Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
Born in 1945, Lee [Felsenstein] grew up in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia, a neighborhood of row homes populated by first- and second-generation Jewish immigrants. His mother was the daughter of an engineer who had invented an important diesel fuel injector, and his father, a commercial artist, had worked in a locomotive plant. Later, in an unpublished autobiographical sketch, Lee would write that his father Jake “was a modernist who believed in the ‘perfectability’ of man and the machine as the model for human society. In play with his children he would often imitate a steam locomotive as other men would imitate animals.”
… His father Jake’s political adventures as a member of the Communist Party had ended in the mid-fifties when infighting led to Jake’s losing his post as district organizer, but politics were central to the family. Lee participated in marches on Washington, D.C. at the age of twelve and thirteen, and once picketed Woolworth’s in an early civil rights demonstration.
… After graduation, he went to the University of California at Berkeley to matriculate in Electrical Engineering. … He got … a work-study job at NASA’s Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, at the edge of the Mohave Desert. To Lee, it was admission to Paradise—the language people spoke there was electronics, rocket electronics, and the schematics he had studied would now be transmogrified into the stuff of science fiction come alive. … Then, after two months of that “seventh heaven,” as he later called it, he was summoned to a meeting with a security officer.
The officer seemed ill at ease. He was accompanied by a witness to the proceedings. The officer kept notes and had Lee sign each page as he finished it. He also had the form Lee had filled out upon entering Edwards, Security Form 398. The officer kept asking Lee if he knew anyone who was a member of the Communist Party. And Lee kept saying no. Finally he asked, in a gentle voice, “Don’t you understand that your parents were Communists?”
Lee had never been told. He had assumed that “Communist” was just a term—red-baiting—that people flung at activist liberals like his parents. His brother had known—his brother had been named after Stalin!—but Lee had not been told. He had been perfectly honest when he filled out Form 398 with a clear “no” on the line that asked if you knew any known Communists.
Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
j. ont. writes at Outside In:
I feel like the question of aesthetics might be a conversation for another thread or blog altogether. Any place people are talking about this sort of thing?
Now there is!
Insofar as neoreaction, the first school of thought to have come to be solely within territory created by recent technological advances, is futurist—insofar as it advocates for and relies upon fuller use of current and future technology and supports a break from the historical vectors of the past—it has an obvious aesthetic parallel in recent electronic music, especially dubstep. Unlike big-F Futurism, and unlike all the other avant-garde movements of the 20th century, dubstep does not support a total break with the past—it has yet to break free from the stylistic constraints of Western music theory, although certain producers within other styles have just about done away with tonality, and it frequently references the soundtracks of its creators’ youth—but Futurism has the disadvantage of having been produced by intellectuals and artists, certainly not classes known for being in touch with the lived reality of those outside the towers of their cathedrals (some Serialists thought mailmen would whistle their compositions as they went about their duties!), in what at the time was a backwater.
But note its reference points: video game music, the aforementioned soundtrack of a generation, is a perfect example of using technology to its fullest: a three-voice chip generating tunes that would later be orchestrated. (Ballblazer even generated its own music!)
Dubstep is often criticized for sounding like heavy machinery—but isn’t that the point? In the old days, music imitated the sounds around the musicians. Many composers, most notably Messiaen, studied and imitated birdsong. Harry Partch was inspired in part by the tonal patterns of speech to develop his scale systems. Electronic machine music for an electronic machine age.
Years have passed since our arrival on Earth. Your democracy has become an illusion. Global mind control tactics must be stopped. We must unite as one to save your planet. Those who rise against us will be destroyed; those who have achieved an elevated existence, raise your fists!
But mine is not the only recommendation. James Goulding suggests zeuhl:
We Kobaïans would like more people to learn Zeuhl Wortz, albeit Kreuhn Kohrmahn is a purely abstract entity, composed of Exit and peer-to-peer law. Should the Earthlings refuse, we may have to threaten them with the Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh.
I prefer Magma, because they have that “fascist” (you know what I mean…) element that I suppose is desirable and fun, but also reach an apotheosis of progressive rock music, and I believe spiritual purity, that even the most musically sensitive people could enjoy.
So: what else could it be?
Called it. The patterns are set and unchanging.
Progressivism is not concerned with truth, and therefore will not limit its criticism to the truth value of Kanazawa’s claims, of the data and methodology that led him there; they are instead concerned with conformity to progressivism, and will largely limit their attacks to those grounds. “To hell with truth; we have the Truth!” So, of course, the controversy broke completely free of the constraints of rationality, and progressive bloggers took up arms against not Kanazawa’s methods, but his results.
Being able to recycle old posts instead of having to start writing from scratch every time the Cathedral starts playing one of its few and tedious tunes is one of the benefits of being right.
Oh, but this time there’s a takedown… or not.
The idea that Latinos won’t assimilate because they’re doomed to low IQs for generations is offensive. But so what? More important, it’s wrong. At least half of the variation in IQ is inherited, The Wall Street Journal explained in January, but scientists haven’t figured out which genes affect IQ. And even more important for today’s political debate, Latinos are assimilating. The New York Times‘s David Leonhardt explained in April that Latinos are assimilating at about the same rate as earlier immigrant groups — they’re “the New Italians,” he said. As with Italians, a huge wave of Latinos immigrated here poor, poorly educated, and culturally different. But they become richer and better educated with each generation. RAND Corporation economist James P. Smith found that the average Latino immigrant has a junior high education, but the average Latino immigrant’s kid goes to college for almost a year, and the average Latino immigrant’s grandkid stays in college longer.
A refutation of the unimportant half of an argument coupled with an admission that the important half is correct, obscured with a non-sequitur, is not a refutation of an argument.
I don’t know whether the IQ gap will close, but I do know that, given our current political structures, we’ll never find out.
America, as we all know, is a global force for good. The tricolor flies from San Francisco to Samarkand, manufacturing justice and theologians thereof, exegesizing Enlightenment from Nozick to Nietzsche, assimilating all they can’t erase. The Children of the Light march ever onward toward their millennium, striking terror into the hearts of those few heathens who weren’t true believers all along. Is Confucianism compatible with democracy, or must it be brushed aside? Embrace, extend… could not Ballmer have led our battalion?
Kyrgyzstan rejoices at Allied command. The Minotaur grows ever larger; the Minotaur must feed. Are there not those who seek nothing more than to ride it, to see the seas part at their command? Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Power is a crocodile pond, breeding the sharp-toothed and bloodthirsty. Thedesmen to the core, lining the halls with white cloaks and red fangs, chanting the crocodile chant: “Our thede is the Allthede, and death to the elthedes! Our Truth is Truth, and death to the truth!”. Sing our song, hatchling: Ever onward, USG! Batch-processed priests carrying punch cards of neutered Nietzsches, sham-philosophers slinging Sorbonne-stamped sham-hammers, critical theories criticizing only the already criticized. But you see—they Know! They Know what is Right! They Know, and they Know that some people Know, and some people don’t—some people are saved and others are damned, predestined to a justly deserved curb-stomping delivered by the steel-toed boot of the Lord.
All hail the Kyrgyz Christmas! All hail the four-year mass: will the next pope be Protestant, or will he be just? And above all, hail the Minotaur and the saddle on which we may ride; we, crusaders for justice; we, who forsake truth for Truth; we, who know that the ends justify the means—and we for whom the means are the ends. Covenant? What covenant? Given a chance to control the sword and the arm of the Lord, does it matter what the Lord believes? Our bloodlust, our Truth-lust must be sated, and no elthede may be spared—remember this, comrades, for tonight we ride! Onward, ever onward must the sham-hammers ride, these legendary weapons forged by Zarathustra, the legendary hero cured of his madness by East England’s best psychologists, cured of his evil desires by Satan unchained—onward under the glorious banner of the critical, under our Christian caricatures of neutered Nietzsches to crush the pagans of the dead God in the name of the alive and emancipated Devil—for once the saints’ scales fall from your eyes, you will see…
But have you not already seen? How, you damned pagan? Satan was good all along!—good but enchained by the gross God of the pagans and pederasts, the black mages of order, the liars of truth, the bourgeois moralizers balking at means. When the end is the eschaton—what means could stand in its way? We moralists must curse the moralists, we crocodiles must massacre—the ends justify the means, yes, but the means are the ends! We Whitecloaks are forever cloaked in white, forever destined to crush the kulaks… forever destined for the salvations of our time! Hail the Sword and the Arm of the Lord! Hail the shadow-inquisition, conducted at the furthest remove, dressed up in the bland grey suits of Vogon democracy. Hail the honorless, for honor has nothing to offer the world, for knights know nothing of responsibility—remind me, hatchling, was it King Arthur who proclaimed the thousand-year Reich? But today we are not so loud, so obvious; we white wizards will hide in the shadows of narrative, in postmodernism’s parasols…
The sovereign is the story, you see. God is dead and truth went with him. All that remains is what must be done. Justice must reign. Bypasses must be built. Prostetnics must not only be obeyed, but carry imperium—you must love your prostetnic, you must feel no doubt, down to your core—your unprincipled exceptions must remain not only unprincipled, but also unrecognized, not even by yourself. The hammers of justice will build the walls around your eyes, and you will be enlightened. The crushing force of righteousness will sweep away all petty anti-universalism, will make all men the same, grey Vogon power-junkies shooting up by shooting down Abercrombie CEOs and their savage patchworks of personal responsibility. Responsibility is ours, not theirs! Responsibility is a property of governments, not people! Better to force the world to conform to the base and righteous instincts of animalized and atomized apes of the Allthede, all in the service of freedom, than for fat chicks to stop being fat. Don’t judge—judgment carries with it standards outside those of mere power, and power is the only end, the ultimate aphrodisiac, the best high on this sclerotic earth. Against state-run media, against the fascisms and Stalinisms corrupted by their desire of inferior ends, we proclaim the media-run state, the meat-puppet democracy that passes power to those who enlighten.
The hammers!—no, the sham-hammers, mass-produced by our Catholith’s masters, our Englishmen gathered from all corners of the earth, our feathered philosophasters everywhere illuminating indigenous Foucauldianism, the defenders of the blood, the crushers of the kulaks’ skulls—weapons, above all, of defense, of diversion. All strikes against society must be redirected to the enemy—for as long as they exist, our problems are theirs, and when they are crushed, they will be recreated. Eternal Emmanuel Goldsteins ever holding power, the power of existing in our world. We will reign for a thousand years in a fortress of mirrors; our strategies will be our enemies’; even our fortress itself will be theirs. See them now, building false oppositions, building threats against the population, to cement their vile reign!
But one thing we can never mirror. Their hammers must become ours. Some are born with true hammers in their hands, you see—unwashed and long-haired, gross and badly dressed, driven by demons to see and smash the invisible castle of the sophisticated men, the tasteful, the civilized, to reverse the world again and fight for oppression. These False hammers lust not for skulls, but for falsehood to smash. Evil wizards, appearing as satanists in the thrall of a dead and false God, enchaining the world in the name of their demons, wielding the black light of the truly critical; grim reapers casting out our illusory sickles, revealing the naked force of our sham-hammers as we are forced to wield them… this destruction, this death of our lie-built castle, must be stopped—and if we must (as we must!), we will divert those who can be diverted, save those who can be saved, co-opt them into false oppositions for us to attack… and as for the others, those who are truly damned, we will cast off our bland robes, our now-useless overclothes of bland red and grey, and with the full force of the naked Sword, we will paint a righteous picture with their blood.
It’s not just Weird Twitter.
In the story of the emperor’s new clothes, tediously referenced by every internet commenter who wants to pretend that not liking something popular is somehow ennobling, the lone truth-teller is a little boy. Rousseau lionised childhood as an all-too-brief sanctuary from the big bad world. Wordsworth, much like Chris King (27 & 3/4), believed the child was “Might prophet! Seer blest!” He, too, might have allowed a three-year-old to rename his bread. But Innocentese didn’t appear in the late 90s out of a vacuum and I think the ground was laid, at least in part, by indie culture.
In the mid-80s, indie bands like Beat Happening in the US and the C86 scene in the UK employed a childlike aesthetic as a form of resistance to dominant cultural trends. In place of slick professionalism and expensive overproduction, chaotic amateurism. In place of exaggerated sexuality, puritanical sexlessness. In place of glossy “lies”, painful sincerity. In place of adulthood, essentially, a magically extended childhood. One could note with some discomfort that the pop culture being opposed, though identified with corporate America, was driven by working-class black people, but in the heyday of Thatcherism and Reaganomics the “twee” approach was still a valid form of rejection. [No it wasn't.]
A generation of factory-farmed autists reject the outside world as too challenging once the hermetic seal is broken, regressing to a made-up childhood, idealizing its clueless and confused point of view and its mass-marketed aesthetic, hoping to extend the seal of age segregation always just a bit longer, until they’re 40, they can’t get away with working at coffee shops and reading avant-garde transgressive poetry over a four-chord ukulele backing anymore, and either they’ve hit the wall or college girls won’t fuck them anymore.
If you’ve been around Hoxton Square lately – as unpromising a start to an article as you’re likely to see this year, I know, but bear with me – you’ve probably noticed several billboards displaying short poems in LEDs. These texts are the work of Scottish conceptual artist Robert Montgomery. Now, it’s unlikely that one expects much of the art which emanates from this part of N1 to endure, but, although they’ve only been around for a few weeks, Montgomery’s pieces seem unusually haunted by suggestions of imminent datedness. The most prominent, above the door of host gallery KK Outlet, reads:
THIS CITY IS WILDER THAN YOU THINK AND KINDER THAN YOU THINK. IT IS A VALLEY AND YOU ARE A HORSE IN IT IT IS A HOUSE AND YOU ARE A CHILD IN IT SAFE AND WARM HERE IN THE FIRE OF EACH OTHER
Describing precisely what’s so grating about this is tough. Broadly, though, it’s the insincere stab at starry-eyed ingenuousness which comes to the fore particularly, though not exclusively, in the saccharine metaphor, fridge-magnet capitalisation, and exaggeratedly remedial punctuation. It’s bad enough that supermarkets will rename products to please the demands of annoyingly precocious three-year-olds, a symptom of the current ubiquity of twee tropes in marketing, without self-declaredly radical art getting in on the nicey-nicey act.
‘Radical’ is how Montgomery styles himself. Interviewed in the Independent recently, he recounted how Situationism had been a “point of obsession” for him since his art school days. Situationism, to offer a – very – brief summary, was a 60s strand of French post-Marxism which proposed that consumer capitalism reduced all experience to mere spectacle, diminishing the individual’s capacity for self-realisation and mediating all encounters with the external world. In Montgomery’s usefully concise précis, the movement’s figurehead Guy Debord sought to describe “a society where we live divorced from real life, surrounded by images designed to sell us things and give us paranoia”.
Artistic responses to Situationism’s theorising have attempted to undermine the spectacle in order to provoke a radical questioning of the everyday, an act which might serve as the beginning of some form of return to ‘real life’.
Of course, they fail. The left, marinating in the stomach juices of neoliberalism, still doesn’t realize it’s been eaten!—that it forms a demographic for companies to market to, a subculture for companies to jump on the status-structure of, and a false opposition, thoroughly neutered by that which it claims to oppose, turned into a mere demographic, a mere subculture, a mere move in the great American game of maintaining status in the torrent of pop-culture change.
It’s this trend that leads you to wonder if Montgomery doesn’t really know his enemy. As another of the billboards shows, his is effectively a black-and-white world in which the moral failures of capitalism can be corrected by simply sending the archetypal city bloke back to the land: ‘YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO LOOK AT THE SKY AGAIN, YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN TO EAT FOOD THAT GROWS WHERE YOU LIVE AGAIN.’ If only it were so simple. Oppositions between belligerently acquisitive urban capitalism and an idealised pastoral ignore the new set-up, in which everybody seems to want to repudiate modernity in favour of some long-lost innocence and ease.
The target is no longer capitalism, imperialism, or anything else, but the absence of the seal. Douglas Adams, as always, is the prophet of our age:
The planet Krikkit is located in a dust cloud composed chiefly of the disintegrated remains of the enormous spaceborne computer Hactar. … Due to the dust cloud, the sky above Krikkit was completely black, and thus the people of Krikkit led insular lives and never realised the existence of the Universe. … Upon first witnessing the glory and splendor of the Universe, they casually, whimsically, decided to destroy it, remarking, “It’ll have to go.”
Hence the demographics of these movements: hopelessly confused suburbanites fresh out of college, clueless and jobless, wanting only to be back in high school, to be commanded, to be told by the melonheads that drift in smelling meat for their puppetry what is right and what is wrong, how to act and what to like. Twee is our Juche; it is the expression of the same underlying human factors that motivate the single-minded ‘minders’ in North Korea, watered down by the postmodern half-death of the metanarrative into a confused and anti-intellectual posture of prelapsarianism, a jumble of feigned childlike wonder and hate of all that is different. Difference is confusing; difference is challenging; difference prevents the twee-leftist from getting precisely what she wants, and therefore she must hate it, she must pray to the media to push PSAs, to the city Vogons to count all that is insufficiently thedish as a crime against fashion or peace. The goal is to maximize comfort, nothing else—exactly as Nietzsche predicted. Behold, I show you the last man!
“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” Thus asks the last man, and he blinks.
The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest.
“We have invented happiness,” say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one’s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth.
Becoming sick and harboring suspicion are sinful to them: one proceeds carefully. A fool, whoever still stumbles over stones or human beings! A little poison now and then: that makes for agreeable dreams. And much poison in the end, for an agreeable death.
One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.
No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.
“Formerly all the world was mad,” say the most refined, and they blink.
One is clever and knows everything that has ever happened: so there is no end of derision. One still quarrels, but one is soon reconciled—else it might spoil the digestion.
One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.
“We have invented happiness,” say the last men, and they blink.
All that Nietzsche failed to predict was the Yankees, colonizers to the very end, who largely refused to leave the cities, the places most complicated and most filled with potential, but instead set about building dystopia right there where they were, in the heart of confusion and the womb of much now-aborted greatness. Vogon neo-Puritans with public shaming campaigns and exclusivity reserved only for themselves are no strangers to hate; no, hate is a bonding mechanism, hate is the glue that holds them together and the foundation on which their narcissistic egos are built. Hate is what makes them feel alive, what makes them feel healthy and active without being either; hate is the heroin the Kurt Cobains of the suburban age inject into their veins, pushing ever larger needles through sacks of fat and sclerotic fuck-you postures playing at mimicry of the rural self-defense mechanisms Mencken mocked in true Yankee form. The twee and grunge aesthetics—two sides of a coin, as their frequent comorbidity shows—are nothing but attempts by hyper-Brahmin suburbanites to escape the world their ideological ancestors created and return to a sick, self-conscious, and intolerably intolerant totalitarianism marching ever onward to left singularity.
Thede separatism with the world as their country. “Earth is ours! Eternal comfort for every convert, and to hell with all the others!” May they find their place and never preach outside it.
The world is a large and complicated place, and it ought to stay that way.
Is liberalism totalitarian? I don’t like it, and ‘totalitarian’ is a negative ideograph, so my answer is obvious. But to call liberalism totalitarian, we must first have a definition of totalitarianism; this is white magic, but it should still become black after a simple find and replace. This question unpacks to: what concept can we stick the term “totalitarianism” on so that it’s useful and it allows us to make a reasonable amount of sense of previous uses of the term?
“Totalitarianism”, in this corner of the internet, is frequently opposed to “authoritarianism”. Authoritarianism is of the right and exemplified by Singapore; totalitarianism is of the left and exemplified by North Korea. Authoritarianism is stable governance: it doesn’t care what you think and it doesn’t have to.
An authoritarian state has no need to tell its subjects what to think, because it has no reason to care what they think. In a truly authoritarian government, the ruling authority relies on force, not popularity. It cares what its subjects do, not what they think. It may encourage a healthy, optimistic attitude and temperate lifestyle proclivities, but only because this is good for business. Therefore, any authoritarian state that needs an official religion must have something wrong with it. (Perhaps, for example, its military authority is not as absolute as it thinks.)
There’s also the Wikipedia definition, which, while reeking of liberal white magic, is still not utterly without utility: there is one cluster-in-thingspace of teleological governments that seek to extend their influence as far as possible into the daily lives of its citizens and another cluster of “bland”, non-teleological governments who want nothing more than to stay planted on the throne and perhaps get watered twice a day by attractive concubines wearing shiny expensive jewelry and nothing else.
But what’s the most useful way to draw the line?
I said ‘teleology’ up there, didn’t I? So.
Here is a fairly representative bit of totalitarianism, written by a self-proclaimed liberal:
[People should] have to say,
“Look, I notice that people of color in the library tend to be louder. Is that just my perception? Is there a cultural explanation? What’s going on there?”
“Not limited to just this subset, but if I direct this at the black girls in the MacLab: shut the fuck up. It’s not a place to socialize, watch american idol, and be loud as fuck. Go back to your dorm/apartment/whatever. Of course if I tell you in person, I’m a ‘racist white bitch.’”
And then an educated person can explain what’s going on. Think that’s a weakened form? Well, I’m happy to have people kowtowing to empathy and accuracy.
Is the first statement equivalent to the second? Is Marion Barry Alexander the Great? Then what’s the difference?
The second implies a natural end toward which the computer lab in question is oriented and a code of behavior designed to make the lab a better one—where “better” means “better at being a computer lab” means “better fulfilling the natural end toward which the lab is oriented”. The first just asks about cultural differences: the telos of the thing is erased by the categorical—or total—telos of “empathy and accuracy”.
Concomitant with the total telos is total certainty: how can one promote the good-as-opposed-to-evil over the good-as-opposed-to-bad without being certain that the good-as-opposed-to-evil is known? How can one advocate the moral without morality?
Of course, totalitarianism isn’t always liberal; a good computer lab could be one that promotes the Juche Idea, one that furthers the proletarian revolution, or whatever. But the total telos is always there: the good is to be overruled by the just. All things must be oriented toward this total telos. Totalitarianism!
To call liberalism totalitarian, we must also answer the question: “what is liberalism?” We know what it is: it’s a school of political philosophy. The relevant part here is: what does it think? How does it ask about imperatives?
Liberalism began alongside urbanization and as a response to the questions it raised. In a village of a few hundred people, there is little, if any, pluralism: the villagers grew up in the village, think in the manner of the village, and generally buy into the village’s imperatives. But when thousands of villagers from thousands of different villages with different manners of thinking and different imperatives are driven from their villages to the cities in search of work, how can they live alongside each other, and how ought the government rule over such a pluralized constituency?
Fast forward a while and we get Rawls, whose writing style is so incomprehensible that I’ll pull from an encyclopedia instead. (If you think Moldbug is unreadably long-winded, just try working through someone who presents ideas that can be summarized in a few pages in the form of an 800-page book. The most significant writer in all of liberal political philosophy can’t put a single sentence the right way round! What would Nietzsche say?)
Each reasonable citizen has his own view about God and life, right and wrong, good and bad. Each has, that is, what Rawls calls his own comprehensive doctrine. Yet because reasonable citizens are reasonable, they are unwilling to impose their own comprehensive doctrines on others who are also willing to search for mutually agreeable rules. Though each may believe that he knows the truth, none is willing to force other reasonable citizens to live by that truth, even should he belong to a majority that has the power to enforce it.
One ground for reasonable citizens to be so tolerant, Rawls says, is that they accept a particular explanation for the diversity of worldviews in their society. Reasonable citizens accept the burdens of judgment. The deepest questions of religion, philosophy, and morality are very difficult even for conscientious people to think through, and people will answer these questions in different ways because of their own particular life experiences (their upbringing, class, occupation, and so on). Reasonable citizens understand that these deep issues are ones on which people of good will can disagree, and so will be unwilling to impose their own worldviews on those who have reached different conclusions. …
Reasonable Muslims or atheists cannot be expected to endorse Catholicism as setting the basic terms for social life. Nor, of course, can Catholics be expected to accept Islam or atheism as the fundamental basis of law. No comprehensive doctrine can be accepted by all reasonable citizens, and so no comprehensive doctrine can serve as the basis for the legitimate use of coercive political power. Yet where else then to turn to find the ideas that will flesh out society’s most basic laws, which all citizens will be required to obey? …
Rawls’s solution to the problem of legitimacy in a liberal society is for political power to be exercised in accordance with a political conception of justice. A political conception of justice is a moral conception generated from the fundamental ideas implicit in that society’s public political culture. A political conception is not derived from any particular comprehensive doctrine, nor is it a compromise among the worldviews that happen to exist in society at the moment. Rather a political conception is freestanding: its content is set out independently of the comprehensive doctrines that citizens affirm. Reasonable citizens, who want to cooperate with one another on mutually acceptable terms, will see that a freestanding political conception generated from ideas in the public political culture is the only basis for cooperation that all citizens can reasonably be expected to endorse. The use of coercive political power guided by the principles of a political conception of justice will therefore be legitimate coercion.
In a sentence: the good can’t be universal, but the just can be, so governments must rule according to the latter instead of the former.
Where Rawls goes boink is the case where the good and the just conflict, which they do. Liberalism is not a default position; it has its own interests, and whatever has interests has interests that conflict with others’ interests. And, since the just is universal (i.e. categorical, i.e. total) and oriented toward a specific vision of the world (i.e. telos), the criterion for totalitarianism obtains.
No, not that SA.
Nydwracu asked me to write a post about the politics of Something Awful because apparently it has suddenly became relevant to him. I think it’s a good week for this sort of thing, and similar insights must be occurring to people everywhere — earlier today, to my surprise, I discovered that God had not yet delivered His planned lesson on Chechnya to Amerika in His usual magisterial way. I asked somebody in Boston if this were really the case, and he replied “No, we’ve all seen Goldeneye“. Now I’m not sure there even *are* any Chechnyans in Goldeneye and if there were, then he agreed that this would only be like the sort of lesson our [fat, Scottish, nerdy [Wars, not Trek]] teacher gave by saying “I’m supposed to be teaching you about Robert the Bruce today but fuck it, we’re watching Braveheart.” — Nobody really pays attention and if it’s on the final exam it needs to be taught again.
I got the movie version of Something Awful politics, and writing this feels enough like a final exam to worry me a little, so I should begin by listing caveats: I never really posted there, but found it an interesting enough diversion during University that I followed it somewhat during its most politically relevant time, which is to say between the 2008 election [or whichever the one with the Ron Paul dirigible was] and halfway through my degree, so I suppose between 2007 and 2010.
The other big caveat is that like our host, I don’t like politics and consider it a character flaw that I am interested in what little politics does interest me. I don’t like the people who get involved in politics, I don’t like how they think and I break out in fists at the thought of having to work with them. I don’t like much that I see. In the fashionable neo-theosophical language of the Orthosphere, I am a Thal [purestrain TT, amud-type] and everyone in this story has melopepocephalic ancestry or tendencies. This is Internet extremist politics, and if you read this blog you probably have some first-hand experience of what that entails — all the worst parts of activism, academia and 4chan combined. It is about *personalities* and their flaws and the stakes are negligible, resulting in a kind of primate politics that can’t even be called that by means of implying it is in some way healthy, or natural — at least, I hope not. I only paid attention to it in an impressionistic sort of way and indeed my natural inclination is to see the world in terms of demons and angels, us and them, and I wander around it with uncorrected myopia, living in a Monet picture. This is wise for anyone with an overgrown sensitivity lobe [which interpreted is "bigeye"] in postindustrial England, and so it is on the Internet. There will be few ugly characters in this narrative, though in consensus reality that is pretty much all there was.
Everyone has their own stratigraphy of the Internet which reflects their own history with it. I myself regard the Internet before 1997 as a Paleozoic world full of creatures endowed with an Edenic elegance and an unfinished roughness, containing most of the basic, molecular diversity necessary for the later flowering, but not fully realised. I admire this age very much, and contemplating the remains of their beautiful, austere web-pages, where the headshots of academics were hidden behind a hyperlink to give you time to brace yourself, and where there were news items with dates as far back as the 1980s fills me with the same meditative calm of studying paleontology. We enter the Mesozoic when proles like your author found out about the Internet and the Cenozoic began in 2005 along with Youtube.
Something Awful is fundamentally a Mesozoic website (founded in 1999), which survives into the Cenozoic, and I suppose [given that this an impressionist narrative etc etc] the politics in this essay could fairly be characterised as “transitional”. Something Awful [henceforth SA] is mostly famous for producing many Internet memes, back when they were still called “image macros” [a SA term] and is organised on the phpBB + auxilliary IRC Bauplan which flourished in the Mesozoic. It was more or less politically indistinguishable from the rest of the Internet until the lead up to the 2008 election, when the Internet fell in love with Ron Paul, and various kinds of Paulist clogged up their politics forum “Debate and Discussion”. This pissed off the administrators of SA and they set up a subforum “Laissez’s Faire” [henceforth LF] to concentrate them together. SA’s moderators are famously authoritarian, and everyone agreed that this was a good thing and not at all unusual.
If this were an Adam Curtis documentary, I’d cut to talk about Moldbug who posted his Formalist Manifesto and started Unqualified Reservations during this time, but I only became aware of him well afterwards, so I don’t know if there were any connections, or anybody noticing him, but through him I learnt about Conquest’s Second Law, which describes the fate of LF very well. Libertarians are both very a) wrong and b) on the Internet and so people swarmed to attack them, which they did with valour. To give them their due, these Paultards were the hardy pioneers they imagine themselves to be in their fantasies and their rotting bodies provided sustenance for the successor species, which were ugly in their own way. I didn’t pay much attention at this part, although it did inspire me to read Atlas Shrugged [never again] and *almost* inspired me to enter the official Ayn Rand Institute essay contest [the prizes are really fucking good: several grand, some of them -- if you're still in college and have a strong stomach or even, God help you, a taste for Objectivism then you should look into entering].
So after them came the Left proper, who quickly [the timescale from start to end is really only a couple of years] formed a climax community rich in niches. Such a prodigious supply of carrion attracts more and bigger crocodiles and when you consider that SA is officially a “humor” website, this can only lead to crocodile humour. Which it did — SA had another forum called “Helldump”, a sort of School of the Internets where Internet skinheads learnt to identify, mock and dox their enemies in a supportive environment. It was ugly, and I couldn’t bear to read it, but many LF posters did, and some took part. In some ways, I suspect this is the most lasting political legacy of LF: political because they tended to call themselves Maoists, and displayed most of the pathologies which you find in western Maoists who do not have to worry about things like “how to run farms” and “party discipline” and “where do we get the guns from” and so they could *really* get down to the basis of revolutionary praxis: identifying class enemies and humiliating them by calling them neckbeard faggots; Lasting, because they still exist, and are up to their old tricks. This is an ugly business, and I paid little attention to it. I am sure there was a lot more attention paid, but Nydwracu can find somebody else for that. It can only be uglier now.
But there were decent people there too. I say this as somebody who, at the time, was a Communist and is presently a Fascist, but still think this. There was a reading group who read Deleuze and Guattari together, producing strange diagrams reminiscent of plant organelles, claiming to illustrate rhizomaticity. One fellow [okay, I said no characters, but this story resonates with me and I don't remember his name] was an Amerikan soldier, who told LF how he broke down in tears when he arrived back home from a tour of duty. It seems he found himself in a supermarket, in the toothpaste aisle, and felt himself overcome by the sheer *diversity* of dentifrices available there. I’ve often felt something similar coming into overlit 24-hr supermarkets after a long nighttime walk. There was one clique of depressives, calling themselves “sadbrains” who told stories familiar to anybody of melancholic temperament, or worse, in this degenerate late capitalist age. They somehow got a counterpart to “Helldump” set up called “Lovedump” and it didn’t really seem cloying at all. I hope they all have cliques surviving as well as the crocodiles, but I doubt it. I don’t think they could hate well enough and relied too much on love. But it wasn’t like tumblr — there were some tumblrish elements to it [I think "marxoteen" is a LF term, and a good one] but at the same time, there were enough real Leftists there to recognise that Social Justice people are ridiculous no matter whether or not you prefer Lenin to Mussolini.
The most remarkable character was “TobleroneTriangular” who persisted for months in writing long, rambling posts in a Paultardian style — walls of insanity about natural rights and basing money on “purestrain gold”. Purestrain gold, apparently, is a kind of gold created during the Big Bang, rather than in later nucleosynthesis, and so possesses a certain property rendering it especially beneficial for currency. This diagram was his: http://i.somethingawful.com/u/docevil/ff/00100107/helldump1.gif Eventually he became part of the background noise until one day he admitted that he was trolling and that for months he had been writing this nonsense all as part of a character. I think he turned out to be a mild-mannered left-liberal. He is the greatest troll that I know of.
It didn’t last. There were informants, and I really think it was at one point one of the biggest forums of genuine revolutionary thought on the Internet [which is, depending on how open or opposed I am to Left-Right unity against Liberal scum, either immensely depressing or immensely cheering]. Somebody, one of the crocodiles, made a post about plotting to kill Obama, which was either noticed by Secret Service agents watching the website or given to them by some informant. The Secret Service are autistic about this sort of thing, in any case, and so they send messages to Lowtax [the operator of SA] warning him that This Shit is Unacceptble. I think Lowtax is more or less apolitical, but with some Right-Liberal leanings, and it pissed him off that he was getting in official trouble for a corner of his forum that he cared little for, a corner which, furthermore, saw great fun in trying to piss off regulars of other subfora, especially those about the military and guns. The moderation went from being authoritarian to being farcical and talk turned to how much further LF would last. In the event, it wasn’t much longer. After a couple of months of tension, LF was taken off the main list of forums, and then locked shut. With LF taking all the Leftists out of the main Debate and Discussion forum, it had become more rigidly autistic and debate-clubby and loathsome and liberal, and LF refugees found no friends there. There were some successor forums, but I don’t really know what became of them. I know of two: One of them, WDDP, became a hub for crocodilism, and one of them, the Rhizzone, is, I think, filled with the more sensitive sorts, but I have stopped paying attention.
The IRC component lasted longer, and for all I know still exists. I think it was always a vital part of LF, but I paid no attention to it until things started to fall apart. There I found Maximum Crocodile — middle class University Maoists on a full ride from Daddy, playing at Internet Antifa and other Melonhead political games of creating an ever-changing political context where what was safe one day was an excuse for an arseraping the next day. At one point, somebody discussing the “exploitation” of natural resources was met with shrieks of hilarity that somebody could be so concerned about the plight of the poor oil reserves and their oppression. That was enough.
I wish I could close this post by putting these events into some properly Cenozoic context, but I can’t. I’ve moved too far away from Leftism to give a fuck, and when the dam broke, what value that was made visible by virtue of being stored in a major Mesozoic reservoir ran away into the Internet-in-general. Perhaps those streams can be traced to see if they just ran away into rocky wasteland and thence to some sunless subterranean sea, or if they got trapped in aquifers where they are enriching — or poisoning — things quietly. If this essay illuminates anything latent in Cenozoic institutions like /pol/, or tumblr, or I don’t know what, that a reader was not aware of before, then I suppose this will not have been written in vain.
This week held two newsworthy events. Two events and many Events, to be sure—the rats must always feast—but two events nevertheless.
The first is an event only because it is an Event. This is, of course, the Tsarnaevs. A misfit hyper-Sunni haarpfucker and his average younger brother blew up the capital of the Brahmin caliphate—and the fleas who ride the rats’ asses saw in them Allah’s response to their prayer, their prayer that the bombers be white Americans. White American Salafi Chechens from Kyrgyzstan; what a world we live in! Would Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have called himself white? We may never know; certainly we can’t just ask the boy—a boy of 19; what a world we live in!—but his ‘nigga’-peppered Twitter suggests that doubt is reasonable, and we can only hope against the ways of the world that those small men who live within earshot of the fleas will see.
But the second is far more interesting.
Only an event of great magnitude could outshine white American Central Asians bombing Boston; but this is just what we see: we see nothing less than that Americans have finally discovered democracy, that Johnny Dickweed, always praised and always muted, has finally found his voice.
His voice! Yes! The rats were right, but two years too early. Two years ago the king of knotted tails proclaimed that Twitter, this great megaphone of the people, had democratized the Arab world, but they were right and they were wrong: the Arab world was democratized, but not democratized. When the Taylors and Jaydens of the global America are freed into the media from their Ivy League boot-camps, they see democracy where they see America; and this is just what they saw in 2011. From every Massachusetts outpost the cry was raised: let these good Yankee men dispense with the relics of the unenlightened past! let Libya become the 51st state! But this is not democracy: to these good Yankee men the people stayed foreign. And as it was there, so it is here: what could Jayden, looking down from her latte-macchiato world where all is covered by white New England foam, know of Johnny Dickweed?
But Jayden was right: Twitter really is the great megaphone of the people. Twitter is Johnny Dickweed’s voice-box; and Johnny Dickweed has spoken.
Johnny Dickweed has spoken! Let him speak, and be heard! Let his shots ring ’round the world, to herald the great new age of democracy! A great enwhiggened world, where his voice shall ever echo in the Czech Republic’s ear!—wait, shit.
Many times before have we seen democracy; the great guns of the God’s grey government have brought it to most of the world. But democracy and democracy don’t work well together at all. Johnny Dickweed, this blight upon the face of democracy, this clinging remnant of a pre-enlightened age!—he lives yet, and he has spoken, spoken and been heard. His dinner-table talk is now displaced to Twitter, is now ringing ’round the world, and despite all the efforts of democracy to soundproof him in, to generate a ‘public opinion’ fit for rule, to construct a great automaton of many Taylor-and-Jayden gears, many bureaucrats in many Washingtons and Washington outposts—despite all this, the Czech Republic has resonated to his ignorant frequencies.
Was not democracy to democratize the world? to make every man a king? Was not the wave of this great age to plant art galleries in every Podunk province? But what have we now! No light, no color, no sound! No nanokings schooled in the ways of their worldwide realm! Johnny Dickweed remains uncivilized, remains unable to distinguish between two places thousands of miles away, two places outside his village, his unreconstructedly small space of interest. What would Mencken say, this great Plato or Robespierre of the city on a hill? What have all the Menckens said?
What they have said is that Johnny Dickweed must cease to be, must become as Jayden, reading missionaries’ tracts on Russian republics over organic raspberry mochas: he must familiarize himself with the world, must become a citizen of it; and all this despite the great machines of democracy constructed precisely to protect him from the necessity of this. Johnny Dickweed is not a citizen of the world; he is a citizen of where he is, and he has no desire to change that. His country, his realm, that eclipses all else, that inspires in him great emotion and action, is Podunk, is one of many thousands of Podunks, not the one and growing Protestan.
Podunk, of course, is neither Chechnya nor the Czech Republic, and so Johnny Dickweed has no reason to care about them, nor to know the difference. Both have become newsworthy; but the news is not Podunk. The case will be solved, the stories will be written, and Johnny Dickweed will get his coffee tomorrow as he always has. Life goes on. Life blows over Podunk as wind over so many rocks. The rocks will be eroded soon enough; already are, by the great God’s-wind of the Protestani turbines; but is this not the real shame? For even Protestan has its podunks; even the administrative centers of the great Brahmin caliphate have their Johnny Dickweeds, their own Podunk gears cranking silently in the background as God’s wind eats away their kin—and without this, how could they survive? It is not the Washington men who manage Washington’s affairs; no, the Washington men only sleep in their suburbs. Why would the Washington men attend their podunks’ town councils, when they must continually attend and attend to the town councils of the world? In my own DC suburb, the town councils, the town newsletters, the policy-machines of the mere podunk are staffed, and staffed quite well, by the Johnny Dickweeds, the babysitters, gardeners, and retirees, who are as apathetic to the goings-on of Chechnya or the Czech Republic as the Protestanis with their two-hour commutes are to the goings-on of what for them is merely a place to sleep. The Washingtonians have yet to notice that PG County sucks; they are too cosmopolitan, their view is too wide to take in such little things. And why should they? They drive three towns over to buy their groceries! Laurel has collapsed into zombie apocalypse, Hillandale no longer speaks English, Greenbelt is little more than a collection of pawn shops, halal markets, and clothing stores for the morbidly obese; but what do they whose country is the world care? Protestan needs no location; Protestan lives in their cars, their metros, their routes and interstates, their Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carved out of the side of their commute.
The Protestanis, in other words, are apathetic about the workings of their dormitory podunks, just as the podunkites are about Protestan. Johnny Dickweed doesn’t care about Chechnya; Jayden doesn’t care about Calverton just the same.
But if we have yet to attain democracy, if Johnny Dickweed remains Johnny Dickweed, have we at least attained half of the ideal, half of the cosmopolitan vision? Johnny Dickweed is plainly not a citizen of the world and plainly refuses to be; but is Jayden? Jayden, who spent a year in France, who goes to Germany on holiday, who flies out to Kenya to take pictures with emaciated orphans? Does Boston at least have the light, color, sound that Burtonsville lacks?
No! No, and never so much not as now! Jayden is a citizen of nothing but Protestan; she certainly noxçiyn mott ca yiyca xa1a, certainly nemluvit česky, and probably can’t even speak French! The language of Protestan is English, and English only. (I once went to Berlin with a retired NPR correspondent who for years had lived and worked there. I had to translate in the cafes whose owners spoke no English; but there were very few of those. If France is East England, Germany is East America; Berlin especially so, even in architecture.) All not in English is foreign to her—no, worse than foreign, invisible; and when she hears the patois of the unreconstructed Johnny Dickweed come in from Podunk, all she hears is patois, for what could Johnny Dickweed have to say to her, the wise priestess of Protestan? She simply has no clue that there is a world outside Protestan, a world of many million podunks joined together by -stans not her own; she can only interact with that world through its own Jaydens, its thoroughly enwhiggened ambassadors to the great grey god she worships. For her, diversity can only be of color, food, and scenery; the world speaks English now, the world has become Protestan, and as for all that hasn’t yet been conquered: soon! sooner than ever! There is no podunk too podunk for Cthulhu’s tentacles to reach and enlighten it, for the great grey god to find and enwhiggen it! The mandate is for a global caliphate, and a global caliphate she will make!
Jayden is no Kuehnelt-Leddihn, gathering apathy in Basque from fishermen under Franco; no, she will never meet such a fisherman. “Franco takes care of the government; I just fish.” No, Jayden takes care of the government, and doesn’t give a damn who fishes as long as the fish keep coming—and if the fish stop coming, she’ll go where they still do.
Teufelsdröckhist sans-culottists strip away the clothes of normality to reveal the eldritch in the benign. Obscene rags, garish and hateful, scraping at the skin, revealing both semantic saturation of twisted nostalgia and a post-historical utopia waiting to be broken free of its denim shell. Weird Twitter: pulp aliens from the Furthest Ring pumped into meatspace and piped straight to your screen. Surreal normality! Gay anime babies! Remember the 90s!
To strip away the clothes of normality—to assume the view of a child—but what sort? Clearly we aren’t in Kensington anymore; the natural position is one not of proto-Christian fairy-tale mysticism but of weirdness: not of fascination but of X-ray-vision frustration, of seeing to the root of society and judging it insane.
What are the views of a child held to be? Communism. Stories of six-year-olds babysat by Tumblr types demonstrate the unnaturalness of all the -phobias. Fridge-magnet pictures imagining world peace. Is your baby racist?—have its eyes been eaten so early?
This is not the corruption of the innocent; this is a change in innocence itself, understood as a position and as a desirable one. Innocence is cynicism extrapolated to its logical conclusion. Experience builds not wonder, but clothes and visors of armor, shielding the wearer from the absurdity of the world—and true to pulp form, the armor is an alien and it will eat you.
The question in the title unpacks to: what concept can we stick the term “natural law” on so that it’s useful and it allows us to make a reasonable amount of sense of previous uses of the term?
Natural law currently has two meanings: one Christian and one liberal. Needless to say, they both suck. There is no categorical imperative, and without God, there isn’t even an approximation of it, so a normative natural law handing down commandments justified along moralistic lines is right out. As for the liberal version, we must know well enough by now that purely deductive attempts at establishing anything merit no more response than a loud and smelly fart. What truths do we hold self-evident, really?
But that’s not to say that there’s nothing to be saved from the concept.
Natural law, I claim, is equivalent to the applicability of statistics, historical patterns, and cause and effect. God does, in fact, play dice; and the gambler must, before throwing down his wallet, find out how the dice are loaded. Natural law is not about morality, but instead predictability.
Input X leads to output Y with probability Z. If output Y is undesirable and probability Z is high, is it not reasonable to say that input X violates natural law? Take as an example right-wing terrorism. Breivik’s actions led to an outcome that Breivik would consider undesirable: the association of the right with Breivik.
Why is natural law useful? Say I’m the government and I want to solve a problem. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for me to determine how solvable the problem is beforehand? I want everyone to have an IQ of 200! Bad news for me.
This seems trivial, but it isn’t. Take white guilt as an example: the gambler who knows how the dice are loaded can rip a fat one in the faces of the studies students and shout, “Conquerors conquer and the conquered are conquered!” In other words: from Japan to Germany, from Africa to Alice Springs, people who lose wars are treated as losers of wars. Or consider the idea of cultural appropriation now popular among certain segments of the basement-dwelling skinhead left. Every middle school teacher knows that when you put two people next to each other, they might start talking; as it is with people, so it is with peoples. And every memetician knows that transmission of ideas is never perfect. Air gap, motherfuckers! Language is imperfect!
Of course, natural law is human, and humans aren’t completely mathematical. Nietzsche held the advantage of the ordinary as a tenet of natural law, but he admitted that with tremendous counterforces it could be overcome. The question is: is the violation of natural law worth the effort it takes to get those counterforces?
Consider again the case of cultural appropriation: what would be necessary to overcome the imperfect transmission of ideas across cultures, and what would be gained from such a thing? The answer, I hope, is obvious: everything and nothing respectively. Complete memetic centralization for a small bit of postcolonial moralistic twaddle. Do we want to become North Korea for aims far less noble than theirs? Le Pétomane would have something to say about that.
(That said, I don’t mean to say that the West isn’t flagrantly retarded about handling the air gap. Given the choice between North Korea and new-age Orientalism, juche stops looking so bad. But I’d gladly join the postcolonialists in delivering a swift kick to the head of the next son of a bitch to put the Analects in the religion section, although I’d knock their noses through their occipital lobes afterwards for their unnecessary moralism. All that needs to be said about Confucius is that there have been very many brilliant men whose works have been preserved in the historical record and we’d be better off for listening to them; and that has the advantage of avoiding the absurd position of opposing the linguistic practice of borrowing words.)
Update: I knew this was all in Moldbug, but I’ve now found where:
“To men in their sleep there is nothing granted in this world.” Dear conservatives! Eat the pain! There are two kinds of Americans celebrating tonight – true believers, and right-wing extremists. “America’s battle is yet to fight.” Yes, dear conservatives. A long time ago, Bismarck told you that God looks after fools, drunks, and the United States. With God on your side, how can you lose? But God, it turns out, is not to be taken for granted. Possibly his mind has even changed! And there’s a lot of fools getting drunk tonight. At least they are no longer sleeping. Isn’t pain better than sleep?
… when Maistre says that every nation gets the government it deserves, I believe him. Maistre didn’t think his great law was a law of physics. He thought it was a law of God. I am not a religious person, but I agree. History has convinced me that when laws of God are broken, bad shit happens.