Thursday, July 2, 2020

On the Toppling of Statues

In the latest round of the imbroglio involving the death of George Floyd, the focus has moved from looting stores to toppling statues. This probably serves multiple purposes. First off, some of the stores represent actually important economic interests, and blue city mayors still somewhat know who’s paying the bills. Not so much that they’re willing to stand up to a mob in the process of looting, of course. But enough that if rage can be directed towards more socially useful outlets, like destroying statues of people liked by conservatives, then so much the better. It keeps the mob fired up in the leadup to the 2020 elections, but harms no vital interests of anybody important.

The initial outrage focused on monuments to the Confederates. It’s 2020, so the Civil War that ended in 1865 is of course a pressing political issue. Among the various ironies is that today’s progressive mob takes a far harsher line than the actual men who fought and died to defeat the Confederacy. Lincoln told the band to play Dixie. Grant let the surrendering Confederate officers keep their weapons and horses. Reconstruction may not have been much fun if you were a civilian in the South, but there’s no doubt that there was a genuine attempt to unify the country after the war finished, and respecting each other’s heroes was a way to preserve a cultural truce. If we’re all going to be stuck together in the Hotel California of countries that you can check out of but never leave, we may as well try to rub along together. This is not a very popular sentiment anymore, it suffices to say.

But as has been obvious to anyone paying attention, the people who wanted statues toppled were never going to stop with the Confederates. Eventually they would assuredly come for Jefferson, Washington, and anyone else who owned slaves. Sure enough, Washington statues have been vandalized in New York and Portland. The city of Columbus, Ohio, recently took down their statue of Columbus, proving that the "is this headline from the Onion or the NYT" game gets harder every day. In case you thought this was part of a principled and thought out set of targets, they also vandalized statues of Norwegian anti-slavery crusaders, Catholic saints, and Cervantes, who was himself a slave. 

Like many things that seem obvious in hindsight, statues exist in only two types of societies – those with a very high level of trust, and extremely heavily-policed authoritarian states. This realization is only slowly occurring to people as it becomes obvious that America is no longer a high trust society, and all sorts of institutions that relied on this now fail to work. Accurate political polling is another casualty, for instance. “Hello stranger who we just called! You don’t know who we are, but do you support the government? You’ve got no financial incentive to tell us, and we’re recording your answer in a database!”. The amazing thing is that anybody ever answered truthfully at all.

A statue in a public space is like the cultural equivalent of a foreign embassy. In the face of concerted domestic opposition, it is completely indefensible from a military point of view. In theory, the domestic government could expend huge resources to police it night and day to stop the mob burning it down. But this is rarely worth it, either for an embassy, or a statue. At the point that you have to do this for any extended period of time, you’re facing a losing battle, and you should probably pack it up and go home. A statue is even worse – an embassy is at least trivially protected against minor attacks, because it has to defend the lives of real people who are important at least to the home country. A statue is physically solid, but socially fragile – an undefended object of art and beauty that can only exist with the consent of a huge majority of the populace. This can be because the person is almost universally revered. It can be because people are tolerant of other people’s heroes, even if they’re not their own. It can be because there’s very strong norms against vandalism. Or, like the statues of Saddam, it can be a flex on the populace under threat of being killed or mutilated for disrespecting the sovereign.

Increasingly, none of these conditions hold in modern America. This may seem hyperbolic to say. But let’s put it this way. Suppose you are in charge of an insurance business. Someone comes to you wanting to obtain insurance for their statue. What annual premium, in terms of percentage of replacement cost, would you charge for a randomly chosen statue in America right now? I’d say the lowest would be the Martin Luther King statue in DC. But the rest? If the cost were less than 25% of replacement, I’d be kind of amazed. There'd probably be a considerable number where the premium would be above 100%, on the assumption that if it got rebuilt, it would be torn down again before the year was out. 

The whole thing is strikingly reminiscent of Godwin’s Law:  “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” 

Every day, the line between frenzied internet discussion and real life gets blurrier. Social media, which has been a complete poison on society, amplifies and shortens the clickbait/outrage/vindictive response/ schadenfreude/retweet cycle. Americans have become addicted to the pleasure of righteous indignation, and the media, traditional and social, happily provides.

The literal mob has become indistinguishable from the mob of the Facebook feed. And as outrage porn and mob violence goes on, the probability that someone crazy and motivated decides that a given statue is actually comparable to Hitler goes to one.

Eventually, all the statues will get torn down.

If you don’t believe me yet, don’t worry, you will.

And there are many things one could opine about regarding this. The loss of aesthetics. The loss of historical understanding and tradition. The loss of heroes.

But I want to focus on one bit in particular.

When the statues of Washington and Jefferson all get removed, and nobody stands for the national anthem any more so they stop playing it, and cities and towns start deciding they don’t want to celebrate the 4th of July because America’s founding was racist back in 1619, and first the loonie fringe then the New York Times start writing articles wondering if we should rename Washington DC to Kingtown…

…at what point in all this do people realize that there are literally no more symbols that unify Americans as a people anymore?

That there are no more symbols of the general feeling of mutual camaraderie and shared history and purpose as a nation, because there actually is no general feeling of mutual camaraderie and shared history and purpose as a nation?

And if you, like me, think that the above statements already apply, then the current governing arrangements and general social compact may be a great deal more fragile and brittle right now than most people give it credit for.

People think about governmental collapse like death – something that only happens to other people, but never to me personally. Well, one day, for the nation as a whole, it will. And when it did, for nations in the past, it was generally not anticipated by most of the major parties very shortly beforehand, whether it’s the Fall of Rome, the Russian revolution, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. This doesn’t mean it’s going to happen soon in America, of course. But it does mean that your feeling that it probably isn’t likely now is not actually a strong signal one way or the other, because it never seemed likely, even when it was imminent. So you should revert at least to the unconditional probability, which is low, but not that low.

And if you were to start wondering about useful conditioning information, a pretty good place to start would be widespread belief among the elites of the illegitimacy of the governing regime. 

Of course, we struggle to see this in America, because we don’t have clear language with which to express what “the governing regime” is. We can say if people disliked Czar Nicholas II, or even the Communist Party. But what would it mean to dislike the US government as a whole? It certainly doesn’t map to disliking Trump – in that case, there’s near universal elite hatred. Are people still sentimental about elections and the democratic process? The attachment seems to mostly exist as an expression of hate – a way to stick it to the other side. It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard the left express the sentiment that, sure, our guy lost, but they lost in a democratic election, and in the end that’s more important. If Trump loses, I don’t expect much of this on the right either, save the obviously useless grifters of the professional Never Trump class. And if not that, then what? The civil service? Don't make me laugh. Our robust economy creating broad prosperity? Bueller?

In other words, if there is no substantial opposition to the current governing arrangements, this may simply stem from a) a lack of imagination about alternatives, and b) a lack of clear coordination on what would replace the status quo. In East Germany, you had both. Levis and Rock and Roll were on display on the other side of the wall, and collapse just meant handing over the keys to City Hall to those guys. Now, it’s a little thornier. But if you were to characterise USG as a “regime”, the way that Communist East Germany was a regime, or Czarist Russia was a regime – do you see very much love for the USG regime going around at the moment, on either side of the political aisle? It's hard to see this, because a regime is always "them" - the governing, as opposed to the governed. Americans are trained to see themselves as the governing, due to the absurd fiction about the importance, both practical and spiritual, of  the pico-watt of political power they get to exercise at the polling booth every four years. This delusion holds true, notwithstanding that pushing the same button keeps producing the same unsatisfactory results. This delusion, plus sheer inertia, may be the only glue holding this jalopy together. Every year, it gets a little dicier.

At the moment, I don’t see anything dramatic happening before the election at least. I was somewhat nervous on the main Saturday night of protests recently, however, notwithstanding my previous post.

But let’s put it this way. If there were a VIX index for political outcomes, my estimate of the 5 year value just went up substantially this past month.

You cannot have a nation destroy all the symbols of itself and expect everything to just proceed as before.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

On the Recent Looting

After several nights of rioting in the city you live in, you can be forgiven for thinking that law and order has completely broken down, and state collapse is imminent. The spread of the riots has ironically mirrored the coronavirus it replaced in the news - everyone looks on filled with horror and catharsis at the chaos in some other city, sure it won't happen to them...until it does. Now there are riots in Paris. Of course there are. 

It is jarring to most normal people’s sense of the world though. Both the left and the right agree that the police are powerful, and can mess you up. The right is mostly happy about this, and the left is mostly unhappy. But they both agree that the police are terrifying if you get on the wrong side of them.

But here we are, and the police suddenly seem powerless. The coin has both sides. On one side, the riot police are mostly maintaining their ground – keeping organized lines, being disciplined in the face of mobs yelling at them, not giving provocation but mostly not retreating, which would be psychologically much worse.

And yet, you wake up the next day, and all the stores are trashed. You listen to the police scanner and it’s a continuous stream of “cricket wireless store has been looted, please send a team to clean it up. 50 kids looting the Macy’s. The bookstore on 5th Avenue has been looted, please send a team to board it up.” And so on, and so on. And you realize pretty quickly that when it comes to property damage, they are being totally responsive, waiting for it to happen, and there is no serious attempt being made to stop the thugs from trashing your store. 

Actually, it’s worse than that. If you choose to defend with a gun your uninsured store that represents your life savings, and need to actually use it, there’s a 50/50 chance that you’re going to jail for a long time. They won’t be there to stop the looters from trashing your store, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be there to arrest you if you stop them yourself. 

I know some reactionary friends that have gotten extremely black-pilled over this in the last few days. The only solace is that many of the big corporate stores being trashed are the same ones that have been pushing woke capital so hard for the past decade. Well, what goes around comes around. But this is a pretty grim and ironic schadenfreude beverage with which to wash down the bitter pill that the police aren’t able to protect order, and the forces of disorder and chaos are entirely in the ascendency. 

But even in this grim spot, some contrary perspectives stand out. 

First, there have been many riots. Indeed, you’ve lived through them. And for the proper perspective, you need to consider ones that are quite emotionally far removed. For instance, the 2015 Ferguson riots, or the Baltimore riots, are probably things you might have had quite strong emotional responses to at the time, one way or another. So instead think about the 2010 London riots, where (be honest), you can’t even remember what they were all about – some guy got killed while being pursued by police, or something. At the time, you probably thought it was an indication of how pissweak the British cops were, and the complete powerlessness of the British state. Well, the joke's on us, apparently.  

But the more important question is … what were the long term consequences of those riots for London? Would you say, to a first approximation…nothing? You can’t even connect it to the only thing Yanks know about Britain, namely Brexit – London itself was firmly Remain. Same with the LA riots. We got some policing reforms in LA, I think. We got Roof Koreans memes. Did LA collapse? Did law and order in LA collapse, more than for a few days? Not that I’ve heard of. 

A simple way to clarify consequences is with real estate. If you bought in Detroit in 1968, yeah, you lost everything. Sometimes, it really is a disaster. But if you bought in Brixton in 1981, or LA in 1992 (maybe not in South Central itself), or London in 2010, you made out extremely well. Even Ferguson has more than recovered since 2015. Paris, I’m not so sure – probably too early to tell, and the protests there seem more chronic than acute. Better yet, what were the consequences for the riots around the WTO protests in Seattle in the late 90s? I bet you didn't even remember those. 

(An aside I can’t forbear including – I hate idiots glorifying riots, and I generally dislike contemporary free verse, but if you want to learn how to do a Jamaican accent, there is no better source than Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Di Great Insohreckshan”, written about the Brixton riots, which I somehow quite like)

Mostly, these things die down. Mostly, the mob has no actual important political consequences. Mostly, the good deal of ruin in a nation or a city lives to survive another day. 

And if you want to know why, I think you need to pay attention to the dog that didn’t bark here. Which is the following.

These are massive, widespread riots. Thousands and thousands in the streets, looting, burning, throwing projectiles at the cops. 

But where are the guns?

America is absolutely awash in cheap, reliable handguns. They are everywhere. We are told this constantly. You turn up expecting to get in a violent confrontation with armed men representing the state, who have some legal backing to literally kill you if you get violent. To this confrontation, you bring…a frozen water bottle? Fireworks? The conspiracy theory doing the rounds on twitter was that sinister forces were strategically leaving pallets of bricks near protest points for rioters to throw. Whatever you think of that rumor, it’s hard not to be reminded of Richard Nixon’s remarks about Operation Eagle Claw, to use eight helicopters filled with troops  to rescue the American hostages in Iran. “Eight? Why not a thousand? It’s not like we don’t have them!”. Why not leave a pallet filled with ARs instead? Hell, lots of these guys have their own guns already. Even if Soros is stingy with the funding, it doesn’t cost anything to tell all the rioters to bring their glocks along. 

Not only that, but the police themselves turn up comically under-armed relative to 99% of their violent confrontations. This was one of the most pointed critiques of police behavior recently. A large and recent libertarian criticism of police deparments has been their increasing militarization in the past two decades or so. Every rinky-dink small town police department now has to have a poorly trained SWAT team and a Bearcat. These things generally get used to implement no-knock raids on local coke dealers, which is bad enough as an overreaction. But still! The one time some actual military force actually might make a big difference to the outcome, and they turn up with sticks! 

There are various ways to read this, and they seem to lie on a continuum of what you think about human behavior in this context, ranging from fake and pisspoor, to calculating and frightening. I never know how much to weight each one. 

At one extreme is the thesis I associate most with Randall Collins book, Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory. He basically says that, contrary to what most people think, the average person doesn’t like inflicting violence on others, isn’t good at it, and looks for reasons to avoid or end it. Violent confrontations are typically characterized by fear and tension on both sides. When violence does happen, it fits into a small number of categories – ganging up on the weak, “forward panics” (where a previously evenly matched confrontation suddenly gets resolved in one side’s favor – think a collapse of one army and a rout on a battlefield), ritualized violence like sports, and raucous violence like riots. 

In other words, most people at the riot aren't really trying to inflict violence on the police or civilians, because they're not really interested in that. His characterizes the psychology of looting as follows:

Looting and destroying property is a relatively mild form of violence that arises within moral holidays, when authority has broken down. … Mass participation in looting is a key device for making a riot last, indeed for building it up into a notable event, getting it political attention in the enemy camp or in the eyes of the wider public. The looters themselves generally lack a political ideology; politicized black civil rights activists in the 1960s race riots were often disgusted with the looting and the attitude of the looters. Tilly (2003) thus categorized these riots as only marginally racial protests that degenerated into opportunistically seeking private gain. But this is to omit the part that looting, along with arson, play in the dynamics of riots: looting is a mass recruiter and a momentum sustainer. Without it, if the riot took nothing but the form of violent confrontations with the police, the riot could be easily dealt with by police withdrawing until the crowd became bored, drifted away, and disassembled; or it could be put down by putting in overwhelming force against the inevitable small group that would actively confront it. Looters are the foot-soldiers of a riot; better put, they are the half-hearted hanging-back, the 85 percent who never fire their guns. Looting is a brilliant tactical invention – so to speak, because no one invented it – since it takes the relatively useless part of the supporters and onlookers of an insurrection and turns them into activists of sorts, keeping alive the emotional atmosphere that is where a moral holiday lives or dies. 

In the Collins view, rioting is mostly farce, and people smash store windows because it’s fun. Collins talks about interesting facts consistent with this – much of what people steal is of minimal value, and sometimes they don’t even know what they’re going to do with it. Looters generally don’t steal from each other, but mostly are egging each other on instead. And even within the moral holiday, there are relatively few instances of sexual assault, which isn’t what you’d expect if it were a total free for all with no civic order. There’s a particular atmosphere to it. 

In this reading, the most of the people at the riots just like smashing things and taking stuff. This provides cover for a much smaller group that actually wants to inflict real violence. Even within the violent contingent, a lot of the actual violence has a pantomime, staged aspect. On the side of the rioters, this is mostly like soccer hooliganism. If the Chelsea Headhunters want to get in a biffo with the Everton County Road Cutters, they have to organize when and where they’re going to turn up, and set the ground rules on what weapons are allowed. If the other guys get killed, the cops are going to get involved and then the fun is over, so you can’t have knives or guns.

But putting a bullet in a cop's head, even if you could get away with it, just doesn't seem like fun to the average person, even the average person at a riot. Mostly, people don't like inflicting real violence. As Collins notes, at gun ranges, people vastly prefer to shoot at highly stylized silhouettes, zombies, circles - anything but photos of actual humans. And when they do, they mostly want the bad guys on the target to be wearing sunglasses, so you don't have to see their eyes. It's disconcerting, even when it's just a photo. 

If you take the Collins view, these riots, like most riots, are very unlikely to have any important political consequences, and will likely peter out in a few days at most, as people just get bored. I think this is the way to bet, actually. Social media can sustain things much longer than in previous days, but eventually the momentum of it wears off. 

The one weak part of the Collins these, however, is that it doesn’t address at all the question of police. How come they’re so restrained? Do they have no other choice? Admittedly, in the 60s they sent in troops to actually shoot the place up, so back then they did feel they had a choice. Collins seems to implicitly think they just get overwhelmed, which is certainly part of it. 

But the other extreme version of the dynamics is the game theory aspect. Stated briefly, it is as follows – guns are to mobs and police what nuclear weapons are to war. They absolutely affect the strategic calculation, but both sides have strong incentives to make sure they’re off the equilibrium path. 

Which is to say, the police are not actually allowing anarchy. Arresting business owners that shoot at looters is, on its face, a pretty striking example of anarcho-tyranny. But the other reading is as follows. The police in the riot gear have retreated to a temporary but well-understood revised rules of engagement, which are these. Only minimal resources will get deployed to stop violence against property, and you will likely only get in trouble if you are somehow actually caught in the act. Projectiles will be met with tear gas, and if necessary, with rubber bullets. But if you start shooting real guns or using real knives and real baseball bats, at best you’re going to jail for a long time, and lots of resources will be deployed to find you. If it’s against us (the cops), you’re going home in a body bag. The police not being deployed to protect shop windows are being reserved to make extra sure of this fact. 

Don't get me wrong, the anarcho-tyranny reading still has a fair bit to recommend. But the chief difference is the claim that this isn't really anarchy - if they stopped preventing people burning buildings, or robbing houses, then you'd see real death and destruction. 

But both theories beat the hell out of the mainstream explanation for police restraint, which is that city governments are rationally acting to not inflame the mob, because this would risk provoking an even bigger backlash, and they’d lose control entirely. Militarily, this is not a hard problem. An uncoordinated, untrained, and incoherent mob gets slaughtered by a well-armed, well-trained army. Not only that, but the idea of violent counter-escalation is trivially disproved by this video. Watch it, it’s astounding.

Turns out the Latin Kings gang in Chicago takes a dim view to people turning up to loot their neighborhood. And they’ll pull out a piece and tell you to GTFO, or you’ll get shot. Everybody knows that they are serious. Everybody knows that smashing the liquor store window is not worth it. So the window doesn’t get smashed. More importantly, nobody actually needs to get shot either. In this respect, the Latin Kings are able to prevent property damage, which is a pretty important measure of governance, than the CPD. The comparison is not quite fair, because the Kings just need to defend a small patch of turf, don’t mind beating the wrong people up to achieve it, and there is likely complete organizational support for all this. The CPD has to pacify the whole city, while being instructed by a deeply suspicious city government and legal apparatus that has made clear that they may not protect them from legal consequences themselves if any riot prevention happens to look bad on camera. But still. 

I seriously can’t get over that video. Is there anyone alive who actually thinks that the Latin Kings shooting a looter would be a bad idea because more looters would come back and try to start s*** with the Latin Kings? To ask it is to laugh. As Keyser Soze said, they have the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t. Not just being willing to shoot the gun. But being willing to do it in defense of a shop window. Firing the nukes is always off the equilibrium path. But it makes a great deal of difference to what happens as to what issues each of the two sides is willing to go nuclear on.

And it’s easy to see how the CPD ceding effective authority to the Latin Kings looks like the collapse of late Roman Britain. In that case, a failing state exercised less and less authority over its far flung regions. Local garrison commanders were still in charge, notionally on behalf of Rome. But Rome hasn’t sent any word for a decade, and hasn’t sent any funds in much longer. Taxes are levied in kind on the local populace. And the main guy is able to keep his band of men together, and provide desperately needed defense against the raiding Picts and Scoti. Do this long enough, and now you’re in charge. You can call yourself Warlord, or King, or Centurion, or whatever. It ultimately doesn’t matter. You’re now the government. If the future of America is Latin Kings government, the depressing prospect is that you might get a smaller chance of having your windows smashed (although likely a higher chance of getting shot).

But as a gambling man, I don’t think it will come to that. Roman Britain collapsed slowly, but it didn’t collapse from riots (although Constantinople almost did, so who knows). 

Randall Collins wrote "Violence" in 2008. Back then it was still acceptable in polite society to say that rioters smash windows because smashing windows is fun to a lot of people. I don't think he'd be able to write that today under his real name with respect to the current protests - he'd be run out of the Penn Sociology Department on a rail. These riots did manage to kill stone dead the endless drumbeat of virus stories, and even if things get worse, I suspect it will be hard to get people to care in the same way as before, once it became clear that it was mostly the elderly dying anyway. Serious social distancing is likely gone for good, whether for better or worse. 

The bottom line, though, is that I think this will probably fizzle in a few days, without important long term consequences. I might be wrong – if there were a political VIX index, it would be considerably elevated. But not December 2008 elevated, nor March 2020 elevated.  Then again, betting that the great deal of ruin in a nation will continue to last is like the carry trade. It works great, but every now and then you lose your shirt. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

On Ernst Jünger, from WW1 to WW2

I started reading Storm of Steel during the first weeks of the lockdown. It was strangely therapeutic to read about the sheer savage carnage of the trenches of World War I. When one is housebound for an extended period of time, there's a peculiar pleasure in reading about problems both wildly different from and much worse than one's own minor inconveniences. It brought to mind Lloyd Blankfein's riposte to a whining Goldman employee back in the 2008 financial crisis - "You're getting out of a Mercedes to go to the New York Federal Reserve. You're not getting out of a Higgins boat on Omaha Beach."

(As a side note, I guess we now officially have to start adding "2008" to the words "financial crisis" from here on out.)

Jünger is a fascinating character. It's fair to say that if you were born in 1895 in Heidelberg, and died still in Germany 1998, you were going to have seen some s*** in the interim. You will have lived as an adult through five pretty wildly different regimes - pre-war Imperial Germany through WW1, the chaos and decadence of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazi Germany and WW2, Cold War West Germany, and finally re-unified Germany.

Especially early on, successive new regimes put the citizens somewhat in the position of Poles over the course of WW2. Each new army comes marching through, and demands loyalty from you, while lashing out at those who are deemed to have supported the last army. Then the current lot gets tossed out, and the new army takes the same attitude. Repeat enough times, and you're almost guaranteed to be on the receiving end of someone's fury. Just surviving requires a lot of luck.

So if you manage to not only survive intact in each regime, but even to be broadly celebrated in most of them, you've pulled off a pretty remarkable feat. You might do it through extreme political cunning and chicanery, trimming your sails just enough in each period. Or you might do it by talent, being someone that everyone wants to have on their side. You obviously also need a lot of luck in either case. 

Jünger was one of only eleven infantry commanders in WW1 to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, the highest military honors of the German Empire, which doesn't suggest the kind of person noted for just keeping their head down and staying out of needless danger. 

His attitude to being in the trenches on the Western front seems to approximately be that death might come at any point, often quite randomly, so you may as well be brave and fight well in the meantime, since war is an ennobling, even transcendental experience. This is the kind of attitude that a lot of people probably wish they'd have if they were actually tested, but few of us ever get to really find out. Well, Jünger sure did. As he describes at the end of the book:
"During the endless hours flat on your back, you try to distract yourself to pass the time; once, I reckoned up my wounds. Leaving out trifles such as ricochets and grazes, I was hit at least fourteen times, these being five bullets, two shell splinters, one shrapnel ball, four hand grenade splinters and two bullet splinters, which, with entry and exit wounds, left me with an even twenty scars. In the course of this war, where so much of the firing was done blindly into empty space, I still managed to get myself targeted no fewer than eleven times. I felt every justification, therefore, in donning the gold wound-stripes, which arrived for me one day."
Not only that, but almost as noteworthy is the parts left out of the story as being insufficiently interesting. Such as joining up with the French Foreign legion a year before the war, illegally, and then deserting. And then signing up to the German Army almost as soon as the war started.

Karl Marlantes' foreword gives a great summary:
"It should surprise no one that Jünger's book contains almost no political, moral, or philosophical commentary: Young men generally don't think deeply or philosophize about most things. But the lack of such commentary is not just because of the author's age; it is also because Storm of Steel was written by the type of person I call a "born warrior". Born warriors are interested in war and fighting, not philosophy or politics."
And indeed, that is how the book reads. The strongest hint of an explicitly literary bent is that Jünger manages to invent lots of colorful imagery to describe the endless aspects of shelling, bombing, and shooting. When you would otherwise have to say "and there were a buttload of terrifying shells falling at that time" roughly five hundred times during the book, managing to not repeat yourself in this regard is actually quite a feat.

But as an overall tone, Storm of Steel manages to tread a remarkable line of being very matter of fact and compelling about the scenes of carnage, but without conveying a false sense of "no big deal" type braggadocio, nor self-pitying complaint, nor adventurism for its own sake. For instance, here's one extended scene of a foray towards British lines, which I picked out at random:
"In quick time, we had crept up to the enemy barrier. Just before it, we came across a pretty stout and well-insulated wire in some long grass. I was of the opinion that information was important here, and instructed Wohlgemut to cut off a piece and take it with him. While he was sawing away at it with - for want of more appropriate tools - a cigar clipper, we heard something jingling the wire; a few British soldiers appeared and started working without noticing us, pressed as we were in the long grass.

Mindful of our hard time on the previous expedition, I breathed 'Wohlgemut, toss a hand grenade in that lot!'
'Lieutenant, shouldn't we let them work a bit more first?'
'Ensign, that was an order!'

Even here, in this wasteland, the magic words took effect. With the sinking feeling of a man embarking on an uncertain adventure, I listened to the dry crackle of the pulled fuse, and watched Wohlgemut, to offer less of a target, trundle, almost roll the grenade at the British group. It stopped in a thicket, almost in the middle of them; they seemed not to have seen anything. A flash of lightning lit up their sprawling figures. With a should of 'You are prisoners!' we launched ourselves like tigers into the dense white smoke. A desperate scene developed in fractions of seconds. I held my pistol in the middle of a face that seemed to loom out of the dark at me like a pale mask. A shadow slammed back against the barbed wire with a grunt. There was a ghastly cry, a sort of 'Wah!' - of the kind that people only produce when they've seen a ghost. On my left, Wohlgemut was banging away with his pistol, while Bartels in his excitement was throwing a hand grenade in our midst. 

After one shot, the magazine, had clicked out of my pistol grip. I stood yelling in front of a Briton who in his horror was pressing his back into the barbed wire, and kept pulling the trigger. Nothing happened - it was like a dream of impotence. Sounds came from the trench in front of us. Shouts rang out, a machine gun clattered into life. We jumped away. Once more I stopped in a crater and aimed my pistol at a shadowy form that was pursuing me. This time, it was just as well it didn't fire, because it was Birkner, whom I had supposed to be safely back long ago.

Then we raced towards our lines. Just before our wire, the bullets were coming so thick and fast that I had to leap into a water-filled, wire-laced mine crater. Dangling over the water on the swaying wire, I heard the bullets rushing past me like a huge swarm of bees, while scraps of wire and metal shards sliced into the rim of the crater. After half an hour or so, once the firing had abated, I made my way over our entanglements and leaped into our trench, to an enthusiastic reception. Wohlgemut and Bartels were already back; and another half an hour later, so was Birkner. We were all pleased at the happy outcome, and only regretted that once again our intended captive had managed to get away. It was only afterwards that I noticed that the experience had taken its toll on my nerves, when I was lying on my pallet in my dugout with teeth chattering, and quite unable to sleep. Rather, I had the sensation of a sort of supreme wakeness - as if I had a little electric bell going off somewhere in my body. The following morning, I could hardly walk, because over one knee (over other, historic injuries) I had a long scrape from the barbed wire, while the other had caught some shards from Bartels' hand grenade.

These short expeditions, where a man takes his life in his hands, were a good means of testing our mettle and interrupting the monotony of trench life. There's nothing worse for a soldier than boredom. 
There are dozens of stories like this. And by the end, one gets exactly the picture that Marlantes describes. If I were in a foxhole, I would want Ernst Jünger there beside me. 

So it was with quite some interest that I picked up Jünger's diaries from his time as a Wehrmacht officer in World War 2, primarily in Paris. What would such a man have to say about the Third Reich? Jünger was interesting in that he was a reactionary, firmly opposed to democracy during the Weimar period, but also a noted critic of the Nazis. He refused several offers to join them in the Reichstag, and quit the veteran's organization for his regiment when they expelled their Jewish members.  

Despite this, he ends up in Paris as intelligence officer. On its face, this is strange on two levels. Firstly, if he disliked the Nazis so much, how did he end up in the Wehrmacht under Hitler? This one is easy - he was conscripted. "World War 2, that sucks, if I were in Germany I would have just stayed out of it and quietly minded my own business" is the kind of pea-brained thought that seems to occur to almost every contemporary reader at some point, notwithstanding the obvious difficulty when you pause to contemplate it. 

And secondly, why an intelligence officer in a cushy gig in the Hotel Majestic in Paris? This may seem strange given how drawn he was to action as a young man, and how little he seemed to care about the side (how else do you describe joining the French Foreign Legion, and then the army fighting the French Foreign Legion a year later?). To end up as, in Gough Whitlam's memorable phrase, "a pen-pusher in Paris"? 

Reader, if you did not know in advance, you simply would not believe that the two books are written by the same person. Here's a few random samples:

Lunch at the Morands' on Avenue Charles-Floquet. There I also met Gaston Gallimard and Jean Cocteau.
Morand epitomizes a kind of worldly sybarite. In one of his books, I found a passage comparing an ocean liner with a Leviathan infused with the aroma of Chypre. His book about London is commendable; it describes the city as a great house. If the English were to build pyramids, they would include London in the decoration of their tombs.
Cocteau: amiable and at the same time, ailing, like someone who dwells in a special, but comfortable, hell. 
With intelligent women it is very difficult to overcome physical distance. It is as though they girded their alert intellects with a belt that foils desire. It is too bright within their orbit. Those who lack specific erotic orientation are more assertive. This could be one of those chess moves that ensures the continuity of our species. 
One can ask advice of a subaltern in a matter, but not regarding the ethical system fundamental to that matter.
The dignity of man must be more sacred to us than life itself.
The age of humanity is the age in which human beings have become scarce.
The true leaders of this world are at home in their graves.
In moments of inescapable disruption, individuals must proclaim their allegiance like a warship hoisting its colors.
By choosing certain circles in life, such as the Prussian General Staff, one may gain access to certain elevated spheres of inside information but exclude himself from the highest.  
To which you may wonder - how does the man who talks calmly and frankly about fiery death from above, when confronted with the Third Reich, only have the ability to talk about art, and dreams he had last night, and books, and occasional oblique references to the regime?

The answer is that in WW1, bombs might obliterate you at any point, but as long as you followed your commanding officer's orders, nobody much gave a damn what you wrote. For the Nazis, even if you were an officer, this was definitively not the case. And that's why there's so few great surviving descriptions from inside the regime (or from communist Russia, for that matter - we were very lucky to get a Solzhenitsyn, and that was decades after the crimes in question had started). As Jünger notes on October 21, 1941:
"I am keeping my personal papers and journals under lock and key in the Majestic. Because I am under orders from Spiedel to process not only the files concerning Operation Sea Lion, but also the struggle for hegemony in France between the military commander and the Party, a special steel file cabinet has been set up in my room. Naturally, armor like this only symbolizes personal invulnerability. When this is cast in doubt, even the strongest locks spring right open."
In other words, one had to play a delicate game to get enough political capital to be able to write one's own thoughts freely down on paper, and even then one must assume they will be pored over at some point. This is part of the uneasy relationship between the Nazi party itself and the German military commander in France mentioned above (and officers like Jünger ). Hitler is referred to as Kniebolo, a play on Diabolo, the devil.

Indeed, Jünger refers in a number of places to lemures. The notes describe these as "vengeful spirits in Roman mythology. E.J. uses the term to refer euphemistically to the executioners and butchers of the NS Regime. His source is Goethe's Faust where the Lemuren serve Mephistopheles as gravediggers." For instance, on March 12th, 1942:
It is said that since the sterilization and extermination of the mentally ill, the number of children born with mental illness has increased. Similarly, with the suppression of beggars, poverty has become more widespread. And the decimation of the Jews has led to the spreading of Jewish characteristics in the world, which is exhibiting an increase in Old Testament traits...
Feast Days of the lemures, including the murder of men, women and children. The gruesome spoils are hurriedly buried. Now there come other lemures to claw them out of the ground. They film the dismembered and half-decayed patch of land with macabre gusto. Then they show these films to others. What bizarre forces develop in carrion. 
Or more explicitly on the limitations on what he can say, from August 16th, 1942:
Saturday and Sunday in Vaux-de-Cernay at the house of Rambouillet, as a guest of the commander-in-chief, who is using this old monastery as his summer residence. My stay here has the advantage that I can do and say what I think is right and not be seen by any lemures.
And this category seems to include many things - Jünger's repugnance at the deportation of Jews (wikipedia mentions that "he passed on information e.g. about upcoming transports 'at an acceptable level of risk' which saved Jewish lives.), his sense that the war on the eastern front was misguided and bound to fail, and any number of other things. In the presence of a sympathetic commander-chief, you can speak freely. Otherwise, even in your journal, you had better keep your criticism measured. 
Jews were arrested here yesterday for deportation. Parents were separated from their children and wailing could be heard in the streets. Never for a moment may I forget that I am surrounded by unfortunate people who endure the greatest suffering. What kind of human being, what kind of officer, would I be otherwise? This uniform obligates me to provide protection wherever possible. One has the impression that to do that one must, like Don Quixote, confront millions. 
This shows a side of things that doesn't fit neatly into standard narratives about the Holocaust. Contra the deniers, an otherwise quite conservative Wehrmacht officer (admittedly, a well-connected intelligence officer) knew about the deportations, shootings and gassings at the time. And in his retelling, they were every bit as grotesque and cruel as we understand them today. Jünger even states that he feels that Germany's treatment of the Jews (and other targeted groups like French civilians in retaliation killings, the disabled, etc.) was so repugnant that Germany had enormous collective guilt for it.

But contra the standard narrative, he as a senior Wehrmacht officer was actively working to obstruct them in what way he felt he could. Part of the reason he felt able to do this was the fact that the German military officer in charge in Paris, Carl-Heinrich von Stulpnagel, had a similarly uneasy relationship with the Nazi Party, as evidenced by his role in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. Modernity tends to write all these people off as "Nazis", but the Wehrmacht still maintained some political independence. If the history of modern America were written by similarly uncharitable future historians, it would be like lumping all military officers in Iraq as being part of "the Republican Party" (under Bush) or even "the Democratic Party" (under Obama). 

If you're not in the presence of the commander-in-chief, you have to be more careful. On the train back from a trip to the Eastern Front in 1943, Jünger describes how one has to delicately feel out the opinions of one's audience before revealing too much:
Colonel Rathke, head of the department of military affairs, was on the train. Conversation about the situation in Rostov, which he consider reparable. Then, about the war in general. After the first three value judgments, one recognizes someone from the other camp and retreats behind polite cliches.
Of course, when one does find a fellow-thinker, one can talk much more freely. Jünger describes the conversation with General Konrad, commander of the Caucasus front. When I recalled this passage, I was sure these were Jünger's words, but looking back, no, they're him reporting someone else's sentiments, actually without comment. Prudent, as always. But when you realize the only way those sentiments could have been elicited, Jünger's feelings become clear:
The pounding suffered by the Sixth Army had shaken the entire southern flank. He was of the opinion that during the last year, our forces had been squandered by people who understood everything except how to wage war. The general continued, saying that neglect of the concentration of forces was especially dilletantish. Clausewitz would be turning in his grave. People followed their every whim, every fleeting idea: and propaganda goals trumped those of strategy. He said that we could attack the Caucasus, Egypt, Leningrad, and Stalingrad - just not all at once, especially while we were still caught up in secondary objectives.
This is a pretty damning and astute evaluation of Operation Barbarossa, especially coming from someone tasked with implementing it. If the Third Reich has an epitaph from a purely Machiavellian standpoint, it's hard to beat this one. 

Jünger also shows his skill at negotiating discussions with those more pleased with the butchery, and drawing out people's views without revealing too much. "Merline" here is Celine:
At the German Institute this afternoon. Among those there was Merline. Tall, raw-boned, strong, a bit ungainly, but lively during the discussion - or more accurately, during his monologue. He speaks with a manic, inward-directed gaze, which seems to shine from deep within a cave. He no longer looks to the right or the left. He seems to be marching towards some unknown goal. "I always have death beside me." And in saying this, he points to the spot beside his seat, as though a puppy were lying there. 

He spoke of his consternation, his astonishment, at the fact that we soldiers were not shooting, hanging and exterminating the Jews - astonishment that anyone who had a bayonet was not making unrestrained use of it. "If the Bolsheviks were here in Paris, they would demonstrate it, show how it's done - how to comb through a population, quarter by quarter, house by house. If I had a bayonet, I would know what to do."

It was informative to listen to him rant this way for two hours, because he radiated the amazing power of nihilism. People like this hear only a single melody, but they hear it uncommonly powerfully. They resemble machines of iron that follow a single path until they are finally dismantled.

It is remarkable when such minds speak about the sciences, such as biology. Them apply them the same way Stone Age man did, transforming them only into a means to slay others. 

They take no pleasure in having an idea. They have had many - their yearning drives them toward fortresses from which cannons fire upon the masses and spread fear. Once they have achieved this goal, they interrupt their intellectual work, regardless of what arguments have helped them climb to the top. Then they give themselves over to the pleasure of killing. It was this drive to commit mass murder that propelled them forward in such a meaningless and confused way in the first place.

People with such natures could be recognized earlier, in eras when faith could still be tested. Nowadays, they hide under the cloak of ideas. These are quite arbitrary, as seen in the fact that when certain goals are achieved, they are discarded like rags.

Contra Walter Sobchak, according to Jünger the tenets of National Socialism as utilized by its worst proponents ultimately did just amount to nihilism, and not to an ethos after all. For the people who glorified in the butchery, the butchery was the point. And remember, this is from a man most famous for glorifying war! But in Storm of Steel, he relishes the fight against worthy opponents. For the lemures, he has only contempt.
But strangely, most of the diary isn't about this kind of political or ethical stuff. Part of this is probably camouflage. But there's a huge amount about dreams he had, or his discussions with artists around Paris (like Picasso) and writers like Carl Schmitt and Celine. Jünger was something of a celebrity writer, having gotten uneasy attention from the regime from his novel On the Marble Cliffs in 1939, which was viewed as being critical of the Nazis. This meant he consorted a lot with various oddballs, artists, writers and freethinkers in Paris. 

Indeed, most of his Paris diary is about little else. Other than the fact of occasional air raid sirens, most of the scenes could be straight out of Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris - romantic displays of life during the late Parisian Golden Age. The fact that our main protagonist is an officer of the occupying German army, but also extremely erudite and educated, just makes the whole thing even stranger. Jünger in general doesn't seem to be trying to downplay the brutal parts of the occupation, except to the extent that he can only discuss them obliquely. But if you go to his diary looking for a depiction of the widespread horrors of Vichy France for the average non-Jewish Frenchman, you won't find it here. Of course, in the famous words of Mandy Rice-Davies - he would say that, wouldn't he? Being a high ranking officer in the occupying regime in Paris, cavorting with artists and picking up women who weren't your wife, probably was a pretty good gig. If you were a poor farmer in the countryside, or a leftist artist, or a Jew? Well, that's a different matter. Still, for all that, it's hard not to be struck by how normal occupied Paris sounds, which is certainly not how people seem to imagine it. 

Part of the reason is that Jünger , for whatever reason, talks very little about his actual military work. Perhaps this is just for military secrecy. But the end result is a crazy contrast to Storm of Steel, where action was everywhere, death forever one unlucky break away, and the enormous necessity of the job always in front. Here, inaction is everywhere. It's almost like A Bohemian Wehrmacht Officer in Paris. There is no sense of any purpose at all to him being in Paris, other than getting inspiration for his writing. 

When Jünger goes to the Eastern Front, we see the old stoic acceptance of danger and risk of death briefly come back (though again, there still is no sense of what he's doing there, other than just seeing stuff). Jünger is still no coward. Indeed, when the Eastern Front post is suggested, he is concerned that he is genuinely sick and has been losing weight, but he can't just check into the infirmary right before he's meant to be shipped off to the Caucasus. When he trades a Paris hotel for a frigid railway station room in some tiny town in the Caucasus, he describes the privations, but without any sense of complaint. Indeed, he describes how much worse the situation is for soldiers actually on the front. 

One also gets the sense that combat is very much a young man's game. Because while the war in question has changed an enormous amount (Jünger memorably says that the Eastern Front seemed to more resemble the 30 Years War than WW1), it's also true that Jünger himself is different. Radically so. It's hard not to wonder what a Jünger who had been born 20 years later and ended up as a lieutenant on the Eastern Front would have thought of it all. I guess we'll never know. 

But the Jünger who actually lived through it is occasionally strident and unsparing. For Anglos, WW2 is the good war, the one Hollywood always wants to portray, whereas WW1 is the pointless butchery. For Jünger , the opposite is true:
New Year's Even party at Staff Headquarters in the evening. Here again I saw that during these years any pure joy of celebration is not possible. On that note General Muller told about the monstrous atrocities perpetrated by the Security Service after entering Kiev. Trains were again mentioned that carried Jews into poison gas tunnels. Those are rumors, and I note them as such, but extermination is certainly occurring on a huge scale. This puts me in mind of the wife of good old Potard back in Paris, who was so worried about his wife. When you have been party to such individual fates and begun to comprehend the statistics that apply to the wicked crimes carried out in the charnel houses, an enormity is exposed that makes you throw up your hands in despair. I am overcome by a loathing for the uniforms, the epaulettes, the medals, the weapons, all the glamour I have loved so much. Ancient chivalry is dead; wars are waged by technicians. Mankind has thus reached the stage described by Dostoevsky in Raskolnikov. He views people like himself as vermin. That is precisely what he must guard against if he is not to sink to the level of the insects. That terrible old saying applies to him as well as to his victims: "This is you."

Outside of the Holocaust, the rest of the Eastern front story is also still full of grotesque suffering. 
Detail: Russian prisoners Maiweg had selected from all various camps to work on the reconstruction - drilling technicians, geologists, local oil workers. A combat unit had been commandeered at a railroad station as bearers. There were five hundred men; of these three hundred and fifty died along the roads. From the rest, another hundred and twenty died from exhaustion when they returned so that only thirty survived.


I was a guest of the commander...He spoke of police tactics with the attitude of a gamekeeper, for example. "I consider the view quite erroneous that the thirteen and fourteen-year-old youths captured with the partisans should not be liquidated.Anyone who has grown up that way, without a father or a mother, will never turn out well. A bullet is the only right thing. By the way, that's what the Russians do with them too." Citing evidence, he told an anecdote about a sergeant who had picked up a nine-year-old and a twelve-year-old lad overnight out of pity; in the morning, he was found with his throat cut. 

Oof. Every bit of that story is grim and depressing. As Gary Brecher put it, even as a War Nerd, it is hard to get excited about the Eastern Front. 

WW1, for all its horrors, was unusually kind to civilians by world historical standards, even those caught up nearby. WW2, certainly by the end, reverted more to ancient type - butchery, extermination, and few distinctions between civilian and military targets. 

Indeed, just because Jünger agrees with modernity about the evils of the Nazis doesn't mean he agrees  on everything else. In particular, the straightforward descriptions of the effects of Allied bombing raids do not make for very edifying reading for those raised on the heroism of the American and British cause in WW2. 
Schaer also said that the last attack on Western Germany cost sixteen thousand lives in a single night. The images are becoming apocalyptic; people are seeing fire raining down from heaven. This is actually an incendiary compound of rubber and phosphorus that is inextinguishable and inescapable as it engulfs all forms of life. There are stories of mothers who have been seen flinging their children into rivers. This hideous escalation of atrocities has produced a kind of nightmare. 

Krause was in Hamburg during the bombardment and reported that he saw twenty charred corpses leaning close together across the wall of a bridge there, as if they were lying on a grill. On this spot people covered in phosphorus had tried to save themselves by leaping into the water, but they were carbonized before they could do so. He told of a woman who was seen carrying an incinerated corpse of a child in each arm. Krause, who carries a bullet deep in his heart muscle, passed a house were phosphorus was dripping from the low roof. He heard screams but was unable to help - this conjures up a scene from the Inferno or some horrific dream. 
We also spoke of phosphorus as a weapon. It seems that we actually possessed this material when we enjoyed air superiority, but we waived that option. That would be to our credit, and in light of Kniebolo's character, bizarre enough. 

Or in Kirchorst near Hanover:
Was in the city in the afternoon. The ruins are new and have been hardest hit; the thrashing has been followed by the scorpion's sting. The southern part of the city was burning. Coal cellars were aglow and roofs were collapsing in showers of sparks in houses on Podbielskistrasse and on Alte Celler Heerstrasse, where I used to ride my bicycle. Nobody notices the fires anymore; they are just part of the scene. On the corners the homeless were packing up their salvaged possessions in bedsheets. I saw a woman come out the door of a house holding a chamber pot in her hand; little more than a fragment was still attached to its handle. Huge craters surrounded the railway station, where the equestrian statue of King Ernst August still stood in front of the bare, empty halls. Two entrances of the great air raid bunker where twenty-six thousand people had sought shelter, had been buried in debris. The ventilation system worked only sporadically, making the trapped crowd start to tear their clothes from their bodies and scream for air in the first stages of suffocation. God protect us from mousetraps of this sort.
What? Did you think that, because your granddad heroically risked his life to be a bomber pilot over Nazi Germany, the results would therefore be pleasing to see up close? Why should this sausage factory look any prettier from the inside than any other one? Be honest, you'd never even heard of the bombing of Hanover. In the scheme of World War 2, it just doesn't rate a mention. One way or another, nobody much cares about the suffering of German civilians in World War 2. Collective guilt for thee, but not for me. 

Jünger understood this perfectly well, and while he doesn't mince his words with the horrendous effects of Allied bombing, he doesn't shy away from German collective guilt either. In this respect, he's like Solzhenitsyn. But if you expected that his frank portrayal of German collective guilt over their atrocities would slip easily into him excusing allied collective guilt over their atrocities, you'd be quite mistaken:
We have to keep in mind that this carnage elicits satisfaction in the world. The situation of the German is now like what the Jews experienced inside Germany. Yet it is still better than seeing the Germans with their illegitimate power. Now one can share their misery.
The group that gets the most strikingly different treatment from the standard narrative, however, are the Parisians who tried to be friends with individual members of the occupying government. The stereotype of any Frenchman even vaguely supportive of the occupying German forces ranges from "repulsive Nazi sympathizer" to "regrettable go-along-to-get-along coward". Indeed, Jünger is scathing of Frenchmen like Celine/"Merline" who support the Nazis because they're sticking it to the Jews. But he describes a class of Frenchmen who had friendly association with the occupying Germans primarily out of a desire to put behind them the centuries of animosity between France and Germany, and just to take individuals as they found them and be friends with the nice ones. These people of course were treated extremely harshly in the aftermath of the German evacuation:
[Dr Gopel] reported that Drieu La Rochelle had shot himself in Paris. It seems to be a law that people who support intercultural friendship out of noble motives must fall, while the crass profiteers get away with everything. They say that Montherlant is being harassed. He was still caught up in the notion that chivalrous friendship is possible; now he is being disabused of that idea by louts.  
None of this should mean that Jünger is surprised that lots of Parisians loathe him and the government, and he describes such loathing quite honestly. This is inevitable when you're an occupying government that turned up riding tanks. But so were the Americans! How do you think they turned up? That doesn't make them moral equals, but it surely complicates the simple narrative that you should always resist foreign occupation. The main involvement of the Allies for the first several years of his time in Paris is periodically bombing and destroying bits of the city. This anecdote, however, stood out, if you're wondering why Paris is still beautiful today, whereas most of Germany is an architectural monstrosity:
Kniebolo's strict order to blow up the bridges over the Seine and leave a trail of devastation behind had not been carried out. It appears that among those courageous souls who resisted this desecration, Spiedel was in the forefront right beside Choltitz
And in an eerily correct prediction of 20th century architecture, Jünger saw in 1942 which way the wind was blowing:
Today, France still enjoys this advantage of traditions passed down from hand to hand, and will certainly retain these thanks to its largely rational policies. But what is important in this country at the moment is that its old haunts, the cities, will not be plowed under and on its ruins chain stores from Chicago would be built - which is what will happen to Germany. 
Chain stores from Chicago were indeed built over the ruins of Germany, and the results were every bit as aesthetically unedifying as Jünger predicted. Paris was indeed largely spared.

Jünger doesn't describe almost anything about the allied cause, either American or Russian (or the German cause very much either, for that matter). In this respect, it resembles Storm of Steel. The almost total lack of discussion of Communism is an interesting dog that didn't bark, though I'm not sure what to make of it. Admittedly, he wasn't in a position to experience this firsthand. You have to write what you know. As a reader, you have to read both sides. To understand the sides in the Eastern Front, start with Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, and then follow it up with A German Officer in Occupied Paris. Jünger's criticisms of the Nazis on their own are less surprising to a modern audience. The big surprise is just hearing them coming from the author of Storm of Steel. While he doesn't dwell on it, his disgust at Hitler and his regime doesn't mean he feels that Germany as a nation had no legitimate grievances with the rest of Europe. As he describes it:
Our Fatherland is like a poor man whose just cause has been usurped by a crooked lawyer.
He never spells out what that just cause was, in his opinion, so I guess we'll never know. 

Once Paris was evacuated, Jünger had the good fortune to be dismissed from the army, partly due to him being viewed with suspicion due to being friends with, and possibly inspiring, a number of the members of the July 20 plot to kill Hitler (even though he himself was not involved). As noted in the foreword, one of his biographers claims that Jünger was scheduled to be called before the Nazi People's Court, which would have been a death sentence, but only the complete chaotic collapse of Germany saved him. 

Despite being very close to the Nazi chopping block himself, Jünger was denounced at the end of the war as being too sympathetic to the Nazis, and viewed with suspicion for a number of years. 

But how could it be otherwise, to thread such a tiny needle hole and come out the other side intact?

The journey from Storm of Steel to A German Officer in Occupied Paris is a strange and grim one. Every time I read these books, especially Storm of Steel, it's hard not to get to the end and think how many Jüngers from countries all over Europe were standing one foot in the wrong direction, and got torn to shreds with their story untold, on the battlefields of the Somme, and Stalingrad, and Ypres. 
It is a hugely sad and depressing thought. 

And, indeed, it is the strongest riposte to Storm of Steel itself.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Covid19 death rate is higher than 2%

I understand why Moldbug wanted to write a post on the coronavirus. As usual, Moldbug was ahead of the curve. The reason is that he reads sources that other people don’t read. If you read the same as everyone else, you think the same as everyone else. This is the main (respectable) reason I’m on twitter, (other than the shitposting which is like terrible cheap carbs of reading material). 95% of it is garbage, but the remaining 5% is stuff you just don’t find anywhere else.

And what Moldbug, and MorlockP, and Loki Julianus and some others have figured out is that there’s a decent chance that this is the start of the shit hitting the fan, but nobody in the west seems much concerned yet. It’s a fascinating insight into how people respond to gradually unfolding disaster. We expect disaster to strike out of the blue. One day, the Soviets nuke us, or an asteroid strikes. Or, failing that, we expect to see a fairly rapid and linear growth of things getting worse, like in a disaster movie where the plot has to unfold in a predictable manner to all be wrapped up in 90 minutes.

What our instincts don’t work well for, however, is exponential growth. It just doesn’t fit people’s casual intuitions about what’s going to happen. The probably mythical story about the inventor of chess is that he asked to be paid as a reward by the king in a grain of rice for the first square, two grains for the second square, four for the third square, and so on. Of course, the point of the story is that the king was an idiot and by the end figured out he couldn’t possible pay. Ha ha ha. Nobody would be that dumb.

Well, here’s some grains of rice accumulating.

If you take the number of coronavirus cases reported, it’s close to an exponential curve. Not quite, however. If you plot things on a log scale, you can see the rate of increase in reported cases slowing down.

By eyeballing the log scale graph, you can see that things started to decline starting around Jan 30th. If you run a regression of log number of cases on number of days since outbreak, from Jan 30th until February 13th, you get a coefficient on time of 0.126, or e^0.126= 13.4% growth per day. If you want to be conservative, and just use the February 5th – 11th data, excluding the big jump on February 12th when they changed reporting standards, you still get an average growth of e^0.078, or 8.1% growth per day. The R2 of this regression is 0.98, by the way, so this is a shockingly good fit. If you use the whole period, you get a whopping e^0.199=22.0% average growth per day. And even with the slowdown, the R2 is still over 0.92.

Since these are only rough data, because God knows how many unreported cases there are, suppose the number of cases is growing about 10% per day. There’s a rule of thumb for turning growth rates into doubling times called the rule of 72. Divide 72 by the growth rate and you get a decent estimate of the doubling time. So in this case, 72/10 = 7.2. In other words, on current trends we expect the number of cases to double every week. Even at the low rate of 7.8%, the number of cases is expected to double in around 9 days. We won’t use this rule exactly, but it’s pretty good for thinking about intuition.

And this causes all sorts of weird mistakes. One, which I think is underappreciated by most people, is wildly distorted estimates of the death rate.

The number that keeps getting currently quoted in the press is a death rate of around 2%. As of February 13th, there have been 1,384 deaths out of 64,473 cases, according to worldometer. This gives a death rate of 2.15%. Which sounds pretty encouraging. It seems like you have to get very unlucky to actually die from it.

But the strange thing is, there’s another, smaller set of people talking about a death rate of 16%. What’s that? Well, it’s the ratio of deaths (1,384) to closed cases (8,566), or 16.16%.

Now, you might look at it be concerned about the definition of closed cases. Maybe they’re just very reluctant to declare someone cured, so there’s lowball numbers here (whereas they’re less reluctant to declare someone dead). Many of the diagnosed will eventually recover, but it takes ages to classify them as healthy again. So no big deal! 16% is too high, and the true number will be much lower.

Well, here’s a pretty strong reason to prefer the ratio using closed cases. From the descriptions you read about the progression of cases in places like Hong Kong, the disease generally takes 2-3 weeks from diagnosis to actually kill you.

Why is this a big deal?

Because the number of cases is growing at around 8-10% a day. And as long as that holds, the number of deaths will always be lagging the total number of cases in the growth phase. The death rate actually ought to be compared with the number of cases from 2-3 weeks earlier, because that’s the number of people who could have reasonably died by this point. It’s also the expectation of the fraction of currently alive new cases who will eventually die. Again, this may seem like pedantry. Except that the number of cases is growing 8% per day!

Let’s start with lower bounds. Assume that average growth in cases is conservatively 7.8%. Also, let’s assume the disease kills you quickly, on average in two weeks (which is optimistic for the purposes of our estimated death rate being on the low side). In this case, the number of cases in the denominator is too high by a factor of e^(14*0.078) = 2.98. So the true death rate will end up being 2.15*2.98 = 6.42%

If it takes 2.5 weeks on average to kill you, the death rate will end up being 2.15* e^(17.5*0.078) = 8.43%.

But we’re using a pretty conservative estimate of growth rates. Suppose you take dates since February 5th, but include the increase in cases on Feb 12th and 13th. Then the average growth rate is 9.75%. Add a 2.5 week average time to death, and the death rate is actually 2.15*e^(17.5*0.0975) = 11.85%. If the disease takes three weeks on average to kill you, the true death rate is 16.67%. Which sounds very close to the death rate from closed cases. Add in growth rates from the earlier period, and the numbers get even higher.

Plug in your own assumptions or data fiddling, and the answers fall right out. There’s obviously big standard errors on this stuff. But one thing is pretty clear. There is more than enough evidence at this point, no matter how you cut it, that the overall death rate is going to be a lot higher than 2%. I’m betting on 5-10%. You ought to be making plans accordingly.

This doesn’t tell you about the rate of transmission, of course, either in China or the US. Maybe we’ll lucky, and it won’t turn into a pandemic outside China. Want to bet on that?

The good news from all this is that most people don’t care about China, haven’t read reports of any major outbreak in the US, and so aren’t really concerned. Which means that if you do think that there’s a non-trivial chance that the porridge may totally hit the propeller in a month or two, it’s still relatively easy to buy at least several months of storable food supplies. Amazon will still deliver them in a few days. Prices will be the same as normal. The guy delivering them has a very low chance of having the coronavirus. Maybe those things will still be true in three months. Maybe they won’t.

For the sake of a few hundred bucks, you’d be mad not to. You want to have a viable strategy in place to be able to not leave your house for an extended period of time. This is just basic finance. You want to hedge left tail outcomes, especially if the outcome is a catastrophe, and the cost of hedging it is very cheap. Surely everyone who understands finance is doing this, right?

Ha ha, no, of course they’re not. We’ve ignored the largest reason smart people don’t do this stuff. It’s unfashionable. It’s for loser, tin foil prepper types. Do you really want to be doing this stuff? Tell your friends you’ve started buying large quantities of canned food and you think they should too, and they’ll look at you like you’re a conspiracy theory loon. They’ll have a good laugh.

So did the King, when they were only up to the fourth chess square.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

How to interact with potentially hostile journalists

One of the things I have started to suspect recently is that most people’s estimations of a journalist’s personal trustworthiness seem to suffer a kind of reverse Gel-Mann amnesia effect. The phenomenon was wonderfully described by Michael Crichton: 
“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

In other words, there is a systematic gap between estimates of the journalist’s bare competence in things you know well, and things of which you’re ignorant. In general journalists get the benefit of the doubt, except where your personal knowledge comes in.

However, consider the perspective of the political right on the question of a journalist’s trustworthiness, rather than their competence. Here the effect is reversed.

In general, most people with any sense tend to believe that journalists are mendacious, dishonest scum, who will say almost anything to get you to talk, and then regardless of past assurances, will distort your quotes to paint you in the worst possible light. Your best strategy is to ignore them. This applies orders of magnitude more if you hold any vaguely right wing opinions, and the media wants to talk to you about them out of the blue.

But for some reason, when a particular journalist comes to talk to you, wanting to let you tell your side of the story on an article they’re planning on writing about you, people forget this. Rather, they suddenly assume that it’s somehow a good idea to talk to the person, because this specific journalist actually seems pretty reasonable, so what’s the worst that can happen? Like Crichton observed, they forget what they know. And like night follows day, the journalist was lying, and they smear you and stitch you up, and somehow the result comes as a surprise.

It’s one thing for the average normie who believes that the press is honest to get suckered like this. But this happens over and over again to people who not only ought to know better, but actually do know better.

Here’s what happened to Nick Fuentes, of “America First” fame:
“In February 2018, a production company called “Karga7” reached out and said they were interested in filming an episode of MTV True Life about me and my show. They spent a full week filming at my house but never released any of the footage until tonight, almost two years later.
Pete and a team from Karga7 came to my house and filmed for a week, doing hours of interviews, B-Roll, they filmed me doing my show and they covered my periscope of an anti-gun rally in Chicago. This is what my mother texted to Pete Ritchie at the end of the shoot:‘Same Pete, you seem like a genuine person. We are relieved. See you then! Promise Al will be in boarding school.’ “

Psych, there was no episode of MTV True Life. Instead, all the footage ended up in a documentary titled “White Supremacy Destroyed My Life”. No kidding! You don’t need to watch it to know how that turned out for Fuentes and his family.

Okay, you might say, maybe Nick Fuentes is just a naïve fool. But this happened to Curtis Yarvin! That’s right, Mencius Moldbug, the man who taught me more than anyone else about how the media operates, and its role in the power structure of the modern west. He used to have a medium post about the experience, but it seems to be gone now, so I’m paraphrasing the story from memory. It turns out that nearly all of Yarvin’s enemies are too stupid or lazy to actually read through his voluminous and meandering writings (which, to be fair, is a very polarizing writing style – I love it, but others I know and respect find it offputting). So instead, everyone relies on one leftist guy who bothered to read things and happened to find a single infelicitously-phrased remark relating to how the early Spanish in the Americas tended to prefer imported African populations as slaves, rather than the indigenous population. Anyway, one day Yarvin gets a bunch of ridiculous and obviously muck-raking questions from a journalist asking if he supports slavery (something nobody who has read his actual writings could conceivably believe). He writes back a fascinating a thoughtful paragraph exploring the concept through the lens of Robert Nozick’s disturbing and compelling “Tale of a Slave” (read that if you haven’t already, it’s very short and extremely good). The journalist ignores the whole thing, repeats the question again if he supports slavery and insists on only a yes or no response. Yarvin answers “No”. Journalist, predictably, writes article anyway accusing him of supporting slavery.

At this point, dear reader, I think we ought to take seriously the possibility that something strange is at play here, something which we don’t fully understand. How does Curtis Yarvin, of all people, end up getting stitched up by some idiot journalist?

I think the starting point of understanding is that this actually is very similar to what happens with the other major group whose profession it is to get people to talk, when it’s very much in their interests to shut up. I’m referring, of course, to the police. Your mental model of journalists ought to be able to incorporate why people regularly confess to the police, often without realizing that that’s what they’re doing.

If you haven’t already, watch all 46 minutes of James Duane’s presentation on the subject. For the general subject of why you shouldn’t talk to the police, watch the first half, with James Duane, the law professor. But to understand why people talk to the police anyway, watch the second half, which is from a police offer. It’s eye-opening stuff.
 Hardened criminals have no problem talking to the police. People like to tell their story. And they’ll sit in that room and think about it. There’s one chair here, there’s a desk, there’s another chair. What’s the one thing you want the most, right at that point? To get out of that room. To be out of that room. The police officer’s shift is ending in fifteen minutes. Does the police officer want to get out of that room? My overtime rate is $58 an hour, do I want to get out of that room? I have no problem, I’ll stay there for ten hours. I’ll take that six hundred dollars. So I have no motivation to want to leave, and you do, and that’s how we get you to try to talk. …
[S]ay you wanted to go into a boxing match. A hundred dollars if you win. You’ve never boxed before. You have to face somebody who’s an Olympic boxer. You’re going to lose. You’re going to face somebody who’s been interviewing people for, in my case, 28 years. You’re going to lose. Unless you’re purely innocent. Now, on the other side of it, I don’t want to put anyone who’s innocent in jail. But I try not to bring anyone into the interview room who’s innocent.…
And then I have to determine what kind of person I have. And there’s two types. There’s the one like I mentioned earlier, where I have to talk to them, talk to them about different things, get into their own skin, as it were, and try to get them to talk to me and discuss things. I had a sexual assault case. I had to talk to the guy about how hot the woman was, and I understood where he was coming from. And when I said that, we were buds, and he started talking to me. He’s still sitting in prison. …
The other type of person is the one that likes to tell a story. … I said, tell me what happened. And he told me this beautiful story about what happened. … And I didn’t even question about it, after he finished his whole story, very implausible but very beautiful story, I sat there and listened to it for fifteen minutes, and I looked at him and I said “You stole the stuff from your boss, didn’t you?”. “Yes sir, I did.” I had nothing, I really had nothing except the fact that he’d sold it. …
Just sit there, and wait for them to start talking, and they will. People want to communicate, they hate silence. “  
I am quite certain that a New York Times journalist interviewing right wring people for a story views their job in a very similar fashion. If they’re calling you, you’re already guilty in their mind. Most people don’t know this. They think it’s all a misunderstanding. The whole point of Duane’s talk is why even the innocent should never speak to the police. If you’re guilty, you absolutely shouldn’t talk to them. From the perspective of the New York Times, I have bad news. If you’re reading this, you’re guilty. Never mind what of. They’ll come up with something, just like the police when they’re sure someone is a criminal.

I think there are several things at play here. The first of them is that one should never underestimate journalists. Like the police, they are professionals at getting people to say things against their interest. You have to assume that they will have all sorts of tricks for getting you to do this. Not only this, but you don’t know what those tricks are. You can plan in advance, but there will inevitably be aspects you still don’t foresee.

Like the police officer, part of their job is to convince you of their trustworthiness. Most people do not have much experience with professional liars. We all like to think that we’re good judges of character, but most of the sample that we deal with in our everyday life is not comprised of sociopath manipulators. Even if the person isn’t completely cold and cynical, remember, they likely view you as an enemy of society. You have to expect that they will have no compunctions about trying to delude you into thinking that they are on your side, or at least might be on your side, if you just say the right things.

People also overestimate how convincing their own arguments are. I’m convinced that I’m a good person who holds reasonable views. Surely, these people who disagree just haven’t had things explained to them properly. You know what? I’m just going to go down to the station and clear this whole thing up right now.
He’s still sitting in prison.

In the case of journalists, another classic trick they pull is to increase the time pressure. They call you on the phone, and immediately start asking questions. Do you have the wherewithal, on the spot, to not answer? How strong is your presence of mind in this situation? Or they write you an email at 3pm and tell you they have a 5pm deadline, and that they want you to comment immediately, otherwise they’ll have to print that you refused to comment.

The starting point of wisdom is this – if they call you, you’re already dead. You cannot talk them out of writing the story, any more than you can talk the police officer out of arresting you. Accept that, as a base line, you will get a bad story written about you, with the extra addendum that you refused to comment. In the distribution of things, this is a good outcome. Them distorting your words to have an even more incriminating quote is much worse.

But people love to tell their story. Give them a chance and a little prodding, and a lot of the time, they want to tell you everything. Dostoyevsky described this vividly in Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov has an overwhelming urge to confess to the murder he committed, and keeps engaging in self-sabotaging behavior that leads him into the hands of the police officer, Porfiry. For a long time, I viewed this as being about guilt, and thus it all seemed kind of implausible. Sometimes people really do feel guilty, and I have no idea what the guilt feels like from committing a senseless murder. But I suspect that cognitive dissonance tends to resolve the dilemma mostly the other way. I killed him, so he must have deserved it, because I’m fundamentally a good person. So why the urge to confess? Well, maybe Dostoyevsky was just wrong, and the description is implausible. But maybe people also have a general desire to tell their secrets, no matter what they are. To be understood, even if the ultimate consequence is disaster. Not all people, and not at all times. But this urge is there. And the police and journalists know it. Their job depends on them knowing it, and how to manipulate this instinct in you.

Like with the police, one central problem is that only the incriminating words get shown to the jury of readers. You come up with some very clever quips, and send them off. They just chop them to pick the worst bit.

“Sorry, I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

Mr Smith, when reached for comment, accused the New York Times of being terrorists.

Now you sound both hysterical and evasive. You said almost nothing, and it was still worse than literally nothing.

But we still haven’t cracked the underlying mystery. Don’t you think Moldbug knows all this already? Of course he does.

I would wager the following, though I’ll never be able to test it. Suppose I could go back in time five years, and speak to an earlier version of Yarvin. “Curtis”, I’d ask. “In a few years time, a journalist will contact you with obviously absurd questions about whether you support slavery. Will you give them further potentially incriminating quotes, or will you sensibly choose to stay silent?”
I suspect that the earlier versions of both Yarvin and Fuentes would have been surprised at how things turned out. They would be surprised by their own future behavior.

In other words, I think to begin to understand the puzzle, we have to recognise that we’re likely dealing with some considerable time-inconsistency. To make matters worse, in the terminology of Matthew Rabin, people are unsophisticated about their biases – they are biased, but they don’t know they are biased. So they don’t even prepare properly.

To my mind, far and away the most useful all-purpose model of time-inconsistent behavior is the hot-cold empathy gap. George Loewenstein did a lot of great work on this. The Wikipedia summary is pretty good, but as always, you’re generally better off reading the original article, which is quite accessible to a general audience.

People generally have two types of states. “Hot” states are emotionally aroused states – sexual arousal, fear, jealousy, hunger, pain, whatever. “Cold” states are the general calm, background state – a regular Tuesday morning with not much going on.

The trivial insight is that people make quite different decisions in these two types of states. Everyone knows this. The bigger insight of Loewenstein’s is the empathy gap. People in each state are predictably bad at forecasting what decisions they themselves will make in the other state, and how they will feel about the matter then. On a Tuesday morning, a high school girl doesn’t think that when she’s drunk and horny on a Saturday night, she’ll have unprotected sex with Chad from the football team. And when she’s drunk and horny on a Saturday night, she can’t think about how disastrous this choice is going to seem next Tuesday morning. In every state, our future and past selves of the opposite state are like strangers to us, and strangers whose behavior we never seem to figure out. If we had, we might have taken additional precautions, like going on the pill or carrying condoms.

I’ve written about this several times before, if you’re curious.

So how does this fit in with journalists?

I am also quite sure that if you played back the language of police interviews and the language of journalists’ interviews with people they are antagonistic towards, they would sound quite similar. The Police officer is a representative of the state, with the implicit power and backing of the state to throw you in a cell. The journalist is a representative of the cathedral, with the implicit backing of the real power centers to render you socially shunned and unemployable.

In other words, the starting point of understanding is this.

Your forecast and planning must assume that when a journalist calls you to tell you they are writing a story about your crimethink, at that point you will be incredibly scared and panicking.

The press is no joke. If they want to destroy your life, they have many avenues to do it. And despite whatever braggadocio you may have now about the lamestream media, when they come calling, your monkey brain will understand immediately what’s at stake. For millions of years, social ostracism meant death, often immediately, but in any case not long afterwards if you’re a hairless ape trying to survive on your own in the wild.

So one must immediately assume, especially if you’re never had it happen to you before, that you will be under immense pressure and stress, and will likely make bad, panicked decisions at the time. Just like the person in the police station, you want nothing more than to get out of the situation, to be told that it’s all a misunderstanding and that they’re going to call off the story. You will be like a drowning man, clawing desperately at anything that might make this happen.

In other words, you have to assume that you don’t actually know how you’ll react if the New York Times comes calling. You think you do, but you don’t. Cold State Cameron is always sure that he’ll be cool and calm under pressure. Hot State Harry usually isn’t.

And when you understand this, you realize why smart people can get themselves badly led astray, because they’re preparing for the wrong set of failure modes. The more you’re sure you understand how the media works, the more likely you’re probably overestimating how calm and collected you’ll be in the heat of the moment.

It’s like the difference between learning Tae Kwon Do and getting in your first street fight. Same problem. Things will be unexpected. And no amount of training in the dojo will replicate the gut-level panic you feel, and how that will make all your old training disappear, unless you’ve drilled and drilled. And even then, it still may not work.

We can, however, train to revert to autopilot. But it has to be the right autopilot.

What’s a bad but plausible autopilot? “If a journalist calls me, I immediately hang up.”

This would be a good plan, if you implemented it. But here’s a test. When telemarketers call you, do you immediately hang up, or do you feel some social pressure to first say that you’re not interested, or listen to their spiel, or what not? If you do, imagine this cranked up to 11. Hanging up the phone is physically easy, but psychologically sometimes hard. It’s not as hard as staring someone eye to eye in silence for five minutes in a police room. But it’s not easy when you’re panicking. You’ll want to talk your way out.

So the autopilots we train for must be those that work on a psychological basis. And what is the single, cardinal rule we’re aiming for?

Get yourself out of the situation of communicating with the journalist while in a hot state panic as soon as possible, before you make any irreversibly bad choices.

Hanging up the phone immediately is hard. So what do you say instead?
“I’m terribly sorry, but I won’t answer any questions by phone. I’ll only communicate by email. My email address is blah. (Give them time to take it down). You can email me there, and if a response is warranted, I’ll send it to you. Goodbye.”

Repeat this sentence to yourself, right now, fifty times, word for word. You must know it by heart, the same way you’re only going to have any hope of throwing an effective punch in a fight if you’ve drilled it thousands of times.

You’ve already given them something. You acknowledge they exist, and now they have an email address for you (ideally, use a throwaway one, though it’s hard to have the presence of mind to remember this). This is not ideal, but that’s not the point. The point is to delay. It now takes them some time to type up their questions. More importantly, when you get them, you’ve got time to ponder the question for longer of exactly what you want to say. You can think about every single word choice, and whether that sentence is really a good idea. You’ve got time to calm down, at least a little. And most importantly, you’ve ended the conversation before you’ve said anything stupid. This is key, key, key. As part of this, you’ve ended the conversation without even a minor breach of social decorum! This sounds stupid, but it’s really important. Social decorum dictates behavior all the time, and so you must have your default response be psychologically easy.

The next step, after you hang up the phone (and again when you finally get their questions), is to phone somebody whose opinion you trust (ideally someone as close as possible to the cold state, well-informed version of you), and tell them what happened. You may be panicking, but the other person will be in a cold state. They will help calm you down, at least somewhat. A second opinion from a trusted cold state source is incredibly valuable. They’ll likely know what cold state you knows – the best response is usually to shut up.

Then the journalist emails you questions. What next?

The only response they should get is this:
“I wish to enter a binding legal contract with you, your editors and your publication. I will only answer your questions on the condition that you either print my answer in its entirety, or not at all.  If you and your editor agree to these terms, please both let me know.”

This may be surprising, but journalists will mostly stick to these agreements. This immediately disarms one of their most powerful weapons, namely cutting and pasting your quotes to make you look bad. Secondly, even if they don’t print your answer, this makes it much harder to say that you refused to comment. You did comment, they just refused to print it. Journalists can smear, and distort, and omit, and deceive by suggestion. But outright lies about bare facts (did he respond or not?) are more apt to get them in professional trouble, so are taken more seriously. 

And now, you can decide what, if any, very carefully worded and brief answer is appropriate. Run this by multiple people. If you have someone you trust a lot, but who doesn't share your political views, they are especially valuable to include. If the journalist says they have a 5pm deadline, say that won’t be enough time, but you should (not "will") be able to give them an answer by 5pm the next day.

The more you delay, the more you talk to other people, the more likely it is that you’ll make the right choice. The more you do anything on the spur of the moment, the more likely it is that it will be rash, foolish, and ill-advised, and you will spend years regretting it. If in doubt, try to condition your panic response to be silence and delay.

It’s not for nothing that the header image at Overcoming Bias is Ulysses tied to the mast, while his mariners have their ears stopped up. We don’t have anything quite that foolproof. But the principle is the same.

When the sirens seduce you with their song of promises that you can talk your way out of this, you must know that you’ll be enormously tempted, in ways you can’t fathom now.

And you must plan accordingly.