.

And as soon as you do that, suddenly everything becomes obvious. 

Take away contraceptives, and sex leads to pregnancy with high likelihood. Take away reliable abortion, and everyone, rich or poor, has to deal with the the child. Take away modern wealth levels and the welfare state, and an unplanned child for a single woman is a catastrophe.

How would you, enlightened progressive, feel about your 14 year old daughter sleeping with her boyfriend if it meant a good chance of getting pregnant and needing to have the child? 

Suddenly the patriarchy doesn't seem like such a silly idea now, does it? Suddenly 'sex positive' messages to teenagers don't seem like society's number one priority, no?

But to reactionaries, the depressing flip side is also true.

Namely, if the absence of birth control was the the basis for monogamy and chastity before marriage as social norms, it's probably going to be quite hard to put that toothpaste back in the tube. You can't uninvent condoms or the pill.

This is like mass immigration - a social problem that's really a technological problem

So I predict that our current sexual free-for-all will go on at least until society degenerates to the point that it can't produce contraceptives anymore, at which point barbarism will restore chastity before marriage.

On the plus side, when this happens, it will also simultaneously solve the most difficult problem of our times, convincing rich, educated, civilised people to have more children. 

Give people the choice, and they will hack their own evolutionary reward systems and have a lot more sex and a lot fewer children.

Like Prometheus, we have stolen fire from the gods.

Like Prometheus, we cannot give it back.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stop cheering for politicians

At the risk of cementing my place as a curmudgeon, the National Conventions of the US political parties always struck me as thoroughly bizarre. This is an entirely bipartisan feeling - they're a freakshow.

My overwhelming feeling, whenever it shows the crowd shots, is: who are all these people? Don't they have anything better to do do?

To the Australian mindset, there is something quite unseemly about turning up to cheer for politicians, especially in these degraded times. There is a reason that these events don't take place in Australia. They simply wouldn't pass the laugh test. If you built it, no one would come. This includes people who voted for the candidate.

Let the parties sort out their own tawdry affairs in private, and then we'll vote for whichever of the two repulses us less, if we're minded to do so. (In Australia, you legally have no choice on that last point)

If there is one advantage to living in a democratic age, you at least have the freedom to have open contempt for one's notional leaders without running afoul of les majeste laws or the like. This is fortunate, because the system tends to produce leaders richly deserving of the contempt that you're licensed to have.

Why throw that away for this bunch of clowns? Why act like a subject voluntarily for someone whom it is unworthy to be subjected to? Honestly, if you could actually pick a single person to be ruled by, no questions asked, would either of these two candidates be among the top 1000 people you'd pick? The top 10,000?

The rather visceral reaction I have to political conventions is, I will freely admit, a mostly aesthetic response. It seems like obvious pandering and boob bait for bubbas. Sometimes, some of the relevant applause lines strike home to me. Sometimes, they say things that seem true, and even important or compelling.

But even then, not far beneath the surface is the feeling I have during the few times I've had the misfortune to watch romantic comedies. When watching the sad bits, I sometimes feel brief pangs of sadness. But they quickly get followed by a sense of resentment of the fact that my emotions are being manipulated here, for other people's benefit, and in a crude and obvious manner.

Doubt not that this is happening to you. Even if you honestly think it's a good idea to vote for this candidate. In fact, especially if you honestly think it's a good idea to vote for this candidate.

Now, it is possible that these are generally new and interesting times, and genuinely new and uniquely worthy leaders. A lot of people on the right are really excited about Donald Trump. Maybe they're right to be thrilled.

I would caution you with the following though.

If you're honest with yourself, and remember what you felt at the time, did you not feel at least some similar excitement at Mitt Romney's speech? At John Bloody McCain? When you look back now, are you not embarrassed to have supported these shameless, self-promoting fools? One is a Democrat-lite, and the other took the 'Invade the World / Invite the World' idea so strongly that he probably would have started a war with Russia over the sinkhole that is Ukraine.

If you're a Democrat, for an equivalent test, try and summon up now the same enthusiasm for John Kerry that you had in 2004. It simply cannot be done.

With the passage of time, the raw tribalism goes away, and the sheer mediocrity of the candidates offered in democratic elections becomes strikingly clear.

So if you (like me for sure in 2008, and me to some extent still in 2012) felt some excitement at the time for those clowns, you should feel a little chastened. You might reflect that perhaps, indeed, I am one of the rubes after all, or at least am not wholly immune from rube-like tendencies. Perhaps I just like cheering for my team, and this is what I'm actually feeling right now. Perhaps most of what strikes me as absurd about the other party's convention applies equally strongly to my own.

In related news, November cannot come fast enough.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Initial Thoughts on the Coup Attempt in Turkey

It is always hazardous writing about coup attempts before everything is done and dusted, but the recent one in Turkey is notable in several respects. 

Also, unusually for this type of thing, I was watching the updates in real time, so there's a few things that stuck out to me that might not be so obvious if you just read about it the next day.

The most striking thing is the extent to which everybody, myself included, misread the most important moment of the whole proceedings. 

It was this:

That is Turkish President Erdogan, giving a press conference by facetime, assuring people that everything is just fine.

Up to this point, you may recall, there had already been reports on official Turkish State TV that the coup had succeeded (past tense), that a peace council was now in charge of the country, and a curfew was in effect. The reports in the press were tending towards announcing the coup as a fait accompli.

So, given that background, what do you what do you make of this?

The popular response to this was twofold. Firstly, derision. A press conference by phone indeed is farcical. This kind of reaction was typical.


I mock, but I shouldn't. If my response had been fixed publicly in time, it probably wouldn't have looked much more sophisticated.

Second, most people looked at this and saw Baghdad Bob. It's hard to convey the impression that you're in charge of the situation from behind a phone. What it looks like is someone who's already packed their bags and is getting the hell out of dodge.

In other words, it wouldn't matter what he was saying, the real message was that it was over and the leader had fled. The coup had won.

It turns out, people were so focused on the absurdity of the situation that they missed what he was saying. 

He was telling people to take to the streets and protest, focusing on the main squares and airports.

And this was a really, really, important message to get across.

Because he had enough supporters that they really did take to the streets. You're not Baghdad Bob if you still have a massive army of supporters at your disposal, even if you are behind a phone screen.

The next thing that became apparent was something that the War Nerd has noted a long time ago - driving tanks around urban environments without infantry support, which is what the army was doing, is a recipe for disaster. This is especially true when the opponents have RPGs, but even in Istanbul there were rumors of tanks being disabled by people throwing sheets over them, pulling the crews out, etc. Not to mention the photos of civilians lying in front of tanks, daring the military to drive over them. Which it turns out they lacked the gumption to do. The apparently impregnable tanks being taken over by protestors became a really depressing metaphor for the whole event, at least if you  were hoping for it to succeed.

What's really, really important in coups is Schelling Points. Why is a facetime speech still really valuable? For the same reason that controlling State TV (which the coup plotters also did early on, and then lost) is really important, actually even more important. You thought TV was obsolete, didn't you? Not in a coup it's not.

Partly, it conveys a sense of official power. The main information outlet is now owned by the coup. Erdogan is reduced to a telephone, which is not nearly as good. So far, so good for the plotters, at least early on. 

But much more importantly, it conveys the same message to lots of people all at once. And it turns out facetime is just fine for this purpose. What the government forces couldn't do until that point was to coordinate the behavior of their supporters. When they all started hitting the streets at once, everything changed. Suddenly the military had a much bigger problem on its hands.

All security forces exist based on force projection and self-fulfilling beliefs. If everyone committed crimes all at once, the police don't have nearly enough people to arrest them all. Law and order is maintained because for the vast majority of people, each one believes that law enforcement will arrest him, John Q Citizen, if he commits a crime. Hence most people don't commit crimes, the belief in the authority of the police is maintained, and order persists. The only time this breaks is during a riot, when people realise that they can just loot stuff because there aren't enough police to arrest them all, and the police aren't doing anything anyway.

So this problem exists for security forces at the best of times. But it's even more severe during a coup.

In a coup attempt, everyone is looking to see which way everyone else is going to jump.

If people think the coup has succeeded, they will stop fighting, and the coup will actually succeed. This was what  was initially happening, as far as I can tell, in the initial stages.

But the reverse is true. If people think the coup is failing, they will resist it, and some of the soldiers will surrender to the police, and this will depress morale of the rest. Moreover, this starts to happen at the point when you're relying on the soldiers to start shooting ever more of their unarmed countrymen. That takes a lot of martial discipline at the best of times. 

What this tells you is that you can judge a lot about a coup's success just by who is making more official announcements. It doesn't even matter what they are. As soon as Erdogan's official statements started appearing regularly on my twitter feed, I strongly suspected that the gig was up.

As of writing, it's not "over" over. There keep being reports of ongoing fighting, jets bombing Erdogan's palace, jets bombing the airport (whose jets? great question). 

But you're sure not hearing anything out of the coup leaders, and that bodes very poorly for them.

You can also judge a coup's success by the passage of time. The longer it goes on, the worse it looks for the plotters. In the ideal case, it's instant and bloodless. But they're fighting to reverse the default presumption of power. When that momentum starts to falter, it can reverse very quickly.

To slightly modify the great Sun Tzu, though we have heard of stupid haste in coups, cleverness has rarely been seen associated with long delays.

Finally, there is the role of the west in all of this. 

A perennial question in matters of statecraft is the extent to which organised US power is actually running the world from behind the scenes, or catching up as a mostly clueless observer.

I don't think you and I will ever really know.

But one thing I do know is that all the official western outlets were conspicuously silent about the whole affair until after the protesters started hitting the streets. Then came the announcements that we need to support the democratically elected government of Turkey etc etc. Before that were rumors that Erdogan had been seeking asylum in Germany but his plane had been denied permission to land.

It seems that it's not just people in Turkey who are waiting to find out which way the wind is blowing. 

And because it failed, I doubt we will ever really know who was behind it. In the weird three-way war between the 1) secular parts of the Turkish military, 2) the Gulen cultists and 3) the Erdogan supporters, it's not clear whether this was group 2 alone, group 1 alone, or group 1 and 2 in combination. Erdogan is blaming this on Gulen, but he'd be crazy to not use the opportunity to consolidate his power over them, even if he thought it was the secularists.

Successful changes of government have a thousand fathers, but a failed coup is the most despised orphan of them all.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sing, Muse, of the incompetent rage of the police shooters

To my mind, there is only one genuinely surprising thing about the recent police shootings in Dallas, which is that they were carried out with unusual competence. This is also the main reason you're reading about them. Killing multiple police all at once, at a protest that ensured there was already a media presence, is too dramatic to ignore. You can't just paint it as some 'piece-a-shit' incident gone wrong (in Tom Wolfe's memorable phrase).

This puts the media in a difficult bind, because I suspect that they very much would like to ignore this black on white rage, like they do for most such rage. The only thing that could have made it worse would have been if the shooter had used something other than a gun. In that case, progressives would have been deprived of the opportunity to at least try to redirect the conversation to gun control, and the story would already be in the process of being actively memory-holed.

As soon as the reports were suggesting a sniper from an elevated position, my guess was that whoever was doing this had some formal training with this stuff. Sure enough, the shooter was in the Army Reserves. Initial reports said that it was multiple snipers from a triangulated position, which made it even more likely. Now they're saying that it's a lone wolf, but they would, wouldn't they?

To shoot 12 officers, kill 5 of them, and hit only 2 civilians, is a surprisingly difficult task, especially if the shooter was indeed acting alone.

The typical pattern of black rage against police is far less planned, and far more likely to result in immediate arrest before actually killing many, if any, police. To take just the last couple of police shootings in the immediate aftermath, we had the following:
Authorities say a man called 911 in south Georgia to report a break-in, then ambushed and shot the officer who came to investigate. Both men were wounded in the ensuing gunfire, and both are expected to survive.
That is far closer to what I expect. Point blank, ambush, incompetent, resulting in immediate arrest.

This was his best plan to kill as many police as possible - leave a 911 call with his own voice, calling a single policeman to his own home, just to make absolutely sure the police would know who the prime suspect was in the unlikely event that he actually got away. Moreover, his choice of target was a policeman who would already be slightly on edge due to being on an active call.

And that's what you get with actual forward planning. Without that, it's even more incompetent:
In a fourth attack early Friday, a motorist fired at a police car as the officer drove by. In all, four officers were wounded. The officer wounded outside St. Louis is in critical but stable condition. The wounded officers are expected to survive 
A suburban St. Louis police chief says a motorist shot an officer three times as the officer walked back to his car during a traffic stop.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says the suspect, who is in his 30s, ``ambushed'' the officer, who is in critical but stable condition. 
Just taking pot shots with a handgun at cops who happen to be in the vicinity. Great way to end up in prison for decades with a low probability of actually killing anybody, you really stuck it to the man.

As Randall Collins noted in his excellent book (first chapter free here), the probabilities of actually hitting someone in a combat scenario with a handgun are very low. Here's some numbers from police incidents, the highest annual police 'hit' probability from a gunfight is 25%, the lowest is 9%. Now subtract out most of the formal training that police receive, and you can see why these clowns have such a low chance of success in general.

We should be thankful to have such imbeciles as enemies.

The reality is that not many people in the west, black or white, are actually ready for the effective suicide mission of shooting at the police. If you start shooting at figures of official authority, the absolute best case scenario in the overwhelming number of cases is life imprisonment. Most pathways just end up with you dead, like this, or this.

At one extreme, I suspect that most of the the low impulse control rage shootings like the above happen because the perpetrators haven't actually considered the consequences much at all. This explains why they're so poorly carried out. In the west, it's easier to find thoroughly stupid people than suicidal people.

Of course, among those that have considered it in advance, hope springs eternal in the human breast. Most people cling to some small probability that they'll actually get away, even if they don't have a clear idea of the end game.

Hence the preference for being a sniper. It was true here, it was true with John Allen Muhammad. Being a sniper allows a mental "out". Perhaps I won't get caught. Perhaps I'll shoot a few, get away, and live to tell the tale.

If you fully embrace the idea that you're going to die, you could kill a whole lot more people. You might become a suicide bomber, and drive a truck bomb into police headquarters. The optics of this are very bad, of course. Suicide bomber goes to crazy terrorist. Not a good way to spread your message, whatever exactly it is.

So America will continue to have black rage shootings. This has happened before, of course. In the 1970s, this stuff was frequent among black power groups. Just look at the Zebra Murders, which nobody much seems to remember.

The worst worry is that more shooters begin to twig onto the tactics that actually work, in which case you don't want to be around to find out what happens to a) the number of police killed, and b) the homicide rate in your city as police retreat to areas of relative safety.

For the moment, the main thing saving us is the fact that people smart enough to carry out a competent mass shooting are deterred by the fact that they're also smart enough to realise that doing so is a death sentence.

Modernity produces both blind rage and suicide in considerable quantities. It is a small mercy that these don't usually coincide in the same person.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Suffering is Interesting, Ending Suffering is Uninteresting

One of the most important statements of Buddhist philosophy is the Four Noble Truths. These were taught by the Buddha in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the first discourse he made to the five ascetics, who he had worked with during his first years after becoming a monk.

The Four Noble Truths are stated thus:
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to re-becoming, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for disbecoming.
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.
Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. 

Existence is suffering.

The cause of suffering is craving.

The cessation of suffering comes from the giving up of craving.

The way to give up craving and reach the cessation of suffering is to follow the Eightfold Noble Path.

These may be true. They may be false. That is up to you to decide, as the Buddha himself said.

But what is intriguing to me is the relative levels of interest in each of the Four Noble Truths. If you check Google's search results, you get the following number of hits:

"First Noble Truth" - 54,000 results

"Second Noble Truth" - 30,100 results

"Third Noble Truth" - 31,700 results

"Fourth Noble Truth" - 28,100 results

So to judge accordingly, people are far more interested to find out that the Buddha thought the world is miserable than to find out how the Buddha proposed to deal with this predicament.

Less than 60% of the people who found the First Noble Truth insightful enough to quote it displayed any interest in finding out how to actually get rid of suffering. Of course, the Buddha may just be wrong about all this. But then why quote the First Truth in the first place?

Not only that, but having gotten to the end, we're told that the way forward is the Eightfold Noble Path.

"Eightfold Noble Path" - 17,800 results

This, of course, is even less interesting to people than the Noble Truths themselves, hence another third of people drop away. Oh, you mean he was actually serious about ending suffering, and gave a detailed description of how to get there? Bah, who's got time for that!

As a result, Buddhism more or less gets reduced in the popular conception to Brad Pitt's pithy phrase in 'Se7en'
"You're right. It's all f***ed up. It's a f***ing mess. We should all go live in a f***ing log cabin."
So why is the First Noble Truth much more interesting to people than the rest?

Perhaps they don't believe the rest. This is possible, but given the frequency of repetition, I hear the Brad Pitt version quoted as if it's the actual main point of Buddhism. I think most of the 24,000 odd people who don't get past Truth #1 honestly don't know what the others even say.

If they haven't heard the other three truths, it's because they didn't resonate in a way that made people want to repeat them. So why is that?

I suspect part of it comes from what The  Last Psychiatrist said about narcissism, here:
The unconscious doesn't care about happiness, or sadness, or gifts, or bullets.  It has one single goal, protect the ego, protect status quo.  Do not change and you will not die.  It will allow you to go to college across the country to escape your parents, but turn up the volume of their pre-recorded soundbites when you get there.  It will trick you into thinking you're making a huge life change, moving to this new city or marrying that great guy, even as everyone else around you can see what you can't, that Boulder is exactly like Oakland and he is just like the last guys.   And all the missed opportunities-- maybe I shouldn't, and isn't that high? and he probably already has a girlfriend, and I can't change careers at 44, and 3 months for the first 3/4 and going on ten years for the last fourth, and do I really deserve this?-- all of that is maintenance of the status quo, the ego. 
and here:
Grandiosity is only one possible manifestation of a psychic process that went awry.  The essence, the defining characteristic of narcissism is the isolated worldview, the one in which everyone else is not fully real, only part a person, and only the part the impacts you.
Narcissism is self-protective.  It simultaneously allows for the reduction of the other to prop status, while reassuring you that this perspective is not wrong or dangerous because it's not about superiority. 

The First Noble Truth, quoted alone and out of context, can sound ego-validating. Your suffering is a cosmic truth that is inescapable! The misfortune you're suffering is pre-ordained in the structure of the universe. It's not your fault - you're perfect the way you are!

Truths two through four, however, inform you that it is your fault. Whether you find this demoralising or inspiring says a lot about you. Your misery is due to your actions and thoughts, but it's something within your power to change. That should be great news, but of course it isn't necessarily. Faced with the choice between continuing to suffer and changing oneself, are you really surprised that lots of people prefer the former?

And the number that go on to find the details of how to actually do it is smaller still.

The Buddha, of course, was not a psychiatrist in the modern sense, and The Last Psychiatrist is no Buddhist either. But they find common ground in the following observation about the modern world - the main craving that people have is not really craving for material things or money, but attachment to their ideas of self.

So it's well worth pondering The Last Psychiatrist's description for how to deal with the problem of ego:
"Help me, please, I think I'm a narcissist.  What do I do?"
There are a hundred correct answers, yet all of them useless, all of them will fail precisely because you want to hear them.
There's only one that's universally effective, I've said it before and no one liked it. This is step 1: fake it.
You'll say: but this isn't a treatment, this doesn't make a real change in me, this isn't going to make me less of a narcissist if I'm faking!
All of those answers are the narcissism talking.  All of those answers miss the point: your treatment isn't for you, it's for everyone else.
If you do not understand this, repeat step 1.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Imperative of the Biological Imperative

Of all the problems facing western society, there is one question that I suspect will come to determine the answer to many of the rest. Will the West find a way to continue to have children, or will it not?

There is no escaping this question, because it is the one that evolution has ordained for us. Creatures that successfully reproduce replace those that do not. Traits that encourage reproductive success get selected for, regardless of what you personally think of them. 

Most people do not really comprehend this at a deep level, because they have odd and distorted ideas about what evolution is. 

In the popular conception, evolution is something that serves to make creatures awesome. It is effectively nature's version of the Apple R&D department.

Evolution made creatures crawl out of the primordial soup and survive on land. It made them grow wings and fly through the air. It made our brains grow until we became smarter than apes, and then we flew rockets to the moon. What's not to love? Everything gets better over time, because natural selection decreed it so.

Except that there's a hitch. These things only got selected for because the creatures with those traits had more children than those who didn't. Those children in turn survived to adulthood to reproduce, and the traits thus spread through the populace.

In an environment with scarce calories and plentiful disease and predators, being awesome was indeed a good way to outcompete other creatures. Being awesome may confer a survival advantage, but that is only a means to the real end of a reproduction advantage. Sever that link, and awesomeness is no longer selected for.

These days, humans only get predated by other humans, disease tends to mostly strike us down long after we are able to reproduce, and calories are so plentiful that the poor are fat.

So what gets selected for in that environment?

Well, the issue of surviving to be able to reproduce is mostly taken off the table. All that is left is the number of offspring.

If you want to find out what traits and ideas are being selected for right now, just look at what kinds of people are having more children. That's your answer.

As near as I can tell, in purely descriptive terms, what is being selected for is being from the third world, having low impulse control, and being religious. 

What is being selected against is being rich, being western, planning one's life choices carefully, and preferences that emphasize high investment in each child.

Of course, this trend can't last forever. The conditions that have produced the very environment of permanent calorie surplus seem unlikely to survive when the population becomes poor, third world and with low impulse control. But you probably don't want to be around to see what that looks like - it's kleptocratic third world famine, if there were no western countries to provide food aid. Things will get much, much worse before nature causes them to automatically get better again, when civilizational traits once again become eugenic.

If you, like me, value the ideas and culture of the West, then the decline of western populations has to be reversed. Without it, the traits that define the west simply become smaller and smaller among the population. It is possible that those western traits that are purely cultural in nature may still be passed on socially to the remaining population, even if they come from different demographic backgrounds. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The strategy is on brilliant display in the efforts by Republicans to convince Hispanics to vote for them. I leave you to judge its success for yourself.

In addition, the lack of native birth rates is a significant driver of the push for open borders. While there are some groups that push the idea for ideological reasons, part of the economic rationale frequently trotted out comes from the perils of a declining population. Economists care greatly that there will be fewer people to fund social security, work in low paid jobs, and be consumers in the economy. Economists are also, on the whole, oblivious to differences in human nature, and do not seem to much notice or care which people might be brought in for the job. But this can be turned into a strength, as long as you solve the birthrate problem - once native births are sufficient to meet all these economic objectives, business seems less likely to care if the borders get closed.

So if you want to preserve western society, you've got to figure out how to preserve western people.

In recent history, this has been considered a very difficult task. Even the great Lee Kuan Yew (who found this to be the biggest threat to his country) couldn't figure out how to do it, and came to the conclusion that the problem couldn't be solved with monetary incentives.

But is that really the only tool at our disposal? How about just plain old marketing? If marketing executives with sophisticated ad campaigns can sell us all sorts of junk from bottled water to beanie babies, surely they could sell us something worthwhile?

As it turns out, perhaps they can. This story from Denmark is among the most heartening things I've read in ages:
A racy ad campaign, started only nine months ago, has really hit the spot for Denmark's campaign for more baby-making. ...
It all started with cute appeals by Spies Travel to “give the world more babies” and “Do it for mom!” – which gave quite good data on how people tend to get groovier during a seaside vacation, as opposed to an alpine hike. 
Danes will have an average 14 percent more in offspring this summer than last, according to Cphpost, and according to Danmarks Statistic – the official national statistics bureau – 1,000 more babies were born in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2015.

 The problem may actually be amenable to successful policy interventions. And all they had to do was appeal to such timeless ideas as 'it's fun to have sex' and 'do it for your mum'.

I suspect most reactionaries find marketing to be a dreary and grubby business, unworthy of serious thinkers. Certainly in this regard, I think this is a mistake. Persuasion is necessary, whether you do it indirectly by changing cultures or directly by changing birth rates.

The alternative answers, like Spandrell's tongue-partly-in-cheek suggestion to convert to Islam, seem much worse. This is a problem that is not going away. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why did 'racist' achieve what 'bourgeois' never could?

Out of the things that distinguish neoreactionaries from conservatives, perhaps the most striking is the following: both are interested in what's wrong with the modern world, but the neoreactionaries are more interested in how exactly we got here. Conservatives, by contrast, seems to just assume that the answer is to fight harder against the things you don't like. Moreover, fighting is assumed instinctively to just involve the standard methods of protesting, voting, writing letters to the editor, buying the right bumper stickers etc. Conservatives do not seem to notice that they've been trying those things for quite a long time now, and that's how we got to the present world.

It is this, perhaps more than anything else, that turned me away from mainstream conservatism. They keep losing, they don't know why they keep losing, and they're not devoting much thought to trying to figure out the answer.

So in the spirit of understanding losses, here's something I've been pondering:

Cultural Marxism has proven far more effective at taking over the west than Economic Marxism ever was.

Put simply, it is very hard to think of a slur that the left had at its disposal with anything like the power of 'racist'.

It is a widely mocked term by the right, of course, and justly so.

But that's not really the point, is it? The point rather is that any borderline credible accusation of racism (or most of the other -isms and -phobias) is likely to be career-ending, and everyone knows it. The people doing the mocking tend not to use their real names, or not to have careers in corporate America. By contrast, in 1950 it was being a communist that was liable to get you fired. Being a Nazi probably would have been dicey too, but it seems unlikely that just casually throwing around accusations of nazism in 1950 would have had anything like the same effect as accusations of racism today. Being accused of being 'bourgeois' or 'a capitalist' would have just been laughed at.

It's not just jobs either. The desire to show that one isn't racist seems to have captured the zeitgeist almost completely. Europe is in the process of allowing a flash mob invasion by millions of hostile third world young men just to prove how non-racist they are. There is resistance, of course, which gets beaten down with water cannon and prison cell. But popular resistance is not the puzzling bit. The non-resisters are almost sui generis in human history - wanting to give away their own country to prove how generous they are.

As an organising principle, racism seems to be considered these days to be the worst, if not the only sin. Rather striking for a term that was only coined in the mid 1930's.

And so the neoreactionary question poses itself - why did Cultural Marxism win where Economic Marxism failed?

I don't know for sure, but I can think of a few possible contributing causes.

Firstly, Economic Marxism was always liable to generate reasonably firm opposition from big business, because it directly threatened their existence. Old school Marxists were openly hostile to capitalism, and that meant that corporate America knew which side of the fight they would prosper more under. So they were willing to go along with things like the Hollywood blacklists of communists. Economic Marxism was an existential threat to a publicly listed company, so they were more willing to fight it.

By contrast, the costs that seem to be imposed by cultural Marxism are just a few diversity seminars, some wasted money on sinecures for bogus jobs like 'director of outreach' or 'diversity officer' and the like, and the occasional donation to shakedown artists like Al Sharpton. This is a pain, but is just viewed as the costs of doing business. Corporate America probably doesn't like those costs, but it's less important than staying on the right side of those in power, so they do it.

Secondly, cultural Marxism picked a set of traits that better aligned with tribal identity. All Marxism was about inciting group conflict in order to produce a big enough coalition to overthrow the existing order. But economic Marxism wanted people to unite based on their level of wealth. A poor factory worker in Detroit was meant to truly feel a bond of struggle with a peasant in Bolivia. And this simply isn't how people think of identity. Cultural Marxism appealed most strongly to things that people always  identified with, namely race, nationality and religion. It was much easier to get blacks to unite their opposition, or Muslims, or Hispanics, than the world's peasants.

But this leaves a puzzle - wouldn't this evoke a strong response by the antagonised classes, such as middle class whites?

I think this leads to the third reason - the carving up of multiple overlapping identity groups, most notably gender and sexuality. This is a way of letting white women or white gay men get in on the winning grievance team, all the better to increase the alliance against the hated white straight Christian males. Intersectionality was always a ridiculous premise, designed purely to paper over the fact that lots of the groups in the diversity coalition don't actually  like each other very much. But this only becomes a problem after the existing order is overthrown.

Even with all this, it's still an unsatisfying explanation. It's an obviously incomplete list, and I think it's important to understand it better.

"Cthulu always swims left" may be a good starting observation, but eventually you want to figure out how, if not why.