“Inclusive conservatism” attempts to harmonize conservative principles with certain progressive policy goals:
Firstly, we should be reluctant to throw out traditions, but we should be very determined to engage with them. Sincere engagement with tradition isn’t possible in a society that treats its own fundamental principles as so fragile they cannot survive questioning; it also isn’t possible in a society that alienates all its own members who don’t fit the existing system, or a society that doesn’t give people a chance to realize whether or not the system is in fact what will empower them most. People picking-apart-why-an-expectation-doesn’t-work-for-them is a valuable form of inquiry and, ideally, there should be space within the system for that form of inquiry; if it’s all coming from outside it’ll prompt defensiveness instead of introspection. …
Excluding gay people from marriage was clinging, I believe, to an element of tradition that didn’t matter; mixing up the trappings and the content. But the content is good; the community has an interest in ensuring that co-parents of children have a healthy constructive relationship and that the children have a stable home. Inclusive conservativism would be about critiquing marriage with that content in mind, and trying to figure out how to let our traditions grow.
I used the word “let our traditions grow”, and that was deliberate. Changing traditions is hard; they come across as artificial, you sometimes do more damage than you intend. I think of it as the equivalent of digging up a thousand-year-old tree and replanting it somewhere you think it’s needed more. If you know what you’re doing and have a lot of resources, it can be done, but more often than not you’ll kill the tree.
What you want to do instead is to shape the way the branches grow. It’s hard to mess up catastrophically. It’s possible to achieve amazing results. And no one who was dependent on shade where the old tree stood gets screwed over. It’s slower, and takes finesse, and it genuinely takes longer and doesn’t accomplish as much as digging the whole damn thing out of the ground – I’m not going to pretend traditionalism doesn’t have real costs! And those costs fall disproportionately on marginalized people and inclusive conservativism really does need to answer for that. But in the end, we have a thousand-year-old tree learning to stretch its branches in fascinating new directions, and you have a substantial probability of a dead tree.
Inclusive conservatism is, of course, just conservatism—the word does not imply a belief in preserving tradition qua tradition, as is demonstrated by the distinctly leftward position of today’s conservatives to the past’s, but instead a belief that a tradition is an aggregation of the wisdom as well as the follies of the past, that the tree should not be dug up. The conservative, whose movement places a Whig at the head of its canon, does not believe in preservation or revolution, but in reform.
But inclusive conservatism is not just conservatism. Conservatism at its best rejects the rationalism implied in the label inclusive: its claims about grand, sweeping policies are purely negative. The conservative (unlike the neocon) does not believe that ‘this is how we all ought to do things’ for any value of ‘this’, does not take a stance one way or the other on how the whole world ought to behave—except that it ought to set up structures, unencumbered by any predetermined conclusions unnecessary to their survival, for finding out what works and what does not. The essence of conservatism, long lost to the demands of democracy, is the refusal to claim to know anything from any source other than experience—which leads necessarily to federalism, to structures that allow experimentation. Let one state do one thing and another do another, let the American revolutionaries perform their Great Experiment, and gather the data as it comes in.
Inclusive conservatism does none of this. Instead, it says:
Lots of my friends have intense allergies to all of the above, because they were the people who didn’t benefit from that style of encouragement, or who couldn’t (with any amount of guidance) grow into the sort of person those traditions encouraged, or who didn’t want to, and most traditionalism is relentlessly terrible to those people; at best, it makes it so there’s a very high cost of leaving.
A useful traditional/conservative outlook needs to be more than just sympathetic to those people; it needs to have something to offer them.
A conservatism that begins with the belief that a certain sort of demand must be met no matter what is not conservatism at all: its conclusions are written at the outset, and all it concerns itself with is the implementation. Let there be a conservatism that believes that it is impossible for the costs of meeting the demands of outliers to outweigh the rewards—and let there be a conservatism that believes there must be a king.
But there is a further error.
Imagine a mathematical equation. It has an outward appearance—the graph that it generates—and it has an inward logic—the equation itself. A small change in the outward appearance, a difference in a tiny range, could require a dramatic change in the equation. A sine wave and a triangle wave look alike, but they are generated by completely different equations; a sine wave that becomes a triangle wave within a certain range is generated by a different equation still, no matter how small the range may be. And a small change in the inward logic may generate a completely different outward appearance: the sine and tangent functions are, in a sense, alike, but their graphs are not alike at all.
Or consider a myth: one small change in the form can open up completely different new interpretations or shut off old ones. We are all familiar with the traditional Christian narrative of the Fall of Man; and in it, the fruit is either left unspecified or considered to be an apple. There is some set of meanings that this narrative may have—but if the forbidden fruit is specified to be wheat, as it is in the Yazidi telling and as some rabbis have argued in favor of, a completely different interpretation is allowed for: it could be about the origin of agriculture.
Traditions, like equations and myths, can be separated into these two parts—and, again like equations, it is usually difficult to find the inward logic from the outward appearance alone. A Voltorb is a simple shape, but can you derive from it a Voltorb-like curve? And, again like equations and myths, a small change in the outward appearance can imply a great change in the inward logic. Marriage as institutional acknowledgment of romantic love displaces marriage as a business transaction, marriage as the joining of two instances of two complementary types into one unit, marriage as the formation of a household, marriage as a step toward the formation of a family, marriage as a permanent covenant with God and a necessary precondition for exaltation, and all the other views of the same institution that could exist—without bringing about any immediate changes in the outward appearance of the institution. But a different underlying logic brings about a different frame from which to evaluate and judge both the institution itself and other institutions in the same culture. If marriage is merely institutional acknowledgment of romantic love, there is no reason not to allow same-sex marriage or no-fault divorce; if marriage, still an expected part of the life script, is merely institutional acknowledgment of romantic love, romantic love must be a highly valuable thing to be sought out; and so on.
This is not to say that the outward appearances of traditions are, at any given time, merely reflections of their underlying premises and principles. That view fails to take into account historical inertia. There was, after all, a time when the purpose of marriage was considered to be institutional acknowledgment of romantic love—institutional acknowledgment of a certain arrangement of brain-states that same-sex couples can enter into—and yet marriage was still considered to be something that only opposite-sex couples could enter into. The important point is that the underlying logic determines the historical vectors of the outward forms. This principle can be seen in the case of marriage, and also in the case of the development of noun class systems in the Bantu languages:
In the Bantu languages, gender 1/2 is typically for nouns denoting humans. Swahili, however, is just completing a change which makes gender 1/2 the gender for all animates. Some other languages are at various stages in this development. We should examine how changes of this type are set off. Lunda, a Bantu language of Angola, assigns all animates to gender 1/2, while the closely related language Luvale has only a few non-human animates in this gender. They include muumbe ‘jackal’. Greenberg suggests that jackal is treated in this way because a personified jackal often appears in folk tales. Once there are exceptions to the requirement that nouns must denote humans to be in gender 1/2, the rule is weakened over time to include all animates (as has happened in Lunda). The development depends on nouns like ‘jackal’, which we shall term ‘Trojan horses’, since they get into the closed gender for special reasons, but then open the door for many more nouns of the same type (animates in this case) which are not special cases.
For the Bantu languages, it seems, the choice is not simply between a gender 1/2 that only includes humans and a gender 1/2 that includes humans and jackals: it is between a gender 1/2 that only includes humans and a gender 1/2 that, after the introduction of exceptions to the logic behind it, expands to include all animates. (The apparent exception of Luvale is irrelevant here for two reasons. First, statistical likelihood matters: one change may not be certain to lead to other changes, but it may still be likely to, and likelihood is still important. Second, related languages often undergo the same changes at different rates. The Germanic languages, for example, all simplified the clusters hl hr hn hw to l r n w, in some cases independently: so the Proto-Germanic form *hwat gives German was, Dutch and Frisian wat, Danish hvad (with a silent h), and English what. But this change must have happened at different times in different languages: English preserved the wh–w contrast until a few decades ago, and some dialects still have it, whereas the merger is attested in one of the first known sentences in Old Dutch.)
So the element of the tradition of marriage that specified that marriages must be opposite-sex is not necessarily a mere trapping, an inconsequential thing whose presence or absence has no effect on the rest of the institution. The presence of same-sex marriage sends the message that the underlying logic of marriage allows it; the absence of same-sex marriage sends the message that the underlying logic of marriage prohibits it. While it is often difficult to uncover the precise logic underlying a set of surface forms (as one can easily learn from any linguistics paper, to continue the analogy), the shift toward same-sex marriage coincides with a collapse in the institution of marriage. Since “the community has an interest in ensuring that co-parents of children have a healthy constructive relationship and that the children have a stable home”, it ought to be concerning that over forty percent of the births in America are to unmarried women.
(Marriage, of course, does not exist in a vacuum. If my first pass over the question of underlying marriage is accurate and marriage is about institutional recognition of romantic love, the logic there is obviously connected to the highly unusual emphasis that contemporary Western culture places on romantic love.)
The natural question to ask here is: since structures better able to meet the aforementioned goals are historically attested—since some structures made it much more likely that parents had a healthy constructive relationship and provided the children with a stable home—what are they? What are the logics of marriage that do not lead to a dramatic rise in the number of unmarried mothers? And how can they be recovered? (The other natural question is that of idealism vs. materialism: was it a change in the underlying economic or technological base of society that took us from there to here? Is such a change locking us here now, and if so, what can be done about that?)
Whatever they are, they did not include gay marriage—and that may not have been a bug.
The usage of making a trysting-place of the church by young men and young women was so universal that only moralists were scandalized by it. The virtuous Christine de Pisan makes a lover say in all simplicity: “Se souvent vais ou moustier, / C’est tout pour veoir la belle / Fresche comme rose nouvelle.”
The Church suffered more serious profanation than the little love services of a young man who offered his fair one the “pax,” or knelt by her side. According to the preacher Menot, prostitutes had the effrontery to come there in search of customers. Gerson tells that even in the churches and on festival days obscene pictures were sold tanquam idola Belphegor, which corrupted the young, while sermons were ineffective to remedy this evil.
As to pilgrimages, moralists and satirists are of one mind; people often go “pour folle plaisance.” The Chevalier de la Tour Landry naïvely classes them with profane pleasures, and he entitles one o fhis chapters, “of those who are fond of going to jousts and on pilgrimages.”
On festal days, exclaims Nicolas de Clemanges, people go to visit distant churches, not so much to redeem a pledge of pilgrimage as to give themselves up to pleasure. Pilgrimages are the occasions of all kinds of debauchery; procuresses are always found there, people come for amorous purposes. It is a common incident in the Quinze Joyes de Mariage; the young wife, who wants a change, makes her husband believe that the baby is ill, because she has not yet accomplished her vow of pilgrimage, made during her confinement. The marriage of Charles VI with Isabella of Bavaria was preceded by a pilgrimage. It is far from surprising that the serious followers of the devotio moderna called the utility of pilgrimages in question. Those who often go on pilgrimages, says Thomas à Kempis, rarely become saints. One of his friends, Frederick of Heilo, wrote a special treatise, Contra peregrinantes.
— J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages
Was there ever a time when the obvious unprincipled exceptions weren’t frequently made? If you still have any doubt, go read the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales.
In addition to the reasons why engaging in certain actions is wrong (for example, promiscuity spreads STDs and cheating in a marriage is a breach of contract), there are reasons why talking about engaging in those actions is wrong.
For example: most people want to get laid, and getting laid signals ability to get laid, which correlates well with certain forms of status. If there’s no prohibition against talking about it, well, it correlates well with certain forms of status, so it can become a form of status in itself—as we see today, with the notch count.
(The sort of casual sex that the current status system incentivizes is often not worth the effort required to get it if you ignore status concerns, which you don’t. It’s like taking care of your lawn. Not even the PUAs go out and try to find a new girl every night: the reluctant breakup with a local girl is not an uncommon theme.)
There is apparently a story somewhere in one of the Islamic traditions (I wish I could find it again; it went around on Tumblr a few years ago) about exactly this: the moral is that it’s worse to talk about sin than to actually sin, because it normalizes it in the eyes of others and leads them astray.
I was reading the Wikipedia article for a city in Canada, and this jumped out at me:
According to Statistics Canada’s Juristat reports (1993–2007), the metropolitan area reports an average homicide rate of approximately 1.15 per 100,000 population; an average of two homicides per year. An all-time high rate of 2.27 was reported in 1993 (four homicides).
I’ve known for a while that America is not a civilized country, but sometimes the point gets driven home. The county where I grew up has a homicide rate of about 11 per 100,000 — and that’s nowhere near the all-time high.
The Eric Garner march passed by my office. Thousands of people marching in unison, LEDs for torches, chanting holy slogans in a political parade—a ritual, one easily recognizable as such, as a cultic duty to be piously and scrupulously carried out.
A vertically-transmitted memeplex with its own set of institutions (colleges, for example), its own rituals of initiation and reinforcement (college graduation, political participation as holy obligation), its own mythic view of history (Rousseau’s noble savage, Gimbutas’s vision of a utopian Old Europe destroyed by patriarchal Aryan hordes, the Brahmin folk belief in an egalitarian age destroyed by the invention of agriculture)—
(Here it must be noted that the distinction between ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ institutions is as cross-culturally absurd as the distinction between ‘secularity’ and ‘religiosity’ in general: in addition to Greco-Roman rites and tribal initiation rituals, the social role of the medieval anchorites demonstrates that that which we now recognize as ‘religious’ was once inseparable from everyday life. “At least some anchorholds, it seems, became the center of town life, acting as [a] sort of bank, post office, school house, shop, and newspaper–services which today are provided mainly by public and quasi-public institutions.”)
—proves the wrength of the oft-stated complaint that Western life is devoid of such things.
It is, to some extent, a matter of degree. We do not say grace before each meal; we have no muezzin to call us to quince-daily prayer; we make no offerings to the gods, as we have none. The pomegranate calls up the myth of Persephone, but no food calls up any of the political figures who the secular Cathedral has put through the process of apotheosis, except perhaps the cherry tree. Our folktales have been forgotten, and we have no ritual-associated foods but eggnog, candy canes, Marshmallow Peeps, and hard liquor.
However, some element of the commensurability of pagan traditions exists in the Western political religiō. Ahmed Chalabi was once called the George Washington of Iraq, and Gandhi and Mandela were the George Washingtons of India and South Africa. Americans can even recognize the North Korean symbolic rank of ‘Eternal President’ in our own Eternal General of the Armies.
Christopher Lasch analyzes the radical politics of the ’60s as motivated by pathological narcissism:
The new narcissist is haunted not by guilt but by anxiety. He seeks not to inflict his own certainties on others but to find a meaning in life. Liberated from the superstitions of the past, he doubts even the reality of his own existence. Superficially relaxed and tolerant, he finds little use for dogmas of racial and ethnic purity but at the same time forfeits the security of group loyalties and regards everyone as a rival for the favors conferred by a paternalistic state.
This narcissism gave rise to a therapeutic model of politics, in which the purpose of activism was nothing other than feeling ‘alive’, important, better:
Therapy has established itself as the successor both to rugged individualism and to religion; but this does not mean that the “triumph of the therapeutic” has become a new religion in its own right. Therapy constitutes an antireligion, not always to be sure because it adheres to rational explanation or scientific methods of healing, as its practitioners would have us believe, but because modern society “has no future” and therefore gives no thought to anything beyond its immediate needs. Even when therapists speak of the need for “meaning” and “love”, they define love and meaning simply as the fulfillment of the patient’s emotional requirements. It hardly occurs to them—nor is there any reason why it should, given the nature of the therapeutic enterprise—to encourage the subject to subordinate his needs and interests to those of others, to someone or some cause or tradition outside himself.
The therapeutic model takes atomization as a positive thing, to be accelerated to its limit. Thus it guarantees its failure: there can be no escape from the atomized self if there is no value in anything else. (A consistent pattern. Lasch’s analysis of the ironic confessional mode, foregrounding the author and the act of writing, calls to mind the replacement of the call from outside of the Muses with the expression of the ‘inner self’ as the source of art.)
Lasch’s list of the mental states brought about by narcissistic politics includes euphoria and a heightened sense of connection with those around oneself, as well as feeling “strong and solid”. The connection to ritual is obvious.
Many intellectuals seem wary of ritual because of its emotional hold on us, even though ritual is known to have very positive effects. Ritual creates group solidarity, and can help us to emotionally reinforce our existing beliefs and goals. What this feels like from the inside is often euphoria and a heightened sense of connection to those around us.
Intellectual attacks on ritual and community are common. One example of this is the Third Wave experiment: despite the students showing “drastic improvement in their academic skills and tremendous motivation”, the Third Wave was dangerous and bad, because Hitler. Ritual pattern-matches to totalitarian propaganda—so for a ritual to be acceptable, it must not be recognized as one.
Graaaaaagh attacks religious traditions that see themselves as incompatible with others, that claim exclusive and untranslatable access to truth.
Today, American Christians tend not to see any problem with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or with telling their children about Santa Claus; this is easily understood, given that such traditions are safely classifiable as “secular”, or perhaps as harmless traditional additions to a more fundamental religious perspective, and are therefore licit for “religious” people to participate in. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, do refuse such customs (and let us not forget the Puritans who banned Christmas in Massachusetts), and to that extent they reflect a view more like that of the early Christians in Rome—a view which existed by necessity once the premise of sacramental exclusivity had been accepted and as long as there was no category for “secular” myths and rituals which could be devoid by definition of “religious” significance. Like the early Christians (or anyone in the ancient world), Jehovah’s Witnesses effectively do not recognize the concept of the secular—but also like the early Christians, they also do not recognize the legitimacy of myths or rituals outside of their own tradition. This attitude gave Christians, to the ancients, a strange understanding of piety:
The refusal of Christians to observe the elements of practice which were matters of pious duty in family and household life, and in the public sphere, led to the conflicts discussed. A profound disengagement from sociability, not merely refusal to acknowledge the gods of Rome, led to labelling as “atheists”. In their rejection of pagan religion Christians were not therefore regarded simply as upstarts or annoyances, but as actively irreligious, and subversive.
Early Christianity did not see itself as the same type of thing as Roman paganism, just as progressivism does not see itself as the same type of thing as the Christianity it is replacing. This incommensurability is what allows them both to replace what preceded them, but with different methods: Christianity attacked paganism, whereas progressivism positions itself as orthogonal to ‘religion’.
Much has been said before about the failure of the concept of ‘religion': the category in its current form was invented by Christianity and made successful only by Christianity’s efforts to summon it into being. If we follow graaaaaagh’s suggestion…
Let us speak, then, not of religion—unless we take the time to define the term as the following—but of myth and ritual as well as the piety or religiō with which one carries out one’s duties (including, but not limited to, rituals). A religious person, then, can be defined, not as one with a strong belief in a specific proposition about the divine, but rather one who acts dutifully, whether in regard to spirituality or another aspect of life.
…then we see that progressivism contains people who believe certain myths and dutifully carry out certain rituals.
But this puts the reservationist in an awkward position: the same position as the early Christians.
Scott Aaronson writes:
I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year. …
Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn’t find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.
Here we see a disease of the faculties that we do not have the language to distinguish from reason: the faculties of speech and of being spoken to, of internalizing ideographies and being acted upon by them.
Here we also see that these faculties can be counterproductive:
All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn’t spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings—even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called “good old-fashioned ass-grabbery”—actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances.
It is noteworthy that the scientific method, the most successful method for discovering reality, only arose once, a few hundred years ago, in an environment where the goddess of war and wisdom demanded it. It is also noteworthy that the goddess of war is the goddess of wisdom: without an incentive-structure that demands accuracy, stump-orators will peddle sham-accuracy, pure speech detached from action.
It is, of course, possible for the drives that the stump-orators implant in their listeners to outweigh the drive to win: that is what we see above.
The faculty of speech is most often used socially: for coordination, for the alignment of reactions of praise and disgust. To be pwned is to be aligned with an institutional intelligence whose interests run opposite to yours—and where could this alignment come from but speech?
(This should not be taken as an endorsement of atomistic individualism. It is almost universal for people to value the survival of their family and their greater phyletic continuities—in many cases, more than their own lives. Without this, the computation-engine of war would not function, and civilization would have neither cause nor reason to exist.)
What is necessary, then, is exit from stump-oration—but how can this be brought about? Here’s how Scott Aaronson escaped from orator-paralysis:
I got older, and after years of hard work, I achieved some success in science, and that success boosted my self-confidence (at least now I had something worth living for), and the newfound confidence, besides making me more attractive, also made me able to (for example) ask a woman out, despite not being totally certain that my doing so would pass muster with a committee of radfems chaired by Andrea Dworkin—a prospect that was previously unthinkable to me. This, to my mind, “defiance” of feminism is the main reason why I was able to enjoy a few years of a normal, active dating life, which then led to meeting the woman who I married.
Except he didn’t.
That I managed to climb out of the pit with my feminist beliefs mostly intact, you might call a triumph of abstract reason over experience.
A triumph of abstract reason over experience is a triumph of stump-oration over experience. Without experience, there is no optimization engine; unless reason is subordinated in some sense to some form of experience (reasoning from observations, as Steve Sailer does; embedding in a structure that demands accuracy, as scientists and governments at war do; or seeking the best ideas to live by, as many in this corner of the internet do), whence accuracy?
One problem with an overactive faculty for orative coordination is the above anxiety. Anxiety in general is often a distortion of what we sometimes call the rational faculties, but more often call the rationalism of the nerd or the Vulcan: those of internal reasoning and of orative coordination from outside. Reason can be flawed in predictable and counterproductive directions, or System 2 disgust reactions can be implanted that are flawed in the same ways.
It follows from this that the cure is action—but how can these broken faculties be escaped?
It would be pointless to attempt to summarize what must be experienced. But the warrior-poets of war-era Italy hacked open a door from within. From Fiume to Futurist poetry, oration provides an exit from itself.
It’s not Christmas yet, so I can still write—as I’ve done in the past.
The reserve of mental energy left to me by five hours on a Chinatown bus with no wifi has turned toward the subject of Christmas songs—both because I haven’t heard many of them this year (given the unfortunate but probably inevitable lack of caroling groups to join in Manhattan) and because at least one of them has been deemed problematic.
Elite opinion says that Baby, It’s Cold Outside is the worst and most evil Christmas song of all time. This is because elite opinion is shaped by the young and provincial, and the past is a foreign country. “What would my mother/father/brother/sister/aunt think? At least I’m gonna say that I tried.”
No, the actual worst Christmas song is It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.
A pair of Hop-a-long boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Bonny and Ben
Dolls that will talk and go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jenn
And mom and dad can hardly wait
For school to start again
The theme of how awful family gatherings are is a common one, and one probably rooted less in reality than in the ability of a constructed worldview to force people into roles without making them realize they’re acting. Consider the torrent of Thanksgiving articles about how to deal with that one awful Obamacare denier at dinner, or the trope of the ‘racist uncle’, or the last two lines above. “The wonderful and benevolent state will free us from the burdens that are our children!”
The Confucian emphasis on social units that is arising from some parts of the Right is already one of the most interesting things to happen in political (or, more properly, apolitical) thought this century. It has become noticeable that progressivism is an atomizing force, one that depends on the breakdown of the family and the pair-bond. It has also become noticeable that breaking down these units generally has negative effects.
Another thing that has become noticeable is that a lot of people don’t like Christmas carols. I suspect this is because of their secular and commercialized nature, with very little religious or ritual element to them. The Christmas season is the time of year when we all are exhorted to consume—has become such a time, has become secularized.
The secularization of a certain brand of Christianity is one of Mencius Moldbug’s most controversial claims. The secularization of Christmas must be taken as evidence in its favor: it demonstrates that there is pressure in that direction.
I wonder: could this secularization be traced over time? Could a history be written of it? Quantified from Christmas songs, maybe?
Anyway, the best piece of Christmas music is still God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. I have no interesting argument here; I just like it.
Silent Night is also good, and here’s Insane Clown Posse’s producer singing it.
I had planned to drop everything else during trade school and focus, but it turns out that New York won’t let me.
In lieu of a normal post, here’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past few months.
1. What makes thedes and phyles form? I have my own suspicions here (revolving around not only scarcity-motivated competition, but also processes of interfacing and levels of cognitive effort required for it… and it occurs to me now that local status-systems may also play a role, in both the sense that the existence of multiple phyles may allow for a less unequal distribution of status / allow more access to higher status and the related sense that people can self-select into status-systems that better fit or serve them), but I haven’t written them up yet, and Ed Keller, one of the speakers at tonight’s event, asked the same question, and proposed the investigation of interactions of systems. (The two examples he gave that I can remember were the effects of gut bacteria on behavior (and potentially on the formation and propagation of thedes!) and a virus that caused tulip flowers to form in ways that became highly in demand, which gave rise to tulip mania.) A related question that also was asked: would distinct thedes and phyles still exist in post-scarcity conditions?
2. Another topic related to the first question that came up was the idea of neuroatypical secessionism, especially as it overlaps (or does not overlap) with tech secessionism of the Srinivasan and Tunney varieties. Neuroatypicality is probably more thedish than phyletic, insofar as thedistinction between thedish and phyletic refers to a distinction between social groups/cultures/sets of norms/identities that are unlikely to be passed down from parent to child (rationalism, juggalos, goths, etc.) and social groups/etc. that can be passed down across the generations. (The most useful distinction to make with those words is another unanswered question; here I use my most recent working definition.) Is merely thedish secession possible? (‘Merely’ because every phyle is (probably) a thede.) Would it have different dynamics than phyletic secession? What about the possibility of temporary or limited merely-thedish secession, like rationalist group houses or Burning Man? (What about secession that is neither thedish nor phyletic, that is motivated not by those ‘hot’ factors, but rather by ‘cold’ factors like economic benefit? One of the speakers asked: are oil platforms seasteads?
3. Is there a life-cycle of empires or civilizations? If so, is the internal disharmony that underlies at least some of this talk of secession a sign, as John Glubb claims, of the decline of an empire—or even a cause of it? (It’s not hard to come up with a causal mechanism here: one side of an internal conflict could ally with an external agent against its domestic opponent.) If it’s not that, what is it? (It could just be an effect of population increase, to give one alternative.)
4. How about that internet-based nation-building that might be happening as we speak? This internal disharmony is not exactly a new problem; how was it addressed before? Surely not completely by repression. Marinetti talked about Italy a lot, for example; what did this mean in his context? (Also, see below about the Progressive Era and FDR’s cultural programs.) For that matter, most nations had to be imagined into being. Parts of the art world are apparently becoming interested in both internet culture and talk of secessionism, but I hear there’s not much they can do with it. Are there more possibilities for them than they think?—because picking up on this process can be one. (Usonian Futurism, anyone?)
5. Where do the current American automythologies come from? Do they come from pre-existing ethnic distinctions (as Woodard says), pre-existing religious distinctions amplified by the dynamics of democracy (as Moldbug says), or something else? In particular, what were the roles of the Progressive Era and the Cold War? The former could be read as an attempt at American nationalism/nation-building, where ‘American’ is to be contrasted with ‘Usonian’ (though the New Deal made some effort to record some aspects of folk culture); the latter is something that kontextmaschine has written about, but I suspect there’s more going on than that.
Take decolonization. Colonialism was very bad; we all learned that in school, and so we inferred that decolonization was very good. But if you look at what happened… first of all, isn’t it interesting that the USA took the opposite side from Britain, its supposedly most important ally, on that question, and the same side as the USSR? Second of all, isn’t it interesting that the USA and the USSR kept fighting over the newly decolonized countries? It’s not necessarily true that American cultural support for decolonization comes entirely from its own heritage, and not at all from geopolitical concerns.
But there are better examples, like abstract expressionism, which seems to be the official style of the government to this day, judging by how much of it they put on their walls. It’s now well known that the CIA supported it—and it, of course, had its reasons.
In 1947 the State Department organised and paid for a touring international exhibition entitled “Advancing American Art”, with the aim of rebutting Soviet suggestions that America was a cultural desert. But the show caused outrage at home, prompting Truman to make his Hottentot remark and one bitter congressman to declare: “I am just a dumb American who pays taxes for this kind of trash.” The tour had to be cancelled.
The US government now faced a dilemma. This philistinism, combined with Joseph McCarthy’s hysterical denunciations of all that was avant-garde or unorthodox, was deeply embarrassing. It discredited the idea that America was a sophisticated, culturally rich democracy. It also prevented the US government from consolidating the shift in cultural supremacy from Paris to New York since the 1930s. To resolve this dilemma, the CIA was brought in.
The connection is not quite as odd as it might appear. At this time the new agency, staffed mainly by Yale and Harvard graduates, many of whom collected art and wrote novels in their spare time, was a haven of liberalism when compared with a political world dominated by McCarthy or with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.
“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.
“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.”
If it happened once, it’s likely to have happened other times. What other effects did the Cold War have here? And what about the end of it, the end of the necessity to unite against a common enemy? (Yes, common. When Harvard went Communist, it went Maoist.)