Thursday, March 31, 2016

Verily, Verily, I Say Unto Thee

Donald Trump is America's collective rape fantasy. Deep down, they fully expect to settle down and spend the next several years having perfunctory relations with Hillary, but it gives them such an illicit thrill to imagine being ravished by that beastly orange man with his stubby little hands. I'm not judging anyone's kinks here, but it is getting a little boring having to hear you moan about it countless times each day. Try a little harder to keep it private, hmm?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Statues and Limitations

Last fall:

Hundreds of student protesters rallied at Oxford University’s Oriel College on Friday, calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, a past pupil and benefactor of the school who made his fortune in diamonds while helping Britain seize control of southern Africa in the late 19th century.


University students will vote on whether to construct a 250ft iron statue of ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

For goodness's sake, let's hope this doesn't spread over to this side of the ocean. It's been over a decade since I read Jared Diamond's Collapse, but I'm pretty sure this was his message about how Easter Island destroyed itself — identity politics leads to competitive statue-building, and before you know it, you've used up all your natural resources constructing mile-high representations of Reagan and FDR squaring off in a wrestling match.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You Should Ache Like I Ache

In case you don't feel like clicking through to see the other twenty-five tweets in the sequence, I can go ahead and spoil things for you. The moral of this feeble-minded fable is that privilege is like making use of a million dollars the bank mistakenly dropped in your account. I'm just interested in that word, "shouldn't". Honey, what sort of privileged sheltered existence have you been living to get the idea that life's default setting is one of fairness and equality? It's ironic, but really, when you think about it, these people are fundamentalist meritocrats. Everyone should apparently begin life as a blank slate, born into completely value-neutral, objective circumstances, so that whatever they "earn" will be solely and truly due to their own merit, whatever that would even mean in such a vague science-fiction scenario. Sounds uncomfortably like we're saying that people have a true "inner nature" independent of their families, histories, cultures and educations. Isn't that a problematic notion itself?

Anyway, analogies, by nature, aren't meant to be precisely equivalent, but even allowing for generous leeway, this one is particularly flimsy. If the bank accidentally credited a huge sum to your account, it would be a relatively straightforward matter for them to figure out where it should have gone. When it comes to the complexity of privilege, however, you can take a recent example as a reductio ad absurdum — reading to your children before bed is more of an indicator of their future success than sending them to private school. If even such an innocuous activity as that contains the seeds of privilege, what are we to do about it? Can we legislate that all parents must read to their kids before bed to make sure none of them are getting an "unfair" advantage? Of course not, but even if you could, it would quickly become evident that certain types of reading material produced marginal advantages, and then a-leveling we would have to go again. Then you'd have to eliminate any disparities traceable to differing story lengths, the gender of the parent doing the reading, and on and on and on. This hypothetical, of course, is just one tiny little variable among countless others, even within the limited context of functional families and how they prepare their children for adulthood. If you seriously wanted to try to analyze all the other variables that go into creating differences of intelligence, motivation, skills, and available resources between individuals or groups and subject them to oversight and regulation for the purposes of ensuring statistical parity... well, let's just let that absurd thought hang unfinished, shall we? The point is, it's impossible to achieve equality by turning morons into geniuses and lazy bastards into hard workers through social engineering, so in practice, we would end up settling for the next best thing — bringing those on top closer to the bottom.

It's common for critics of SJWs to grant them a little rhetorical respect by saying that their ideals are worthy, even if their tactics are counterproductive. What I hope to do, by taking the logic behind this rhetoric seriously, is indicate how misguided this is. It would be easy, and accurate, to dismiss this kind of stupidity offhand as just another serving of moldy Marxist leftovers doused in the sour sauce of resentment. But by making a serious effort to follow the logic, it becomes obvious that the state of affairs they desire, the results they demand, would require the most efficient totalitarian state possible to implement them. This kind of radical, fanatical, Procrustean "equality" has never existed and will never exist naturally. The minute that people are left free to choose their paths and arrange their activities without coercive oversight, inequalities — most of which are benign — will naturally result, which inevitably means that people will never be trusted to make their own choices. Idealism is one thing, but this is a scorched-earth war against reality they're waging.

If I Am Canaille, You Ought to Be So, Too

A cause-creating drive is powerful within him; someone must be to blame for his feeling vile. His “righteous indignation” itself already does him good; every poor devil finds pleasure in scolding – it gives him a little of the intoxication of power. Even complaining and wailing can give life a charm for the sake of which one endures it: there is a small dose of revenge in every complaint, one reproaches those who are different for one’s feeling vile, sometimes even with one’s being vile, as if they had perpetrated an injustice or possessed an impermissible privilege. “If I am canaille, you ought to be so, too”: on the basis of this logic, one makes revolutions. Complaining is never of any use, it comes from weakness. Whether one attributes one’s feeling vile to others or to oneself – the socialist does the former, the Christian for example does the latter – makes no essential difference. What is common to both, and unworthy in both, is that someone has to be to blame for the fact that one suffers – in short, that the sufferer prescribes for himself the honey of revenge as a medicine for his suffering.

— Nietzsche

Progressives used to insist that all their talk of "privilege" was not meant to be accusatory, merely descriptive. In the real world, however, it should be obvious that a world without privilege would be a world without a past, a world in which reputation and trust count for nothing, a world in which some all-powerful centralized authority relentlessly enforces a Procrustean equality. This is the stuff of dystopian nightmares. The only thing you can possibly offer in defense of its proponents is that they are too naive and stupid to really understand what it is they're calling for. In practice, then, this monomaniacal obsession with ranking people and groups by degrees of privilege, rather than elevating those at the bottom of the hierarchy, would necessarily end up expressing itself through the attempt to tear down anyone perceived to have too much of it. In practice, you can't even conceptualize how to make everyone equally successful and contented, but you can come close to making them equally miserable.

And so we find this article in a popular leftish tabloid, in which the author can barely contain her resentful glee over the misfortune of an American college student sentenced to years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp. This allows her to imagine a blow being struck against the phantom of white privilege that haunts her every waking moment. In the real world, however, the suffering is borne by individuals, not abstract concepts or statistical aggregates. The arrears here are metaphysical, and even a billion more Otto Warmbiers couldn't reduce them to the satisfaction of the fanatics who have been seduced by an ahistorical fantasy of statistical equality.

These people are intellectually diseased.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

All the Punks Still Singing the Same Songs

Joseph Heath:

What Andrew Potter and I were arguing against, in The Rebel Sell, was a certain political idea, which originated in the 1960s, but remained enormously influential during the punk era as well. The thought was that, in order to have a truly revolutionary politics, it was not sufficient to oppose just the capitalist economic system (as previous generations of communist revolutionaries had done). Capitalism was thought to be just one manifestation of a larger problem, which affected all aspects of society – the education system, the military-industrial complex, the church, the family, in fact the entire culture. In order to be truly revolutionary, one needed to oppose “the system” in its entirety. The central characteristic of the system was taken to be its fixation on order and discipline. If the entire culture was repressive, then liberation was possible only by forming a “counterculture,” which would celebrate the disorderly and the anarchic. This had a huge impact on left-wing politics. It explains how, as we put it in the book, “the hipster, cooling his heels in a jazz club, came to be seen as a more profound critic of modern society than a civil rights activist working to enlist voters, or the feminist politician campaigning for a constitutional amendment.”

The countercultural analysis, unfortunately, turned out to be mistaken. There’s no other way to put it. The idea was that if certain forms of discipline broke down – for instance, if people overcame their sexual repression and discovered free love, or if people began to reject the soul-destroying conformity of the suburbs, that a new era of freedom and individuality would break out, as a result of which, people would no longer tolerate the exploitative conditions of assembly-line labour, or military conscription to fight wars of imperialism. In other words, it was genuinely believed that countercultural rebellion would undermine and destroy “the system.” In the end though, it turned out that “the system” doesn’t actually require mass conformity, or sexual repression. So all that “rebellion” just became a new source of competitive consumption. The sexual revolution, for instance, immediately gave rise to the pornography industry. And clothing companies are just as happy selling leather jackets as they are grey flannel suits. So countercultural rebellion immediately became a part of the system that it believed itself to be opposing.

This is not to say that art cannot change things. But it cannot change the fundamental nature of commercial society. Artists have been condemning bourgeois society and its values for well over 100 years, and all they have succeeded in doing is showing how deep and liquid the market is for anti-bourgeois products.

And He Begat Sons and Daughters

So, some of you dedicated readers might be interested to know that I have another blog. Two of them, in fact. Well, more like two versions of the same blog. One on Blogger, and one on Wordpress. I grabbed the domain names some time ago just to hoard them, but only started writing there last summer. As you can see, I don't currently post all that often, but that may change as time goes on. I like the aesthetics of the Wordpress site, but I only use it as a florilegium centered on a theme. The Blogger site is where I may eventually end up doing the majority of my writing. I couldn't tell you why I feel it's useful to divide my writing labors like this, but for whatever reason, it feels right. Different spaces seem to inspire different perspectives and approaches to writing. Anyway, feel free to check in occasionally or add them to your feed, and thanks for reading.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Such a Grand Departure from Basic Human Nature

No one's expecting a world that runs on justice
No one is waiting for such a grand departure
From basic human nature

Ginger Wildheart

Sarah Bakewell:

Alongside the internationalists and the pro-Americans, a third group in postwar Western Europe favored putting their hope in the Soviet Union. This was, after all, the one major nation on earth that had actually tried to put into effect the great Communist ideal for humanity — the prospect that (at some far-off point when all the cleaning up work was done) human beings would banish poverty, hunger, inequality, war, exploitation, fascism and other evils from existence forever, simply by an act of rational management. It was the most ambitious attempt to change the human condition ever attempted. If it failed the first time, it might never be tried again, so it seemed worth defending at all costs.

We are here talking about the events of just seven decades ago — a modest human lifespan — yet it has already become difficult to think ourselves sufficiently into that time to understand how this ideal swayed so many intelligent, sophisticated people in the West. Now, the conventional wisdom has become that Communism would never have worked in any possible world, and therefore that those who failed to see it as futile from the start were fools. Yet, to people who had been through the hardships of the 1930s and the Second World War, it could seem an idea worth believing in despite its acknowledged unlikeliness. People did not see it as a mere dream, of the kind you wake from with a vague impression that you've seen something marvelous but impossible. They thought it a practical goal, albeit one to which the path would be long and difficult, with many pitfalls along the way.

Yuval Levin, in his excellent Tyranny of Reason, made a similar generous point. Given the astounding successes of the natural sciences in the wake of Newton, it was perfectly reasonable to hope, or even assume, that a similar science of man and society could be developed and implemented. What's unforgivable is that there are still so many people today who have a historical record to reflect upon, yet still refuse to learn from it.

Plight Makes Right

Sarah Bakewell:

If a lot of people with incompatible interests all claim that right is on their side, how do you decide between them? In a paragraph of the final part of The Communists and Peace, Sartre had sketched the outline of a bold solution: why not decide every situation by asking how it looks to "the eyes of the least favored", or to "those treated the most unjustly"? You just need to work out who was most oppressed and disadvantaged in the situation, and then adopt their version of events as the right one. Their view can be considered the criterion for truth itself: the way of establishing "man and society as they truly are". If something is not true in the eyes of the least favored, says Sartre, then it is not true.

...This is similar to what might one might call the Genet Principle: that the underdog is always right. From now on, like Jean Genet, Sartre submits himself joyfully to the alienated, downtrodden, thwarted and excluded. He tries to adopt the gaze of the outsider, turned against the privileged caste — even when that caste includes himself.

No one could say that this is easy to do, and not only because (as Beauvoir had pointed out in The Second Sex) borrowing someone else's perspective puts a strain on the psyche. Anyone who tries to do it also runs into a mass of logical and conceptual problems. Disagreements inevitably ensue about who exactly is least favored at any moment. Each time an underdog becomes an overdog, everything has to be recalculated. Constant monitoring of roles is required — and who is to do the monitoring?

I'm surprised I've never heard this idea cited approvingly and credited to him. Sartre, the unheralded father of intersectionality? Well, that would certainly explain why the baby is so fucking ugly.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Literature Lost

The New Left was a heavy boulder heaved into the pond of American society, and the ripples are still disturbing the surface. We currently find our little boat rolling in the turmoil of the second big wave of political correctness to follow that initial splash. Regular readers know my story — I didn't go to college, and thus was not exposed firsthand to the original PC outburst that was taking place at that time. My shallow liberalish identity, forged largely in response to the aggressive, mean-spirited right-wing environment I grew up in, didn't survive exposure to the millennial generation's PC resurgence, which was spread wider than ever before by social media, rather than remaining quarantined on college campuses. For the last few years, I've been reading as much as I can to give me a better philosophical understanding of who these lunatics are and which crack in the roof of hell they crawled out from.

John M. Ellis's 1997 book Literature Lost is one of the better sources I've found for my purposes, engagingly written and refreshingly free of polemical excess. He starts with context, showing that cultural history has been a long series of footnotes to Ecclesiastes, in which everything we thought was new is just another remake. Today's radicals reflexively oppose anything to do with straight, white, Western men, but Tacitus was the first to use a romanticized image of barbarian outsiders as a selectively polished mirror in order to shock his own society with its ugly reflection. We may stare in utter disbelief as campus leftists insist that races and genders need to be effectively segregated, not for the benefit of white society this time, but rather to prevent those white devils from appropriating and microaggressing against cultures of color, and yet Johann Herder, as Isaiah Berlin has elsewhere explained in depth, had already laid the intellectual foundations for tribal group identity and cultural relativism long ago. And then, of course, haunting the whole sorry spectacle is the malignant shade of Rousseau, the original social justice warrior. Rather than rehash his many intellectual crimes, I'll just step outside to hawk and spit on the ground at the mention of his accursed name.

From there, we read about feminists complaining that "easy dismissal of feminist writers, journals and presses" and "malicious humor directed against feminists" are common examples of "harassment", which exists on the same continuum as actual, literal rape. This, by the way, is from a Modern Language Association newsletter from 1991, not from a post last week on Tumblr. (Peggy McIntosh, the mother of intersectionality, who is uniquely responsible for the fact that no one currently between the ages of 20-50 will ever want to hear the word "privilege" again no matter what the context, makes several appearances in this book.) We take a look back at the primitive precursor to Twitter show trials, multisignature letters, in which dissident scholars find themselves being publicly attacked by mobs of enraged academics, ad hominem-style, in prominent publications, for their apostasy. And we are reminded that intellectual philistines have been insisting, for decades now, that politics is the most important content of literature (or art in general), and that opposing oppression by straight, white, Western men is the primary concern of all politics.

In making the persuasive case that the uniqueness of Western culture lies not in its crimes, but in the moral/intellectual framework it developed and practical action it took to atone for those crimes, Ellis does oversimplify the Enlightenment and its consequences, in my view. You wince, for example, as Ellis writes, "Torture now occurs for the most part only in those areas of the globe where Enlightenment values have not fully penetrated," knowing as you do that Abu Ghraib would be news less than a decade later, and that waterboarding would be something that Republican presidential candidates happily espouse as a campaign promise today. He rightly argues that "stumbling" toward moral progress is forgivable for a Western culture that codified the very ideals by which it is being harshly judged, but seems to consider it a foregone conclusion that the rest of the world will eventually adopt "Enlightenment" values. Well, as critics of this sort of "it gets better" school of historical thought, such as John Gray and Timothy Snyder, have pointed out, the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, and Maoists were all attempting to use science and reason to rationally improve human society, however inconvenient that is for P.R. purposes. Noting this is not to claim, a la Slavoj Zizek, that there is no meaningful difference between Jefferson and Stalin, so we might as well choose the "honesty" of the latter; it is merely to suggest that this is an unnecessary weak link in an otherwise strong argument. The ideals could be defended without hitching them to a tendentious, vague equation of "the Enlightenment" to "anything we consider good, happy, positive, and beneficial in our society."

Still, that's a minor quibble. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in gaining perspective on the left side of the culture wars.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Just and the Unjust

The word "just" is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.

Friday, March 11, 2016

People Without a Homeland

John Kluge:

The word seems to have become a brand that some people attach to a set of partisan policy preferences, rather than the set of underlying principles about government and society it once was. Conservatism has become a dog’s breakfast of Wilsonian internationalism brought over from the Democratic Party after the New Left took it over, coupled with fanatical libertarian economics and religiously-driven positions on various culture war issues. No one seems to have any idea or concern for how these positions are consistent or reflect anything other than a general hatred for Democrats and the Left.

Well, yeah. Get rid of those things, and I could call myself a conservative. Likewise, get rid of the identitarian fundamentalists, the postmodernist academics, the vestigial Marxists, and the social media garbage babies from the left and I could call myself a progressive, too. This is how people like Plato end up developing theories of eternal Forms, when reality refuses to be neat and orderly. Let us exiles just get together and hash out exactly how much of a welfare state should exist, and then we can all get on with far more important things in life than politics.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Culture Cold War

Carrie Lukas:

Lands’ End learned the hard way the dangers of getting involved in politically charged debates—particularly those that can be seen as a proxy war over abortion, as is certainly the case with the current brouhaha over Gloria Steinem.  Now company executives are realizing that perhaps the only thing worse than implicitly insulting the political beliefs of an important segment of your customer base is insulting the political beliefs of an additional important segment of your customers.  Lands’ End needs to hope this P.R. nightmare fades fast.  And, in the future, they should stick to offering affordable fashions and monogrammed beach bags, and steer clear of the culture wars.

The only thing that could possibly make professional culture warriors more loathsome would be a sense of "the customer is always right!" entitlement. Naturally, then, boycott culture has stepped up to provide that. The rest of the world has to become a proxy battleground for the superpowers, i.e. the monomaniacal shitheads who live to scream at each other about politics.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Strange Aeons

Angela Chen:

Love alone is untouchable, one of the last frontiers where the ability to manipulate or shun an experience seems to be asking for too much – but why? Love is in many ways a chemical reaction, and when love causes intense suffering or conflicts deeply with other values, people who want a chemical solution should, providing they give informed consent, have one. Access to anti-love drugs could bring some of us closer to one of the core values of Western society: personal autonomy, and a future where we control our lives and become the people we most want to be.

By insisting that no one can opt-out of the love experience, suffering and all, we often ignore the very real damage that love can cause simply because the source of the damage is seen as so necessary.

Rachlin and Frankel:

A second effect of social mixing would be to generate a strong interest in the health and wellbeing of expectant mothers, which would ultimately translate into an interest in the social and biological welfare of everyone. Since any child might end up our own, we would provide the social and educational environments that would best enhance their development. Ghettos and slums would be an eyesore for us all. Poverty, drug, and alcohol addiction are already everyone’s problem, but this fact would be more meaningful than it is now. The child of that addict might be our biological child. Every victim of a drive-by shooting might be a member of our genetic family. Each of us would see the link between our fate and the fate of others.

Third, the superficial connection between colour and culture would be severed. Racism would be wiped out. Racial ghettos would disappear; children of all races would live in all neighbourhoods. Any white child could have black parents and any black child could have white parents. Imagine the US president flanked by his or her black, white, Asian and Hispanic children. Imagine if social mixing had been in effect 100 years ago in Germany, Bosnia, Palestine or the Congo. Racial, religious, and social genocide would not have happened.

Fourth, the plan accords with John Rawls’s concept of justice, introducing a welcome element of randomness into the advantages that each child can expect. At the present time, if you are a child of Bill Gates, you will have not only a genetic advantage but also a material one. Under a regime of social mixing, any baby could find herself the child of Bill Gates and enjoy the opportunity of optimally exercising whatever her genetic gifts might be. As for Bill Gates’s biological child, he might find himself the son of a barber, but with his natural genetic gifts he might make the most of a less than optimal educational environment.

You might claim that this bias itself is ‘natural’. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.

Vicki Larson:

With all that, can we raise children better? Yes. Rather than leave childrearing solely in the hands of one or two people, it would help everyone if we approached it more along the lines of the old African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ We should take alloparenting to the next level: quality and trained caregiving that is shared, continuous and, most important, mandatory.

Which is why Gheaus suggests that some non-parental care should be mandatory. If childrearing became more of a communal obligation, all children, whether subject to disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds or just bad parenting, would benefit. More people would be invested in their lives, and the children would be exposed to a variety of opinions and lifestyles that would enhance their budding autonomy. Having numerous caregivers would expose bad parenting earlier, too, and help to mitigate it. And as they grew into adulthood, children would be more likely to be compassionate – or at least open-minded – toward people whose beliefs and values differed from their parents’.

Aeon used to publish a higher percentage of interesting stuff. Lately, their target demographic seems to be the kind of people who think that the only problem with the utopian social engineering of Condorcet and Comte was the lack of modern technology and pharmaceuticals.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

If I Was Diana Moon Glampers

I don't know how I missed this story last year, but it's great — a couple of philosophers did as philosophers do and took a line of thought to its logical conclusion. In this case, they examined the popular obsession with privilege and equality and suggested what it might take to make the ideal into reality. The media, of course, did as media do and selected the juiciest angle to hype out of context — "Academics say it's unfair to other kids if you read bedtime stories to yours!" That's only to be expected, unfortunately. I'm just glad that, finally, someone actually bothered to do more than parrot all the empty social justice rhetoric and actually draw some conclusions from it. Of course it would be philosophers. This is why philosophy is always important, kids, no matter what some philistine scientists try to say.

Alternatively, we could have all read Kurt Vonnegut's story Harrison Bergeron and learned the same lesson a long time ago, but there I go, being a crazy dreamer.

We Are the World

Gracy Olmstead:

Because if my Facebook friends’ statements were any indication, Trump should have suffered a serious blow on Tuesday night. Yet as results poured in, he continued to stand as the frontrunner. So something—whether it was algorithms or friend circles, indignation or stubbornness—prevented my friends from reaching the voters they meant to reach. Based on the results of Super Tuesday, the voters #NeverTrump posts were meant to reach were either offended by them and voted for him anyway, or didn’t see them much or at all.

Ah, life in a social media gated community. You know what I really need? Imagine someone in a cheesy horror movie making the sign of the cross with their fingers to ward off a vampire. Now, instead of a cross, what I need is a picture of some helpless, terrified victim, cowering before an evil silhouette, making a sign of the hashtag as a feeble last resort. I could have saved all this typing if only that picture had already existed.