Thursday, November 13, 2014

More Books

If you look to the right, down a little ways, you may notice that I added some new books to the Amazon widget. A couple of people have actually used this thing, I never stopped reading, and I hadn't updated it in over a year, so this seemed like a good time.


The first book I put on there was The Unintended Reformation, by Brad Gregory. Gregory is a historian teaching at Notre Dame and a genuine Catholic who wrote the book to explain how what we know of as the modern world, a haven of secularized consumerism, came to be due to the effects of the Protestant Reformation. As the title suggests, this wasn't the intent of those names we associate with rebellion at the time - Luther, Zwingli, and to a lesser extent, Calvin - but the effects of Reformation DID result in schisms, the disempowerment of Catholicism, and eventually, the disempowerment of Christianity altogether.

Lots of reviewers knock Gregory's effectiveness as a writer because despite his rather intense passion for the big Church and his flawless scholarship, he doesn't sell Catholicism very effectively. I think those people take Gregory to be more of a partisan than a quality academic. But he doesn't turn the book into a theology lesson: the strongest attacks are on principles of non-contradiction, the mutation of Catholic concepts like caritas, and the gaping holes in the modern world's understanding of itself. I couldn't agree more with that last point.

Even if it doesn't sell you on Catholicism - and it probably won't - the book's most intriguing implied statement is made in favor of having a strong formal institution to resolve debates and allow a culture to develop a sense of itself, a learned institution and not a democratic one. It is, in essence, an argument for hierarchy. Naturally, I'm smitten.


The second book is an odd thing called Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. Although technically a work of fiction, the book is basically a collection of intertwining narratives about the lives of people in the Soviet Union, written to clarify both how the Soviet economy worked (or didn't work) and how people's attitudes were. Spufford digested an awful lot of material writing this, and it shows. So it's both fictional and, for most people, an introduction to a subject with many details based on fact.

My strongest interest as a historian has been the economy of the Soviet Union. Early on, I wondered why it didn't work better than it did. Later, as I shed some delusions about people, I marveled that it worked at all. Spufford brings all this to life, and while he is occasionally unfair towards those he writes about and too triumphalist on America, excessively interested in examples of Soviet scientific oppression like the hysteria driven by Lysenko's genetics, he is still clearly well versed on the facts and details. I learned new things about uprisings and policy I didn't know before.

For example: most people associate the Soviet Union with bureaucracy, but in reality, there were distinctly anti-bureaucratic features to the culture. Those dealing with the government were explicitly trying to be treated "as human beings" instead of as dehumanized numbers in the bureaucracy's rule-based grist mill, so party members were theoretically given wide latitude to deal with problems and complaints presented by those who sought them out. Thus, people had to develop personal relationships with those in party positions, instead of going through a maze of impersonal regulations. The result of this was a lot of mini-fiefdoms within the machinery, tiny lords ruling over their tiny areas of responsibility; basically, a major reason for the worst examples of incompetence and disorganization was totally humanist in character. There's lots of that, actions with unintended consequences, throughout the book.

From the role-swap of buyers and sellers to the personality quirks of Khrushchev, Spufford humanizes all this admirably. The only serious flaw is how excessively Western some of his characters are; it was written by a Westerner, specifically a Westerner who has not known all that many Russians very well. It's missing the attitude those who study the country know, for the sake of making it more relatable to an American audience. Still, great book.


If you want that Russian attitude, a third book on the list has it in spades: Monumental Propaganda, by Vladimir Voinovich. Taking place in the Soviet Union for the most part (except for some parts later after it collapses), this couldn't have possibly been written by anyone who didn't have close understanding of the country's culture.

Written through the eyes of an unemotional partisan named Aglaya, the book moves through seventy years of history and seems to encapsulate everything important that happened during that time. Here, the attitude is sharper, more realist, less grounded in any sort of idealism. It's extremely funny at times, too, absurd and beautifully drawn.

It's filled with black humor and raw, unvarnished truth, including the non-stupidity of Stalin and the tendency of activist reformers to revise their own history. The last part of the book - when discussing "cages" - gives the best discussion I've ever read on how power works in society from the perspective of those who are weak and vulnerable. There is no bullshit, just reality; every review of this book seems to misunderstand the core of the thing as I read it, but it is not the work of a fantastical dreamer. If you've been drowning in saccharine American optimism for too long, buy this and come back to Earth for a while.


There are more books I added to the list, and more to add later. Take care.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Yes means Yes?

The latest work of legislation on the docket for all-American teeth-knashing seems to be the "Yes means Yes" law ostensibly created to reduce sexual assault and rape on college campuses. I would typically not care, as the law is presently consigned to relevance only on California university campuses and I am thankfully now away from college altogether. Besides, I've got shit to do. But there are a few characters I generally respect, such as Dalrock, who strongly object to it, so I gave it a look. Doctor Who can wait a while.

Good thing, too. This story has taught me a lot. For example, good sex evidently requires letting go of self-consciousness, according to sex therapists, not a surprise to me but surprising that someone licensed by the state would admit it; this has all sorts of interesting implications. It also taught me that even morons can see that the inflated sexual assault figures for campus coeds are bullshit, which is mildly encouraging.

Or is it?

It is not a surprise that the manosphere, along with some conservatives, are basically up in arms about a law which places college males in such a vulnerable position. Of course men hate it. But what is a surprise is that lots of moderates and feminists hate this law, too. Why? The arguments come down to two things. One seems to be a simple concern for the mood: no one wants to fuck up good sex by constantly asking for permission.

The other argument comes down to "due process," and everyone outside of radfems gets to yell about that: Vox, National Review, USA Today, everyone. Since all this is happening at the institutional level of the university, without the cops being brought in, the only thing at risk is expulsion; thus, the standards of evidence can be lower. Burden of proof is now on the accused. It's just a college tribunal, but as a practical matter, being found guilty would still be damning, as the record of the tribunal would still be available for future employers and not being able to get a college education is presently considered damn near a death sentence. And while avoiding the civilian legal system means being able to circumvent constitutional rights, there are clearly some feminists who want to alter social norms through this ruling, possibly bringing new expectations on the courts. So either no one will take this seriously at all, or sales of nanny cameras to frat boys is set to explode. It's a ruling built to fundamentally disempower men.

Faced with the power to technically destroy men without a serious standard of evidence, some feminists, and many normal people, now find themselves terrified of what their own kind are actually capable of. If there's any legislation capable of making America hate feminism, this kind of legislation would do it.

It's not historically unusual for a power class to use slanted law to attack their enemies, but feminist women are not a typical power class, in that their legitimacy is predicated on NOT actually seeming to have power. Feminists ostensibly want equality, but along comes a law where - due to an institutional technicality - the presumption of innocence is dead, where punishing false testimony would be actively prevented by a media terrified of actually causing harm to a woman, and where the future of the (ostensibly male) accused obviously has no bearing on the proceedings, while the future of the (ostensibly female) accuser is the entire point.

People look at this and know that feminism has gone too far. It's too uncomfortable. If the intent of the law passes into culture, the male sex drive will be hammered down by effective criminalization, simply because the weakest of women want absolute control over the sexual context of every situation they find themselves in, ie a forced repeal of the "consent tax". All this garbage mixes effortlessly with liberal delusions of all stripes, but it's become too obvious: this is not equality.

I don't think many students will take this seriously. The ones who do will be facing the full reality of sex in the 21st century: trust, especially of men, is impossible. Given how loud this has been shouted by feminists, they get scared of how they will look. De Toqueville looks like a prophet; that's a big problem, because normal people despise the idea of every relevant interaction of our lives being regulated within an inch of its life.

De Toqueville assumed that America would require such minuscule regulations precisely because hierarchy was so antithetical to America. He was partially right, which is why we are where we are. But the regulations themselves must come from somewhere, and they are coming from liberal feminism. There is no escaping hierarchy. There is only an escape from formal hierarchy, from honest hierarchy, from accountability.

Feminists could swoop in and save the day after enough men have been tarred and feathered by false accusations, and everyone realizes how stupid it is. That would make them look good. But more likely, we're just going to get used to it, and women will grow in to their explicit legal power in sexual matters. They have an interesting win-win scenario, so long as the bulk of them look at this current rule and say "wait a minute" while passively allowing it to become the norm. Believing in the righteousness of their egalitarian cause, they probably don't consciously know what they're doing, but subconscious plans may have been laid, with or without consent.

In the long run, a few might realize that the old ways, the evolved courtship rituals prior to the 20th century - where long, drawn out interaction was the norm; where emotional vulnerability from women was assumed, and demanded tender advances; where women were expected to be responsible for abstaining from sex given their sexual power; where family name and reputation meant that men guarded their aunts and daughters and sisters; where chaperones and parlor rooms actually had use; where there is no substitute for long established knowledge of another person's character - worked the way they did for a reason. We don't have any greater prerogative to trust each other now than we did then. Less, actually. So what was the point?

Lots of people think the 60's meant that pointless restraints had been lifted. They weren't pointless. They were necessary. Of all humanity's absurd hopes for potential freedom, sexual freedom is the most extreme in its hopelessness.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Back to Life

I haven't posted in a while, and this requires some explaining.

The last several months have been the busiest I have ever experienced. I launched a small business, a vape shop, in February. Originally intended to be open a limited number of hours and with a limited selection, I opened it in a decent-sized city where there were no other vape shops operating. Out of the sheer inertia created by heavy demand, it has grown into a respectable business, and I've learned more about how to vaporize propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin than any human should ever need to know.

I also became a staff sergeant in my guard unit, which did its final qualification on our recently acquired Bradley fighting vehicles in the last month. I've learned more about how to use a chain cannon than any human should ever have to know, and by the way, it's fucking fun.

I started attending church late last year, by invitation, and stopped attending a couple of months ago. The services and beliefs didn't much surprise me, but I learned some things about myself, namely that I don't belong there. I doubt I will ever go to church again, and that's not a statement of exasperation or dislike for it so much as a statement of ending a personal project. There's a lot to say about that.

The real kicker, though, is that I finally graduated from college. I now have bachelor's degrees in history and economics, with a 3.7 GPA, Phi Beta Kappa, all that.

College hasn't been the stress test I expected. I attended a major state university with a very good academic reputation, but it's still 2014 and higher education dived for the lowest common denominator long ago. So thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the last five years have been something of a vacation, with just one year of that time occupied by an easy National Guard deployment to Africa to make the vacation slightly more exotic. My courses held some challenges, particularly the math, which is a language I continue to struggle to gain proficiency in. But all told, college was easy.

Easy does not mean that I enjoyed it, and it doesn't mean that I didn't leave tired and frustrated.

This is the tale of an education that both failed and succeeded. My education succeeded because there was a lot of thinking going on in that place, which educators say is what they want. For me, the combination of lots of free time and a near-obsession with figuring shit out, born of intellectual competitiveness, drove me to take a good but rough understanding of society and move quickly towards cartoonishly overanalyzed geekery. My education failed in that, upon serious analysis, the ideas on the shelf available for me to buy, basically Western intellectual orthodoxy, which looked good on impulse, turned out to be garbage, the products of shoddy, slapdash workmanship meant to sell to fools and not actually use for serious work. I actually went in with far more faith in the Western intellectual tradition and the American way of life than I left with.

As a thinking individual - ostensibly what the university system is trying to produce - I had a choice between accepting what I saw as bullshit on faith, assuming they knew more than they let on, or rejecting it and alienating myself a bit from the culture which both supports and is informed by that system. Showing my arrogance, I took the latter.

More than with actual church, my time in the Church of Reason made me an apostate.




When I started back to college after my time on active duty, in 2009, I was for all practical purposes a moderate liberal. The issues didn't bend me out of shape too much, but I thought exploitation of lower classes was a serious problem, I thought entrenched interests among the rich and powerful prevented their potential from being realized, and I thought that competing private interests, mostly in business and religion, created needless waste and pain all over the place. Solving these problems was a matter of logic and what is loosely known as "common sense."

The way I saw it, these were not perspectives grounded in the usual Western bias towards vulnerability, cooperativeness, individualism, or any of the other "underdogmatic" traits; such thinking had not occurred to me yet. Instead, I saw those problems as genuine systematic weaknesses. It was a matter of changing our social system to be more powerful and effective, not slagging it or gaining any kind of recompense for victim groups. I've rarely given a shit about that. So while I was practically a liberal, I wasn't ideologically a liberal. I wasn't interested in anything but functional power. I left social issues alone and based my thinking on a good-natured "live and let live" approach, at least at first.

I don't want to give the idea that I was surrounded by terrible people or that the professors sucked or just turn this into a rant. There are a lot of brilliant and decent people in academia. Nor was I always a fish out of water. Particularly for my first two years, I got along famously with my professors, ran ahead of the curve in my classes, mixed in with the brightest of the students with ease, terrified stupid people who made the mistake of talking, all good things. The first two years were a honeymoon period.

But I also don't want to give the too-generous impression that deep conversation about serious subjects grips every student on campus. During my time there, I was part of a group, which was maybe 2 percent of the student body along with some faculty, who was driven to dive into these things. I joined groups like the Philosophy Club. I hung out with the kids from Young Americans for Liberty, not because I'm a libertarian but because they're good kids who drink with enthusiasm and have a sense of humor; I somehow became liked among them despite spending an inordinate amount of time telling them that their point of view was idiotic. I showed up at Students for Freethought every now and then. And I was president of the History Club, which was tremendously difficult because half of that group was made up of guys who wanted to talk about war and the other half was girls more interested in softer points of culture. Interest one group, and you alienate the other; I got tired of it and gave up the position my last semester.

The discussion groups interested me more, but most of those groups didn't want to really hash out issues so much as kill time or create a forum for activism, and I despised activism on my campus. "Take Back the Night" anti-rape walks, cultural awareness for whatever brown people garnered the most empathy on a given week, and endless parades of speakers discussing the difficulty of being a Latino or LGBT or vegan or whatever in their social environment. Just listen, applaud their bravery, rinse, repeat, probably next week. I avoided it whenever possible, but when teachers are giving extra credit...

That activist streak was not what I expected out of a university. I expected something akin to dispassionate analysis of various facets of life, in an organized environment. I expected something above culture. Instead, I found a haven for emotional rhetoric gone completely out of control.

What's most grating at first about arguing with people in college is the near-complete lack of self-reflection. The sides are mostly chosen before the shit goes down, even among teenagers. One reason I don't feel ridiculous rejecting the liberal status quo is, simply put, everyone else is going with whatever they feel is right and justifying it later. Academia is not really the Church of Reason; it's the Church of Post-Hoc Rationalization. Particularly on ethical and cultural issues, a type of soft intuitionism dominates; people will jump through insane hoops when formulating an argument, just so they don't have to tolerate anything they find ugly, or listen to anyone they don't like. Piousness, loudness, and emotional manipulation of an audience, all are demanded to win, and learning anything in the process is totally optional. I don't share their taste, but even when I do, I find their methods of coming to conclusions suspect enough that I now immediately search for where I went wrong.

My favorite of all the people who embodied this was a tenured instructor of moral philosophy and open Marxist. He didn't teach philosophy. He came right out and said that he didn't do deep philosophy, and that he was a social activist. It was rather jarring that he so often did not understand the underlying principles and perspectives of his own arguments, never saw his intuitions as anything but universal, that he could so easily push them simply because they "felt right" and call it a day. I didn't take classes with him; I traded papers with him, talked with him at the department, and that was enough. His stated goals, in the first presentation I saw him give, were to disempower the police and support inner-city minorities when they rose up against their oppressors. I would never tell a story so cliched if it weren't real.

In other professors, usually in math and hard sciences, I saw a very different story. It becomes painful after a while to see a good teacher who would be stellar with good students crash against waves of apathy. There were many, many grading curves given in those classes. We all knew that the university required a certain grade distribution that the professor had to conform to, and they certainly didn't revise grades down very often. This helped me a couple of times, so don't take my GPA too seriously.

Meanwhile, the debates started to look like just a warm-up for every kid who would spend the rest of their life trying to convince people that their side was right, mostly for the sake of their own conscience, and nothing more than that. Pushing likable ideas to drum up support was, itself, the point. Democratic cultures live and die on popularity contests. Such a mindset is easily found today among middle management and customer service types in corporations everywhere. The attitude of journalists and politicians is the same thing on steroids. This preparedness to assert a perspective and make it a popular point of view are what a liberal arts education actually develops, and it's probably good in some sense that it does that much, because it does precious little else.

Socratic method is hugely overrated: when you're dealing with allies, the dialogue will be friendly and open but you will probably all have a similar perspective anyway. When you deal with enemies, you will not be open-minded towards someone trying to beat you down. Dialectic only works when you have someone who both trusts you and disagrees with you, and the feeling is mutual; how often does this happen?

After those first two years, the honeymoon was over. The Africa deployment gave me lots of free time, and I tried filling it by writing stories. In trying to create narratives, I ended up questioning them, and the rest happened quite naturally. I returned to college after the deployment - I hate leaving things unfinished - and slowly moved further to the right, seeing things differently, until I was no longer on the conventional scale of liberal and "conservative" at all.


Eventually, the thing that wears the most about the entire experience is the complaining, the completely jaded attitude towards material improvement despite avowed materialism. It's not as endemic as you may think in the classroom itself, particularly if you avoid certain areas like women's studies, which really have no reason to exist beyond encouraging revenge. Most other departments were too controlled for direct, heavy propagandizing. The classroom is, after all, an authoritarian environment, where the teacher controls the discussion and is held responsible by higher echelons if that discussion veers too much in any political direction and offends someone. Tenure doesn't get them out of everything.

But even if the classes didn't particularly encourage it, the cultural atmosphere did. Professors didn't directly state that old culture was bad and new, as yet unrealized culture of absolute tolerance good, but they found ways to emphasize material which said this, at the expense of material that did not. Emotional discord was taken as proof that there was something fucked up in the system, invariably in higher levels of the hierarchy. In such a place, the individual finds little incentive to rise to the challenges of the world; instead, they are told that the challenges are illegitimate. The world would never be a good enough environment for your specialness.


They do have an ideology, core programming, a fuzzy but nevertheless powerful lens that they look at the world through. They believe in oppression, and any other point of view is not just wrong, but immoral. My programming is more aligned with honor and brutal honesty, more accepting of struggle, more adamant about the individual proving their value to the group and its hierarchy, not resting the legitimacy of that hierarchy on how well it cares for people who believe their value intrinsic. This point of view is very old and very unforgiving. It requires real strength. Those who subscribed to it used to be seen as the ones who held society together. Now, we're just assholes. Most people think that such ruthlessness has been proven to be useless or, worse, a psychological disorder. I don't think society works without it.

One thing was for sure: I wasn't winning popularity contests with my point of view. People were never going to be convinced of something so alien, so I argued just to troll people as often as not.

The ethic of the university, modern liberalism with a handful of socialist and libertarian dissenters who really don't stray far, holds an unquestioning faith in its perspective that was, to me, anathema to the open-mindedness it professed. They were not open-minded about culture. They were preaching recycled Christian ethics, without the obligation to God. Basically, liberationism dominated, and this wasn't Brown or UCLA either, it was a relatively conservative campus.

So, in the brain and nerve center of the wealthiest, the most empathetic, the most technologically advanced, and the most powerful culture in the history of human civilization, a fresh generation of kids with too much self-esteem and no respect for their society are not directly told that it is evil, but it's implied everywhere. Nothing will be good enough until there is equality, synonymous with freedom. No formal power will be legitimate, simply because it exists, it's power, and that means a lack of equality and oppression. They will teach this to each new generation until the functional excellence of the American capital system and the military dominance of the Pax Americana is overwhelmed by pure cynicism. And they will think themselves heroes for it.

That cynicism comes from being a true believer who's culture never meets the expectations it creates for itself. That doesn't mean there's something wrong with the system, or the institutions, or the hierarchy, or anything out of the present stock of answers. It means that there's something wrong with the expectations, with the underlying values that create them, with the goals and visions driving it.

I was a Nietzschean at twenty-one, when I first read the phrase "will to power" and knew I'd found the phrase that encapsulated the most consistent explanation for human behavior I'd seen. Somehow, I thought I would find something in an intellectual environment that gave me some faith that people were aware of themselves and pursuing power well. I didn't. Instead I found a lot of self-delusion, and by the time I was done, the sport had gone out of it and I was ready to stop talking about it for a while. Maybe in that sense, my education was a success for the system, too.

Now, I have a business to run and a million projects on my mind, none of them activist and only a few of them involved with the subjects I studied. I don't know how much I'll continue to write, certainly on occasion but probably never another nine-post month or any serious publication. Some of the attention economy material may end up getting written down somewhere, but the point will be to get back to life. It will be strange to live and try to find something of value to dedicate myself to, given the way I think, because it's not my culture and I clearly don't belong here, but everyone has to adapt and I'm not exempted from it. The only thing to say is, "we'll see."

Stay tuned, more will come. Eventually.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Anti-Gravitas

Someone is questioning the direction of this country's media culture, and interestingly, it's not a bad article, written by Rob Walker without rancor or stridency. The emphasis is on the characteristic of gravitas, the embodiment and expression of authority and seriousness that used to be par for the course from those with power.

Not so today. With the president getting "interviewed" by Zach Galifianakis and the Clinton family taking selfies, gravitas seems doomed. Walker explains that this is because of the new media, the model of decentralized, more interactive communication that exists because of the internet. But WHY does the new media doom gravitas?

We can figure this out by understanding that gravitas implies power, simply by asking, why be serious about your decisions and behavior if you are irrelevant? There's no reason to do so. Without power, there is no gravitas; it's an element of behavior absent in the disenfranchised. Gravitas is not straight seriousness or misery, but a drawing seriousness that reflects an important process of decision going on. Walker seems to consider it a behavioral trait unconnected to one's hierarchical position, a pretentious seriousness which triggers other people's reaction to take the person seriously, no matter who they are, which is simply untrue. He overestimates the individual and underestimates the context. A serious person in an un-serious situation still gets no respect; they're a stick in the mud, nothing more. But a serious person with power... you'd better take that person seriously. The lesson is, gravitas is a product of power.

And that power requires signals. Back in the day, the aristocracy decked themselves out in jewelry, strong colors, doing everything they could to present a regal appearance. Why? Because they needed to LOOK powerful, which expensive appearances show; the jewels and fine clothes indicate resources to burn. Gold means wealth, and wealth means power, an association so deep that shiny metals seem to appeal to every kid on earth and every man wants chrome pipes on his motorcycle. If powerful people don't send their signals, then they might have to resort to other means - like violence and deprivation - to get people to take them seriously. That breeds a more direct resentment and eventually inefficiency, more inefficient than spending a few bucks on a good robe and crown.


This is all completely necessary to do anything of significance, of course. Coordinated human action requires leadership. Leadership requires attention. Attention is best acquired by having power, which when dealing with people who don't know you personally, means looking like you have power.

Appearances matter. You never saw Cronkite do the news wearing a wifebeater. You wear a damn tie when you want people to really listen to you. But more critically to Cronkite's identity and seriousness was that Cronkite was an anchor on a major news outlet back in the day of three channels and the absolute authority of the nightly news. And that position was one of tremendous power. Cronkite just "fit" his position well.

It's just that his position doesn't exist anymore.

That answers some questions about what's actually been going on. When Walker talks about "new media," he's clearly talking about the post-internet mass media situation, where people have a greater choice of content. So, what do people do with this choice? Clearly, they aren't going to just stick with the seriousness of a Cronkite when lighter fare is available. They would rather listen to the pap of someone like Stephen Colbert as they mock the powerful on prime time, laugh with someone they relate to, rather than shut up and listen soberly to anyone who acts like they mean business. People don't LIKE seriousness. They prefer the pressure-free, easy triviality of pop culture.

Walker's explanation for all this gravitas killing goes back to the sixties, which has its own mythology, namely that it really changed something in the social order. That's a half-truth at best, and if the power of the three-channel news oligopoly had been maintained, then one good newsman with a clear sense of himself could have brought gravitas right back to it. But that three-channel oligopoly wasn't maintained. Now that we have choices, well, fuck gravitas.

Now, don't get me wrong: it's not like people never, ever want to get serious. Obviously, people still get seriously self-righteous when they hear about some injustice the media environment throws in their face, and they enjoy it, as self-righteousness is empowering. The air of power that comes from casting a judgment tastes good, too, and getting the injustice in people's faces is the name of the power game today. It just has to be an injustice that people can do something about, and the victim of the injustice must be someone the audience can relate to.

That's an artifact of old ways, of the experience of group identity and its power. The most important tool in the arsenal for the authority of old was a sense of purpose. From the now-reviled grand ambitions of the Roman Empire to the holy implications of the now-reviled Crusades, old cultures - or at least their rulers - seemed to feel the urge to accomplish something, to dedicate themselves to something, to reach as far as their capability offered. The old orders could do this because, as a matter of the attention economy, they dominated the market. They could shape the entire worldview of their people through religion and regulation of behavior. And their power reinforced itself as their grand ambitions were realized.

Today, that power largely doesn't exist, and getting people behind mass movements which require actual effort is like herding cats. Anyone in the world can look at the powerful and disregard their wishes, which should call into question just how powerful those powerful people are. There is no denying that it is incredibly rare that even the most strident demands - practical, legal, moral - can be ignored, unless those demands are to stop doing something that's an imposition on others, a moral demand in the sense of negative liberty. It's quite easy to say "no" when people demand something.

Or, more simply, you can change the channel. Now that we've given people a choice of who to pay attention to, they avoid those who make them feel comparatively low, and seek out their affable jesters. Thus, we have progress.

The glory of Rome and the will of God are now dead, very dead, but all the better in the minds of certain people, who see grand purpose as overbearing, culturally divisive, promoting conflict, and rightly so. Having an identity creates something worth fighting for, which is evidently a bad thing.


So in this existentialist age, without purpose in culture beyond the individual level, the self seeks value in hedonistic "quality of life." Fun is our purpose. Everywhere, little moral slogans telling us to live, laugh, and love send clear messages to take joy seriously. "Enjoy it while you can" dominates the rhetoric; happiness as a commodity, we may as well try and get the most shit before things close down. Did I say happiness? That's a little deep for what I'm referring to... how about "bliss"?

The new media, lacking its old market power granted by limited options, is not allowed gravitas. It must sell itself as broadly as possible, and in trying to do so, requires lightness and an approachable demeanor. There aren't many people who like to get deep and dark in their spare time. Personal time is expected to be about grinning, relaxed entertainment, leisure time by definition. Our work does the same thing, with every wannabe Apple trying to get their employees to love their jobs by making them pleasant and fun. Members of the Catholic church have seen the most radical examples since Vatican II and the complete removal of testicles from the Catholic order. Members of the opposite sex must be funny as well as beautiful to be worth attention. Friends must entertain. In the process of making this normal, we've created a cultural environment that carves a smile into our face, Joker-style.

Why so serious?

The better question is, why not? Wouldn't our sense of cultural unity be better served by a serious goal? Wouldn't our society benefit in some way?

The academic answer is, no, it wouldn't. This is a utilitarian world. We are satisfying desires, and our culture shall be judged according to its ability to manufacture this lightweight bliss. When people have a goal, when they care, when something matters more than utility, then there's something out there that the mind legitimately sees as worth fighting for. And fighting simply will not do. When people have a goal and care, then there might be something worth organizing a hierarchy to direct people towards addressing it, and hierarchy simply will not do. Cultures that believe in things frequently end up killing people and legitimizing inequality, and to a humanist or Christian moral essentialist, that's evil. The solution? Believe in nothing. Santayana's old saying, "the only cure for birth and death is to enjoy the interval" can't be seen as just another point of view anymore. It's the final solution.

But it doesn't work for people who want meaning in their lives. What worked for them was the cohesion of the old order, and that order is dying. When the hierarchy dies, so does gravitas.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

WordGames: Power and Utility

Slave morality is essentially the morality of utility.                                                                      -Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, A. 260

I've been reading some Mencius Moldbug lately, which is a sobering experience. By no means do I agree with him on everything, but it looks like I need to abandon about a half dozen in-progress posts as redundant. Careful with that link: it's 300 damn pages long.

But still, there is plenty more to be said, especially if you've been studying economics for a while and question the basics of it at the core. Lots of neoreactionaries are actually just libertarians who realize that you can't pull out elections without bribery, and so they don't question much in economics, including Moldbug, who's work has a basis in utilitarianism. Most neoreactionaries go with the usual Western standards by which utility is measured: safety, stuff, and "openness." So in other words, they seem to be on the liberal utilitarian boat. It really matters that government be effective, responsible, all that, all for the sake of creating better living conditions in terms of safety, stuff, and openness, which would be more readily provided in a less democratic system.

Slow down, bro. Scott Alexander beat up on this "less democracy = more utility" idea fairly easily. Now, he used a selective understanding of what's being discussed that thinks as literally as possible about its subject for the sake of creating straw men at every opportunity, but he's right about this: from a utilitarian perspective, in fact, modern society is doing fine. It might be because of democratic pressure or it might be because of a million other factors, like the expectations and consequences and the way they interact with government. I don't know why neoreactionaries would have a problem citing this, except as a purely political matter: they want to convince people that life would get even easier, safer, and wealthier if the democratic system were done away with.

Of course, this is bullshit in the raw. We don't know that, and it's much more difficult to quantify than you might think. The hatred of "demotism" and a strong appreciation for the idea of accepting hierarchy indicates more is going on behind the scenes, but evidently, political palatability is even important for those who hate democracy. In reality, they seem to be more concerned with questions of power than questions of utility. That's tough to deal with, because the line between the two seems clear, but isn't.

Ask an economist, and what you do when you trade with people is not acquiring power. It's cooperative, just the production of stuff needed for comfort. It's not power. It's not control. It's not oppression or manipulation. It's just people making decisions, exercising their freedom, acquiring what they value. It's innocent, I tell you...

Yeah, right.

I'd like to put this to bed, right now. It's a ridiculous statement.

Here's the operating question: what is utility?

Supposedly, it's all about pleasure and pain, to the point that abortion advocates use utilitarianism to explain why a fetus isn't a person until the second trimester: because until then, it can't feel pain. This is so important to some people's conception of the world, and their conception of man as a rational animal, that they simply must believe that once you sate everyone's appetites, the human race will become calm and docile to the point of ending conflict.

So pursuing utility not only seems like a rational thing to do, but more importantly, it sounds harmless, and there's a reason for that. That's the image they want to promote. Utility seekers just want to be safe, unhampered, satisfied. There's nothing mean-spirited going on there. Utilitarians can have freedom, ostensibly without harming anyone. And we care very much about freedom, the NAP, the Harm Principle, for all you anarcho-cap/libertarian true believers. No zero-sum games here!

It's a moral term. To seek power makes you Hitler. To seek utility makes you HedonismBot.


And HedonismBot was always a likable guy, threw a great party, all that.

Now, is this difference between power and utility a real thing, or is it some intuitively attractive horseshit that people like because it gives them an escape hatch against accusations of pursuing power, like everyone does? Because exchanging favors through the system of depersonalized reciprocity we know of as money, using their desires to get them to work to satisfy your desires, seems like it could easily be not-harmless under a lot of circumstances. It's a form of leverage, or even manipulation, contracts nullified as being made under duress. Society subjects people to a lot like this, and it has to, for the sake of utility. You didn't decide that it was okay for your world to demand forty hours of work a week from you, and while the grocery might carry your preferred brand of soda, it won't be playing Metallica through the PA or paint the building hot pink just for you. So, maybe utility is just what can be limited to you alone experiencing it... What about our common experiences? If you think these fairly simple and irrelevant conflicts of interest are a problem, now imagine adding religion into the mix.

Get into economics as a science, and it starts to look like utility is rather poorly defined. Pleasure and pain don't include every intuitive source of utility, nor do they disqualify what is intuitively power, for an obvious reason: exercising power is extremely pleasurable. Hell, in terms of both contemporary interaction and evolutionary biology, the experience of pleasure certainly came about as a recognition of power.

Okay, we can back up a second. Maybe you'd like to define utility as something that seems more concrete, like usefulness. Food, water, housing, a bed, clothing, and medical care are obviously useful. Useful at what? At maintaining the life of the individual in question. And no, sex doesn't belong on this list. Don't encourage the whores.

We might be back at the wants versus needs question here, and just like on that topic, we have a tendency to see people who want, or need, or require, or desire, or just gotta fucking have stuff, and take some kind of pity on them, as it's so understandable. It is understandable, because we all seek something that seems both practical for ourselves and available from society. But just because we empathize doesn't mean there's no conflict of interests. Really, it doesn't look like utility is much more than a concept invented after the fact, for the sake of differentiating desires society told you it was okay to pursue from the ones that violated expectations, got in people's way, and pissed people off.

With that in mind, let's ask the inverse question to the last one: what is power?

Power goes hand in hand with agency. It means that your actions get reactions, that you can predict those reactions, that you have control over your environment. It means feedback that lines up with our intentions. Does this include controlling people? Well, since we basically subdued the natural environment in favor of entirely man-made circumstances long ago, what else do you think you would be controlling? Of course it means controlling people. If our circumstances are man-made, then to control the circumstances, we must control men.

Controlling our social circumstances means the world to us. Why do you think "freedom" is so important, and what do you think it really means? Why is wealth, beyond the basics of sustenance and distraction, such a big deal? Why do we care about participating in government? No one with the slightest bit of sense will tolerate not having control, and in the push to establish a world that provides utility to all, we end up also trying to provide power to all. That's a problem, because while we cast utility as a cooperative game, power is clearly zero-sum. So if the lines are solid gray at this point and you can't tell the difference between power and utility, then which is the valid perspective?

Well, you tell me. Your money is directly responsible for creating demand that someone else work, that they use their resources to produce what you want. This has obvious costs for the person doing the work and obvious opportunity costs for those who would prefer something else be produced with those resources: is this not power? People who know how to codify your preferences seem to be able to manipulate you into sitting through advertisements on a regular basis, a fact which consumes tremendous amounts of time and attention, which is really all we have in this world: is this not power? What could possibly be more useful than power? Particularly power over your environment, particularly people?

Because of the phantom difference between power and utility, people are often torn between thinking that the world is filled with misery and thinking that the world is a great place that requires little to have a great life. That's particularly true for the current generation of "Bright" atheists:



This creates problems, because at the end of the day, work is both necessary and is imposed on us by the world, so no matter how easy it gets, most people will still hate it because it disempowers them. I know more people who get pissed at their job because it's boring than who say it's too hard. That might be a pride thing, but what's absolutely true is that people hate being told what to do.

Stop bullshitting. The purpose of the concept of utility is to whitewash power into something suitable for Judeo-Christian moral tastes, to make empowerment innocent so long as we come to a vague and ever-shifting consensus on the circumstances. You know perfectly well that economic systems are coercive, relationships are binding and controlling when functioning properly, and that no cultural system can tolerate a true apostate for long. So the consensus does what we would expect: it disempowers the empowered.

Beyond all the horseshit of a society that can supposedly support you being your authentic self, the limits to that world are simple and so clear that we only recognize them subconsciously: we can't have power. And that sucks, because power is what we want. The status quo might get us fast transportation, some decent Mexican food, and air conditioning, but does it get us anything more than that, anything higher, anything really aspirational? No, it's built to kill that shit.

The world is a social environment, and it is precisely this social environment that basically everyone wants to control, but can't. In trying to create a world where we can make our own reality without interference, we've put the system together so power is as widely disseminated, and therefore as impossible to leverage, as possible. The American people elect a government precisely to stop those with other kinds of power - violence, wealth - from using them, and that's basically the extent of their mandate. All political sides occasionally get pissed off about what they can't do, even leftists, albeit their irritation is focused on how moving the direction they want to move can take too long when dependent on voters. Even those on the more powerful side have so little control over their social environment that all they can do is what can be sold to the lowest common denominator.

You can make money, but even after the taxes, you can't do anything against the populist grain with it, and therefore you can't do anything interesting with it. You can have your commitments and your loyalties to other people, but they are very tenuous because the world won't support you if things get tough. This is how you build a utilitarian world: you destroy the possibility of using power for anything higher than the softest and most immediate forms of pleasure and pain, and in the process, you make power a reviled thing, even as the leadership uses it to produce more "utility" and becomes reviled in the process. Hope you like distractions, because that's all your life is going to be around these parts. We have no choice in the matter, because to build anything more involving would trample someone's prerogatives. Who says the world you want is the world I have to live in? Or vice versa? The only thing to do is to screw everyone and make them live in a consumerist shithole no one really wants but that's comfortable enough to hold back the most severe frustration.

The idea of this culture is simple: if I can't have power, you can't either. Democracy is the common man's revenge fantasy, masquerading as an intelligent feedback mechanism.

If you're like me at all, there have probably been moments in your life where you looked around at your society as people bitch about stupid details and said to no one in particular, "Just fucking DO SOMETHING!!!!" How the fuck does a society develop spaceflight that gets them to the goddamn moon and then basically just chill for decades? I mean, the obvious next level, the highest elevation of man achievable in the physical world, is right there, and we just sort of... stop?

If this culture had any sense, it would take apart the safety net except for Food Stamps and bare emergency Medicaid, push the bright people into STEM fields, then throw $300 billion into a crash Mars colonization program and pay those new engineers well to make it happen. Those brains are resources, and they aren't being used for anything but stupid crap like high finance simply because this society doesn't have a hierarchy willing to use power.

One thing that really irritated me about Scott Alexander was his complete lack of understanding of the word "demotic." He basically said the neoreactionaries made it up. So evidently, Alexander has never read Jacques Barzun, he does not understand the concept of populist cheerleading of the average and below, and he doesn't know it because his mind is so obsessed with "utility" that it has no basis for comparison. Demotism is a real thing, which deserves a better name but still will have the same purpose: to suppress higher values and the power which come from them, for the sake of the empowerment of all those who would otherwise be accountable to that power. Maybe the neoreaction should stop trying to sell itself on utility and start selling itself on bringing people together for the sake of expanding horizons.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Votes and Dollars

This blog will center on the positives and negatives of the two most dominant forms of power distribution in the modern world: wealth (driven by property rights) and legitimate government (driven by democracy).

Number 5,319 on my peeves list revolves around the bullshittery in public opinion which says that capitalism and democracy reinforce one another. This goes back a long way, but sees its greatest reinforcement from more recent conservative stalwarts like Hayek, in The Road to Serfdom. From my perspective, capitalism and democracy are both ways of managing power with completely different principles underwriting them. They make terrible bedfellows.

The fundamental difference is that capitalism places formal power into a tangible form represented by a limited currency, which allows it to be traded, to include loss, gain, investment, and waste by the individual. Democracy places power into the hands of a group by means of a majority vote, carried out periodically. Do we even consider which one of them is actually more fair, effective, or sustainable? Because if you do, it's not a clear case of logical superiority but a case of your personal level of paranoia, identity, and investment in the system. Not only do they not reinforce one another, but they very clearly contradict and undermine one another.

And yet they do the same thing: votes and dollars create power structures based on the values of those who interact with them. They work differently, but both are coercive in some sense. Both provide power to institutional hierarchies and establish social order.

So the question is, which hierarchy should be considered more legitimate, the economic or democratic?

It matters, because once the Utopian idiocy of anti-authoritarianism has been disposed of, you come down to the real question of modern politics: is democratically elected government a better source of authority than authority granted by recognized property rights? No matter what actions you think are morally right, the question of system still applies. Who should bear the responsibility, and therefore have the authority? Really, how should society work?

Capital Games




This needs to be a fresh start for your perspective in order to have any impact, so I must ask a favor: forget all the emotional baggage that the word capitalism has, and think about the actual mechanics of a capitalist system. Let's keep it basic. Capitalism comes from property rights. Property rights are simply a formal declaration of power over something that others must accept: you own it, you retain the responsibility for, and the products of, its use. As owner, you hold the power to use it, burn it to the ground, sell it, or turn it into a work of modern art. The power is yours. It assumes an owner with agency and little else, so the idea can be modified to go along with almost any ideology that assumes agency.

Capitalism, as a system, is the descendant of feudalism, and feudalism was territorial power distribution that focused on ownership by individuals and families, the landed aristocracy. It was George W. Bush's "ownership society" on steroids. In the days of feudalism, namely the Middle Ages, there was no central government supporting this situation; it stayed in place as a matter of the rival groups keeping each other in check, with some help from the Catholic church. The royals were responsible for their property, for managing it, maintaining it, expanding it, protecting it. Imagine a bunch of private businesses owning all territory today, their private armies staring each other down, and you're close. Anarcho-capitalists are probably getting a hard-on right now.

Money had always been important, but the independence of land granted before the centralization of government under nationalism meant autonomy that was almost bizarre from a modern perspective. Owning land, in the old days, was like owning your own country, a fact of life displayed by the territorial divisions in the Holy Roman Empire, modern day Germany. Look at this clusterfuck:
"National" boundaries circa 1648, just after the 30 Years' War.
Tradition, religion, and a shared enemy in the Ottoman Turks held them in some kind of accord, but otherwise the kingdoms, some very tiny, fought regularly. Over 300 independent territories made up the confederated pseudo-military system of the time, which would eventually fall more and more under the broad control of a single noble house, the Brandenburgs.

Capitalism doesn't work quite that way; its basic form has only existed since about the 16th century, so at the same time Germany was a mature feudal order as shown in the above map, the Dutch and English were just playing with the first proto-capitalist states. Capitalism focuses on a central government that supervises and enforces property rights in a more fluid arrangement of possession. The government, as judicial arbiter and spirit of the whole people, holds ultimate agency. Security, no longer a personal responsibility but a public one, opened up risk and reward considerably for those who could create value with their property.

Before capitalism, owning and defending property was always considered a good investment, due to the autonomy of title. Hierarchies based on land control were the essence of the world of kings, knights, and manors. The logic changed after centralized populist governments established dominance.

Capitalism, then, is Ownership Light, supervised ownership subject to government fiat. It holds the same relationship to arrangements of ownership in feudal times as paintball holds to war. The organization with agency here is the US government, and while said government uses their power lightly for fear of losing elections, the existence of eminent domain should kill your illusions as to whether property rights are really rights. They are privileges, the government granting responsibility for property to those who hold title to it and pay taxes on it, unless the owner is blocking "progress" and therefore is doing something unpopular with their property. The government owns the country, and everything else is just assigned responsibility.

Ownership of the property gets exchanged all the time, and the medium of exchange is money. To keep it simple: money is power. If you ever hear someone talk about national issues and say, "It's not really politics; they just want more money." then they deserve to get slapped: money is political. Even those with enough land to grow crops, feed themselves, and avoid the outside world still must pay taxes on their land, so a certain minimum of money wealth is necessary for any control over any property, and therefore, all must participate in the system.

In a world so up-its-ass with freedom talk, the last legitimate way people can compel desired behavior out of each other, the only consistent way to get people working as a group towards a unified goal, is with money.

Money organizes the economy on a macro scale. It's depersonalized reciprocity. Just about everyone understands that people must work and specialize in their labor. Money, an evaluation of the value of work, creates the incentive system by which people know what has value in an economy; this happens because what you value more commands a higher price based on its scarcity, and people who are looking to work respond to that price by specializing in whatever field commands more money. They become empowered by doing what commands these high prices, and can use their increased power, their money, to pay people to do what they want them to do, and those people can then do the same, and so on.

It's a language. Each transaction makes a statement, in pure integer value. When speaking the language of what we value, money forces us to put it in numerical terms - "this item or service is worth five dollars" - and then agree on a value between people. Then, we keep track of the value of what has been given and taken, and try to keep our heads above water. The scarcity of these tokens of value gives it meaning when we make or spend them, as a matter of relativity. Those with more value each individual unit less. That's a matter of human perception, not design. To say money biases anything is to hold a bias against math. "Accounting" is not so much a technical term as a moral one: paying your debts is simply the right thing to do, and accountability makes it work. To succeed, a capitalist must appeal to the value system of the culture he is in. Even basic survival requires understanding and catering to that values system in order to do something of value and be valued by other people. That binds people together.

Thus, money is inherently conservative: as a token of legitimate power, and it can be spent, saved, wasted, and the presence of more or less of it holds a direct correlation to the influence an individual has in the larger economy. The people who are good at this game tend to continue to be good at it, while the money that they already have gives them advantages, it takes money to make money, and so the effects of power tend to snowball up to a point where they are unmanageable. This is what it looks like when society organizes itself, a hierarchy in development. Those who take the concept to be legitimate define such wealth as earned and such power as respectable, and this creates the perception of merit.

The power gives rise to institutionalization and legacy; it is precisely the idea that people are to be held accountable that makes this - and all successful social systems throughout history - work. It's an incredibly flexible system, too. We think of capitalism as individualistic, but obviously organizations and institutions trade, too. Any entity with recognized agency can trade. Communist nations traded during the Cold War... and did so with the goal of making a profit.

Pardon if I gush, but it works fucking beautifully. At least, it does most of the time Those who want to de-emphasize money want to de-emphasize the debt they owe to those who have saved or grown their money. It is precisely because it is unequally distributed that it has meaning. Those dollars that the entrepreneur earned - or even passed down to an heir - represent services rendered. If you think those transactions were invariably made under duress or misrepresentation, then the game you're hating on is the game of life. Duress and misrepresentation are always a matter of degree; manipulating desires is the story of society, and if it came down to it, you wouldn't have it any other way.

The capitalist system is neither humanist nor empathetic by nature, no one is owed anything, but because numbers don't usually lie, you can say that it expresses the values of whoever is using it. But it can be viewed as expressing appreciation. When you buy something, this is you saying, "thanks for making this and giving me control over it. Here's a token that can later be redeemed for something of similar value." No one looks at it that way today, but that's a cultural problem and not a problem with the money-and-property system.

This does not mean that we're looking at a panacea here. The fairness of the system is a matter of perceptions and it is very easy to come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly in your own quest for whatever you think you deserve. There is no known way to perfectly match the growth of the money supply to the growth of value of services rendered, so inflation and deflation happen all the time, based on gold production and fiat currency management. And many people who take risks are incredibly stupid about it, which can destabilize the system. Information and allocation of attention present problems for everyone, in every system.

But the incentives to manage risks and acquire relevant information are better here than in any other system. Capitalism is about risks, and pressure on the individual is built in. That's as natural an action in the social world as in the natural world, where predators burn calories to chase prey, hoping for a return greater than the expenditure, a caloric profit. Success depends on whether the product is more valuable to people who have the money to buy it than the costs of producing it. If it happens, then there is growth; the value of the good creates more wealth, which serves as more incentive power to produce, which creates more wealth. It's perpetual motion. The pressure resulting from this dynamic is responsible for all economic empowerment throughout human history.

Spending Votes




Democracy is based on the moral idea that every individual has equal value. You are entitled to the exact same voice, with the same degree of power, as every other voter.

I will focus on representative government here, because I don't know a single person so stupid that they believe the incredible inefficiency of direct democracy is worth it. The ballot box operates on many of the same principles that making money does for those aspiring to have power in the system; acquiring votes means convincing people to vote for you, giving the impression that what you're selling has more value than what the competition is selling, and then basically trying to convince the most valuable demographics that you are doing this with every election. It's still about values, and marketing principles apply. This is a game, just like capitalism. The parties are establishment products, and the bigger the system, the more necessary parties become.

Voting requires an institution with power that people can get elected to. Centralized institutions have serious advantages, namely in dealing with 'tragedy of the commons' type situations and when defending from other institutions that have power. The idea is fueled by popularity of an individual leading to a perception of legitimacy. It's important for the element of legitimacy: the government is basically just a command bureaucracy with the representatives being those who establish its rules, so the election thing is the only element of it that creates the perception of anything more than another tell-you-what-to-do body.

Votes are a currency just like money is a currency. There's little difference in actually making the choice; the choice of a politician is a choice of a provider of a service, and buying a product is not so much a simple convenience but more like an affirmation of the value of the service or product you're acquiring, along with - in theory - admitting to the value of the person creating the good. The difference is in giving up something of scarcity to you, which happens with money but not voting. Either way, people are making a value judgment, and should admit their responsibility or at least complicity in it. They never do, but the democratic way says that they should.

This cannot be stressed enough: while dollars must be earned according to the rigors and values of others in the system, votes are an entitlement, granted to each individual for every election, and with no pretense to merit besides the voter managing to not be in jail at the time. There's a vague idea that elections should take place frequently enough to get rid of incompetents before serious damage is done, and seldom enough that the elected reps have time to prove their ideas, but these concerns directly conflict with one another and term length is basically arbitrary. So is the specific system of voting, between winner-take-all plurality voting, anti-plurality voting, Borda count, Condorcet's method, etcetera; economist Ken Arrow basically proved that no voting system can be "fair" in the sense of accepted definitions of fairness.

As it stands, dollars can be invested, saved in the long term to build empires. Not votes. The individual will always have one vote, every two or four years, and that vote is a "use it or lose it" proposition. There is no investment that can give you more votes than other people. It doesn't matter if you can't balance your checkbook or if you think a "veto" is Spanish for "a whale's vagina". A complete idiot's opinion counts for as much as the most educated, erudite, and respected man's opinion ever can. This is egalitarianism, raw.

There is no risk of failure, except failure as a society, which no voter will ultimately blame himself for. There is no risk of losing your voice, no risk of waking up on election day to find that you spent your last vote to get two doubles and a lap dance at Babydolls. There is no better system in the world for stupid people.

In America, particularly, elected officials try very hard to convince us that they aren't so much manipulating society for future votes so much as regulating it to make it "fair." But this supposed fairness is, obviously, a subjective matter, and we should all know by now that people come to self-interested conclusions when deciding what's fair. So when everyone at all levels of society is given the right to vote for a champion who "represents their values," and obviously the majority of those people will be closer to the bottom of any given hierarchy than the top, what the hell should we expect them to do?

Their perception of injustice is encouraged and facilitated by institutional media. This isn't a state run media, of course: they have no particular investment or interest in the particular party or economic class as it stands, just in the overall power structure. Plus, it lives in a competitive ratings arena, so they have every incentive to tell people what they want to hear for the sake of drawing in viewers. So they dive to that lowest common denominator on a daily basis, like so much else endemic to democratic systems.

The underlying, unequally distributed currency of democracy is attention. Manipulating attention gives advantages and disadvantages to gaining power throughout the system, just as it does in the brand awareness category for businesses. The attention economy underlies all institutions.

For the wannabe elected, the perceptions fuel power more directly; it comes down to mob-rule style popularity, formalized peer pressure, government through the same mechanism that high school kids use to choose the prom queen, and as every professional athlete and pop star knows, nothing is more fickle, nothing has a shorter time preference and a shorter memory, than the mob.

The necessity of maintaining popularity keeps any kind of serious enforcement of discipline or rigor from creeping into an elected government in almost every society that practices voting. In the name of justice, the sovereign is expected to make people's lives easier, and not to hold fast for standards. We like our kings merciful to a fault. How often do you really think the guy pushing people to do better wins popularity contests?

So what kind of standards do people want the sovereign to relax? There are plenty, but the most obvious are the standards of producing what other people value, through the opposing capitalist system.

The Democratization of Wealth


What we have here is institutional competition between business and government, but it's a strange form of competition. The government has explicit power to tell people what to do, but everyone hates when they use it and they need to get elected, so they prefer a softer and more positive incentive power, using dollars which they tax away from the wealthy, lending credence to the ideal of earning what you get. The typical story today focuses on corruption by the monied classes in government, which shows a certain expectation that all these property rights are extremely conditional, but it also assumes that the rich are conniving bastards who don't earn their money or use it well.

The clearest objection to the thesis of this blog is that people support markets, and so the conflict between property and democracy does not really exist. The people will vote to retain property rights.

But deep down, we all probably know that this is bullshit. People have supported property rights so long as the average person's stock of wealth was expanding. The support always gets soft when recessions hit, when a handful seem to get outsize rewards through market machinery, and when the actual authority that people with money have over culture becomes too obvious. Knowing this, the market system has become increasingly compromised to the democratic popularity contest over the last century. People actually support artificial market-like constructions; a real market wouldn't be nearly as wasteful, or have the appearance of such short-term-obsessed wealth, as the American market. A real market would be efficient, to include limiting the consumption of the average person. A real market would encourage people to team up in institutions for the sake of mutual aid of all kinds. But instead, the nation is the institution and the markets are subordinate to it, so market principles of autonomy are simply thrown out when enough people feel their welfare has become less than it should be.

America has had a middle class for several decades now. Because of this, people look at purchases with a sensibility that seems to override good sense about their budget constraints. There is little or no discipline in the way that we spend money, undermining everything about "market efficiency" a capitalist might think applies. That's affected out entire viewpoint on what a healthy economy should be, and that's effectively by design. We want money to communicate what we value, but we don't want to be hemmed in by it. We want money to have symbolic power to show our approval of iPhones or Toyotas, but we don't really think of ourselves having to earn the money to buy them against any kind of resistance. Opportunity and income are owed to us: if we see limitations from a lack of money, it seems unjust.

There is an agenda to this, whether the people pushing it realize it or not: the egalitarians want to make buying more like voting. We want the money to show what people value and where our production should be allocated, but not to show what people deserve to have.

I think lots of people would like to create a situation where people's income from actual work is used for leisure and entertainment products alone, extras, consumerist purchases that say something about your identity instead of commodities that should be free, and that this is the best way to be capitalist. They want a world where all income is discretionary income. The extremes, of people needing to work to survive and people building empires of business, would be avoided.

But I think other people simply want everyone to have all the money they feel they need. This would destroy the power of money, as what gives it value and brings supply and demand into accord is the scarcity of it, but that's the point. See money doesn't actually bring supply and demand into accord unless we consider money a legitimate gauge of value produced: we still want more things, even if we run out of money. So we'd like to see that go away, and it enrages us when a little thing like not having currency gets in the way of us having what we want when other people in society obviously still have the wherewithal to produce it. We want the connection between how much valuable work people do and how much they can have to disappear, obviously for what society considers necessities, but even for luxuries.

Armed with a fiat currency and too much estrogen, politicians use economic manipulation to "show they care" and boost their election prospects with complicity from everyone involved. The results of the vote over the long run show it:

  • People don't want to have the burden of saving money for retirement, so cue Social Security.
  • People don't want to worry about not being able to eat and live in a house, so cue food stamps and HUD.
  • Failure to figure out how to get health care gets you Medicare and Medicaid, plus a whole new mess of subsidies with the recent legislation.
  • Lenient bankruptcy laws are the rule in America particularly.
  • Lots of people want regulations on producers and employers, so people can just assume that products are safe and ethically made without doing due diligence.
  • Anti-trust laws eliminate the concern over monopoly exploitation which might otherwise require people to act as socially conscious buyers.
  • We have mortgage help of various sorts, including a large tax deduction, which is being debated precisely because it's failing at its primary task: to help the middle class buy houses. Since it helps investors and the evil rich more than most, lots of people would like it to disappear.
  • "Good conscience" legal principles allow for nullifying contracts that are deemed exploitative.
  • Free lawyers if you get arrested.
  • Cradle-to-grave education subsidization.
  • All infrastructure in transportation, energy, and communications have been subsidized into existence, often on conditions of equal access for everyone.
  • Plus much more!

This has all been legitimized with an intense narrative about exploitation and victimization by the capitalists. For people who view inequality as a good versus evil situation, anything that creates inequality is a form of corruption, including demands from those who work that they have more power, property, and influence than those who don't. At the end of the day, those types of people believe that people who produce should be doing so out of self-sacrificing love for mankind, not for the sake of incentives. What they accept in the meantime is an idealized vision of the people creating a good world by setting the power hungry against each other, both in democracy and with capitalism maxed out on competitiveness, managed by anti-trust, progressive taxes, regulations, and the ever popular inflationary currency. They'll take the status quo only because they can't seem to get slave morality to take very well for those with the confidence and competence to organize modern industry.

Does it work? Sure! It sounds great, so long as you can take everyone who still produces things for granted. You have to have a sucker in here, someone willing to work as if their ass is on the line, despite a safety net that clearly shows that it isn't. Germany is finding out about this right now, as the EU pushes it to subsidize other European countries. Supposedly, it helps keep the European economy and shared currency humming along if all of Europe is spending money. The logic is impeccable:

If we tax the money away from you and give it to consumers, then we're helping you, too, by giving you an opportunity to earn it back. That way, you don't get bored!

At the end of the day, the maintenance of the middle class comes down to this. The ideology of the market-democracy hybrid preaches merit as a simulacra at the best of times and a damned lie invented for the sake of the rich at the worst of times. Markets power individualism in the best of times, and in the worst of times, markets repress the spirit of the individual by forcing him to conform to jobs he doesn't like, buying products inferior to what he would prefer, and thus must the people be subsidized. 

Markets will never die, but if they look like they're actually empowering those with wealth instead of just systematically pulling the genius from them, they might be made irrelevant. So if you're one of those who actually thinks that producing for others will grant you respect and real influence, if you pull overtime for the sake of maximizing production, if you work your ass off in high-demand fields because it's what society needs, instead of what you feel like doing, if you actually place any faith in the concept of accountability instead of the biases of the victim classes, then ask yourself: do you really think they'd let you get away with it?

And more importantly: you know they're just using you, right?

Don't strain yourself. They aren't worth it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Haterade

Hate. HATE. HATE!

Aw, hate hate hate hate hate hate hate...
It's everywhere. It gets talked about too much. So, let's talk about it some more.

What is hate? Hate indicates an impassioned disliking, to the point where those experiencing it would be driven to destroy or at least change the subject that they hate. If you look at this definition and then look at political opinion on the left and right from a distance, it's fairly obvious that there is no serious comparative advantage in haterade production between the two. The political right wants to maintain a status quo it values and therefore predictably hates those who wish to change it, wishing to change them. The left wishes to change the status quo, and therefore predictably hates those who support it. Either side can say, in theory, that it's the ideas that are the problem, that need changing, not the people. Let's not get into something complicated, like the degree to which people are defined by their ideas.

Since I have a functioning mind and even a few values, I have an extensive list of shit I hate. I even hate how people use the word hate!

For the sake of verbal variety, I loathe how that term is thrown around. As someone on the right, my opinions are evidently built out of pure, patriarchy-fresh, weapons-grade Hate. Leftists think we hate what we don't hate, or what we merely refuse to value equally to what we love the most. We long ago breached the wall where hate really meant something about character, and it has degraded into a simple demonizing term, shorthand for anything the other side dislikes. It's very convenient, to be able to say that the more heavily someone disagrees with you, the more hateful they are.

Hate is energy, and I swear, you can create a perpetual motion out of me with that word. Whenever I read the word "hate" in discourse on politics and culture, I produce more hate than the cost of the initial hate, thus violating the law of conservation of hate. Where does this hate come from? I dunno, some deep well of metaphysical hate which channels through me, the Emperor encouraging me in the background. Good, let the hate flow...

There are two other things I know I hate. The first is stupidity, the lack of coherent and well-thought-out ideas that breeds ideological bandwagon-jumping. The second, and closely related, is a certain strain of dishonesty I think of as the pious propaganda instinct of liberalism, and all the tendencies that go with it. It's not stupid, because it often works, although those who actually buy into it are stupid. I hate the stridency deeply felt for nothing more than a solipsistic worldview, I hate the unflinching and unjustified belief that their values are objective while the values of other cultures are merely leftovers of oppressive orders, I hate the sense of entitlement and the materialism, I hate the emotionalism, I hate the dismissals of all ideas not their own married to the expectation that their ideas should be listened to, and I certainly hate the hypocritical tendency to accuse enemies of the exact same character traits they embody.

Delicious and refreshing!
One example that pissed me off really good a few months ago is Salon's treatment of Richard Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, which advocates white separatism.

I'm not a huge fan of Spencer for a number of reasons, but nor am I a huge fan of leftist treatment of the topic of race, which will get its own post later. Suffice it to say, race matters in a more sophisticated way than the topic is given credit for, and will have cultural implications just based on the difference in people's perspective wrought by different appearances. This is important enough that blacks were having very serious discussions about separatism versus integration just a few decades ago. But today, conversations about race have been shut down with such efficiency that any conservative who opens their mouth or closes their wallet to minority issues is drinking from a cup of hate, and drinking deeply. They might have decided to bathe in it. Might have even developed HateGills so they can live while swimming in it. Using the H-word is absolutely critical to maintaining this state of affairs, and preventing society from veering any further away from the borderless unified humanity they want.

We need not get into detail about ideas in the article, since Salon.com certainly does not. Naturally, how does Salon frame Spencer? They try hard to sound objective most times, but then you have moments like the last two sentences:
As we shook hands and parted ways, I turned briefly to get a glimpse of him walking away. I couldn’t help being surprised that that same well-manicured man had just expressed so much hate. 
Of course, the last word in the article is HATE. That's what the writer wants to leave you with, the association she wants the reader to have with Spencer. Should have seen that coming. Earlier, Spencer explicitly rejects the notion that he's driven by hatred, but of course that's not taken seriously. It's not like they are capable of respecting this man. To recognize and research race with any intention other than furthering their narrative is simply hatred, stated by the executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network: Spencer, she added, is waging a marketing campaign that repackages a classic brand of hate and selling it as a benign intellectual studyDespite a lack of feelings expressly communicated here, the author assures us that, With me, he was slow to unmask his feeling about race. Because his feelings are obvious, right? Despite having come from a household that was obviously not filled with race warriors, despite a high-dollar education, despite being well-presented and erudite, Spencer is simply irrationally hateful. 

This position is constant in the MSM, as race issues are simply never discussed on critical terms, ever. For the political side that constantly claims the intellectual high ground, that's a problem. But never mind. The man must be driven by an emotional agenda, and not the same concerns that every other political activist believes of themselves: that they live in a culture with systematic problems and identify with a group that has valid concerns for its future.

It's Salon.com and I don't expect much. And I'm not going to say that the man is full of equally glad tidings for all peoples. Nor should he have to be: you are allowed to be closer to those you identify with than those you don't identify with, last I checked. I have no doubt that Richard Spencer prefers the perceived culture of white people to black people. That's a preference. Is holding a preference the same thing as hate? Don't liberals have preferences?

Hatin' the Gays


Similarly, no matter how many times conservative writers say that they don't hate gays, no one believes it. Either they hate gays, or they're literally living in fear of them - homophobia - leading to some really ridiculous, really immature, and really idiotic stereotypes of people who oppose gay marriage and associated expressions of homosexuality being equal to heterosexuality:


Explain to me the logic of this, without also telling me that the person who left the note is either an asshole who wants to piss someone off - sounds a bit hateful, doesn't it? - or is really stupid enough to think that support for the traditional family model that has existed for several thousand years comes down to OH MY GOD QUEERS SO GROSS COOTIES EWWW!!!

Idiot. And let's not get into the psychology of a person who would do this, take a picture, and post it on the web with apparent pride, either.

Gay people seem to get special benefits when it comes to accusing their detractors of hate, maybe because what they're doing is loving one another, the opposite of hate if you take those words at face value. Since liberalism is Judeo-Christian and encourages everyone to love each other, gays are an embodiment of sorts for their principles. They love each other so vigorously, after all.

Look, I know gay people, I get along with gay people, and I have no problem giving certain gay guys I know a friendly hug when I see them. There are gays in my family and among my most long-standing friendships. I also respect traditional family structure and think that, in a culture bound to Western individualism which desperately needs a stronger sense of accountability, people should be expected to raise their biological children within that context. But to some people, even most people, saying "no" to gay marriage can only be traced to something personal, some visceral disgust. But it's not personal, nor is it personal for most of the conservatives I've talked to about the issue.

Go ahead and ask me a loaded question: if you had gay kid, what would you tell them?

Not much, until they ask. This assumes I have a kid who is a 6 on the Kinsey scale. I would say, "Well, it's disappointing, that you won't have kids. But okay." That's about all I would, or realistically could, do. I wouldn't disown the kid. He or she would be invited to Christmas dinner. I'm not marching in any parades, I can tell you that.

The real action comes up if we're talking about a kid who's a 3 on the Kinsey scale.

Swinging either way means making a choice, because men and women are different, they have different expectations and psychologies if nothing else, and you have to adapt to this if you want to have any success in the sexual marketplace. So if I have a kid who's a 3 on the Kinsey scale, then I would strongly encourage that kid to aim for dating the opposite sex. I wouldn't be too pushy about it, because there's nothing more certain to push a kid away from a direction in life these days than having an older person push that choice like a Jehovah's witness selling timeshares. I would prefer a calm discussion over it at an age where the kid brings it up himself or herself. I would also prefer to live in a world where respect for authority exists, but this is America and no father has the option of really acting like an authority figure here.

If I have a kid, that kid gets at least two decades of heavy investment from my life. Why should someone who theoretically doesn't regret this decision recommend to their kid that they reject that choice? Wouldn't it be an insult to the family for a parent not to recommend continuing the family line to their own kids?

I can hear the chorus of, "Well, it's not right to push kids to live your life! You don't know how they feel or what kind of life is right for them, what they're meant for! You have the obligation to keep an open mind!" Sounds great to think that people have this life that's meant just for them, doesn't it? But there's no reason to think that's the case: we mold ourselves and are molded by the world in a dynamic process with plenty of possibilities. Kids are kids. They make stupid decisions and their myopic perspective on being alive when they've been spoiled straight to hell means that they're usually blissfully unaware that most of their points of view come from other kids at school or, worse, media messaging. Kids are wrong about who they are all the time. Being a kid is fresh enough in my memory to know that. I've been around a few decades now, so on the assumption that I actually have something in common with my kids, I'm going to give them honest advice. I'd rather be an asshole than untrustworthy, and sometimes that is the choice. If this creates conflict, then fine. Parents are too cowardly today.

Is this perspective hateful to you?

If it is, you need to learn what words mean. It's not hate. Holding an opinion and having a sense of identity is not hate. Deciding that one course of cultural action is better than another is not hate. To say otherwise is to say that having values is itself immoral and disgusting, that all decisions are equally good and the same, that all perspectives are equally good and the same, that no one is ever right. Such a position implodes on itself, and good riddance.

Somehow, it became so accepted that thinking gays shouldn't have a legal right to marry was absolutely equivalent to hating them that the conversation moved into racism territory. The fight itself became evil, and that's just ridiculous. Marriage is about accountability and genetic legacy, and if we were in a culture that had thought this through, no one would be encouraging anyone else to get married simply because of an emotional connection. The institution handcuffs the people in it, and it should, because creating and raising children is too important to be seen as a matter of how you feel.

Looked at in a different light, you can make one last claim to say that when liberals talk about hate, they are referencing a lack of open-mindedness and compassion. But none of this is about open-mindedness and compassion. Being compassionate would indicate that there is tragedy and weakness in being gay - which we are told it's not, since it's supposed to be legitimately equal - while being "open-minded" would basically require shutting up about your own preferences, while you step out of everyone's way and let them live, think, believe, and act however they want. This is fundamentally impossible, but more importantly, that's not what's being suggested by liberalism in America.

What's being suggested is a very definite choice that implies the rejection of alternatives, as any choice must. It's a choice to devalue group identity in favor of an individualist hedonism, and that choice will brook no argument. It's every bit as totalitarian as any right-wing ideal, which is fine to those who are on their side; they join the chorus of accusing the opposition of hate without dissonant guilt, because to them, the opposition is both wrong and is acting as an oppressive overdog which they must valiantly fight against. This intensity of purpose looks like hate because it does not lend itself to dispassion, but nor should it. If having such an intense degree of belief is hate, then hate is a natural part of life when you care about something, and it should be managed, not vilified and used as a pejorative.

But this is where we are. So, if you stand for something, you should probably just get used to the word "hate" and let its intensity wash out a bit in your mind. It's just an insult. I've used the word 64 times in this blog so you can get used to seeing it, reading it, thinking about it at a distance. It's essentially meaningless, and it should be treated like it. If you want the prerogative to have an unpopular opinion, then inoculate yourselves now.