Archives for category: Ideological currents

Had heroism and not cowardice been pushed with the pandemic, the young and healthy would have gone about their lives as usual, valiantly doing their part to develop herd immunity, while the aged and the at-risk would have sequestered themselves, or otherwise courted extreme caution.

But a culture of courage does not benefit the State.

Much better a flock of bleating ruminants — and those kept separate, against their nature, allowed to congregate only for media-approved “protests.”

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

We have long known that our politics has made our nations and states worse than they could otherwise be. 2020’s great revelation is that our politics has made us worse as individual persons.

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Modern politics and the major ideologies, including organized racism, are attempts to make up for the difficulty of managing the commons in a diverse society. 

Nationalism makes up for ethno-diversity by creating an over-arching statist culture to “identify” with, above the level of the kin, kith and ethnic group; woke multiculturalism, like politically correct socialistic agendas before it, counters with a rigid ideological monoculture the better to manage people as ever-more commons are created through socialization.

Neither old-time nationalists nor woke multiculturalists can stand alt-right ethno-nationalists because alt-righters believe — not without some realism — that even vague kinship similarities work better at beating back defection strategies by participants in a commons (which includes funds secured by taxation) than can ideology. Woke multiculturalists especially hate them because, in addition to alt-racists seeking to create a kinship-based monoculture rather than an ideological monoculture, the woke also engage in a characteristic treason strategy of bringing in outsiders to upset existing nationalistic hierarchies, and are more tolerant of anarcho-tyranny than other groups. Alt-racists prefer regular tyranny to anarcho-tyranny.

In both standard, familiar nationalism and woke multiculturalism, a doctrinal ideology is preferred to more natural methods of group solidarity. Obviously ethno-nationalism is anathema to both. It is too “natural” and not “civilized” enough — meaning not artificial . . . and thus “anti-intellectual.”

But classical liberal and libertarian strategies outdo both nationalism and multiculturalism in the doctrinal department by pushing the lateral-thinking move of reducing commons problems — and the inevitable defections (“tragedies” in Garret Hardin’s terminology) — by reducing the number and scope of resources accessed and held in common. Instead of planned against, and fought in a public programs, the Tragedy of the Commons is largely obviated under classical liberal and libertarian programs.

Nationalists understand the move, since nationalism grew out of liberalism, and nationalists are more than willing to use commons-limitation strategies to reduce the over-access problem. Nationalism is a mixed-strategy approach. 

Woke multiculturalists cannot even wrap their heads around the liberal-libertarian approach, since their mindset identifies increasing the scope of common resources as the best way to bring outsiders into the in-group, and thereby upset and re-integrate the hierarchy. (Woke folk often pretend to be against hierarchies, but that’s only a piety to encourage stupid people to join the revolution.)

On this reading, ethno-nationalism seems the most natural course for statism, the most stable course. Doctrinal nationalism, on the other hand, by engaging in ideological nation-building, prompts further ideological development — simply by mimesis, the meme of using ideology to manage the commons encourages the growth of socialism and its variants, which merely take the idea of using ideology to manage commons-access to a daring extreme.

But doctrinal nationalism has obvious advantages in international relations because of its mixed strategy. That is, it can marshal more resources to the state than can the narrower, extremist doctrines of socialism’s fake-anti-nationalism, since it destroys fewer resources. And probably encourages more production of easily-alienable wealth.

Indeed, the genius of the State in ancient times was how it encouraged the growth of easily alienable wealth. Socialists imagine wealth as communally shared and thus inalienable as such, which itself limits the utility of the State as anything other than a driver of human beings — their freedom being the easiest thing to alienate in the commonwealth.

The problem with liberalism/libertarianism is that it gives so little scope for political action that ambitious people find little reason to accept its strictures. Thus ambition alone, but mixed also with greed, would take a minimal state to the nation-state and beyond to dirigisme; add in envy to the ambition-greed mix and at least one sector of the population will almost inevitably demand full socialism.

Minarchism does not appear to be a stable solution.

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Herbert Spencer’s ten-volume Synthetic Philosophy.

What are the sociological arguments against socialism? (Not economic) I guess one of the stereotypical ones is ‘makes people lazy and unwilling to work.’ ‘Infantilises people.’ What others can you think of?

The question was asked of libertarians in a private group on Facebook. Many interesting answers were given. But I see a lot of talk but no mention of actual sociologists.

Two should immediately come to mind, for at classical liberal theory’s last gasp stands two pioneering sociologists who could very much be called libertarians: Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Both argued against the rising intellectual and political movement in their day, and both brought a lot of intelligence to the debate. I can imagine Sumner being a favorite, in part because of his more vigorous prose, but I just want to sketch Spencer’s arguments as they appear in the latter chapters of The Principles of Sociology: Part VIII, Industrial Institutions.

In the 22nd chapter, titled “Socialism,” Spencer began, ‘Some socialists, though probably not many, know that their ideal modes of associated living are akin to modes which have prevailed widely during early stages of civilization, and prevail still among many of the uncivilized, as well as among some of the civilized who have lagged behind.’ After giving a number of examples of primitive societies in then-recent history — citing the ‘aborigines of North America’ and their system’s brake on thrift and industry; the affable and easygoing ‘Croatian house-communities’ whose high rates of child mortality and lack of education (with the ‘children unkempt and neglected’) and industry still-born because of the share-out ‘sub-divisions’ of communal work but whose group orientation was spurred by the rigors of defense and warfare — Spencer concluded like this: ‘Hence the socialist theory and practice are normal in the militant type of society, and cease to be normal as fast as the society becomes predominantly industrial in its type.’

He of course admitted that a ‘state of universal brotherhood is so tempting an imagination, and the existing state of competitive strife is so full of miseries, that endeavours to escape from the last and enter into the first are quite natural — inevitable even. Prompted by consciousness of the grievous inequalities of condition around, those who suffer and those who sympathize with them, seek to found what they think an equitable social system.’ But then Spencer turned his attention to the many attempts to set up better systems, the utopian community movement — the ‘experiments in living,’ as J.S. Mill characterized them, the movement with which I started my own political inquiries over four decades ago. There he found failure after failure. Problems identified by the sources he cited include

  • too much ‘diversity’ of opinion to make coördination of labor anything like efficient
  • grumbling and frowardness
  • recognition that lack of rewards for extra work must entail general low performance
  • fights on the job, sans punishment; violent discord

Utopian communities rarely sported any kind of success. Spencer regarded it a plain fact that ‘human beings as now constituted cannot work together efficiently and harmoniously’ in the ways proposed by socialist reformers. And he noted that socialists rarely admit this obvious truth — or, ‘if by some admitted, then it is held that the mischiefs arising from defective natures may be prevented by a sufficiently powerful authority—that is, if for these separate groups one great organization centrally controlled is substituted.’

But such resort to force, Spencer argued, would not be sustainable.

He rested quite a lot on what he calls ‘the general law of species-life’ which has it ‘that during immature life benefit received must be great in proportion as worth is small, while during mature life benefit and worth must vary together.’ But ‘collectivists, socialists, and communists,’ ignore this ‘distinction between the ethics of family-life and the ethics of life outside the family. Entirely under some forms, and in chief measure under others, it proposes to extend the régime of the family to the whole community.’ Spencer here pushed a theme we encounter later in F.A. Hayek, who, incidentally, pointedly never read Spencer’s work.

‘The socialist does not ask what must happen if, generation after generation, the material well-being of the inferior is raised at the cost of lowering that of the superior. Even when it is pointed out, he refuses to see that if the superior, persistently burdened by the inferior, are hindered in rearing their own better offspring, that the offspring of the inferior may be as efficiently cared for, a gradual deterioration of the race must follow. The hope of curing present evils so fills his consciousness that it cannot take in the thought of the still greater future evils his proposed system would produce.’

Spencer went on to argue that ‘people who, in their corporate capacity, abolish the natural relation between merits and benefits, will presently be abolished themselves. Either they will have to go through the miseries of a slow decay, consequent on the increase of those unfit for the business of life, or they will be overrun by some people who have not pursued the foolish policy of fostering the worst at the expense of the best.’

We see that today, even in our own semi-socialist Euro-American context. I just finished reading Edward Dutton’s book Why Islam Makes You Stupid … But Also Means You’ll Conquer the World, and his careful speculations add to Spencer’s sociological argument. Dutton follows Spencer, by the way, in advancing a kind of theory that is a no-no among academic neo-Darwinists: group selection theory.

Calling the ‘doctrine of the socialists … psychologically absurd,’ Spencer argued that it ‘implies an impossible mental structure.’

The socialist society ‘must be composed of men having sympathies so strong that those who, by their greater powers, achieve greater benefits, willingly surrender the excess to others.’ Spencer queried the nature of this altruism: ‘The intensity of fellow feeling is to be such as to cause life-long self-sacrifice.’ But what of the beneficiaries? What must be the attitudes of those be? They gain at their betters’ expense. How can they share the same moral attitudes, then, under such circumstances?

Spencer calls this ‘contradictory,’ and the ‘implied mental constitution … an impossible one.’

Then the rubber really sticks to the pavement ‘when we recognize a further factor in the problem — love of offspring. Within the family parental affection joins sympathy in prompting self-sacrifice, and makes it easy, and indeed pleasurable, to surrender to others a large part of the products of labour. But such surrender made to those within the family-group is at variance with a like surrender made to those outside the family-group.’

You see what is coming, though, don’t you? A ready and old communist solution: ‘Parental relations are to be superseded, and children are to be taken care of by the State. The method of Nature is to be replaced by a better method.’ Spencer was obviously not impressed with this, and related it to the aforementioned ‘general law of species-life’: just as ‘socialists would suspend the natural relation between effort and benefit, so would they suspend the natural relation between the instinctive actions of parents and the welfare of progeny. The two great laws in the absence of either of which organic evolution would have been impossible, are both to be repealed!’

So you see that Spencer is — in addition to be a structuralist, functionalist, and a general systems theorist (see Jonathan Turner’s terrific little book on Spencer’s sociology) — an evolutionist. He has thus been attacked as a dread ‘Social Darwinist,’ but see that he is not talking about letting people starve. He was a forerunner to sociobiology, and the likes of that “Jolly Heretic,” Edward Dutton, whose works are certainly thought-provoking.

Now, Spencer readily conceded that something like socialist arrangements might work in some simple societies. ‘It would not be altogether irrational to expect that some of the peaceful Indian hill-tribes, who display the virtue of forgiveness without professing it, or those Papuan Islanders among whom the man chosen as chief uses his property to help poorer men out of their difficulties, might live harmoniously under socialistic arrangements; but can we reasonably expect this of men who, pretending to believe that they should love their neighbours as themselves, here rob their fellows and there shoot them, while hoping to slay wholesale men of other blood?’ Spencer thought that character is an important aspect of social evolution, and that character changes according to circumstance. Most importantly, above the tribal level, and that of chiefdoms, the militant mindset predominates before we ever really get to the industrial mindset, and that the attitudes of militancy that might spur some to dream the socialist dream themselves militate against such a dream.

Now, what is really ‘at issue between socialists and anti-socialists … concerns the mode of regulating labour.’ Earlier in his big book he ‘illustrated in detail the truth, emphasized at the outset, that political, ecclesiastical, and industrial regulations simultaneously decrease in coerciveness as we ascend from lower to higher types of societies: the modern industrial system being one under which coerciveness approaches a minimum. Though now the worker is often mercilessly coerced by circumstances, and has nothing before him but hard terms, yet he is not coerced by a master into acceptance of these terms.’ That is, the general condition of hardship remains from difficult, pre-capitalist times, specific terms of hardship are not, in a mostly free society, themselves coerced.

This is, of course, a distinction modern leftists refuse to acknowledge.

Spencer saw a parallax view problem, here: ‘while the evils which resulted from the old modes of regulating labour, not experienced by present or recent generations, have been forgotten, the evils accompanying the new mode are keenly felt, and have aroused the desire for a mode which is in reality a modified form of the old mode. There is to be a re-institution of status not under individual masters but under the community as master.’

Spencer also insisted that a ‘complete parallelism exists between such a social structure and the structure of an army. It is simply a civil regimentation parallel to the military regimentation; and it establishes an industrial subordination parallel to the military subordination. In either case the rule is — Do your task and take your rations. In the working organization as in the fighting organization, obedience is requisite for maintenance of order, as well as for efficiency, and must be enforced with whatever rigour is found needful.’

So, the socialists’ perennial recourse to force upon the failure of their schemes entails quite a lots of regimentation. And with regimentation ‘must arise a new aristocracy for the support of which the masses would toil; and which, being consolidated, would wield a power far beyond that of any past aristocracy.’

But that specter of what was later called totalitarianism, along with its necessary inequalities, does not faze socialists. ‘Just as the zealous adherent of a religious creed, met by some fatal objection, feels certain that though he does not see the answer yet a good answer is to be found,’ Spencer explained, ‘or just as the lover to whom defects of his mistress are pointed out, cannot be made calmly to consider what will result from them in married life; so the socialist, in love with his scheme, will not entertain adverse criticisms, or gives no weight to them if he does.’

The dream must go on for the besotted. ‘He will continue to hope that selfish men may be so manipulated that they will behave unselfishly — that the effects of goodness may be had without the goodness. He has unwavering faith in a social alchemy which out of ignoble natures will get noble actions.’

In the next chapter, Spencer turned to the problem of individual ownership … self-ownership … the individual’s ownership of himself (or herself). But Spencer is a sociologist here, not a radical libertarian, and his point is to explore such issues to understand the ebb and flow of social change.

‘There is small objection to coercion if all are equally coerced; and hence the tendency to regimentation reappears in one or other form continually.’ Equality thus can breed not only liberty, but illiberal suppression, as well. This is a key observation, and helps us understand not only tyrannical systems but liberated ones. ‘Along with increases in that direct State-ownership of the individual which is implied by use of him as a soldier,’ Spencer explained, carrying the thought over to ‘observe the increase in that indirect State-ownership which is implied by multiplication of dictations and restraints, and by growth of general and local taxation.’ 

In the late 19th century, when Spencer was writing these final chapters to the final segment of his magnum opus, France and Germany were militarizing heavily. This led, a decade after Spencer’s demise, to a continental war, the First World War. And ‘with extensive ownership of the individual by the State in military and civil organizations, there has widely coexisted advocacy of that ownership by the State to which socialism gives another shape,’ Spencer recognized. But in his somewhat more liberal England, ‘with approximation to the continental type in the one respect, there has gone a growing acceptance of the continental conception in the other respect.’

What began as a middle-class Fabian movement grew enormously. 

It is worth mentioning, though, that during this same period the ranks of self-identified ‘individualists’ also grew, according to Wordsworth Donisthorpe in Law in a Free State, published within the year of the edition of Principles of Sociology that sits by my side. Apparently the fin de siècle was a time, like now, of ideological polarization. And the result was war, from which the individualists did not recover, but the statists did, in several forms: fascism, social democracy, progressivism, and socialism.

But that was a few decades later. Towards the end of Spencer’s life, socialists were urging the ‘ultimate absorption of all kinds of fixed property’  and advocating general strikes ‘against rents as an immediate method of procedure’ as well as showing ‘an absolute disregard of all existing contracts, and, by implication, a proposed abolition of contract for the future’ — all of which Spencer saw as a ‘return to the old system of status under a new form.’

Like Hayek after him, Spencer regarded socialism as atavistic.

‘For in the absence of that voluntary cooperation which contract implies,’ Spencer explained, ‘there is no possible alternative but compulsory cooperation. Self-ownership entirely disappears and ownership by others universally replaces it.’

And the political incentives towards this end sound eerily similar to today’s partisan/bipartisan lurch towards ever-bigger government. ‘Naturally the member of parliament who submits to coercion by his party, contemplates legal coercions of others without repugnance. . . [B]eing the creature of his party and the creature of his constituents, he does not hesitate in making each citizen the creature of the community.’

And socialists, in this kind of environment, have a field day, gaining converts. I mean, the promises! But, as Spencer observed, the new convert ‘is not told that if he is to be fed he must also be driven.’

Spencer did not predict revolution, though, despite how often it was advocated: ‘A sudden substitution of the régime proposed for the régime which exists, as intended by bearers of the red flag, seems less likely than a progressive metamorphosis.’

But the end-game seemed obvious: ‘a state in which no man can do what he likes but every man must do what he is told.’

Spencer lets bitterness creep into his treatise: ‘An entire loss of freedom will thus be the fate of those who do not deserve the freedom they possess.’

But how long would the new, collectivist social state last? Spencer did not predict. But he did guess, in his last chapter, how the new socialist order might end. Such orders end, sometimes, with a ‘sudden bursting of bonds which have become intolerable may in some cases happen: bringing on a military despotism. In other cases practical extinction may follow a gradual decay, arising from abolition of the normal relation between merit and benefit, by which alone the vigour of a race can be maintained. And in yet further cases may come conquest by peoples who have not been emasculated by fostering their feebles — peoples before whom the socialistic organization will go down like a house of cards, as did that of the ancient Peruvians before a handful of Spaniards.’

Now, Spencer is often castigated as an advocate of necessary unilinear progress, yet he was, at the end of his sociological work, explaining ‘retrogression.’ 

He tried to paint in landscape, not minute portraiture: ‘if the process of evolution which, unceasing throughout past time, has brought life to its present height, continues throughout the future, as we cannot but anticipate, then, amid all the rhythmical changes in each society, amid all the lives and deaths of nations, amid all the supplantings of race by race, there will go on that adaptation of human nature to the social state which began when savages first gathered together into hordes for mutual defence—an adaptation finally complete.’ He understood that his basic perspective is, to most people, ‘a wild imagination.’ But evolution was not the whole of his Synthetic Philosophy, not the whole of his famous schema, for he insisted that the ‘cosmic process brings about retrogression as well as progression, where the conditions favour it.’ Contra his critics, he asserted an obvious point: ‘Evolution does not imply a latent tendency to improve, everywhere in operation. There is no uniform ascent from lower to higher, but only an occasional production of a form which, in virtue of greater fitness for more complex conditions, becomes capable of a longer life of a more varied kind.’

But he did insist that there are indeed higher forms that can be distinguished from lower forms, the higher ones corresponding to ‘greater fitness for more complex conditions.’

And socialism is not that highest form.

Liberty is.

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The recent online “convention” of the Democratic Party was the event to miss last week.

According to some observers, it was worse than a mere train wreck: it was a racist train wreck.

Racism was the main theme. Only nominee Joe Biden made a pitch for inclusion and bringing Americans together. Everyone else harped on how racist America is.

And what those speakers really mean is how racist non-Democratic white people are. “The Democrats have become such a virulently racist party that skin color is the only thing they run on,” David Marcus summarized at The Federalist. “It’s disgusting, it’s horrible, and it is tearing this country apart.” 

But Dilbert creator Scott Adams didn’t harp on Michelle Obama’s speech, or her husband’s, or Bill Clinton’s, or his wife’s — Mr. Adams attacked candidate Biden. Directly.

You see, Biden said he had decided to run in the wake of the Charlottesville debacle of 2016, when Trump said there were “good people on both sides.”

Adams takes this personally, for Adams was one of the first to show that the charge that Trump had defended the neo-Nazis at the march as “good people” was, in Adams’s words, “fake news.” Trump had said, seconds from his original “good people” utterance, that he was not referring to the neo-Nazis as good people. He was referring to some of the people at the protest who defended the statuary that was the main bone of contention at the event.

“If the Democratic Party plans to run,” Mr. Marcus predicted, “on the cynically baseless charges that America is a horrible nation made up of mostly horrible people, they will lose.” 

He may be right. It doesn’t exactly pay to insult voters whom you must entice.

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During the Reagan presidency, Congress seems to have become fundamentally more divided than it was in the past and has remained that way since. What factors caused/may have caused this?

…as answered on Quora….

A political scientist who has studied the actual complexion of the two chambers might give us some fascinating perspectives. But I, who have not studied the data carefully, but merely lived through the period in question, will make a few guesses.

One is that the central government of the federal union grew progressively nationalistic over time, with the executive branch and the judicial branch growing in power, and the scope of their purview widening considerably. And because the general government took on more and more tasks, Congress just could not keep up with the demands to ‘regulate the regulators,’ so Congress off-loaded many legislative functions to the other two branches. The executive branch naturally tends to grow, considering the nature of centralized power, and in America, with a written Constitution, the power of judges to ‘legislate from the bench’ was always possible, and increasingly instantiated. So the process now appears inevitable.

Further, as the centralization process continued, regional differences became less important. So the two parties, having become dominant in part as a result of the electoral methods Condorcet wrote about centuries earlier, had to compete on something other than regional grounds. This meant that they became more ideological. Whereas in the first half of the century the two parties each supported a progressive and conservative wing, on those two grounds the parties increasingly sorted themselves out.

And, with the ideological divide now falling on party lines, compromise became more difficult.

And as compromise became more difficult, rancor grew.

But something else was in evidence: massive failure. The 1960s were violent and costly, and in the 1970s the economic situation became chaotic. And the politicians had little clue of what to do about it.

Further, a great deal of dishonesty and cluelessness grew at a fundamental level, and ideological blinders became a huge aspect of normal politics. This was true in both parties, but I will give an obscure example regarding the Democrats: Ted Kennedy orchestrated a deregulation of the petroleum industry, and Jimmy Carter signed it into law. But Carter and Kennedy were fearful of their own program. They talked endlessly about ‘windfall profits’ in the petroleum industry, which is what one would expect, initially, upon deregulation. But these profits were important to the whole market process, for correcting the widespread misallocation of resources that had plagued the 1970s’ gasoline shortages, caused largely by regulations and setting markets up for exploitation by OPEC. But Carter and Kennedy talked endlessly and sententiously about taxing the profits out of existence — which hampered recovery — and insisted on slow deregulation. And Carter, in his famous ‘malaise speech,’ did not even mention the ongoing deregulation, but talked up government subsidies to alternative energy instead. This ceded to the Republicans the glamor of market reforms (on taking office Reagan made the deregulation immediate) and left to the Democrats the fantasies of central planning. Basically, this sealed the fate of the direction of the two parties, making their differences more ideological yet.

But I am not speaking of the elephant in the room: rogue Deep State action and its influence on partisan politics.

It was Mark Felt, Associate Director of the FBI, in his role as Deepthroat in the Watergate scandal, who took down Richard M. Nixon. This shocked Republicans, considering that corruption and illegality in the White House was s.o.p. during the Johnson administration. While the electorate was shocked by Nixon’s corruption, it was indeed nothing compared to what had gone on before — the assassination of JFK itself was likely an inside job, too. Resentments like this have deep effects. But Republicans also played the corruption game: Nixon got into office by a treasonous interference in the Vietnam peace talks, and Reagan/Bush pushed around Congress with the Iran/Contra biz. Each side increasingly engaged in vendetta politics, ramping up discord in the increasingly divided Congress.

But that FBI intervention into political life with Watergate was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg — make that ice sheet. The Church investigations into the CIA had shown a rogue element that demonstrated Eisenhower’s prophecy of the dangers of ‘the military-industrial complex.’ Then a former director of the CIA became Vice President — George Herbert Walker Bush — and the level of imperial corruption grew by orders of magnitude. This was not lost on Congress, which became increasingly sclerotic and corrupt itself.

The full measure of the bipartisan craziness can be seen in insane budgeting practices: deficits and debt. This is driving the whole country crazy, though not on the surface. Indeed, repression of these issues may be the cause of much anxiety that cannot be assuaged. Add to that the ratcheting up of the power of the national security state, and . . . well, it is amazing we are not in the dustbin of history already.

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Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Addendum:

A key to ideological polarization: your side (whatever side that is) lies or evades a major truth, indeed, concocts a lie; the esoteric effect is to solidify behind the lie; but the exoteric effect is that many others, outside your group, see the lie or the evasion and then leap to the opposite of your position.

Now, this would not be so bad if everything you said were wrong. But what if you be half-right? Well, you encourage the extreme of the reaction against your position, which would be to reject the good in your position as well as the bad.

Application:

With our media controlled/influenced to an astounding extent by CIA/Deep State measures (Operation Mockingbird and successor programs, but not exclusively), and with disinformation and propagandistic spin being an integral part of almost every news presentation, when people find this out, when they begin to see that they are indeed being lied to and quite thoroughly, there is a not surprising tendency for them to leap to an extreme anti-grand-narrative narrative.

Thus QAnon is born.

Assuming Q were nuts. But even if Q be true and not nuts (and I have no evidence to falsify its major claims, and I doubt if you do either), its attraction to many is that it is a grand narrative running completely counter to the media-disinformation complex.

The major corporate media news purveyors created, perhaps inadvertently, QAnon.

The concluding pages of Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability (Rabushka and Shepsle, 1972) are interesting, and shed much light on recent American history. 

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 217.

The reasons for the instability of democracy in what we today call “multicultural” societies is pretty obvious from even the most basic economic point of view:

  1. A set of wealth transfer programs expresses a basic set of values, but every culture and ethnicity has a different complexion of values (so do individuals, of course, which makes any forced wealth transfer scheme unstable even in a monoculture, but this problem is ramped up another notch in the plural society). When we force different groups to conform to a patterned set of wealth transfers and other ‘public goods,’ we compel folks to compromise on their values, with some people getting programs more in accord with their values than others. This breeds resentment and conflict and even violence.
  2. Disparate values also disenable cultural checks on the Tragedy of the Commons. If we see the public goods that a State attempts to provide as a commons, then the communal checks on abusing the common resource work less well when there are separate ethnic and other cultural communities. As a good Swede you may feel some compunction about mooching off the taxpayers, but add Finns and Muslim immigrants to the mix, and that moral check on over-use and over-access — the ‘over’ leading to instability, to draining the resource — may turn to a beggar-thy-neighbor approach, as separate groups aim to game the system by abuse. Further, in a democracy where the people set policy to some degree, there develops a beggar-thy-neighbor approach to rig the system in favor of each group at the expense of others. This of course leads to outrageous taxation and financial work-arounds, like central bank credit manipulation.
  3. Our naturally limited empathy becomes even more limited when we deal with different and hard-to-understand out-groups, and forcing us into collective solutions across cultural divides actually makes for more friction not less because of over-stressed empathy.

So, what to do? The authors’ final three options for culturally pluralistic societies are (a) reduced levels of public goods provision, leaving such goods to markets (laissez faire) [and non-political community action], (b) nation-building to create homogenous ethnic societies, and (c) finding enemies to fight against, thus uniting the populace by forcing in-group solidarity among disparate elements via upping the general fear level, finding commonality because of “existential threats.”

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 216.

People generally do not want laissez faire because it means they have to provide value for value, and government constantly tempts them to seek benefits at others’ expense. This is why we have welfare states, for wealth transfer systems promise magical solutions and allow folks to channel their greed in socially acceptable ways, farding it up as “social justice.”

Nation-building to achieve ethnic unity requires either genocide or partitioning down to possibly really low levels. The former is of course horrible and the latter has the same problem that laissez faire has: it removes temptation to gain at others’ expense. People demand to yield to temptation.

But there is more!

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 217.

Finding enemies to fight has been of course the dominant route for America for the past century, and the success of World War II has stuck the country in the mythology of a unifying righteous war, with everybody still hating on the Nazis, despite no obvious widespread Nazi sympathies, for instance. But since WWII, however, the plausibility of constant warfare has become shakier and shakier, while attempts to focus on causes like “global warming” are marred by the transparency of the political interest, the obvious problem of the science being dubious, and the disturbing spectacle of lying scientists and lunatic religiosity among the political pushers. An extraterrestrial threat — either from comets and asteroids, on the one hand, or UFOs on the other — are apparently being worked on now in the Deep State. But in a global society all these options are difficult to achieve because they depend on creating a consensus where consensus is not rationally warranted. Hence the continual disinformation and psy-ops. Which can be seen in the recent pandemic menace. And all this helps explain why we have a warfare-welfare state in America, not just a welfare state.

If you cannot obtain stability in a large population via normal democratic methods, then we see attempts to use anti-democratic means, such as orchestrated protests and riots, all-or-nothing political machinations, the increase in Executive discretion, cultural totalitarianism (p.c.), policy making by judges, and the very existence of an administrative state and its secretive operations (Deep State).

Localizing democracy and promoting federalism in a general context of laissez faire is, to me, the most obviously humane solution. But people are greedy and angry and resentful, as well as well-programmed by deeply partisan and increasingly anti-educational schooling, so such options find few adherents. It is a pity that this “easy way out” comes at great enough cost that few people see any advance in such a “minimax.”

Of course, Rabushka and Shepsle wrote 50 years ago, and their insights did not win the day. What seems to be winning is a very different program: “multiculturalism.”

Today’s much-touted multiculturalism, as I see it, isn’t what it says it is, i.e., for multiple cultures co-existing. Instead, it is a political movement that uses a set of out-group cultures as an excuse to revolutionize the State and inflict an ideological monoculture, using techniques familiar from limited access societies of the distant past, and from more recent totalitarian states. 

A workable multiculturalism worthy of the name would decrease (not constantly increase) the general level of legal obligations and the amount of public goods provided, not requiring disparate individuals and groups to share resources with people of different values. The rule would be toleration, not compulsory “acceptance” and marginalization of all who resist.

This is very basic stuff. I did not need to read Rabushka and Shepsle to have a handle on it. Indeed, a number of years ago I wrote an essay on “The Comedy of the Commons,” and floated it by a few friends. It covered most of this. Or, I think it did. I cannot now find it!

The upshot of all this is not hard to understand. I have no problem with multiple churches in my neighborhood, or a vibrant pop music scene featuring music I’ve no interest in, or a variety of family structures, from nuclear families, single-parent families, clans, and chain marriages. The idea is I don’t have to contribute to your cause, and you don’t have to contribute to mine. That would be true, tolerant multiculturalism.

The doctrine that currently goes by the name, however, is a changeling creature designed to destroy diversity in the name of diversity.

Indeed, it is no shock to witness a de-stabilizing ideology leap to deeply anti-social attitudes: street violence on the one hand, and ingratitude to benefactors (the rich, who pay the bulk of the taxes) on the other.

To witness post-modernist multiculturalists embrace policies that are obviously de-stabilizing suggests not only that some deep quasi-religious, even chthonian impulse is in play — a societal death wish? — but also that the Rabushka-Shepsle treatise needs more attention from today’s sociologists, social psychologists, historians and Public Choice economists.

twv

The Nature of Leftist Hate

The greatest irony of modern leftism is its Inclusion Paradox.

Like the Tolerance Paradox, which deals with that intellectual muddle of “can we tolerate intolerance?,” the Inclusion Paradox shows an antinomy in praxis: In the cause of Universal Inclusion, opponents MUST BE EXCLUDED.

And with disdain, anger, marginalization, and even violence.

Now, this inclusion/exclusion idea was not what the older variants of the Left obsessed about, at least not explicitly. When I was young, there were still communists who believed that a total state and “democratic control of the means of production” would lead to a material and spiritual utopia, to wealth and happiness untold. Almost no one believes that now. History shows what happens when it is attempted, economics explains why it cannot work. So, what to do? Give up.

Yes, leftists have mostly given up on the superiority of complete State control of production and distribution — at least, they rarely lead with such concerns, and they try not to think about all that very much. It is so embarrassing for them, and they would have to actually learn some economics and deal with really smart people who look at issues more dispassionately than they are able to. Actual social scientists. Instead of retreading ground that is stained with the blood of millions — hundreds of millions of the victims of Historical Socialism — modern leftists have embraced the hidden entelechy that always undergirded the Left of the spectrum, and brought it to the surface, applying it to classes of people figured according to racial, cultural and sexual criteria, not economic.

If we take the approach of Dr. Jordan Peterson and philosopher Stephen Hicks and many others, we would interpret this development as a sort of logical outcome of the failure of Marxism and the persistence of Marxists. Specifically, the development via Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, and Critical Theory of a new approach to class.

Karl Marx had taken the class analysis of liberal industrielisme, which tracked class exploitation in the form of State redistribution of resources (the diversion of resources away from those who served consumer preferences and towards “rent seeking” special interests), and applied it bizarrely (and incoherently) to the market itself, without extraneous criminal or statist expropriation. The idea was actually older than Marx — Proudhon argued it in Systems of Economical Contradictions — but Marx put his stamp upon it. “Capitalists” hired “workers” to produce commodities for consumers, but they took a cut, and somehow this cut was robbery — as if capital itself (previously saved wealth) should have no return when invested. The class exploitation was of the workers (proletarians) by the capitalists (owners of capital and entrepreneurs and managers).

Well, this makes sense if you are not very bright or do not think very hard. But it is a ridiculous theory, a strained misuse of exploitation theory. And it depended upon a now-proven incorrect theory of value, the Labor Theory of Value. Well, by the 1890s, just as socialists were gaining power in governments, the LTV and the exploitation theory had been thoroughly destroyed by Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk (Karl Marx and the Close of His System and Capital and Interest are the classic works) and all the Marxists and Social Democrats had left was utopianism and class solidarity/class hatred. Then came the Soviet Union and Mao’s China and millions of corpses and dire poverty and tyranny and mass suspicion and cultural degradation and . . . what was a Marxist to do?

They invented Cultural Marxism. While Marx had formalized the idea that class-based ideas serve only their respective classes – ideologies were “superstructures” that served their class foundations — the later theorists ran with the idea that the classes that matter were based on race, culture, and sexuality, not productivity. It was the very idea of “identity” that matters! A never-ending supply of victim-groups to justify revolution and tyranny and all those old socialist “solutions”!

And here we are, in the postmodern age.

But we must add something to the critique of postmodernism. Marx had formalized the idea that class-based ideas served only their respective classes, sure. But there is an added element. Because “capitalist ideology” serve ONLY capitalists, and “proletarian ideology” serves ONLY proletarians, ideas are thus dismissible on class rather than truth grounds.

This is momentous. And pernicious. It basically justifies the argumentum ad hominem, the logical fallacy/debate technique that attacks the idea referencing the badness of a holder of an idea and not the ideas themselves. It is a recipe for hatred and social division and discord.

Modern cultural Marxists are definitely carrying on that tradition. They just swap classes from economic to racial, sexual and the like. And periodically invent new ones.

C.S. Lewis called this gambit “Bulverism.” Oddly, Wikipedia relates the procedure not to the ad hominem but to “Antony Flew’s ‘subject/motive shift,’” the appeal to motive, circular reasoning, and the genetic fallacy. But what I see most obviously is the ad hominem, though now applied broadly.

Lewis introduced the concept in his usual charming way:

It is a disastrous discovery, as Emerson says somewhere, that we exist. I mean, it is disastrous when instead of merely attending to a rose we are forced to think of ourselves looking at the rose, with a certain type of mind and a certain type of eyes. It is disastrous because, if you are not very careful, the color of the rose gets attributed to our optic nerves and its scent to our noses, and in the end there is no rose left. The professional philosophers have been bothered about this universal black-out for over two hundred years, and the world has not much listened to them. But the same disaster is now occurring on a level we can all understand.

We have recently “discovered that we exist” in two new senses. The Freudians have discovered that we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class. In the old days it was supposed that if a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact. Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source. And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire. Their thoughts are “ideologically tainted” at the source.

Lewis goes on, though, trying to make the distinction between logical validity and empirical facticity, on the one hand, and the wrongness of a person because of their conceived identity . . . and explains his coinage:

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.

In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — “Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

And Wikipedia addresses the real problem at base:

The special threat of this fallacy lies in that it applies equally to the person who errs as to that person’s opponent. Taken to its logical consequence, it implies that all arguments are unreliable and hence undermines all rational thought. Lewis says, “Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reason itself is discredited.”

And with reason out of the way, and people attacking each other because their ideas stand and fall based on their identity or group affiliation, hatred naturally flows. Because, if you are told you are wrong because “you are a fucking white male!” what defense do you have? I mean, if you are a white male, you cannot prove yourself right by saying you are not a white male. And the charge itself looks a lot like the simple hatred of white males.

Turnabout being fair play, why would not the white males hate their accusers merely because they are not white and not male?

Hence the present ideological moment. And possible civilizational crisis.

All this does not mean one must never criticize people because of their characteristic errors. It only means one must not assume the error and then relentlessly treat all logic as subservient to an assumed group interest.

Where This All Comes From

Marxism formalized the idea that class-based ideas serve only their serviced class and are thus dismissible on class rather than truth grounds.

Modern cultural Marxists carry on that tradition. They just swap classes, invent new ones.

Mises called this gambit polylogism. C.S. Lewis called it “Bulverism.”

Intersectionality is the fasces with which postmoderns attack everybody else. They think of themselves as anti-fascists because of their Marxist heritage, but though they try to force us to use “their pronouns,” they are losing the ability to bludgeon us into submission even to use their nouns and adjectives.

So there may be hope. The lunacy of leftist style and method has reached its peak, and may now be so hysterical in part because the left finally sees double-pronged push-back: intellectual and popular. The revolt against Progressivism has begun.

twv

N.B. This essay was written a year or two ago, but never quite finished, lingering in my drafts folder. In the spirit of house-cleaning, I publish it now. The Venn Diagram atop was made about the same time, but was not tailor-made to illustrate this specific argument — not wholly irrelevant, it adorns this essay for whimsy’s sake. [August 15, 2020]

Why do some conservatives try to claim that Nazis are left wing?

…as answered on Quora….

There are many good answers to this question and many poor answers. The good ones recognize that “left” and “right” are contentious, ambiguous, or context-dependent concepts. The poor ones do not.

I basically agree with David Friedman and, of all people, someone calling herself “Hannah Hitler.” Unless Ms. Hitler is engaging in some bizarre brinksmanship with her moniker, I am confident in asserting that David and Hannah share little in normative politics. Yet they do share a more complex view of the world than those progressives who relentlessly churn out puerile invective against conservatives — as a few of the answerers do.

Interestingly, neither David nor Hannah are conservative — the former I know to be a libertarian and the latter I assume to be a neo-Nazi. I am not a conservative, either, but I am sympathetic enough with conservatives to understand the “Nazis are left wing” charge. I am not a progressive, either, but I am sympathetic enough with progressives to understand the “Nazis are right wing” charge. Both are right, both are wrong. If conservatives or progressives balk at this judgment, they must do so out of some belief in the narrow precision of the terms “left” and “right.” The belief is unwarranted, though, as others have argued. And yet that belief remains dominant in American politics, especially amongst progressives. Which is why progressives are making of themselves fools and laughing stocks and worse right now: by refusing to recognize the intellectual complexity of the political landscape. It is all relentlessly Good vs. Evil these days.

Calling conservatives “brownshirts” — as one answerer has done — is a grand example of invidious imputation. Conservatives in America are light years apart from fascists and Nazis . . . at least to the extent they uphold the Constitution of the United States, a deeply anti-totalitarian document. Progressives, on the other hand, have more in common with brownshirt and blackshirt violence — at least to the extent they balk at supporting the ConstitutionOh, and also to the extent they defend antifa and BAMN and other street thuggery, for that is just flirtation with the very kind of activity they excoriate in others.

This is where everything gets very uncomfortable. Progressives took up the mantle of “liberalism” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But they changed liberal preoccupations in the process, I think for the worse. Early Progressives were opponents of the Constitution, quite explicitly: they hated liberal limits to government. And today’s progressives follow suit, even abandoning free speech and other old liberal checks on power in their mad desire to control speech they do not like (“hate speech”) as well as to regulate the democratic process by prohibiting the expenditure of money by groups they do not like. The recent New York Times paean to Justice Kagan’s “weaponizing the First Amendment” comment is a fine example of contemporary progressive cluelessness.

Of course, it is not as if conservatives do not suffer from their own brands of dunderheaded cluelessness. This is the Age of Trump, after all. But so far the hysterical denunciations of Trump as “literally Hitler” haven’t panned out. Trump is nothing like Hitler. He is the Mule. Something unique. I wouldn’t advise trusting him, but making unrealistic comparisons to Nazis, or not owning up to your own (progressive) “shit,” is no way to fight authoritarian impulses within the conservative movement.

The great truth of our time is this: progressives misunderstand conservativism, and conservatives misunderstand themselves. This makes for a wild and confusing political mess. And while I see some hope for philosophical clarity evolving from this chaos, I do not rest much hope on it. Why? Most Americans — most people — can barely think rationally, and those who most loudly boast of their rationality rarely confront their own presuppositions.

So mess it shall likely remain. It is what we can expect of a deeply unphilosophical people.

And left and right will be calling each other “Nazi” until the heavens pour down fire or the depths serve up ice.

twv

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.

twv