Nail. Head. BAM! Flush to the board

Just thought this needed bookmarking (via Chicks on the Right)….

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas (who is an Iraq War veteran) had this to say in response to those questions and it is the best response I’ve heard from anyone about this –

“Knowing what we know now, I absolutely would have sent the Pacific Fleet out of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 4 to intercept the Japanese Fleet,” Cotton told the Washington Examiner during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “I say that to highlight how foolish the question is. You don’t get to live life in reverse. What a leader has to do is make a decision, at the moment of decision, based on the best information he has. George Bush did that in 2002 and 2003 and he was supported by Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and John Kerry and every western country’s intelligence agency.”
“There are lessons we can learn from the early days of the Iraq war. One is that we clearly should be more critically analytical about our approach to intelligence assessments,” Cotton added.


How I’d Fix It

I have a simple solution for most of America’s problems.  It’s too late for us, so I leave it as a public service for whomever manages to climb out of the rubble After the Collapse.

1) Voluntarily surrendering the franchise is the price of public assistance.  Anyone who gives up public assistance can have their vote back one (1) calendar year after leaving the welfare rolls.

2) Voluntarily surrendering the franchise is the price of a government job.  Anyone who takes a job with any government, at any level, shall be unable to vote for the duration of one (1) full term of office.

3) Military service shall confer full citizenship after the term of service is complete.  Soldiers shall not have the franchise during their time of service (see provisions 1 and 2).

4) Ironclad term limits for all offices, irrespective of residency.  It’s one and one — you may stand for reelection once.  If you lose, you’re barred from running for office ever again.

That’d just about do ‘er, I think.

There’s lots of precedent for (1).  It was a provision of Great Britain’s Poor Law of 1834, for instance.  Citizens should not be able to vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury.

(2) follows from (1), as does (3).  No other worker in the world can vote to force his employer to pay him more.  If you want to get paid more in the real world, you have to level up, or vote with your feet.  (4) is just common sense.

In just 4 strokes, you’ve put the management of government into the hands of only those who have skin in the game.  And there’s no permanent immunity for politicians — they’ll have to live with the results of their shortsighted decisions sooner than later.

And the proles are happy.  The government bureaucracy runs as efficiently (I know, I know) as it ever did, since most government employees would happily surrender their vote for a lifetime sinecure (which is what most government work is).  The ghettopotami still get their gimmedats.

This plan, which probably doesn’t even require a constitutional amendment (we deprive felons of their vote all the time), could restore political and fiscal sanity within a generation.  Or keep it, once the Collapse is complete.

Rock Bottom?

Full disclosure:  I’ve never heard “Sally” used as a diminutive for “Sarah,” either.  But I’m pretty sure I could figure it out in context.

Which makes me ever so much smarter than those towering intellects, the Social Justice Warriors.

Be sure to check the comments for some bonus hilarity:

That dude on the original Star Trek was called “Bones” and “McCoy” seemingly at random. I could never understand that. And me am smart person.

I mean, it would be like calling someone “Ned” half the time when his name is “Eddard.” How could you ever take a book that did something like that seriously? His name is Eddard, not Neddard.

No one ever refer to a Margaret as “Peggy” around them. The resulting head explosion could level several city blocks.

Out of curiosity… what did they think Sally was short for? Sallyfooth, she be LaTrina’s sister.

That last one be just plain wrong, yo.

The bright spot in all of this: We may be hitting the bottom of the barrel re: DISQUALIFY.  If pretending to be confused by a nickname is sufficient to scupper a sci-fi story….

[PS y’all know my name isn’t really “Severian,” right?  Just so we’re all clear on that.  Oh, and feel free to randomly refer to me as “Crash”… you know, just on the off chance it’ll cause  a social justice rabbit’s furry little dome to explode].

A Reply to John C. Wright

At the risk of this becoming nothing but the Fascism-and-Historical-Jesus Blog (Morgan, Philmon, Texan99… y’all want to weigh in here?), I found this question at John C. Wright’s Journal pretty interesting, but I can’t seem to log in to post a reply (perhaps the hacker issues are ongoing).

The question is:

I would like someone to volunteer to show me, in simple steps, how to get from statement (a) there is nothing of eternal meaning to statement (c) there is nothing of meaning. What is the missing statement (b) that links the two sentences?

My stab at an answer is:

Statement a) begs the question.

Wright writes:

Again, if the universe is merely natural, then the laws of nature, the laws of logic, and other properties that are not material doe not arise from the matter of the universe, but are part of the form of the universe.

I agree, and that’s why I think statement a) — “there is nothing of eternal meaning” — is question-begging.  If the universe is only this — quarks and atoms, gravity and van der Waal’s force — then “meanings” must be provisional, and therefore temporal.

In effect, it’s my answer to the problem of theodicy.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Because humans ascribe temporary meaning to their temporary situations.  If there’s no Good — because there’s no God — then there’s no Evil, either.  Whatever “bad” happens to you is nothing more than a confluence of circumstances, filtered through your conscious, voluntary perception.

[The Stoics would call this something like an “un-preferred indifferent.”  Stoicism holds the only Virtue is Good; all other things are indifferent.  But since Stoics have to live in the world like the rest of us, they have a pretty good yardstick for situational ethics — “preference.”  Though food is itself indifferent — it is not in itself Virtuous — it’s better to be well fed than hungry, so, all things being equal, a Stoic will eat when he’s hungry if there’s food available.  But if all things are not equal — say, he can’t eat without stealing food — he will “select” or “prefer” hunger, or “de-select” or “un-prefer” food].

Now, I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with this argument — it’s not called The Problem of Theodicy for nothing, and I can hardly expect to have out-thought all the people who have meditated on it lo these past 5,000 years.  But I can’t see where I went wrong.  Any thoughts?

The Rectification of Names IV

To (hopefully) make it crystal clear what I’m talking about when I talk about contemporary Fascism, let me make the case for Fascism as briefly as I can.  Like George Orwell’s chapter against socialism in The Road to Wigan Pier, I’m playing devil’s advocate here.  I’m playacting the role of a member of the “Dark Enlightenment,” as I believe a significant fraction call themselves.  This is not my manifesto; these are not my personal views.

untitledYou, the American middle class, are getting fucked, and, like Jenna Jameson’s finest work, you’re getting it from two ends simultaneously.  Take illegal immigration.  The Left loves illegal immigrants because they hate you (the Left hates you, I mean, but the illegals do too.  That’s a bonus).  This also gives the Left increased electoral power in the short term, and that’s a bonus, too, but mostly they want to see their dear Uncle Karl’s crackpot theories work — and for that, they need to import a new proletariat.

BUT: The so-called Right also loves illegal immigration.  Do you think the daily truckloads of Mexicans coming over the border are all finding work as housekeepers in faculty ghettoes?  To get an American citizen to pick fruit and pack meat, agribusinesses would need to pay more than 50 cents per hour, and alas, you can’t offshore cornfields.

And this is true all the way down the line.  Pick any Social Justice nonsense — the Left is pushing it because they hate you, but the Right is pushing it, too.  You’ll notice, for instance, that National Review is forever on its fainting couch about this stuff, but the politicians they pimp as our saviors always somehow, someway, manage to cave in to the Left across the board.  This is because National Review, like the rest of the establishment Right, thinks you’re stupid, and won’t notice this stuff.  Given how you keep returning these clowns to Washington, they’re correct (in case you hadn’t figured out what the GOP gets out of the deal).

Politics as usual won’t fix it.

So what’s to be done?  Shoot every egghead in the faculty lounge?  That’d be a start, and it’d earn you a beej from any one of the three chicks who read Free Republic, but some fucking Aztec will still have your job tomorrow.  Shoot up a shareholder’s meeting?  Ditto, and ditto from one of the nation’s three heterosexual Wymyn’s Studies major, but ditto.

It’s simple, really: Hit ‘em where they live.  Close the borders, get serious about what can be expected from a -1SD IQ, and eliminate imports. Neither bankster nor bolshevik can live long with their oxygen cut off.  How?  Three words: William fuckin’ McKinley.  The Dingley Tariff was the highest protectionist tax ever passed, and the American worker has never had it better.  Throw in the National Origins Quota Act, and any US citizen with a pulse can name his price on the production line.

And say goodbye to racism while you’re at it.  Turns out even -2SD IQs can turn screwdrivers, and since there’s no such thing as an import car anymore, Government Motors is paying $100 an hour.  And since anyone with at least one hand is now employed, we can scrap the giant welfare apparatus; since nobody needs a college degree to “prove” he’s a “qualified” screwdriver-turner, we can trash Affirmative Action, too, and the giant student loan scam. College can go back to being a four-year daycare for rich kids in Greek letter sweaters, and professors can finally meet their beloved Working Class up close and personal out there on the shop floor.

Kumbayah, bitches.  Oh, and since we’re no longer invading people to protect Exxon’s profits, we can bring the army home, too.  Sucks to be Israel, I guess, but there you have it.  Meanwhile, no lefties have to fret about all the freedom and democracy our troops are spreading to distant brown people, and no righties have to fret about their kids coming home in body bags from same.

It won’t be painless, I’ll admit.  Since we’re paying auto workers $100 an hour now, most of the cars they build will be unaffordable for a while.  But hey, that’s what price controls are for!  And let’s not forget that it’s high time this country got serious about its public transportation infrastructure.  That’s a whole bunch more jobs for the low-IQ types, it’s eco-friendly, and a big reduction in personal mobility is a small price to pay for those huge society-wide benefits.

And it’s true that the adjustment period will be a bit rough.  We’re awfully dependent on our cheap Chinese crap.  But remember, the army’s home now, and if it’s one thing those guys are good at, it’s urban area denial.  And, of course, lots of labor will go underground, but again: army.  And those drones will work just as good if the National Labor Relations Board is flying them.  And if we really seal those borders, the DEA will have a lot of highly experienced undercover guys with nothing to do.  I’m seeing a lot of synergy potential here; the NLRB is gonna be huge.

Now, some might object that this’ll never work, because we have a two-party system.  Do we really, though?  I thought the perennial complaint on political blogs both left and right is that there’s really only one party.  And don’t the low-info voters always swear there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between ‘em?  Let’s go with that, y’all.  A single Party is the best of both worlds — you get the top-down business efficiency of the Right with the snooping, moralizing busybodying of the Left.  They’ll keep each other in check within the Party.  And since all this is going to require a lot of planning and oversight, it’ll be strictly meritocratic — the best and the brightest will naturally rise to the top.  And best of all, this will reduce competition and class antagonism — no more political candidates sniping at each other, and no more status-striving entrepreneurs outdoing themselves with decadent excess, inflaming the passions of the lower classes.

Why on Earth aren’t we doing this?

The Rectification of Names, III

untitledThis started as a response to Nate Winchester, here, but I think it’s important enough to merit a separate post.

Nate asks:

Is that what you’re saying here? That left/right is now all about borders? Nation vs world?

Sort of, but not really.  Left/right is collectivism/individualism.

The tl;dr of this whole piece is: Many folks in modern America who call themselves of the right are embracing one of the classic tropes of the Fascist left.  If the left gets its way, as we know, we’re all just part of the beautiful rainbow of diversity — we all have different skin colors and sexual orientations, but think exactly the same thoughts.

BUT, this thinking goes, the same thing happens if the “banksters” win — they do what they want, up to and including starting wars with Russia and the Middle East, while we pay for their decadence.
In other words, we’re all part of the global proletariat either way.  The only difference is, do you want to scrub Hillary Clinton’s toilet, or James P. Gorman‘s?  Whether we’re all whistling the Internationale as we march off for a shift in People’s Heavy Tractor Manufactory #202, or bopping along with Taylor Swift at our McJobs, our entire culture is being imposed upon us from the top.

These folks have concluded that the only way to fight collectivism is with collectivism.  We have to band together against them, or we’re proletarianized.

That’s what Fascism does.  Fascists accept Marx’s fundamental dictum that money knows no borders — oligarchs will collude.  They also accept Marx’s dictum that the working classes will eventually band together to resist this state of affairs.  But they view the resulting Marxist utopia with horror — even if it worked exactly the way Marx said it would, we’d all be faceless cogs, the same as we would if the capitalists won.  We’d be better fed, but there’d be no difference at all between a German, an American, a Nigerian, a Japanese, or a Mexican.

At its most basic, Fascists want to give their national proletariat all the benefits of socialism, while maintaining their sense of themselves as Germans (Americans, Nigerians, Japanese, whatever).

[Remember, we’re stipulating that socialism works for this discussion].

Section break!

Section break!

Nate writes:

So I would humbly ask if you could provide us with your standards of measurement here? (and the previous post) By my measurements, this isn’t a sign that fascism is right-wing as much as it is that the traditionally right-leaning are being pulled left by the political center of gravity. It’s rather like… if you try and sell individualism to the voters, and they vote for collectivism – and then do it repeatedly for years on end – it’s not hard to see that some political philosophies will throw up their hands and say, “You want collectivism? Fine, here’s our edition of it!”

Exactly.  I’m not saying that Fascism is of the right.  It’s clearly of the left, by any relevant metric.  It’s culturally collectivist and economically socialist.  In fact, if you want a pretty good description of the autarky to which Fascism aspires, you can’t do much better than Stalin‘s:  “Socialism in one country.”

The problem is that the the old-school, individual-rights, free-market Right — the Lockean Right, for convenience — is just about as dead as disco.  For a government to remain on the Lockean Right, it needs a bare-minimum number of elites — somewhere north of 50%, I imagine — to also be on the Lockean Right.  I don’t see that in America anymore, and a lot of the people I’m describing as Fascist-for-all-intents-and-purposes don’t, either.

That’s what Roissy is getting at, here:

I don’t want to live in a surveillance state; I want to live in a cohesive society with high trust levels that obviates the need for mass surveillance…Press the point that individual rights will wilt without societal norms to scaffold them.

In a word, he’s talking about asabiya, a people’s capacity for collective action.*  When sufficient numbers of the elite, and the people at large, embrace Lockean individualism, we’ll have free government.  We won’t need mass surveillance, because we’ll voluntarily conform to pro-social norms.  We won’t need endless wrangling over the emanations and penumbras of the Bill of Rights, because we won’t face constant attempts to transform 10 simple checks on government power into elaborate statements of positive rights.  Indeed, the Constitution is the best short description of what a high-asabiya society looks like — we can tolerate all kinds of lunacy at the fringes in the name of the First Amendment, because we know those people are, in fact, lunatics; our self-confidence is unshakeable.

Is that kind of society possible now?  Can our asabiya, so successfully degraded by 100+ years of concerted “progressive” effort, be restored?

I hope so.  But the Roissy types say no.  Hence, Fascism.  Those societies have high asabiya, all right.  The easiest way to develop asabiya (maybe the only way; see Turchin) is by having a powerful cultural enemy, a highly organized, effective, and malicious Other on the borders — or within the borders.  The Fascists-in-all-but-name are just saying what we’ve all seen: The internationalist, collectivist Left hates us.  See Sad Puppies, GamerGate, gay marriage, illegal immigration, and all the rest.  Why not tell it like it is?  Do you want your kids to grow up to be this guy?

B-uDP6fWkAE9mr8No?  Then what are you going to do about it?  The Lockean Right has failed, say the FIABN (Fascists-in-all-but-name; really need a better term for this).  Nobody really believes in individual rights anymore, let alone individual responsibilities (don’t believe me?  Propose eliminating Medicare at a Tea Party rally and watch what happens).  If we’re all collectivists now, say the FIABN — and we clearly are — then let’s at least be an American collective.  Better a benign police state that turns out wannabe John Waynes than a malignant one that turns out that…thing….in the picture.

Make sense?  I want to add, for the record — as if it really matters — that I’m not cheerleading for a benign police state.  I find the whole prospect terrifying.  But the idea has a lot of appeal for a lot of people, and we need to understand it.  But first we need to SEE it, and that’s what I’m trying to do here.


*A great explanation of this stuff and its role in the state is Peter Turchin’s fast, wonderfully readable War & Peace & War: The Rise and Fall of Empires.  I use this spelling because that’s how Turchin spells it; Wiki, of course, has tried to transliterate the Arabic.


Spergs and History

Further to this post.  Honestly, I’d never given much thought to “the historicity of Jesus” before.  Even when I was an atheist, the existence of an actual person called Jesus of Nazareth, who — though his words and deeds were heavily mythologized — made more or less recognizable versions of the claims the Bible said he did, seemed logical.  Though I only read his book after my conversion, I thought about the historical Jesus more or less like Reza Aslan does — one of many wandering prophets who mistakenly thought himself the Biblical Messiah, and convinced a group of zealots to rebel against Rome because of it.

I never realized that there are lots and lots of folks out there who claim Jesus didn’t exist at all.  Now, I’m not going to do a fisk on that whole article.  There are literally two thousand years’ worth of apologetics to draw on, and I’m sure C.S. Lewis, to say nothing of a thousand lesser lights, can knock out a Professor of Religious Studies (!!) who claims God doesn’t exist in about five pages.  But I do want to explore the “question” of the historicity of Jesus a little bit, as I think it sheds some light on sperg psychology (and thus might be of some use in understanding Our Betters, the liberals).

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I mean:

These early sources [the Gospels], compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify.

Spergs can’t process context, so this sounds convincing to them.  Problem is, this criticism applies to almost every other source in the ancient world.  Not to mention just about every source in the medieval world and the early modern world, all across the globe.  The author of the Gesta Francorum is anonymous and obviously biased in favor of the Crusaders, but we don’t dismiss him out of hand because of it.  The Nihon Shoki is anonymous, biased, and shows no inclination to critique its sources, and ditto.  Indeed, I would challenge anybody, anywhere, to name an ancient source in which

  • the author identifies himself by name,
  • describes his qualifications,
  • critiques his sources, and
  • displays no overt bias.

Hint: It don’t exist, because those are the desiderata of modern history, which dates (at best) to the Renaissance.

Forget methodological context; that demand doesn’t even make sense in historical context.  The apocalyptic Jewish messianism of the 1st century AD, of which Jesus (if he existed) was at minimum a significant part, would soon explode into the first of three enormously destructive rebellions against Roman rule.  Can we really expect an author of a pro-Jesus tract to identify himself under those conditions?

But again, spergs can’t process context, and because of this, they display a very peculiar attitude towards evidence.  We’ve all noted the online Left’s word fetish — they seem to think that the dictionary is the One Ring, and they certainly act as if naming a thing calls it into being (of course the Affordable Care Act makes healthcare affordable; it says so right in the name of the bill!).  They will do this regardless of context, logic, or methodological rigor.  I think we can see the process at work here.  Basically, it amounts to an unnatural fixation on detail (one of the key traits of autism, of course).  Like so:

Let’s say that they’re building a parking lot somewhere in southern Britain, and in the process they’ve unearth a cache of Roman-era artifacts.  Stashed away in one of the pots is an account by an anonymous author that tells the tale of a certain soldier, a centurion by the name of Miles Nonexisticus.  This man, who served with the legion II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis, thought he was the earthly incarnation of the god Jupiter, and he soon attracted a cult following.  The paper, Manuscript A, is carbon-dated to about 80 AD.

Archaeologists and historians would consider this a major find.  It’s unquestionably authentic (that is, dated to c. 80 AD), and that’s rare enough, but we almost never get info like this on folk beliefs.  Now, the pros can’t do a whole lot more with it — it’s only one source, however intriguing — and so it’ll get written up, and field specialists will take note of it, but that’s about all.

But then, a few months later, there’s another document, Manuscript B, unearthed in a different part of Britain.  This one, also anonymous, tells a version of the same tale.  Some of the details are different — it doesn’t name the man, and refers only to “a soldier” of the legion IX Hispana – but the main story is the same.  It’s carbon-dated to about 100 AD.

Again, professional historians would go nuts.  From two independent sources, writing at different times, we have a tale of a Roman legionary who built a cult following around himself as the incarnation of Jupiter.  His rank is different in both versions, he’s only named in one, and the later one has him in a different outfit, but both II Adiutrix and IX Hispana were unquestionably in Britain in that timeframe.  The pros would conclude that, at the very least, there was a story about a crazy cult leader going around Roman Britain in c. 80-100 AD.  That alone would warrant a mention in any discussion of popular religion in the Roman Empire.  We might not have to rewrite the books just yet, but it’s unquestionably important.

Except… spergs wouldn’t see it that way.  Manuscript B clearly contradicts Manuscript A on some crucial points.  B doesn’t even name the guy, and it has him in a whole other unit, which was halfway across the island!  One or the other of them is probably lying.  Far from being proof that one Miles Nonexisticus got himself a cult going sometime around 80 AD, this is just more evidence of the unreliability of all archaeological evidence.

But then there’s a third source, Manuscript C, found during the auction of an old, decrepit peer’s estate.  This one is a register of events in the Roman province.  It’s carbon-dated to around 110, and it mentions in passing that in the author’s youth, he witnessed the provincial legion commander (alas, unnamed) executing one of his junior officers for stirring up some kind of religious mania among the troops.

Professional historians see this as corroboration.  It’s looking increasingly likely that there was a centurion, probably named Miles Nonexisticus, who was in the grip of a religious delusion sometime around 80 AD.  Not spergs, though.  Correlation isn’t causation, after all!!  We simply can’t conclude with any degree of confidence, they think, that these two legionaries are one and the same guy.

A bit later, Manuscript D is discovered.  This one is much later — carbon-dated to around 200 AD — and it tells the complete tale of Miles Nonexisticus, the incarnation of Jupiter, and all his words and deeds.  The author of Manuscript D is anonymous, unfortunately, but he’s clearly convinced that Miles Nonexisticus was Jupiter, and that when the ungodly commander of IX Hispana had him killed, he actually executed Jupiter, and that’s why Britannia is experiencing so many trials and tribulations right now.

At this point, the pros really do have to rewrite the history books.  It’s fairly likely that there really was a soldier called Miles Nonexisticus, possibly a centurion, and almost certainly a member of IX Hispana.  This man thought he was the incarnation of Jupiter, and he caused quite a stir — so much so, that his cult still had at least one proselytizing disciple more than a hundred years later.

But apply the Raphael Lataster / Richard Carrier standard, and what do you get?  Nothing useful, that’s for sure.  None of our sources is named, and none of them is in the least bit critical of their info.  In fact, none of them reveals just how he came by his information, and one guy, the religious fanatic who penned Manuscript D, is clearly trying to gain converts.  Instead of proving that Miles Nonexisticus was a real person, these documents actually show that he wasn’t.  They don’t hardly have any details, and the ones they do list contradict each other.  Isn’t it likelier that the author of Manuscript D is trying to scam the local religious by making up some story about a miracle-working Roman legionary from the remote past?

“Geek Fatigue”

Gary wins Comment of the Week for this, re: “Free Thought” blogger and internet date-beggar Richard Carrier:

Assaulted with the glut of dorky shit like this inundating the net, I feel a certain geek fatigue taking hold. The guy is a lampoon waiting to happen, but I can’t seem to work myself into a satiric mood. All I can muster is a kind of weary disdain at the whole spectacle.

But at the risk of lightening the gloom’n’doom for which I am famous (among our three regular readers), I think we can make some lemonade out of this particular lemon.  Cruising over to Carrier’s “Free Thought Blog,” we find that he glories in a PhD in Ancient History from Columbia.  We also find this book, on the historicity of Jesus:

Carrier finds the…theory [that Jesus didn’t actually exist] more credible than has been previously imagined. He explains why it offers a better explanation for all the disparate evidence surviving from the first two centuries of the Christian era. He argues that we need a more careful and robust theory of cultural syncretism between Jewish theology and politics of the second-temple period and the most popular features of pagan religion and philosophy of the time. For anyone intent on defending a historical Jesus, this is the book to challenge.

Here’s Aspie psychology at its finest.  Let’s start at the top: If one were to advance the proposition “Christianity is False,” this is the way to do it.  After all, the truth of the Christian message depends on the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth — a real man, living flesh, returned from the dead.  Disprove that, and Christianity must collapse.  St. Paul says as much (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Now, most people would pick the softer target — the “resurrection” bit.  (Maybe Jesus was in a coma or something).  But not Dr. Carrier.  He’s going for the quadruple axel, so that even the French judge will have to give him a 10.

And with that, we’re already deep in the Kingdom of the Spergs.  Y’all know you can’t prove a negative, right?

And make no mistake, that’s what Carrier is trying to achieve.  Otherwise, what’s the point of a book like this?  Unlike, say, here (where “you can’t prove Washington said that!” is just a tic of troll OCD), there would be enormous real-world consequences if a substantial number of people accepted the proposition that Jesus didn’t really exist.  Carrier’s preaching to the “Free Thought” choir, yes, but it’s clear that he also expects a legion of neckbeards to charge into online battle against the forces of the Magic Sky Fairy armed with his tome.

There’s a name for compulsive activity that’s doomed to fail, and it’s not a sign of psychological health.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  After all, it’s not really that surprising that a man who begs his blog readership for dates is a little unclear on how the real world works.  For our purposes, the more interesting phenomenon is Carrier’s abuse of his degree.

One is supposed to assume that, because Carrier has a PhD in “Ancient History,” this is a heavy scholarly work, and that his ex cathedra pronouncements on the validity of historical evidence represent the baseline knowledge in the field.  That’s not just wrong, but willfully, maliciously misleading.

For one thing, doctorates don’t work like that.  When you finish your PhD, you’re the world’s expert in your subject…. but said subject is microscopically small.  Carrier’s PhD dissertation, for example, is titled “Attitudes toward the Natural Philosopher in the Early Roman Empire (100 B.C. to 313 A.D.)”  In other words, it’s a content analysis — he rounded up everything ever written (painted, sculpted, graffiti-ed) about a type of person, and looked for patterns.  It’s exhausting, and you can learn a lot from it, but

  • it’s hella interpretive, and
  • the source base, even at its broadest, is very small.

An example: Aristophanes’s play The Clouds makes fun of Socrates as a buffoonish old man who is forever lost in trivial speculations (at one point, if I remember correctly, he’s staring at the sky, ruminating, and a bird craps on him).  If The Clouds was frequently staged at Rome in the early 1st century A.D., we could reasonably claim that it’s likely that theatergoers thought birds crapping on Socrates is funny.  From there, we can infer that they have an irreverent attitude towards philosophers in general.

And this is how you have to do it.  Smoking-gun statements like “I think natural philosophers are great” or “As you know, Bob, I think Socrates was full of hooey” just don’t exist for most time periods.  It’s certainly legit if done right, but these conclusions are always provisional (maybe Emperor Nero was a big fan of The Clouds, and frequently ordered it staged, in which case the likelier conclusion is that audience was just there to suck up).  There’s been more than one dissertation torpedoed by new evidence coming to light a few days before publication.

[Note: I don’t know that Carrier actually did this (my days of slogging through dissertations are long over).  This is a hypothetical, to illustrate the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a work of that title].

The sources themselves are also extremely problematic.  I’m not an ancient historian, let alone at the PhD level, but I do know a little something about how historical evidence works.  The further back in time you go, the more “accidents of survival” come into play.  Just because it exists doesn’t mean it’s important, even if it’s the one and only thing we have to go on.  Similarly, some extremely important stuff doesn’t exist at all.  For instance, there are many books that must’ve been super-popular in the ancient world — they’re constantly referred to and quoted from — that nonetheless don’t exist anymore.  And even the sources that we have in relatively complete form are often cobbled together from badly damaged manuscripts, plus interpolations from quotes in other sources (and when those quotes diverge, we make our best guess as to the “correct” version).*

The Bible actually stacks up really well in this regard.  We have lots of surviving copies of most texts, and the copies mostly agree with each other, and they jive pretty well with quotes and references in other sources.  This has always given atheists the seething red-ass.**  One can certainly argue that the early Church ruthlessly purged a whole lot of stuff (I’m pretty sure no serious Biblical scholar denies this), but it’s hard to argue that they were working off dramatically different versions of the texts than the ones we know today.

Given that, the life of Jesus is actually extremely well-attested, by just about any standard a serious historian would accept.  But since it’s easy to get dragged off into the weeds here (as proselytizing atheists are wont to do), let’s consider a counter-example.  Here’s Carrier’s thesis in On the Historicity of Jesus:

Carrier contrasts the most credible reconstruction of a historical Jesus with the most credible theory of Christian origins if a historical Jesus did not exist. Such a theory would posit that the Jesus figure was originally conceived of as a celestial being known only through private revelations and hidden messages in scripture; then stories placing this being in earth history were crafted to communicate the claims of the gospel allegorically; such stories eventually came to be believed or promoted in the struggle for control of the Christian churches that survived the tribulations of the first century.

Now, let’s apply that to, say, Socrates.  The “Socratic Problem” is well known, but notice that it starts by assuming that Socrates was a real person.  How do we know this?  He himself wrote nothing that survived, and almost all of our information on his life comes from — ahem! — four different sources, written at different time periods, containing divergent and contradictory accounts.  Our chief source, Plato, was no stranger to constructing elaborate allegories to reveal metaphysical truths, and the Academy was an influential institution that was host to any number of significant power struggles down through the ages.

I hypothesize, then, that Socrates didn’t exist, and that this better explains the spread of Platonism in the ancient world than the existence of a real, ugly man cruising around the Agora, claiming to know nothing and questioning all and sundry about their beliefs.

See what I mean?  We’re back to begging the question — we’ve “proved” that Jesus / Socrates didn’t exist, because we start from the assumption that Jesus / Socrates didn’t exist.  The only way you’d fall for it — if you weren’t already convinced, and just looking for an excuse — would be if you didn’t know that much about historical methods, and were using Carrier’s PhD in “Attitudes towards the Natural Philosopher” as a stand-in for wide, deep knowledge that he can’t possibly possess.

If you were a credential-worshiper, in other words.  A.k.a. a neckbearded internet sperg.  Geek fatigue, indeed!



*If you want to see how all this stuff plays out, pick up a “critical edition” of an ancient text and read the scholarly apparatus in the intro and appendices.  They’ll tell you all about how they arrived at the “definitive” version.  It’s insanely complicated.  This is also why, btw, editions published in different time periods sometimes radically differ.  It’s not just a “new translation;” in many cases, there’s a whole bunch of new evidence that has come to light, significantly changing the meaning of the text.

**Though it must be admitted that a lot of contemporary Christian apologists go overboard the other way.  No, all ancient copies of the Gospels are not letter-perfect, and no, their transmission is not unproblematic.  But given accidents of survival on just about all other sources, they compare very, very favorably.

Pup-lic Perceptions, Or, Why I Write about Books I Don’t Read

It seems a bit odd — even SJW-ish — to devote blog posts to books I don’t read.  I’ve said many times that I really don’t read fiction anymore, and have never been much of a science fiction fan.  And yet I post on “Sad Puppies.” Why?

Because for once we’ve got the other side speaking in plain English.

All the Left’s bad ideas emanate from the ivory tower.  But as I’ve written at probably way too much length, obscurity is academia’s master value.  You can’t argue against it without decoding it, and decoding it means accepting its assumptions.  It’s just question-begging, but it’s such weird, dense, polysyllabic question-begging that most people give up long before they get to the bottom.

With this Sad Puppies stuff, though, the begging is front and center.  It’s illustrative of the Left’s whole cognitive style and rhetorical strategy, and that’s why I write about it.

As an example, let’s look at the case of Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.  Along with John Scalzi’s Redshirts and Rachel Swirsky’s short story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” Ancillary Justice is part of the Puppies’ case that the Hugo Awards, at least, have become all about politics.

I want y’all to note that I have not read Ancillary Justice.  That’s crucial for this piece.  Repeat: I have not read this book.

But let’s assume I’m in the market for a good science fiction novel.  I see that Ancillary Justice has won all kinds of awards.  So I cruise over to Amazon and look at the professional blurbs.  Not a lot of help there.

“Powerful.”—The New York Times

Okey dokey.

I’ve never met a heroine like Breq before. I consider this a very good thing indeed.”—John Scalzi

For purposes of this review, I’ve never heard of John Scalzi before.  I’m gonna assume he’s some S/F bigshot and leave it at that.  His blurb pings my sermon-o-meter — new heroines are good — but eh.  Moving on…

“A double-threaded narrative proves seductive, drawing the reader into the naive but determined protagonist’s efforts to transform an unjust universe. Leckie uses…an expansionist galaxy-spinning empire [and] a protagonist on a single-minded quest for justice to transcend space-opera conventions in innovative ways. This impressive debut succeeds in making Breq a protagonist readers will invest in, and establishes Leckie as a talent to watch.”—Publishers Weekly

Ok, so it’s the thinking man’s space opera.  Not my cup of tea in the real world, but for purposes of our experiment, I’m almost sold — it’s worth picking up.  But the customer reviews…. ugh.  There are three on the main page.  The first is incomprehensible.  The second, though…

The main character is the remainder of a self-aware starship capable of diffuse thought through dozens of reanimated human shells, the story takes place in parallel over two time periods, scenes sometimes switch between locations paragraph-to-paragraph, and the main society has very, um, different views on gender.

And the third:

One of the things that gets a lot of discussion is the gender neutrality of the book, and the use of the term “she” to describe everyone.

I’m smelling a gimmick.  So I turn to the intertubes, and come across the Sad Puppies.  They inform me that yep, it’s a gimmick.  From the comments here:

Why I’m Voting for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice – Justin Landon,

But, what has made Ancillary Justice a sensation, what has made it a Clarke and Nebula Award Winner and Hugo Nominee, is the simplest idea you can imagine. It’s a book that can speak to everyone. Because Breq speaks to everyone.

Search the web for reviews of Ancillary Justice and odds are that all of them comment on pronouns.
For the purposes of the novel, Breq’s gender is completely opaque. It’s assumed Breq is female because of the nature of the pronouns, but it’s merely an assumption, one bred by decades of living in the modern social construct

Published in the middle of a cultural revolution within the science fiction and fantasy community, Ancillary Justice has become something of a clarion call for women and other underrepresented populations fed up with the kyriarchy. A novel that erases that dominance, that makes the feminine default and portrays a character that lacks discernible gender, resonates in that environment. […]

Science fiction and fantasy hasn’t been particularly good at representing its wide and diverse readership. It’s a genre predicated on white cis men doing hero stuff. […]

Ancillary Justice rejects that notion outright. […]

the actual story is often glossed over in discussing Leckie’s novel, favoring the meatier issues of self and gender mentioned above.

Sorry for the length of that blockquote, but it’s important.  Because here’s the thing:  There’s a simple way to convince me this isn’t a gimmick.  Show me how the pronoun thing makes this a better story for everyone.

That’s it.

I get why some folks think the pronoun thing makes this a better story for women, or for minorities — see the blockquoted screed above.  But that proves the Puppies’ point.  It’s not the best sci-fi story of 2014; it’s the best sci-fi story aimed at a particular demographic of 2014.  Which is fine by me.  But then here come the anti-Puppies, insisting that no, Ancillary Justice is the best sci-fi novel, full stop, and it’s because of the pronoun thing.

Now we have a claim we can test.  Boil all that verbiage down, and you’ve got:

This bolus of Social Justice ideology — the pronoun thing — causes Ancillary Justice to be a ripping-good space opera.

That’s what “Breq speaks to everyone” means, no?  That the pronoun thing isn’t a gimmick, or (at best) a confusing distraction, but the central thing that makes this story so relatable?

Alas, they never get around to making that case.  Instead, we see them arguing the negative.  Even questioning the pronoun thing means you’re either stupid, or a hater, or a Vile Faceless Minion of the Evil Legion of Evil.  In other words: D-I-S-Q-U-A-L-I-F-Y.

I know, I know — this sure seems like a long road to take to a simple point (and, indeed, a point that y’all already knew anyway).  But it’s useful, I think, because again — we’ve got plain English here.  Look at the critical blurbs.  They’re trying to sell this as a ripping space opera, but they’re also trying to slide the gender thing in there.  It sticks out like a sore thumb, doesn’t it?  In college, you simply have to deal with the fact that “race, class, and gender” are gonna show up in your coursework.  If you want class credit, you accept it, and parrot it back when required.  But this is pleasure reading.  To anyone not steeped in this stuff, even the sales pitch seems off.

And then you get to the customer reviews, and just three spots in the battle lines are drawn — you’ve got a two-star rating commenting on the gimmick, and criticizing the pacing.  And then you get into the wider fan community, and the actual story goes completely out the window.  Now it’s nothing but the gimmick.  But unlike academia, nobody’s holding the gradebook.  They have to sell you on the gimmick.

And this is the best they can do.  D-I-S-Q-U-A-L-I-F-Y.