Archives for category: Social Psychology

“I’m not going to call them ‘conspiracy theories,’” said podcaster Michael Knowles about the growing reports and rumors surrounding Jeffrey Epstein, “because I guess they could be true.”

Well, that was embarrassing.

Look, I recently said something witless like this, too. But can we admit it? Conspiracy theories — conjectures as to secret schemes, plans, intentions, operations — can be true.

We are so programmed to think “ooh, conspiracy theory BAD!” that we cannot even speak logically in public.

Maybe we should all grow up.

The main trouble with conjectures regarding possible conspiracies is that they are hard to falsify. The nature of the beast. And this puts us in a sort of flapdoodlish epistemic situation. In the end, it matters most how you react to such a theory, and whether the theory is correct. Not that it counts as an “x theory.” Ah, that dreaded x!

There are a number of reasons we tend to like conspiracy theories, of course. One is that we know people to be purposeful actors as well as liars. So, realism. But only a few people can keep a secret. So, fabulism. More important, though, is that we like a good story. I think it was Iris Murdoch who wrote that “characters who plot make for well-plotted novels.”

twv

Not a few UFO theorists have noticed something very odd about their admittedly peculiar subject, the one we now think of as pertaining to “the paranormal” and “alien encounters”: the accounts vary, over time, in specifics, sure — but not much in generalities. While the look of the Others changes, they remain other in a few characteristic ways. And, especially, reported human interactions with them seem surprisingly consistent over the epochs: there is often “missing time”; experiences of “floating”; reports of telepathy and “mind control.” These are common across cultures and times and bodies of lore.

In the course of the last two centuries, the style of our interpretations of the alleged fantastic phenomena have gone from mythological/religious to Jules Verne-extramundane to stefnal-extraterrestrial. Encounters with Faërie and the Djinni, for example (not uncommon in the premodern past), and “alien abduction” scenarios (not uncommon now) are often startlingly similar to each other.

Further, encounters with beings in the sky in ancient and medieval times are often explicitly connected to the cultural expectations of the experiencers: religious at least up through the Fátima events; simple technological in the mid- and late-19th centuries; more obviously “alien” and seemingly extraterrestrial as the 20th century progressed.

Erich von Däniken has made much of this oddity, arguing that the beings whom humanity has been encountering are, well — to use the colloquial — “fucking with us.” The Trickster figure did not come from nothing.

Joseph P. Farrell suggests that the evidence here points to a psy-op, a sort of Grand Psy-Op masking the evidence of xenoterrestrials — not necessarily extraterrestrials — in a “breakaway civilization.”

Now, I noticed this cross-time commonality years ago. I had no direct experience with anything paranormal; I missed a “miracle” once by a matter of a few feet. Yet I have read quite a bit, over the years, and from my readings I noticed the common strain from folklore about wee folk and worse, to modern urban legends surrounding the UFO/alien abduction subject. But then I forgot about this connection (one has so many ideas going in and out of one’s head), and when I encountered it again recently, it sure seemed familiar.

Mere cryptomnesia, a common enough occurrence of faulty memory.

In my youth, I chalked up these the eerie echoes of high strangeness across the centuries to the night mind of our race, a susceptibility to confabulate and perhaps even hallucinate in ways that suggest Jung’s “collective unconscious.” But I also theorized that the strangely related experiences could very much be evolutionarily driven — that is, biological and life-history in origin — as in the common fear of snakes.

But I have changed my mind, recently. The rise in the number of — and even increasing government transparency about — Unidentified Flying Objects (along with Unidentified Submersible Objects, there are those, too) adds a huge ancillary data set that subtracts from the credence of the more comfortable “psychological” theories about strange encounters.

So I go back to the square one, and you may even now find me reading the Book of Enoch . . . and even stranger fare.

Note that it was my exposure to unexpectedly large amounts of credible-if-challenging testimony that got me out of my dogmatic skepticism, my almost-automated response of dismissal to each anomalous datum. What I used to regard as not requiring serious explanation, as fit only for “debunking,” now I try to regard as new information, though what to make of that information is hard to figure.

But just because one cannot explain a datum does not mean that it is worth ignoring. Indeed, one trouble with debunkers today is their readiness to cook up an explanation, however wildly improbable, that satisfies the debunkers but also throws out of court a whole host of anomalies.

Meanwhile, in between readings and viewings of documentary videos, I mull over possibilities. And the possibilities are not exactly narrow.

Yet, the most obvious conclusion is the one respectable people seem most afraid of. I have noticed how readily journalists do what Tim Poole did, last week, when they cover the current series of UFO disclosures: insist that they ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT ALIENS! 

“During the Cold War, a psy-op is infinitely more likely than we found nine alien ships. . . .”

What is interesting about this “lots of ways to explain this other than aliens” rap is that it has little to do with actual likelihood. You cannot talk reasonably about probability without some measurable data sets, and to speak of an “infinite” likelihood of non-alien explanation (as Mr. Poole did) is more out-of-your-ass talk than scientific, though it may sound science-y and reasonable.

To me it sounds like how Deists talked during the Great Awakening — very carefully.

What we are dealing with is “subjective probability,” a pure matter of personal cognitive comfort.

Now, some UFO sightings are undoubtedly natural phenomena — and by that we must include natural events beyond just swamp gas. The Hessdalen sightings sure seem less like technology and more like electromagnetic “ball lightning” (or similar), anyway.

But the accounts that really puzzle are not so easily explainable within the confines of normal science. Most of the UFOs we are interested in are said to exhibit material surfaces — that is, to appear as solid, in ways that the Hessdalen lights do not appear to exhibit.

What interests me is Tim Poole’s reassuring tones one minute — talking how it is “infinitely more likely” that what we are witnessing in the Bob Lazar case is a psy-op rather than “alien” craft — and then providing a familiar “cognitive bias” explanations the next . . . all the while claiming not to question Bob Lazar’s honesty. This seems bizarre to me. I have watched the recent documentary on Lazar, and the subsequent Joe Rogan interview . . .

. . . and it seems to me that Lazar is either lying, and therefore part of a psy-op; programmed into a carefully constructed delusion, and therefore part of a more ominous psy-op; or telling something close to the truth, and we are in Terra Incognita. Mr. Poole, breezing right over this, seems to want both to reassure us of Nothing To See Here and still be nice to a testifying whistleblower whose claims have become increasingly credible, over the years, in macro contexts as well as in micro*.

But this question of reassurance: is that the key to understanding how people are handling the current info-seep?

I suspect it is. Most of us do not want to be publicly humiliated as a UFO nut.

But it is wrong-headed. Given the reports that come to us, aliens may be the least of our worries, that is, if mass panic is what we are really concerned about.

For what is the real likelihood, here?

If it is just governments screwing with us in a Deep State Psy-Op of the first water, this suggests a malignity in our governments that should deeply unsettle any democrat or republican (an anarchist might more likely merely raise an eyebrow). It would mean that the Deep State is perpetrating the greatest fraud in history, instigating abductions, fly-bys, druggings, and worse along with sending mixed signals, publicly, to foul up everything and therefore create an astounding elite/rub class division, all to . . . fake out the Russians?

If it is aliens, on the other hand . . .

…a popular and quite comic meme…

. . . then the Deep State has been hiding information from most of the rest of government, from the American citizenry, and from the world, and for a long time. Why? Well, likely to protect us.

But what of the alleged aliens themselves?

Well, they are undoubtedly not to be trusted . . .

Claims to have first-hand knowledge of “aliens.”

. . . but they appear to have been at the margins of our civilization for a very long time, and could be doing worse . . . but apparently aren’t. Whatever it is that they are doing.

If — and I realize for most this seems like a big IF — what we are dealing with here cannot be ascribed solely to natural phenomena, and also not to our government messing with our heads . . . and it is not aliens . . . exactly . . . think of what else it could be:

  • Clandestine xenoterrestrial civilization, of recent origin;
  • Clandestine xenoterrestrial civilization of ancient, even deeply prehistoric origin;
  • Time travelers;
  • The real players in our Simulation.

I submit that at least three of these four scenarios** are each more disturbing than The Government Is Hiding Aliens.

  • A recent breakaway civilization, whether Prussian, Nazi, South American, or North American, suggests a disturbing threat level.
  • An ancient, non-mammalian race hiding under the oceans, or in Antarctica, or even on the Moon? Freaky.
  • And, well, extra-dimensionals playing a game in which we are likely mere NPC’s? Maybe Hindus would grok it, but Christians and Jews wouldn’t, would they?

Given the unsettling nature of these even more “out-there” possibilities, mightn’t we non-experts recognize this in our reaction? A word to the wise; a word to Mr. Poole.

That being said, I should admit that not all of Tim Poole’s UFO speculations are valueless, for he was surely right to remind people who profess to yearn for the bizarre that an alien civilization would be truly . . . alien.

Most ufologists I encounter online seem impatient or annoyed with the current disclosure talk; almost no one in the UFO community believes that the Government — some people in government, anyway — do not know what is going on regarding UFOs. The disclosure project at present is obviously a way to let normal well-educated (snooty) Americans (like me), who have at best treated the subject as fit only for sf lit, to adjust themselves to a greater and somewhat disturbing reality. Slowly. And the project (run, for better or worse, by the To the Stars Academy folks) appears also to be a way to allow government bureaus and military personnel to get over their fears of shame and backlash, and thus allow the biggest disclosures to take place.

As for me, well, I am willing to be convinced of anything, provided there is some evidence, and provided alternative, less outré hypotheses cannot better explain all the data.

Even, yes, the Players at the Simulation story. . . .

And remember, neither my preferences or yours are irrelevant to the truth.

twv


* Lazar’s story keeps on checking out. A number of the unknown things Lazar spoke about, initially, to George Knapp, have eventually checked out. And, in the course of investigation, it was shown that the government had almost successfully erased Lazar’s educational and work record. Erased.

** I do have one other conjecture that makes surface sense, but it suffers for being on the other side of Occam’s razor.

Perhaps we should define the difference between the political-cultural left and right in terms of the differing grounds upon which they become unhinged:

  • Rightists go crazy in defense of insider hierarchy, and of self and tribe.
  • Leftists run round the bend in defense of outsiders as well as in opposition to insider hierarchies.

It is fun to watch them, as if a sort of madhouse carnival. It is especially entertaining because leftists and rightists flip orientation — often erratically — depending on propinquity to power.

This allows left-wingers to say things like “Stalin was actually a right-winger” and right-wingers to call Nixon “a leftist.” And with plausibility.

One of the comedies of politics.

twv

Seeing through the political realm since 1977.

Everyone’s got troubles. But what separates personal and family difficulties from “social problems”?

Social problems, as a genre of concern and topic of discussion, form in at least two ways.

One is when a specific variety of troubles experienced by individuals and sub-groups in society appear salient because of their sheer number, called to our attention by their similarities. When extreme problems are of the same type and shared by many people, then we regard them as “social” even if non-similar and widely varied personal problems far outnumber the similar ones.

Another is when government, spurred by activists or politicians or both, try to solve these problems with policy, by heeding politicians’ hortatory to “come together” and present a united front, etc. And use the threat and application of force to redistribute wealth, set up bureaucracies, and regiment people’s behavior.

The second usually only happens after the first. 

An example of this trend can be seen in suicide. My neighbor’s suicide may very well be a family and community tragedy, a cause for sorrow and anguish. But only when seven or seven hundred unrelated people in the community kill themselves do we have a social problem that politicians and activists exploit with some plausibility.

Another example would be drugs. If I overdose on an obscure prescription drug, that is a personal and family matter. But if I overdose on a common prescription or recreational drug that other users also abuse to the point of tragedy, then it sure seems social.

That is how we get “mental health” crusades and the War on Drugs.

But in both cases other troubles suffered by individuals far outnumber these troubles. The disparity of reaction should be clear, however, We only publicly focus on what we can easily identify. That makes the difference. Indeed, we must find a pattern to see a problem worth solving; similarities provide the most obvious pattern.

Thus, what we have here is a focusing problem. Because we tend not to even see the most common pains and sufferings of most people most of the time, we do not regard them as social problems worth collective action: they are too disparate, not fit to be organized against with a blanket “solution.”

This blindness to the bulk of would-be “social problems” is probably a blessing. 

Most people solve most problems personally, locally. And considering the common failures of most public programs — as in Prohibition and the War on Drugs — it may very well be that the real tragedy is the diversion of our attention away from personal and local problem-solving to public policy and politics and government. 

So, social problems are identified by means of cognitive short-cuts that do not appear soberly rational. And, considering the usual policy outcomes, we should ask the next question: isn’t governments’ overstepping their zones of competence the real social problem?

twv

Why is it not cool to be a conservative?

…as answered on Quora…

Two problematic, contestible words: cool and conservative.

The latter did not come into common use in America as much but a style-related pejorative until after World War II, with Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953). There is no certain ideology behind the basic concept. Its core meaning suggests caution, opposition to radicalism and revolution, and respect for tradition, including, especially, the political traditions at the heart of the defense of one’s civilization or country or locality — from subversion and conquest. In America, an additional element, not so characteristic of European conservative strains, is the harking back to the origins of the federal union, which were, in historical context, what came to be known as liberal — a word that took on a political meaning on the European continent in the 1820s. American conservatism has vacillated between traditionalism as a modus operandi and traditionalism as the honoring of a liberal radical moment.

See how double-souled conservatism is? How ambiguous? This double character is especially the case, anyway, in America. But even in England, the conservative prophet Edmund Burke showed strong commitments to British liberalism, which was old before it was named. Since his day, the conservative Tory and liberal Whig parties have traded ideas and reversed positions at least once, if not twice.

The concept of cool is much abused in contemporary society, and it has been unmoored from its origins in the temperature metaphor. Alas.

Once upon a time, hot and cool were two distinct ideals in sexual selection, two very different stances: the hot was passion and rage and fiery temper; the cool was collected, unperturbed, resistant to emotional infection. The hot spread like fire, quickly; the cool was resistant but not cold. And neither were as attributed to the church of Laodicea in the Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament: lukewarm.

Warm culture is modern adult bourgeois culture: polite hugging, easy acceptance, reassurances everywhere; passionless but supportive. Hot culture is lust and anger and quickness of temper; when accepting, more ecstatic and celebratory than calm.

Cold culture is rigid, forbidding, exclusionary.

Warm cultures accept, lukewarm cultures are almost indifferent, but leaning towards acceptance.

There is a sense of anomie in the lukewarm. While in the cool, there is alienation — proud and dismissive, but not rudely so.

The cold rejects, the warm gently accepts (with the lukewarm unenthusiastic almost to the point of ambivalence), while the cool resists both as undue perturbations.

The cool man (and it was a predominantly male stance, at first) is calm under crisis, but perhaps curious. He appears strong because seemingly in control of his emotions. He is not given to fight or flight, rejection or acceptance. There is distance, but no great hate or resentment.

The cool thus became a signal of strength. And it quickly garnered an allure that the other stances could not match. And so it became a kind of ideal. And “the cool” in modern culture became a revival of honor culture.

Alas, so overused as a eulogistic word, it became synonymous with hot, in popular parlance. Just another trendy emphasis word, for The Good.

Now we can see why conservatives are not “cool.” The tendency to either cold or fiery rejection of the other — of the differently customed, the divergent of values or habits or beliefs — is a common conservative “virtue.” And the forms of acceptance amongst conservatives tend to the warm and the lukewarm.

Irony is cool; earnestness is not. Conservatives are not natural ironists.

Conservatives are fond of “that old-time religion”: cold adherence to dogma; hot defense of that dogma.

The center-left is warm to lukewarm; the far left is hot.

So where is the cool? Probably among the independents, though attributing any political position to the cool is difficult, because partisanship does not lend itself to cool attitudes.

The cool political position, in my opinion, would most likely be that of the informed non-voter.

Misattributions of coolness are common, of course, because young people tend to confuse hot and cool. Such attributions are not likely to remain true to the foundational metaphor . . . temperature.

But there is a reason why drug taking is “cool,” and sobriety is not: taking drugs, like the cool sexual stance, signals strength in a subtle way, as in “I can take it; I am not crushed nor do I panic.” All this show of strength signals to the eager female looking for a strong partner — for evolutionary reasons — a bracing, impressive latent ability to survive and protect.

The earnestly sober, cautious, and traditionally minded male, on the other hand, whether cold or warm, has to appeal to reason, primarily.

Which is not sexy except to the very bright. And as we know from IQ testing, there are more geniuses among men than women, so it pays more to impress the normally intelligent. Hot and cool stances have a more obvious, emotional allure.

Conservatives just cannot easily elicit such reactions. They are not cool. Even if they are right (as they often are, compared to the far left, anyway).

And the cool, understandably, dominated the permanent counter-culture in America: the public school student culture. This counter-culture was chiefly counter to established authority. Conservatism tries to bolster established, adult authority. So the two attitudes are on opposite sides in the forming experience of most Americans.

twv

An excellent book on the career of a concept.

Explaining religion is not necessarily a simple matter.

I grew up taught to believe that the stories of my religion were true. But as I grew older, certain inconsistencies and antinomies weighed upon my mind, and I found myself incredulous about the whole matter, so I gave up on the beliefs and the rites.

But, if not literally true, is religion — or all religions, or some — figuratively true? Supremely useful? Something else?

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

I was taught to regard the religion I was born into as true, literally so, and all others as false, with a faint chance that shadow meaning sometimes figuratively refracting the truth — but more likely “of the Devil.” Converting out of the religion, it was easy to treat my youthful theological stance as Atheism With One Exception, making actual atheism merely a final step.

But I did understand a discordant note to this secular triumphalism: henotheism. It was clear that Judaism began with a polytheism-in-fact but monotheism-in-practice: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me” more than implied a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh was good, all others were bad — or, even less strong a position: Yahweh was ours and all others were theirs. The Chosen People idea seemed to imply one of many gods choosing and nurturing a bloodline of people to serve His agenda. But this idea, while clear in my head, I somehow never took all that seriously.

What did I take seriously? The “ghost theory” and exaptation. These ideas can be found in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, and the latter has been greatly expanded by contemporary evolutionary psychology. Beliefs in the gods arose from memories of dead leaders echoing in human brains and showing up in dreams. And hallucinations. That is the irritant that starts the pearl that is religion. But then something else happens: religious belief and practice is discovered to be useful.

To all sorts of people. For good and ill.

But one use we fell into. It turns out that when we less-than-well-tempered hominids — Hominoids — even contemplate a putatively divine being or concept, or even any “transcendent object” or priniple, we think and behave less like selfish, short-sighted apes. We begin to behave morally.

And thus the transcendent notion, whatever it is, can serve as a social signal that can encourage others to see our intent to coöperate, not engage in harm. Whatever religious idea we hold can gain a lot of traction when folks come to rely on such signalling.

Thus, the gods.

A simple story, this secular account, and it can be filed under the heading Exaptation — a thing that originated for one reason surviving for other reasons. It was as if adapted for a new purpose, but as naturally selected, sort of adapting itself.

A meme — a replicable habit — spread for reasons independent of its explicit rationale.

Great story.

It may even be true.

Almost certainly it is true.

But it is not the whole story: we still have that initial irritant. The “ghosts.” Which though inconvenient after the religion becomes a memetic hit, still persist.

And there is an outside possibility that some of those irritants in the oyster of our imaginations are, themselves, Not What They Seem.

They may be neither dreams nor hallucinations nor memories.

They might be aliens.

In a fascinating dcumentary about a man who paints his alleged encounters with aliens, some of whom with which he engages in sexual acts, Love and Saucers, we learn about an odd variety of religious experience, the sexual extraterrestrial encounter. Philosopher Jeffrey Kripal, quoted in the movie, tells us that religious experiences with a sexual component are common in the literature. He also sees alien encounter and abduction stories as not dissimilar from past religious tales. What they interpreted as angels we, in a more scientific age, interpret as extraterrestrials.

And such experiences are not uncommon.

So, do we have these experiences because of some quirk of our psychologies, as evolved from the distant past?

Or is it something more direct?

I do not know.

I have never had an encounter as described by the painter in Love and Saucers. It would be easy to mock him. That is something I am sure my “skeptic” friends online would be inclined to do.

But I no longer do such things. If David Huggins, the subject of the documentary, is conjuring these “memories” by confabulation, that is almost as astounding as the events he describes.

And then there is the wider context. Do we have certainty that encounters with “aliens” do not happen? I do not have that certainty of conviction, of dismissive incredulity. I do not have enough faith to dismiss out of hand the UFO context.

Now, I understand, that wider context and the evidence for it may be peculiar in the extreme, sure — but it is vast. The number of documents leaked from governments, and the hundreds — the thousands — of seemingly earnest testimonies from military personnel and government contractors, airline passengers, and workers about encounters with bizarre flying and submersible crafts is huge. And these crafts — in government documents and reports as well as in reams of testimony, apparently run according to principles nothing like the technology we know, which is based on aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, and on the many types of internal combustion engines . . . well, the number and weight of the testimony is almost disturbing.

Further, there appears to be an ongoing government disclosure of information about these encounters, around the world, and even — belatedly, with a great lag — from the biggest, most UFOey government of them all, the United States of Military Industrial Complex.

I do not know what to make of all this. Not with anything approaching certainty. And were it not for the Cato Institute, I might not be thinking about it at all.

A number of years ago the libertaran think tank fired one of its consulting scholars, economist Dom Armentano — removed him from their honor roll, so to speak. Why? Because he had come out for UFO disclosure.

Think about this. The retired professor merely expressed a support for transparency in government on an issue of public interest. But the “heroic” Cato management could not even be associated with something as tame as that.

When I heard this, I experienced something like shock. I had thought I understood the cultism of the cultural center, its proneness to shaming and shunning and marginalization . . . perpetrated to keep the hierarchy of the in-group secure against all comers. But Cato is libertarian. Do Cato-ites think their propinquity to power, geographically, makes them in the in-group? If any tribe on the planet has reason to understand the corrosive nature of in-group intellectual regimentation, it would be libertarians. And if any group should be prone to resist such nonsense, then it must be libertarians, right?

Apparently not. Cato was so eager for respectability, and so unimaginative that an illustrious economist had to be purged.

This is when I realized the astounding extent of ideological cultism in America, and its corrupting powers. And, once you realize how powerful that propensity is, then you can see how it could be manipulated.

By a conspiracy. At a power center.

For, alas, it seems likely that some conspiracy is involved. Either a cabal within the Deep State is conspiring to keep some dread secret from the world and from the citizens that the government putatively serves, or a big if ragtag group of military personel, domestic pilots, seamen, and a great number of civilians are perpetrating and perhaps coördinating a huge fraud.

About two years ago, I began to think the latter the less likely.

Further, I surmise, if I were in the Deep State and saw all these rumors swirl around me, I would regard them as a destabilizing force, as undermining governance by decreasing trust in basic institutions. I would earnestly support public research into and educational efforts about the phenomena, the better to thoroughly explain and debunk paranormal accounts and tall tales about UFOs and “aliens.” But, on the other hand, had I a secret to keep, a big one, letting the testimonies and photographs and rumors and urban legends spread while giving lukewarm and even preposterous counter-explanations might just work — to keep the secret. After all, I could count on all the little Catos out there, doing my work for me, keeping “the nuts” marginalized.

This does not mean that painter David Huggins is not some kind of a nut. There is room for psychological confabulation along the margins. But it sure looks like something strange is going on. The planet and its history may be stranger than we thought.

Indeed, “the gods” at the start of religions may not have been mere mirages and dreams and “visions.” Perhaps the Anunnaki and Quinametzin and Viracocha and that crowd really did help start our civilization, and that they seemed “gods” to us barely higher apes. And maybe they had some connection to the phenomena that we call “religious” — and maybe they have something to do with “aliens.”

In any case, Love and Saucers is a fascinating documentary.

And religion remains something of a mystery.

twv

Cultic behavior is not limited to marginal groups.

Indeed, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the social controls we associate with cults are the prime drivers (with interesting differences) of almost all center-dominant cultural organizations, institutions and movements.

Most people adopt center-dominant beliefs not because of the beliefs’ truth-values, but for pragmatic reasons and for signalling. Think of it as “innocence by association.”

We should expect nothing else.

And it is for this reason that whole cultures can lurch into extremely perverse directions, whether they be Aztec mass sacrifice, communist political centralism, or even dietetic “science” and eating habits.

My favorite modern example is usually deficit spending by governments and debt accumulation — often excused by half-adopted, half-assessed Keynesianism while being driven by very different but very obvious Public Choice factors.

twv

wiseman

A timeline of me changing my attitude on iconoclasm:

  1. When Russians pulled down Lenin statues, at the end of the Soviet era, I cheered.
  2. When folks in Seattle’s Fremont District put up a Lenin statue, I snickered.
  3. When American forces, during the Conquest of Iraq, hit some major sites of ancient Mesopotamian civilization I was deeply irked.
  4. When ISIS began dismantling, destroying and selling off ancient statues from Assyria as “idols,” I was aghast that any modern would wish to treat as objects for either current reverence or irreverence millennia-old statuary.
  5. When SJWs turned against the statuary of the Civil War dead, I was somewhat disturbed that anyone would treat centuries-old and even decades-old memorials as objects for current reverence or irreverance — other than a reverance for history.

My attitude about recent iconoclasm is not unlike my attitude regarding speech: just as the proper response to speech one does not like is more speech, the proper response to statuary one doesn’t like is not iconoclasm but more statuary. It is easy to destroy, not so easy to put up new monuments — they cost money, at the very least. Destroying statuary amounts to destroying history. And destruction, even the destruction of ugly history, seems more like childishness than maturity. Adults should be able to look at a statue and not get sucked into its implied ideology.

And, surely, the postmoderns are right: any given artifact possesses more than one meaning. We Hyperboreans are authorized to pick and choose the meanings we prefer, surely.

I prefer knowledge to ignorance, truth over myth, and seeing even the most vile of monuments as examples of history.

Yes, I am one of those people fascinated by ancient monuments. I have been since very young. You know: the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, Göbekli Tepe, all that.  My interest has engendered quite a bit of reverence for these monuments’ historicity, not allegiance to their original functionality. I am quite certain I would not support the bulk of the policies of the ancient monument-builders were someone foolish enough to attempt to revive those policies.

I made peace with Lenin being in Seattle. Still . . . perhaps I should fear the statue’s influence on Seattle politics. Could it have given succor to socialism on the current Seattle City Council?

Which brings up an important point: republican governments should probably forgo the making of monuments. They are inherently propagandistic, and though celebrating the heroes of the republic seems a fine thing, it is worth doing this privately, with private funds on private land. If republics have any legitimacy, it is in defending individual rights. Adding propagandistic and eulogizing monuments to the mix of political duties is part of the ancien régime where much effort had to be made to pretend that leaders were gods, or,  at the very least, God’s servants upon the Midgard.

All this notwithstanding, were it up to me, a motto emblazoned upon every legislative house with the words Mundus vult decipi would be more apt than any other maxim, like E pluribus unum or Novus ordo seclorum.

But in politics, truth is not what you lead with.

twv

Sometimes we should take a step back and remember: we don’t know much, and much of what we “know” isn’t so.

IMG_2025This is especially the case in foreign affairs. Many important events and agendas are kept from the public. Whole organizations operate (and even exist) sub rosa. We are fed misinformation and lies on a regular basis. We are easily manipulated.

I have tried to hedge, or even seem Delphic, in the recent past, regarding Russia and North Korea, for instance. I know I know little, and more-than-merely-suspect that many who say they know important truths often only parrot half-truths, at best.

There has been way too much partisan nonsense about Russia in the past few years, and much of what is important about the “negotiations” between North Korea and the U.S., South Korea, et al., is kept far from public view.

IMG_2027We should try to keep in mind that manipulation of focus is the modus operandi of all major parties and organizations, and with it the clumsy and deceptive uses of statistics.

Arguably, one of the main jobs of the corporate media is to encourage people to think they are informed, while ensuring that they remain misinformed. News is not history or social science. It is entertainment. And the unfortunate unreliability and sheer perversity of the major media outlets does not need to be seen as a conspiracy (much of it being quite open). Ideological fantasy, partisan coup-stick conflict, and the profitability of hype and hysteria might explain most of it.

twv

C101AD62-2830-4978-8F58-AF94D3EF73A6

Three decades ago, I was briefly involved in a campaign in Jefferson County, Washington State, to prevent nuclear warheads from being stored within its borders. I knew it was a hopeless endeavor — there seemed zero chance for local government, spurred by idealistic citizens, to prevent the U.S. Navy from using nearby Indian Island as a maximum security repository for missiles and warheads taken from submarines scheduled for maintenance at Bangor Trident Base — but it did introduce me to the leftist activists in the northern parts of the Olympic Peninsula.

The fit was not always comfortable. Among many interesting moments with these people, I remember most clearly my first encounter with an angry feminist. And with clueless feminists.

FD110687-98A7-4289-95AC-B972EE0200C6But the biggest difference may have regarded our different ethical approaches. I was not prone to the same sort of moralism that they were, for one thing. Or Utopianism. I also had become convinced that MAD was a successful policy, on the whole, and that the traitorous Rosenbergs may have inadvertently served as the saviors not only of America but also of humanity. So I occasionally said things more than a tad out of place amongst the activists.

One of the odder moments of mutual incomprehension concerned the reasons to oppose the bomb storage. I offered a NIMBY argument, and mention the threat of terrorism. “Indian Island is a target.” The activists looked at me blankly. They were uninterested in terrorism. Terrorism was not on their radar, except, I suppose, as a tactic that they could imagine themselves using, push come to shove.

I remember Bob the bookseller looking at me, puzzled, having caught the implication of my logic. “Where do you want the bombs stored?” he asked. “And how many do you think we need?”

“How many nuclear bombs would you like?” That last question was rather pointed.

I had no idea, of course, so I shrugged. I am generally not good at prescribing for an institution I am not in any way responsible for.

C431E517-A2BF-4990-A419-D3BF9FF48CFCHonestly, I thought terrorism was the wave of the future. A few years later, after Bush’s invasions of Panama and Iraq, I was more confident yet. Sure enough, my suspicion proved increasingly savvy over the years, constituting one of two sets of prophecies that showed me not a complete nutball. I felt satisfied, I confess: I understood some things about the way the world worked that most people did not seem to. At all.

Yup, terrorism and the price of gold. I was right, way back then.

Now, I have no idea what is going to happen next. My hunches are all over the place, between financial Armageddon and the Singularity!

twv

N.B. Pictured are three Google maps of the area in Jefferson County where I lived at the time. Circled in red are where the offices of Liberty magazine were listed with the Post Office (the Polk Street apartment building I lived in) and (at bottom) they were actually located, on top of the hill. One of my first jobs for Bill Bradford, Liberty’s publisher, in my first year or two working for him, was Community Plenipotentiary. That is, I would get involved in community activism so he would not have to! Yes, he paid me to do this sort of thing. Thankfully, it did not take up much of my time, and arguably I did it on my own time. I was not being paid by the hour.