nydwracu niþgrim, nihtbealwa mæst

signals, signals everywhere / and not a thought to think

Two equilibria

with 5 comments

Li Si was born in the state of Chu, studied under Xunzi, and ended up a minor functionary. He moved to the state of Qin in the hope of advancing his career, impressed Qin Shi Huang with his plans for unifying all of China under one state, and, in 246 BC, rose to the rank of chancellor. In 233 BC he had Han Fei, a rival scholar, killed, and in 213 BC he wrote the edict ordering the burning of books and burying of scholars.

After the death of Qin Shi Huang in 210 BC, Li Si and Zhao Gao, the chief eunuch, tricked the emperor’s older son, Fusu, and his favored aide, Meng Tian, into committing suicide, and installed his younger son, Huhai, as the second emperor. One year later, 900 farmers were sent to guard the frontier at Yuyang, but were so delayed by rain in Dazexiang that they had no hope of reaching their post on time. The penalty for lateness was decapitation. Two of the 900 men, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, asked each other: “We’ll be killed if we revolt, but we’ll be killed if we don’t. The penalty is the same. Why not die for our country?” They went to the rest and said: “Because you all had the bad luck to be rained on, you won’t get to Yuyang on time. Because you won’t get to Yuyang on time, you’ll be killed for lateness. Even if you aren’t killed for lateness, most of you will die on frontier duty. If you must die, why not die for a cause? How can our birth prevent us from becoming nobles?”

Thus began the Dazexiang Uprising, the first major peasant rebellion in Chinese history. The farmers captured Dazexiang, then Qi, then many other places. Sensing the opportunity, those who had suffered under the Qin Dynasty killed their administrators and sided with Chen Sheng.

The Dazexiang Uprising was eventually suppressed, but an example had been set. Other rebellions followed, and the Qin Dynasty fell three years later. (In the space of those three years, Zhao Gao killed Li Si, allegedly by a painful method of Li Si’s own devising.)

The Qin Dynasty was too brutal: although Chen Sheng and Wu Guang had set their sights on power long before they found their opportunity, their opportunity came in the form of 900 farmers faced with certain death. Had the 900 farmers not been faced with death, would the Dazexiang Uprising have broken out? Had the Dazexiang Uprising not broken out, would the Qin Dynasty have fallen? Christianity, with its belief in forgiveness, would not have fallen in such a manner.

The Qin Dynasty was insufficiently brutal: Chen Sheng and Wu Guang had set their sights on power long before they found their opportunity, and when their opportunity came, they were able to take it, to coordinate outside earshot of the Qin Dynasty. Had Chen Sheng been unable to speak freely, would the Dazexiang Uprising have broken out? North Korea, with its ubiquitous secret police, would not have fallen in such a manner.

Both of these things are true. Were the Qin Dynasty to return, it would be faced with a choice: it could either remove the death penalty, to avoid backing its subjects into a corner from which they could not escape, or install secret police, to avoid allowing its subjects to coordinate against it.

Both of these things are false. The Qin Dynasty was not insufficiently brutal: had it been less brutal, had it avoided backing the farmers into a choice between two equally bad outcomes, it would have survived. The Qin Dynasty was not too brutal: had it been more brutal, had it made the farmers unable to communicate honestly, it would have survived.

To return to the other two examples: Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake because he refused to recant. Had he recanted, he would not have been killed—and he had a chance to recant. The North Korean political criminal has no chance to recant, but he has no hope of organizing in rebellion—and no one can say he should have a chance to recant, because to do so is a crime.

A structure that makes enemies at a faster rate than its enemies die and that makes enemies permanently will only gain enemies over time. A structure that makes an enemy of a sufficient amount of power will find itself in trouble, and soon be threatened with removal, as happened to the Qin Dynasty.

There are a number of ways that structures can deal with this. Medieval Catholicism pressured heretics to formally recant, and excommunicated them or burned them at the stake if they refused. The Amish pressure violators of the Ordnung to change their ways, then shun those who refuse, then exile those who still refuse. Bismarck’s government established welfare programs to buy off those who would otherwise oppose it. North Korea has prison camps. These boil down to the aforementioned two equilibria: a structure can either be nice enough that few oppose it (by, for example, allowing and incentivizing its enemies to recant) or brutal enough that no one can coordinate against it.

(What would have happened to Bismarck’s government if, instead of establishing welfare programs, it had decided to severely punish anyone who had ever opposed it, and if the culture had followed the government in this? Those who had opposed it would have no incentive to want it to survive, and a great deal of incentive to want it destroyed. What would it have had to do in order to prevent them from overthrowing it?)

But what are the dynamics of them? Which one is easier to set up? The story of Mao’s mangoes is instructive here: once there’s a certain degree of repression, once the structure has drifted some distance toward the worse of the two equilibria, people are obligated to signal their support for at least that distance, since to do otherwise would be to signal disloyalty and invite repression oneself, and incentivized to signal their support for more—and, empirically speaking, it appears that the only way to end the feedback effect is for someone at the top of the structure’s hierarchy to declare that, as the line goes, “anyone to the left of me is a reactionary”.

Are there any ratchets that feed the other equilibrium? I can’t think of any.

Written by nydwracu

September 7, 2015 at 19:23

Posted in politics

Ambijectivity and objectivity

with 13 comments


The statement “Mozart’s music is better than Beethoven’s” is usually considered a subjective opinion.

But this statement has the same form as “Mozart’s music is better than the music of the three-year old girl who lives upstairs from me and bangs on her toy piano sometimes.” …

For whatever reasons – different genetics, different life experiences, whatever – people have different tastes in music. The human music-appreciating-organ varies enough that some people can prefer Mozart to Beethoven and other people can express the opposite preference. But it doesn’t vary enough that any person’s music-appreciating-organ could prefer the girl upstairs. …

But let’s take another example: was Mozart’s music more original than Beethoven’s? This question sounds a lot like the first question of whether Mozart’s music was better. And it shares the same sort of weird half-subjective half-objectiveness (let’s call it ambijectivity) – it seems completely open to disagreement whether Mozart or Beethoven was more original, but there are other questions – like “Was Mozart’s music more original than that of the average Elvis impersonator?” for which no sane disagreement is possible. …

Or another question: is Pluto a planet? The correct answer is “meh, stop arguing about definitions, whether something is a planet or not isn’t an objective fact about the universe”. But is my left foot a planet? Here the correct answer is “no”.

So I think of ambijective statements as being undefined over a whole set of possible meanings.

There are three types of ambijective statement here: statements about originality, statements about planethood, and statements about quality.

It’s obvious what’s going on in the second case. Mozart’s music was objectively more original than that of the average Elvis impersonator: no sane disagreement is possible. Was Mozart’s music objectively more original than Beethoven’s? Can that question be answered at all? Probably not.

Since it’s open to disagreement whether Mozart or Beethoven was more original, Mozart and Beethoven are incomparable by originality; since Mozart and Beethoven are incomparable by originality, they must have a similar level of it. Since it’s not open to disagreement whether Mozart or an Elvis impersonator is more original, Mozart and an Elvis impersonator are comparable by originalityand they obviously have different levels of it. (Note the overloading of ‘comparable’: two artists who have comparable (i.e. similar) levels of originality are incomparable by the relation of “more original than”.) The first case of ambijectivity reduces to the claim that objective originality is partially ordered.

What about the third case? The relation is-a-planet? is not well-defined enough to provide a conclusive answer to the question of whether Pluto is a planet, but it is well-defined enough to provide a conclusive answer to the question of whether my left foot is a planet. Scott says:

For example, “is X a planet” is undefined over:

1. is X larger than most moons, but smaller than most stars?
2. is X spherical under its own gravity?
3. does X orbit a star directly?
4. does X have a regular orbit in terms of ellipticalness and orientation to the plane?
5. is X a natural body made of rock and gas and stuff like that?

Pluto satisfies 2, 3, and 5, but arguably not 1 and 4, therefore it’s “subjective” whether or not it’s a planet insofar as you can choose which of these definitions you want to use. My left foot doesn’t satisfy any of these criteria, so anyone claiming it’s a planet doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

But people don’t think in terms of definitions like that. There are almost certainly people who couldn’t come up with any of those five questions without some thought (if at all), but who nevertheless know that Pluto is a planet, or that Pluto used to be considered a planet but is no longer. If Eris had been discovered long before any of the other dwarf planets and been called the ninth planet, and ‘planet’ had been redefined upon the discovery of Pluto, there would be people who think that there are eight planets and people who think that there are nine planets: the usual eight and Eris. And if we somehow resurrected an educated man who died between 1810 and 1840 or so, he’d say there are nine planets: the usual eight and Ceres. Today, Pluto and Ceres are not planets, because they’re not called planets, not included in the conventional set of eight planets.

Something similar could be going on with art. There could be someone who doesn’t enjoy listening to Mozart at all and does enjoy listening to Taylor Swift, but who would nevertheless say that Mozart is better than Taylor Swiftbecause he’s learned that that’s the conventional answer. This could distort quality judgmentsit could be that Taylor Swift really is better than Mozart, but Mozart is part of the canon of ‘quality musical artists’ and Taylor Swift is not.

This is similar to the charge that populists make against ‘high art’. To them, Thomas Kinkade, to pick an extreme example, is better than Jackson Pollock, because ordinary people would be much more likely to appreciate a painting by the former than one by the latterbut people nevertheless know that Jackson Pollock ‘is better than’ Thomas Kinkade, because they know that’s the conventional answer. Why, to the populists, is Pollock ‘better’ in the cached-answer sense? It could be calling a deer a horse; it could be countersignalling; it could be something else. And why, to the populists, is Kinkade better? Because of the wisdom of democracy and/or the ordinary man.

But can Pollock and Kinkade even be compared in terms of objective quality? Returning to music: is 4’33” better than the latest Taylor Swift single? Does that question even make sense, given that Cage and Swift are doing different things? Is a screwdriver better than a hand cart? Is a car better than a house?

If someone put on 4’33” (or Metal Machine Music, or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) at a party, that wouldn’t work. Conceptual art doesn’t make good popular music. (Popular music would make good conceptual artif no one has gotten a Kinkade painting into a museum alongside Pollock and Rothko, if no one has gotten a pop star onstage in a context befitting 4’33”, there are no worthwhile conceptual artists in Americabut that’s beside the point.)

Conceptual art is interesting to people who are interested in what it doesthat is, to people who are interested about thinking about the relevant concepts. We could go out and find subjective orderings of Kinkade and Pollock, and the results would probably be that most people prefer Kinkade to Pollock, but some prefer Pollock to Kinkade. These judgments would probably have some predictive value: we’d expect people who prefer Kinkade to tend to prefer ‘low art’ in general, and people who prefer Pollock to tend to prefer ‘high art’ in general. (This breaks down before a certain point in time: most people who dislike Pollock probably wouldn’t dislike, say, Michelangelo.)

What else clusters like this?

We could repeat the experiment with different clusters, and ask people to compare Burzum to the Beatles, Meshuggah to Taylor Swift, and Necrophagist to Rihanna. We would expect to see two clusters: a large cluster that prefers the Beatles, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna, and a small cluster that prefers Burzum, Meshuggah, and Necrophagist, and very few people with other preference sets.

This would only occur for judgments of quality: if we asked people to compare Pluto and my left foot, Neptune and a dump truck, and Ceres and Deng Xiaoping on the metric of planethood, we’d expect everyone [who isn’t inclined to give joke answers] to agree. Pluto and Ceres may not be planets, but they’re more planetlike than my left foot and Deng Xiaoping.

Planethood is just fuzzy. Quality has something else going on.

In the case of music, it’s common to hear talk of inferential distance. It’s not phrased in those terms; it’s phrased in terms of accessibility, or in terms of “where do I start with this genre/artist?” But the answers make it clear what’s going on: the most accessible albums, when they’re not clearly the best ones, are the ones with the lowest inferential distance to the average listener. The conventional place to start with Venetian Snares, for example, is the album Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, which is unusually melodic for Venetian Snares and heavily samples classical music. Compare Szamár Madár to Mercy Funk or Szycag.

For another example of inferential distance, consider that Skrillex began his musical career as the lead singer in a post-hardcore band. The two genres have similar musical structures: a repeated introduction riff over a background that gradually builds up to a breakdown/drop, a rhythmic, percussive solo riff played on a heavily distorted lead instrument, followed by a return to, and then variations on, the introduction, punctuated by more breakdowns/drops. This is a different structure from that of pop music, where the chorus, unlike the drop, is melodic and often more complex in instrumentation than the verse (in Skrillex’s remix of the pop song ‘Cinema’, the chorus of the original song is relegated to the introduction!), or black metal, a constant barrage of riffs devoid of chorus, bridge, or modulation in volume or instrumentation. Dubstep and post-hardcore have low inferential distance; it’s no surprise that the most well-known producer of the former started out in the latter.

Are there more nearby spiders than the sun is big?What’s going on here? It’s hard to say, especially since accessibility is probably asymmetric: it’s hard to imagine someone brought up on Venetian Snares to get into pop music by way of Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, rather than Venetian Snares-like pop music. But it’s enough for our current purposes to say that different genres of music, like different forms of art, are doing different thingsand since they’re doing different things, it’s hard to find an objective-seeming standard of quality by which they’re comparable. Is Venetian Snares better than Burzum? Is John Cage better than Taylor Swift? These questions may not even be possible to answer.

But there’s still a demand for an objective-seeming standard that allows that sort of comparison. Music is laden with thede- and status-signaling: if you find out that someone likes Burzum, Kanye West, Skrillex, Insane Clown Posse, Taylor Swift, Ted Nugent, or Elliott Carter, you know a lot about them. Taste in music functions as a shibboleth, distinguishing insiders from outsiders, and as a reinforcement mechanism that lets insiders reinforce their bonds of insiderhood. People want to be able to explain why thedish things are good and why elthedish things are bad, why high-status things are good and low-status things are badand they can’t merely talk about their personal preference, since that carries no rhetorical weight.

What can they talk about?

In a religious society, it would be simple to set up an objective-seeming standard that can provide a universal order: good things are good because they are godly, and bad things are bad because they are demonic. Then there’s only the matter of defining ‘godly’ and ‘demonic’, and those ideographs are flexible enough that they can be contorted in just about any direction. This would not be a total orderingis this hymn more godly than that hymn?but it would allow for comparisons across genres and media: Burzum is worse than the Sagrada Família, Doom is worse than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and so on.

But this isn’t a religious society. At least not in the conventional sense. The decline of religion created a vacuum. What filled it? Well, what filled it elsewhere? Considering that many of our rituals, our myths, and our narratives are political, we should expect to see these objective-seeming standards reinvented as political standards. And we do. Consider the phrase “political correctness”: cultural artifacts and speech acts are judged by the same standard. Or, as Frederik de Boer puts it:

…the contemporary microgenre whereby moneyed 20-something Ivy League grads ascribe tremendous political and moral valence to their cultural consumption. Or, more accurately, the tremendous political and moral valence they ascribe to the difference between their cultural consumption and yours. You cannot have missed them, at Pitchfork or New York or Grantland or, by god, Tumblr. These are the claims that, far more than a mere difference in subjective and contingent tastes, liking one musical act over another reveals fundamental moral character. Your Spotify playlists, in this reading, are existential. From your preference for Beyonce or Run the Jewels over the now ritualistically-derided indy white guy warblers like Vampire Weekend or the National comes not just aesthetic refinement but, in and of itself, anti-racism, feminism, resistance.

In progressivism we find a single standard capable of total universality, a framework for judgment under which it makes sense to ‘objectively’ compare Beyonce to Burzum, or even to Donald Trump. The same thing can happen on the right: the meaning of ‘problematic’ there is not ‘*ist/*phobic’ but ‘godless’ or ‘degenerate’. Quality is morality, morality is thedishness, and thedishness is quality. Every act of media consumption or avoidance becomes a ritual reaffirmation of identity and moral superiority.

Written by nydwracu

September 2, 2015 at 19:27

Posted in miscellany

Tagged with ,


with 9 comments

“It was bound to happen, you know. Woven into the fabric, all the way from the beginningI won’t say Hamilton and Jefferson, the moral of all this is that you can’t square urbanization with centralization, but, you know, urban and rural, the merchant and the farmer, they don’t have a whole lot in common. There’s no imaginable community there. Their lives are too different. It was all bound to happen.

“When did it kick off? That’s a hard question. Some people say it was in ’31, when one of the VGs capped a mayor and people started to take notice. They rolled over in the end, of course, said it wouldn’t be right to crush the VGs, had a couple of task forces and a couple of special commissions on tolerance and all that bureaucratic jabberwocky, but we weren’t sure how it would turn out at the time. It could’ve gotten uglywell, it could’ve happened quicker and leveled off. Drop a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump out; drop a frog into lukewarm water and turn up the heat, it won’t notice it’s cooking until it’s dead. But who the hell’s ever heard of a frog that likes being dropped into boiling water? Anyway. I don’t buy that stuff. These are the people who’ll tell you some snot-nosed kid managed to start a world war because he happened to want a sandwich at just the right time. As if nothing would’ve happened if not for the stomach of a little boy from fucking Obljaj.

“No, I think it kicked off in the mid-1900s. Three things. First… well, only one in twenty Americans lived in an urban area in 1790. Try to imagine that. Five out of a hundred. That’s practically a rounding error. George Washington had a fucking estate, man, who the hell’s ever heard of anyone important these days living on a fucking estate? He lived on the thing! Anyway. One out of twenty. It was one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920, two out of three in 1960, four out of five in ’10, you get the idea. It’s not so far up there anymore, of courseyou know how many kids the Amish and all them have?but it flipped to over half.

“Now, you got a country with a bunch of guys on fucking estates running around across the whole place, everybody speaks the same language, everybody’s concerned with the same things, everybody’s got a farm to manage—that’s one thing. You got a country full of cities, that’s not just a different ballpark, that’s a whole different game. A farm is a farm. A city is a point. It’s zero-dimensional. Doesn’t have anything to do with anything outside it. What does New York have to do with Grand Rapids? What does New York have to do with the rest of its state? You stand in a city and look out, you see blank space. Nothing. Nothing you can relate to, at least. Might as well be Uzbekistan. You ever thought of Uzbekistan before? You ever thought of Grand Rapids? It was a big thing back in the ’10s and ’20s, you know—it wasn’t just urbanization, it was one step above that, people clearing the hell out of the small cities to land in the big ones, and the people who’d been in the big ones for a while… they’re all enlightened and shit, it was them who got the Lazarus Act thing going back in ’22, so they got all that, but at the same time, they don’t want these crackers coming in from Dallas or wherever the fuck and pissing on their scene, you know? So some of the Lazarus guys, they got together and had a big push, you know: ‘look, if we want to get this thing through, we’re sitting on all sorts of cultural power here, and we’ve got to keep these motherfuckers out of our cities.’ We’ve got to close the borders of the Bay and all that, or we won’t be able to open the borders of the country.

“The country? Why would they care? Like I said, it’s Uzbekistan. The country is just some shit out there, man, it didn’t even exist to them. The world is the city, the city is the world. Maybe you go to a different city or two, maybe you even hop corridors, but you’re sure as hell never going to be in Oklahoma or Wyoming or any of that. Not even San Antonio. You’ve heard of network effects, right? Anyway. The second thing was the first wave of massers, don’t repeat that in polite company. It didn’t make a whole lot of difference, but it helped things along. And the third was the VGs. Volksgemeinschaften.

“The word is German, of course: the Germans are honest. They’ll tell you what they’re going to do. They want VGs, they’ll tell you they want VGs. They don’t want VGs, they’ll tell you they don’t want VGs. That’s not how we do things here, of courseif we do, we’ll tell you we don’t. And that’s what it was. The English word is ‘community’, as in ‘community organizer’, as in ‘we’ve got to organize the whatever community so as to combat the sorts of people who like VGs’. So they came up with these communities, and they had all these bureaucrats whose job it was to sit around and let the communities show up all decked out in their VG shit and try to scare the shit out of them.

“They tried a couple times to put the communities together into proper VGsthey called them ‘gangs’ back then, I thinkbut they were too honest about it. They came out and said it. They tried to hide it for a whilethey didn’t say ‘Ordnung’ or ‘polycentric law‘ or ‘VG’ or ‘millet’ or ‘patchwork’—but they did say ‘legitimate use of force’ and ‘revolution’ and all that, and that pissed a lot of people off, and a couple arrests and a couple assassinations later, it ended up not happening—not for a couple more decades, at least.

“No, it came more slowly. These communities had some political power from the start. Organizing voters, letter-writing campaigns, PR, sympathetic lawyers, all that. Then everyone got cell phones and could stay plugged in no matter where they were. You’re on the subway, you pick up your phone, see some dude in the milletthey weren’t millets back then, of course—going on about how some other dude broke the Ordnung, you throw a couple words in to show you’re down with the river of meat, you’re part of the Volk, and you feel good, you know? You’re part of something. You have values. And your words matter. You have power. Power! The great aphrodisiac. Power and community. Both in equal measure. Without power, y’all are just some guys, getting pushed around instead of doing the pushing; without community, you’re just some guy, sitting alone on a subway or whatever, bored out of your mind.

“That’s how it was for the ones who were born here, anyway. Power and community. After the Lazarus Act, a lot of it was… well, there’s money here, sure, so you come here for the money, but you don’t want to change a whole lot, who the hell would? Some things are familiar, some things are foreign. Some things are in accord with how you were raised, some things are… well, look at the rest of the world, look at how fucked up it is, what the hell does it know? You got a VG, you got a whole fucking Ordnung, you know right from wrong and you did since before you got on the plane or the boat or the bus. The hell you gonna change for? Well, maybe you change a bit. A couple cultural adaptations here and therethe white people don’t like old beardy dudes telling people what to do, but they’re cool with enforcers, so you stick the beards on a TV show or something and get the enforcers watching thatbut that’s all implementation details.

“But you get here, maybe your cousin has a business, maybe you meet a guy at the church or the mosque or the God knows what else, but so does everyone else. So your VG has a line of work: donut shops, convenience stores, motels, casinos whatever. Hell, so do the white people: cupcake stores, sexting apps, yoga studios, and accounting firms. That’s not all there is, of courseevery VG needs a paper or two, a couple cultural organizations, an army of lawyers, an army—but who the fuck wants to go to law school? If you’re in that line of work, you’re in the VG, so you follow the Ordnung. And if you’re not, well, everyone wants friends.

“The architecture of the VGswell, the Amish have had it forever, that’s where ‘Ordnung’ comes from. You stray from the Ordnung, people don’t talk to you anymore, that’s how they do it. Out here, maybe you get that, but maybe your friends start to worry, your family gets concerned, your girlfriend breaks up with you, your wife takes a new interest in fitness, all that; maybe your whole field of work decides you’re a PR liability; maybe a friendly group of enforcers politely informs you that you’ve trespassed on their territory or you can’t smoke on Ramadan or whatever and does you the favor of collecting their payment themselves; whatever. Everyone wants laws against murder and theft, so the VGs leave that stuff to the cops—and when the VGs don’t want those laws, well, if you snitch, you break the Ordnung, and the cops know which VGs they’d rather not fuck with and which VGs don’t speak English—at least not when they’re around—and what the hell are the cops going to do anyway?

“Anyway, the Ordnung. It kicked off in… oh, some places got it in the Fourth Great Awakening, can’t have people playing board games ‘cuz what if they’re a gateway to Satan and all, but mostly it was the Fifth, ’10 on, everyone had a cell phone by then so they could keep themselves plugged into their VG at all times. The millets came later—for a while, it was just if you’re popular enough, you’re the law. But some people got pissed, a couple lawsuits, a couple journalists getting their whole operations shut down, the massers—Lazarites, sorry—figured they ought to clean up their act so as not to become unpopular and risk compromising the Cause. And it wasn’t this huge shift—this is America, remember, so they could only do what they could leave unspoken. Millets don’t really exist—they’re useful abstractions sometimes, but things aren’t that different from back in ’10. It’s still the same process, a lot of it—you break the Ordnung, your friends disapprove, you get a clue—but for the harder stuff, well, they’re not courts exactly, a lot of them, but they’re institutions, people, books sometimes, anything that you can stuff some legitimacy into, so the people who are enforcing the Ordnung can pass the buck. Doesn’t matter how they decide things, as long as they’re not doing it here.”


Written by nydwracu

August 26, 2015 at 02:10

Posted in miscellany

The Harvard Crimson on the Khmer Rouge, 1973–1976

with 11 comments

Here is every article that the Harvard Crimson ran between 1973 and 1976 that mentions the Khmer Rouge.

First, a note on the Crimson’s editorial conventions, from 1973:

Signed pieces appearing on The Crimson editorial page represent the opinion of their authors. Only unsigned editorials represent opinions of The Crimson staff.

This was repeated in 1975 and 2006. The convention existed elsewhere in 1969.

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, April 1973:

Both the U.S. and the dictatorship of President Lon Nol claimed the crackling Cambodian war was being pressed by North Vietnamese regular army units, but several observers at the scene disagreed.

Although acknowledging the presence of Vietnamese in the country, they said the brunt of the onslaught against the Lon Nol regime was being shouldered by the Khmer Rouge, an indigenous revolutionary movement.

At any rate, Lon Nol is in trouble. Fighting is surging closer to his capital of Phnom Penh and all three highways into the city have been sliced by the guerrillas. His tottering regime will probably soon topple, barring another U.S. escalation.

Daniel Swanson became a radical leftist journalist, writing under the name James North.

Unsigned article, April 1973:

If the American government were sincere about wanting peace in Cambodia, it would stop supporting a repressive dictatorship, and allow the people of Cambodia — represented by the Khmer Rouge and the supporters of the deposed Prince Norodom Sihanouk — to determine their own destiny.

Signed article by Ngo Vinh Long, April 1973:

First of all, it is obvious that all the so-called factions are so united that Defense and State Department officials as well as American officials inside Cambodia itself have admitted consistently that had it not been for American air-power, “Government forces” would have collapsed.

Secondly, ever since 1970, the various armed forces as well as the people of Cambodia have been fighting under the one and only banner of the National United Front of Kampuchia (FUNK). FUNK has helped liberate about 90 per cent of the country, and the areas liberated have been under the sole administration of the Royal Government of National Union of Cambodia (GRUNC). GRUNC has been led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and is recognized by 33 governments around the world and last summer it was admitted to the conference of over 60 non-aligned nations in the world–convened at Georgetown, Guyana–as the sole legitimate government of Cambodia.

Moreover, as reported in the April 11, 13 and 14 issues of the Christian Science Monitor, Prince Sihanouk has recently emerged from a long extended tour of his country and has said that all the Khmer forces are united behind him. North Vietnam and China have also given Sihanouk full support. …

Americans who want to have this immoral war end once for all should not let Nixon intimidate them through the use of the returning POWs but should force Nixon to end all support for the Thieu, the Long Nol [sic] and the Phouma regimes and let the Indochinese peoples solve their own problems.

Here is Ngo Vinh Long’s backstory.

Unsigned article, May 1973:

Congress and the public have come to accept that the U.S. must stop interfering in Cambodia’s affairs, which will surely result in well-deserved victory of the revolutionary forces led by Prince Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge.

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, May 1973:

Richard Nixon is informally on trial for his responsibility in the Watergate scandal. As witnesses parade before the Ervin Committee, spilling their tales of burglary, electronic eavesdropping, forgery and bribery, the public is judging how much Nixon is responsible for the crimes. If the judgement is harsh, he will most likely have to resign, pious pronouncements about the integrity of the presidency notwithstanding.

Crimes have most certainly been committed in the case. Yet they are laughably insignificant next to Nixon’s other–and admitted–crimes. These crimes, defined by international tribunals after the end of World War II, are known as war crimes, and Nixon has not stopped committing them. …

Reporting from Cambodia, with a handful of exceptions, has been much the same mixture of laziness and inaccuracy. The press gulped down Nixon’s story that the American bombing was directed against North Vietnamese invaders who were attempting to overrun the country. It believed him also when he said that only military targets were being hit, and that the aerial onslaught was intended only to prop up the tottering January peace agreements.

These claims are all lies. The bombing, as some reporting has started to show, is directed against an indigenous revolutionary movement, the Khmer Rouge, a force numbering in the hundreds of thousands which is attempting to topple the Lon Nol regime, Nixon’s two-year-old creation. The aerial war does not discriminate between military and civilian targets: indeed, there is no difference between the two in a people’s war. Nixon’s bombing is a crime against peace. It is the biggest single obstacle to an end of the war in Southeast Asia.

Unsigned article, June 1973:

News of U.S. bombing in Cambodia drones on. U.S. support for political repression in Vietnam continues. … The burdens the world bore this year were no less painful, no less unwieldy than the threats to self-determination and human equality to which past years have made us accustomed. But local burdens seem heavier, because after years of radical protest and finally the defeat of even a liberal politician clearly better qualified than Richard Nixon to be President, national forums seem a less appropriate focus for change. …

The bombing, as some belated reporting from the area is starting to show, is directed against an indigenous Cambodian revolutionary movement, the Khmer Rouge, a force numbering in the hundreds of thousands which is attempting to topple the Lon Nol regime, Nixon’s two-year-old creation. …

For nearly a decade, The Crimson has called for an end to American involvement in Indochina. We repeat that call today. The war has brought more death and destruction to one area of the globe since Adolf Hitler’s armies devastated Europe in World War II. The United States should cease its bombing and all other overt and covert military operations in Indochina. The genocide must stop.

“The genocide must stop.” About that…

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, July 1973, a barely-edited reprint of an article from a month earlier:

Reporting from Cambodia is scanty and shoddy, the outlines of the political dispute there are hazy, and the revolutionary Khmer Rouge, to which many Harvard students would be attracted, is still a shadowy and elusive force.

As a consequence, Watergate, which is close to home, has gripped students here as well as the rest of the nation while the more monstrous Nixon crimes go unnoticed.

Also in the article:

Mass murder, we were told, was the single most abhorrent feature in the programs of both the Nazis and of international Communism. Both systems practiced slaughter and butchery on a mass scale, and that was reason enough for opposing their advances. Even today, the handful of stalwarts who still defend America’s entry into Vietnam base their position on the alleged need to prevent the bloodbath that would inevitably follow a Communist takeover.

Increasing numbers of Americans, however, drew the opposite conclusion from the Vietnam war. As the conflict escalated and the body counts from Vietnam continued to mount, students, and others, began to apply this moral imperative against genocide to their own government. Even if the Vietnamese dead were all Communist automatons bent upon subverting liberty, and even if the American cause was initially just, the extent of the killing, the mounds of the dead, showed that the U.S. government was pursuing a policy of moral obscenity. No political goals were worth such a toll in lives. Why fight to avert a bloodbath if you create one in the process?

This aversion to mass murder of any sort, which grew with each year of the seemingly endless bombing, napalming and free-fire zones, explains why a growing number of people, eventually including a majority of the American population, called for withdrawal from Vietnam. The continuing carnage sickened even those on the moderate right, and the unity against the killing gradually broadened.

Much antiwar sentiment was based solely on this aversion to the killing, but some people, particularly students who had time to ponder such matters, started to search for an explanation for the Vietnamese resistance. In the face of a nearly total onslaught by the greatest military power in the world, why did these people continue fighting? Who were these Vietnamese, and why did they rebuild bridges with their bare hands and go into battle against an enemy that was vastly superior in the weapons of modern war? Why did they troop down the Ho Chi Minh trail, year after year, to face almost certain annihilation?

We gradually learned that the Vietnamese were fighting for many of the same things Americans had always been taught to cherish–independence, social justice and freedom. As our knowledge of the National Liberation Front and of North Vietnam grew, our political support for their cause expanded simultaneously. A new dimension of hatred for the American government surged up within us. No longer were the actions of the United States criminal merely because they unleashed indiscriminate violence against a smaller nation. Now, we saw those actions as criminal because the destruction was intended to annihilate a people who were striving against almost insuperable odds to achieve some measure of dignity and control over their own lives–ironically, objectives Americans have traditionally championed.

Vietnam became a symbol for us, proof that socialism could work, that people could master their own destiny. The Vietnamese revolutionaries seemed courageous and cooperative, almost superhuman. Socialist men and women stood in the rice fields and the high plateaus, calmly firing rifles skyward as American divebombers screamed down to engulf them in flaming destruction. Vietnam showed us that might can never subdue justice, that a people striving together to be free cannot be stopped short of genocide.

So we supported the National Liberation Front. We carried their flags, we applauded their victories, we honored their heroes. Some of us went so far as to see ourselves as fighting for them in the streets of America, a fifth column behind enemy lines. We awaited Vietnam’s inevitable victory.

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, July 1973:

Woodside and Thomson agreed that the Lon Nol government will eventually fall, giving way in all likelihood to a left-wing government headed by Sihanouk that will adopt an independent stance in foreign affairs.

“A Communist or Communist-leaning government will eventually come to power,” Thomson predicted. …

Woodside explained that the Khmer Rouge appear to be particularly strong in western Cambodia, the only area of the country that has big landed estates. “They also have European-educated urban intellectuals working for them,” he said.

Unsigned article, July 1973:

Khmer Rouge revolutionaries last week pressed their assaults to within ten miles of the capital at Phnom Penh. Lon Nol has only 27 days left in power.

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, July 1973:

As in Cambodia, which will fall to the revolutionary Khmer Rouge shortly after the American bombing stops August 15, American foreign policy–even by its own inhumane logic–has failed once again.

Unsigned article, July 1973:

Counting today, Lon Nol has little more than 16 days left in power. Both the American bomber pilots and Prince Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge will be back home very very soon.

Unsigned article, August 1973:

Criminal American air strikes, which have reached new peaks of barbarism in the past several weeks, will finally end at midnight tonight.  A flurry of peace rumors is blowing out of Phnom Penh, Peking and Washington, but even a last minute face-saving settlement cannot disguise the fact that American imperialism has lost another one.

The bombing will stop, Lon Nol’s puppet strings will be cut, and Cambodia will eventually return to peace and national sovereignty under the leadership of the revolutionary Khmer Rouge.  Lon Nol probably already has a mansion on the French Riviera picked out, where he can join other reactionary luminaries like Madame Nhu and a host of South Vietnamese generals.

Signed article by Dan Swanson, September 1973:

Newspaper owners are integral to the American elite, molders and managers of its policy. They can hardly be expected to question their own behavior.

Not all American newspapers adhere to this don’t-rock-the-boat view of their business; a few have a more liberal view of the world, a more aggressive and combative concept of journalism. These papers–The New York Times, The Washington Post, among others–are about the closest to responsible and serious journalism that the American press has to offer. Although they are also owned and run by wealthy families, they are powers in their own right and often unafraid to cross those in positions of authority. It is no mistake that the Bernsteins and the Woodwards and the Hershs work for them.

But The Times and The Post are not perfect. They sometimes succumb to the same shoddiness that plagues the rest of the newspaper world, and some of their coverage is just as inaccurate. The Times, for example, insists to this day upon calling the Vietnamese National Liberation Front the “Viet Cong,” even though the term is considered highly insulting in Vietnam. A newspaper striving honestly for objectivity would report the news objectively and evenly, leaving its insults for the editorial page.

Salvador Allende, the president of Chile, is always “Marxist President Allende” in these newspapers, yet they fail to make the logical extension–“Capitalist President Nixon.” Also, the NLF are always “Communist snipers,” which is not strictly true because they are not all “Communists.” At any rate, these phrases should be accompanied by something like “Capitalist war planes” or, at the very least, “Free Enterprise war planes.” One can be thankful for small favors, however; at least these papers have for the most part stopped calling the Khmer Rouge or the NLF “the enemy.”

Unsigned article, September 1973:

Nixon and Kissinger took office in 1969 with an implicit electoral mandate for peace. Instead of ending the war as they had promised they continued it for four more long hard years, doubling American casualties, murdering hundreds of thousands more with bombs and napalm, devastating previously untouched areas of Indochina, gaining nothing — even by their own perverted logic — by the prolongation of the agony.

To mask their deceptions, Nixon and Kissinger lied to the American people. They lied about the one and one-half year secret bombing of Cambodia. They lied about the reasons for the 1970 invasion of that country — and they lied when they said the just-ended bombing of Cambodia was intended to stop a North Vietnamese invasion, when in fact it was directed against the indigenous Khmer Rouge.

The blood of dead and homeless Indochinese is on Kissinger’s hands. He has no place anywhere in the United States government.

Unsigned article, September 1973:

Few men have been so obviously unqualified to be president of the United States as Richard Nixon. Perhaps in the past men of lesser talent have occupied the post, but they held it in times when the demands of the job were not so great. Among presidents, Nixon holds the unhappy distinction of being the most disastrously incompetent. He should either leave or be removed from office.

The terror bombing of Indochina is in itself sufficient to make toppling the Nixon regime morally imperative. The continued bombing of the Khmer Rouge right up until the Congressionally imposed August 15 deadline betrayed any attempt of Nixonian “statesmanship” to rationalize its murders, and conclusively demonstrated the vicious insanity long buried in Nixon’s psychology.

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, October 1973:

The crimes in Indochina were so brutal and monstrous that there is probably not enough compassion and courage in America to ever come to terms with them.

He’s not talking about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge; he’s talking about the American war against the Khmer Rouge.

Signed article by Daniel Swanson, February 1974:

The White House confirmed yesterday that President Nixon sent a personal letter to Cambodian president Lon Nol pledging that the United States would “stand side by side” with the Cambodian government, which is currently facing renewed military offensive by the revolutionary Khmer Rouge.

Unsigned article, March 1974:

Reports from Cambodia last week merely confirmed what has been long suspected: The United States is still heavily involved in illegal military support of the foundering Lon Nol regime–a blatant violation of Congressional action which bars military advisers and the direct involvement of any American troops in Southeast Asia.

Although the U.S. military attache in Phnom Penh denied any illegal activity, first hand press reports verified that at least one American officer was working in the field as a combat adviser and, for all intents and purposes, commander for the badly demoralized and disorganized government troops in Kampot, a key coastal outpost about 80 miles south of Phnom Penh. …

Congress must do more than police and publicize violations of the Cooper-Church amendment. Last week the Nixon administration asked Congress for $850 million in economic aid–an increase of over $200 million from last year–and at least the same $106 billion given in military aid last year to support the unpopular dictatorships and prevent Southeast Asia “from going Communist.” [sic]

Congress should cut off all military aid to the Thieu and Lon Nol regimes and bring all United States military personnel home, allowing the United Nations forces to ensure that the people of Southeast Asia can choose their governments with no outside pressure. Only then will the American people be sure that the Pentagon and the White House are not blatantly defying the laws passed by Congress.

Unsigned article, December 1974:

Recent reports from Cambodia indicate that living conditions under the faltering Lon Nol regime have become particularly grim and are likely to worsen if the U.S. maintains the current stalemate there.   The problem for the U.S. is not a question of “mopping up” a messy aftermath of the war in Southeast Asia; it is a question of renouncing a policy of belligerent imperialism and cutting off aid to the head of the Phnom Penh government–Lon Nol. …

As in so many areas, the U.S. holds the key to peace and progress in Cambodia.  In the absence of American dollars and other forms of continued intervention it seems probable that the Lon Nol regime would fall almost immediately.  While the Khmer Rouge provides no guarantee of building a model democraic socialist state in Cambodia, they constitute a definite progressive alternative to the current regime.   Cutting all American aid is the necessary first step out of the current stalemate.

Signed article by Chris Daly, March 1975:

We are involved in a war [in Cambodia] where we have no business, and we are not even supporting the right side.

Chris Daly went on to spend ten years at the Associated Press. After that, he became an associate professor at Boston University.

Unsigned article, March 1975:

The regime now rests on a single pillar; the daily American airlift of rice and ammunition into Phnom Penh. American experts and policy-makers are unanimous in their opinion that Phnom Penh would fall almost immediately to the Khmer Rouge without the airlift.

What did the Crimson want done? The title of the article is “Cut the Aid”. So they wanted Phnom Penh to fall to the Khmer Rouge “almost immediately”.

Unsigned article, March 1975:

Reports now filtering to the West [from Vietnam] talk of “communists” slaughtering innocent refugees from the central highlands abandoned by Thieu last week. But these reports are still incomplete; this latest bloodshed may well stem from the traditionally vicious rivalry between the Montangard highland tribes and the Vietnamese people rather than from deliberate policies of the PRG.

While there is little information about the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in Cambodia, they now control almost the entire country, and their support is increasing. Sydney Schanberg’s reports in The New York Times of corruption in the Lon Nol government make it clear that the forces opposed to Lon Nol’s policies are fighting for the people of Cambodia.

Unsigned article, April 1975:

The capture of Phnom Penh last week by the Khmer Rouge is a victory for the Cambodian people over the corrupt Lon Nol regime and the imperialist American policies that supported it.  When the Lon No 1 [sic] government surrendered, Khmer Rouge and former government troops embraced, signalling an end to the suffering of the Cambodian people after five long years of war.  The new Cambodian government holds out the hope of social reform and simple honesty that were absent under Lon No 1. [sic] For that reason alone, those in this country who support national self-determination for Cambodia should consider the success of the Khmer Rouge as a cause for celebration.

Unsigned article, May 1975:

The victory of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front is a victory, first of all, for the people of Vietnam. Americans, who played a crucial role in forcing their government to withdraw from Indochina, should rejoice in the Vietnamese triumph. …

The thousands of refugees spawned by 30 years of war–seeking escape from bombings, marches and retreats, free-fire zones and protective-reaction strikes; or ripped untimely from their homes by “strategic-hamlet” programs and “forced-draft urbanization’s”–will start to go back to their homes now. The Montagnard tribesmen, alternately cajoled and maltreated by a Saigon administration uninterested in their problems or their culture, will begin to live with a government with at least some commitment to fighting traditional Vietnamese varieties of racism.

Vietnam’s farmers, and its farmers-turned soldiers, will go back to growing rice and raising pigs, probably on lands no longer owned by large landlords and with the beginnings of co-operative labor. The celebrated Vietnamese orphans–from a country where there was hardly a word for “orphan” until massive American intervention strained Vietnamese families’ traditional generosity beyond its capacity for resilience–will grow up peacefully. These children of the war, the “nieces and nephews” to whom Ho Chi Minh directed his last testament, will once again find a secure place in a secure social fabric. And because that fabric is no longer continually frayed by rifle-fire, members of every social class will at last be able to go about their business in peace. City workers, businessmen and shopkeepers, even Saigon government employees (many of them have apparently been kept on by the Provisional Revolutionary Government)–all will benefit from freedom from the specter of bombs and rockets, and from having a government with wide popular support, committed to equality and to industrial and agricultural development.

We hope and believe that there will be no “bloodbath” in Vietnam. …

To ask people to remember Vietnam is hardly to call for unwarranted “recriminations,” as administration spokesmen have been suggesting in the last few days. If, as they seem to believe, American involvement in Vietnam was an accident, a mistake that unfortunately killed hundreds of thousands of people without achieving a discernible political effect-except, perhaps, for promoting the victory of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia-then it is reasonable to continue to ask how a democratic, rational system of government could permit such an accident and such a mistake. And if American involvement in Vietnam was not simply an “accident”-if it had deeper roots, in the economic and political structure of the United States and in the ideas to which this structure gave rise-then it is reasonable to try to identify these roots, before they bring forth new flowers somewhere else.

Unsigned article, June 1975:

While Harvard lulled in the calm of slow change and little protest this past year, the world saw dramatic triumph for the people of Vietnam. Our focus was turned away from the important issues at Harvard when, after thirty years of relentless fighting–and twenty years when the United States was the enemy–the National Liberation Front marched into Saigon victorious in its longstanding struggle for independence. And in Cambodia the Khmer Rouge won in its fight against the corrupt Lon Nol regime after five years of fighting.

Also in the article:

One of the lessons of Vietnam that Ford would like to ignore is that more than two decades of repression by a series of corrupt regimes supported by the U.S. could not stifle the will of the Vietnamese people. Even though more than a million people died as a result of the American policy, its failure spoke–more eloquently than any polemic against the PRG–for the inadequacy of terror as a political weapon.

U.S. support for Gen. Pinochet’s junta in Chile shows that Ford refuses to learn this lesson. Portugal provides still another example of the will of the people, in the form of a revolution ending 45 years of Fascism, over-coming the will of a few in power. Programs of nationalization are a welcome step toward economic equality, and we support Portugal’s progress toward democratic socialism.

The will of the people! Democratic socialism! But how did the revolution work out for Portugal?

Unsigned article, September 1975:

There are reports that in the countryside all movement across provincial boundaries in prohibited and that in some provinces possession of the old Cambodian currency, the rien, is punishable by death.  According to the New York Times, one high ranking official administering the province of Battambang recently said that “the law now is the law of the soldier, the law of the gun.”

These reports are sporadic and they can not reflect the complete truth about the situation in Cambodia.  If they are true, these actions must be condemned.  The new government of Cambodia may have to resort to strong measures against a few to gain democratic socialism for all Cambodians. And we support the United Front [i.e. the Khmer Rouge] in the pursuit of its presently stated goals.

As for the motivations:

Since the U.S. incursion into Cambodia in the spring of 1970, and the subsequent saturation-bombings The Crimson has supported the Khmer Rouge in its efforts to form a revolutionary government in that country.  But for the past 3 years, little or no information about the Khmer Rouge reached the West

In the vacuum of information we made certain assumptions about the Khmer Rouge that in retrospect, were illusory. Because the Khmer Rouge had ties with the Republic of China, it was assumed that the Khmer Rouge’s policies and social programs would have affinities with Maoism.  It was assumed that while the NLF was working at grass roots campaigns to reform land use and to set up village councils, the Khmer Rouge was working on similar projects in their own country.  But most important of all, it was assumed that because the Khmer Rouge fought against the forces of Lon Nol’s regime and stood up against troops and brutal American bombing raids–symbols of American imperiallsm–that it was a good and courageous revolutionary movement.

(Note the passive voice: “it was assumed.”)

The Crimson supported the Khmer Rouge for three reasons:

  1. The Crimson thought the Khmer Rouge would act Maoist.
  2. The Crimson thought the Khmer Rouge was going to work on the type of project that the NLF (the Viet Cong) was working on. In other words, the Crimson thought the Khmer Rouge would have similar politics to the Viet Cong.
  3. The Crimson thought it was a “good and courageous revolutionary movement” because it was against “symbols of American imperialism”.

From this we can learn that the Harvard Crimson supported Maoism, the Viet Cong, and revolution, and opposed Lon Nol and American imperialism.

Signed article by Nick Lemann, September 1975:

What was happening in Vietnam and Cambodia meant a lot to us at The Crimson; for us it seemed to be the first good news from Indochina in years. Since late in the 60s we had editorially supported the Khmer Rouge and National Liberation Front in Vietnam, both nationalist groups affiliated with foreign Communist parties, and both of those characteristics–the independence and the socialist egalitarianism–appealed to us. …

It’s easier to step back a little, and try to understand why the Khmer Rouge was worth supporting, before figuring out whether it still is. A few general principles seem to apply: a state of peace is better than one of war; a state of independence is better than one of control from outside; a state of complete social and economic equality for a nation’s citizens is better than one of inequality. The United States monstrously violated this value system in Indochina, lining up squarely and brutally on the wrong side of all three criteria. All the Indochinese liberation movements seemed to uphold and sustain these same values; they were firmly in the right. …

At first The Crimson was against the war because it was a bad and wasteful thing for America to do; supporting the liberation movements, a step most of the anti-war movement didn’t take, was for us a logical next step.

I don’t know what we all expected the Khmer Rouge to do when it came to power. …

With Cambodia it’s an old dilemma–do we look at events in Indochina as Americans with liberal values or as the Indochinese must look at them? The Khmer Rouge can certainly no longer meet with our approval on our own terms, because they violate our feeling that anything worthy need not be accomplished through violence and cruelty. On their own terms they continue to be most of what we supported them for–staunch nationalists, socialists, remakers of their own society. It is a conflict that I am not ready to resolve. Although The Crimson has yet to commit itself, I continue to support the Khmer Rouge in its principles and goals but I have to admit that I deplore the way they are going about it.

Lemann was, at one point, president of the Crimson. He graduated in 1976. If he was president in his senior year, he was probably responsible for the previous unsigned article.

After graduating, he worked his way up in the journalistic establishment, from the Washington Monthly to the Texas Monthly to the Washington Post to the New York Times, where, in 1995, he wrote a ten-page article singing the praise of Patrick Chavis, the affirmative action poster doctor whose license was suspended in 1997 for malpractice after he killed a patient in a botched liposuctiona procedure for which he was not trained.

Lemann later became the dean of the journalism school at Columbia, and married Judith Shulevitz, an op-ed writer for the New York Times. They have both written for Slate and The New Republic.

Signed article by R. Lee Penn, February 1976:

The press treatment of Cambodia since the fall of the Lon Nol regime last April is a prime example of news distortion.  An editorial last summer in The New York Times, titled “Cambodia’s Crime,” summed up the official view of events there.  It spoke of millions of people from Phnom Penh and other cities “forced by the Communists at gunpoint to walk into the countryside without organized provision for food, shelter, physical security, or medical care.”  It concluded that Cambodia “resembles a giant prison camp with the urban supporters of the former regime now being worked to death on thin gruel and hard labor…the barbarous cruelty of the Khmer Rouge can be compared to Soviet extermination of the Kulaks or with the Gulag Archipalego.” …

This lurid interpretation of events in Cambodia seems designed to shock readers and increase their fear of socialism.

He goes by Lee Penn now. At least he gave up the Maoism.

Unsigned article, October 1978:

Chomsky said that Indonesia started taking over the eastern half of Timor in 1975, and has since killed about as many inhabitants of the island as the Khmer Rouge has killed in Cambodea [sic], in an island with a fraction of Cambodia’s population, Chomsky said.

“Compiled from dispatches”, January 1979:

Vietnamese troops captured the last urban stronghold of the defeated Cambodian government’s forces, but the retreating soldiers struck back in isolated attacks and set up mountain and island guerilla bases to carry on the war, Thai sources said yesterday.

“We will fight until we die,” one of the Cambodian loyalists near the Thai border reportedly said. …

Reports said 10 battalions of “Khmer Krom”–Cambodians who have resided in southern Vietnam–had recently been moved into Cambodia and might serve as occupation troops in an effort to present the war as strictly a Cambodian affair.

The official media of the new Phnom Penh government claimed people throughout Cambodia rejoiced at the downfall of the Pol Pot government–an ouster engineered by the Vietnamese, neighbors for whom Cambodians have a deep-seated historical hatred.

Signed article by Robert J. Campbell, October 1979:

Famine has plagued Cambodia since Vietnamese forces invaded last December and overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. The refusal of the current Heng Samrin regime to send food to supporters of ex-Premier Pol Pot has complicated international relief efforts. …

Speaking at a slide presentation yesterday. Stephen B. Young, assistant dean at the Law School, compared the Cambodian tragedy to the Nazi Holocaust. “If they were European whites, there would be an uproar,” he said.

Which tragedy? The famine, presumably: that’s what the rest of the article is talking about. The famine that has plagued Cambodia since Vietnamese forces invaded and overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. (Since?)

The Crimson finally turned around in 1981, but by then, Reagan was president.

In 2010, a conservative Crimson columnist acknowledged that the paper had once supported the Khmer Rouge.

Written by nydwracu

July 1, 2015 at 06:12

Posted in politics

Against conservatism

with 17 comments

“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 whcontrast 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.

Written by nydwracu

April 2, 2015 at 12:25

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

A golden age of morality?

with 15 comments

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.


Written by nydwracu

March 5, 2015 at 08:01

Posted in politics

America is not a civilized country

with 6 comments

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.

Written by nydwracu

March 1, 2015 at 07:02

Posted in politics

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