Review of “Unqualified Reservations” part 1

January 6, 2014

Part 1: Dr. Johnson’s Hypothesis

As has been noted elsewhere, the phenomenon of referring to oneself as a reactionary is a recent one.

It’s important to remember this fact. The past year has seen an explosion of “reactionary” writing. And I’m left feeling . . . unsettled. The explosion of high-quality Rightist thought is fantastic and should be enthusiastically applauded by anyone outside of the Cathedral (or anyone that enjoys a good argument – is that redundant?). On the other hand, there is something unique about the original neoreactionary thought, and I can’t but feel some of it is getting lost.

I’ve taken a bit of time away from blogging; however, in my absence, I’ve kept up on the reactosphere. My general approach in the past has been to be as inclusive as reasonably possible. If there’s another writer in these dark haunts that’s more inclusive than me, I’d like to know who it is.

However, in reading some of this new stuff, I can’t help thinking that it’s time to restate/reiterate/consolidate the focal points of neoreaction before some of them get lost. While some of this new writing is brilliant, it’s not all original in the same way that early stuff was. I don’t mean to suggest it’s time for some sort of National Review style purge, but I just don’t want to see my kind of reaction get lost in the broader space.

The term “reactionary” has been taken up by people whose ideologies are not new. For example, let’s say you’re basically a Russell Kirk-style conservative. That’s an admirable thing to be. I’ve read and enjoyed Kirk. I plan to read more Kirk. Nevertheless, his sort of thinking is a cornerstone of modern, mainstream Conservatism. If you agree with Kirk on all points, calling yourself a reactionary is just silly – absent some sort of clear distinction.

In an effort to clarify these ramblings, I’ve decided to re-read Unqualified Reservations (God, help me). I’m going to post reviews as I see natural breaking points in the posts. I will also add separate posts on miscellaneous topics as I see fit. Feel free to provide suggestions in the comments. I’ve read about 30% of UR at this point and I’ve seen two breaking points.

The first break point within UR deals with defining the left. Who are the Progressives?

Moldbug’s answer is that the Progressives are a nontheistic Christian sect. I not sure if it was an accident that this is the first full topic that Moldbug considered, but if it was, I think it was a very nice accident.

This first segment of UR ends with the brilliant series on Richard Dawkins (by far my favorite series of UR posts). In this series (more later), Moldbug argues that Richard Dawkins – instead of being an atheistic critic of Christianity – is a hardcore adherent of the world’s most successful sect of Christianity. Instead of arguing against Christianity, Dawkins is arguing for one sect of Christianity over all others. How’s that for a red pill? If that’s correct – and I think it is – almost everyone is wrong about everything.

If pressed, I’d go further. If I was forced to pick the one key tenet of the neoreaction, I’d pick this understanding of Progressivism. To the reactionary, Progressivism is a nontheistic Christain sect. If you don’t understand Progressivism in this way, you simply don’t understand Progressivism.

From this understanding of Progressivism, all other reactionary ideas flow. For example, here’s reactionary history in one sentence is: “Massachusetts, of course, later went on [i.e. after conquering the US in the Civil War] to conquer first Europe and then the entire planet, the views of whose elites in 2007 bear a surprisingly coincidental resemblance to those held at Harvard in 1945.” Similarly, political correctness and diversity-worship really can’t be understood unless they’re viewed as religious beliefs – at which point their operation becomes startlingly clear.

For certain people that have recently decided to call themselves reactionaries, this understanding of Progressivism is an uncomfortable conclusion. For others (like yours truly) the idea that any Western ideology could be entirely devoid of influence from Christianity is absurd.

More importantly, in the neoreaction we’re not concerned with the difference between religion and ideology. As Moldbug says, “You can go from religion to idealism and back simply by adding and subtracting gods, angels, demons, saints, ghosts, etc. . . . Therefore, we’ll just use the word prototype to mean either religion or idealism.” [He goes on to basically never use the word prototype in this way, but the idea is useful].

Believe it or not, even though Moldbug’s definition of the Left is basically the first thing he wrote about, there is a fair amount of debate about this topic in “reactionary” circles. This debate is sometimes referred to as The Puritan Question. (In addition to Puritan, Moldbug also uses the terms: Progressive idealism, ultra-Calvinism, crypto-Christian, Unitarian universalists, etc.)

At this point, I think it’s best to start quoting Moldbug and then briefly review the series on Dawkins after all these points are laid out. In general, I’ll provide quotes in chronological order (although I have grouped some together to help elucidate certain points). I think chronology is important so that you can see Moldbug’s arguments evolving as he begins to work out his theory in more detail. All these quotes are from before the Dawkins series.

Here’s Moldbug (yup, there’s a lot in here, but it’s a review of UR, what do you expect?) (also, if you’re not interested in this evolution, feel free to skip below, where I’ll provide a more detailed review of the Dawkins series):

Progressive Idealism is a nontheistic branch of Christianity, specifically its Unitarian (American) and Nonconformist (British) sects, both of course dating back to the Puritans, who were the first to construct the integrated political, educational and religious system who much-improved descendant now hold Planet Three in its icy, inexorable grip.

. . .

The only reason we don’t think of the Progressives’ descendants, the Psuedo-Democrats, as a Christain party, is that the Psuedo-Democrats don’t want us to. In fact, their theocratic ideology, progressive idealism, is the leading modern descendant of the most powerful American Christian tradition, the “mainline” Protestants, who infested New England in the early 1600s and for some damned reason have never left.

These bastards are the Roundheads, the Puritans, whatever you want to call them, and after their defeat of the last Cavaliers (to be clear, the Slave Power was no picnic either), they have reigned unchallenged in North America. And no less outside it – indeed, more. The beliefs held at Harvard, not those at West Point and certainly not at VMI, are the complacent belches of today’s global transnational governing class.

If they feel some occasional Biblical pang, they sometimes call themselves “Unitarians.” But they have long since discarded the encumbrance of the supernatural, and these days their opinions are simply the truth – “science” or “reason,” usually. I am particularly fond of the phrase “reality-based community,” which is so stupid it’s almost ironic.

. . .

Ultracalvinism is also “tolerant” to branches of other religions which it has in fact taken over, such as Reform Judaism or “moderate” Islam.

. . .

If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that “liberalism” is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc, etc, etc, is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It’s a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines.

. . .

If ultracalvinists are Christains, “political correctness” is religious orthodoxy. Hm, where have we seen this before? Perhaps in Massachusetts? I mean, is it any surprise that Ivy League schools are acting, in effect, as ultracalvinist seminaries? Isn’t that exactly what they were founded as?

And what are “multiculturalism” and “diversity” but religious tests for office?

. . .

On the evolution of this religious sect:

Jefferson dumped the Trinity, Emerson relieved us of Hell, and so on down to Harvey Cox and his “secular theology.” (If you think “secular” is synonymous with “atheistic,” the full horror of the situation is not yet clear to you.)

(As an aside, it’s interesting that the current Pope seems to be doing a rather decent imitation of Emerson in this regard. If there’s a better illustration of Moldbug’s point or Conquest’s Second Law, I can’t think of what it might be. If this development surprises you in any way, you’re missing most of the lessons of the reaction.)

. . .

Puritanism,

has not disappeared at all – it just mutated into Unitarianism (that is, non-universalist Unitarianism, now itself extinct), which begat Transcendentalism, which begat Unionism, Progressivism, and the ecumenical movement, which became the “super-protestant” Establishment so derided by the late great flower children, who conquered it and gave us multiculturalism, “diversity,” etc.

Not an unusual turn of events at all. Belief systems and languages evolve in much the same ways, and if you look at the historical gyrations of, say, English, the evolution from Calvinism to ultracalvinism seems positively straightforward and sedate.

. . .

Ultracalvinism . . . is the primary surviving descendant of the American mainline Protestant tradition, which has been the dominant belief system of the United States since its founding. It should be no surprise that it continues in this role, or that since the US’s victory in the last planetary war it has spread worldwide.

Ultracalvinism is an ecumenical syncretism of the mainline, not traceable to any one sectarian label. But its historical roots are easy to track with the tag Unitarian. The meaning of this word has mutated considerably in the last 200 years, but at any point since the 1830s it is found attached to the most prestigious people and ideas in the US, and since 1945 in the world. . . .

The “Calvinist” half of this word refers to the historical chain of descent from John Calvin and his religious dictatorship in Geneva, passing through the English Puritans to the New England Unitarians, abolitionists and Transcendentalists, Progressives and Prohibitionists, super-protestants, hippies and secular theologians, and down to our own dear progressive multiculturalists.

The ‘ultra’ half refers to my perception that, at least compared to other Christian sects, the beliefs of this faith are relatively aggressive and unusual.

. . .

Ultracalivinsts believe in:

1. The universal brotherhood of man – i.e. equality

2. The futility of violence – i.e. peace

3. The fair distribution of goods – i.e. social justice

4. The managed society – i.e. community run by benevolent experts

The four points also feature prominently in a little book called Looking Backward, which appeared in 1888 and sold about a bazillion copies. The author of this novel was not a Hindu. His readers were not Zoroastrians. The political movement that Bellamy helped spawn did not put its faith in Allah. And nor were any of these folks atheists, which was still quite a dirty word at the time. . . .

In fact, the four points are very common and easily recognizable tenets of Protestant Christianity, specifically in its Calvinist or Puritan strain.

. . .

The combination of electoral democracy and “separation of church and state” is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity. . . .

If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it’s a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer.

. . .

My contention is that Rawls is not a philosopher, but a minister. Like his Calvinist forebears, he is trying to establish the kingdom of God on Earth. Unlike them, he doesn’t admit it. . . . He redefines the word “justice” to mean, effectively, righteousness.

The full post on Rawls, “The Rawlsian God” is probably worth your time if you’re interested in these points.

. . .

The cultural ancestors of the Universalists have been called Progressives, Fabians, Unitarians, Evangelicals, Nonconformists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Chartists, Methodists, Dissenters, Puritans, Roundheads, etc, etc, etc. Any good Anglican, from any date between 1660 and 1960, would have identified the current Archbishop of Canterbury as a hardcore Dissenter or “low church” man, and they would certainly accept this as final and conclusive evidence that the conquest of Britain by Massachusetts is complete.

That brings us to the series on Richard Dawkins titled, “How Dawkins Got Pwned.” This series of posts uses Dawkins as an example (perhaps the best example) of a modern Puritan. The thesis of the series is that:

Professor Dawkins is not just an atheist. He is a Christian atheist.

Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvin atheist. In other words, he can also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc, etc.

The series begins by treating progressivism as a sort of infection of the mind. Assume progressivism is a virus that is solely concerned with spreading itself into as many minds as possible. We see the idea’s evolution, in which it starts as a fundamentalist religious belief and ends up discarding theism so as to better propagate itself in an officially secular system of government. Shed of overt theism, Progressivism “can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor or competitor [ie theistic Christianity].” The devil’s greatest trick . . . and so on.

After considering this germ-theory of Progressivism, Moldbug turns to Dawkins’ beliefs. “Professor Dawkins describes himself as a ‘deeply religious non-believer.’ He calls his belief system ‘Einsteinian religion.’”

Dawkins seems to understand that his own understanding of the world doesn’t quite make sense without some sort of fudge factor. He can’t quite explain why his side always triumphs – why progress seems to advance without significant or sustained interruption or setback. This fudge factor operates to consistently, if perhaps sometimes slowly, sway conflicts to the benefit of Progress. Dawkins calls this fudge factor the Zeitgeist.

The astute reader will note that the term “Zeitgeist” can be replaced with “Divine Providence” without losing any meaning at all. On the contrary, making such a replacement makes things much more clear. As Moldbug puts it: “It’s worth repeating Professor Dawkins’ definition of the Zeitgeist: a mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades. For some reason, these changes over the decades almost always favor Universalism itself. This is of course progress, and our Spirit of Time bears a suspicious resemblance to the MO of Divine Providence, minus of course the Divine bit.”

In this series, Moldbug also condenses much of his thoughts on Progressivism quoted above. For example:

Of course the tradition evolved over time. Its theology took significant steps toward modern secularism in the form of Unitarianism, which deleted the Trinity and other points of Calvinist doctrine, and especially under Transcendentalism, which elided the nasty idea of hell and declared that God loves everyone [paging Pope Francis]. Many of Professor Dawkins’ reveries about Einsteinian pantheistic natural grandeur are reminiscent of Emerson, who was trained as a Unitarian minister. During and after the War of Secession, New England Christianity established a cozy relationship with the Federal government, which it has continued to the present day, under labels such as liberalism and progressivism. . . .

Everyone knows that Western thought today, even its most fashionable incarnations, has Christian roots. But somehow, most of us think it’s possible to escape the implications of this connection by simply denying the Christian label, and adopting a metaphysical doctrine – atheism – which is repugnant to the unwashed who have not made this great leap. . . .

Imagine if I tried the same with Nazism. I could march around in a brown leather uniform all day, waving a swastika banner and condemning the filthy Zionist-Bolshevik hordes. When questioned by the usual voices of decency, I could respond that: I’m not a Nazi. In fact, I oppose Nazism. So I’m not a Nazi. I’m half-Jewish. The Nazis would never have me. So I’m not a Nazi. Nazis believe in the leadership of Adolf Hitler. I don’t. So I’m not a Nazi. My inverted swastika is actually a Hindu fertility symbol. So I’m not a Nazi. Etc, etc, etc. How much ice to you think this would cut with the diversity committee? But somehow, when the creed is Christianity rather than Nazism, it can be ditched as easily as a Muslim’s wife. Just say, “I’m an atheist, I’m an atheist, I’m an atheist.” And no one will ever be able to accuse you of being a religious fanatic, at least not without substantial preparatory explanation. What more perfect cover story for an actual religious fanatic?

Combining this understanding of Progressivism and Dawkin’s current beliefs we find that, “[e]xcept of course for the atheism theme, Professor Dawkins’ kernel is a remarkable match for the Ranter, Leveller, Digger, Quaker, Fifth Monarchist, or any of the more extreme English Dissenter traditions that flourished during the Cromwellian interregnum. . . . The point is that this thing, whatever you call it, is at least two hundred years old, and probably more like five. It’s basically the Reformation itself.”

Fine. So what? Who really cares if Dawkins is religious zealot?

This is important because Progressivism can’t be understood without this religious framework, and it’s important to understand Progressivism since it’s the world’s dominant ideology.

If Moldbug is right, then Dawkins, who “thinks he’s Galileo, Vavilov or Darwin” is really “a Caccini, Lysenko or Wilberforce. He is pwned in every sense of the word.”

In this series of posts Moldbug outlines a reactionary history of the last couple hundred years. It’s excellent and worth your time, but this post is perhaps so long that nobody will read it already, so I’ll save it for another post. The gist is that the Progressives always won, the last few Centuries have been extremely destructive and lots of things you think you know about history are probably wrong.

It is many of these ideas – Moldbug’s alternate histories and his criticism of both Progressivism and mainstream varieties of conservatives – that have attracted many other “reactionaries.” For our purposes, we can close by noting that these ideas are included in the series on Dawkins precisely because one can only reasonably reach these (apparently at least somewhat attractive) results from the initial idea that Progressivism is a nontheistic Christian sect.


Review of “Exodus” by Paul Collier

October 23, 2013

“Migration has been politicized before it has been analyzed.” – Paul Collier

In writing this book, Collier seeks to do two things. First, he wants to continue his work analyzing the poorest societies in the world.

Second – and much more interesting – he wants to rescue the immigration debate from Caplanization (or Gmule-ization, if you prefer). Caplanization is the process by which the proponents of a particular policy (in this case unrestricted immigration) argue for it in such a manner than virtually all reasonable people are attracted to the opposite position.

In Collier’s words, the book is:

also a critique of the prevailing opinion among liberal thinkers, a group of which I am a member, that modern Western societies should embrace a postnational future. . . . In the countries in which I work—the multicultural societies of Africa—the adverse consequences of weak national identity are apparent.

Or put differently in another part of the book:

It is short of disastrous that in some European countries around a fifth of the indigenous electorate [that may be an understatement] is wasting its vote on pariah parties because the mainstream parties will not properly debate what these voters regard, rightly or wrongly, as the most important issue facing the country.

The book is an attempt to analyze immigration using economic methods. There are certain aspects of immigration that are beneficial (e.g. efficiency improvements) and there are others that are harmful (e.g. declines in societal trust). At some levels of immigration, the benefits outweigh the harm, whereas at other levels, the harm outweighs the benefit. In other words, the book attempts to subject the immigration debate to marginal analysis.

Collier is attempting to rescue the debate from current tone which is more reminiscent of religious fanaticism than economic analysis. Oddly in this case, it’s the “economists” who generally speak of the issue in religious terms. It’s nearly impossible to state how strange the typical economic view of immigration is.

For example, writing at Marginal(!!!!) Revolution, Professor Cowen notes:

Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.

As Nick Land notes:

This sentence twists deeper into delirium with every reading. It has to be a candidate for the most insane splinter of sanity in history. (It makes me wonder whether an object the size of Jupiter, consisting of pure neutronium, colliding with Manhattan Island at 90% light speed, would most likely depress property values.)

Clearly, Collier has his work cut out for him.

Collier analyzes the costs and benefits of migration from the perspective of: 1) the migrants; 2) the indigenous population of the host country; and 3) the people left behind in the home country.

To very briefly summarize, he finds that most of the gains from migration go to the migrants themselves. Importantly, it would seem that a good chunk of the economic gain may be offset by psychological losses associated with living in a different “culture” (an incredibly powerful – and poorly defined – force, for Collier).

He finds that migration harms the poorest indigenous people, but benefits the rest. First, he finds that this economic effect is rather small. Second, he notes that this analysis applies only for moderate levels of migration. Theory would suggest that with mass migration, downward wage pressures would get much worse.

Migration harms many of those left behind particularly in the poorest countries. For example, Haiti has “around 130,000 fewer educated workers than it would have without emigration.” I’m far from as convinced as Collier is that Haiti can get much better, but it’s impossible to argue that it’ll ever get much better if all of its most talented citizens leave the country.

Along the way, Collier attempts to rescue the debate from religious language. He repeats that, “rights . . . should not be dissolved by . . . ‘global utility.’” He notes that nations have some basis in fact:

Astonishingly, around 70 percent of the current population of Britain are directly descended in this way from the people who inhabited Britain in the pre-Neolithic times: earlier than 4,000 B.C.

In other words, the idea that we’re all immigrants is retarded. In addition, he notes that “if Romer is correct, what migrants are escaping from, though they may not realize it, is the dysfunctional institutions that as settlers they appear to want to bring with them.” Of course, this admission makes immigrant voting patterns particularly relevant. Finally, “the windfall gains from migration are attributable ultimately to the public capital that has been built by the indigenous population.” This acknowledgement complicates (at a minimum) the idea that everyone deserves access to rich countries.

And his marginal analysis is actually quite compelling. For example, he notes that “the larger the diaspora is, the slower its rate of absorption will be.” A large diaspora also makes for faster rate of migration.

Here’s another totally reasonable statement: “The social consequences of migration depend on how immigrants relate to their host societies.”

For much of this analysis, Collier relies on Putnam. In essence he argues that high levels of immigration – particularly immigration from very diverse societies – will be corrosive to trust. This phenomenon then feeds on itself.

Interestingly, Collier tries to objectify “cultural distance” by measuring degrees of separation between languages of home and host countries. Again, in a totally unsurprising (and unmentionable) finding, cultural distance matters.

Some of his arguments get a bit more speculative. Obviously immigration increases house prices (he cites a figure of 10% in all of Britain, and notes that the number is much higher in the big cities). Does it also reduce company’s willingness to train workers? Does it encourage the indigenous to emigrate (especially from areas with high concentrations of immigrants)? He notes that London lost half its indigenous population since the 1950s.

How much has migration hollowed out the middle class? It’s very hard to say in any quantifiable way, but one has one’s suspicions (or here, if you prefer).

The gist of the marginal analysis is that, at some point, the effects of immigration become negative. Rich societies will, for a whole host of reasons, start fraying at the seams if immigration goes beyond a certain point. That point is not a theoretical point either. “In total, around 40 percent of the population of poor countries say that they would choose to migrate to rich ones if they could. Even this probably understates what would happen in the absence of financial and legal barriers.” To bolster that last point, Collier has an interesting analysis of the migration of Turkish Cypriots, where the ultimate exodus ended up well above that 40% mark.

Collier also provides some strong arguments against many of the comment arguments for increased immigration. For example:

Economics has developed an unambiguous analysis of how a temporary windfall should be handled: it should be saved. For example, the government could use a temporary increase in revenues from youthful immigration to reduce the public debt. What it should categorically not do is use them to incur new, ongoing obligations for spending, such as pensions. Yet that is what the argument “We need immigrants to counter an aging population” amounts to.

He notes that it will be difficult to compensate the losers from migration because evidence suggests that migration makes welfare less viable. In addition, in a world of unrestricted immigration, higher levels of welfare may attract less-skilled immigrants, thus exacerbating the problem.

To summarize his position, he believes that “the open door may be the short-sighted option [for some developed societies]: an unsustainable economic boom, followed by complex and prolonged social problems.”

He proposes moderate, controlled immigration. The controls would take the form of ceilings (i.e. limits on total immigration), selection (based on skills, culture, etc.), integration (proactive requirements that help immigrations be absorbed into the host society), and legalization (guest worker programs culminating in amnesty).

If you buy Collier’s underlying premises, this seems incredibly reasonable. Though this is not my ideal immigration policy, I think we could certainly have a reasonable debate about it without anyone sounding like they were arguing about angels on pins.

However, for every good thing that Collier says, he says a few weird things too.

Here’s a good one:

The track record of culturally diverse societies is not so encouraging. . . . In most societies for most of history high diversity has been a handicap. Even within modern Europe, the relatively modest cultural difference between Germans and Greeks has stretched to breaking the limited institutional harmonization achieved by the European Union. . . . If social models really are the fundamental determinants of prosperity, the rise of multiculturalism in one part of the world, coincident with its decline elsewhere, could have surprising implications.

In other words, Collier suggests that you should prepare to welcome our new Chinese overlords.

On the other hand:

Since race is correlated with other characteristics, such as poverty, religion, and culture, it remains possible that any limitation on migration based on these criteria is viewed as the Trojan horse for racism. If so, then it is still not possible to have an open debate on migration. I only decided to write this book once I judged that it is indeed now possible to distinguish between the concepts of race, poverty, and culture. Racialism is a belief in genetic differences between races: one for which there is no evidence. Poverty is about income, not genetics: the persistence of mass poverty alongside the technology that can make ordinary people prosperous is the great scandal and challenge of our age. Cultures are not genetically inherited; they are fluid clusters of norms and habits that have material consequences. A refusal to countenance racially based differences in behavior is a manifestation of human decency. A refusal to countenance culturally based differences in behavior would be a manifestation of blinkered denial of the obvious.

This sort of creationistic belief is worrisome. Note that not only does Collier refuse to consider genetics and evolution, he’s disgusted with you if you consider them.

The analysis that results from this (fundamentally religious) belief is a strange one. You’re torn as you read it. On one hand, it’s so obviously retarded. Collier says something like that “chance” is “the fundamental statistical reason” behind the dispersion of income. Really? Really? Is it also the fundamental reason behind distribution of Noble prizes in physics? If not, what happens in between?

On the other hand, one can’t but help admire how much work goes into a system that closes itself off from an obvious explanatory variable. Say what you will about the Ptolemaic system, but in some ways its most striking feature is that it was sometimes correct. You can’t but have a grudging admiration for the work necessary to hold something like that together.

Collier is also honest enough that it becomes apparent that the politically correct explanation isn’t really that politically correct. If evolution must be ignored, a lot of weight must be placed on “culture.” And then, you must soon conclude that a lot of cultures are pretty shitty.

You’re stuck with an explanation that is extremely hostile to cultural relativity: “The cultures—or norms and narratives—of poor societies, along with their institutions and organizations, stand suspected of being the primary cause of their poverty.” If you want to be politically correct, you’re screwed either way, better to just bury your head in the sand.

Collier also has to resurrect nationalism – it’s really the only force that can help with the absorption of migrants. After all, if there’s no nation, there’s nothing to be absorbed into. Put another way, the theory and practice of multiculturalism makes it all worse: “there is now mounting evidence that . . . the children of immigrants are more resistant to adopting the national culture than their parents.”

His view of nationalism is rather odd. He seems to think that every nation can be a “global village” type of nation. This suggestion seems obviously false to me. If every nation is the same, there’s nothing global about anything. Nevertheless, I find the reasoned discussion of nationalism without presumption that someone’s going to start killing the Jews to be appealing.

(I’m a nationalist for pretty much every nation at the smallest possible unit. A Courlandian nationalist, for example. The smaller the unit, the more interesting and easier it is to govern well.

I’ve always thought it telling that nationalistic-fascism took hold only in nations that were trying to cobble together a bunch of real nations into one big nation. That sort of unification is really hard, and unnatural, and in my opinion not really nationalistic – it’s unnatural nationalism, if you will.

By the way, this is why I find white nationalism so unappealing. There’s no nation of “white.” The idea that Italians and Swedes should share a nation is silly. This proposal in Switzerland seems totally reasonable to me, but it would be silly in any more diverse society, even one that was racially homogenous.)

I think Collier ultimately fails in his attempt to have a reasoned discussion on the issue. He’s so afraid that by not staking out the extreme pro-immigration position he’ll be considered a racist that he casts too much dispersion on those who might support his cause and he misses some of the most important arguments against immigration. The pro-unlimited-migration side are “progressives” while the anti-unlimited-immigration side are “xenophobes,” for example.

Another example will help. At one point Collier says:

Somewhere in England an elderly man reverts to the behavior of disaffected teenagers and daubs a slogan on the wall. He writes “England for the English.” The perpetrator is tracked down by the police and rightly prosecuted and convicted: the sentiment is clearly intended as racial abuse.

Note here that Collier is fine with criminalizing speech that is offensive to some unspecified (perhaps not even protected) group.

Yet in another part of the book, Collier notes that when the English tried to define Englishness in a non-racial way (at that point, I guess he forgot his DNA analysis that I quoted above) they relied on ideas like . . . wait for it . . . free speech.

So, if free speech is essentially English and also incompatible or intolerable in a society with significant immigration, something has to give. The entire multicultural viewpoint and associated criminalization of opinion is going to have to change for immigration to accelerate. If it doesn’t we’ll all be thought criminals.

Collier should be applauded for trying to re-frame this debate from the absurd state that it is in. There is indeed a more nuanced view than seeing the whole debate as one between the morally righteous (advocates of unfettered immigration) and the racist (advocates of anything other than unfettered immigration). The applause should be pretty half-hearted though.


Review of “The Last Lion” by Paul Reid

October 1, 2013

Given their distrust of Stalin, why did two such brilliant politicians as Churchill and Roosevelt remain so loyal to an ideological enemy who for almost twenty years had terrorized his own people while declaring capitalism to be his mortal foe?

– Paul Reid

This post is divided into three parts: 1) some brief thoughts on the book; 2) a very long digression on the very interesting question that Reid raises above; and 3) some thoughts on what to make of Churchill.

The Book

William Manchester wrote two volumes of a planned three volume biography of Churchill. He suffered a stroke during his research for the third. He asked Paul Reid to write the last volume.

Manchester was a protege of H. L. Mencken. I very much enjoyed Manchester’s biography of MacArthur and I very much enjoyed the first two volumes of this book.

Churchill leaps off the page and slaps the reader in the face. I remember laughing out loud – a not impressive feat for a massive, multi-volume biography.

Reid’s book is not nearly as good as a biography – frankly, it’s not even close. His Churchill is at times, almost an afterthought to the war narrative, as opposed to the shaper of events that Manchester described.

However, Reid makes up for his less-than-stellar biography skills by being a rather decent military historian (though he does make one absolutely unforgivable omission).

The book sucked me in, not as a biography of Churchill but as a meditation on the question that opens this post – how did Stalin win the peace? Indeed, Reid seems to lose himself (and his subject) in this question. How did FDR and Churchill get pwned by Stalin?

How Did the Soviets Win?

Churchill fought the war to save the empire. Alas, his only strategy for winning the war consisted in getting the US to join the war on his side. The price the US would ultimately demand was the end of the empire.

Churchill once said that if hell would fight Hitler, he’d find something nice to say about the devil. I’m sure he meant it in jest – but it ended up being all too true. A fact Churchill saw well before the war ended and decades before the most brilliant minds in US diplomacy figured it out.

In the end, the story of Churchill is a tragedy. The very values he fought for were compromised by the Allies he ultimately chose. Far from delivering the world into the sun-lit uplands of liberty, his victory delivered most of the world into hands of horrors at least bad – likely worse – than the ones he fought. (Admirers of Manchester – and Mencken – can’t help but think but think Manchester would have delivered something more concrete on this subject at the end of the book).

Thank you, gentle reader, for allowing me such a long preamble. Anyway . . .

The story of the war – in Reid’s telling – is almost nicely split into thirds. In the first third, Britain fights alone. In the second third, Russia does 90% of the fighting. In the last third, the US joins (though Russia still does the vast majority of the fighting and dictates the strategy for all powers combined).

In each third, it’s worth considering why Churchill kept wanting to fight Hitler . . . and whether (in hindsight) he made the right decision considering his original objectives.

The First Third

The mystery of the first third is why Churchill didn’t even consider seeking terms with Hitler during the years Britain fought alone.

Others – Lord Halifax, for example – suggested negotiating peace with Hitler to facilitate “safeguarding the independence of our Empire.” At the time, Churchill viewed these men as appeasers.

Years later, after starvation, bombing, cruelty, death, destitution, the end of the empire, and the deliverance to the Soviets of the very nations Churchill fought to protect, Lord Halifax’s suggestion doesn’t seem so crazy.

On the contrary, statements from Churchill like, “If this Long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground” seem a bit crazy. (Especially since, after an initial scare, there was no prospect of this happening).

Take a moment and imagine the situation for the next few years. France is gone. The Soviets and Hitler have carved up Eastern Europe and are allied. The US has no interest in joining the war, and even if it does it won’t be effective for years. German submarines control the Atlantic and English cities are under bombardment.

To fight is crazy. To fight without even considering some sort of truce is crazier. The Germans were baffled – they had no plans to invade. Hitler was prepared to offer generous terms (no demands of unconditional surrender were made, as was the case in France) to the British.

Yet many, including Jack Colville (who shuddered at the idea of a Nazi victory), thought the prospects afforded by a compromise peach preferable to the prospect of “western Europe racked by warfare and economic hardship; the legacy of centuries, in art and culture, swept away; the health of the nation dangerously impaired by malnutrition, nervous strain and epidemics; Russia and the U.S. profiting from our exhaustion; and at the end of it all compromise or Pyrrhic victory.”

Churchill’s crazy desire to fight was balanced by his absurd prescience. Soon after the French surrendered, he said, “Hitler must invade [England] or fail. If he fails, he is bound to go East [to Russia], and fail he will.”

So he fought on. He had no strategy to win the war, other than to wait for the Soviets and the Americans to be drawn to his side.

Churchill did all he could to milk fears of invasion, which he basically used to build himself an offensive army. His strategy – while he waited – was to harass Hitler and force him to spread out.

Churchill was obsessed with invading Norway – forcing Hitler to keep (and waste) troops there for the entirety of the war. But Churchill’s real obsession was the Mediterranean. Fighting here would keep open the route to India (and keep the empire together), spread Hitler’s forces out, allow his troops to fight Italians and not Germans, maintain access to Middle Eastern oil, and – one suspects – allow him a short route to German soil, if one was ever needed.

All this must be placed against the background of what the British people were suffering. And the peace terms actually achieved at the end of the war.

The Second Third

It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient states of Europe.

– Winston Churchill

And yet it was for this measureless disaster that the war was ultimately fought.

When the Soviets entered the war, it becomes a bit easier to see why the British continued to fight. The bombings slowed dramatically, for example.

It’s worth noting that Churchill tried to warn Stalin several times of German invasion (as did some of the Soviets’ incredibly successful spies). The warnings were unheeded. Stalin would prove to be far more skillful than Churchill, and infinitely more skillful than FDR, in winning the peace (it’s worth how tactically brilliant Stalin was in this regard), however Stalin was caught unprepared by Hitler’s invasion.

Though the Russians seemed vulnerable (Churchill was not among the majority that thought the Soviets would soon be overrun), one can’t help but wonder in retrospect if it would have been better had the Soviets lost.

Churchill had been a long time critic of Communism. I certainly can’t improve upon this: “‘Communism,’ Churchill declared . . ., was ‘Christianity with a tomahawk.'”

We’re left with a confused picture. On one hand, Churchill says,”No one has been a more consistent opponent of communism that I have for the last twenty-five years,” but “all this fades away before the spectacle that is unfolding.” On the other hand, he would later write that, “from 1942 on, he put every strategic decision in the war against Hitler under two lenses: ‘How will it shorten the war, and how will it prevent the Bear from stealing the peace.'”

If this was true, he was smart in 1942, but he lost the peace. Surely, it’s fair to judge a man against his own standards?

He also continued to say, things like, “And in that morning of hope and freedom . . . all that is noble and fearless in the New World as well as in the Old, will salute the rise of Poland to be a nation again.”

Nay nay, but far otherwise, all that is now considered noble allied with the oppressor of Poland.

The Third Third

Churchill did not rise to the bait until Stalin [at Yalta] proposed to shoot at least 50,000 German officers after the surrender in order to ensure Germany’s docility well into the future. “I would rather,” Churchill replied, “be taken out to the garden here and now and be shot myself than sully my own and my country’s honor by such infamy.” Roosevelt then chimed in with a compromise; he suggested that only 49,000 officers be shot. [Whether FDR was joking at the time, or not, both he and Churchill knew of Katyn at the time].

[Later at the conference, FDR]: “Poland has been a source of trouble for over five hundred years.”

So much for America’s best President. At Yalta, he proves himself an ass. Has any other President ever been so absolutely dominated in foreign policy as FDR was at Yalta?

When the US finally joins the war, it does so with – as best as one can decipher – only a few clear war aims: 1) demanding unconditional surrender (of Germany and Japan – aka the only bulwarks against Soviet domination of post-war Europe and Asia); 2) establishing the United Nations; and 3) ending European (excluding Soviet) colonialism.

If you, gentle reader, can come up with a list of war aims that would be more destructive to mankind at the time than those, the next round is on me. Perhaps entirely coincidentally (or perhaps not) these aims would seem to all work towards the direct benefit of the Soviets. It’s almost like Soviets were making US foreign policy.

At this point the book chronicles a huge number of strategic disagreements between the Allies. The Soviets want a big Western Front as soon as possible, preferably in France. The Americans . . . wait for it . . . want a big Western Front as soon as possible, preferably in France. Churchill preferred operations around the periphery of Nazi-occupied areas, culminating in an invasion of the Balkans. (He did briefly support an immediate invasion of France when he thought the Soviets were winning ground very quickly).

As I read it, Churchill was objectively correct during the first couple years of American involvement in the war. American troops would have been crushed if they’d immediately invaded France.

As time wore on, the Soviets and Americans got more impatient and the troops got battle-hardened. At this point, the best action depends on your aims.

If the goal in ’44 was to defeat the Germans as quickly as possible, the Americans and the Soviets were right. If, however, the goal was defeating the Nazis while ensuring the Soviets paid the maximum possible price, Churchill was undoubtedly correct.

Churchill

What to make of the man?

You can’t help but admire certain aspects of the guy. He would have been a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with, he was right about so many things a long time before anyone else was, and his will included a provision inviting Ian Smith to his funeral (much to the chagrin of the establishment at the time – which Churchill undoubtedly planned).

Churchill was an ardent supporter of British colonialism. For him, “the fact that more than a million Hindu and Muslim men volunteered to serve in defense of India, trumped all criticisms of HMG’s imperial policy.” (While Ghandi was advising them to prostrate themselves before the Japanese invader (and advising Jews to do the same for the Germans)).

Churchill was incredible – old but energetic, worked ridiculously, drank, smoked, flew around the world (“asked the RAF ground crew to customize his oxygen mask in order to allow him to smoke his cigars. The request was dutifully carried out.”)

“When, during his second premiership, his cabinet debated the adoption of new laws limiting West Indian immigration, Churchill proposed his suggestion for a national motto: ‘Keep England White.'”

He believed that “the British alone had managed to combine Empire and Liberty.”

“Churchill believed that had the victors in the Great War fished a Hohenzollern or Hapsburg heir out of oblivion and put him back on the German or Austrian throne to lead a constitutional monarchy, there would have been no Hitler.”

Churchill to an American feminist who criticized British colonialism in India: “Before we proceed further let us get one thing clear. Are we talking about the brown Indians in India, who have multiplied alarmingly under benevolent British rule? Or are we talking about the Red Indians in America, who, I understand, are almost extinct?”

In the House of Commons, Churchill: “I think the Communist Members and fellow travelers have a pretty good run in this House.” Reid notes that this statement goes further than anything Joe McCarthy ever said.

Churchill: “I read with great interest all you have written me about what is colonialism; namely, bringing forth backward races and opening up the jungles.” In India, “with all its history, religion, and ancient forms of despotic rule, Britain has a story to tell which will look quite well against the background of the coming hundred years.”

In a world of pseudo-multiculturalism, it’s worth pausing to marvel at the real thing: “In the Imperial Army: Britons, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Newfoundlanders, Indians, Ceylonese, Swazi, Mauritians, and Caribbeans.” And, of course, Rhodesians.

On the other hand, it’s really difficult to understand why he fought at the beginning and why he had so much faith in FDR – so much so that one can’t help but wonder if at some point, in his darkest thoughts, he wondered if he’d made a mistake. Churchill did title the last volume of his war memoirs: “Triumph and Tragedy.”

What would a non-propaganda-filled history of WWII look like?

As Reid puts it:

Why did Churchill and Roosevelt during the next three years fail, utterly, to hatch any plans between themselves that addressed the possible – probable, even – consequences to Europe of their alliance with the Soviet dictator? . . . The wonder is not that in late 1941 Churchill foresaw future problems with Stalin, but why he ever could have thought otherwise.

Part of the explanation surely lies with Stalin and FDR. Stalin outsmarted FDR and Chruchill. “He was perhaps the most politically adroit of all the principals, Allied and Axis.”

It was pretty easy to outsmart FDR, who said stuff like, “I think you will not mind me being brutally frank when I tell you that I think I can personally handle Stalin better than either your Foreign Office or my State Department.” Probably true – but not saying much.

FDR is a very odd ally for a guy who wanted to defend the empire – indeed, the Empire didn’t survive very long after the American alliance. Besides tactical differences of opinion, there were numerous post-war differences of opinion. For example, Roosevelt wanted to absolutely dis-aggregate Germany (his vision included five separate states) – Churchill was of the opposite belief. Roosevelt would have gone further and disarmed all of Europe other than England and Russia (even breaking up France). “Churchill’s France, unlike Roosevelt’s France, would reclaim its glory.”

Roosevelt overruled Eisenhower and Churchill and demanded unconditional surrender – prolonging war in Germany and Italy. Churchill desperately wanted to get to Vienna before the Russians, again overruled.

The Germans never seemed to figure out what the heck Churchill was thinking. In the end, it appears that Churchill fought to preserve empire, Roosevelt for financial gain, and Stalin fought for territory. Churchill lost.

Brooke perhaps best sums up the British view of the American strategy: “All right, if you insist on being damned fools, sooner than falling out with you, which would be fatal, we should be damned fools with you, and we shall see that we perform the role of damned fools damned well.”

After Churchill and FDR heard of mass killings in Warsaw: “Churchill proposed cutting off convoys to Russia” . . . “Days later, Moran told his diary, ‘Winston never talks of Hitler these days; he is always harping on the dangers of communism.'”

Churchill had to argue with Eisenhower and FDR about extremely obvious points, for example Churchill actually had to explain the strategic importance of getting to Berlin and not letting Soviets get there alone. FDR replied, “I do not get the point.” Indeed – truer words are hard to come by.

(Before concluding, I must parenthetically note that Reid commits an act of historical malpractice by failing to mention that Harry Hopkins was quite possibly a Soviet agent.

Hopkins was Churchill’s main contact with FDR’s aides – they really spoke more than Churchill and FDR. Surely, the fact Hopkins was potentially a Soviet agent deserves a mention. Arguably, it changes everything).

Of course, you can always go a bit further down the rabbit hole of real WWII history:

Similarly, American historians overlook the obvious fact that Alger Hiss could have done nothing without FDR’s personal permission, and mistake the Hiss-Hopkins backchannel to the KGB for a case of “espionage” – not even considering the idea that FDR, the New Deal, or America as a whole could be seen as generally guilty for our collaboration, concealment, and general complicity with Stalin’s enormous crimes.

It’s hard to blame to Churchill for not figuring that out.


Review of “Nekkid in Austin” by Fred Reed

September 8, 2013

Fred Reed is an interesting guy. He doesn’t fit in any obvious ideological box, but he may be on the cusp of going viral if hillbilly intellectualism is on the rise.

This book is a collection of his writings, which have appeared everywhere from Harper’s to The American Conservative and several military publications along the way. It’s also the sort of book that is best reviewed by letting it speak for itself.

Themes in the book range from race realism to anti-feminism to military reporting to a celebration of what Bob Dylan (and John Derbyshire) has called the “old weird America.”

However, if the book is anything, it’s a chronicle of the decline of the US. I pretty sure the columns in the book were written while Reed was in the process of expatriating to Mexico. As he sums it up:

As Empires die, the barbarians usually gather at the gates, preparing a final rush. Unfortunately our savages are already inside. They are in the public schools, the universities, and downtown in the cities. They make our movies, set social policy from afar, instill appropriate values in our children. They do not know that they are savages. They now rule us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Except watch. Vast disasters make splendid theater. This one is going to be a doozy. . . .

here is a circus worth the admission, a fabulous suicide, more astonishing than the implosion of the Soviet Union. We see a new kink in the historical rope: a dominant culture, the inventor of the modern world, once supreme militarily, in the sciences, commercially, boisterously confident even thirty-five years ago, suddenly and piously drinking hemlock.

Without further ado, here he is on America’s problems, politics, immigration, women, reporters, diversity, the military, race relations, and other random topics. Enjoy.

1) “Much of the unpleasantness of modern life occurs because we will say ‘No’ to almost nothing.”

2) “Is there anything the courts cannot make us do? I doubt it.” . . .

“The problem with being a nation of laws is that whoever controls the laws then controls the nation.”

3) “The news racket ought to be, and was, a trade of honest drunks. . . . Now reporters are New Age, prissy, and censorious. The men wear lingerie and the women don’t know what it is. You can just tell that if you left them in a fern bar, they would nest, talk about multiculturalism, and lay eggs.”

4) “Some call it sophistication but, if so, it’s the sophistication that comes of growing up in a whorehouse. We celebrate casual bastardy, elevate the sleazy and inadequate to high moral principle. We bathe in civilization’s bilges. I think a lot of us notice it.”

5) “Diversity means students who can barely read, don’t want to, and haven’t the foggiest idea what the purpose of a university might be. . . .

“Where I come from, diversity just means you have to lock your bicycle up. And stay in at night, and carry a gun, and watch your daughter and chickens. And I figure that if people loot stores, they just aren’t civilized, and don’t belong among decent folk, and ought to be in jail. . . . Like I say, I’m simple.”

6) “One marvels that a creed widely doubted in private, unsupported by evidence, and manifestly incorrect, can become compulsory in society, shape its policy, and arouse furious support. Radical egalitarianism is such a creed.”

7) “The military has fallen apart. . . . The problem is (1) feminization of military values, (2) recruitment of low-grade women with no commitment to the armed services, and (3) unwillingness to discipline them.”

8) “We have feminized the schools. Worse, the teachers don’t much like boys. . . .

“There is a totalitarian strain in the female psyche. It isn’t evil, at least not in intention. Quite the opposite—in intention.”

“The trick to civilization is channeling male horsepower into useful directions. . . . A man will not try to force girls to play football. A woman will try to force boys to stop playing it.”

9) “Always it is there: The twisted prissy Puritanism, obsessed by the fear of sex, yet determined to discover salaciousness everywhere.”

10) “We need to sit down and talk turkey about this immigration thing, like men, and not act like State Department types. I mean, we’re not transvestites.”

11) “We’re getting the folks who can’t make it in Mexico—the uneducated, the uncultivated, the ones that show signs of staying that way. . . .

“We’re in the middle of learning whether there is anything at all that cannot be inflicted on the American public—whether people with cable TV can rouse themselves to resist, well, anything.”

12) “People don’t care what kind of gummint they got. All’s they want is a four-by-four, two bedrooms that don’t leak too much, a job that doesn’t make them think, and 600 channels on the satellite. Maybe a Bug Zapper and a six-pack on the weekends.”

13) “The browns are more likely to join the whites than oppose them. They assuredly don’t like the blacks. . . . It doesn’t take much listening, or hanging out in Latino eateries, to realize that blacks and Latinos are more likely to be competitors, or even adversaries, than allies. The cultural gap is enormous, their approaches to life and society wildly different.”

14) “If you want to make sense of the Clintons, the best way is to understand them as the revenge of the Confederacy. Nothing else makes them plausible. . . . My guess is that a secret society, in Montgomery or maybe Chattanooga, figured that the South would never Rise Again, but if they could bring the North low enough, it would be the same thing.”

15) “The media will continue to fan the flames of racial discord.”

16) Why Asian women are attractive: “The Asians, without exception, are sleek, well-groomed, and dressed with an understated sexiness that never pushes trashy. . . . Further, the Asians are what were once called ‘ladies,’ a thought repellant to feminists but so very refreshing to men.”

On American women: “As best I can tell, they don’t like being women. Here is the entire problem in five words.”

17) “Perhaps the oddest idea regarding democracy is the belief that more than five people want it. Other curious notions are that it quite exists, or ever did, or is particularly desirable, or likely to endure. . . .

“We have the trappings of elections, the theater of close counts, the excitement of watching the polls–that is, the emotions associated with a tight football season. But what real influence do we have? Can we divert the remotely chosen path of our children’s education, alter or even speak against the flow of immigrants across our borders, question racial preferences? No. These things are decided for us. We can lose our jobs for speaking of them. The more things matter, the less we can say about them.”

18) “A stereotype is the aggregate observation of many people over time, which is why stereotypes are almost always accurate. . . . Stereotyping means recognizing the obvious. In an academic context, or in the public schools, it means noticing that the wrong groups are better at things. This we must never, ever do.”

19) “What if we are wrong? What if different kinds of people just plain don’t want to live together? What if federal bullying, stamping our feet, and holding our breath and turning blue won’t change things? . . .

“Note that most of the internal violence that afflicts nations occurs between ethnic, racial, and religious groups—not between rich and poor, between those who bowl and those who golf, or between the left-handed and the right-handed. . . . Different kinds of people don’t get along. Why do we not recognize this?”

20) “Today men are accountable for their behavior. Women are not. The lack of accountability, seldom clearly recognized, is the bedrock of much of today’s feminist misbehavior, influence, and politics.”

21) “Crime by the underclass is racial, predatory, and very much targeted against whites. The motive is hatred more often than economic gain. . . . The media carefully, systematically, by deliberate policy, hide these truths. . . . During the Cincinnati riots, I heard through police back-channels of blacks pulling white women from cars and beating them. I didn’t write about it. If I had quoted my sources, they would have been fired for talking. Without sources, I’d have been dismissed as engaging in racist fantasy.”

22) “Note that racial policy invariably assumes that blacks are helpless, shiftless, require hand-feeding, and cannot be expected to achieve. Our managers simply use them as a weapon for destroying society.”

23) “The genius of television is that, to shape a people as you want, you don’t need unrestrained governmental authority, nor do you need to tell people what you want of them. Indeed, if you told them what to do, they would be likely to refuse. . . . No. You merely have to show them, over and over, day after day, the behavior you wish to instill. Show them enough mothers of illegitimate children heartwarmingly portrayed. Endlessly broadcast storylines suggesting that excellence is elitist. Constantly air ghetto values and moiling back-alley mobs grunting and thrusting their faces at the camera—and slowly, unconsciously, people will come to accept and then imitate them. Patience is everything. . . . Few call this imperialism. It is, with a vengeance.”


Review of “What Do Women Want?” by Daniel Bergner

September 2, 2013

There are facts that were once known, sometimes generally known, that are now known to but a few.

Greg Cochran

We embraced science that soothed us, the science we wanted to hear.

The presumption that while male lust belongs to the animal realm, female sexuality tends naturally toward the civilized; the belief that in women’s brains the more advanced regions, the domains of forethought and self-control, are built by heredity to ably quiet the libido; the premise that emotional bonding is, for women, a potent and ancestrally prepared aphrodisiac; the idea that female eros makes women the preordained if imperfect guardians of monogamy—what nascent truths will come into view, floating forward if these faiths continue to be cut apart?

– Daniel Bergner

We live in an era plagued by pretty lies. One of the most beautiful and the least true is the lie of female sexuality. Under this lie, females carefully guard their reproductive facilities from men, who wish to spread their seed as widely as possible. What if things work the other way around? What if everything we’re taught about female sexuality is wrong? What if by totally freeing female sexuality from any moral constraints, we’ve opened up Pandora’s Box (pun intended)?

The manosphere, pick-up artists, or whatever you want to the burgeoning online group, owes its existence not to men’s desires to get laid, the increasing femininity of our culture or anything else that’s been popularly suggested. This movement owes its existence to the fact that the mainstream theory of female sexuality is a lie.

As long as people are taught that females are not promiscuous, that they love being romanced, that they should be treated with kindness if you want to impress them, they’ll be a market for the wisdom of this particular red pill.

Daniel Bergner rounds up some of the scientific research on this topic. Pretty lies perished. Feminists wept. A select few bloggers and readers nodded and took another drink.

The book is short, at times the writing is distinctly mediocre, but the science is fascinating (though it may not be surprising, if you’ve been paying attention). And, for a guy that’s been married 8+ years, the entire subject is rather depressing.

In sum, the scientific research indicates:

that one of our most comforting assumptions, soothing perhaps above all to men but clung to by both sexes, that female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido, is scarcely more than a fairy tale.

The picture that emerges is one that shows that, the female libido – “the female libido looked omnivorous” – appears to crave novelty. This point was brought home by studies on monkeys’ sexual behave in a particularly illuminating manner – female monkeys will move from partner to partner almost immediately upon finishing the act itself.

All this research falls:

within an area of science that is fiercely debated, mostly because of its signs that there are certain differences in intelligence between women and men due not to culture but to genes.

Uh oh. We appear to have actual believers in evolution here. Sound the PC alarms.

Once you move a ways down this unacceptable road, the pretty lies fall quickly. Some of the findings might as well have been scripted by PUA sites. For example, here’s a woman talking about her husband: “I’m not even thirty-five,’ she said to me. ‘That tingling—I don’t get to feel that anymore?'”

Consistently, studies find that women’s self-reported levels of arousal differ wildly from their actually measured levels (the latter are measured by blood flow to the relevant areas). More specifically,

Genital blood throbbed when the tapes described X-rated episodes with female friends—but the throbbing for female strangers was twice as powerful [this test was done on straight women, btw]. The broad-chested male friends were deadening; with them, vaginal pulse almost flatlined. The male strangers stirred eight times more blood.

The “friend zone” is indeed a scientific fact. You’re better being a female stranger than a male friend if you want to get some. Behold, female sexuality.

Other inconvenient findings include:

Women who thought they were being polygraphed not only reported more partners than the rest of the female subjects, they also—unlike their female counterparts—gave numbers [of sexual partners] a good deal higher than the men.

The bottomline is that:

To be desired was at the heart of women’s desiring. Narcissism, she [i.e. the researcher] stressed—and she used the word not in damning judgment but in description—was at the core of women’s sexual psyches. . . . The wish to be the object of primal need.

And perhaps the deathblow:

She warned against the expectation or even the hope of reaching popular romantic dreams: of “merging” with a partner, of being able to say “you complete me.” This was the wrong standard for love. This kind of bond, or just the striving for it, could suffocate [female] eros. Melding left no separation to span, no distance for a lover’s drive to cross, no end point where the full force of that drive could be felt. . . .

Not only did monogamy not enhance female sexuality, but it was likely worse for women than men.

There is an interesting section on rape fantasies, which are “really fantasies of submission:”

Depending on the study, between around 30 and 60 percent of women acknowledged that they took pleasure in this kind of imagining. The true numbers, the authors argue, were probably higher.

A few of the researchers were delightfully blunt:

“One lesson,” he said, “is that you don’t want a woman to form her first impression of you when she’s in the wrong menstrual phase. You’ll never recover.

Again this is hardly surprising to anyone not fully propagandized by feminism:

Amassing evidence that, all over the globe, male randiness and female modesty are celebrated. The widespread, in his view, proves the predetermined, the genetically encoded.

Before ending, it’s worth reflecting on how terrible the modern state of affairs is for people that actually love each other. It’s appears, after a while, that female lust dies out. The mainstream “solutions” for this problem are the root cause of the problem in the first place. At a certain point, it’s just depressing to read more stories about about a woman who loves her husband, but just doesn’t get excited by him. Or a husband who can’t figure out why his wife doesn’t get excited for him.

Anyway, this is the essence of the force that feminism has unleashed. We don’t understand it (we did, but we don’t any longer, although it’s really not that difficult to understand). We should fear it. We unleashed it because, reasoning from the wrong premises, it made perfect sense to do so, despite the wisdom we’d inherited from our ancestors. Hold your asses, while we reap what we’ve sown.


Review of “This Town” by Mark Leibovich

July 26, 2013

This book purports to explain how Washington really works. In a sense it does – though only by omission.

The book is a chronicle of the most noticeable people in DC – the most “important” politicians, lobbyists, reporters, consultants, etc. From this viewpoint, you get great insight into what these people are doing. Unfortunately, you therefore get absolutely no insight into anything else.

For example, 10% of the book is devoted to Tim Russert’s funeral. This sort of event is extremely important to these people. A few pages are devoted to David Axelrod shaving his mustache. Also an incredibly important event, apparently. (By the way, Axelrod may be the only guy ever who looks like more of a perv without a mustache).

On the other hand, this book takes place during a time of momentous developments that go completely unmentioned. (The book basically covers the time Obama has been in office). A grand total of zero words are devoted to financial reform, Obamacare, or any other policy initiatives. One sentence would suggest that Tom Coburn really cares about the debt and another would suggest that Obama supported gay marriage from the start. Otherwise, it’s all parties, jostling for TV time, and other vapid stuff. As Leibovich notes,

There was little slog to it, as there is in so much of political office: the policy debates, the town meetings, the committee hearings, the constituent visits. Screw that. Press is immediate gratification. It’s where most politicians truly live, the realm of how others see and judge them, the hour-to-hour score sheet of their massively external definition.

In other words, in six years of chronicling the important events of the most notable and important people in Washington, zero words of the book are devoted to any processes that even remotely resemble a legislative, executive or judicial process.

You can come to Washington, achieve complete success and never actually have to govern anything, other than perhaps a campaign. Even when he discusses campaign, it quickly becomes about how people will be portrayed by HBO.

Through this massive omission, which – also tellingly – the author doesn’t even notice, you learn more about Washington than you do from anything that’s actually written in the book.

Leibovich’s thesis is that “This Town” is run by what he calls “The Club.” The Club consists of 500 or so of the most influential people from a collection of reporters, public figures, politicians, appointees, consultants and lobbyists. The group includes “formers,” i.e. former politicians that make lots of money “advising.” These people don’t perform any obvious function beyond self-perpetuating:

But their membership in The Club becomes paramount and defining. They become part of a system that rewards, more than anything, self-perpetuation.

In this case the initial focus on Tim Russert is instructive. He’s basically treated like a god by those in The Club, but what did Russert actually do? I have no idea – is being on TV and asking innate questions all that impressive? And the funeral itself makes Leibovich’s point that:

No matter how disappointed people are in their capital, even the most tuned-in consumers have no idea what the modern cinematic version [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that there is any other version] of This Town really looks like . . . It misses that the city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has democratized the political conversation while accentuating Washington’s insular, myopic, and self-loving tendencies.

Alternatively:

Political Washington is an inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club. Policy arguments can often devolve into the trivial slap fights of televised debate [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that they start anywhere else]: everyone playing a role, putting on a show, and then introducing a plot twist.

Leibovich does a very nice job demonstrating how insular and unchanging this class is. You can’t get rid of any of these people. Many haven’t held office in a decade and yet they hang around when Congress starts a new session.

Washington—like high school—used to be a transient culture. People would expect to graduate eventually or drop out. But almost no one leaves here anymore.

The book chronicles party after party and jostling for spots on TV, or whatever, but it’s probably at its best when Leibovich follows around some specific members of The Club, including: Bob Barnett, “the doorman to the revolving door”; Harry Reid; Tom Coburn, who initially seems the most outside of The Club, but apparently has a mushy-spot for his relationship to the President; Kurt Bardella; Richard Holbrooke; Tammy Haddad; Mike Allen; and Trent Lott.

An anecdote from his time with Lott is insightful:

[Lott’s] tone shifted when I mentioned that [Ted] Kennedy had kept a letter from Lott hanging in his Senate conference room. It was a thank-you note Lott had sent to Kennedy after Kennedy had purchased a painting for Lott on Cape Cod. “Really?” Lott said quietly. “Did Teddy really keep that hanging up? I had no idea.” There was a pause on the line, and it occurred to me that Lott was choking up.

There’s lots of stories like this. Club members are flattered that other members actually like them. It’s mutual flattery all the way down. There’s no other there there.

Once in The Club, you basically can’t get kicked out and it’s incredibly easy to monetize your status. For example, when General McChrystal “resigned” following a sexual scandal, some comments he made about the administration to an “embedded” reporter, he immediately started a political consultancy, got a book deal (courtesy of Barnett), ended up on the boards of a couple large corporations, taught a graduate seminar at Yale, and made $60,000 per speaking gig.

Leibovich has some interesting asides on the Obama administrations relationship with This Town. The administration fancies itself as more substantive than those in The Club. It wants to remain above it all.

On the other hand, everyone in The Club worships the administration (“comic levels” of sucking up, as Leibovich puts it) and Obama’s style seems to work really well for those in The Club (particularly the lobbyists the administration seems to disdain and then appoint to good jobs). It creates an odd and interesting dynamic that someone will eventually be able to explain. Leibovich at least identifies the potential story, even if he fails to follow-up very well.

Leibovich also criticizes the media’s role in The Club. Their membership in The Club creates constant conflicts of interest. Maintaining their status requires them to not actually conduct any . . . journalism. Any they can’t seem to get enough of glorifying themselves:

Perhaps more than anything, Watergate—and All the President’s Men—made journalists a celebrated class in This Town unlike in any other.

Near the end, Leibovich touches the third rail of examining The Club’s view of the electorate. In short, the view is characterized by disdain. As Leibovich puts it, the consensus is that “The basis of our democracy is Forrest Gump.”

Frankly, that seems about right to me. Perhaps it’s generous.

If you’re looking for an explanation of how the US is actually governed, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of this book. No one seems to have any beliefs or opinions of any kind, but they’d all be happy to develop which ever one you want if it’ll get them on the Meet the Press.

In that sense, the book begs a fascinating question: if the people that are supposedly running the country aren’t actually performing any of the functions of governing, who is?


Review of “Shift Omnibus Edition” by Hugh Howey

July 23, 2013

I couldn’t resist the sequel, especially since the final book is coming out next month.

Actually these books are a prequel to the first set of books. The first set of books were post-apocalyptic. The first two in this new set take place prior to the events of the first set of books.

It’s tough to maintain the magic when you reveal the events of the actual apocalyptic-scenario, but Howey pulls it off pretty well. The third book in the new set brings the story back up to date.

Essentially all the unanswered from the first set of books are answered in a way that isn’t lame (which is pretty remarkable).

It should be noted that in addition to being an interesting sci-fi scenario, the books are actually really good. They’re ultimately about what it takes to survive and the hard decisions that accompany survival. Howey is also very good at revealing just enough to keep you very interested throughout.

I can’t say anymore, since that’d ruin the reading experience.


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