Friday, December 20, 2019

On Defenses Against Charges of Crimethink

I was recently sent the following article by a friend of mine. He thought it would make my head explode.
Judge rules against researcher who lost job over transgender tweets
Maya Forstater’s view of sex ‘not worthy of respect in democratic society’, employment judge finds
My head, as it turns out, is intact. I have long stopped expecting sanity out of Current Year thinking. That something is insane does not mean it is surprising.

It is increasingly apparent that the holiness spiral of cultural Marxist thought is not only increasing, but accelerating. It took probably 80 years between the start of feminism and refusing to support it being a fireable offense. For gay rights, it took maybe 30. For trans rights, it’s less than 5. Whatever the next shoe to drop will be (I’ve long guessed citizenship), expect it to become a condition of mainstream employment within a few years, maybe less. The best guess as to why is from Moldbug’s recent writings – social media increased not only visible social signaling, but also became the metric for media success, thereby shaping topic choice by increasingly low-paid journalists. Anything with traction for generating social justice mob outrage suddenly got large signal boosts in short spaces of time, leading to more signaling, leading to more articles, leading to rapid changes in leftist norms.

But there is another aspect to this rapid acceleration that is more noteworthy. We are now at the point where previously acceptable ideas that are now essentially forbidden (opposing gay marriage, thinking there are only two immutable sexes) were mainstream within the period of permanent electronic storage of online writing. Which means that anybody who happened to share the wrong article or write some moderate-at-the-time facebook post back in 2013 is at risk of being crowbarred out of employment and polite society, should someone care enough to dig through all of their old writings and posts.

In other words, it is no longer a reliable guarantee of being left alone, like Havel’s greengrocer, to hold fairly mainstream opinions on social justice matters. One must, in addition, be willing to change one’s ideas at an increasingly rapid rate. In other words, you have to be mainstream at every point in time. It used to be prudent advice to not post extreme opinions online, and that this would be sufficient. But the faster moral fashions change, the less this is going to work. The only solution is going to be full passivism – don’t post anything political, at all, in any publicly searchable forum that can be linked to you. You never really know which ideas that are normal today will become crimethink tomorrow.

To make matters worse, the fact that these are moral fashions, rather than dress fashions, prevents a lot of honest discourse or understanding about the underlying process if you want to come across as sincere. When hemlines go up or down, you can just change from a long skirt to a miniskirt without having to explain why, as it’s well understood that keeping with the times is just a pastime and a sport. You don’t have to denounce last season’s miniskirts as the work of the devil. On the other hand, people that are sincerely concerned about trans rights (or indeed gay marriage) have an almost complete inability to explain, even to themselves, when exactly they began to view this as a crucial moral issue and why. A mere five or six years ago, they almost certainly found cross-dressing (as it was known then, but which probably will become a hate-term in a year or two) and its associated subcultures as largely ridiculous, curious, or comical. At some point, it become the world’s most important moral issue to them. What changed their mind? If it is such an obvious human right now, why was it not an obvious human right in 2012? They were fully functioning adults. Did they just not care? Surely it can’t just be that the New York Times started publishing articles about it. Are they really so sheep-like on the supposedly great moral questions of our age?

The people who are apt to get themselves in the most trouble are those who don’t understand the process, want to discuss and take seriously these ideas at each point in time, but change their tune at an insufficiently rapid pace.

But there is another aspect worth noting. Steve Sailer had a wonderful expression for the process of crimethink hunting – the Eye of Soros. Like the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings, it is very powerful, and you don’t want it to fall on you, as it will destroy you. But thankfully, it can’t be looking in all places at once. Most people who shared some article back in 2016 saying there were only two sexes won’t actually be fired. It needs someone malicious to go to the effort of hunting through all your previous postings, finding the most incriminating thing that can be taken out of context, and starting a big publicity campaign against your employer, your friends and your family. Most people aren’t nasty or sociopathic enough to do this on a regular basis. It’s usually journalists, or some particularly vindictive person you know.

Which means that increasingly, there will only be one reliable precaution against both current and future crimethink charges. It is the same one as during the Soviet Union.

You need to be able to judge the character of the people you’re talking to, and whether you can trust them. The worse things get, the more all of us will live and die on this ability.

In real life, I crimethink quite freely. Many aspects of modernity are so comical and ridiculous that bonding over them is sometimes entertaining, in a clownworld sense. I do so at a level that strikes some people as imprudent. If I think someone is likely to be receptive, I’ll often lead with a mild joke to gauge their reactions. If I’ve judged them incorrectly, which happens sometimes, and they look uncomfortable, I moderate down or stop. If they appear to genuinely enjoy them, I push it a little further.

Once such people become my friends, they sometimes are reluctant to bring me to some context where crimethink would be badly received (a dinner party with a number of lefty guests, for instance). But on such occasions, they’re usually surprised that I won’t talk about controversial things much at all. They’d formed the opinion that I simply couldn’t turn it off.

As I point out, in such cases – do you think that I could have survived as long as I have, with the opinions I have, if I didn’t know the rules of the game? If I speak freely in front of you, that’s a mark of esteem, that I view you as a friend whom I can trust.

Trustworthiness in terms of crimethink is less correlated than you might think with simple partisan voting patterns. There are republican friends I have that I can only say certain things to, and democrats to whom I can say almost anything.

If I had to summarize the two strongest indicators that someone is trustworthy enough to be spoken to freely, I’d say they are the following.

First, do they have a sense of humor, both in general, and about political matters specifically? This is probably the largest one. Anybody who treats everything going on in the Current Year as deathly serious is heavily invested in the partisan aspects of the game, which sooner or later includes joining outrage mobs against bad thoughts.

Second, are they able to have an argument about questions of abstract principle without taking it personally and getting angry? People who can listen to strange arguments and consider them without an immediate need to lash out at you are much less likely to then badmouth you to everyone around  you. Actually getting you in trouble generally requires active work, and mostly only those with a grudge are willing to do it.

In my experience, people who pass both tests have a very high likelihood of being trustworthy in terms of talking about forbidden political and social thoughts.

There have only been perhaps two or three instances where I’ve gotten things badly wrong. In all of them, with the benefit of hindsight, the failure mode was me enjoying the contrarianism and humor of argument too much, and persisting with a line of discussion when warning signs were there that they were starting to get angry or upset, even though they kept engaging. If they’d stopped, I would have stopped. When they didn’t, I lacked the discipline and presence of mind to disengage and refuse to discuss it further.

I don’t hold myself up as a particular expert at this process. The nature of the game is that everyone thinks they’re doing well and things are just fine, right up until they get zogged. All of this may yet prove an epitaph to eventual unemployment.

All of us crimethinkers, however, do have one significant advantage over most normies. We’ve been thinking about this question for a lot longer, namely how to survive when you think things outside the Overton Window.

This of course leaves the last question. Why do it? Isn’t it just safer to shut your mouth?

Of course it is. It always is. The only justification is the one Solzhenitsyn gave, which is as true now as it was then.

Live not by lies.

He walked the walk, in a way that few others do. But he makes a strong moral case for the position. Every day, we choose some point on the spectrum between prudent silence and ill-advised honesty. If Solzhenitsyn’s work has a running theme, it’s that when you do the right and truthful thing, you probably won’t be rewarded for it, and will likely be punished.

But you should do it anyway.
If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that someone is suffocating us.
We ourselves are doing it. Let us then bow down even more, let us wail, and out brothers the biologists will help to bring nearer the day when they are able to read our thoughts are worthless and hopeless.
And if we get cold feet, even taking this step, then we are worthless and hopeless, and the scorn of Pushkin should be directed to us:
Why should cattle have the gifts of freedom? Their heritage from generation to generation is the belled yoke and the lash

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ave Atque Vale - Grandma Holmes, 1916-2019

Every day, the rolls of the dead expand, never to be shrunk again.

I am fortunate to have gone as long as I have knowing personally only a few such entries. My friend from childhood who got killed in a nightclub. My family friend in Sydney who died in a diving accident. My other grandma, twenty years ago. My uncle, whom I only saw every few years, because he and my Dad didn't really get along.

And now, alas, you.

The world must be a strange place when you reach 103. Every friend you had from childhood is dead. All your peers from work and school are dead. In fact, the only people still alive that you spent any sizable fraction of your life with are necessarily at least a generation removed from you. How many people form lifelong friendships with those twenty to thirty years their junior? Not very many. So who's going to still come calling?

In other words, all that is left is family.

One of the great joys of talking to you in your later years was you being the repository of all family news and lore. I could find out immediately by talking to you the latest news from my cousins, or aunt, or even my parents. It was wonderful. You'd always have endless questions about how my life was going, and what I was up to. But not just in a general "tell me some stuff" sense. Rather, it was specific questions about the details of my recent life events that you'd heard about from Mum or my brother or someone else, and you wanted to know more about how they were unfolding. It was very touching, and made me feel embarrassed at my conversational tendency to just tell stories and grandstand during conversation, rather than interestedly just ask people about their lives and listen to an answer. I tend to treat this phase as a prelude to "let's exchange some great and fun stories and witticisms". Talking with you made me realize how self-centered this must come across as.

Getting old is somewhat like getting drunk, or perhaps like being a small child. You find out that the ability and willingness to mask and master one's impulses in order to achieve social ends in fact requires quite large cognitive resources. When people get old, they lose a lot of their inhibitions. Whatever they have in them just tends to come out. Some people become lecherous old people. Some people become angry, or pontificating. And some people just become endlessly sweet and easy-going. You were in the last category. Everyone loved you deeply. I literally don't remember anyone saying a bad word about you, which is true for very few people I know.

Modernity being what it is, when someone is described as being "a product of their time", this is usually meant in a pejorative sense. It mostly means that they failed to be on board with the latest particular societal preoccupations. But you were truly a product of your time in a way that's much less remarked on, and reflects poorly on our utterly narcissistic modern world. Namely, there was a strong sense that one shouldn't complain or be an imposition on those around you, because life wasn't just about you. Naturally, this made everyone around you want to look after you and provide for you as much as they could. The closest I ever heard to you complaining was recently when recounting a heart attack a few days earlier. "It was very distressing," you remarked, when asked about the specific incident. This made me realize how bad it was, that this was the only indication you gave that you genuinely thought you were dying. But a few days later when I saw you again, you were doing well, in your account. It made me think about the writings of Theodore Dalrymple:
No culture changes suddenly, and the elderly often retained the attitudes of their youth. I remember working for a short time in a general practice in a small country town where an old man called me to his house. I found him very weak from chronic blood loss, unable to rise from his bed, and asked him why he had not called me earlier. “I didn’t like to disturb you, Doctor,” he said. “I know you are a very busy man.”
From a rational point of view, this was absurd. What could I possibly need to do that was more important than attending to such an ill man? But I found his self-effacement deeply moving. It was not the product of a lack of self-esteem, that psychological notion used to justify rampant egotism; nor was it the result of having been downtrodden by a tyrannical government that accorded no worth to its citizens. It was instead an existential, almost religious, modesty, an awareness that he was far from being all-important.
I experienced other instances of this modesty. I used to pass the time of day with the husband of an elderly patient of mine who would accompany her to the hospital. One day, I found him so jaundiced that he was almost orange. At his age, it was overwhelmingly likely to mean one thing: inoperable cancer. He was dying. He knew it and I knew it; he knew that I knew it. I asked him how he was. “Not very well,” he said. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” I replied. “Well,” he said quietly, and with a slight smile, “we shall just have to do the best we can, won’t we?” Two weeks later, he was dead.
I often remember the nobility of this quite ordinary man’s conduct and words. He wanted an appropriate, but only an appropriate, degree of commiseration from me; in his view, which was that of his generation and culture, it was a moral requirement that emotion and sentiment should be expressed proportionately, and not in an exaggerated or self-absorbed way. My acquaintance with him was slight; therefore my regret, while genuine, should be slight. (Oddly enough, my regret has grown over the years, with the memory.) Further, he considered it important that he should not embarrass me with any displays of emotion that might discomfit me. A man has to think of others, even when he is dying.
As Mum noted, you always said you wanted to pass away in your sleep, so as to not be a burden on those around you. You got your wish, with your daughter sleeping in the next room.

We shall miss you very much, Mimi. This has been a salutary lesson in humility. One fancies oneself that years of Buddhist reading and contemplation of impermanence will make one calmly accept the mortality of loved ones with equanimity and contemplation. And then one finds out that, after all, one is more like everyone else than one suspected.

But Buddhism is indeed consolation. In times like these, I often reflect on the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, recounting the last days of the Buddha. The incomparable teacher had told all the monks three months ahead of time that he would soon pass away and achieve his final parinibbana. To make matters worse, the Buddha had not appointed any successor to take over in his stead. The uncertainty and misery surrounding their future must have been extraordinary. Not only were they losing a beloved teacher, but also all sense of certainty as to what would happen to the Sangha, the order of monks. How ought one go on, in such a time?
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
This was the last word of the Tathagata.
Then, when the Blessed One had passed away, some bhikkhus, not yet freed from passion, lifted up their arms and wept; and some, flinging themselves on the ground, rolled from side to side and wept, lamenting: "Too soon has the Blessed One come to his Parinibbana! Too soon has the Happy One come to his Parinibbana! Too soon has the Eye of the World vanished from sight!"
But the bhikkhus who were freed from passion, mindful and clearly comprehending, reflected in this way: "Impermanent are all compounded things. How could this be otherwise?"

Indeed, how could it be otherwise?