Saturday, July 28, 2018

On the Cultural Aggression of the Quebecois

I was in Quebec recently. It's an odd place. Some parts, like the old part of Quebec City, feel like you've somehow set foot into a European town, with a walled city, cobblestone streets, and statues of local heroes from four hundred years prior. But then when you drive out of that part, especially between the major cities, it feels like you're in Anytown, USA, except that everything has been run through Google translate.

The attitude of the Quebecois towards their history is an interesting one. They very much celebrate their "Frenchness", but they're considered mostly as an object of humour and curiosity by the actual French themselves. In this regard, they share some similarities to the Northern Ireland Protestants, who are similarly ignored or viewed with mild embarrassment by the English. In the case of the Quebecois, their conception of France is also quite different to France itself. One aspect of this, that seems obvious and striking in hindsight, but is actually quite easy to overlook, is that the French Revolution never came to Quebec. The British took over in 1763, and so the Quebecois' conception of French rule dates back to this French Royal period. This is why you see the Fleur De Lis, the symbol of French monarchy, around everywhere. As I've written about before, you will walk around a long time in Paris before seeing many of these, or indeed any other celebration of the French Kings. But in Quebec, and indeed in Lousiana, the Fleur De Lis just means "French", not "Royal". 

The immediate aspect that strikes all tourists is of course the language. For a long time, I had always wondered about their stubborn intransigence towards issues of language and history. Not only do they insist on speaking French, but if anything they appear to have gotten more aggressive on the subject over time, not less. This includes the endless language police (an uber driver was recounting how a company he worked for was scrambling around to replace all the keyboards and telephone with French versions in advance of the language police visit). It also includes clamping down on English language education.

Not only that, but the Quebecois seem to have had a remarkable ability to shoot themselves in the foot with their endless hand-wringing about independence. They've managed to pick the worst possible outcome - neither becoming independent, nor being committed to staying part of Canada. Indeed, if you want a metric of just how much this screwed over Quebec, and Montreal specifically, consider the following: how many countries can you think of where most important city in the country changed in the past hundred years? London was the most important a century ago and is today, Paris was the most important a century ago and is today, Moscow was the most important city a century ago and is today, and so on. Not so in Canada. Montreal was the most important city for most of the 20th century. Then a wave of independence agitation, starting with the formation of Parti Quebecois in 1968 (of course! when else?) put paid to all that. You know who loves that kind of endless uncertainty? Businesses! Where do you think the operational headquarters of the Bank of Montreal are? Did you guess "Toronto"? They have been since 1977, when the bank decided to beat the rush ahead of the first referendum in 1980 on moves towards independence. 

I had just put all this down to the French generally being stubborn socialist assholes, and especially resenting Anglo-Saxons. Charles De Gaulle could never, ever forgive the British and Americans for kicking out the Nazis. It was almost easier to forgive the Nazis themselves. A recipient of charity nearly always hates his benefactor, as Orwell wisely observed. Quebec wasn't exactly in the same position, but resentment of the Anglos has a long, long history, dating at least back to the Plains of Abraham in 1759. It's not for nothing that the license plates read "Je Me Souviens" - "I remember". It's hard not to detect a vague note of sullen hostility in that, a determined insistence to bear a grudge. There are plenty of ways to remind people to celebrate their French heritage, and most of them sound more upbeat, like "Vive Le Français Canada".  Instead, it always seemed to imply to me "I remember when this used to be France".

But in any conflict, it's nearly always a useful exercise to consider "How did the other side think of the reasons behind the conflict?" One doesn't need to go full moral equivalence to think that if the Quebecois resent the Anglos, it's worth at least pondering why this might be. Actually, that's not quite sufficient, because that tends to lead one back to self-serving explanations. No, the better question is: what explanations might they have that, if true, were unflattering to our own self-image? This is nearly always the blind spot. "Why do they dislike us?" tends to produce answers like "They're assholes", "they're confused or misled" etc. "What did we do to provoke this?", even when asked in earnest, tends to produce answers like "We're too noble, too generous, too successful". You only get to the heart of the matter by asking "How might I be the asshole here?". Or as Mitchell and Webb put it - Are we the baddies?

Of course, the great irony in that skit is that while it's very funny, Mitchell and Webb could only jokingly portray Nazis asking this question of themselves, thereby displaying quite a high level of introspection. This is compounded by the fact that in the direct scene depicted, they appear to be fighting Stalin, who was a monster of the highest order. One does not have to be a Nazi sympathiser to reflect that on the Eastern Front, "good guys" were pretty damn thin on the ground.

But in the skit, there's no suggestion whatsoever that you, the audience member, should actually ponder the same question, even if just on the small scale of some pretty morally dubious choices. The point is not whether you or they are right overall, though that is surely important, and probably the most important question. But the other point is, do you know why the other side thinks you are in the wrong?

And one of the recurring themes that comes up among such honest questioning is that a lot of actions that seem to be aggressive offensive campaigns are perceived by those who wage them as actually defensive. Because we all live in America, the elephant in the room that we are all apt to leave out of the re-telling is America itself, the Vampire of the World. The ways in which the west may provoke things are rarely thought of, except to the extent that leftists claim that America provokes violence by being insufficiently progressive. 

I remember The War Nerd talking about this in the context of the Middle East. To America, jihad seems like an outrageous, insane form of unprovoked attack. But he makes a quite convincing case that many of the jihadis in the Middle East actually perceive it as a defensive war. How could that be?:
American exceptionalism is always just American provincialism, no matter how benevolent it seems. Not everyone is like us, and a lot of people are actively trying not to become like us. Jihadis are, roughly speaking, the armed wing of that group.
The truth about the clash of civilizations you hear people discussing is that it’s all the other way: The Mall is invading Islam, the Mall is taking over. There isn’t any Sharia Law in North Carolina, but there damn well are US-style malls in even the most conservative Islamic countries.
The Mutaween (“Society for the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice”) has hundreds of men, and even a few women, working in Najran. Some wear the big beards and special headdress, but others are in disguise. And what these undercover morality police do, mostly, is patrol HyperPanda to see if boys are talking to girls, or looking at girls, or throwing girls little folded-up slips of paper with their cell phone numbers. That last one is perhaps the greatest threat to morality in town, and HyperPanda is the scene of most such crimes. The Mutaween mount multi-cop surveillance routines, with some disguised as Malays or Filipinos, to detect any instances of heterosexual contact at the mall.
The culture, the law, are very clear. No pre-marital fooling around, and that includes flirting at HyperPanda. Mall rules are very clear too: It’s an obvious place for boys and girls to check each other out. When mall meets culture, hijinks ensue—and murders sometimes follow, with the male relatives of the girl who’s been compromised at HyperPanda hunting down and killing the boy who accosted her.
And again:

The vectors for contagion in Najran are legion, starting with the usual suspects: Facebook, where daughters of respectable families maintain private accounts which feature “risqué” photos of young women without the niqab (face veil), hijab (head scarf), or abaya (black robe). These accounts also allow girls to “like” one professional footballer over another, an expression of preference in male appearance which violates every marriage norm in the rural-Arabian book.
Then there’s the cellphone itself, Ooredoo’s trademark product. Cellphones are lethal for traditional female prohibitions. In Najran, girls can’t leave the house without a male relative, even to visit female friends. But with a cellphone, they can jump outside the compound without breaking a sweat, texting unrelated males to say God knows what in that krazy lingo you kidz are using these days. And because the older generation in Najran grew up in a world without telephones of any kind, let alone cellphone culture, they’re hopeless at monitoring this coded, corrosive language.
And in a way, the most corrosive of all the alien influences attacking Najran were the most seemingly innocuous: K-Pop and Korean Soap Operas. It’s amazing that there are still people in the old countries, like the US, who don’t realize yet that Korea has taken over world culture. They don’t need your stinkin’ American pop no more. They’ve got Sistar and they’re humming “Can’t Go to Sinchon.”
The Korean dramas Najran girls watch on their computers are intensely romantic—and “romantic” is a Western, alien import, a very dangerous one in a world where marriage is between or within families, and where young women expect to feel little or no affection for their husbands. When you’re stuck in your room—and your room’s windows have been boarded up to prevent heterosexual gazes from passing in or out—it’s quite a trip to be suddenly transported to a Korean beach, where two young lovers are strolling, having a heart-to-heart on a program called “Autumn in My Heart.”
Read both those articles, they're eye-opening. Again, the point is not that Jihad is justified. Brecher's implication that there isn't any genuinely aggressive component of Muslim cultural expansion in the west (Europe in particular) seems, shall we say, naively optimistic. But that's not the question. The question is: how many Americans could think of any reasons why they might dislike the West that a) aren't entirely self-serving, and b) aren't just progressive talking points? I don't think Jihad was exactly the example that Moldbug has in mind, but if you want to understand how someone might consider America the Vampire of the World, you could do far worse.

Which brings us back to the Quebecois.

To wit: you simply cannot tell the story of Quebec's cultural aggressiveness without discussing America.

Because it doesn't take much pondering to realise that in the case of language and cultural preservation, the Quebecois almost certainly view their actions as entirely defensive.

And it doesn't take much more pondering to realise that they're almost certainly correct.

English is essentially like the Borg. If you're in North America, it just tends to creep in, with a thousand vectors of attack. The tourists come to Montreal and Quebec City with their US dollars (or even their Yen or Renminbi), which bring with them enormous incentives to speak English. If you're a shop owner in Montreal, how do you greet your customers? They seem to have settled on "Hello, Bonjour", an expression that must surely annoy the French-speaking locals. All the major movies and pop songs come in English. Educated French-speaking parents start thinking that it's important for their child to learn good English, so maybe they decide to send them to an English school, figuring they'll get the French at home anyway. Slowly, bit by bit, if you don't do anything, the degree of French-speaking gets chipped away.

This isn't even just hypothetical. We already have examples of what happens if you don't actively fight these trends.


New France extended over a huge territory, not just Quebec. So the question is: how much French is still spoken in these areas? Even the cities which were the biggest at the time, like New Orleans? To ask is to laugh. "French" becomes limited to street signs, a small section of historical architecture for the tourists, and the Fleur De Lis around the place. That's what happens when you aren't willing to aggressively insist on French being spoken in every official capacity. English slowly grinds you down until it's taken over, at which point it's probably there for good (or at least until the Chinese invade).

Even in this decayed age, America is still a great country. Yet it is one of the tragedies of our era that gradually everywhere is slowly turning into America. I like America, but I don't want everywhere to be America. To add to the tragedy, the main parts that seem to be most contagious are mass market consumer culture and humourless political correctness. But the vector of attack for all of this is the spread of the English language. It's no coincidence to me that, among first world countries, the Japanese have not only the least embrace of open borders diversity nonsense, but also the least embrace of spoken English.

The Quebecois seem to have little interest in fighting the message itself, at least that I've seen. But to the extent that they don't want to simply end up as American, I can entirely sympathise.

Friday, July 20, 2018

How to Break the College Monopoly on Credentials

Suppose you were to think, like me, that America suffers from a significant surplus of university education. It takes young men and women, ladens them with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and indoctrinates them with progressive propaganda in an atmosphere of hedonism for four years.

On its own, this is bad enough. But instead, a bizarre idea has developed that everyone needs a college degree in order to be a person of any worth. Which means that the above process now applies to a far greater fraction of the population than it did two generations ago. And the new people at the margin, going to crummy colleges, are likely to be those for whom the instructional value is of the least benefit.

As far as I can tell, the massive increase in demand for higher education over the previous decades seems to be cargo cult reasoning writ large - rich successful people went to college, ergo if I go to college I will be rich and successful. A fortiori, if we all go to college, we'll all end up rich! Better subsidize all those student loans, now helpfully made non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

The unfortunate part is that I suspect that a good number of the people who go to college (or at least their parents) probably sympathise with the fact that the above reasoning is moronic. So how come they don't just skip it? Because, of course, it's a signalling arms race. Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, and nobody ever got fired for hiring the Harvard undergrad. 

Surely, you may think, there must be enough people who see through this, and realise that intelligent people willing to spend the four years doing on-the-job training will end up much better skilled than those who just graduated from college? Wouldn't they be willing to punt on these people, and thereby put an end to much of the madness?

The problem, of course, is information asymmetry. The enormous college application system acts as a certification system of hopefully job-related traits, mixed in with pozz, affirmative action, and associated nonsense. But it is quite adept at producing one conclusion: if you go to a university ranked between #15 and #25, it is highly probable that you applied to, and got rejected from, universities ranked #1 through #14. What you actually learned in the college is harder to assess. There's some value in GPA, but that keeps getting grade inflated more and more.

And getting an equivalently good signal elsewhere is still quite difficult, which I suspect is why employers skeptical of the quality of instruction at colleges still use it. The Supreme Court has made IQ tests effectively prohibited in hiring decisions unless you're willing to risk ruinous disparate impact lawsuits, and the general mix of extra-curricular activities, essays, and in-person interviews that signals "high achieving and socially adept" is easier to outsource to universities than to do in-house for most companies.

So if employers rely on this signal, if you don't go to college, you get lumped in with the people who couldn't get into any college at all. Obviously, in person it's not hard to signal that you're smarter than the rest of that pool. But how do you get past the first HR screening? How do you avoid people just assuming that you didn't go to college simply because you couldn't go to college, or at least any one worth attending?

Well, one way you could deal with it is as follows. Work very hard in high school, and apply to all the best colleges. Then take your best five acceptance letters, staple them to your CV, but don't go to any of them. This is something that people wouldn't quite know what to make of. They have a category for people who couldn't get into college. They have a category for "college dropout", as someone who got into a good college, but (they assume) having got there was too lazy, too much of a misfit, or just unable to hack it. But they have no category for someone who got into a good school but never went in the first place. Which means they have to think a bit harder as to what to make of you. If you turn up with an acceptance from Stanford, and a glowing high school record, and that's the last data on the subject because you never actually turned up, it's much harder for employees to put you in the dropout category, as the last data on the subject indicates that you probably would have succeeded. The reason this works is that college has largely become a joke, whereby it's very hard to actually fail out. Getting in may be hard, but getting through is not. The more of a joke it becomes, the more viable becomes the strategy of just signalling that you got accepted.

If you include with your CV a brief letter explaining how you think that college is a very expensive, bad deal for most students, and you'd much rather spend the time earning money and acquiring useful on the job skills, lots of employers would probably agree. Moreover, if you've already credibly shown that you could have done it, much of the signalling value is already achieved. Most of the signal is getting accepted, but it doesn't cost $100K for an acceptance letter. It's still possible that idiot HR types that just mechanically screen on college degrees (though you wouldn't fit into a clean bucket, so they may have to ponder harder what to do with you). The other risk is that people will just assume you're weird, simply because this is an unorthodox choice to make. I think this is where it's particularly important to come across as reasonable, thoughtful and socially skillful in your explanatory letter, so that employers don't think that you didn't go just because you were too much a weirdo.

I suspect if this got going (particularly if people realised that you could actually get hired this way), the monopoly on "you have to go to college" might unravel quite quickly. At a minimum, if you're planning on not going to college, this is a pretty low cost exercise to go through with almost no downside. It almost certainly will make you look more appealing to the employers of the world for much less than the cost of a college degree.