Friday, August 26, 2016

Putting the Cold In Cold Dead Hands

I mean, I get it. Really, I do. It's tough to be a progressive. Always trying to find some new angle, some novel way to put yourself in the moral vanguard. It has to be exhausting, running around like Mencken's definition of a Puritan, telling everybody that they're doing everything wrong (and for shameful reasons to boot). And as fewer and fewer people bother to take you seriously, you start becoming desperate, trying to find a previously-overlooked source of sinfulness that will make them pay attention again.

And so here we are. While I'm sure that, like most of their pathetic outbursts, it's best to just ignore this, I have to admit that I don't consider this sort of outright blasphemy against my lord and savior to be amusing. I suddenly have a strong urge to join the NRA, buy an AR-15, and take a selfie in front of my AC unit, daring them to come and take both. Some arguments just deserve nothing but trolling in response.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Justice, Just Us

Fred Baumann:

Three cognate tendencies have arisen in the United States to combat Locke-fed milk-and-water liberalism in the name of true justice. First, as mentioned, is the Marxist strain. Marx, acutely aware of the injustices that any ruling class commits, wished to dissolve politics altogether by means of a salvific proletariat, which would usher in a change in human consciousness that approached what he called “species being.” The state would wither away and administration would thus be apolitical and innocent.

Second, American “pragmatism” and “progressivism,” thrilled by the potential of science to rationalize human life, attacked the outmoded limitations on the state that liberal constitutionalism presented. Rule by experts was to replace the clumsy Madisonian system of rival factions and governmental branches balancing themselves out. The ruling class wasn’t a problem because it would merely transmit the findings of science, and, less charitably, because it would be composed of the pragmatists and progressives themselves.

But, third, when hope for the proletariat had faded (as it had even for Lenin, who thought the proletariat capable of nothing better than “trade union consciousness”), and when the luster of scientific planning had also been dimmed through experience of its failings, rescue came from the France of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty in the form of what Allan Bloom called “Left Nietzscheanism.” It was Left in being radically egalitarian and Nietzschean in being irrationalist. This combination, oddly, was reassuring, because it meant one could rule from “commitment”—which is to say, out of good moral intentions rather than actual knowledge (which was anyway impossible).

It's a long article, but well worth the time. Make it count, because you only get one free article per month at that site.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Wanna Be Like Freddie Now

When I first discovered Freddie deBoer's blog several years ago, it was revelatory for me. Not only was he an excellent writer, his criticism of the social media left managed to thread the needle perfectly — it was constructively critical without becoming reflexively contrarian. It reminded me of Jacob Bacharach in his IOZ persona, except that IOZ always seemed too in love with his own cleverness and too relentlessly ironic; Freddie, at least, wasn't afraid to earnestly stand for something. I respect him for that, even if the things he earnestly stood for seemed increasingly cringeworthy to me.

Therein lay the problem — Freddie was invaluable for pointing out how online progressives practiced politics the same way they maneuvered through the social hierarchies of the high school cafeterias they had only recently left behind. Once you had seen the ubiquitous virtue signaling from his perspective, it was impossible to un-see it, and impossible to take any of these people seriously again. But how many times does this need to be pointed out? At some point, the question has to come up: are you constantly criticizing these people because you think that social media can seriously become a force for 21st-century socialism in America if only they would quit clowning around? Then I don't think you clearly understand the nature of social media. Are you just criticizing them because it gives you a more exclusive niche from which to play the same signaling game? Then you're just as bad as they are. Or do you honestly think there's a silent majority of "true" socialist lurkers who are inspired by your example to do things correctly? Then I fear you're deluded.

Most importantly, if you honestly think that incoherent socialism and legally-sanctioned polygamy are good ideas, I can't take you seriously either. In fact, if that's the sort of thing you want people to come together to work for, I'm perfectly happy for them to keep being pathetic and ineffectual while seeking status on social media. Power to the hashtags, baby.

Now he's apparently done with his blog. I haven't read him regularly for over a year, but I appreciate him in retrospect for the inadvertent way he helped me to a greater level of self-understanding, though he would probably be dismayed to think that he had played a significant role in turning someone away from radicalism. He convinced me that something was truly, deeply wrong with the left, and I spent years trying to understand what that was, only to conclude that he had severely underestimated the problem, and that the social media/justice left was actually a predictable feature, not a bug; the entire radical left project was diseased at the roots, incapable of being saved. Nevertheless, I have both intensely agreed and intensely disagreed with him, and it's rare to find that, in my experience. It's sad to see one more regular blogger give up and pack it in, and I wish him well.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Power of the Purse

Tom Scocca:

If you want to write stories that might anger a billionaire, you need to work for another billionaire yourself, or for a billion-dollar corporation. The law will not protect you. There is no freedom in this world but power and money.

Anyone who is interested can find plenty of articles arguing over the potential ramifications of this ruling. Suffice it to say, I am yet to be convinced that this is the catastrophic disaster for free speech and a free press that Gawker and its defenders would have you believe, and that's not just because I've loathed that scumbag media empire and its guttertrash army of tabloid hacks for years. At any rate, whatever, good riddance, I wouldn't have murdered them myself, but this is still an obituary I will read with immense satisfaction. I only make note of this because I got an unexpected, ironic laugh as I read the above excerpt. As I said once in reference to culture-war boycotting, the social media progressive's favorite sport:

As other critics have noted, this tendency to let the market referee our moral disputes is pure neoliberal logic, which you would think the left would be wary of endorsing. You would expect them to object to a standard where the people willing to throw their money around most aggressively should get to set the terms of debate and the moral agenda. After all, aren't we constantly being told that the rich are all right-wingers with more money than the rest of us put together?

I'm too lazy to look for all the other times I made similar points about how, if free speech is going to be made practically exclusive to those rich enough to be able to withstand the vindictive economic embargo imposed on them for exercising it, we shouldn't be surprised at the predictable results. Nevertheless, it was all fun and games when we were "merely" trying to bankrupt this or that business over some offensive faux pas, or getting a guy fired for having donated his own money years ago to support a perfectly legal ballot initiative. It's like Stalin said, when one guy with a billion dollars spends his money in support of his values, it's a tragedy, but when millions of self-righteous progressives band together and threaten to withhold money they never intended to actually spend in hopes of putting an offensive company out of business, it's social justice. (That's not verbatim, of course, but it's pretty much the spirit of it.)

You know how everybody says, "I'm not one to say 'I told you so'?" Well, I am the one to say it. You made your hell, now burn in it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Divisions You Create

Your kind, it keeps on cutting
Divisions you create
Now it's all exploding
Soon nothing left to break


Livia Gershon:

In 1960, 94 percent of U.S. college students were white. By 1991, that had fallen to 80 percent. Women became a majority among students and also gained more representation within faculties. With these demographic changes came demands that white male professors, administrators, and students listen to points of view they had not had to consider before.

...Today, as the country continues to become less white and women and minorities gain access to more positions of power, maybe it stands to reason that the movement against political correctness has moved from academia into just about every part of public life.

A quick trip to Google will confirm that "divisive" and "polarizing" are terms frequently applied to Donald Trump. But I'm pretty sure everyone actually agrees that he's an asshole; his fans just happen to love that about him.

This, on the other hand... I mean, JSTOR Daily is basically a Reader's Digest of academic journals in blog form. Gershon's brief post about the historical usage of the term "political correctness" is written in anodyne language. And yet, I'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of divisive, polarizing rhetoric.

To summarize her summary in my own words: critics of political correctness are just bitter, resentful white men who feel threatened by the gradual loss of their power and privilege. Yes, it turns out that people who dogmatically insist that race and gender explain everything about culture and politics also insist that it explains any criticism directed toward them. Anyone who argues otherwise becomes ipso facto an angry white male conservative (those who insist, inconveniently, on being critical without being white, male, or conservative are, of course, just fellow travelers suffering from false consciousness, mindless puppets dancing on the strings of their white male controllers). Any self-identified liberal who refuses to toe the party line will be treated as a conservative for all intents and purposes until they wearily give in and accept the label.

It's hard to imagine a more self-defeating tactic. It's a perfectly closed circle of logic which guarantees that once all the heretics have been expunged, the true believers will turn on each other in the inevitable purification rituals. Nothing worth keeping will ever grow from this poisoned soil, and yet, too many liberals continue to make excuses for it out of the fear of looking conservative. As Trump would say: Sad!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

When Two Zen Masters Meet Each Other on the Street, They Need No Introduction

I'm currently re-reading all of Alan Watts' books, so it was especially interesting to discover that Bruce Lee was also a devotee of him. The only biography of Lee that I've read is Bruce Thomas' Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit, and a glance through the index reveals no mentions of Watts throughout the book. I suppose I'll have to get a copy of John Little's book as well.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Hearing Only What You Want to Hear and Knowing Only What You've Heard

Evgeny Morozov once dismissed a book by Jeff Jarvis with the acerbic one-liner, "This is a book that should have stayed a tweet." Neil deGrasse Tyson hasn't written a book, merely a Facebook post, but still, the same principle applies; he should have just left things well enough alone.

What I find most interesting is that Tyson helpfully links to several critical articles written in response to his original tweet, from which he apparently learned nothing. Like Mr. Magoo blithely traipsing across the yawning chasm of the is/ought divide, he somehow manages to arrive at the proposition — offered, as far as I can tell, in all seriousness — that in his utopian state of Rationalia, we might create an "Office of Morality" (because "Ministry of Truth" was apparently already trademarked) where moral codes can be debated and settled. Perhaps these new morals can be enforced by an equally-innocuous-sounding agency, like, say, the Committee of Public Safety, or some such. Had Tyson bothered to study the, uh, evidence accumulated thus far, he might have realized that Brian Carnell's vision of the glorious future much more closely resembles what we've learned from empirical observation.