Books that influenced me

March 26, 2010

I’ll throw in to books that have influenced me (started here). I’m going to break the rules and go beyond books to writing general.

I think of influence, with respect to books, as changing the way I view the world. Some things that I’ve read add a filter to the way I experience and understand the world. These books go beyond learning and into altering my personality and modes of thought. These are the books I’m thinking of:

1. The writings of Ayn Rand – Ms Rand was the first to spark my interest in ideas. Once you have absorbed her modes of thought, you begin to see the world in a different way and you can’t go back to the old way. Our society worships all the wrong things. Soon, you’ll pay your taxes, which explicitly encourage debt, divorce, unproductivity and having lots of children that you can’t afford. Health care reform reallocates assets from the productive to the unproductive – society may be able to survive some of this, but at some point, production cannot keep up with the needs of the unproductive. A worldview that places needs above ability is a perverted worldview that will end in failure.

2. The writings of Murray Rothbard – From Rand, I moved to Rothbard. Rothbard lays a great economic and historical foundation for future learning. He answered many questions and raised many others.

3. The writings of Mencius Moldbug (and the works of Thomas Carlyle (e.g. here, here, here, here)) – Ultimately, many of the questions raised by Rothbard were answered by Moldbug. I’d put Carlyle here alone, but I wouldn’t have understood Carlyle without Moldbug. Again, the way that you see history, politics, and society will change once you understand Moldbug. You can’t understand modern society or recent history unless you understand democracy and no one understands it better. Every piece of news that you read will be read differently once you’ve absorbed Moldbug. Every history book you read will be read differently. The veil falls and your eyes begin to adjust to the light of truth. (That was poor attempt mimic the style of Carlyle as adapted by Moldbug, I know that it was a poor attempt, but roll with it).

4. The writings of Albert J. Nock and H.L. Mencken (and to a lesser extent Tom Wolfe) – From these men, I learned two lessons: 1) how to observe happenings around you and 2) how to behave in a society that you believe to be in decay. These men are the best observers. They all seem to share the same detachment from their own time that helps one observe insightfully and cope with living in a civilization that one knows to be in decay. Instead of being sad about what they saw, they laughed at it – a lot.

5. James Burnham’s The Machiavellians – the best political science book that I’ve read. Once you’re done, you will always view politics for what it is, not what it says it wants to be. You will therefore understand it.

6. Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, John T. Flynn’s The Roosevelt Myth, and Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative – The first two books showed me that the history I learned in school was (shall we say) incomplete. Moldbug took care of tearing down the rest of the historical myths that I had learned. The last book showed me what history could be, even in the modern era.

7. Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, the writings of Steve Sailer, Cochran’s The 10,000 Year Explosion, Hart’s Understanding Human History, and Clark’s A Farewell to Alms – I could have just listed The Bell Curve here, but you get so much more out of it when you get other perspectives on the same fundamental topic. Once you understand these works, you understand that most of the "policy discussions" that you hear about in the news totally miss the point. For example, once you understand these books, you can’t help but sit back and laugh when you see people trying to improve the educational system. The mainstream ideas are so wrong. If you’ve learned from Nock and Mencken, watching "reform ideas" while knowing what the real problems are will make you laugh. If you haven’t read Nock and Mencken, you’ll get frustrated and angry. Read Nock and Mencken first.

8. The writings of Roissy and the writings of Mickey Spillane and Anthony Trollope – I admit this is a strange group of writers. I don’t always agree with Roissy, but you can’t deny that he changes the way you view the world. To understand the decay of modern society in one sphere, you can’t do better. This item on the list deals broadly with what it means to be a man (so I could add the movies of John Wayne, but we’re talking about writing). Roissy will show you the obstacles facing modern man. Nobody wrote men, as men, better than Spillane. Nobody wrote about men, as men, better than Trollope.

9. The writings of Neal Stephenson – science fiction at it’s best (I could add a couple books by others if pressed).

10. Nicholas Antongiavanni’s The Suit – you have to learn how to dress.


Review of “A Farewell to Alms” by Gregory Clark

March 26, 2010

This book has been in my stack of books to read for a while. I kept seeing it on other peoples’ lists of books that have impacted their thinking (e.g. Isegoria’s), so I decided it was time.

The book’s argument is pretty straightforward. The vast majority of the book discusses evidence which bolsters the relatively simple argument. I think I may have waited too long to read the book, as I had basically accepted the argument already, after reading summaries of the evidence from so many others.

Here’s the argument:

In the Malthu­sian econ­omy be­fore 1800 eco­nom­ic pol­icy was turned on its head: vice now was virtue then, and virtue vice. Those scourges of failed mod­ern states—war, vi­olence, dis­or­der, har­vest fail­ures, col­lapsed pub­lic in­fras­truc­tures, bad san­ita­tion—were the friends of mankind be­fore 1800. They re­duced pop­ula­tion pres­sures and in­creased ma­te­ri­al liv­ing stan­dards. In con­trast poli­cies beloved of the World Bank and the Unit­ed Na­tions to­day—peace, sta­bil­ity, or­der, pub­lic health, trans­fers to the poor—were the en­emies of pros­per­ity. They gen­er­at­ed the pop­ula­tion growth that im­pov­er­ished so­ci­eties.

How did England escape this Malthusian trap? The rest of the argument is:

The rich­est men [in England] had twice as many sur­viv­ing chil­dren at death as the poor­est. The poor­est in­di­vid­uals in Malthu­sian Eng­land had so few sur­viv­ing chil­dren that their fam­ilies were dy­ing out. . . . The at­tributes that would en­sure lat­er eco­nom­ic dy­namism—pa­tience, hard work, in­ge­nu­ity, in­no­va­tive­ness, ed­uca­tion—were thus spread­ing bi­olog­ical­ly through­out the pop­ula­tion. . . . In­deed the ev­idence is that the poor­est in­di­vid­uals in the Malthu­sian era would typ­ical­ly not re­pro­duce them­selves at all. [This is basically opposite of what is happening today]

Thus, in sum:

The an­swer haz­ard­ed here is that Eng­land’s ad­van­tages were not coal, not colonies, not the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion, not the En­light­en­ment, but the ac­ci­dents of in­sti­tu­tion­al sta­bil­ity and de­mog­ra­phy: in par­tic­ular the ex­traor­di­nary sta­bil­ity of Eng­land back to at least 1200, the slow growth of En­glish pop­ula­tion be­tween 1300 and 1760, and the ex­traor­di­nary fe­cun­di­ty of the rich and eco­nom­ical­ly suc­cess­ful. The em­bed­ding of bour­geois val­ues in­to the cul­ture, and per­haps even the ge­net­ics, was for these rea­sons the most ad­vanced in Eng­land.

This argument also explains why other countries and cultures have been unable to reap the rewards of advanced technologies:

In a mod­ern world in which the path to rich­es lies through in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, why are bad-tem­pered ze­bras and hip­pos the bar­ri­er to eco­nom­ic growth in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa? Why didn’t the In­dus­tri­al Rev­olu­tion free Africa, New Guinea, and South Amer­ica from their old ge­ograph­ic dis­ad­van­tages, rather than ac­cen­tu­ate their back­ward­ness? And why did the takeover of Aus­tralia by the British pro­pel a part of the world that had not de­vel­oped set­tled agri­cul­ture by 1800 in­to the first rank among de­vel­oped economies?

It’s worth noting that the book’s finding undermines the basic assumption of modern, mainstream economics:

The pre­ferred as­sump­tion [of modern, mainstream economics] is that the de­sires and ra­tio­nal­ities of peo­ple in all hu­man so­ci­eties are es­sen­tial­ly the same. The me­dieval peas­ant in Eu­rope, the In­di­an coolie, the Yanomamo of the rain for­est, the Tas­ma­ni­an Abo­rig­inal, all share a com­mon set of as­pi­ra­tions and a com­mon abil­ity to act ra­tio­nal­ly to achieve those as­pi­ra­tions. What dif­fers across so­ci­eties, how­ev­er, are the in­sti­tu­tions that gov­ern eco­nom­ic life.

Er, not, if Clark is correct:

The bite of the Malthu­sian con­straints was tighter in Eng­land than in Asia. The pro­cess­es of se­lec­tive sur­vival were ac­tu­al­ly more se­vere in pre-in­dus­tri­al Eng­land. . . . income-based dif­fer­ences in fer­til­ity seem to have been much less pro­nounced in both Japan and Chi­na.

So the resulting populations were selected based on different pressures.

I think the book goes best with Understanding Human History and The 10,000 Year Explosion. If I take a meta-lesson from these works it’s that evolution is constantly happening, whether we like it or not. The effects of evolution, even over relatively short periods of time, are difficult to underestimate. Read the books together for maximum effect.

Review of “A History of Western Philosophy: Kant and the Nineteenth Century, V. IV” by W. T. Jones

March 26, 2010

This book is the fourth in a five part series.

These books are a great introduction to philosophy. They give enough depth to allow the reader to understand the major points, without getting bogged down in the (often ridiculously complex) weeds. Jones does a wonderful job of explaining. This is not to say that the books are easy to read. They still take quite a bit of effort.

I’m not going to try to get into the philosophers discussed in the book. Jones takes 360 pages and that is, already, a high-level summary. I can’t summarize beyond that. I can, tell you what is discussed. This book deals with 19th Century philosophy. 19th Century philosophy begins with Kant’s reaction to Hume. Kant recognized the destructive effects of Hume’s devastating critique of reason and tried to salvage reason.

The rest of 19th Century philosophy deals with Kant’s ideas, the death of reason and the death of the mood of the enlightenment (which believed in the perfection of mankind). Later in the Century, 19th Century philosophy tries to deal with the alienation created by industrialization. Philosophers discussed are Kant, Hegel & Schopenhauer (Romanticism), Bentham & Mill & Comte & Marx (scientism), Kierkegaard & Nietzsche, C. S. Pierce, William James, and F. H. Bradley.

Slow decay or abrupt failure?

March 26, 2010

A question at Distributed Republic:

I’m young enough (34) that I’d rather deal with a lot of short term pain if there’s some hope for sanity afterwards. A government default would be painful for many, but I’d prefer that to spending the rest of my life in a European-style social democracy.

I’ll give my own answer, which is perhaps influenced by my age (29), by quoting Carlyle:

Great is bankruptcy. . . . Honour to Bankruptcy; ever righteous on the great scale, though in detail it is so cruel. Under all falsehoods it works unweariedly mining. No falsehood, did it rise heaven high and cover the world, but Bankruptcy, one day, will sweep it down and make us free of it.

Manosphere and marriage

March 26, 2010

Athol, on fire:

So much written in the Manosphere is anti-women and anti-marriage that I’m starting to feel a little worn down just reading it all. I do understand the risks in getting married, but the truth of the matter is that I am quite thankful for my marriage and most definitely thankful for Jennifer.

I couldn’t agree more.

As I understand it, the heart of the Manosphere’s critique of modern society is that it has undermined marriage and womanhood (or femininity, perhaps more accurately). If the goal of the critique isn’t to restore marriage and femininity, I don’t understand what the Manosphere stands for.

Thus, those of us that write on the subject should be careful to walk the line between out-right hostility and criticism.

Weekly Moldbug

March 26, 2010

There may be no post at UR, but there’s a nice discussion between Mencius Moldbug and Lawrence Auster at Auster’s place. Here’s a preview of Moldbug’s line of argument:

Eating certain kinds of foods to excess can cause certain kinds of cancer. However, if you already have cancer, you should not expect to cure it by eating less of those foods. Liberalism causes nationalized medicine. However, if you already have liberalism, you should not expect to cure it by repealing nationalized medicine. . . .

In reality, I would argue, America is still burning through cultural capital that very much dates to Tudor England–and before. Well before. The candle has been burning for quite some time, and is now quite short. It was originally very tall! . . .

Your [i.e. Auster's] parody of my remedy is: to repair government, first heal society. My [i.e. Moldbug's] remedy is: to heal society, first repair government. . . .

The natural order of government is not a secret. Aristotle knew it. It is natural for children to respect and obey their parents. It is natural for parents to guide and support their children. It is natural for the poor, weak, and ignorant to respect and obey the wealthy, strong and powerful. It is natural for the wealthy, strong and powerful to guide and support the poor, weak and ignorant. . . .

Because your conservative vision of the defeat of liberalism is in fact modeled on historical events in which liberalism prevailed over conservatism, it is a fantasy that can never succeed. Decay is an entropic, progressive process that feeds on itself. A little decay leads to a lot of decay. A little fire leads to a lot of fire. . . .

In the ruined house (picture America as an old mansion in Detroit), Powerline wants to start by cleaning and sanding one floorboard. This inspiring act will spread to the next floorboard, and so on, and eventually the house will be clean and new. Destruction works in this way. Renovation does not. You would like to remodel the kitchen. The whole kitchen! And the result will be–a ruined house in the slums. With a state-of-the-art kitchen. . . .

If you can think of any historical example of a decayed state being restored without effective personal government, I would love to hear it. I know of no such thing. And I am hardly an expert on everything and everywhere, but I do know a good bit of history.

Think of how those who lived in the age of Augustus saw the restoration of Augustus. The transition from Republic to Empire ended an age of bad government which had lasted for the entire lives of those then living, and began an age of good government which lasted for the entire lives of those then living. Does America deserve anything less?

The discussion is also pretty funny. My favorite part is from Auster: "Mencius sent a 700 word long extract of Carlyle which was too long for a discussion. You can read it at the link." Heh.


March 25, 2010

Alternative Right on "Why I’d be a Pagan"

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I have always considered my generation to have much in common with the pagan barbarians picking through the wreckage of the dead civilization of Rome in the Dark Ages. Like the Germanic barbarians of 1500 years ago, we inhabit the ruins of a dead civilization. We can see the past glories all around us, and we wonder at the fate of the giants who built the place. Yet, we know we’re doomed to never in our lifetimes reach the heights of those who came before us. It seems only natural we relate to the fatalistic gods of such men.

I understand sympathy with paganism, but I don’t really understand being a pagan.