Worst things I’ve read in a while

February 12, 2012

I read a lot of stuff on the internet. I generally highlight the stuff I like best, but much of what I read is pretty bad in uninteresting ways. Two recent articles were surprisingly bad though.

The first one, was ably critiqued at Anomaly UK.

The world is full of bad people and people that are deserving of help. There is a separate category however, for the sort that confuse the latter with the former.

The second, which all seeks to excuse criminality, is here. Of all the things in the world that could be defended, why defend criminals and criminality?

Perhaps the best response to both is to give the last word to Thomas Carlyle (from the latter-day Pamphlets):

The scoundrel that will hasten to the gallows, why not rather clear the way for him? Better he reach his goal and outgate by the natural proclivity, than be so expensively dammed up and detained, poisoning every thing as he stagnates and meanders along, to arrive at last a hundred times fouler, and swollen a hundred times bigger! . . .

Does the Christian or any religion prescribe love of scoundrels, then? I hope it prescribes a healthy hatred of scoundrels; — otherwise what am I, in Heaven’s name, to make of it? Me, for one, it will not serve as a religion on those strange terms. Just hatred of scoundrels, I say; fixed, irreconcilable, inexorable enmity to the enemies of God . . .

If you love your thief or murderer, if Nature and eternal Fact love him, then do as you are now doing. But if Nature and Fact do not love him ? If they have set inexorable penalties upon him and planted natural wrath against him in every god-created human heart, — then I advise you, cease, and change your hand. . . .

The one answer to him [the thief or murderer] is: "Caitiff, we hate thee; and discern for some six thousand years now, that we are called upon by the whole Universe to do it. Not with a diabolic but with a divine hatred. God himself, we have always understood, ‘hates sin,’ with a most authentic, celestial, and eternal hatred. A hatred, a hostility inexorable, unappeasable, which blasts the scoundrel, and all scoundrels ultimately, into black annihilation and disappearance from the sum of things. The path of it as the path of a flaming sword: he that has eyes may see it, walking inexorable, divinely beautiful and divinely terrible, through the chaotic gulf of human History, and everywhere burning, as with unquenchable fire, the false and death-worthy from the true and life-worthy; making all Human History, and the Biography of every man, a God’s Cosmos in place of a Devil’s Chaos. So is it, in the end; even so, to every man who is a man, and not a mutinous beast, and has eyes to see. To thee, caitiff, these things were and are quite incredible; to us they are too awfully certain; we, — send thee back into the whole Universe, solemnly expel thee from our community; and will, in the name of God, not with joy and exultation, but with sorrow stern as thy own, hang thee on Wednesday next, and so end. . . .

‘Revenge,’ my friends! revenge, and the natural hatred of scoundrels, and the ineradicable tendency to revancher oneself upon them, and pay them what they have merited: this is forevermore intrinsically a correct, and even a divine feeling in the mind of every man. Only the excess of it is diabolic; the essence I say is manlike, and even godlike . . .

The absence of it however, is something quite different.


Review of “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray

February 12, 2012

Charles Murray wants you to know something. There’s a phenomenon that he wants you to understand. Unfortunately, Charles Murray has a problem.

The thing that he wants you to understand is quite simple. His problem is that he can’t figure out how to explain it to you without making you catch the vapours.

The phenomenon is this: people are sorting themselves by cognitive ability. Smart people are associating only with smart people. This process continues down the stratum of cognitive ability until you get to the bottom, where the dumb people are all standing around in the same (increasingly blighted) places blankly staring at each other (or the TV). And crucially – and this is where things get dicey – cognitive ability is hereditary, so this sorting phenomenon will naturally accelerate over time.

He tried explaining this to you before, but when he did so, he noted that certain races are over-represented in certain ranges of cognitive ability. The Puritans flipped their shit. (Of course they believe in evolution, unlike those rubes in middle America, they just don’t believe in certain consequences of evolution (which is obviously different than not believing in evolution)).

Having failed in previous attempts to explain this to you, Murray is trying again with this book. He’s focusing on whites this time, to try to keep the Puritans at bay (or at least quietly grumbling in the corner).

I have a lot to say about the book, and I’m going to try to focus on a few areas of the book that I think others have missed or misinterpreted, but let me summarize the book first.

Summary

Many reviews have noted that Murray is writing about the decline of America, but they have generally failed to note the sort of decline that Murray is concerned with. Murray notes "the economic dynamics" that he describes "have, paradoxically, fostered the blossoming of America’s human capital." Murray is not sad about the decline of America in an economic sense. He’s sad about the decline of America in the American sense – that which made America interesting and unique is going away.

Murray is concerned with two groups – the elites and the proles (these are my terms, though he uses several terms to refer to the two groups).

The elites are defined in a couple different ways in Murray’s book. In first instance, they’re defined by success in certain fields (managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and professors in the top 5 percent – Murray uses the term "narrow elite" to essentially refer to "The Cathedral"). In the second instance they’re defined by income and education.

The first part of Murray’s book notes that the elites of yesteryear did the same stuff that the proles of yesteryear did. For example, they got married and had kids at the same stages in their lives. Nowadays, not so much. Elite parents are often in their forties (the median age of first time moms at the hospital my sone was born at is 39, for example), while prole parents are more likely in their twenties.

Murray also argues that the returns on cognitive ability have gone up over time. These increased returns have enabled the most successful people to isolate themselves from the plebes in ways that they were not able to in the past. Murray doesn’t mention this, but technology undoubtedly helps with this isolation as well.

Murray then introduces the key mechanism for cognitive sorting, which he calls, "The College Sorting Machine." Here again, Murray notes that something has changed between 1950, when elite colleges did not have exceptionally talented students, and 1960, when they did. Since this started in 1960, and since cognitive ability is hereditary, we’re already starting to see that students at elite colleges have more in common than cognitive ability. For example, "79 percent of students at ‘Tier 1’ colleges as of the 1990s came from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status, while only 2 percent came from the bottom quartile." In other words, "the reason that upper-middle-class children dominate the population of elite schools is that the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children."

This sorting process continues after college, when people geographically sort themselves into the same groups. Or as Murray puts it, "it would appear that the college sorting machine replicates itself with remarkable fidelity as a residential sorting machine."

The first part includes a test of how thick your bubble is. I scored a 7 (out of something around 80), indicating that I have a very thick bubble (more on this in a separate post).

There is another type of sorting that seems to be more important to Murray. It’s perhaps best described as cultural sorting. Essentially, the elites are SWPLs. They have different tastes in movies, TV, etc.

Part 2 of the book is on the changes in the lower class. The new lower class is cumbersome, so I’m going to use the term plebes (as you’ll see, my term is more accurate.)

Murray analyzes the plebes through what he refers to as "the founding virtues," which are the specific characteristics that Murray believes all American shared and those which made America unique . . . until recently. The virtues are: industriousness, honesty (this becomes almost synonymous with law-abiding), marriage, and religiosity.

Then Murray introduces the terms "Belmont," to refer to the top 30 percent of whites 30-49 by education and income, and "Fishtown," to refer to the bottom 21 percent of whites 30-49 by education and income. (I’m still going to use elites and plebes, respectively). Murray notes that in 1960, 64 percent of whites would have met his definition of Fishtown, and 6 percent would have met his definition of Belmont (again, note the improvements, when only measuring economic growth).

Starting with marriage, Murray notes stark differences between plebes and elites. In 1960, about 84% of plebes got married compared to about 94% of elites. The numbers are now 48% and 84% respectively. Divorce is still uncommon among the elites (about 1% to about 6% during the same time), while it’s big among the plebes (about 4% to about 35% during the same time). The realities of Marriage 2.0, appear to be a plebe-only phenomenon.

What Murray is really concerned about in this category is how children are raised. While certain benefits of marriage may be replicable through cohabitation, success at raising children does not appear to be so. "Nonmarital" births increased among the least educated women from under 10% in 1970 to over 60% today (comparable numbers for the best educated women are under 1% and under 5%, respectively).

Murray concludes this section (perhaps the most powerful in the book) with, "the divergence [with respect to the number of children living with biological and married parents] is so large that it puts the women of Belmont and Fishtown into different family cultures. The absolute level in Fishtown is so low that it calls into question the viability of white working-class communities as a place for socializing the next generation."

Gulp.

The next virtue is industriousness. Instead of blowing your mind with similar statistics about plebe men refusing to work, I’ll just note that the trends for marriage are similar to the trends for industriousness. In general, plebe men of today don’t seem to work very hard compared to plebe men of the 1960s.

The next virtue is honesty, which Murray analyzes largely through crime statistics. Again, the same trends hold. Low crime across all time periods for the elites. Initially low crime for the plebes, but now lots of crime. Murray also analyzes honesty through other variables, like the number of bankruptcies (he acknowledges the potential flaws of this measure), with interesting results.

The final virtue is religiosity. The same trends hold.

The third and final part of the book explains why these trends are problematic (in case you somehow managed to interpret them in a way that would suggest that they were not). Murray believes that the founding virtues are the things that make people happy. Most fundamentally, Murray believes that the plebes of today are living in culture that – for the first time American history – is antithetical to happiness. To be happy, man needs meaning from some combination of family, work, community and/or religion. Increasingly, none of these components of happiness are present among the bottom stratum of American society.

Conclusion

At the end, Murray presents two options for the future of America. In the first, these trends continue and worsen.

In the second, there is a "civic great awakening," in which America sees the failure of Europe (which is further along the path the US is heading down), "science [particularly advances in biology] undermines the moral underpinnings of the welfare state," it becomes obvious that there is a cheaper way to replace the welfare state, and Americans recommit to the "American project."

Recommendations

A lot of reviewers state that Murray’s recommendation is that elites move into prole neighborhoods. I don’t agree that this is Murray’s recommendation. Other reviewers have gotten closer, for example Ross Douthat, who argues that, "Murray argues that our leaders should embrace his own libertarian convictions, scrap all existing government programs (and the dependency and perverse incentives they create) and replace them with a universal guaranteed income."

Murray’s libertarianism (though he doesn’t admit it) is colored by some Old Right positions (of which I am quite fond). Murray’s major problem with the welfare state is ethical. He believes that it undermines virtue (this is the Old Right critique of the welfare state). For example, pre-welfare-state, there was something noble about a man who worked hard at a menial job to take care of his family. Post-welfare-state, there isn’t, since his family (if he has one) is taken care of by the state. The welfare state – to the Old Rightist – is best understood as the end of responsibility. And, without responsibility we cannot be free – we are perpetual children, immune from the ultimate consequences of our actions.

If I had been asked what Murray’s recommendations were, I would have said that he recommends that the elites preach what they practice. The elites live by an ethical code that – when judged by their actions – appears to be extremely rigid. However, their words are always relativistic or "non-judgmental." As Murray puts it:

the members of the new upper class are industriousness to the point of obsession, but there are no derogatory labels for adults who are not industrious. The young women of the new upper class hardly ever have babies out of wedlock, but it is impermissible to use a derogatory label for nonmarital births. You will probably raise a few eyebrows even if you use a derogatory label for criminals. When you get down to it, it is not acceptable in the new upper class to use derogatory labels for anyone, with three exceptions: people with differing political views, fundamentalist Christians, and rural working-class whites.

When you see a redneck, you call him a redneck. Perhaps, when you see a bastard, you should call him a bastard. Shame is a powerful force.

That’s the book. I’m going to look at some other implications of Murray’s work.

Economic growth fetishists

There are some people (and many economists) who believe that increasing economic growth has no downsides. This book challenges that viewpoint in a couple of ways.

First, Murray seems to suggest that the sorting mechanism itself (i.e. the source of the problems Murray identifies) may be a major contributor to economic growth. American society is now very good at getting the smartest people into the occupations that require the most intelligence and on down the line. Therefore, economic growth may create a very rigid class society – an aristocracy of merit.

Second, Murray cites the four main sources of human happiness as: family, work, community and faith. At a certain point, economic growth may attack these sources of human happiness. As people get wealthier, and as they have their basic needs met by the state, they may not seek mates based on who would make a good long-term partner. Instead, women will seek alpha men, and men will seek alpha women and family will disappear. Work, for much of the citizenry, will be unnecessary, unfulfilling and unrewarding. Community (largely as a consequence of the first two) will disappear – and the same fate awaits faith. Do we get less happy as we get richer? Are morals antithetical to very high standards of living? The early results are in, and they’re not pretty.

Race realism

Murray’s work raises some potentially difficult questions for race realists (or at least those with some white nationalist sympathies).

When Murray expands his analysis to include minorities (as opposed to whites only) he finds . . . not much difference (Murray doesn’t note the relative size of black Belmont and black Fishtown – I’d guess the former was relatively smaller than its white counterpart and the latter was bigger, which is certainly relevant). The one exception was the crime statistics, where including minorities led to lots more crime. As Murray states, "white America is not headed in one direction and nonwhite America in another."

John Derbyshire, recently made some remarks about Murray’s work that are very interesting – read them. But, I have to disagree just a bit.

It would be great if people got more willing to discuss race, but Murray shows us that there’s more to discuss. I have no desire to live by the black underclass – so, fine, let’s have that discussion. But Murray’s analysis also shows living by the white underclass wouldn’t be much better. Trading a black underclass for a white underclass still leaves us with . . . an underclass.

If Murray’s right, a realistic conversation about race won’t solve these problems, though it might change the size of the problem.

Social science

Social scientists like to find correlations between various variables. I think most of it is junk, to be honest. If you can find anything that Murray’s elites do a lot of, that thing will probably be highly correlated with success.

For example, everyone I know militantly breastfeeds their children. And . . . look, breastfeeding and higher IQ go together! I bet kids whose parents have watched every episode of The Wire do better on the SATs. So you better watch The Wire while you’re pregnant, just to be safe!

The college education bubble

My thoughts on this topic are here.


Randoms

February 12, 2012

How to stop progressivism: "You must take over the world."

Steve Sailer on Thursday and Moldbug a couple months ago. The similarities are quite interesting.

– Simon Grey reviews In Defense of Women

Walter Russell Mead says, " Democracy has probably seen better days in Africa." Which begs the question, what were the glory days of democracy in Africa?

– What do you think the correlation coefficient between "GreatSchool" rating and the percentage of the student body that is black? Answer here


Randoms

February 8, 2012

Democracy: making monarchs look frugal

Our rulers assure us that the UK is facing serious austerity. It would be nice to know what that means. Apparently it doesn’t mean that the UK is not running a huge budget deficit. Federal spending doesn’t appear to have even gone down from any one year to the next. Can I get some help? Obviously, I agree that the UK is facing crippling austerity (who I am to say otherwise) – I’d just like to know what I mean when I say so.

– The difference between signaling and segregation is that segregation is incredibly valuable, whereas signaling is “conspicuous spending.” Being in the right group gives you access to untold riches.

– Were the founders over-rated?

– Check out those numbers from DC

– Speaking of DC, you might be in DC, if one of these commercials comes on TV

Why we all have to be investors (related)

– Someone should explain how democracy works to Auster.

Heh and heh again

– Don Colacho is back (HT)


Randoms

February 6, 2012

Formalism and coalition

Sigh: "And all of these people have the right to vote.

– Arnold Kling has some thoughts that nicely follow my earlier ones on sorting versus signalling.

Third world slums

– AltRight on the dark side of game

Dalrymple on Downton Abbey:

For many Americans, watching "Downton Abbey" must be like indulging in a guilty passion. Indeed, the series is almost a pornography of class and hierarchy. . . .

"Downton Abbey" comes, then, as a relief to Americans, in the way that a politically incorrect remark comes as a relief when something that’s true has been exiled from polite speech. Class does not just speak its name in "Downton Abbey," it screams it.

The aristocracy might be selfish and sometimes cruel, but it’s also witty, cultivated, mannerly and effortlessly elegant and self-assured.


Review of “Men Without Faces” by Louis Budenz

February 6, 2012

I reviewed another of Budenz’s book here. Budenz was Communist agent in the US before changing his mind and speaking out against communism. I’ll have a few more reviews of books like this before I write something up on all of them.

In this book (which I’m pretty sure used to be available in full view, but apparently is not any longer), Budenz goes to great lengths to emphasize that the Communists in the US were actively and knowingly serving Stalin.

Much of the book is also devoted to explaining how Communists in the US worked. However, for readers of this blog, his analysis is very easy to summarize. Through various well-placed agents and operatives in The Cathedral, a relatively small numbers of Communists were able to have an out-sized influence on American opinions and policies. The Cathedral at the time includes significant union membership, but is otherwise the same as today’s. The best example in the book is a meeting at the University of California that is sponsored by the University and includes Communists and movie industry types and is devoted to getting FDR re-elected. The meeting was chaired by this dude. From that initial meeting eventually sprang "the Progressive Citizens of America and finally the Progressive Party."

One also can’t help but being struck by the fact that the goals of the Communists consistently line up with the goals of the "non-Communist" progressives. In the early thirties, the goals of the Communists (as received from the Stalin) were fourfold according to Budenz: "defense of the Soviet Union, the Red conquest of China, social insurance and self determination in the Black Belt [of the US]." Interestingly (and potentially surprising depending on your views) all of these goals were achieved with the help and support of the US government (the last two goals were part of a broader Communist goal at the time to establish a separate "Negro republic" in the US, which was obviously not achieved, though it was abandoned by the Communists).

Budenz is particularly critical of "campaigns being launched [by the Soviets] in the name of democracy to create sedition among the youth, the Negroes and Mexican-Americans." Throughout the book there are numerous examples of the Communists referring to themselves as democrats (see e.g. the Wikipedia entry for "American Youth for Democracy" which automatically re-directs to the Young Communist League USA – there’s no difference anyway) and progressives or loving Jefferson and Lincoln.

There are lots of other good little historical tidbits. For example, Budenz remembers being particularly excited when FDR commuted the sentence of Earl Browder (Wikipedia has nothing on this other than noting that Browder, who ran the CPUSA, later supported FDR and the New Deal).

Budenz has some weird interactions with Harry Hopkins (per Wikipedia: "one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest advisers" – indeed), even though Hopkins knew Budenz was a Communist. Hopkins was apparently very interested in Budenz’s thoughts on Stalin. Maybe it’s cause he wanted to make out.

Frederick Vanderbilt Field‘s (yeah, that Vanderbilt) name comes up in a lot of interesting circumstances too.

You may also be interested in Judith Coplon and Steve Nelson.

When one reads lots of these narratives of former Communists, one is struck by the human ability to rationalize. This time period is particularly interesting, because many of these people initially joined the Communists to fight the Fascists. Then, the Communists and Fascists embrace each other, so they all find a way to support Fascism, largely by hating the US or Britain. Then the Communists and Fascists break so they hate Fascism again, but they have to embrace the US and Britain. They’re all smart people by all objective measures of intelligence, and yet they’re idiots. Sadly, they did tremendous damage to so many others’ lives.


It’s unanimous!

February 6, 2012

It would appear that Tyler Cowen, Greg Mankiw, and Matthew Yglesias all agree with Christina Romer that manufacturing isn’t special. Following the policy of not treating manufacturing as special has led to . . . the US steadily losing manufacturing jobs. But don’t worry, I’m sure it’s not the theory is that’s wrong.

If I had to make the argument that manufacturing was special for a few reasons, I’d argue:

1) From the viewpoint of a nation-state (at this point I’m aware that I’ve lost all mainstream economists, since borders seem "random" to them, but everyone else over the age of 4 should be able to follow this argument – economists may skip to the second point) manufacturing jobs seem to be zero-sum (there may be two jobs in China for every one in the US, or whatever, but some country is getting those one or two jobs and all the others are losing those jobs).

The fact that Steve Jobs creates Apple in California may be positive sum, but once Apple is created, someone is going to make iPhones. It’s either your country or another one.

On a related note, manufacturing jobs may be special in the sense that many many countries are willing to protect and subsidize them.

2) Manufacturing jobs are labor and capital intensive. We want people employed in serious, long-term occupations – not drifting from one Fed-induced bubble job (trading tech stocks to underwriting mortgages to digging for commodities to whatever) to another. I’d much prefer paying slightly higher prices for good and services than paying higher taxes for welfare benefits. Either way, I’m poorer, but the former way at least employs people instead of putting them on the dole. Also, industries that employ lots of people and require lots of capital would seem to be more hindered by regulations than other sorts of industries.

3) Manufacturing seems to be highly path-dependent, in other words new manufacturing jobs may only be viable in locations that currently have related manufacturing jobs. If you starting losing manufacturing jobs today, you’ll lose the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow as well.

Those are the obvious reasons (to me, at least) why manufacturing might be different. Unfortunately, Romer doesn’t consider any of them.


Review of “Body by Science” by McGuff and Little

February 6, 2012

I was looking for a good book on alternative theories of exercise. This one was certainly that.

They have a lot of bad things to say about running and aerobic exercising in general

Their recommended beginning workout routine is all about weight lifting. While lifting, you’re to worry only about time under load (i.e. the length of time your muscles are pushing/pulling, or whatever). You’re to move between exercises quickly – the whole routine taking well under 30 minutes. You’re to take a lot of time off between routines – roughly a week at first. Finally, you’re to lift to failure, and you should be lifting enough (and slowly enough) that you should achieve failure relatively quickly. With respect to free weights, an initial routine would include:




– Bench press
– Squat

Note that this doesn’t take much equipment. A barbell or dumbbells, which you can get cheap on Craigslist, is all you need. You should be able to get set up for less than $200 (easily).

There’s lot of other good stuff in the book on health and fitness more generally. I, however, was most interested in the exercise routine, so that’s what’s covered here.


Review of “Odyessy of a Fellow Traveler” by J. B. Matthews

February 6, 2012

Here’s more on Matthews.

The themes in this book are similar to those I’ve written about elsewhere. There’s no enemy to the left, The Cathedral, the use of historical American symbols (perhaps correctly?), the historical anomalies, and so on.

There’s little in this work that’s new. However, Matthews work nicely confirms the things I’ve read in other memoirs.

There is perhaps one difference worth noting. It’s not so much a difference as it is a different point of emphasis. Matthews believes the Protestant clergy was a major pillar of support of Communists. Obviously, this message was popular with no one. That doesn’t mean it’s not true though.

If you’re going to read one Communist memoir from this period, this should not be the one. However, if you read several, this will tie many of them together nicely.


Review of “Villain: A Novel” by Suichi Yoshida

February 6, 2012

I like Japan and the Japanese, so I try to read a Japanese novel every now and then. This one was engaging and easy to read, but it left me unsettled.

In general, the themes were predictable for modern literature, though he had a slightly above average recognition of the dynamics of the sexual marketplace (still not saying much). Saying more would give too much away, and I don’t have much to say anyway.