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.)
One of the signs and causes of decline that John Glubb mentioned is the collapse of imperial unity: internal bickering leads to the inability to unite in the face of external threats, or potentially even the amplification of an external threat in the form of an internal faction’s alliance with it against another internal faction.
That it is now often said that the problem with America is Brahmindom is part of the process of decline. If this process is to be reversed, a new unity must be forged; and any attempt at unity must avoid the progressive error of writing out a large part of the country. (Yes, progressivism did attempt this, at least twice: first with the actual Progressive Era (where do you think the Pledge of Allegiance comes from?), and second with their response to the race riots of the ’60s. The absurdity of going to war against a large part of the population for the benefit of a small part of it must be noted, but some of them—the ones old enough to remember the race riots, anyway—actually believe this. It helps, of course, that there were pre-existing phyletic hatreds in place.)
Lack of coordination leads to decline, and coordination across distinct phyles can only be accomplished through a series of armistices. These armistices are now being broken. Who is breaking them? There is the enemy.
The collapse of the external enemy—the end of the Cold War—probably contributed here. There is less motivation to preserve coordination after the disappearance of an existential threat from outside. Attempts to create a new external enemy to take the place of the Soviet Union—Islamism, Putin, etc.—have failed and will continue to fail; America—Usonia, rather, since the political religion of Americanism cannot provide what is necessary, and will only uselessly take up that space—must stand on its own, must develop a positive sense of identity to provide a thedish basis for this coordination.
It’s too bad there’s no word in English (yet) for the Roman sense of religio:
We struggle to understand the persecution of the Christians under the Roman empire. Roman society tolerated a great variety of deities and cults; worship of Christ as (a) God did not in itself threaten or offend, and religious innovation was not impossible. The emergence of Christianity itself coincided with the novelty of cultic worship of the Roman emperors or their tutelary spirits, which could be included alongside other deities in existing religious frameworks.
Christian beliefs and practices were, however, radically exclusive, or radically extensive in their claims over the whole of religious loyalty. …
Despite some continuity of actual doctrine, what we call religion in twenty-first century Australia is not the same in structure or character as ancient constructions of the relationship between religious belief and the rest of life. Religio in Latin, Tertullian’s or anyone else’s for that matter, does not mean “religion” in the sense of one belief system among others, but the piety or scrupulosity with which cultic and other duties are carried out.
Roman “religion” (as we might persist in seeing or analysing it) was, despite its apparently pluralistic character, coterminous with culture and society itself, and hence left little room for genuine diversity or dissent. We can only understand it as “religion” in the modern or post-modern sense by the artificial excision, from the ancient set of beliefs and practices, of certain elements which make sense to us as religion. …
Constantine’s recognition of the Church involved discernment of the potential for the growing Christian movement to achieve for the Empire what the cultic worship of the Emperors themselves had not: namely a coherent belief and ritual system which was not ethnically-prescribed, but capable of universal relevance.
As a side note, the extent to which political life has been shaped by previous attempts to establish such a civil religion (usually limited strictly to the weak and sham-filled political realm) has yet to be seriously investigated, as has the more general question of the influence of institutional intelligences. A common example of this influence in some circles is ‘cultural Marxism’, but has anyone asked whether there were economic interests that favored the idea of redefining leftist ‘liberation’ in terms unrelated to the economic? And that does not even address the question of the Cold War, which will have to be left for another time.
Insofar as a thede corresponds to a unit of autonomous, reproducible social organization, it is a far narrower concept than the one Nydwracu outlines. A thede is an ethnicity if it describes a real — rather than merely conventional — unit of human population. This is, of course, to exclude a great variety of identity dimensions, including sex, sexual orientation, age, interests, star signs … as well as some of those Nydwracu mentions (musical subcultures and philosophical schools). Generalization of ‘thedes’ to include all self-conscious human groupings risks diffusion into frivolous subjectivism (and subsequent re-appropriation for alternative purposes).
If the analysis of thedes begins with the recognition that man is a social animal, it is a grave error to immediately expand the scope of the concept to groups such as women, lesbians, dog-lovers, and black metal fans, since none of these correspond to biologically-relevant social groupings. …
Rigorization of thede analysis in the direction of real ethnicities would also require the abandonment of attempts to assimilate classes to thedes, although class identities can mask thedes, and operate as their proxies. Between New England and Appalachia there is a (real) thede difference between ethnic populations, encrusted with supplementary class characteristics. Used strictly in this way, the idea of a thede does theoretical work, and uncovers something. It exposes the subterranean ethnic war disguised by class stratification.
This definition—more accurately, this overloading—of the word ‘thede’, which was originally approximately defined as “a superindividual grouping that its constituent individuals feel affiliation with and … positive estimates of”, operates on a different scale than the original concept intends. Clarity of language demands avoidance of overloading, so an “autonomous, self-reproducing social unit” will be called a phyle. This has precedent, notably in The Diamond Age, which appears to use the word toward a vision similar to Land’s phyletic pan-secessionism: “As a reliable heuristic, only those groupings which are plausible subjects of secessionist autonomization should be considered [phyles].”
Here we see the difference in scale between ‘thede’ and ‘phyle': ‘phyle’ operates on the political scale of secessionism, whereas ‘thede’ operates on the much smaller, lower-level social scale. Subcultures are not phyles, but they are thedes. (Here it must be said that ‘thede’ may be better defined by example than by stating a concrete dictionary-definition, despite that the former method requires more effort on the part of the reader; it is always difficult to precisely define that which one understands only intuitively. The original definition could be read to imply that all of “sex, sexual orientation, age, interests, star signs”, the examples Land gives of dimensions of identity, are thedes, but they aren’t. Interests and statistically rare sexual orientations are often organizing principles upon which thedes are built, but that’s different.)
The question of scale is most easily seen in the sciences: biology operates on a higher scale than chemistry, classical physics than quantum physics, and so on. Scaling upwards is a process of abstraction: the chemist abstracts upward from elementary particles to atoms and molecules, the biologist from atoms and molecules to organisms and organs, the classical physicist from particles to objects, and so on. Different scales, different levels of abstraction are useful for different questions: it would be pointless for an architect or a car safety tester to think in terms of fermions and bosons, but a quantum physicist must do so.
The idea of the thede was developed within the context of group dynamics: explaining and understanding not secessionist impulses or subterranean ethnic wars, but individuals’ actions in relation to thedes and thedes’ actions in relation to individuals and other thedes. Any political lessons that can be learned from the study of thedes are secondary, though certainly not incidental.
The study of politics often ignores the question of scale: the mainstream political philosopher begins with an account of morality and proceeds to an account of the state without stopping to observe humans. This error cannot be corrected merely by beginning with an account of states; one must know with what and with whom one is dealing. Marxism is not out of the ordinary in its failure to offer an account of nationalism, or of the national terms in which, as Benedict Anderson says, every successful revolution since World War II has defined itself; the liberalism of today relegates nationalism to an aberrant superstition, as is evident in the previously-linked discussion of phyles.
In the not-too-distant future, we’ll see more and more people grouping themselves in phyles. They’ll stop identifying themselves as Americans, or Russians, or Chinese – unless that accident of birth is really important to them.
But that is just as stupid as identifying yourself as being black because you happen to have been born with black skin, of thinking of yourself as white because that was an accident of your birth. Racism and nationalism are the hallmarks of an unevolved, or even degraded, person. I have neither time nor patience for either of them.
The problems here go far beyond the scope of mere progressive linguistic tics like “unevolved”, and are really too numerous to list here; the question of “accidents of birth” (which ought to read something more like circumstances of socialization) will be addressed in a later post. The key point here is the denunciation as ‘degraded’ of an organizing principle that the historical record shows holds great power: the underlying account of man transforms itself from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ unnoticed, and the problem of the scale of man reveals its unaddressed state.
For another example, consider the aversion to ritual common among the writing class—an error even Mencius Moldbug cannot avoid:
The first thing I remember from my first year in Maryland was something called a “pep rally.” For those of you who did not attend an American public high school, a “pep rally” is basically a straight ripoff of what Albert Speer did at Nuremberg, except that (a) it is indoors, (b) there is not quite as much fire, and (c) there is less saluting, more screaming, and about the same amount of chanting.
Ritual has no further place in Moldbug’s analysis, nor do the impulses, the facts of human nature, that underlie it. Moldbug has been criticized for ignoring those facts and for ignoring that scale; that criticism is admittedly not given in these terms, but the point of the “only a sperg would think anyone would follow a CEO” line should be clear.
There are a few possible reasons for the common avoidance of this scale, most of which do not invoke concepts plundered from the field of abnormal psychology. Perhaps it is cladistic, arising from the Puritan tendency toward spartan and individualistic living; perhaps it comes from the failure of actually-existing institutions to be the sort of things that can provide that which lies on that scale; perhaps that scale is marked as low-class; or perhaps it’s a matter of prestige. Few can productively speculate on the nature of morality or the incentive-structures of a state, but anyone who’s been to high school can observe thede dynamics.
But there’s another possibility. Back to Land:
Ethnicities correspond to real populations, and to cladistic structures. ‘Thedes’ as presently formulated do not. Ironically, this denotational haziness (super-generality) of the thede concept lends itself to usages guided by extremely concrete connotations, with a distinctive Blut und Boden flavor. Usage of the word ‘identity’ (at least, on the right) has exactly the same characteristics.
Between “Blut und Boden” and “what Albert Speer did at Nuremberg”, it’s clear how the study and resulting practice of that scale is marked. It has become the exclusive province of a Right so far outside the Overton window that not even the contrarians can break through the windowsill outside which it lies.
(Where does the Blut und Boden come from anyway? ‘Thede’ is just another word. It existed in Middle English, but it fell out of use for a few centuries. If you go to Reykjavik, you’ll pass some buildings named with very long compounds that contain the word þjóð; that just means ‘national’, as in Thingvellir National Park or National Archives. And what of the Dutch? Has the Anglosphere been conquered by Adolf van Huid?)
But this association is a failure of scale. One may as well speak of “Jewish physics”. The purpose of the concept is not to say anything about morality, the state, or secession, but (as previously mentioned) to clarify the analysis of social interactions—though it may bring about insights that do apply to higher levels. Phyles certainly seem to have thedish and elthedish markers and shibboleths. (Note that Land describes ‘phyle’ as narrower than ‘thede’. Most thedes are not phyles, but are all phyles thedes?)
As for ‘phyle’, some difficulty remains. Where are the lines to be drawn? There are phyles that reproduce themselves completely genetically, like the Yezidis; should similar things that also (or primarily) reproduce themselves memetically be considered phyles? The most extreme example is the Shakers, but groups that abandon biological reproduction altogether cannot be large or persistent enough to pose a serious problem. Some of Scott Alexander’s tribes, especially the Grey one, seem to be powered far more by memetic reproduction than genetic; should the Grey Tribe be considered a phyle?
There is a common belief that, for every positive trait a person has, there is an equal negative trait: that is, the belief that no one can be better than anyone else. Call that the fair-world fallacy, by analogy to the just-world fallacy.
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is an excellent example. Actual intelligence is something that some people naturally have more of than others, so there must be other intelligences (and we have to call them intelligences!) that those others can have more of. The supporters of this theory, unconcerned by its lack of empirical validity, claim that “the idea of multiple intelligences is important because it allows for educators to identify differing strengths and weaknesses in students”—ducking the fact of general intelligence and its implication that some students will be generally stronger than others—or, more revealingly, that:
Different intelligences, life requirements and environments also support the idea of diverse learning styles. Therefore, the acceptance of multiple intelligences presents a legitimate challenge to established traditional educational models. If you accept the idea that a person can combine a unique array of specific intelligences, or abilities, you would also need to accept that there is a place for a wide variety of learning approaches to enable each individual to realize his or her potential. In my view diversity in learning styles requires taking into account the specialness of each individual.
By “established traditional educational models”, the author means those based around IQ. (Never mind that these are becoming ever more de-established as the fair-world fallacy takes hold.)
It’s interesting to note that Gardner’s model has taken hold in education, a typically progressive and Blue-Tribe field. The fair-world fallacy is probably a great deal more Blue than Red; this could easily arise from political differences.
A purer example of the fair-world fallacy, one that I’ve seen many times from Blues, is the belief that every positive quality must have a corresponding negative quality, and vice versa. People who are physically fit must be stupid and boorish, people who are attractive or sexually successful must be assholes (note that internet-PUA was popularized by blogs from one specific location, and that location is Washington, DC), people who are mentally deficient in some way must be nice and pleasant to be around, and people who are intelligent must be incapable of social interaction—that is, nerds.
I have even heard, from a Howard Gardner-reading Blue Tribe relative, that all intelligent people are autistic. (This manifestation of the fair-world fallacy may be a factor in the popularity of the awful not-even-comedy The Big Bang Theory: she is a devoted fan of that show. From what I’ve seen of it, it does its very best to reinforce that preconception.)
The article linked above, which defines the Blue and Red tribes, comes close to defining a third, but rejects it in a revealing way:
There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time.
It later un-rejects it, claiming that (its own) criticism of Blues for hating Reds may be motivated by the narcissism of small differences: as Freud said, “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”. As it is in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Communism, so it is in America—but why are Greys, a group-referent that was immediately taken as a synonym for ‘nerds’, so close to Blues?
The characteristic feature of nerds is a self-perceived inability to fit in. Nerds, it is said, are awkward and introverted, preferring to avoid social interaction and group activities, which they have no talent for, in favor of purely solitary activities. They are also intelligent, and a common belief is that it is because of their intelligence that they are awkward and introverted—that intelligence itself leads naturally to awkwardness and introversion. Which is exactly what the fair-world fallacy would say, and which does not fit with the existence of smart rednecks as a type. Where are the Blue or Grey smart rednecks, and where are the Red nerds?
I grew up in the cracks of the tribal system. Most of my family is Red, but there are a few Blues. In school, I had three distinct groups of friends: one was solidly Grey; one was Red of the military sort; and the other wouldn’t fit into the tribal system at all, since I was the token white guy.
Looking back, I notice two things. First, the Reds did not fall victim to the fair-world fallacy at all; second, different groups have different beliefs as to what correlates with intelligence, and those expectations create social roles that are difficult to escape. That is true as a general principle—it’s easier and less painful to do the expected or the thedish than the unexpected or the elthedish—but it may hold even more strongly in the case of social networks that one cannot (as in the first eighteen or so years of life) or usually should not (as in the case of close family) leave.
The intelligent Reds I knew were physically fit, socially capable, and introverted; the intelligent none-of-the-aboves (yes, there were some) patterned with the Reds; but the intelligent Greys I knew were physically weak, socially awkward, and introverted. Then they went to college, far outside the reach of their previous social context, and mostly shaped up.
If ‘nerdiness’ is inherent and immutable, this cannot be explained, and the absence of nerds among Reds and none-of-the-aboves cannot easily be explained. But if ‘nerdiness’ arises from the crippling of the intelligent by Blue-Grey fair-worldism, it all makes perfect sense. The reason that trait is far more common among Blues and their cladistic descendants is that that environment is the only one that contains the fair-worldism that motivates the role-assignment that gives rise to it.