Archives for category: manners
From Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008), streaming on Amazon Prime.

The Case of Caitlín R. Kiernan

My problem with ‘trans’ is not primarily political, and it is not personal either — I’ve known a many people who have tried to look and act as if they were of the opposite sex, and I’ve certainly not been “offended” — as so many people are these days, by so many things.

My main concern is lying.

Here is a case in point, an author whom I’ve not read but whose work looks really interesting: Kenneth R Wright.

Oops. That was his name as a lad. According to Wikipedia . . . well, according to the online encyclopedia, author Caitlín R. Kiernan’s early life as a boy is not worth mentioning. Now he is all woman, and his past as a boy and his ontic status as a natural-born male is just not worth acknowledging:

In an encyclopedia entry, this seems deceptive; it is obviously intentional, and driven by the recent and dominant form that leftist ideology has taken.

The current position in etiquette is that a person gets to define his or her own sex: it is no one else’s business. You can see where this comes from, and I’m all for individuality, etc., etc. But etiquette isn’t about truthfulness, and a truthful people have to maintain places and contexts wherein full truths are acknowledged.

And the “trans” issue is certainly not the only domain of contest where this comes up.

Consider another tricky matter in manners: intelligence. While it would be bad manners to call attention to either the greatest excellences or greatest failures of a person in everyday encounters — it is rude to call a genius one of the genii or a mentally challenged person a “retard” — there are many contexts in which either truth must be acknowledged. One of them would be in an encyclopedia article. We can argue about where else the truth must be allowed, or required.

Same for those who try — with wildly varying degrees of success — to appear as if they be members of the sex they are not. I would likely call Ms. Kiernan by the name she wants in most everyday contexts, but I am not obliged to think of ‘her’ as a woman.

This is an extremely interesting situation, though, because it gets to the heart of our philosophical culture. It is a matter of truth. Do we live in a truthful culture, or one in which fantasy plays the dominant role?

Far be it from me to oppose fantasy. But my philosophy valorizes truth. I regard the people who fear (or for whatever other reason refrain) to state in an encyclopedia article the truth about Caitlín R. Kiernan as liars.

And where lying is culturally enforced, great crimes will be committed.

A pluralistic society would accept disagreement on the extent to which manners would protect the weak from the truth. But we do not live in a pluralistic society.

The liars I look upon with deep suspicion. Sure, they will call me names like ”trans-phobe,” and cast aspersions upon those like me who will not cave to their fairly recent innovation in manners. In a free society, both sides would accept each others’ rights to think and act differently. But the contest now is that one side (the “trans-accepting” side) demands that the other speak exactly as they wish, while the other — my side — is willing to let them make fools of themselves as they so urgently wish, but we are not willing to grant them the justice of their effrontery, to imperially enforce their etiquette of fantasy on us.

They balk at being called liars, though. You see, they have re-defined the terms, and have theories that back up their re-definitions. So call them “trans-honest.”


Jew love and Jew hate and the state of debate

“This is extremely low-IQ and evil,” tweeted historian Thomas E. Woods.

The “this” was a tweet by (@stopantisemites) featuring a picture of a sneering Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky) with “JEW HATER” festooned over it. The commentary attached says

Why is @RepThomasMassie our ‘Antisemite of the Week’? 

– Only R to vote against Iron Defense Dome funding

– Only R to vote against labeling BDS as antisemitic

– Voted AGAINST Holocaust education 

– Trivializes Holocaust with vile COVID comparisons

Tom Woods insists that “They know he isn’t an ‘anti-Semite.’ They just want to destroy him. . . .”


Because, to paraphrase Woods’ words, he won’t fund what they want him to fund.

Massie hasn’t proved himself fearful of the Israel lobby, which is indeed a powerful influence in Washington, and maybe, just maybe, he could have taken more care to explain past votes. But it’s hard not to see more innocent rationales for each offending vote.

Mostly, Massie is against 

  • excessive spending, 
  • subsidizing the rich (and Israel is rich), and 
  • against most federal education programs.
  • Etcetera.

He votes No, and often.

You could call him anti-almost-anything. But he is really, quite clearly, anti-big spending.

@RepThomasMassie, for his part, tweeted against a less odious attack — by AIPAC, which focused on Israel’s subsidized-in-the-USA “Iron Dome” defense system.

AIPAC stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Massie blundered here, big time, though: AIPAC is an American organization. In defending Massie, Glenn Greenwald put up a well-earned cringe emoji.

But being clumsy about issues that concern them is not just a Massie problem. Going to the website, I see this oddity: “Startling results show Jewish employees are not included in diversity initiatives amongst corporate giants as a whole” — about as startling as seeing Germans as generals or Indians as moteliers.

While none of this is very consequential — congressional Democrats include more than one obvious anti-Semite (first to mind? Ilhan Omar), and they breeze right past the accusations — it is indicative of the sad state of political rhetoric.


The gender debate is a tricky one. I think “gender” is mostly pseudo-science, but if you regard gender as simply “one’s identity understood in sexual signaling terms,” which is what it really means in proper usage by academic gender theorists, it has to be understood that people interpret signals differently, and the intended sign — the one you wish to “put out there” — has never automatically been accepted by others. And there’s the rub, right?

In the trans and intersectionalist movements, the signal you “put out there” is said to be the true one, and it is oppression if others do not accept it.

Well, does that even pass the smell test?

After all, as Umberto Eco pointed out so eloquently in the first few pages of A Theory of Semiotics (1974; 1976), the study of signs is ”in principle the study of everything which can be used in order to lie.”

And the trans activist part of the gender movement sure stinks of people committing a public fraud and demanding not only compliance, but praise, too.

Switch away from trans. Consider another gender rubric.

I could “display” as an Alpha Male, for instance.

And funny that gender theorists never talk about the Alpha/Beta/Gamma/etc rubric in anything but contemptuous terms), eh?

Anyway, let us say I dress up and behave as a typical Alpha.

But that would be absurd. I am obviously not an Alpha. And who says I’m not, who are these horrible oppressors? Women. If I were an Alpha, I’d have a new woman on my arm every week. That isn’t happening, so no matter how I “display,” I’m not an Alpha.

Same with a man dressed up as a woman. A man is a male adult. That’s the definition, and it is determined, after challenge, by gametes (which are binary, with no spectrum or crossover whatsoever), genitalia, chromosomal make-up, and secondary sexual characteristics.

A Gedankenexperiment

Now, as a thought experiment, a “trans woman” tries to get us to treat him as a “her,” for reasons we can leave for another time. Not treating him as a woman is oppression, etc. etc. But if some man just says he’s a woman while still looking like a man, I’ll balk. Why wouldn’t you?

What most “trans women” try to do, thanks be to the daimons in our culture, is dress and act in a feminine manner, according to the customs of the society he resides in, and alter, as much as he can, his secondary sexual characteristics, often with estrogen therapy. If he goes the full way, he will get surgery to do so, and even remove or modify his genitalia the better to pull off “the transition.” But note he cannot change his chromosomes or his gametes.

So, on a basic biological ground, he remains a man, no matter how far trans he has gone.

Of course, by custom, a man who can pass for a woman usually gets treated so, but that isn’t a matter of his/her/zher rights, it’s a matter of others’ discretion.

Bottom Line

Since the trans movement reached its most recent degree of ratchet-crazy, I’ve often said that I’m not really interested in your gender, and that I’d prefer to bestow others’ pronouns, for example, by sex.

Seems like my linguistic habits should be up to me, not you.

If you are a man, I’ll call you as such. If you are a woman, I’ll call you as such. It’s truly oppressive for you to insist on something different from me. My language is mine, and you must negotiate with me to induce me to change it; if you apply coercion (especially legal coercion), you become my enemy.

And I’m authorized to defend myself by force.

And, for the record, I will take your “gender theory” seriously when you treat seriously the Alpha/Beta/Gamma perspective. This has been talked about for years, but the gender theorists I have encountered are “oppressively” dismissive.


Great moments in “gendering”: Ludwig von Mises called Ayn Rand “The most courageous man in America.” When Rand heard this, she was gleeful.

I confess: I sometimes like to answer bizarre questions.

Why don’t white people realize that I don’t want them bothering me?

…as answered on Quora….

I am a white person. I am answering this question. Does that bother you?

If it does, it is not my fault. While one might not unreasonably infer you only want answers from P.o.C., you are not explicit, and it is more than likely that Quora itself provides a socially recognized venue constituting the one safe space in which you might interact with people you apparently dislike (“whites”) without being bothered.

So I have the temerity of answering.

Most white people in America are not very racist, and many of them are (or, until recently, were) at least trying not to be racist. Indeed, many white Americans voted for Barack Obama not merely to signal their lack of racism, but also in an earnest attempt to encourage racial peace. But that did not work out at all well (Obama having fanned the flames of racial grievances), so quite a few seem to be giving up on trying.

But look at that word, again, “bother.”

I do not want to be bothered by anyone! White, black, brown or purple. I bet you do not want to be bothered by anyone either. Being bothered is a negative condition.

I am sort of wondering why anyone would express their dislike of being bothered by limiting it to people of one race. It suggests that you are pretty darned tolerant of bothersome P.o.C, but not at all of bothersome whites.

And that is racist.

But maybe not horribly racist.

I have come to believe that racism, no matter how irrational it looks from a universalistic moral point of view, has not evolved in a singular way to play upon the social sphere of life as WHOLLY EVIL. Some forms of racism are worse than others. And maybe the most common form is best thought of in terms of “bothersomeness.” I know that I expect people to be open enough (empathic enough) to be well-mannered in most social situations; I merely assume that my presence alone will not bother them. I expect others to have my basic attitude: to be open to peaceful relations with anyone, and tolerant of social contact while we negotiate the extent of our future involvement, if any. Most of us will ignore each other most of the time. But when, in the course of the day, we do bump up against each other and find oursleves sharing a temporary social space, we expect each other to be, at worst, rejected with grace. Not in anger, hatred, revulsion.

Perhaps the most common form of racism is not expecting that attitude from other races, but only of one’s own — or, worse yet, not expecting minimal civilized courtesy and forbearance of members of one race, while assuming it of all others.

I fear that, in the last decade or so, a number of prominent political groups (far left and alt-right) have abandoned the moral goal of establishing that minimal social more. Their onslaught of airing racial grievances, I fear, is upping the levels of racial discord.

And that is more than bothersome.


Found online, an artifact of woke gender activism.

One of the peculiarities of modish (pomo) “gender” activists is that they demand to be “addressed” by their “preferred pronouns,” but seem not to understand that the pronouns they offer as preferable are not useful in directly addressing anyone — they are pronouns only fit to be used in speaking of them “behind their back,” so to speak. They are all alternatives to the he/she “gendered” pronouns, which are not used in addressing, but merely referring, to other persons.

People this clueless deserve pronouns they would definitely not prefer!

So, to clarify:

As I say on Twitter, my preferred pronouns remain “I / me / mine / myself.”

But if we are going to tolerate the proliferation of made-up pronouns, you may use these behind my back: “vi / vir / virk / virkself.”

But considering how irksome these musings may be to some, perhaps I, Timothy Virkkala, should push a set reflecting that irksomeness: “I / ir / irk / irkself.”


There are two different types of “cancel culture.”

The old one, the one we all grew up with, was the demand to fire allies and shun people in one’s own group who have strayed too far from core principles or folkways.

This is the tyranny of Mrs. Grundy. It is inherently conservative, centrist, protective of the in-group.

The newer one, which was always latent but never quite as strong as it is today, is the demand to fire or shun people not in one’s own group . . . for offending principles not of their group (whatever that may be) but of one’s own group.

It is the tyranny of Ms. Grundy.

The first kind of cancel culture is standard operating procedure for an in-group. The second type is generally considered a no-no in an open society, where it is assumed that free association and free speech limit our social power to our own groups.

What must we make of the second type, and its current dominance and association with the very term “cancel culture”?

  1. Its practitioners do not have much commitment to the idea of an open society, for their practice of out-group canceling belies that norm.
  2. The practice is hegemonic, a kind of cultural imperialism.
  3. I associated it with ultra-conservatives in my youth, an expression of their desperate attempt to retain a grasp on their culture as dominant in the greater society. They were failing, and failing badly. The very practice of out-group social controls may have led to their fall from cultural hegemony, for any group that must resort to the biggest guns to maintain position has already lost its foothold on the top of the mountain.
  4. Which suggests to me that the group most flagrantly parlaying this sort of power is on the way out of power.

Am I wrong?

Herbert Spencer had much to say on these matters. “Could we add up the trouble, the cost, the jealousies, vexations, misunderstandings, the loss of time and the loss of pleasure, which these conventions entail—could we clearly realise the extent to which we are all daily hampered by them, daily enslaved by them; we should perhaps come to the conclusion that the tyranny of Mrs. Grundy is worse than any other tyranny we suffer under.”

But that was mid-19th century.

Oh, and “Mrs. Grundy” is the old term for the centrist scold, the imperious marginalizer of non-comformists — the traditional practitioner of cancel culture. My use of the term “Ms. Grundy” not only reflects new standards, the standards of feminism and intersectionalist victimology, it also suggests (I hope) the thoroughly modern millenarianism and imperialistic nature of today’s cancel practice.

The difference is that, in Spencer’s time, Mrs. Grundy was trying to enforce an old and accepted standard upon a diversifying population, while today’s Ms. Grundy is trying to enforce a new standard upon an already diverse population, aiming to make it an ideological monoculture.

But Spencer’s hopeful and assumed progress has no instantiation among today’s progressives:

[T]he essential revolution is not the substituting of any one set of restraints for any other, but the limiting or abolishing the authority which prescribes restraints. Just as the fundamental change inaugurated by the Reformation was not a superseding of one creed by another, but an ignoring of the arbiter who before dictated creeds; just as the fundamental change which Democracy long ago commenced was not from this particular law to that, but from the despotism of one to the freedom of all,—so the parallel change yet to be wrought out in this supplementary government of which we are treating, is not the replacing of absurd usages by sensible ones, but the dethronement of that secret irresponsible power which now imposes our usages, and the assertion of the right of all individuals to choose their own usages. In rules of living, a West End clique is our Pope; and we are all papists, with but a mere sprinkling of heretics. On all who decisively rebel comes down the penalty of excommunication, with its long catalogue of disagreeable and indeed serious consequences.

The liberty of the subject asserted in our Constitution, and ever on the increase, has yet to be wrested from this subtler tyranny. The right of private judgment, which our ancestors wrung from the Church, remains to be claimed from this dictator of our habits.

Herbert Spencer, “On Manners and Fashion” (Westminster Review, April 1854).

To understand the current situation, we are witnessing an attempt to turn progress towards decline, reverse the evolutionary process that Spencer studied and usher in the dissolution his schema mentioned but which his sociology inadequately explored. The new Ms. Grundyites are reactionaries, aiming to shanghai civilization and send it back to a monoculture, by means of constant shunning, expulsion, and ideological harangue.

And much more.

Nation-building, you might say.

To take us away from Spencer’s temporal arc of evolution-equilibrium-dissolution and look at it more in terms of left and right, we could identify Mrs. Grundy as exemplary of right-wing cancel culture, while regarding Ms. Grundy as the exemplar of left-wing cancel culture . . . in that it demonstrates the strategy I have discussed before, to gather individuals and groups said to be on the outs, at the social periphery, and take up their cause as an excuse to subjugate the in-group.

It is fascinating to watch.

But not exactly pleasant, since all Grundies are insufferable.


About once a week I catch myself posting to the wrong page on Facebook, to the wrong audience.

Usually I catch before I post. Sometimes after. That is embarrassing.

This sort of lapse is unfortunate when you post for different reasons, sometimes exploring an idea that most people find threatening or “offensive,” or when engaging in some irony or japery that most won’t get, or merely out of place, as when one discusses philosophy on an animal appreciation page.

When I worked at Liberty magazine, decades ago, much of the badinage there could not take place outside the rooms of that business. And shouldn’t. And some of what was said probably shouldn’t have been said. But most sins of speech were venial sins.

None of this is about First Amendment rights to free speech. But it is about a kind of free speech, and the erosion of the idea from public culture. 

Though the current “cancel culture” that says we must terminate the employment of anyone who says things we don’t like — no matter how legal — is mostly alien to me, I guess I can see why some people fall into this. Could it be because they want not an open arena of adults “agreeing to disagree,” but safe spaces where their ideas aren’t challenged?

Right now, one half the country has become increasingly intolerant while preaching tolerance; the other half has become increasingly tolerant of intolerance, because of the intolerance of the professedly tolerant. Generally, I’m on the side of the latter, not the former, because I cannot stand Ms. Grundys, and, like John Stuart Mill, think the culture of an open society should be generally tolerant, not “repressively tolerant” as in neo-Marxist nutbar Herbert Marcuse. 

But it is apparent that now is a Marcusian moment, not a Millian one. 

I realize that, in today’s environment, I am almost unemployable in a normal job that is subject to pressure by the woke mobs. This gives me pause.

Not long ago, a woman was fired by a private company for her very non-business-related posting of the “all lives matter” slogan on her Facebook page — and the Libertarian Party presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen cited, to a C-Span audience, this sad and intrusive event as an example of businesses resisting discrimination. How deeply messed-up this is? Hilarious. Which is why I’ve been joking about this with a few friends today, making elaborate goofy arguments back and forth. But the truth, all kidding aside, is that Jo Jo doesn’t understand the current cultural climate. De-platforming, doxxing, and similar bullying events are not examples of companies being “against discrimination.” (For one thing, the lady fired was truly against discrimination by saying “all lives matter”! There are many levels of hilarity here.) It is about kowtowing to pressure groups, to intransigent minorities.

First-Amendment free speech rights cannot long last in a society where one group is given license to prescribe the speech for all.

That is the current situation.

What we are witnessing is an ideological monoculture aiming for hegemony over the open society.

I prefer multiculturalism, actually, and free association, and think I could demonstrate, if required, how cultural diversity requires a small government and a general right of free speech and free association. But those who pretend to be multiculturalist are now pushing a political monoculture and are poised to use hate speech laws (as in Europe and the British Commonwealth nation-states) to proscribe free speech.

The idea that we should, as a courtesy, target our comments to the most receptive audiences is not a problem. But that we do so out of fear is a big problem.

We truly do live in interesting times.


Be polite to polite people. Be cuttingly, bitingly polite to rude people. Avoid violent people, but be prepared for violence if avoidance is not an option.

Approach each encounter offering the best . . . but be ready for the worst. The rule, after initial encounter, is reciprocity, tit for tat. When asymmetry appears inevitable, defend, be prepared even to destroy. Anything else risks encouraging the worst behaviors.

We train strangers and even our enemies. As well as our friends. 

Some might say this is what it means ‘to be a man.’ But I am unclear how this would not apply to women.


…because ‘hindsight is….’

A few months ago we had occasion to remember an Obama Era scandal: the notorious “tan suit” brouhaha.

But why would we memorialize this idiocy? For Whataboutism’s sake.

It is probably the favorite ism of our time, Whataboutism.

It’s inane, sure, and an ugly, silly term, but it does insert a modicum of reciprocal thinking into our relentlessly partisan, cordoned-off political culture.

Yahoo News provides the story of that fateful day in late August, 2014:

In addition to being generally panned by fashion experts, Obama’s light-hued look, worn to a White House briefing, scandalized cable news pundits. Lou Dobbs called it “shocking,” while Republican congressman Peter King said it represented POTUS’s “lack of seriousness” in the wake of recent ISIS attacks.

Who are the people who were upset by this? The Yahoo story names some names, sure, but let’s break the complainers into their categories:

  1. The Professionally Upset, people who get noticed by being noticeably upset;
  2. Opposite Partisans, folks who find occasion to be vexed by anything slightly out-of-the-ordinary of the Other Side;
  3. Fashionistas, the folks who think their taste in fashion should dominate the culture;
  4. Sour Grumps, who just like complaining about every innovation;
  5. Racists, who in this case could be called Suitists.

I much prefer to judge politicians by what they do, and by the apparent content of their character. But as for a tan suit:

“Let me start off by saying that I was sorely tempted to wear a tan suit today for my last press conference, but Michelle, whose fashion sense is little better than mine, tells me that’s not appropriate in January,” he quipped while wearing a standard navy suit to his final White House briefing in January 2017.

Mark Twain and Tom Wolfe wore white suits — even out of season. Black men can wear yellow, purple, red and many another odd color and “get away with it” — that is, they can wear these colors and not look like goobers. And as for Obama’s preference, admit it: he looked great in it. When I start wearing suits again (you know, to acclimate friends for my final outfit), it will be some shade of brown.

But then, my interest in fashion is largely anthropological, not devotional. I guess I am just not that into suitist thinking.