The Dangers of Categorized Thinking

[Yes, I’m still alive.  I took time to write this post because the stars aligned; just recently I had this exact conversation with a friend, and a few days ago I read an article which made writing the discussion down worthwhile.  This isn’t an argument against said article, just some related thoughts.]

I read Bicameral Reasoning at Slate Star Codex a few days ago.  The gist of the article is this: expressing a situation as a series of categories tends to place equal weights on each category, whether they deserve such weighting or not.  The example Scott gives is:

And I tend to think something like “Well, I agree with this guy about the Iraq war and global warming, but I agree with that guy about election paper trails and gays in the military, so it’s kind of a toss-up…”

…I like having paper trails in elections as much as the next person, but if one guy isn’t going to keep a very good record of election results, and the other guy is going to kill a million people, that’s not a toss-up.

I agree; this is a sound point and a logical fallacy that easily stems from the way we organize and express data.

He then continues to apply this to the bicameral United States Congress, with its 2-senators-per-state Senate, and proportionally-weighted Congressmen in the House, and wonders if this decision-making model skews politics far too heavily in directions that aren’t merited, or, as he says…”Why are you even looking at that other box?”

This brought two thoughts to mind:

I

I recently gave a presentation on the post-colonial Middle East, and as a prelude, gave what might have been the fastest and most Disney-cartoon-laden summary of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities ever done.  The book centers around the idea that since humans can only really belong to a group of a certain size (Dunbar’s Number), our larger organizations exist only symbolically.  In contrast to our standard post-modern tendency to scoff at symbols (read: who cares what I look like/dress like/how I talk/what I name my child?  I can do what I want!), Anderson stresses that these symbols are important because they are the mechanisms that bind nation-states together.

One of the most important mechanisms Anderson discusses is the iconographic map…the instantly recognizable outline of a nation’s borders.  As part of the shift from the pre-modern to the modern world, people’s sense of space changed from one centered on capitals, holy places, and seats of power, and instead became one which expanded to the very edges of what they claimed.  Before technology made the hinterlands accessible, and eventually controllable, large swaths of land were essentially unclaimed.  But with technology, everything became accessible, and everything was then claimed.  It turned people’s concept of the world from something like this, where state lines could easily be overlooked…

US Population Density

 

to the iconographic map people conjure up in their heads when they think of the United States:

Map_of_USA_showing_state_names

In the top map, it might be easy to see how the population on the eastern coast of the depicted continent might be totally ambivalent if the northerncentral land were to be invaded and claimed by a neighboring country.  However, the bottom map makes it clear that North Dakota and Montana are Ours, just as much as New York and Maryland etc, and those Canadians better not get any ideas about crossing that border!

The concept that all land, things, people, etc, can be categorized in such a way that everything is 100% accounted for is a concept Anderson calls “totalizing classification” and is a modernity-enabled mindset which leads to many problems he addresses in the book, all of which I think are very interesting.  However, to keep on-point here…

These maps illustrate the problem Scott points at; it seems ludicrous to give the north-central land the same weighting as New York State in decision-making!

Or does it?

I defended the practice of the Senate giving equal representation to the fly-over states to a friend of mine according to an argument I’ve made many times before, that goes something like this:

  1. Any given land has a carrying capacity
  2. Cities take advantage of transportation technology to consolidate the carry-able population
  3. This consolidation enables economies of scale…
    1. …which enables the transportation and other technology to exist…
    2. …which enables further consolidation…etc
  4. As a result, the larger the city is, the more surrounding land it should be viewed to be dependent upon
  5. The maps clearly show that our political boundaries separate the cities and the land they depend on
  6. The highly unnatural physical environment of a city, to say nothing of cultural factors, makes it unlikely that the average city-dweller understands either the extent to which they depend on the land around them, or the concerns and circumstances of the people and economies in those lands.

In the past, I have mostly talked about this from the cultural angle.  For instance, I believe that the average apartment-dweller, whose landscaping is handled by the complex management, has far less appreciation for the amount of work required to maintain greenery than the average suburban homeowner, who in turn has less appreciation than a rural farmer, simply because of lack of exposure.  It is all well and good to protest the use of pesticides when one’s practical experience with greenery is limited to the few trees permitted to poke through the city sidewalk, surrounded by a decorative, squared-off grate; it is quite another to protest pesticides after having lived the challenge of trying to maintain a green lawn, or grow a garden with a net-positive caloric yield.  I often use this story to explain some of the roots of the liberal-urban/conservative-rural divide on many issues, but it is only a tiny step from there to see the real-world impacts and broken feedback loops of the policies which would likely be enacted if all policy-making was exclusively population-weighted.

In a society of philosopher-kings, city-dwellers would recognize and appreciate their dependence on rural economies, but in practice, no society of philosopher-kings exists.  I suspect that in a myriad of issues, going to a strictly-proportional system of voting would even further un-anchor our political and intellectual culture from the physical realities of what it takes to feed, clothe, and power it.  This is the essential failure of every country that ever tried to “modernize” or “Westernize” by forcing its rural and agricultural populations into the cities and then starved; Egypt, China, and Cambodia all come to mind off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are more.

So, I’m afraid my long-windedness might have obscured my point, so I’ll state it clearly here; Delaware and the cows may not “deserve” votes, but the economic security of New York depends on Delaware and cows having sufficient votes to veto the Great Leap Forward.  Large cities only exist because they are able to harness the resources of the land around them, but they create environments where inhabitants are unfamiliar with the land around them.  The city’s power grows in proportion to its ignorance of its own sustenance requirements.  A city powerful enough to politically strongarm the rural lands it depends on is a city dangerously close to cutting off its nose to spite its face.  It is imperative that reality be reckoned with before we go too far astray; it’s better to learn you can’t fly by jumping off a house than a skyscraper.

II  

Let’s recap: I agree that categorization can lead to incorrectly weighting certain criteria.  However, categorization can also be used to assure that correct weighting is assigned, when weighting need to be disproportionate.

I now write this second point knowing full-well that it will push Scott’s buttons.  Maybe I’ll get a good counter-argument out of this.

I object to certain neologisms coming out of the Progressive world, because I believe they are done precisely to invoke the improper weighting Scott is concerned about.  To the extent that they are deliberate attempts to control thought, I consider them Orwellian and nefarious.  I’ll dive in with an example:

“Transgender” has had, and still has in almost all walks of life, the connotations that “trans” is meant to impart; the idea that boundaries are being crossed, that standards or conventions are being “transgressed,” that the subject of discussion is a deviation from the norm.  Transgender people represent a tiny fraction of the population, so, all connotations aside, the denotation that identifying as transgender is a deviation from the statistical norm is accurate.

Recently, however, the term “cisgender” has arisen.  (It’s new and rare enough that Google n-gram won’t even return results on it.)  This shift in language from “so-normal-we-don’t-even-specify-it”/trans to cis/trans facilitates a shift away from recognition and reference to a statistical norm towards the statistically (and I suppose morally) neutral chemistry definitions of trans and cis…”the bonds go this way/the bonds go that way.”

This is, in my opinion, a very clear example of the type of proportion-obscuring categorization that Scott is concerned may be distorting our perceptions and judgments.  It is for this reason that, while I don’t have anything in particular against transgendered people, I simply cannot muster the politically-correct level of required outrage to participate in a Two-Minutes-Hate when a school or shopping mall “fails” to “support” transgendered people’s restroom dilemmas; I am implicitly being forced to accept a categorized worldview of “Male, Female, Trans, (etc?)”, and am not allowed to put the problem into anything resembling proper perspective.  Just because “Male, Female, Trans, Etc” all take up one line each on a survey does not mean they are all proportionately represented in society, and by extension constitute a huge segment of society that is being cruelly alienated or underserved for no understandable purpose.

“Heteronormative” is another such word.  Statistically speaking, an overwhelming majority of people are heterosexual.  It isn’t weird that our society reflects this An insistence on conformity is a problem, but the invention of a word that means “things pretty much reflect the way they mostly are” strongly infers a desire to create a world where things do not reflect the way they mostly are.

“Eurocentric” is yet another such word.  It isn’t weird that the European culture of the European people that founded the US is the culture that permeates its institutions.  Furthermore, the users of “Eurocentric” are rarely seeking some neutral, scientific, reason-based middle ground; they tend to be people pushing another set of ethnically-rooted ideas, and it would be just as fair to call them “X-centric.”  And even further yet, I have yet to hear criticisms that any non-European culture is too centered on itself.  Is Arab culture too “Arabcentric?”  Is Chinese culture to “Sinocentric?”  Ideas ring hollow to my ears when their advocates are unwilling or uninterested in applying them consistently and universally.

Which brings me to a fourth neologism, which isn’t an example of such categorizations, but rather helps illuminate why they are so grating on the ears of any out-grouper: problematic.  Usage of this word correlates very highly to usages of the category-creating words above, and serves mostly as a bold assertion that things like cisheteronormativity are weird, and cishet-people need to stop making the world all about them.  It never fails to sound like an ad-hominem attack.  I suspect this is because the assertion is, on its face, ridiculous, because the numbers don’t support the assertion, and the speaker is doing what Orwellian thoughtcontrollers do; double-down on insanity and out-group exclusion until it sticks.  It is a declaration of disbelief in reality, which simultaneously condemns the members of the ruling cishet regime, and makes any sort of nuanced discussion referencing reality a futile effort.  Because there is no way to talk sense into the person who thinks heteronormativity is problematic, their “arguments” win by default, and they gain power and influence in the way trendy ideas do.  (Again, I agree that enforcing conformity is bad, but personal experience with users of this word has led me to believe its purpose is to create a world where references to statistical realities are forbidden, or at the very least, unseemly in polite (read: employable) company.)

III

So, to summarize here…

Categorization can intentionally bring balance to inherently unbalanced situations, and this can sometimes be put to constructive ends.  This was the force that drove the compromise creating the bicameral legislature in the first place, and I believe it is just as valid today.

Categorization can also intentionally obscure prevalence in favor of focus on…categories.  Imagine a histogram where one is only permitted to see the axis, and forbidden to plot any data points.  The intentional obfuscation of morally-neutral descriptive statistics facilitated by Progressive neologisms is Orwellian and annoying.  The practice doesn’t physically hurt anyone the way that, say, physically assaulting the members of said categories does.  However, the insistence that “allies” to the cause, or even merely “people opposed to physically assaulting anyone,” must participate in the intentional degradation of our language’s descriptive powers feels like the intellectual equivalent of a sweaty, clammy handshake of a nervous friend preparing to stab you in the back.  Treat people squarely and with respect for their intellectual integrity instead.

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All Warfare is Asymmetric Warfare

I’ve had this idea rolling around in the back of my head for a while.  I want to put down in words some thoughts on the state of socio-political discourse in America.  Part of a chain of at least 3 posts.

“If you find yourself in a fair fight, you didn’t plan your mission properly.” – Anonymous

I

Everyone loves a fair fight.  When fighters are evenly matched, things like heart, determination, and skill affect the outcome, and some feel-good moral import can be read into the victor’s achievement.  If Rocky so outclassed his opponent he never needed to train a-la 80’s rock montage, it wouldn’t be much of a movie.  If he was so outclassed no training would make a difference, it wouldn’t be worth watching either.  Sportsmanship can only be displayed on a level playing field, and thus we go to great efforts to provide that arena to our athletes.

Obviously soldiers in combat will pursue every advantage they see to come out alive.  No one sets down his night-vision goggles because his enemies don’t have them, and no ground unit has ever called off airstrikes because his side’s total dominance of the air has rendered bombing runs “unsportsmanlike.”  Life-and-death situations have a way of motivating people to win.

Yet it is an American phenomenon to view war as a sportsmanlike contest between equals and anything other than that as something less-than war.  If nations go to war over notions of right-vs-wrong, and right is to prevail, then the fight must be an even and fair one to have similar moral significance.  In practice, this translates to America’s use of the World Wars as cultural reference points to what war “should” look like; lots of tanks, planes, and ships on both sides going at it in a war of attrition until only one side remains.  This seems fair and even, much like a real-time strategy war game would have to be in order to be enjoyable.

Post-WWII, nuclear weaponry capped the scale of conventional conflicts and the world recognized that no military could face America on a “conventional” battlefield.  As a result warfare since WWII has largely been “unconventional.”  The notion that the majority of armed conflict is understood as unconventional speaks volumes to the American way of understanding war, and conflict in general.  In particular, unconventional warfare is largely synonymous with asymmetric warfare.  The West isn’t concerned with guerrilla-on-guerrilla or similar unconventional action; it is concerned with conventional uniformed troops encountering unconventional “forces” of varying degrees of formality.

The unconventional forces can’t and therefore don’t field sophisticated weaponry against the sophisticated weaponry of conventional forces.  This is an asymmetry in tactics brought about by readily observable necessity.  However, they aren’t fighting the same fight as conventional forces-but at at a disadvantage-they are also pursuing totally different objectives.  The conventional forces need to destroy the unconventional ones; the unconventional ones often merely need to outlast the conventional ones.  The invader needs total conquest; the defender needs only make the cost of the conquest unacceptable.

II

I imagine this approach to viewing things extends across nearly every issue in America.  Every conflict is viewed as a symmetrical contest between two equal parties with equal but opposing goals, a la WWII.  In reality, neither the conflicts nor the goals are equal or opposite.

Consider any of the hot-button political issues of the day and the way they are commonly, if often incorrectly, understood.  One side wants more taxes, the other less.  One wants bigger government, the other wants smaller.  One side favors minorities, the other oppresses them.  One side is ignorant, the other educated.  And so on.

This understanding perfectly suits the American paradigm of the moral virtue of fighting fair: each side has roughly half the vote, and so has a “fair” chance of winning if only it works extra hard, states better ideas, and is extra sensitive to the voter’s demands.  This is a nice idea.  It lets us feel good about our democractic system.

It is also a fantasy.  On a small scale, voting can help reconcile minor conflicting priorities, such as, “do we spend money on repairing potholes this year or build a new overpass downtown?”  On a large scale, however, people don’t vote on issues; the vote to support their “tribe.” 

Steve_Sailer_Obama_Romney_October_2012b

(Linked from: http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/10/obama-v-romney-demographics-draw-your.html)

Charts like these lend weight to the various quotes describing democracies as constant civil wars where bullets have been exchanged for ballots.  And if warfare is usually asymmetrical, then it is likely that the tactics and goals employed by the right and left in this war will be different.

III

Cataloguing every difference between right and left would fill volumes.  Instead I want to cut straight to one of the biggest overarching asymmetries.  I think  it is best expressed in a Tweet (paraphrased because I can’t find the original):

“You neoreactionaries just want to rule,” said the liberal Brahmin white male.

This is a sentiment that Michael Annisimov rebutted in a good article at More Right yesterday, which concluded:

…To understand neoreaction, imagine people who see hierarchy as providing stability and prosperity, even if they personally aren’t in the ruling class.

Mostly, neoreactionaries just want to be left alone….

There is a huge amount of ironycontained in this short statement.  The Left portrays itself as the party of freedom, but it behaves as the party most obsessed with absolute control.  For example, in past discussions of birth control laws, the Left used to chant, “Keep the government out of my bedroom.”  However, recently, it seems like the Left can’t get the government into our bedrooms fast enough.  Progress involves the a pathological need to remake the people of the world in the Brahmin image, and any and all social and political pressures to make that happen are fair game.

Being Americans, these Brahmin percieve their opponents as equal-but-opposite.  Progressives attempt to make everyone exactly like them, and the imagine that surely Conservatives must be trying to do the same.  Having no interest in leaving anyone alone, Progressives can’t imagine opponents fighting for just just that.  It is an asymmetry they are blind to.

I don’t believe this is mere speculation on my part.  The Left constantly broadcasts its characterizations and understanding of its opponents.  It believes in the “Patriarchy;” the shadowy conspiracy of all men busily oppressing all women.  It characterizes any and every interaction between demographics as “privileged” groups “oppressing” exploited groups.  Anyone insufficiently “for” them is “against” them.  Ideological opponents are not merely “wrong,” they are “bad.”  Anyone who is “against” them enough and “bad” enough is an existential threat who must be publically defamed, and preferably fired from their jobs, or “strongly encouraged” to resign. 

This is the opponent the Left believes it is facing down.  This is how it understands the battlefield.

IV

Given its understanding of itself, the battlefield, and the stakes, the tactics of the Left make sense.  It is the conventional army which believes it needs to fight unconventionally.  It is the “good guys” doing “bad things.”  This is why the Left infuriates moderates; the faction with the self image most centered on intelligence, tolerance, understanding, and compassion acts as the most un-self-aware, intolerant, extreme, and vitriolic.  The Academy, supposed to be a bastion of reason discussing ideas, has devolved into a launching point for ad hominem attacks.  To anyone on outside, it feels like the betrayal of our highest ideals.

The focus of this article is reasons the Left does what it does.  (At least it was supposed to be.  Be the judge, readers.)  Discussion of specific tactics will get its own article.

Political Correctness and Danger

“White people don’t understand danger.  They just don’t.  You done seen the Discovery Channel.  White people have no sense of danger at all.  They just be looking right at the cobra.  Just the cobra is right the fuck there, and they want to do an interview with the motherfucker.  “Look at the fangs!”” – Katt Williams, It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’

“Every city in the world has the death penalty for stepping in front of a bus.  How do we live with this draconian rule?  By not violating it.” – Mencius Moldbug

I

Political correctness is often defined as “a ban on noticing things.”  Progressivism is frequently faulted for failing to engage or explain basic observable reality, and the role political correctness plays in this is obvious.  It is the spirit which pervades every interaction between humans.  If Progressivism is best understood as crypto-Calvinism, political correctness may well be its Holy Ghost.

Not all danger is the result of failure to engage with reality, but all failures to engage with reality are dangerous.  On an intuitive level, humans understand that literal senselessness, that is: being without senses, is dangerous.  Blind people run into things and fall of ledges, deaf people can’t hear warnings of danger, and congenital analgesiacs, those born without a sense of pain, have to learn intellectually a lesson babies don’t even need to be taught: what hurts and is harmful, and what doesn’t.  However, humans are less adept at understanding the dangers of sophistry which blinds minds.  After all, the blind cannot fake sight, but sophists easily fake wisdom.

Nevertheless, a failure to understand that a charging bear is dangerous impairs survival just as surely as failing to seeing the bear in the first place.  Those who attempt to seize moral high ground by denying the obvious appear no more noble than Monty Python’s Black Knight; committed, courageous, yet clueless.  This is not an esoteric philosophical battle confined to ivory towers, academia, and blogs.  The widespread willingness of Western elite/elect to act without regard to reality is dangerous in direct proportion to the power they wield.

II

Political correctness is both an abstract concept and a practical reality.  In practice, it becomes not only an instance of the abstract, but also a method of signaling affiliation.  Remember that the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes isn’t merely a lesson in conformity; integral to the fraudulent tailors’ tale was the lie that the clothes were only invisible to stupid, evil people.  The motive of the lying adults was not merely a fear of not fitting in, (which can cover principles/moral issues but also the arbitrary/matters of taste), it was a fear of being seen as unholy (strictly a moral issue).  Claiming not to see the emperor’s nakedness served as a claim to moral superiority, and a way to avoid moral criticism.

As a refresher, signaling theory deals with both the benefits of signals, both true and false, as well as the costs.  While social acceptance is the benefit of what is essentially political correctness’ false signaling, the cost is an inability to assess danger.  Our elite’s social acceptance depends on their acceptance of danger.  Because they act on behalf of the state and organizations they control, this means that in practice it is the foot soldiers of those states and organizations which pay the price of the elite’s benefits.

Of course, the elite themselves suffer the price of their signaling from time to time as well.  These instances hardly need pointed out; witness the perpetual outrage in the media against any suggestion that people take reasonable precautions against known threats:

  • People and businesses avoiding “the wrong part of town”
  • Alcohol and sexual assault
  • Placing pornographic selfies on the internet
  • Women who date questionable men, who become…
  • Domestic abuse victims who refuse to leave violent partners

And the list continues.

The dialogue between Liberals and Conservatives on such issues is both pathetic and laughable, and eerily reminiscent of the Fourth Circle of Dante’s Hell:

Conservatives: Teach women to avoid dangerous situations!

Liberals: No!  Teach men not to rape!

***

… I saw multitudes
to every side of me; their howls were loud
while, wheeling weights, they used their chests to push.
They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?

The simplistic arguments will go nowhere, because men and women have taken to the field as monolithic entities engaged in mortal combat, instead of good men and good women siding against bad men and bad women.  (Responsibility can be placed squarely on the shoulders of modern feminism.  The concept of The Patriarchy made the present battle lines inevitable.)   It is mere factionalism spurred by ideology than any real attempt at avoiding objectively observable danger.  In fact, signaling loyalty to the cause has led countless young women to pay the price of signaling by routinely placing themselves in dangerous situations.  Most have made it out just fine.  Some have not.

With the fervor of zealots and the mental agility of jousters locked into their attack runs, both sides are unable to have two separate conversations; one pertaining to the attacker’s responsibility for the crime, and the other to the victim’s opportunities for self-preservation.  A sane approach to the situation would entail holding criminals responsible while protecting potential victims as two entirely separate issues.  This is possible when the world is viewed as being composed of good and bad people.  But it is not possible when it is composed of “men who commit crimes” and “women who suffer,” and therefore, it doesn’t.

III

The above example stems from what I term a categorical error; the dividing lines between things are drawn in the wrong place and therefore items in various categories are treated improperly.  In this case, it takes the form of easy-to-recognize factionalism.

I want to use an example which cannot be viewed as factionalism: the recently distributed nude celebrity photos taken by hackers from iCloud.  Again the “hackers shouldn’t have taken the photos” vs “stealing is wrong and its all the hackers’ fault!” perpetual motion machine has fired back up, but that isn’t what I want to discuss.

The subject here is how political correctness prevents the consideration of reasonable precaution, or, in similar terms, risk management.

I bank online.  Others put nude selfies online.  We would all be upset if we were stolen from, and we would both receive equal sympathy from progressives. We both “put stuff online” and we both had it taken from us.  We both had reasonable expectations of privacy, which were both violated.  The end.

The error here is a complete failure to understand the concept of risk.

The world is dangerous, and not all dangers can be eliminated from life.  Therefore, to avoid becoming a bubble-boy living in a padded room, it becomes necessary to decide what dangers are worth exposing oneself to in order to achieve certain goals.  In concrete terms: if you decide to hunt a lion, you must accept that the lion will also hunt you.

[Note: even if one did seclude oneself in a padded room, he would still need to eat, and someone would have to bravely step out into the jungle to hunt or the farmyard to plow.  The distance at which society places people from their sustenance is a constant source of lost insight.  All-encompassing safety is the distinct privilege of wealthy urban dwellers, a demographic which tends to, for some reason, overlap with ironic hipster neckbeards and their ilk.]

This is risk: weighing the value of a reward and the likelihood of achieving it against the severity of dangers and the likelihood of suffering them.  It is a math problem that progressive ideology might be able to solve, if progressive ideology did not ban any and all attempts to do so.

Let us return to my online bank accounts and Jennifer Lawrence’s leaked photos.

Online Bank Account

Benefits: Rapid, easy transactions with vendors online and in-person via credit and debit cards.  No need to carry large amounts of cash and risk losing it, accidentally or otherwise.

Risks: Potential hacking, theft of funds.

Risk Liklihood: Low

Risk Recovery: Insurance reimbursement, recoupment

Nude Selfies on iCloud

Benefits: Easily share naked pictures of myself with a presumably large number of people

Risks: Pictures obtained by unintended recipients.  Literally, global humiliation.

Risk Liklihood: Low

Risk Recovery: Impossible

In this framework, risk is now a math problem rather than a moral issue.  Jennifer Lawrence isn’t to be chided because she did a “bad thing,” but rather because she took unnecessary risk for minimal benefit in making her photos so easily accessible.  Some might argue it was an unnecessary risk to take them at all; again, not for any moral reason, but because some of us wouldn’t be satisfied even if every naked photo of us were under lock, key, and armed guard in a facility on the Moon.  The good/bad moral binary (and post-modernists and progressives hate few things more than binaries) has been replaced with a formalized greyscale, and while folks will disagree as to the exact shade of grey that demarcates the boundary between good choices and bad ones, most will agree that the miniscule benefits of having naked photos in the cloud do not offset the chance of their inadvertent release in the minds of the wise.  [Virtue ethics again, ftw]

IV

I want to offer a few more very short examples as a way of returning this discussion to the macro level.  Human cultures all engage in various risks not strictly necessary for life.  Some cultures eat blowfish.  Some ride motorcycles.  Others ski or snowboard.  Some hunt dangerous game.  Others climb windswept, oxygen-less mountains.  Their fathers are proud.  Their mothers worry.

Again, none of these activities are necessary, but several cultures nevertheless engage in them.  This again raises the point that, to a large degree, culture is arbitrary; it is the answer to the question, what do we do This helps explain why risk-taking behaviors tend to cluster within cultures, or, more commonly in the West, how entire cultures come to be defined by the risks they take for fun: bikers, hunters, climbers, and the like.

Now consider the emerging Progressive monoculture, which largely whittles things down to common denominators.  The only common thread that everyone can agree on is that “safety” is good, and if a little is good, more is better.  So, without a significant biker population, progressives rule motorcycles to be dangerous and heavily regulate their safety requirements.  Without a significant hunting population, progressives rule guns to be dangerous and heavily regulate them.  Predictably, self-driving car inventors have already made the case that when self-driving cars become safer than human drivers, it will then be immoral to not buy and use one!  In light of arguments such as these, the collapse into a singular culture appears inevitable.

[The correlation between ignorance of guns and regulation has had comical moments, most notably the Colorado lawmaker who presumed magazines were expendable items that came preloaded.  Accordingly, a plan was hatched to eliminate large magazines by banning their sale and waiting for existing supplies to deplete.]

V

Returning to where we started; political correctness is a ban on noticing things, which is inherently dangerous in the same way that closing one’s eyes while walking will inevitably lead to walking off the sidewalk; orderly systems without constant input tend to chaos and individual human beings require a lot of constant inputs just to stay alive.  The inability to meaningfully discuss reasonable conduct, risk avoidance, and standards of behavior stem directly from a refusal to engage with danger in any terms other than ideological demographic-baiting along any lines other than the lines of who is at fault (criminals) and who is not (victims).  The lack of any meaningful culture upon which to base any standards for evaluating risk, however arbitrary, leaves us with only the ability to discuss right and wrong.  Whereas a common culture which can place relative values on things like death-from-pufferfish vs how-tasty-is-pufferfish, or the convenience of naked selfies on iCloud vs the humiliation of naked selfies worldwide, a lowest-common-denominator Progressive culture leaves us with nothing but the impulse to lynch all perpetrators in righteous fury and console all the wronged as victims of the most cosmic of cosmic injustices.

While Progressives liberally (ha!) wield post-modern insistence on non-binary systems to destroy their opponents, Progressives themselves are animated by the very black-and-white perspective that they themselves impose on the world against all reason.  The Holy Ghost of Political Correctness inevitably leads them to crusade against “the world” in the exact same vein as Protestant theology calls for.  However, without the refinement and judgment of any actually developed theology, the crusade amounts to little more than blindly swinging swords at their enemies to signal their identity to friends.

They are the Black Knights.

BDD_mp_flesh_5.3

Progress, Process, and Dead White Males

[Going to tie a few seemingly unconnected thoughts together here.  Buckle up.]

I

In middle school, I had a history class that began with some historiography.  We learned about different ways history had been portrayed and understood.  The gist was that the Great Man Theory of history, in which powerful, capable individuals were the force which led their peoples to their destinies, was outmoded.  In its place, modern historians looked at historical events as confluences of many events, situations, conditions, etc, and this was more scientific, accurate, and meaningful history.

Tied into this was discussions of variations on the theme of divine right to rule, of which I remember precisely three concepts: traditional Western divine right, and the Chinese concepts of Mandate of Heaven and Filial Piety.  These tied back into the historiography in that these three concepts provided socio-religious explanations for a certain power structure, just as the Great Man Theory of history provided a secular, historical basis for that power structure.  And they all were equally bad.

I was sympathetic to this lesson at the time, and to a large extent still am.  I believe the neoreactionary tenet of the Cathedral’s existence necessarily places all neoreactionary writers in fairly close concurrence with me on this one.

II

However, there is a critical error in the common application of this lesson, an error which I see as integral to the Leftist worldview.  The importance of context is excessively emphasized over the importance of individuals.  This much should be abundantly clear to nearly any observer.  It is impossible to hear the phrases “institutional racism,” “institutional sexism,” “privilege,” and the like and not see that, while the Left claims to champion agency, they believe their wards have very little of it.  The myriad ways in which the Right mocks the Left for believing nothing is anyone’s fault (unless, that is, a Rightist happens to be at fault), from everything ranging from poverty to the behavior of children, readily confirms this.

John C. Wright’s hypothesis that the Left takes this to the extreme, beyond no-fault to disbelief in cause-and-effect, is a high quality read in this regard.  Perhaps no-fault is a lesser included form of no cause-and-effect.  It doesn’t matter for my purposes here, but the possibility seems worth mentioning.

III

The focus on circumstance and the devaluation of individual choice does something very strange to ethics.  This is worth a quick side-adventure.

In my opinion, it is difficult to top the Nicomachean Ethics.  In contrast to the “no friends to the right, no enemies to the left” mantra which can only perpetuate extremism, I find the measured centrism of Ethics to be a useful guide.  Courage lies between Recklessness and Cowardice.  Temperance between Profligacy and Insensibility.  Generosity between Waste and Stinginess.  Etc.  The significance here is that these are sliding scales within the scope of one human’s behavior; they are necessarily bound by human capacity.  In this system of ethics, setting oneself up to fail by behaving outside of human bounds is not noble; it is clearly a lack of ethics.  I can’t emphasize enough; the system inherently has realistic bounds.

Readers may recognize one of my favorite themes here.  The inability or unwillingness to deal with the limits of reality is a failure of Leftism I harp on time and time again.  A system with requirements which exceed its resources, and/or which requires greater inputs than its outputs will quickly devour itself and fail.  You may not be interested in reality, but reality is very interested in you…

IV

Now let’s examine government.  Whenever a problem arises, a new process or oversight body is put in place to fix it.  This is old hat: the notion that bureaucracy exists to create bureaucracy has been written about enough.  I want to tackle it here from a different perspective.

Processes, procedures, oversight bodies, and commissions are all very expensive.  In the arena of personal ethic, bound by human nature, certain limits obviously cannot be denied or avoided.  A schedule which would require an individual have 25 hours in a day is obviously infeasible.  A task which required a man to lift 2000 pounds overhead would be impossible.  A foot journey of 250 miles in one day is out of the question.  Undertaking any of them is foolhardy.

However, scale this up to an organization, and suddenly, like I promised, the ethics seem to change.  The tasks are no longer impossible; the organization is simply underresourced.  The organization simply needs a second employee to split the labor hours, a forklift to lift the 2000 pound load, and a car to take on 250 mile road trips, all paid for by the public treasury, of course.  Is FEMA as ready as it possibly could be to prevent the next disaster from becoming another Katrina?  Of course not!  They haven’t taken all your money to buy supplies with yet, have they?  Is the militarization of police forces a complex issue?  Certainly.  But underneath it all is an individual sheriff, commissioner, mayor, etc, who doesn’t want to be the guy in charge who didn’t have an MRAP when he  needed one when a Black Swan terrorist event occurred in his jurisdiction.  “No friends to the right, no enemies to the left” quickly becomes “No measure too far, no expense too great,” in the name of public safety or any other public good.

The obvious question here is, “How do we stop this?”  The reflexive answer is, “More oversight!”

V

In a bureaucracy, there is a lot of diffusion of responsibility via paperwork; it is much easier, both practically and morally, to fill out a form to do something than to do it yourself in person.  This is true from sending eviction notices to signing death warrants and anything in between.  However, ultimately, every form, every decision, every action, has someone who approves it.  Someone’s name goes on the paper.  Someone is, at least notionally, accountable.  “More oversight” ultimately means more, and more highly-paid, names on that paper.  And since the oversight, the names, and the money all seem to get us less return-on-investment than we expect, the names themselves bear some scrutiny.

Here is my callback to both Great Man Theory and the Nicomachean Ethics.  Leftists of all varieties gleefully create oversight functions because they know they have effectively destroyed the class which used to “sign the forms.”  Every additional layer of oversight is simply another opportunity for confederates to get paid from the public treasury.  And no task, from the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Terrorism, the War on War, or any other undertaking, is beyond the scope of the government’s ability to resource itself.  In short, there are few constraints, financial or otherwise, left on the system.

VI

In The Sacred Project of American Sociology, an interesting phrasing repeats in various forms, the base form of which is this: American Sociology is no longer accountable to anyone.  It has processes galore; magazines, journals, books, double-blind reviews, and so on.  However, these processes are owned, administered, and carefully steered-if not outright corrupted-by the individuals who run them.  This is systemic beyond one discipline in academia; it appears to be a trend that cuts across any institution large enough to wield power or shape opinion.

Western faith in process, “due process,” and institutions runs high.  This is a relic of an age where institutions were more integrated into daily life and the clergy and the laity were from more similar cultural backgrounds, where “the right thing to do” was commonly understood.  In short, the “guy signing the papers” had a clear mandate from the people where he could reasonably draw the line: for example, the cops need body armor, but not MRAPs.  In absence of that culture, there will be an absence of a line, and his default position will be body armor, MRAPs, and anti-tank rockets for everyone!

I suppose this is one of the chief cases for monarchy: that the character required to make balanced decisions on behalf of a nation instead of scrapping for as much bacon as possible for one’s home district requires a true aristocracy, and not the pseudo-aristocracy churned out by the captive education and credentialing institutions of the West.  We need a class raised, educated, and trained in leadership, rather than demagoguery…who are perhaps born to power, rather than a class that obtains power by promising to “take down the system” and “share the wealth,” right after the proletariat helpfully elevates them to the top of the very structure and wealth they want to tear down and distribute.  In short, we need an elite, not an elect.  Additional processes are not replacements for sound minds.

Democracy Failure Mode: Demagoguery

[By the time I had written Section IV, I had to concede most of this post summarizes, abridges, and adds on to parts of An Open  Letter to an Open Minded Progressive.  Also, it took until Section V to actually get to my thesis.]

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” – often attributed to Mark Twain

“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” – often attributed to Joseph Goebbels

I

A while ago I wrote about a moment when a friend described my research for my blog posts as “sitting in his living room.”  That wasn’t the first time I had thought about the amateur nature of my writing, and it won’t be my last.  I suspect most of my fellow bloggers are in a similar position; smart, reflective, and not credentialed in any way in the topics on which we write.

There is a logic to this; a major tenet of our discussion is that the educating and credentialing bodies of our society have been captured (to use a phrase from The Sacred Project of American Sociology) by the ideology that we claim is part of, if not the root, or even the entirety of the problem.  Put another way; it isn’t shocking that there aren’t many Protestants in the Catholic Church.

This problem leads to an interesting duality.  On one hand, a large number of dark enlightenment bloggers essentially bootstrapped themselves out of Progressive worldview and managed to find each other via the internet.  We inherit no particular intellectual or cultural tradition.  Technology and culture, subjects I have dealt with before here and here, are the gradual accumulation of tools and knowledge, and bootstrapped communities by definition have neither.

On the other hand, a smaller but still significant portion of the dark enlightenment hails from the Catholic Church; an organization with arguably the largest, most comprehensive, continuous chain of scholarship and intellectual and cultural development in existence.  While it may be argued that this effort and brainpower has been expended to justify desired theological assertions rather than discover truth from observable phenomena, it is nevertheless a huge body of knowledge, spanning almost two millennia, integral to a living culture filled with experts in a wide array of fields.

Between secular autodidacts and trained theologians, it would seem that someone should be equipped to oppose Progressivism in a meaningful form.  However, simple observation can confirm that this is false.  The question becomes, why?

II

First, to address the failure of the theologians.  This is most easily done with a biological metaphor: Progressivism is a rapidly mutating virus against which the theologians simple have no antibodies. To elucidate the metaphor…

Religions have always offered competing explanations for commonly observable facts.  This is a fight in which the theologians have considerable experience.  The Progressive “capture” of the edifices of Science changed the battleground.  Whereas the contest before was over making sense of facts, the contest now is over the facts themselves.  In a great stroke of irony, the academics now speak ex cathedra from ivory towers to the theologians themselves, wearing the mantle of Science to lend legitimacy to their claims.  The battle is now completely asymmetric and Progress nigh invulnerable: confessing the party line is a prerequisite for membership in academia, and only academics are permitted to pronounce facts.  This means the facts can only ever be expected to agree with, if not amplify, the party line.

Even if there was a “Catholic Science” to rival “Science,” it would be at a serious disadvantage.  Consider Moldbug’s line that Science is singular and universal; there is no German math and no Spanish math; math is math and that is all there is to it.  The proliferation of areas of study since the 1800s is highly suspect of indicating simple fabrication rather than discovery, and he notes that the sciences and studies which arose during this time all seemed to further the Progressive cause: mostly social, ethnic, and gender studies in one form or another.  Science in all forms and locations converges because it is directed at a coherent universe.   It is possible to arrive independently at the same conclusion, and discrepancies can be corrected through further, more careful study. “Social” science diverges because it is in large part fabricated, and independent scientists will not ever encounter these fabrications in nature; only in the instances in which they were create by other “scientists.”  The fabrications are analogous to the virus continuously mutating; changing shape before any meaningful intellectual antibodies can be developed.

So even if a Catholic Science existed, rooted in the earliest history of the Church, it is highly unlikely they would have developed anything like women’s studies or ethnics studies disciplines.  It would have no intellectual grounds from which to address the assertions of its opponents.  It would never be the initiator of debate; it would always be on the defense.  (Note: this is the exact same critique often directed at “conservative” parties of all stripes.)

III

Second, the autodidacts.  In truth, little needs to be said here.  Whereas the theologians have vast resources and tradition at their disposal, but are nonetheless ill-prepared to confront Progressive fabrications, the autodidacts are ill-prepared precisely because they have no resources or tradition.  There is a reason Neo is portrayed as going from waking up to drowning in an atrophied body in the span of seconds; there is little intellectual support available for anyone who breaks from the Progressive train of thought.  We have neither Cathedral on our side.

IV

To anyone who has read An Open Letter to Open Minded Progressives, most of this is old hat.  It is this situation, with an ideology controlling academia and its opponents unable to respond, that has led to our current environment.  “Facts” are pronounced ex cathedra, government, industry, and academia promulgate them to the population, and the population in turn believes in and acts on these “facts.”

What is striking to me is how insanely easy it is to pronounce a “fact,” and how incredibly difficult it is to deal with it.  A single study, now-retracted, linked autism to vaccines, every other study since has failed to confirm the link, yet preventable diseases are on the rise in the first world as educated, wealthy parents refuse to vaccinate their children.  The efforts of the entire medical and public health establishment have not yet undone this damage.  However, medicine is a traditional convergent science; one practitioner behaved unethically, and his deception is being corrected, albeit slowly, painfully, and with a few childrens’ deaths along the way.

Similarly, beliefs such as the 1-in-4 sexual assault figure, despite failing even to withstand even napkin math, let alone actual examinations of statistics, dominates discussion of policy, law, and culture.  Yet there is no establishment to correct this.  Gender studies, the fabrication that it is, is a divergent “science,” and no institutional mechanism exists to correct this discrepancy.  There is no organization of sexual assault experts organized to deal with academia’s handling of the issue.

Thus, by definition and default, addressing these issues falls largely on amateurs who have neither the training, resources, or time that most of them would like in order to adequately study and address the issue.  This has been my experience, as I am disappointed in my own writing for its lack of citations and evidence beyond easily obtainable observation.  However, to sit back, assess the situation, and realize that a handful of bloggers are challenging the worldview maintained largely by full-time academics, journalists, etc helps keep in perspective that we are weekend warriors competing with a professional army; results may vary, and guerilla tactics are to be expected.

V

1287 words in, what am I trying to say, and how does any of this have anything to do with democracy and demagoguery?  I suppose the point of this post is a certain type of horrorism made clear to me by recent media events.  It is composed of a few realizations centered around the business of checking facts and the time, resources, and training required to do so:

1) Lies can be generated far faster than they can be disproven.

2) Lies which match existing perceptions will quickly be accepted as facts.

3) Since most people will readily believe whatever is advantageous to them, most people will readily believe lies.

4) No amount of debunking or demands for intellectual consistency will overcome above the readiness of people to believe what they want.

5) Conservatism; defined as an attitude which forces new ideas to prove themselves with a high burden of proof, is the only defense against Progressive “mind-viruses.”  Such a system’s immune system (ie its fact-checkers) cannot be overwhelmed with nonsense.

6) Americans are by-and-large no longer conservative, and Progressivism’s capture of Science/creation of “social science” has allowed it to bypass the fact-checking of those who are.

7) Therefore, secular democracies lack any meaningful mechanism to handle the deluge of fabricated facts created by a crypto-theocratic intellectual class, and will inevitably fall to the demagoguery of that class.

Which brings us back to the perennial neoreactionary question; how to rewind without returning to the same inevitable ending to this film.

Towards a Meaningful Definition of Culture

[Still stealing SSC’s format.]

I

It is often observed that Western discourse is tangled by Orwellian Newspeak and anti-Thoughtcrime conditioning.  Sometimes authors tackle subjects by analyzing the roots of current modes of discourse and working backwards.  Other times, authors begin by analyzing basic conditions and contrasting the results of their analyses to current modes of discourse…basically asking the question, “Would we end up at our current understanding if we started from scratch?  On purpose?”

Snarky assessments and reflexive disdain for the mere word “progress” aside, any discussion which scratches at basic principles of the human condition must acknowledge that humans have progressed significantly from a state of nature.  I’ll quote myself here, because it saves me re-typing the same story and also amuses me:

1) The Material Cause of Post-Modernism.  The material cause of post-modernism is wealth.  Specifically, a society wealthy enough to easily provide a basic standard of living to all citizens even at less than full employment.  This is the inevitable result of civilization as a conserver of knowledge and culture, embodied in technology, which permits the work of few to easily support many.  (ie, cavemen couldn’t build bulldozers, but they built the things-that built the things-that built the things-that built bulldozers, and now one guy can do the work of 100’s.  Yet if the foundries and factories required to build bulldozers were forgotten or destroyed, we’d all be picking up shovels again, and there wouldn’t be enough people to continue construction at the rate currently enabled by bulldozers.) [Emphasis added this time around]

The bolded section was adequate for my purposes in that post, but today it is time to tease that apart, define its components better, and reach towards a meaningful definition of culture.

II

First, let me acknowledge upfront that the bolded section is kind of of a tautology.  Let’s deal with this definitional issue first.  Technology, defined by Dictionary.com is:

1. The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science.

2. The application of this knowledge for practical ends.

3. The terminology of an art, science, etc.; technical nomenclature.

4. A scientific or industrial process, invention, method, of the like.

5. The sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.

I said that civilization conserved knowledge in the form of technology, when technology really is the conservation/accretion of knowledge.  It is the sum of humanity’s ways of interacting with the physical world; ie it is the chain of all the things-that built the things-that built the things-that built “the material objects of our civilization.”  Such as bulldozers.  And Saturn V rockets.  And the Internet.  Having more carefully defined technology, let’s move on and apply this knowledge to something.

III

A common observation made of neoreaction, both internally and externally, is that its critiques of modern Progressivism frequently touch on the incompatibility of Progressive values with simple facts about life.  This can take the form of devaluing child-rearing, leading to a society where birthrates fall below replacement levels.  It can take the form of Gaia-worshiping environmental policies which would lead immediately to mass starvation.  It can lead to a weakened culture which is simply subsumed by a stronger culture.  The common thread is that humans are not demigods – immortal unless stricken down by a mighty blow – humans are mortals – beings whose survival requires constant expenditure of skilled effort.  This tension between Progressivism and Neoreaction was recently laid out quite well at LessWrong:

Neoreaction says, “There is objective value in the principle of “perpetuating biological and/or civilizational complexity” itself*; the best way to perpetuate biological and/or civilizational complexity is to “serve Gnon” (i.e. devote our efforts to fulfilling nature’s pre-requisites for perpetuating our biologial and/or civilizational complexity); our subjective values are spandrels manufactured by natural selection/Gnon; insofar as our subjective values motivate us to serve Gnon and thereby ensure the perpetuation of biological and/or civilizational complexity, our subjective values are useful. (For example, natural selection makes sex a subjective value by making it pleasurable, which then motivates us to perpetuate our biological complexity). But, insofar as our subjective values mislead us from serving Gnon (such as by making non-procreative sex still feel good) and jeopardize our biological/civilizational perpetuation, we must sacrifice our subjective values for the objective good of perpetuating our biological/civilizational complexity” (such as by buckling down and having procreative sex even if one would personally rather not enjoy raising kids).

To hammer this point home: the most generous possible Neoreactionary critique of Progressivism is that all of its ideals are morally laudable in a vacuum, but any society ordered according to Progressive principles is clearly doomed, either by failure to protect itself from outsiders, or failure to sustain itself in the omnipresent face of Death.

Now, back to technology.  The dictionary definition describes technology as the ways in which a group provides itself with the material objects of civilization.  Rather than starting at present day and work backwards through our “material objects of civilization,” ie the internet, and Saturn V rockets, and bulldozers, let’s do like I suggested in the intro and start from scratch.  What was the purpose of the first material objects homo sapiens provided itself with?  Basic survival!  They were hunting weapons, weapons of war, cooking utensils, clothing, and shelter.  They weren’t elegant, well engineered, or made from imported materials.  No individual group had “the best hammer known to man;” the communication to determine the best man-made hammer wasn’t even available to all living homo sapiens.  Rather, technology in its infant state was the result of homo sapiens looking around at the meager resources within eyeshot and asking “how can I use these things to meet my needs and deal with my problems?”

In a single word, technology was local.

IV

The LessWrong quote above demonstrated my point about the importance of survival to the neoreactionary worldview.  Although it is inserted in a section talking about technology, the passage itself actually talks about values.  This is our segue into discussing culture.

Like the history of technology, the history of culture can be traced both backwards and forwards.  If we start at present day and move backwards, it quickly becomes difficult to discuss the multitude of human cultures.  For instance, Thai food originated in Thailand, but one can buy “Thai” food worldwide now.  The Olympic Games are Greek in origin, but the entire world now participates in them.   One can buy home decor in Asian, European, Western, etc styles, all from stores in their own neighborhoods.  Would a present-day extra-terrestrial observer understand that rice is an “Asian” food, and that potatoes are a “European” food, although they has since been introduced to many growing regions?  Isn’t the fact that an American can go to the local Vietnamese restaurant on Monday and a steak-and-potatoes place on Tuesday sufficient grounds on which to say both foods are “American?”

To avoid this confusion, let’s do like we did with technology and try starting from the beginning.  We’ll continue on the subject of ethnic cuisine, since that appears to be most of what “culture” in America (at least as represented at events focused on culture).  Homo erectus didn’t have a supply chain placing cocoa beans, maize, potatoes, rice, and wheat at his disposal.  He didn’t even know about foods available worldwide.  He knew what he could see; he knew what was local.  His diet wasn’t a matter of choice, it was the answer to him looking around and asking, “how can I feed myself off this land?”  As knowledge of local edibles increased, the question gradually shifted to “how can I make the things I’m eating more palatable?”  Keep in mind that plant/animal husbandry hadn’t been practiced in any forms yet, so corn looked like the thing on the left, rather than the thing on the right:

Cornselection

 

We see that the roots of ethnic cuisine, a commonly recognized facet of culture, have less to do with choice and more to do with necessity.  Culture is, in many ways, identical to technology. With respect to cooking, it is the accumulation of ways in which a group provides itself with enough food to survive.

Continuing on, nearly every aspect of culture can be seen as a result of necessity.  For instance, all humans die eventually, and we have to do something with the bodies.  While there is no reason a given tribe couldn’t have treated each death differently,  groups tend to develop an accepted, scripted way to do things.  This occurs for two primary reasons.

  1. It’s easier to have one ritual.  It requires fewer props, stages, scenery, tools, etc.
  2. It is easier to be sure you are sending the correct signals during a significant emotional event when the correct signals for that significant emotional event have already been agreed upon.  And we all know how much Neoreactionary writers love talking about signalling.

I picked the subject of ancient funeral rituals deliberately because they show a remarkable variety in dealing with a universal human experience based on “what can I do with the local things around me?”  In areas with soft ground, bodies were buried.  In coastal societies, bodies were often sent to sea a la a Viking funeral.  High Plains Native Americans left bodies in elevated platforms to be eaten and scattered by birds.  Certain mountain-dwelling cultures, unable to bury their dead in rocky ground, and without wood for platforms, developed funeral rights of chopping and scattering bodies themselves.  And of course the extreme effort and ritual of Phaoronic mummification stands as a counterpoint to every single one of these methods; instead of disposing of bodies, the ancient Egyptians went out of their way to preserve them; a feat no-doubt inspired by the natural mummification of bodies left in the desert sands.

V

While “culture” today is largely a la carte from a menu of ideas with origins worldwide, it must be kept in mind that these ideas were developed locally in response to the need to do something about something, usually survival-related, given certain resources and constraints.  Specifically, these ideas were the answer to the questions, “What are we gonna do when…Old Man Johnson dies?”  “What are we gonna do when…the harvest is over?”  “What are we gonna do when…a crime is committed.”

Immediately the conflict between the origins of cultural practices and the modern world should become apparent.  Culture is a communally agreed-upon (however arbitrary) way of handling inevitable situations in life.  Our globalized and exceptionally-wealthy world provides individuals the opportunity to choose between multiple ways of handling these situations.  Referring back to our reasons for standard practices, we can see that in this situation, choices are neither 1) easy, nor 2) guaranteed to send the desired signals.

For whatever reasons, the first scenario to exemplify this problem that always comes to mind is that of parents disciplining each other’s children.  In a small community, there may be accepted standards for how we discipline our children.  Yet in present-day America, parents are often unsure and conflicted over how they should discipline their own children!  This is a factor of two causes, themselves related to one another:

  1. Exposure to multiple solutions to a universal problem has led to comparison, and selecting a given solution sends signals relating to that solution’s origin.  Is one solution “low class?”  Does choosing another solution appear too “stuck up?”  Does/how does one weigh a practice’s efficacy against the prejudices one incurs by practicing it?
  2. Progressive Universalist tendencies assure us that there is an absolute, universal, scientific answer to which culture’s more-or-less arbitrarily agreed-upon method to dealing with a universal problem is best.  Whereas people used to draw strength from the benefits obtained merely by adhering to a cultural practice, people now fret over whether they are following the best cultural practice.

VI

Summarizing all of the above; culture is a group’s accepted way of dealing with basic life events based on that group’s environment.  In our modern, wealthy, globalized world, individual cultural practices are adopted a la carte, meaning that there is no accepted way for dealing with anything.

I suspect this is a large part of why the promises of “multiculturalism” ring false to the ears of neoreactionary writers; we recognize that functioning culture entails a large degree of uniformity.  Without uniformity, “culture” is merely “a bunch of stuff people choose to do.”  This isn’t about whether or not the government issues a press release in December acknowledging Christmas AND Hanukkah AND Kwanza AND Ramadan (retroactively, whenever it fell that calendar year.)  It is about things which are mutually exclusive by nature.  It is about whether you bury or cremate deceased relatives, or the hassle and horror you will create if you attempt to leave them on raised platforms outside or chop them into pieces in the back yard.  It is about what children are taught about human sexuality, and when.  It is about dating etiquette, dinner etiquette, customs surrounding alcohol, etc.  Surely the massive amount of communication about the need to communicate in a diverse society is evidence that the all-important signalling functions of cultural practices are drown out by the background noise of a chimeric society.

[Slight digression here.  I can’t help but note that the California bill which would require demonstrable enthusiastic consent for sex only needs to exist in a sexually libertine environment where involved parties could reasonably have drastically different expectations such that the signal-to-noise ratio of coy verbal and vague non-verbal communications could result in accusations as severe as date-rape.  Progress has brought this upon itself.] 

[Bigger digression here.  I often consider Political Correctness to be a sort of electronic warfare; it establishes itself as the only acceptable signal and further jams other signals as to push them further into the background noise.  Few particularly like it, but it is the only viable channel for communication, so people use it.]

VII

To conclude, Westerners use the word “culture” to refer to practices, situations, and circumstances which can’t properly be considered cultural.  Even worse, we continue to inflict the idea of multiculturalism on ourselves, as if eating designated ethnic cuisine on designated ethnic heritage months and acknowledging various cultures’ historical accomplishments has any significant bearing on day-to-day issues such as child-rearing, relationships, appropriate professional conduct, physical fitness and appearance standards, or whether it is ok to chop up Aunt Susie in the yard when she croaks.

It is the recognition of this problem that leads me to tentatively place myself in the ethno-nationalist wing of neoreaction.  I recognize the importance of a culture uniform enough to function as a culture, and I also believe that such a culture cannot be imposed by government and formal law.  It is properly an issue for families to instill in their children and for children to carry on through careful mate selection and education of their own children.  Ideas do not live in vacuums or in the minds of immortal demigods – ideas which kill their mortal hosts without replacement are moral non-starters.  Cultures and ideas “deserve” to survive to the extent that they create strong, great families, and strong, great families “deserve” to survive to the extent they propogate the culture which created them.

Challenges of Neoreactionary Apologetics

[Previous related material: “Red Pill Rescues: Risky or Not?” which also links to good material by AnarchoPapist and Aimless Gromar.  Also, I’m shamelessly ripping off Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex’s format for this post.]

Neoreaction.  If you grok it, you grok it, the end.

If not, explaining it is a hell of a task.  Some of the challenges of expressing this have been on my mind for quite a while.

I

Neoreaction is big.  Because it is intimately related to the rest of the so-called Dark Enlightenment, it is worth showing this once again:

darkenlightenment2

Any movement which requires such a map is a cognitive beast.  It is almost impossible to explain in a linear, verbal fashion.  This leads to the next two challenges.

II

In any discussion of a contentious topic, the opposing party is always looking for weaknesses in your argument.  Good lawyers win cases by anticipating and avoiding or parrying the attacks the opposing counsel on their arguments.  When you are trying to express an idea as large as the one portrayed in the map above, the cognitive surface area presented for such attacks is massive.  Further, the target “convert” is well-versed in the defense mechanisms of the standard worldview, and has a lot of mental territory in which to hide their forces and launch their attacks.  Advocate traditional gender roles, and you’re a misogynist.  Counter with evidence of genetic/hormonal predisposition to certain behaviors, and you’re a soulless genetic determinist who is also highly suspect of being racist.  Try to discuss race in terms of clusters of genetic phenotypes and race as self-reinforcing culture based upon voluntary affinity between similar-looking people, and you become an ethnocentrist.  Is is the epistemilogical equivalent of beheading the Hydra.

III

Advocating neoreaction means presenting an entire worldview.  As such, it will be placed in a category with and compared to other worldviews.  Broadly speaking, America has two of these: liberal and conservative.  

The mere existence of the liberal world view isn’t a problem to explaining neoreaction.  Conservatism is, however, because it is very easy to lump us in together.  In large part, this is because we trigger almost all of the defense mechanisms mentioned above: even the most mild neoreactionary could quickly get himself called all sorts of names in an honest discussion in “polite company.”

IV

So it seems that the biggest challenge is differentiating neoreaction from conservatism in the mind of a person totally unacquainted with the concept.  For a moment lets dial down the discussion one level of difficult from “explain” to “identify.”

Q: How does one identify a neoreactionary discussion when one overhears such a thing?

A: The jargon.  

We know we are obscure.  Some of our most commonly used words are names of Lovecraftian horrors repurposed to symbolize concepts.  Others are inventions of obscure bloggers.  Some are words which mean different things inside our community than they do outside.  A quick survey yields:

  • Cathedral
  • Formalism
  • Neocameralism
  • Trichotomy
    • Ethno-Nationalism
    • Techno-Futurism
    • Monarchism
  • Cthulu
  • Gnon
  • Moloch
  • Multipolar Traps
  • Human Biodiversity
  • Singularity
  • Malthusian Trap
  • Sexual Market Value
  • Marriage Market Value
  • IQ Shredding
  • Ultracalvinism
  • Super-Protestantism
  • Demotism
  • Genetic Determinism
  • Blank Slatism
  • Culture (as a word with an actual meaning)
  • Jonathon Haidt’s 5 moral senses (esp. with regard to Liberal obsession with purity)

It is highly, highly unlikely that any average “conservative” would mention, think about, or even encounter any of those phrases routinely.  Neoreactionary discourse is full of them.

Now let’s ramp back up from “identify” to “explain.”  The problem we will immediately encounter is that despite the jargon being unique, most of these ideas are at least passably related to typical conservative ideas or counter-ideas:

  • Cathedral – “The Liberal Media”
  • Formalism – “Might makes right”
  • Neocameralism – No real equivalent
  • Trichotomy
    • Ethno-Nationalism – “White Supremecists.”  (Curiously, other race-based pride movements get a pass)
    • Techno-Futurism – Slash-and-burn industry vs tree-hugging naturalists
    • Monarchism – “Old Men in Power/Patriarchy”
  • Cthulu – “Moral Decay”
  • Gnon – “Work or Starve”
  • Moloch – Not sure if there is an equivalent
  • Multipolar Traps – Not sure if there is an equivalent
  • Human Biodiversity – “White Supremacy, Eurocentrism, Ethnocentrism.”
  • Singularity – “The Man,” “The (Soulless) Corporations”
  • Malthusian Trap – Not sure if there is an equivalent
  • Sexual Market Value – “Sexism/Misogyny”
  • Marriage Market Value – “Sexism/Misogyny”
  • IQ Shredding – “Country Boys vs City Slickers”
  • Ultracalvinism – “Political Correctness”
  • Super-Protestantism – “Political Correctness”
  • Demotism – “Moral Decay, Bread and Circuses, Whites Afraid of Becoming a Minority”
  • Genetic Determinism – “Racist, Sexist, Cis-Heteronomativist”
  • Blank Slatism – “Racist, Sexist, Cis-Heteronomativist”
  • Culture (as a word with an actual meaning) – “Ethno/Eurocentrist”
  • Jonathon Haidt’s 5 moral senses (esp. with regard to Liberal obsession with purity) – “Intolerant, Backwards”

To my eyes, this is a pretty damning list and a formidable challenge.  It is also well beyond any attempt to “Agree and Amplify,” because here is the best possible way that can turn out: 

Yes, we are racist, sexist, cis-heteronormative Eurocentrists, but when you combine all of them together, it’s not so bad anymore!

V

Conveniently, this was posted today, and it goes a long way towards what wanted to write about today:

Towards a Neoreactionary Aesthetic

 

When I started following neoreactionary writers and blogs a while ago (at first, unintentionally, since there was no formal label to it) I began to collect impressions — informally — of the way in which neoreaction expresses itself. While some thrived on the notion of the different parts of neoreaction as being different, I looked instead for the reason why they were somehow able to cling together.

 

This is by no means exhaustive; these concepts are emergent and I have only included those that I have become certain of due to emphasis and repetition.  1. Survival…2. Exit….3. Chaos

The post is well worth a read in its own right, and I can’t quote less than the whole thing the properly express the point I’d be trying to prove with the quote.  

Neoreaction has been called a critique of democracy.  The Dark Enlightenment is obviously the opposite of the ideas of the Enlightenment.  But what exactly does this mean?  Working backwards, we see that each is a post-hoc critique of relatively modern ideas and their results.  They identify failure modes which were widely unanticipated and/or currently broadly ignored.  These failure modes are not so much critiques of the inner workings of the ideas themselves, but rather the result of these system’s failure to properly interface with observable reality.  A creature which ignores its needs dies, and a civilization which ignores its needs likewise vanishes.  Neoreaction recognizes that while the Platonic form of democracy, equality, etc, cannot die, instances of democratic, equal people living in instances of democratic, equal civilizations can.  Hence the neoreactionary emphasis on survival, and the conservative/liberal’s total neglect of the subject.  It is not a description of a Platonic ideal nearly as much as it is a frank assessment of our living conditions.  It is concerned less with what could be or what should be, and more with what is.  Does that make it an aesthetic more than a political philosophy?  I’m not yet sure.

VI

Perhaps neoreaction is an aesthetic.  But let’s return back to the problem: how does this help us persuade anyone of our point of view?  Simply to return back to the fact that it is an aesthetic that covers almost every facet of human life?  And tell the listener that they just happen to be wrong about all of the things?  Convince them that lowering their defenses for long enough to fully absorb a new aesthetic, identical to conservatism to an outsider, is a good decision?

The fact that conservatives don’t believe in anything other than “not changing” has been beaten to death in our community.  I don’t conflate neoreaction and conservatism.  But how does one express this to those familiar to conservatism?