Author Archives: Severian

My Advice to Potential Undergraduates

In the comments to the previous post, Hank asked about his “(future) undergrad degree,” so for purposes of this post I’m going to assume he’s either about to graduate high school or has just started college.  I know another commenter, Henry, actually is in undergrad.  (Ye gods, men, are you trying to get us killed?  Socrates had to drink hemlock for less than what we do here).  Perhaps there are a few more of you lurking out there, so here’s the best advice I can give you, from someone who spent a lot of time in and around higher ed but is now, praise Allah, retired:

No, it’s not “Don’t go to college.”  I know, I say that a lot, but the cold reality of the current situation is that you’ve got to have that piece of paper.  So: Go to college.  But for pete’s sake don’t pay for itand spend as little time on campus as you can.

Let’s deal with 1) first.  There are certain majors for which you must attend a brick-and-mortar four-year sleepaway camp.  Those are the Right Answer Disciplines (hereafter: RAD).  Basically, anything math-based.  Before you get into one of those, though, you must be 100% absolutely, positively, swear on your momma’s eventual grave certain that you can hack it.  Fortunately, there’s an easy three-step test:

  • Did your high school offer AP calculus?
  • If so, did you take it?
  • If so, did you ace it?

Unless you can answer “yes” to all three, you’re not ready to take the RAD plunge.  If you can’t, then go to the nearest community college and sign up for the hardest math class you qualify for.  Unless you crush that sucker like you’re Good Will Hunting, the RADs are probably not for you.  Which is bad, because Engineering and the like are a guaranteed source of unoutsourceable income, but also good, in that you’ve saved yourself a lot of time, money, and grief.  (Calc I is to education as curve balls are to baseball players — it’s what separates the talented tenth from the rest of us.  Just as there’s no shame in not being able to hit a curve ball, there’s no shame in not being able to do engineer math).

But let’s say you did crush it.  That’s not your cue to start filling out your Harvard app.  Think about it for a sec: There’s no such thing as “Harvard math.”  Places like Harvard, MIT, Georgia Tech, etc. have better labs, it’s true, but unless you know you’re going to be a research chemist or something — and if you’re wondering, you’re not — then those facilities don’t mean much.  Leaving aside the peculiarities of specialized subdisciplines within Engineering (which I’m not qualified to comment on, and again, if you have to ask they’re not for you), you can pretty much go anywhere.  Your goals are still the same, though — as little time on campus as you can, at as low a cost as possible.

Take as many classes as possible at the local juco.  Most jucos have extensive online offerings now; take those.  So long as you’re sure they transfer to the college you picked — go down to the registrar in person to make sure — you can get all the freshman-year bullshit out of the way, and usually most of the sophomore crap too, at a tiny fraction of the cost.

This is key, because as much as it pains me to say it, required frosh classes like “Western Civ I” are so bad, they’re anti-education; you’d be better off picking up any of the Penguin Classics and just reading it on the treadmill (more on the “Liberal Arts” below).  This is true everywhere, and it fact it’s worse the higher you go — the juco might actually have a nice 80 year old lady teaching English 101 who just likes Dickens and wants to share her hobby with the world, but at Harvard you’re guaranteed to get some Angry African who assigns you to find all the racism on a soup can label.

Once you’ve done all that and you’re forced to go off to “real college,” staying off campus as much as possible becomes your number one priority.  I know, I know, that sucks, because campus is where the girls are.  But that’s precisely why you need to stay away.  Have you seen college girls lately?  I have, and while I’m hard-pressed to remember what it’s like to be a young man so hormone-addled that the sight of linoleum gives you a semi, I’m still a guy — I get it.  Even the blue-haired nose-ringers look good after a few brews in low light and from a distance, because at that age pretty much anything with boobies will do.  Here’s what you need to know:

I’m sure there are non-insane college girls out there, but I’m even more sure I have no idea how to find them.  (If I did, I’d tell you, because I wouldn’t wish modern “dating” on my worst enemy).  Did you see what happened to Brett Kavanaugh?  Yeah.  Christine Blasey-Ford is a professor.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Remember it every time you’re tempted to go talk to a college girl.  That’s why staying off campus is job 1.

And that’s the best-case scenario, y’all.  Let’s say you’re not cut out for engineer math.  The good news is, you can pick up an “associate’s degree” entirely online, and an AA is generally all you need.  You can even get BAs that way now if you feel you must have one, but online degree mills like U Phoenix are surprisingly expensive.  Your local juco can probably get you an all-online AA for next to nothing.

The bad news, of course, is that you’ll have to pick a major, and they’re all pretty much worthless.  The least-worthless steer as close to the RADs as possible — Finance, I suppose, and things like that — while the most worthless have “Studies” somewhere in them.  If math isn’t your thing (I completely sympathize), your best bet is, counterintuitively, one of the “Studies.”  You won’t actually learn anything — they’re so bad, as I’ve said, they’re actually anti-education — but they’re the easiest As you’ll ever pull.  Repeat after me: “_____ is just a social construction.”

That’s it.  You’ll have to find your professor’s particular hobbyhorses — not hard, as she’ll bring them up 5,000 times per lecture — but even there you can always skate with some iteration of #OrangeManBad.  Skim the syllabus for buzzwords, cruise by the Postmodern Essay Generator, do a quick find-and-replace with your class-specific buzzwords, and there you go.

“But,” I hear you asking, “what if I actually want to learn something like History, or English Lit?”  That’s the best part — it’s totally free.  The Internet has you covered.  So long as the writer doesn’t mention having any degrees, you’re golden.  I recommend the Z Man’s “essential knowledge” series as a good starting point, but however you look at it, if it’s in plain English and makes sense, it’s far better than anything you would’ve gotten at even the “best” college.

Just remember the golden rule: Stay off campus as much as possible, while spending as little as possible.

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Distraint of Knighthood – UPDATED

Charles I hated calling Parliaments, but as that was the only way to raise taxes, during his so-called “personal rule” he came up with all kinds of revenue-generating gimmicks.  One of the biggest was “distraint of knighthood.”

Theoretically, everyone with a sufficiently prosperous estate had to present himself at the king’s coronation to be personally knighted.  By the 1630s, though, knighthood carried no real benefits but some very real, and very onerous, political obligations, so most men who qualified didn’t bother showing up.  Charles dusted off an ages-old statute that allowed him to fine anyone who skipped, and since the law setting the qualification was as old as the law imposing the fine, seemingly half the men in the kingdom were in distraint of knighthood and got fined accordingly.

Our modern-day Cloud People seem to be up to similar shenanigans.

The first and most obvious parallel is the ongoing persecution of President Trump.  They’re sure he’s guilty of something, so even though the Mueller Report was the big nothingburger everyone outside the Cloud knew it would be from day one, their zeal is undiminished.  They haven’t actually accused him of distraint of knighthood yet, and I guess they plum forgot about the Tenure of Office Act, but they’ll get him eventually.  It’s just a matter of digging up an obscure-enough statute.  Maybe he once took a tag off a mattress in Trump Tower…

The other parallel, though, might be the ongoing college admissions scandal.  Actual medieval monarchs didn’t have to worry too much about distraint of knighthood, because knighthood was a real, important status marker.  But at some point, knighthood became more trouble than it was worth.  The most striking thing about the college admissions scandal isn’t the stupidity, it’s the expense.  Lori Laughlin paid $500,000 — that’s half a million dollars — to get her goofy kid into USC.  They charge a hefty tuition at SC ($52K as of 2016), but by my math four years of that is still only two hundred grand.  Lori Laughlin, then, paid more than double the kid’s total four-year tuition just to get her in the door.

How does that make any kind of sense?

The reason few Englishmen bothered with knighthood in the 1630s was that the route to real power was financial.  Unless you had the king’s ear by virtue of the bluest of blue blood — your great-great-great-great grand-uncle and his, side by side at Agincourt — there was no point in bothering with the trappings of nobility.  The Lord Mayor of London had more actual power than all but the biggest and most ancient nobles, and he was a commoner.  Why bother with all the pettifogging duties of a knight of the shire, when you could rule the shire, de facto if not de jure, by being the richest merchant in the nearest big city?

In modern America, college degrees are basically worthless.  The Cloud People don’t rule us because they went to Harvard and Yale; they go to Harvard and Yale because they rule us.  Whatever Lori Laughlin’s daughter ends up doing after getting kicked out of USC behind this idiocy, in other words, is exactly the same thing she would’ve ended up doing had her mom bribed her onto the dean’s list every single semester.

More importantly, some kid from the sticks will not be doing that job, no matter how honestly she got into USC or how legitimately great her grades are.  Those kinds of jobs are Cloud People jobs.  You don’t get Chelsea Clinton’s resume by going to school, any school — you get it by being Chelsea Clinton.  Lori Laughlin’s daughter certainly knows this, which is why she was on board a yacht owned by the chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees when this stupidity came to light.  The only question is, how do the middle class parents who bust their asses their entire lives to get their kids into USC on the square NOT know it?

College is a giant scam… but it’s a multi-trillion dollar scam.  Charles I knew enforcing the distraint of knighthood statute would be unpopular, but because he never stopped to think just why so many of his subjects were in distraint, he couldn’t see how fatally such a move would harm him.  This college admissions thing has the potential to do similar damage to the Cloud.  They won’t see it, of course — being the kind of people who’d pay $500K for the privilege of paying a further $200K for a piece of paper the kid will never actually use — but we’d be wise to think about it.


This started as a reply to Pickle Rick, but needs to be above the fold:

The problem for Charles I was that knighthood wasn’t just an honorific.  In the 1630s the apparatus of local government was still in the hands of the lesser gentry. I don’t recall all the details, but I’m certain a guy with “Sir” in front of his name had to do lots of things — like enforce the militia ordinances, serve as sheriff, collect the taxes, etc. — that your average burgher didn’t have to. So being a knight meant that you had to do a lot of grunt work for a meaningless title, since real knights were either a) blue-blooded aristos who hated you for crashing the club, or b) actual military men who hated you for crashing their club.

After Charles chose to enforce distraint, you had it on record that you were qualified to be a knight, whatever that meant, but chose to duck responsibility by paying the fine… which meant that even the commoners hated you, because they couldn’t duck their chores by paying a fine. Thus putting the very people whose loyalty the ruling power must have into an untenable situation….

….exactly what our Cloud People are doing to the ever-shrinking middle class today.

That’s why I really don’t think people appreciate how serious this college scam thing potentially is. Either a USC degree means something, or it doesn’t. Yeah yeah, everyone knows that rich kids and famous people get in on their names, but Joe Schmoe is supposed to get in on merit. More importantly, his degree is supposed to be a Certificate of Merit, which means he has a fair chance at getting one of those Cloud People jobs, even when competing against a Legacy Cloud Person.

Bribing your way in, but pretending you earned it, is the worst possible thing to do.  Straight bribery is “honorable” in its way, since nobody pretends that the kid whose Dad built a library annex got in based on his test scores.  That’s what “legacy” means, and everyone is ok with that, since — paradoxically — the legacy system only exists because the meritocracy is so rigidly enforced.  Chelsea Clinton would’ve gotten all those “jobs” with a degree from Hoboken Community College, or no degree whatsoever, because she’s Chelsea Clinton.  Nonetheless, we all pretend that it was her Stanford / Oxford / Columbia / NYU training that did it.*  The system works, so long as everyone keeps up pretenses.

But now it’s obvious that there never was any such thing as “meritocracy.”  The test scores, the varsity letters, the extracurriculars, they’re ALL fake.  All of them can be had for cash on the nail, which means all of them are meaningless.  What’s the point of doing any of that, when some rich twit can produce a resume that’s twice as good as anything your kid could possibly do, just by writing a check?  Please note that though Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffmann are the ones getting all the publicity because they’re attractive(-ish) White women, the majority of the parents caught up in this caper are no-names.  I fully expect my kid to lose head-to-head against Chelsea Clinton, but I’d sure like to think he’s got a shot against the children of doctors, jewelry store owners, and insurance execs.

Unless we’re willing to believe that this is the only time something like this has ever happened, there’s now zero point in sending your kids to any formerly prestigious university.  Which means that middle class parents now have zero incentive to do… well, to do anything, because what’s the point of band camp and soccer practice and SAT prep classes and “enrichment” activities and the whole pre-pre-K “achievement” pipeline?

If the Powers That Be are smart, they’ll throw the book at Lori and Felicity.  They’ll send them to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison, and make sure their kids end up working as janitors at the same pokey.  But the Powers That Be are stupid, and can’t see that far ahead.  They never bothered to wonder just why anyone would go to all the trouble to fake a college app, any more than Charles I bothered to wonder why none of his potential knights were actually getting dubbed.

Remember: There are more than a trillion dollars outstanding in student loans.  It’s going to be very, very bad.




*Christ but the Clintons are vulgar, aren’t they?  It’s not enough to gerrymander their brat to one Ivy League school; they’ve got to do four.  And a “doctorate” in “international relations,” including a 712-page “dissertation.”  For those of you not familiar with the arcana of academia, 712 pages is about five dissertations’ worth, and no serious piece of original scholarship (which is what a diss is supposed to be) is titled something like The Global Fund: An Experiment in Global Governance.  She should’ve just had her ghostwriter title it Fuck You, Pay Me, since that’s the gist of it.

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Credentialism Ruins Everything

The minute a profession starts thinking of itself as a profession it’s finished, because henceforth “actually doing the job” will come second to “advancing the guild’s interests.”  Not for everyone, of course.  Most doctors, I imagine, just want to practice medicine.  They probably even feel they’d be much better off without the elaborate apparatus of “the profession” — the American Medical Association, their specialty associations, the unique social status of “being a doctor” (there are a lot more downsides than upsides to this, if you really think about it).  They no doubt feel this… until someone outside of it starts badmouthing the guild, or someone inside causes the profession to lose standing.  Then they close ranks.

The reason for this — if you want to slap an academic-sounding label on it — is “the reification of the bureaucracy.”  Even if 99 out of 100 doctors, say, just want to practice medicine, there’s that last guy who makes “being a doctor” his life’s work.  He joins all the associations, and because that kind of guy is basically just Trigglypuff with better hygiene and lower BMI, he quickly rises to a position of influence in every organization.  He lives for the bureaucracy.  Which means he’s a politician, and there it is.

If you want more examples, look no further than the original guilds, the craft associations of the Middle Ages.  Any settlement big enough for actual cash money to change hands in it soon had an exquisitely class-conscious group with lots of actual, but no formal, power.  Your smart tyrant co-opted the politicians from the merchant guilds, made them de facto nobility and bade them act like it — that gave you the Renaissance.  Your dumb (or merely nonexistent) tyrant let the merchants’ resentments fester — that gave you the Reformation, and the whole catalog of ideological murder that followed.

This, more than anything else, explains the death of the American university.  You can yell about the evils of affirmative action, feminism, etc. all you want — you’ll hear no argument from me — but the guild mentality set all that up.

Consider my own ex-profession, History.  This was a conservative discipline within living memory.  And not a namby-pamby cuck kind of conservatism, either — the only place in America you’d hear the fundamental wisdom of the 19th Amendment questioned was a humanities seminar.  History is the art of putting two and two together, and accepting the consequences.  Clio may be the muse of History, but our god is Saturn.

Alas, it’s also a job, and if you do it right, there’s not that much for a Historian to actually do.
“Explaining what happened” for even the best-attested event takes a lifetime of study.  The Historian’s most basic tools aren’t documents, but people — you need to have long experience of people to make informed historical judgments.  Here again, within living memory History professors were guys who did stuff.  Even when I was an undergrad, back at the dawn of the Clinton era, you’d have a much better chance of finding a combat veteran among the History faculty than the public at large.

You can see where this is going.  Because there’s not much to actually do in the day-to-day, the younger members of the guild used “being in the guild” as a fun way to pass the time.  This was even more the case in “disciplines” where there was never anything to do, such as Philosophy and English Lit. (the grandparents of all Angry Studies; most of the barmiest ideas in academia actually proceeded from the latter).  Since the job of “shaping young minds” obviously entails that the shapers are qualified to do the shaping, this led, naturally, to the notion that smelling one’s own farts in one’s ivy-walled office just is enlightenment.

So why not affirmative action, feminism, all the rest?  There’s nothing outside the guild, after all, and since we in the guild decide what’s best for the guild — and can force students to parrot it back — we can make “being enlightened” our life’s work.  It doesn’t matter what happens out in the real world, because there is no “real world.”  The only thing that’s real is the next meeting of the tenure committee…

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Midweek Quick Takes

I got nothin’, so here’s this.

Dear Liberals: We’ve already elected a politician’s airhead son who loves to cosplay as a Mexican when he’s not driving drunk.  He’s from Texas, too.  His name is “George W. Bush,” and y’all didn’t like him much.  PS voting for the White guy is racist.  Time to get over your “Beto” fixation and vote Kamala.

There are lots of ways to phrase “Occam’s Razor,” but the one I like best is: Eliminate unnecessary assumptions.  There are, of course, necessary assumptions — “assume a spherical chicken” comes to mind — but most times, people start “assuming” stuff when they’ve already determined their conclusion and are trying to retcon the facts to it.  The more assumptions you make, and the more fundamental those assumptions are to your reasoning, the bigger balls-up the final product will be.

Consider Marxism vs. capitalism.  The “capitalist” assumes that both sides in an exchange think they’re getting the better of the deal.  That’s not an assumption — nobody knowingly takes a worse deal.  Marxism, on the other hand, assumes that not only is every exchange really a theft, but that both parties know it.  It’s Marxism’s central tenet, which is why Marxism has a body count upwards of 100 million.

Fox News informs me that “Former Obama White House Counsel and Clinton-linked attorney Greg Craig may soon be charged by the Justice Department for engaging in illegal unregistered overseas lobbying.”  Heh.  Of all the lies we’re required to believe these days, perhaps the most galling is that Democrats are ever held accountable for anything.  One of three things is going to happen to Greg Craig: 1) nothing, or 2) so much nothing that he’ll immediately be hired as an “expert analyst” by CNN.  The only other possibility, 3), is that he already let something slip that Herself might consider damaging, in which case he’ll mysteriously commit suicide by shooting himself six times in the head, then jumping off a gorge for good measure.

I’m betting on 2), though, because the banana republicificaiton of America is substantially complete.  Coonman is still Virginia’s governor, Fairfax is still the Lt. Gov., Chiquita Khrushchev is still in Congress (even though it’s clearly in the Party’s best interests to kangaroo-court her ass into outer darkness asap), and so on.

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The Validation Business

Back when anthropology was a real discipline practiced by serious people — e.g. before Franz Boas unleashed his disciples on the world — anthropologists distinguished between religion and folkways.  Religions have an intellectual component, an interpretive tradition; “shamanism” or what have you doesn’t.  Take a gander at one of the pre-Boas classics, e.g. Lucien Levy-Bruhl‘s How Natives Think.  “Natives” have their creation myths, of course (that seems to be a human universal), but their lives are so suffused by magic that the term “magic” itself doesn’t even really make sense.  Levy-Bruhl says, for instance, that natives call a path which has fallen into disuse “dead.”  In other words, everything has its genius loci; when the spirit departs, it becomes dangerous, and the path dies.

You only get proper religion in cities.  The Romans had their “gods of the hearth,” sure, but since all gods were originally nature gods their religion, like all religions, got more and more “theological” as the city got bigger and endured longer.  It’s no surprise, then, that the world’s major religions all developed in heavily urbanized areas.  Nor is it surprising that Christianity, the Jewish heresy par excellence, made rootless cosmopolitanism one of the cornerstones of the faith.

The one is a logical extension of the other.  Out in “nature,” where life is short and brutal and death is always lurking just over the hillside, the “supernatural” is an everyday experience.  How else can I explain the fact that the lion looked right at me, but didn’t eat me?  It was the juju of this particular path, or the totem I was carrying, or the dance I did before leaving, or whatever, take your pick.  There’s no “logical” explanation for it, but since humans are hardwired to find connections, if we can’t find one we’ll invent one.

Life was short in ancient cities, too, but nobody got eaten by lions in the subura.  Instead, people in cities died of disease — a far more mystifying death, because you can at least see the lion.  Similarly, out in “nature” it’s obvious why we starved to death — the fields are right there, and you can see the dead crops.  In Rome, the wheat came from Sicily, if not Egypt.  You’d already be on your deathbed from hunger before you heard that there was a plague of locusts on the Nile.  “Appeasing the gods,” in other words, was a much trickier proposition, and the higher up the social scale you went — the more materially secure you were, in other words — the tougher it got.

Hence, theology.  Only a culture that had been heavily urbanized for thousands of years could come up with Original Sin, or the caste system (with its origins in the idea of reincarnation).

Extend it out another couple thousand years.  Two hundred years ago, we were so materially secure that we felt we could dispense with gods entirely.  That it was the persistence of belief in “gods,” in fact, that perpetuated what little misery remained.

But a funny thing happened: We’re still miserable.  We should be deliriously happy — we have everything anyone could ever possibly need.  We’re so prosperous that our poor people die of heart disease.  We carry devices in our pockets that deliver every conceivable entertainment.  There is no corner of our globe that can’t be reached in 24 hours.  We have stuff just lying around the house that mighty Ozymandias, King of Kings, would’ve traded half his empire for — aspirin and air conditioning, for instance, and that’s just the first letter of the alphabet.  Throw in “antibiotics” and he’d trade you the remaining half, without ever even needing to get to “B.”

If we’re unhappy, then, we have only ourselves to blame; God checked out in 1883.  But that can’t be right, so we’ve concocted a grotesque series of god replacements, each more elaborate than the last.  “Intersectionality,” for instance, makes the bizarreries of medieval theology sound completely reasonable and totally sane.  You can’t appease gods that don’t exist, so you have to rejigger the entire material world — only when it’s impossible for anyone, anywhere, to be unhappy will you stop being unhappy.

In effect, it flips theology on its head.  The great thing about religious belief — properly religious belief, theological belief — is that it almost entirely ignores the outside world.  Life’s in the struggle, which is why “natives” always seem so happy even in the midst of great material deprivation.  Urban dwellers have to deprive themselves, and that’s why theology is so great — you can never actually win in the struggle against yourself, so since it’s the fight that gives life meaning you’ll never lack purpose.

Our intersexual genderfluid overlords, though, can’t do that, because the fundamental presumption of #wokeness is that you’re the exemplar this sick sad world needs to follow.  Your behavior can’t be wrong, even if it’s obviously self-destructive.  Hence the entire industries devoted to telling the #Woke that the very things that are making them miserable are, in fact, making them deliriously happy.  It’s not that you need to change; it’s that the world needs to change — the entire Earth and everyone on it needs to get with the program already, so that you’ll feel better about being so much better than they are.  When you consider that this is the entire point of modern higher education, and that there are now over a trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt in America alone, you can see just how urgently Humanity needs to get its shit together and get #Woke.  Free college for everyone!!

Seriously — that’s how they “think.”  Liberalism is the validation business.  Look at it that way, and what they do makes more sense.

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It’s a Photoshop Life

When I was young, “authenticity” was the watchword.  We young folks had it; our parents — the dreaded Boomers — didn’t.  Their avatar was Bill Clinton, a sociopathic poonhound who could sound like he was right there on the bridge of PT-109 next to JFK when he wanted to, but always acted like a hippie cult leader.  To us, therefore, the greatest sin was hypocrisy.

The naivete of youth, right?  My friends and I really thought Pearl Jam was going to win against Ticketmaster, because Ticketmaster was a greedy corporation run by soulless yuppies and Pearl Jam, the darling cash cow of Epic Records — a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Music International — ummm….. wasn’t?  Because they wore flannel or something?  Like I say, the naivete of youth.  Smarter folks than me have been deceived by the A&R man, even though we all knew better.  The point is, “authenticity” was something to be striven for, even though we knew we’d never fully have it (and how could you even know if you did?).  Gen X is finely attuned to cognitive dissonance, because we experienced so much of it in ourselves.

Which makes us pretty much the worst possible people to be in charge during the Social Media Revolution.

Just so we’re on the same page: I keep banging on about how new Social Media really is, and here are those numbers again: The early social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter) date from the mid-Aughts; the really brain-melting ones (Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, et al) are less than a decade old.  The first mostly-online generation is in college now; the first fully online generation is just entering high school.  The next generation — the truly Internet-addled one, the generation that’s been hooked to blinking touchscreens since infancy, the kids who will slog through a 140-character tweet like it’s War and Peace — is still in elementary school.

This kind of cognitive dislocation is impossible for us to fully grasp.

The closest we can get is a metaphor.  In a good response to a Z Man piece on “Beto” O’Rourke, the commenter calls O’Rourke a copy of a copy.  He’s a wannabe Bill Clinton, who was himself a bush-league JFK impersonator.  This metaphor makes sense to us, because we grew up in a world where copies were physical things — a big humming machine that smelled like burning sand sent a light saber-looking bar across a plate of glass, and a few seconds to minutes later, a piping-hot sheet of paper got spit into a tray.  Even text lost a little bit of fidelity, but reproductions of photographs degraded noticeably on even the best machines.  Photocopy the copy, and what was once a brilliant hi-res photograph looks like amoebas fornicating.

But photocopiers don’t exist anymore.  Not in the way pre-Facebook generations understand them.  Sure, there are a few dinosaur machines still out there, but even for us old folks, most of our “copying” is digital.  Certainly all of our mass copying is, and that means no fuzz, no graininess, no loss of resolution at all.  The printer spits every image out straight from a data file.  You can make a million copies of the same image, and each one will be perfect down to the last pixel.  More importantly, there’s no such thing as a “copy of a copy.”  Why bother trying to physically duplicate what’s already a data file?  I’ll just text it to your smartphone, and then you can turn out a million perfect-to-the-last-pixel reproductions for yourself.

See what I mean?  We grew up in a world where imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, because even the most perfect copies had detectable flaws and the better the reproduction, the more time and effort it took.  They are growing up in a world where “originality” doesn’t even exist, because “copies” aren’t just indistinguishable from “the real thing” — because it’s all just data files, copies are the real thing.

And that’s before you get to the ubiquitous Photoshop-ization of everything in modern life.  Look at anything on DeviantArt.  Is any of it good?  But wait — before you answer, ask yourself the opposite question: Is any of it bad?  How can you possibly tell?  Again, remember that this is a generation completely comfortable with the word “remaster.”  As in, “Here’s Gustav Mahler orchestrating Beethoven’s 9th… but we’ve cleaned up the strings, auto-tuned the vocal, and re-engineered the drum track.  Plus we cut that last movement, because it’s overplayed.”  Telling any one of these kids that their stuff looks like knockoff Roy Lichtenstein is an insult, all right, because Lichtenstein didn’t even have Photoshop and so all his stuff looks worse than the knockoff it is.  Plus he’s a dead White male, soooo……

What I’m trying to get at, I guess, is that this generation won’t understand why Lichtenstein was a significant artist (and for the record, I’m not a fan), because the terms don’t even make sense anymore.  It’s not (just) historical ignorance.  Show them the side-by-side of “The Bedroom at Arles;” they’ll get the context they need.

What they won’t get, because they can’t, is the significance.  “Lichtenstein thought that Van Gogh paining looked cool.  He ran it through an Instragam filter and posted it.  So what?”  Art isn’t just a conversation with other artists; it’s a conversation with the truth both artists are trying to express, and that can’t possibly make sense in a world where every single thing you see, read, and hear is easily manipulable.  By anybody.

This explains, I think, the upcoming generation’s unparalleled ability to forget, to ignore, to crimestop.  Nothing you do really matters, because in some profound sense, you’re not really you at all — you’re a collection of traits, each selected a la carte from a million identical, and identically reproducible, elements.  I often quote a joke I stole from one of the few funny Simpsons episodes of the new millennium: “Nobody’s better than anybody and everyone’s the best at everything.”  It’s funny to us — that is, to the pre-Facebook version of humanity — but in a very real way, I sense, this is the post-Facebook generation’s life.  If every element of everything can be assembled willy-nilly, and the result perfectly reproduced an infinite number of times, then nobody really is different from anybody and everybody really is the best at everything.

Or not, because it doesn’t really matter anyway. That Vincent guy must’ve thrown a picture of his bedroom through a “Van Gogh” filter on his iPhone.  It looks like shit, and so does the one that Roy guy did — what is this, one of the early game apps?  Horrible graphics.  Drag-and-drop both of them into the recycle bin, and start over.  As many times as you want.

That’s why O’Rourke has a decent shot in the Democratic primary.  Just don’t sound like too much of a lunatic — not hard, considering the rest of the field — and let the voters decide that it’s ok to vote for the White male just this once more.  What are we up to, the third “reboot” of Spider Man this century?  Compared to that, a reboot of Bill Clinton is no big deal, and since the alternative is Donald Trump…

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The Grand Mufti of Main Street USA

Harsh truth time: We can’t beat Trigglypuff.

That seems ridiculous.  Trigglypuff is, after all, a pathetic excuse for a human being.  But as I mentioned yesterday, it only takes a few of these critters to utterly destroy an institution.  Because here’s another thing that seems ridiculous: In all my years in academia, I never met a Social Justice Warrior that wasn’t already on the faculty.

I don’t even know if I ever actually saw one among the student body.  Oh, I’ve seen plenty of tattooed blue-haired nose-ringers.  I’ve had more than a few of them in class, in fact.  But those are just fads.  When I was in college, Liberal Arts majors dressed like basketball-playing lumberjacks.  I myself had a few flannel shirts and a sweeeeeet pair of Chuck Taylors, but I could neither fell a tree nor hit a jump shot.  The key word in the phrase “college kids” is, after all, kids.

Tl;dr — in order for a student to rat you off to the Thought Police, they first have to be paying attention.  In most of my classes, most of the time, I could’ve replaced my lectures with the juicier parts of Mein Kampf and no one would’ve noticed.

But it only takes one, because Trigglypuff is actually the Terminator — she can’t be bargained with, she can’t be reasoned with, and she absolutely WILL. NOT. STOP. until she gets what she wants.  She has 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year to get you, and she’ll use all of them — every minute, every second.  You have to sleep sometime; the Trigglypuffs of the world — who by definition have access to powerful prescription psychotropics — do not.

The harsh reality, then, is this: Since we can’t beat ’em, we have to join ’em.

I don’t mean we have to become Social Justice Warriors ourselves.  What I mean is that we need our own 24/7 on-call goon squad.  Normal people, of course, don’t join goon squads, so we need to get some abnormal people posthaste.

Hypothetically, the best way to do this is to set up one of those storefront churches that you see in the ghetto, but make it a mosque.  Muslims are, of course, the ultimate protected class — change your name to Achmed Raheem al Shabazz, swap out your ball cap for a kufi, and do whatever you like.  You can tell feminists, gays, trannies, etc. to fuck off right to their multi-pierced faces, so long as you do it in the name of the Prophet, peace be upon him.

It sounds too cynical to work, but consider the sad state of the males trapped in the “education” system.  They can’t talk to girls, because even if they’re among the dwindling minority of college girls who aren’t tatted-out, face-shrapneled shrikes, they’re still carrying around 20 years of third wave feminist indoctrination.  I can’t tell you just how rude, arrogant, and demanding most college girls were to me, and I was a professor! Nor can they talk to other guys, because on campus, the collective noun for “a group of boys” is “rape culture.”  College boys are lost, directionless, isolated.  They have no pride, because how could they?  They’ve been in the American educational system all their lives, where nobody’s different from anybody and everyone’s the best at everything.

Give that kind of guy a clear, bright-line code and watch what happens.  Give him a space in which to interact with men, as a man.  Give him a way to compete that isn’t “competitive abasement to ever-changing feminist dogma.”  Who can be the most uncompromising in the defense of his new faith?  There’s a way for everyone to excel at something when it comes to living the religious life.  Give them their pride back.

That’s how you get a “normal” goon squad.  Hypothetically, of course.

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College on “The Spectrum”

You’ve probably heard that the Department of Justice, having arrested all the terrorists and drug traffickers, finally turned its mighty eye to the grave national security threat that is college admissions.  Various Hollywood types, including Aunt Becky, joined assorted CEOs and other rich douchebags in bribing their kids’ way into elite colleges.

Mmmmmm….. Aunt Becky.  Yes, I’ll wait.  Has everybody gotten that out of their systems?  Ok, proceeding:

To Normals, the idea of paying a third-party facilitator to bribe your kids into college is so dumb, it makes anti-sense.  Surely rich guys know how college admissions work?  You don’t take “the Hubert J. Buttpimple Memorial Thru-Hole” to get to the library because ol’ Hubert was some kind of outstanding alumnus.  It has his name on it because his kid was dumber than a box of rocks, and the college wouldn’t touch Junior unless Daddy ponied up the cash.  Since “donations to the general scholarship fund” are too obvious even for this age of idiocracy, you “donate” a park bench or something, and everyone pretends to believe that park bench is really worth $1.2 million.

In the same vein, Normals understand that elite colleges collect famous people as zealously, and with as much regard for academic excellence, as they do Diversity Pokemon.  Surely no one believes that a guy like James Franco — the star of Your Highness and the writer of the Tori Spelling classic Mother May I Sleep With Danger? — got into Columbia because of his IQ?  This is the guy, you’ll recall, who — though a rich, famous, and handsome movie star — begs random not-quite-18 year olds for hookups via text message.  It’s well understood by all parties that admitting him is a marketing move.

In other words, we Normals think, if you’re Lori Loughlin and you want your kid to go to Ivy League Tech, you simply call up the Dean of Admissions and do lunch, where over free-range arugula he’ll tell you that the college could really use a few new chairs for the cafeteria…. or that the theater department could really use an Aunt Becky Chair in Applied Aromatherapy, depending on just how bad the kid’s SAT scores really are.  There’s no need to fly in a “test proctor” from Tampa, or photoshop your kid punting a football, or any of the other idiotic shit the “Key Worldwide Foundation” (what, was “Acme Import/Export” taken?) actually did.

Now, part of this is just the ever-accelerating Third-Worldification of the United States.  Every crapsack nation on Earth has its prestige university, where all the children of the elite go.  But since it’s, you know, the Third World, the elite’s kids don’t actually have to go there; they’re set for life no matter what they do.  So the school maintains its elite rep by charging out the wazoo for hustlers to buy their kids places there.  It’s a time-honored system, going all the way back to medieval Europe (and colonial America too, of course).  So long as nobody actually believes the hype — that a kid with a diploma from Ivy League Tech is a certified genius because he’s got a diploma from Ivy League Tech — the system works.

Alas, we believe the hype, because the United States of America is now Autism Spectrum Nation.

No one who matters in modern America has a clue how social interactions work.  The reason Lori can’t simply do lunch with the Dean is because neither of them could figure out how to handle it.  The Dean knows he can’t come right out and say “five hundred large and the kid’s in”… but he also knows that Lori can’t process a subtle hint like “we’d love to help you, Mx. Laughlin, but alas, the last $500,000 in the discretionary fund is earmarked for parking lot resurfacing.”  For her part, Lori can’t straight-up offer the Dean a bribe, because the whole point of pretending to attend Ivy League Tech is pretending an Ivy League Tech degree means something.  And since the Dean’s on the spectrum, too — it’s an inevitable effect of life in academia — she knows she can’t offer to write a check to the parking lot resurfacing fund, wink wink, because the Dean thinks “nonverbal subcommunication” is some class in the English department.  He’ll pocket the check and walk.

This is why almost all the shenanigans are routed through the schools’ athletics programs.  Coaches know how to play ball metaphorically, too — it’s quite likely that they’re the only ones on campus who do.

The rest of America has been living out a kind of sorites paradox since at least the late 1960s.  A sorites paradox happens because language isn’t math, so we end up trying to quantify the unquantifiable.  What is the exact number of grains of sand you need to a make a heap of sand?

I’m deadly serious about this.  It matters, because that’s exactly the type of question that has driven American cultural life for five decades now.  How much “Diversity,” for instance, is “our Strength?”  I’d better goddamn well know, down to the exact number of Vibrants physically present at any given time, or I lose my job and we all get sued into the poorhouse.

But since that’s impossible to know, what happens in practice is the sorities paradoxification of pretty much everything.  Just to stick with a theme, everyone in academia, K-thru-PhD, knows the Prime Directive: Do NOT fail the Blacks.  But because the Blacks fail — a lot — on any objective measure, we can’t have objective measures….

….except we must have objective measures, for how else are we to be sure No Child is Left Behind?  We can’t just hand everyone an A, because how else are the SWPL strivers out in the suburbs going to brag about how much money they spent on little Snowflake’s tutoring and enrichment programs?  But we can’t hand out anything less than an A, either, because there’s a chance someone with the wrong skin tone might get one.  You have to have a completely objective measure that is also utterly meaningless, and that’s why the “works cited” page on your term paper is worth 75% of the grade.

Only what’s in the gradebook is real… but it’s also completely imaginary.  Yet you must believe it, against all evidence of your own lying eyes, because if La’Quavious didn’t earn his A, then how can you know you’ve earned yours?  Apply that shit all the way down the line, to every aspect of life — how else can it end, but in a raging case of Asperger’s?

That’s why the coaches are the point men on this stuff.  They, and they alone, can operate in the desert of the real.  The stopwatch and the scale don’t lie, and they’re allowed to cut anyone who doesn’t hit his benchmarks.  Because they’re grounded — because they’re allowed to notice stuff — they can pick up on the social cues that make this kind of scam go.  Everyone else is still living in Autism Spectrum Nation.

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Why Didn’t You Quit Sooner?

Some variant of this is the second-most common question I get asked re: my time in the ivory tower.  Sometimes it comes in the form of “What were you, stupid or something?”, but the gist of it is, knowing what I most certainly must have about life in academia, it’s strange that I ever would’ve started, much less endured it for all those years…

Coming from me, I can hardly ask you to believe it was idealism… but, believe it or not, that was part of it.  I had no illusions about changing the discipline.  Even if I were the kind of big-league scholar that could’ve gotten hired at Harvard — and I was light years away from that — the kind of people who go to Harvard are already hopelessly lost.  There will never be a “conservative” scholar of note until we dig ourselves out of the rubble of the West’s utter collapse, because the entire system is stacked against it.  In fact, “stacked” isn’t even the right word, as it implies that a conservative work could even get a hearing.  Modern academia is one of Joseph Tainter‘s complex societies, destined for collapse — just as the Romans kept stuffing forts with legions because they couldn’t even think of another way to go, so modern academia lacks the cognitive toolkit to evaluate an argument that isn’t “race / class / gender, therefore #OrangeManBad.”

Out in the provinces, though, there was once some hope of getting through to a student or two.  The professors were, if anything, worse — one of the main reasons “bad” schools are bad is that the profs there all feel they deserve to be at Harvard, and are openly contemptuous of their employers — but the students can sometimes still be reached.  For a while there, every class would have its secret shitlord or two, who could sense that I was a kindred spirit.  This, I felt, served a socially necessary function.  But just as video killed the radio star, so social media killed whatever was left of independent thought in American students.

The other reason I stayed, quite frankly, was that the show was so perversely fascinating.

Imagine you’re some kind of Gulliver-type explorer, and you reach an island of perfect bliss.  Clear air, gentle breezes, balmy temperatures, and all the delicious food you can eat.  And the natives!  They live to serve you, completely unconstrained by anything so antiquated as Western sexual morality.  Limitless 5G internet.  Anything you want to eat, drink, watch, read, do, say, insert, or have inserted, it’s all yours at the snap of your fingers.  Got it?

Now imagine that the rulers of this little slice of paradise do nothing but sit on the side of the road all day, smashing their own toes with ball-peen hammers.

That’s life in a college town.  The Left run everything.  They set the admissions requirements.  They have unlimited budgets, and since they do, the entire commercial ecosystem exists only for them.  All cuisine is “fusion,” you have to drive to the next burg over to find milk that comes from cows, and every single item of public culture — from sidewalk graffiti to public radio to experimental theater troupe — does nothing but flatter them.  There is no fetish so outre, no practice so bizarre, that you can’t find at least one other enthusiastic participant.  It’s intersectional genderfluid heaven….

…. and every single person in it is miserable.  I’m serious — if it’s not too far out of your way, drive down to your nearest college town, and just watch the faces.  You might glimpse a grinning undergrad or two — they’re too young and dumb to know better; they’ll be fully reeducated by junior year — but you can spot the tenured faculty solely by their scowls.  The only thing that temporarily alleviates the existential horror of their lives is getting outraged by something, which — since, again, they control everything — means tilting at windmills is their only sport; they play it with a cutthroat intensity the football coach can only dream of.

How can you not be fascinated by that?  To utterly refute the view of man as homo economicus, all you have to do is watch the facial expressions of people who are “the 1%” by any measure that makes sense.  It’s one hell of a show…

…until it isn’t.  Because that kind of self-inflicted misery grinds on you.  We’ve all stopped to look at the car crash, of course, but you don’t want to spend all day, every day, year in and year out, looking at car crashes.  It took me a good long while — I’m sadistic, I guess — but I got flat out exhausted by it all.  So I quit.


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Monday Miscellania

Random thoughts.

Over at Z Man’s I had some advice for young White men: Go Muslim.  The objection was mooted that Islam is not a religion for White people, to which I reply: Sure, if you were going to be, you know, serious about it.  I suggest that we take the tenets of Mohammed’s faith exactly as seriously as the Liberals take the tenets of theirs — as an all-purpose virtue scam and get-out-of-responsibility-free card.  Change your name to Achmed Raheem al Shabazz, slap a kufi on your bean, and feel free to tell gays, Jews, trannies, and feminists to fuck right off.  And if someone catches you noshing a bacon-and-whiskey sandwich on Friday night when you should be banging your head on the floor at the mosque, well, you still take Shari’a at least as seriously as Al Gore does climate change.

In fact, I’d suggest that Islam is fantastic for Our Thing, and we all should “convert” forthwith.  Why bother with the cloak-and-dagger stuff of having meetups when we can do it right out in the open?  It’s easy to keep SJW infiltrators out of our mosque — start every “prayer meeting” by reciting the juicier parts of the Koran.  They’ll be so triggered they have to leave, and as a bonus, we’ve fulfilled the actual “religious service” part of our federal tax exemption.  And as for Uncle Sam’s infiltrators, well… have you seen how the FBI operates lately?  I really would not be surprised to learn they start their undercover operations with “Hello, fellow extremists!”

Why aren’t we doing this?*

Ace of Spades’ morning report links to a piece on Taylor Swift’s “political awakening.”  Y’all know how much I hate tooting my own horn, but I covered this way back when.  Ok, ok, so I mostly just linked that for the picture — never let it be said that I don’t give the people what they want — but seriously, how hard is this to grasp?  Swift is now 30, which, since pop tarts age in dog years, means she’s got two generations of younger-hotter-tighter competition coming up behind her.  She’s going to hit the wall at Mach 3 no matter what, so since she’s nothing if not a very savvy operator, she’s getting out in front of her inevitable transformation into a “serious artist” (read: BMI above 15).  Give it another two years, and she’ll be openly embracing those bisexuality rumors, and by the time she’s 40 she’ll be touring with the Indigo Girls.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  At least she can keep herself in the spotlight a bit longer by being an obnoxious Leftist (BIRM, I know).

In the comments to a previous placeholder post, Ganderson remarked

 I choose to ignore the question as to why we have charged our colleges and universities with providing semi pro sports entertainment.

So should we all, but since I got nothin’ this morning I’ll address it.  If you’re not up on the history of American higher ed — and no normal person has any reason to be — it’s hard to realize just how recently college was a profoundly conservative institution.  My own discipline, History, was understandably a bit more retrograde than most, but Progressives viewed History departments as dangerous nests of heretics even when I was in undergrad.

It makes sense when you consider what college used to be.  Say what you will about the Baby Boomers and their many, many, many, many, many flaws, but they didn’t learn that shit in college.  The most obnoxious ones were in college in the Sixties, yes, but the vast majority of the Baby Boom generation didn’t go to college, for the simple reason that college back then was expensive.  That was by design, since colleges were always intended to transmit the skills and above all the values of the professional classes.  You went to college to become a doctor or a lawyer, but just as important, you went there to learn how to act like a doctor or a lawyer.

Think of the old classic Animal House.  It’s a “college” movie that would be incomprehensible to any modern undergraduate.  The main characters and the big villain are in ROTC, for pete’s sake.  Pinto and Flounder wear freshman beanies, the sorority girls all dress like they’re going to a debutante ball, and everyone but Bluto wears a collared shirt to class.  With a necktie!!!  Even Bluto’s signature sweater — which I have seen modern undergrads wearing, though they have no idea where it came from**– is worn over a collared shirt:

The “everyone goes to college” ethos wasn’t started by a bunch of cowardly hippies dodging the draft, then.  It was started by a bunch of weaselly careerists cashing in on Griggs v. Duke Power.  Which is important, because just as there’s no one more obnoxious about the ancient privileges of the aristocracy than the guy who bought his patents five minutes ago, so no one is more loyal to the Old School Tie than the guy who only went to class to network.

Again, consider Animal House.  It’s set in 1962, but it was made in 1978.  The Delta House guys are fuck-ups, yeah, but the movie is obviously a very loving send-up of that old rah-rah-sis-boom-bah stuff.  It’s an elegy as much as a parody, made by guys who got to college just as all of that was ending (the main writers were in their early 30s; Belushi was 28, as was director John Landis).  Look at how all the characters turned out — Senator John Blutarsky!!

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, then — that is, when the first batch of Gen X turned 18 — that college sports became a dominant cultural force.  I must’ve written a zillion words on the unifying effect of team loyalty, so instead of re-writing them I’ll ask you to think of how else one could possibly weld a group of disparate people, from all over the country, who are only there pursuing their own personal advantage (if they even know why they’re there in the first place) into a coherent whole.  There’s boot camp, I guess, but short of having a drill instructor in your face all the time — a la Niedermayer from Animal House — getting everyone behind the football team is the only effective way.

If that doesn’t convince you, think about the “boosters.”  I’m retired, thank god, and I was never a “real” academic in the first place, but I’m right up there with the shrillest, fattest, most tatted-out and face-shrapneled feminist Grievance Studies professor when it comes to the fucking boosters.  You’re giving seventeen gazillion dollars to the school, to make sure that the football team has a fourth cafeteria and an on-call aromatherapist?  But again, it makes sense — if there were any direct correlation between “athletic success” and “rich idiot alumni,” Harvard and Yale would play for the championship every year, like they did back in the days when the only other school with a team was Rutgers.

Rich idiot Harvard alums don’t need the football team to win championships, because they went to goddamn Harvard.  It’s only guys like Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens, who think they deserved to go to Harvard but couldn’t, that feel the need to turn their alma maters into sports powerhouses.  And, of course, the dedicated Progressives who run all of academia are happy to take their filthy capitalist lucre…




*PS I made up the name “Achmed Raheem al Shabazz” totally at random, but it turns out that’s one hell of an inadvertent in-joke.  When I start my career as an imam, I’m going to insist that everyone who joins my congregation puts “Shabazz” in their new name somewhere.
**I know, because I’ve asked.  It’s hilarious to suggest to a coed who thinks she’s being daringly anti-establishment that she should actually watch Animal House.  So much toxic masculinity!  Not to mention the racial stuff!  Wow just wow I can’t even.  I’m surprised they haven’t exhumed John Belushi’s corpse and tried him for heresy like a medieval pope.
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