Author Archives: Severian

Putting Ourselves on the Spectrum

Back when we concerned ourselves with the actual behavior of real humans — that is, before we retreated entirely into the political fantasyland of Race / Class / Gender — historians vigorously debated mentalites (say it French-style for ivory tower street cred — mon-tall-ee-tays).  What did people think, and how did those beliefs drive their actions?

It led to some fascinating speculation.  If Julian Jaynes is right, for instance, then pretty much everything we know about the ancient world is wrong… but it doesn’t have to be that radical.  Take “literacy.”  How much information can you convey without written language?  This, for instance

is a high-medieval depiction of Christ surrounded by the four Evangelists (clockwise from top left: Matthew, John, Luke, Mark).  We assume this is didactic, as were all the carvings on medieval churches.  But: What does it teach?  Can you convey complex moral instruction this way?

It matters, because people in a society more complex than a small subsistence village has to be able to hash things out for itself.  “Don’t murder” is a pretty easy rule, you’d think, but even that can get muddy pretty quickly.  What if you legally deprive a man of everything he has, and his ability to get more?  Isn’t that tantamount to murder?

This is why some historians once claimed that “the Christian centuries” weren’t actually Christian in any meaningful sense.  In the tiny world of your ancestral village, there’s no need for theology.  The “Christ” you pray to might as well be Jupiter, or the Divine Augustus, or Cernunnos, or Nature herself.  Just do what you have to do to keep the priest happy, such that the divinity blesses your crops.  Chant the paternoster?  Ok.  Put money at the foot of the statue?  Sure.  Human sacrifice?  If you say so…

You only get complex thought, it seems, with writing, and you only get that in a city.  And even there it takes a long time – Linear B, for instance, is mostly for keeping lists.  Even stuff like Egyptian hieroglyphics, which can seemingly convey complex, abstract, information, isn’t didactic… for people.  It’s right there in the word — “hiero-glyphic” means “sacred carving.”  The Pyramid Texts contain scads of abstract information, but they’re addressed to someone who’s already dead.

What you need, then, is a group of urban-dwellers.  More than that, though, to really get written language going — to develop a writing that can easily convey abstract information — you need rootless cosmopolitans.  Check out this list of written languages.  Though some of them were used by cultures with large empires, the writing was brutally complicated, carried out entirely by a caste of specialists who did nothing but compose letters.  Only heavily urbanized trade cultures, like the Phoenicians, developed phonetic alphabets… after which, like magic, you see the birth of modern thought.

The point of this long excursion through palaeography is to highlight the relationship between written language and abstract thought.  Which seems like a pointless rehash of the obvious, except….

…. the process is reversing.  English (which in modern times should properly be called “American”) is the most efficient language ever devised for conveying abstract information — entirely fitting to a race of tinkerers.  But even American isn’t for rootless cosmopolitans.  Our language is full of proverbs, allusions, tropes and schemes and figures of speech of all kinds, none of which make sense outside of a shared culture.  And even though the American language will happily co-opt any useful word from another language (e.g. a calque like “brainwashing”), it still relies on those figures of speech to get meaning across.

See, for instance, the metonymy “top brass” (from the linked list of figures of speech).  It means “the upper level of leadership in an organization.”  It is itself metonymical — “the brass” meaning “officers.”  The only way you’d know that, though, is if you were familiar with the military.  But not the modern military, which wears sewn-on badges of rank in most situations.  Only formal uniforms have metallic badges, none of which actually look like brass.  Gorgets do, but those went out in the 18th century (here‘s George Washington wearing one as he goes off to fight the French and Indian War).

But that’s just history.  In practice, I doubt actual soldiers use the phrase “top brass” much anymore (given the military “leadership’s” set of priorities these days, I’m confident that the words most soldiers use for their commanding officers all have four letters).  Moreover, most Americans have never been in the army; lots of Americans don’t even know anyone who has ever been in the army.  When we civilians use the phrase “top brass,” then, we don’t actually mean “the upper level of leadership in an organization;” we mean either something like “the powers that be” — the vague, utterly unaccountable someones who seem to run things with no reference to us proles — or something like “a guy with very little actual power who carries on like the little king of everything.”  As in, “Tommy just got promoted to head fry guy on the afternoon shift, and all of a sudden he thinks he’s top brass — just him and Ronald McDonald running things.”

Now, here’s a fun challenge: Express the meaning of the phrase “Tommy thinks he’s top brass” in plain English, using no figures of speech whatsoever:

“Tommy behaves in the manner of a general in command of an army.”  That’s meaningless — have you ever even met a general, let alone been around one when he’s generaling?

“Tommy behaves as if he has more power than he actually does.”  Well, ok, but… what does that mean?  Tommy issues his orders (which is what we assume a general does all day), but Tommy actually has the power to do that — he’s the head fry guy, after all.

“Tommy insinuates that he has knowledge of the company’s inner workings that he doesn’t.”  Does he?  How?  How would you know?

“Tommy behaves arrogantly.”  That’s getting closer to what “Tommy thinks he’s top brass” actually means, but what if he’s that way all the time, or for non-work-related reasons?  Maybe Tommy is also the captain of the football team and the prom king.

“Tommy behaves more arrogantly now than he used to.”  Ok, now I think we’ve got it, but…. what’s “arrogant,” anyway?  See what I mean?  Even that — arrogance — is highly culture-specific…

Modern communication — Internet communication —  is truly rootless cosmopolitanism.  How can you say that Tommy is behaving in a way that intermittently oversteps the bounds of social convention in a specific context — which is the most bare-bones meaning of “Tommy thinks he’s top brass” — if there’s no “social convention” in the first place?

Our language encodes our culture.  The bulk of the abstract information written language conveys isn’t stuff like the Pyramid Texts, about the geography of the afterlife and whatnot.  Rather, it’s a set of common expectations.  Calling Tommy “top brass” is a mild, chiding insult.  You can express the same idea with “he’s gotten too big for his britches” or “he’s all puffed up” or any number of other idioms, but they all have the same purpose: To reinforce social norms.  “Tommy thinks he’s top brass” highlights the fact that we’re not in the army, and Tommy’s not our commanding officer, so he should stop acting like he’s a better person than the rest of us.

To Generation Snowflake, however — raised on blinking touchscreens; for whom slogging through a 120 character Tweet* is the equivalent of reading War and Peace — the phrase “Tommy thinks he’s top brass” is meaningless, baffling, frustrating.  Tweets, text messages, Facebook posts, blog comments etc. aren’t sequential– how often do you see people even here, on a blog with 14 readers, commenting on posts from a year or more ago?  They’re contextless, by definition, and I can prove it.  Go back through your Facebook posts or Tweets (if you’re one of the few remaining sane Americans who don’t do social media, get on your grandkids’ accounts).  Start scrolling back.  After a month or two, the whole page might as well be in Swahili.  Oh, look, there’s a picture of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on a beach, with the caption “I got this!” photoshopped onto it.  What the hell does that mean?

Which brings us, at long last, back to the start.  Can complex thought be conveyed graphically?

For every historian who speculated that Europe wasn’t meaningfully “Christian” until the Early Modern era because you can’t do theology with altar carvings, there were ten who pointed out that pictures are aide-memoires — they don’t tell the story, they recall the story, i.e. the teaching of the local priest who, after reforms like Gregory the Great‘s, was probably halfway decent….

… but that, in turn, presupposes a tight-knit community with a long tradition.  Which you had in the Middle Ages, but now?  There are no cultural touchstones, only each moment’s memes.  Cultural expectations, such as they are, are conveyed by movies, all of which are sequels to prequels of reboots.  Orwell said that the purpose of Newspeak was to make forbidden thoughts impossible by eliminating the language used to express them.  He thought this would take a massive, decades-long effort to rewrite the dictionary.  But then Twitter happened, as my students would’ve said back in my teaching days, and we threw the whole damn thing out voluntarily in the space of a few years.

If it’s possible to convey abstract information with memes, we’d better find out awful damn quick, before our society volunteers to go fully autistic.  If not, well, we’ll be seeing how they did it in the Middle Ages up close and personal here in the next few decades.

 

 

*If you doubt that we’re well and truly screwed, that article is about the best illustration I’ve got.  The length of the average tweet, it reports, is 33 characters.  The preceding sentence used 48 characters, not counting punctuation marks.  Simply grunting and pointing is a more effective communication method.

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What Comes Next

I got nothin’ today, but since I’m trying to post less erratically let’s knock out a no-brainer:

George Orwell said

Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.

Hanlon’s razor says

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Put them together and you get the Twilight of the Gods, Western culture version.

Take the latter first.  Hanlon’s razor is in need of some serious modification, and since I’m a humble guy I’ll call it the Severian Corollary: Some stupidity is so mind-boggling, you actually pray that it’s malice.  We’ll be sifting through the fallout of the various Trump Administration non-scandals for a long, long time, but one horrifying conclusion is immediately obvious: Our leaders are seriously stupid.  Not the ordinary kind of rich-people-living-in-a-bubble stupid, but something much closer to real, actual, honest-to-god mental retardation.  For every cynic out there who knew that the “Russia collusion” stuff was an op from jump street, there are ten people with actual power and real influence who truly believed it.

I’ll repeat: When presented with the thesis that the President of the United States — a man with the keys to the world’s largest economy, and the firing codes for a nuclear arsenal that could vaporize the solar system — was a paid agent of a foreign power, taking orders direct from a hostile government: sitting Congressmen, media people with audiences in the millions, and every single member of our higher educational system (not to mention lots of people working serious jobs with actual responsibilities and bigtime salaries to match), said “Yeah, sounds right.”

See what I mean?  You fucking well pray that’s malice, because otherwise when you go to your doctor to get that lump checked out, you’re facing the real possibility that she thinks something along the lines of “Donald Trump pissed on a hooker in a Moscow hotel room, and that’s how Putin stole the election.”

Now consider the first quote.  Since I’m the opposite of a power worshiper (a power loather, I guess that would be), I know present trends never continue.  Presently, the trends are that all goodthinkers believe race is nothing but a social construction, we’re all blank slates, and oh yeah, the President pissed on a Russian hooker.  But since these are so obviously false — so brain-blisteringly stupid, in fact, that you search for something, anything, to rationalize people’s seeming belief in them — the present trends will not only stop, but reverse course.

Human affairs are a pendulum.  Pendulums always swing back, and the further it goes in one direction, the harder it swings back in the other.  Thus, the obvious conclusion is that what’s coming is a kind of biological determinism so absolute, it’ll give de Gobineau a stiffie in the afterlife.  Do you now, or have you ever, used the word “gender” to describe anything other than a Latin noun?  Do you now, or have you ever, known how to spell “intersectionality”?  Have you ever pierced anything other than your ears, or sported a hair color not found in nature?

The Handmaid’s Tale is coming, all right, but only because the college population, both undergrad and grad/professional, is overwhelmingly female.  If you’ve had all those years of very expensive training and you still think the President gets his marching orders from Moscow, then obviously The Patriarchy fumbled the fucking ball.  Time to give purdah a serious look, and as for Diversity being Our Strength…

Like I say, obvious.  But Orwell also said that in times like these, the first duty of intelligent men is simply to point out the obvious.

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What is to be Done?

David Stove — one of the fiercest defenders free thought has ever had — once wrote an essay arguing that in the long run, it would be better for the human race if anyone expressing what he called “the equality opinion” were shot.

François-Noël Babeufyou’ll be shocked to learn, was a journalist.  He was vain, dumb, and utterly convinced of the righteousness of his “revolutionary” opinions.  But since Babeuf’s dates are 1760-1797, his opinions really were revolutionary.  Specifically, they were equalitarian — so equalitarian, in fact, that he excoriated those other great Champions of Humanity, Maximilien Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, for not going far enough.  Equality “in fact” is what he wanted, not just “by proclamation.”  He was afforded an excellent opportunity to express these views in his treason trial.

Stove credits Babeuf for both the courage of his convictions, and the simple, brutal logic of those convictions.  There is no greater inequality than inequality of property.  Since The Revolution was supposed to bring about equality — that’s the égalité part of liberté, égalité, fraternité — then The Revolution must institute common property.  If it doesn’t, Babeuf said, then The Revolution is meaningless, and we’ve just exchanged one set of exploitative feudal masters for another.

Babeuf got the guillotine, of course (Privilege is always something other people have) but Stove says he got what he deserved.  “The equality opinion,” Stove says — the notion that people can be made equal, in defiance of everything we know about the world — will always, inevitably, inexorably, end in a police state.

Stove’s logic is simple, brutal, Babeuf-ian (I think he’d savor the irony): Certain thoughts, like “the equality opinion,” are pathogens.  They may not kill you right away (though in Babeuf’s case they did), but in the long run they are 100% fatal to any culture that tolerates them.  Thus you can have either “free thought,” or you can have “the equality opinion.”  Since the latter always destroys the former — plus the material, mental, and spiritual foundation on which it rests — “freedom of thought” turns out to entail at least one thought being ruthlessly proscribed.

Isn’t History fun?  Everything comes around twice, as someone said — first as tragedy, then as farce.  And what a farce it is!  If we want to preserve any vestige of tolerant, open minded, liberal Western culture — so Babeuf-style reasoning would conclude — we need to resort to Bolshevik tactics.

So: What would a guy like Lenin do in this situation?

Marxism teaches that society is made up of Base and Superstructure.  Marx was a man of his time, and his time was the middle of the 19th century, so he concluded that the Base upon which all culture rests is economic: The relations of the forces of production.  Since V.I. Lenin had no problem rewriting the Scriptures, our Bizarro World Lenin would conclude that Marx was wrong — the Base isn’t economics, it’s biology.  

Politics is downstream from culture, and culture is downstream from biology.  Even though we’re talking about Lenin (albeit a Bizarro World version), it’s important to note that this is NOT some version of “genetic determinism.”  Though human culture hit its apex in a London drawing room in 1902, there’s nothing specifically English about human culture — the world-conquering English were once, after all, blue-assed savages shivering naked on the edge of the Roman Empire.  Any human culture past the mud-hovel level requires a certain IQ and a high future time orientation, yes, but those basic requirements allow almost infinite variation.

So: Decide the kind of culture you want to have, then get the biology that allows it.

[One of the things that sucks most about writing on the Internet is the knowledge that one’s readers are either not active enough, or all too active.  (No insult intended to the fourteen people who actually read this thing on the regular — I know y’all follow me — but for everyone else).  Right now, the not-active-enough reader would be expecting me to spell out the next steps — how, exactly, would our Bizarro World Lenin go about getting the biology that allows a given culture?  What would his first steps be?  And wouldn’t that mean…?  Etc.  Meanwhile, your all-too-active reader is a bot in a three-letter Federal agency, just waiting to pounce on certain combinations of words.  This is why it’s useful to think about what Lenin would’ve done in such and such a situation, in that one can use words like “revolutionary activity” to describe them).

No matter what one decides, though, Lenin would have further advice.  The historical Lenin’s great modification of Marxist doctrine was his assertion that the Proletariat will never develop the necessary “revolutionary consciousness” on its own.  Rather, The Revolution requires a cadre of dedicated professional revolutionaries to teach The Masses, to help them realize the hopelessness of their situation.  How that actually squares with The Scriptures, which proclaim The Revolution to be the inevitable outcome of Historical Forces, is anyone’s guess (though you’re welcome to have a crack at Lenin’s writings)…

…but ultimately it doesn’t matter, because that would be Lenin’s final piece of advice: Embrace contradiction.  Marxist revolutionary activity is impossible without it, because Marxism is a Hegelian heresy and Hegel says the world only progresses via contradiction, but that doesn’t matter either.  Look at where we started:  The only guy who has never contradicted himself in this whole sordid mess of an essay is Babeuf, because he was a lunatic who sincerely believed that if true equality means turning all of us into lobotomized monkeys living in caves, well, so be it: Fiat justitia ruat caelum.  That’s your choice, comrades (our Bizarro World Lenin would say): Embrace Bolshevik tactics to advance the cause of free and open society, or let free and open society stick us all in caves.  (At least the lobotomies will be covered by Obamacare).

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Love in the Time of Twitter

Tim Newman has some fun with Slate’s Penthouse Forum “sex advice” column, in which we’re asked to believe that an attractive, single woman in her early 30s is desperately seeking no-strings-attached sex, but just can’t find any.  Sadly there is no picture of the lady, but in the course of cheerfully skewering both advisee and adviser, Newman and his commenters nail the two reasons I wouldn’t wish modern “dating” on anyone.  They’re the same reasons Western Civilization is doomed:

  1. denial of reality.
  2. false advertising.

Regarding 1), there are few things more obvious than The Wall.  A knockout in her early 30s can triumph head-to-head against a plain jane in her early 20s, but that really is the disparity of forces.  An attractive woman at 25 is attractive, full stop.  An attractive woman at 35 is attractive.*

*for her age.

And that’s just for one-night stands — the Wall-Adjacent Knockout beats Plain Jane if and only if they’re the last two women in the bar at closing time, competing for the same guy, who doesn’t have any better options on-call in his phone at the time.  When it comes to committed relationships — which, as Newman points out, is the obvious goal of the “no-strings-attached” lady — fughettaboudit.  A guy with options will go younger every time (nobody, least of all the kind of woman who would write to / for the amateur Leftist webzine Slate, cares what the guy without options does).

Which leads directly to 2).  Back in the days — meaning, as recently as when I was a wee lad — it was still understood by most people that humans have a life cycle.  Adjusting accordingly was called “growing up,” and it was considered a desirable — nay, essential — thing to do.  In that world, “being sexually attractive” pretty much dropped off the priorities list after age 30, because by that time one’s sexual attractiveness had already been leveraged into a committed relationship (the ancient Sumerian word for this was “mar-riage”), a few kids had been born, etc.

No, really, you can check.  Novels are great for this.  There’s a long tradition of what the Eng Lit crowd calls “domestic fiction.”  They confine it to the 19th century, of course, but that’s mostly for administrative convenience.  Pretty much any “lit fic” that isn’t conspicuously Postmodern would qualify.  Basically, if it was published before 1985 and doesn’t involve spies, space aliens, or horrors from beyond the grave, it’s domestic fiction.  But feel free to read the old classics, too, like Pride and Prejudice.

It’ll probably bore your socks off — domestic fiction is not, by definition, a gripping read — but it’s all there.  If you don’t want to bother, here’s a quick summary.  Note that while we’re supposed to see this as “romantic” — Elizabeth would never lower herself to marry the tall, handsome, filthy-rich Mr. Darcy if she weren’t in love with him — on his part, at least, it’s an all but cash-on-the-nail transaction.  He prefers Elizabeth Bennett over Jane, even though the latter is pretty and the former is plain, because Elizabeth would make him the better wife.

In other words, it’s advertising.  All effective advertising is aspirational.  Edward Bernays figured this out in the early 20th century.  The ad which convinces you that Product X is better than Product Y at solving Problem Z will move units, yes… but the ad which convinces you that Product X makes you a better person than Product Y will dominate the market.  Remember the Pepsi Challenge?  More Americans prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coca-Cola in a blind taste test, it’s scientifically proven… and yet, Coke’s market share got ever greater.  Why?  Because Coke’s concurrent ad campaign was Max Headroom.  Watch some of those videos.  Yeah, it’ll make your brain hurt — the 1980s were a very different time — but you’ll see what I mean before the migraine sets in.

Now flip the channel back to Pride and Prejudice.  Mr. Darcy is, as we’ve already noted, tall, handsome, and loaded.  He could issue a 463 bullet point checklist of what he wants in a mate, and have every girl in England falling all over themselves to meet it.  As he is a red-blooded heterosexual male, the first item on said checklist would, of course, be “she must be hot.”  Since Elizabeth knows she isn’t, she focuses on the other 462, and she sells the everloving fuck out of it.  She convinces Darcy that’s she’s not only better at solving his problem (being a good wife, i.e. the Pepsi Challenge), but that by marrying her, Darcy is showing the world he’s a better person.  Sure, there are lots of tall, handsome, rich guys in England, but only you have the intelligence, the perception, the strength of character, to look past superficial beauty standards….

It’s a brilliant sales job, and that’s why Pride and Prejudice is a classic of English literature.

The Ed Biz, obviously, disagrees.  And they’re going to get really upset at the next part, because the standard take on P&P is that it’s the original Grrrl Power novel — Elizabeth stays true to herself, and wins over the cad who finally sees the error of his ways.  You go girl!  But, like all feminist productions, the standard take is not only ludicrously wrong, it’s backassward.  Because, of course, it’s not Elizabeth who has the power; it’s Mr. Darcy.

The only reason Elizabeth’s innovative, truly brilliant ad campaign works is because Mr. Darcy is at the very top of a culture that values the other 462 bullet points, all of which can be summarized with the word “domesticity.”  Before the ad campaign, Darcy assumed that bullet point #1 was the rare commodity.  After all, every girl in England knows how to iron a shirt and pump out a kid; very few girls are hot.  Elizabeth flips that on its head — there are lots of hot girls, she tells Darcy, but very few who are really wife material.  In either case, though, the underlying presumption is the same:  Since we’re going to be together for the long haul, and since no human female stays hot much past age 30, you’d better focus on the rest of the package.

It works because they’re both realists.  If you’re going to be with one person for the rest of your life — the bedrock cultural assumption that underlies the other 462 — it’d better be the right person, because “til death do us part” is a looooong time, and neither of you will be very sexually attractive for the vast majority of it.

Which brings us back to the no-strings-attached lady and, at long last, to the point.  NSA lady laments that despite her best efforts, she keeps getting “entangled” with her booty calls.  The Slate advice columnette advises her to — and I swear I’m not making this up — put little “reminder” tags next to their numbers in her phone.

Make the guys have names like “Chris Nothing Serious Johnson” or “Joe This Is Just Sex Beatty.”

Newman’s comment is classic:

Yes, your innate biological desire to pair-bond can be outwitted by putting reminders in your phone next to men’s names.

NSA lady is a modern woman, and all modern women have been bamboozled by advertising.  It’s a campaign even more brilliant, and far more insidious, than Elizabeth Bennett’s.  At least we can figure out what it is that Elizabeth is trying to sell.  Moreover, Elizabeth was right — if Mr. Darcy thought it through with his big head instead of his small one, he’d realize that the other 462 bullet points really are the key to long-term happiness.

Modern women have all been sold on this idea that “your innate biological desire to pair-bond,” like Mr. Darcy’s innate biological desire for younger-hotter-tighter, isn’t just wrong, it’s actively harmful…. and they have no idea why.  Worse, modern technology makes it all but impossible for them — hell, for anyone — to take a step back to figure it out.  We take almost everything we read literally, almost all the time.  I’ll prove it: I guarantee you that anyone who challenges my interpretation of Pride and Prejudice will start by yelling “But Elizabeth isn’t attracted to Mr. Darcy!”

And how do they know this?  Because Elizabeth said so.  Which is why P&P was considered a great novel back in its day, too — unlike modern readers, who only see Grrrl Power, Jane Austen’s original readers knew what girls are like.  They knew that girls are just people and, being people, lie to themselves constantly.  “Mr. Darcy would never go for a plain girl like me… which is good, because I’m certainly not attracted to tall, handsome, arrogant, rich bad boys.”  Sour grapes, anyone?

So they end up reading this exquisitely stupid advice, and it never occurs to them that it is, in fact, full retard.  Worse, they never stop to think why such a letter would be written in the first place.  As Newman’s readers point out, this is the chick equivalent of those old “Penthouse Forum” letters (for younger readers: Penthouse was a nudie mag back in the pre-Internet days.  The first few pages — I’ve heard — were devoted to the “Penthouse Forum,” in which supposedly real guys out in the real world wrote in to tell about their bizarre sexual experiences.  These letters generally started with “I never thought it could happen to me, but…”).

Like the letters to Penthouse Forum, the emails to Slate’s “How to Do It” column are ads.  The guys in the marketing department cook them up, and like all good ads, they’re aspirational.  The Penthouse Forum ad men knew that none of their readers would ever run into a horny housewife with a fantasy about plumbers (or whatever), just as the ad men at Slate know that for women, “no-strings-attached” sex can be had for the low low price of showing up at a hotel bar.  The point of the ad, the product it’s selling, is the magazine itself.  If you want to be the kind of guy horny housewives proposition after a hard day unclogging toilets, read Penthouse.  If you want to be the kind of gal who is so desirable, even in her 30s, that her only problem is caring too much about all the many, many, many guys who want to bone her, read Slate.

That the rest of Slate contains nothing but goodthink, of the kind that landed our totally-a-rea-person NSA lady in her pickle in the first place, is a feature not a bug.

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The Reluctant Ideologue

What makes a viable revolutionary movement (meaning “can get people to actually fight for it”)?

Some distinctions: “Revolution” is a modern concept.  There were lots of widespread social conflagrations in the premodern world, but none aimed at the overthrow of the existing social order.  Spartacus, for instance, didn’t want to end slavery (indeed, that concept wouldn’t even have made sense to him).  He just wanted his own personal freedom.  The Socii of the Roman “Social War” didn’t want to destroy Rome; they wanted full citizenship rights within what was at that time still (barely) the Republic.  Medieval rebellions like the Jacquerie were basically large-scale riots, initially problematic but invariably crushed.

At minimum, then, a revolution requires a teleology (a goal, a final end).  What will society look like after we win?  You can get troops to fight a long, bloody civil war on the answer “just like before, but with us in charge” — but you can’t get a revolution.  Civil wars end when one army or the other is defeated.  Revolutions can carry on for generations.

[I’m aware that all of this stuff is basic, indeed obvious.  But as Orwell said, sometimes simply stating the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men].

Successful revolutions keep the teleology simple for the masses.  In Communist revolutions, for instance, most of the people actually doing the fighting think “Communism” means little more than “free land.”  You have to go pretty high up the chain of command before you’ll ever hear the word “Marxism” spoken, and you practically have to be in the Inner Party itself before you’re allowed access to the Scriptures.  I’m not going to say that’s all there is to it, but if you just look at land-tenure patterns in China, Vietnam, etc., you get a pretty good idea of why things went the way they did.

Successful revolutions aren’t just about the masses, though.  The leadership needs its teleology, too, and unlike the “free land”-type myths that are sufficient to motivate the rank-and-file, the cadres’ teleology has to be fairly robust.  The leadership, after all, invariably comes from the middle classes — upwardly mobile peasants at the lowest; low aristocracy on the skids at the highest.  These guys join the revolution because their way up is blocked, or their way down is wide open.  It’s not enough to promise them “the world turned upside down,” because they don’t want to be ruled by the Proletariat any more than they did the Elite.  You need to give them some kind of universalizing myth that just so happens to end up with them on top.

A good example is Mao Zedong’s “mass line.”

In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses,’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action.

In other words, you create a secular priesthood.  “The masses” don’t actually have ideas — if they did, they wouldn’t be “the masses” in the first place.  It’s the cadres — the peasants with something on the ball, the low-level civil servants, the self-hating aristocracy on the skids, the “intellectuals” — who fancy themselves as having ideas.  Those “ideas” — carefully spoon-fed to them by The Party, such that they think they came up with them all by themselves — motivate cadres to do the tedious, often dangerous grunt work of organizing, planning, etc. that “the masses” can’t pull off.  Intellectual vanity is these folks’ cardinal weakness.  Play it up, and they’ll do anything you tell them to.

This suggests an obvious line of attack from people in Our Thing.  Despite their fearsome reputation as Communist fanatics, lots of Viet Cong surrendered to American forces, including many low-level cadres.  Both American military interrogators and RAND Corporation researchers got a crack at the defectors, and both came to largely the same conclusions: Once they realized they’d been duped — that “Communism” in practice just meant exchanging one exploitative landlord for another — these ex-cadres surrendered as fast as their feet could carry them.

Alas for both the South Vietnamese and Our Thing, what came next was: Nothing.  The same conditions that spurred the cadre to join the Viet Cong in the first place — economic stagnation, corruption, lack of opportunity in general — still persisted.  He might be disillusioned, our defector, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to take up arms for us.  Outside of some temporary, local intelligence, the net effect of his defection is zero, because even though he now knows Communism isn’t the solution, all the problems are still there.  To get him over to our side, we need a counter-teleology.

That’s where things look bleakest for Our Thing.  All this “revolution” talk is of course metaphorical — please note well, FBI goons, metaphorical — but even though we of course mean “legitimate political action at the ballot box,” we’re still screwed, because we just don’t do teleology.  What could we promise a disillusioned cadre — a feminist, say, who watches Unplanned and realizes she’s been lied to all these years?  A “male feminist ally” falsely accused of rape?  Hell, what could we offer a Joe Crowley, who was third in line to the throne before getting knocked off by Chiquita Khrushchev?  Someone like that surely sees which way the wind is blowing… but what can we offer him, that would make him do something about it?

I dunno, but we’d better find out pretty fast.  It’s not totally hopeless, though, in that I can suggest a place to start looking.  How did the American Revolutionaries do it?  What teleology did they actually offer?  (Please note that bromides about “freedom” and the like would’ve been meaningless in a rough frontier society.  See e.g. the Whiskey Rebellion.  What exactly was the difference between King George and George Washington in that case?  How did “the peasants” see it?  Was there any meaningful change in their day-to-day lives, being ruled by Congress not Parliament?  These are NOT rhetorical questions).

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The Reluctant Revolutionary

I love competitive #Wokeness.

No, seriously — it’s high time you people out in the real world got to experience one of the defining joys of life in the ivory tower.  In the ivy-covered halls of academe, the Marxist Postcolonialist Feminsts have longstanding beef with the Postcolonialist Feminist Marxists.  They’d each happily feed the other into a wood chipper, even though to outsiders it would look like the pot executing the kettle for counterrevolutionary crimes.  If you’re the sort who takes schadenfreudy delight in very obvious folly, university life is hilarious.

It’s even funnier if you take these buffoons at their word.  Compared to the pronouncements of your average Angry Studies professor, Pol Pot was a sane and balanced man.  In reality, of course, university people are so soft and coddled, they make the Eloi look like the Sons of Anarchy.  Spending so much time around college folk is one of the main reasons for my mantra: “Today’s SJW is tomorrow’s obergruppenfuhrer.”  They talk a fearsome game, these campus Ches, but they cry if the cafeteria is out of free trade sustainably sourced indigenous grown gluten free soy milk.  When the zeitgeist shifts, they’ll be the first to knuckle under.  It has happened before.

There are lots of explanations for why college folk are the way they are.  I’ve offered several of them myself.  But when it comes right down to it, all the various explanations are just symptoms of the same fundamental disease:  They’re boring, and they know they’re boring.

Boredom is, in fact, the modern West’s signature pathology.  Nobody with a rich, full life — a rewarding job, some hobbies, family and friends — bothers about “intersectionality” and whatnot.  That’s not to say that Normals don’t get bored.  However, for us boredom is a temporary feature of life.  We know how to handle it; we have a zillion ways of killing time.  What’s more important, we know that boredom’s just a part of life; it happens to the best of us.

For them, each episode of boredom is an existential crisis.  They’ve convinced themselves that they have all the answers, that to be #Woke is to be a god among men.  So if their lives aren’t 100% wonderful and fulfilling all the time — every second of every minute of every hour of every day — it throws the fundamental premise of their entire existence into question.  It it any wonder, then, why they’re constantly hyperventilating about everything?  Without a constant infusion of drama, they have to face the fact that they’re just people, buggering through life with the rest of us.

As much as it pains me to say it: We need to be more like them.

We’re faced with two incompatible ideas here in Our Thing.  The first is: It Can’t Go On Like This.  We’ll need to come back to this one fairly often, so let’s just get the acronym over with: ICGOLT.  The second incompatible idea is, for lack of a better term, isolationism.  Speaking of university people, I’m sure we’d all love nothing more than not having to know what “intersectionality” etc. means.  If the Postcolonialist Feminist Marxists really did get the opportunity to feed the Marxist Postcolonialist Feminists into a wood chipper, we’d all buy tickets, but other than that we’d be exquisitely happy leaving them to it, whatever “it” is.  We’d leave them alone, if only they’d extend us the same courtesy.

But they won’t, which is why ICGOLT.

The question then becomes: How do you get people worked up, who have made “not getting worked up” one of the cornerstones of their lives?

Studying the SJWs is an obvious first step.  It’s hard to do — they’re just so fucked up, so cattywampus to observable reality, that it’s impossible to take them seriously.  This Ocasio-Cortez idiot is a perfect example of the type.  Look, we all know in any sane polity that broad couldn’t get elected dogcatcher.  I understand that she was a bartender back in college, and that seems to be her natural milieu — bug eyes and donkey chompers aren’t drawbacks in low light where everyone’s drinking, but excellent cans (which, let’s be fair, she does have) are an, ahem, oversized advantage.  But simply yelling “Go back to tending bar, you dumb dummy!” — which is what most commentary on her in Our Thing boils down to — misses the salient fact, the truly horrifying fact: She’s an elected official.  And not a minor one, either — she’s only been in office a few months, but is the most recognizable person in American politics short of President Trump himself.

Think about that for a second.  How in the name of Almighty tap-dancing Allah did that happen?!?

It’s not a rhetorical question.  There’s an answer.  I don’t have it at the moment, but we need to find it, fucking stat.  How does she get people worked up?  What are they worked up about?  Crucially, how can we co-opt those techniques?

It can’t go on like this, so it won’t.  We either become reluctant revolutionaries (metaphorically, NSA creeps, metaphorically) or we go under.  We’d better start hanging together, or we shall surely all hang separately.

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Quick Take: Disgust Threshold

The “Game” guys like Chateau Heartiste and Agnostic have a lot to say about “disgust threshold.”  I’ve said many times that “Game” is at least 75% spergy bullshit, and the latter of those two links has lately gone all-in on Bernie Sanders (!!!) as the savior of Legacy America, but I think they’re really onto something here.  It’s quite possible that “susceptibility to collectivism” and “high disgust threshold” go hand-in-glove.

An anecdote.  I was something of a hippie back in undergrad, back in the Jurassic.  As Leftism is an infantile worldview that privileges verbal agility, it’s all but guaranteed that Liberal Arts majors are, or quickly become, Leftists.  So there I was, two strikes on me before I even got to the plate, and then I fell in with a bad crowd…. no, not drugs, and certainly not petty crime.  It was much, much worse: Hacky sack.  From there it was just a short step to tie-dye, love beads, and in general carrying on like a refugee from 1967.

The girls all acted that way, too, and if you remember your own late-teenage years I’m sure you know where this is going: Moonbeam and me on my ratty dorm couch, me rounding first base and charging full steam for second, when the smell hit me.  That should probably be capitalized — The Smell — because if you’ve been around Groovy-Americans you know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s mostly patchouli oil, which smells like a tree’s dirty armpit anyway, but there’s also a strong component of actual B.O. in most cases.  There certainly was in this one.

I used to laugh at those Viagra ads.  See my doctor if I have an erection lasting more than four hours?  Back in the days, we called that “freshman year.”  I thought there was only one way to deflate a teenage boy’s boner, but there on that scuzzy couch, Grateful Dead posters on the walls and Phish in the tape deck, I discovered another.  Simultaneously, I discovered the pain of mixed metaphors.  This was what hockey players call “an empty netter,” but I just couldn’t score.  Nothing — not even a red-blooded American teenager’s raging hormones — could lower my disgust threshold enough to seal the deal.

I’m not going to say I became a conservative on the spot, but looking back on it, that was doubtless the beginning of the end of my juvenile Leftism.  From then on, I could never hear the word “public” without wincing.  My hippie friends were big on public transportation — Saving the Earth and whatnot — but all I could think about was The Smell.  So, too, with anything “collective” or “communal” or “cooperative.”  Everyone who uses those words un-ironically reeks of patchouli.

Indeed, everything the Left likes smells bad.  Their foodie “fusion” cuisine looks like dog barf and smells like it, too — except the vegan stuff, which somehow smells worse.  Folks who have never known the joys of indoor plumbing are the centerpiece of their immigration policy.  Most lesbians seem to be against personal hygiene on general principles, and while gay guys smell nice when in public with Normals, I can’t even imagine the stench when they’re actually being gay, if you follow me.  Multiply all that times however many people there are present, and you’ve got the unmistakable reek of any Leftist gathering.  It turns my stomach just thinking about it.

Is there any wonder these people advocate such bizarre, anti-social policies?

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What are Rules for?

One of the main reasons Leftists are the way they are, I believe, is because on some fundamental level they don’t understand rules.

The cynics among us would say that they understand rules perfectly, which is why they try to game them, change them, or rigidly enforce them, whichever benefits them most in a given situation.  There’s some of that, of course, but I suggest this is actually a symptom of a much deeper pathology.

Take the ongoing TERF war in Feministan.  The lesbians, I argue, literally can’t grasp that their “gender is just a social construction” mantra entails — logically, necessarily, metaphysically — that the only difference between the sexes is how they’re perceived socially.  If it’s true that gender is a “social construction,” then — again, necessarily — a man who gets other people to treat him as a woman simply IS a woman.  I guess I’m going to have to ask you to believe me on this, but in my fairly extensive experience with academia, I’d say the ratio is something like 1:5 — for every feminist who knows full well she’s just grasping at whatever straw keeps hairy bepenised “women” out of her “safe space,” there are five who really can’t grasp the contradiction between “gender is just a social construction!” and “that guy can’t be a woman, because he has a dick.”

I know, I know, it makes my brain hurt, too.  But it doesn’t do any good to write them off as crazy, because even if they are, there are a lot of them.  Again, I’m going to have to ask you to take my word for this, I guess, but in my experience — again, extensive, though praise Allah I’m retired now — fully 75% of college kids not only can’t spot contradictions, but can’t even really grok what “contradiction” means.  Having grown up in a planet-sized safe space, where nobody’s different from anybody and everyone’s the best at everything, some wires got crossed in their heads.

We Normals, for instance, understand that rules exist for a reason: They’re lubricants.  Following the rules makes it easier, whatever “it” is.  As Normals, we also understand that this has a lot of second-order effects.  Since it’s spring, consider baseball.  Obviously it would be impossible to play baseball if the “rules” changed at whim.  But consider the long-term effects.  Is there any such thing as “athleticism” if games have no rules?  What’s the point of Citius, Altius, Fortius if the rules can be changed without notice to favor the slower, lower, weaker?

Here again, the cynics would say that the Left knows full well what they’re doing — since that slogan (it’s the motto of the Olympic games) implies an objective standard of excellence, changing the rules at whim makes it pointless for anyone to try to excel at anything.  But once again I’ll invoke the 1:5 ratio.  I agree wholeheartedly with Stephen R.C. Hicks, who argues that Postmodernism was the only way for Leftists to keep their Marxist faith after the catastrophic historical failure of Marxism — it’s not a fact that Marxism sucks if there’s no such thing as a “fact.”  The original PoMos, then, knew full well what they were doing (not least because the “it’s all just perspective” mantra helped the original PoMos brazen out some serious personal baggage, e.g. the enthusiastic Nazi collaborator Paul de Man).

The originals knew; their apes didn’t, and don’t.  They don’t think they’re destroying the notion of objective standards; they think they’re creating something called “social justice.”  Normals think judgment is impossible without objective measures; SJWs think judgment is the worst possible sin.  If you’re trained to “think” that way from birth — which is what our educational system, K-thru-PhD, is explicitly designed to do — then it really is possible to behave as if you believe, simultaneously, that

  • everything is just a social construction; yet
  • [victim group name] is that and ONLY that, now and forever.

Yeah, I know – it makes my brain ache, too.  But that’s the point — just because it makes us ill to try to “think” this way doesn’t mean they find it uncomfortable.  We suffer cognitive dissonance; they don’t.  This is because their lives are arbitrary in way that would cause most of us to slit our wrists in despair within a week.

The only analogue I can think of is that “juju” stuff I wrote on before.  Africans think this way.  Back when he wasn’t totally a shill for the poz, Jonah Goldberg related a story from David Lamb’s wonderful (and catastrophically depressing) book The Africans.  Upon being told that they couldn’t land because their airstrip was socked in with fog, two Zairean air force pilots simply ejected from their fighters — they interpreted “you can’t land” as “you can’t land ever.”  The ideas that fog is temporary, that there are other airstrips, etc. simply never occurred to them, because they don’t live in the linear-time, cause-and-effect world we do.  In their world, it makes perfect sense that the landing strip was usable an hour ago, but now it’s not — forever.

Neither Lamb nor Goldberg follows up on the story, but if you get what I’m saying about “juju thinking” you know what must’ve happened next.  Since one doesn’t become a pilot in an African air force without having some serious connections to the Big Man, those guys were immediately handed two more aircraft.  They took off the next day, were ordered to land at the same airstrip….

…and did it, without a moment’s hesitation.  After all, the strip may have been unusable forever yesterday, but that was yesterday.  It’s today now, and the voice in the tower says land there, so you land there.

This, I truly believe, is getting very close to the mental world of the average American college graduate in 2019.  Since “the rules” have always been arbitrary — since yesterday’s Dogma of the Faith is today’s capital heresy, and vice versa — the only thing that matters is the person making “the rules” right this instant.  If the authority figure du jour tells you to jump off a cliff, you jump, because gravity is just a social construction anyway.

Look at how they act in their daily lives, and give me another explanation that makes sense.

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The Beginning of the End

In May 1942, the Japanese navy and a scratch American force fought the Battle of the Coral Sea.  At the time, the most optimistic Allied assessment called it a draw.  In hindsight, it was the beginning of the end for Japan.  Forced (as they saw it) to commit to land campaigns against both Port Moresby and Guadalcanal, they lost both, and that was the end of the Empire’s ability to project power in the South Pacific.  Three more brutal years of war would follow, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Similarly, the USSR was through from the minute Nikita Khrushchev finished his “secret speech” in 1956.  At the time, most Soviet-watchers thought the USSR was finally getting it together, eliminating Stalin’s worst excesses, tightening their control abroad, and getting set to take over the world.  To be fair, it looked that way — the Russians shocked the world a year later with Sputnik 1, and communist insurgencies were gaining ground everywhere (including a Communist country right off America’s coast in 1959.  But the Soviets were toast for all that, because Khrushchev’s speech made it obvious to anyone who was really paying attention that cults of personality, gulags, and all the rest were a feature, not a bug, of Communist governments.  Though Marx’s dharma heirs kept confidently predicting that the capitalist system would collapse any minute now under the weight of its contradictions, in practice the commies collapsed under the weight of theirs.

The interesting thing for us is what happened to the American Left after the “secret speech.”  Orthodox Marxism was dead, but no “intellectual” has ever admitted he was wrong about anything, so they went all-in — overnight — on “cultural Marxism.”  The Frankfurt School was a fringe group in the Thirties and Forties; by the end of the Fifties, though, every goodthinker in every Western university had at least thumbed a copy of Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization.  The Left went from nattering on about “forces of production” and “the dictatorship of the proletariat” to “the return of the repressed” and “anal-retentive compulsion” in the blink of an eye.

From there, it was just a short hop to Postmodernism and all the rest.  Once you’ve convinced yourself of the fundamental metaphysical Truth that there’s no such thing as fundamental metaphysical Truth — that everything up to and including gravity is “just a social construction” — it’s child’s play to argue that bearded dudes built like linebackers and hung like racehorses should be able to go weewee next to young girls.

(Yeah yeah, I know, almost nobody has heard of this stuff.  Freud was laughed out of real life long, long ago, but he’s very much alive in the ivory tower.  That “intersectionality” nonsense is the “logical” extension of the basic premises of the Frankfurt School, and the Frankfurt School ranked Freud just below Marx himself in their pantheon.  You’ll never hear this in school, of course, for the same reason fish don’t notice water).

As the Z Man points out today, the Left has just had another one of those “beginning of the end” moments. Of course they’re already circling the wagons, UFO-cult style, but just like their fathers and grandfathers after Khrushchev’s speech, a lot of Lefties have just received a mortal blow.  They can’t give up their Leftism, of course, but they really truly did believe, with all their hearts and souls, that Trump was going to prison for treason.  There’s no coming back from that.  Like the overnight transformation of the Old Left into the New Left in 1956, so the New Left will be forced to become the New New Left.  Just like the last time, it’ll happen with blinding speed — a year from now, we’ll be talking as if whatever new lunacy they decide on has been the immutable truth forever, while the old stuff will never be heard from again.

It beats my pair of jacks as to what the new idiocy will be — if I could predict it, I’d fleece those fools for all they’re worth — but I know one thing: If I were one of those aforementioned linebacker-built, racehorse-hung dudes who likes to hang out in the girls’ room, I’d be tucking it back into my pants right now.  You people were the avatars of the old lunacy, so they’ll have to unperson you with NKVD-like ruthlessness.

Comments are open – speculate away!

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The Cathedral Takes Care of Its Own

All charges dropped against Jussie Smollett.  Because of course they are.

“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement to TheWrap Tuesday.

There it is.  Had the cops not busted this idiot almost immediately, the city of Chicago would’ve seen riots that would make the Rodney King mess look like a homecoming parade.  But he does volunteer work in the community, so that’s ok then.

Yeah.  In case you still had any residual hope we could vote our way out of this.

 

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