As many of you have seen, Boldmug was spotted over at Scott Aaronson’s blog. You can find the original post here: http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3167
I’ve taken the time to copy Boldmug’s 57 comments on that post below. Many are responses but I’ve chosen to leave out the context. You can always go to the original comment section if you’re curious.
Comment #61 January 26th, 2017 at 12:36 pm
Sure, let me give it a shot.
All Trump is doing is reiterating that we don’t live in the world of John Lennon’s _Imagine_. If we did, American citizens and Iranian citizens would be exactly the same thing. Iran would be a state. And we’d be wondering how many electoral votes it got. Do you want Iranians voting in our next election? If so, say so.
If you’re concerned about international law, it helps to know something about the subject. I recommend the text that was the standard summary of international law for the 18th and 19th centuries, Vattel’s _Law of Nations_ (https://books.google.com/books?id=z8b8rrzRc7AC).
Vattel TLDR: the law of nations is natural law as applied to countries. Reciprocity is an essential aspect of making the system work. And individuals are not direct actors in the law of nations, any more than quarks are direct actors in the laws of chemistry.
Your student is not a citizen of science or a citizen of the world. He’s a citizen of Iran. If Iran wants to be a member of the greater community of nations, and (for instance) renounce blowing up synagogues in Argentina, and (in this exact case) give us background information about its citizens who wish to travel to the US, that’s great.
If not, why can’t Iranians stay in Iran? One, Iran is a beautiful country with an amazing, rich history. Two, exactly what kind of a favor are we doing Iran by extracting their smartest and most diligent young people and turning them into Americans? The damage you’re doing to Iranian physics is far greater than the value added to American physics.
An American nationalist, a Jacksonian like Trump, might say that’s fine. One, who cares about Iran? Two, especially considering that Iranian physics seems to spend a lot of time figuring out how to make things go boom, maybe advancing Iranian physics isn’t exactly the best thing for America.
I may be an American nationalist. But I don’t think you are. Especially in the emotional arena of politics, thinking clearly and consistently is incredibly important.
Comment #67 January 26th, 2017 at 12:57 pm
> the unemployment rate is currently *good*
Look at the labor force participation rate (falling for a decade), not the rate of people seeking unemployment benefits. Just because the USG calls the latter the “unemployment rate” doesn’t mean we have to.
> crime is *low*
Crime in Japan is *low*.
Crime in the US is two orders of magnitude higher than in Japan (eg: 119 robberies per 100,000, versus 1.1). It’s also two orders of magnitude higher than in Victorian England. All the graphs you see that tell you “crime is low” are showing the US since the cultural revolution of the ’60s — they don’t dare push it back even to 1950.
> illegal immigration is roughly zero
As with illegals voting, we have no reliable information at all on this subject. There is no solid evidence that illegals vote in elections, or that they don’t. In most states, they can if they want to. That’s what you get with the honor system.
Etc. It seems like you may want to broaden your set of epistemic inputs — it doesn’t seem very critical.
Comment #82 January 26th, 2017 at 3:20 pm
Did you come up with that line of thinking yourself, or was it something you heard somewhere? It sounds familiar, almost as if you’d been reading the Economist.
Note that it doesn’t in any way address the damage “brain drain” does to Iran. And many other countries. Not knowing the exact numbers off hand, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of countries for which the statement “there are more doctors from country X practicing medicine in the US, than in country X” is true.
Imagine what a world-class physics department you could put together, solely from Iranian physicists. Obviously this department, if not too big, would be first-rate. It might even develop its own idiosyncratic, but first-rate, scientific school of “Iranian physics.”
But in homogenized global reality, “Iranian physics” can’t exist. Instead we have first-rate American physicists of Iranian birth, plus second-rate Iranian physicists who stay in Iran (many probably working on things that go boom).
Of course if you actually believe in Eternal American World Supremacy, and ascribe an ethical weight of zero to the entire country of Iran — or even if you there’s a special reason to decapitate Iranian physics, given things that go boom — that’s one thing. Then it would be a question of “is” versus “ought.” But that would be an ethical position far to the right of Trump.
(A fun question to ask yourself next time you’re reading the Economist: what, exactly, is the difference between “global leadership” and “world domination”? The mere English words sure make them sound pretty similar…)
Comment #130 January 26th, 2017 at 10:09 pm
Washington is an enormous force in every part of the world. If something makes that force act for good rather than for evil, why be particularly concerned with how that something works? If Washington does the right thing because the President is allergic to gold paint and his toilet seat makes his balls itch, all the better.
In fact the classical law of nations is the result of millennia of practical experience, dating to ancient Greece and Rome. It is the 20th-century theory of government and international law that’s the outlier.
And the results of the modern theory are objectively terrible — gigantic wars, laden with the utmost brutality on every side, creating this giant bureaucratic world empire, now starting to rot all over the place, that we call the “international community.”
There are plenty of reasons to declare this experiment a non-success, and restore the Westphalian world where nations were sovereign and expected to look after their own interests. It’s easy to pick the reason that looks worst in your eyes.
But don’t forget that you are actually supporting something, a very real system of government that exists today. Epistemically, you should probably ensure that your support for this regime is grounded in logic and reason. Its opponents are of course flawed, and in the real human world always will be. Who on earth would describe the President as anything but a flawed human being?
Besides, I wasn’t proposing a policy. I was just trying to tutor our host on his Ideological Turing Test, which help he had (apparently with perfect sincerity) requested.
Comment #131 January 26th, 2017 at 10:14 pm
> The ‘brain drain’ logic tells us that all researchers in quantum information born in rural areas should have stayed there and put their talents towards the improvement of agricultural techniques.
The population of Periclean Athens was about 250,000 (with 30,000 citizens). That’s roughly the population of Boise, Idaho. I’m sure the Athenians did improve agricultural techniques — do you have some kind of problem with that? You do eat, don’t you?
The population of Iran is 77 million. That’s roughly the population of Germany. I think the Germans did all right with their own universities? Even before globalization? Am I wrong?
Comment #132 January 26th, 2017 at 10:17 pm
Right in all particulars. And so, your design leaves ginormous quantities of the earth’s surface, and of its population, deprived of a strong aristocracy and therefore doomed to be governed by pure bullshit. Fanatics, psychopaths and/or thieves ruling over morons.
If this is engineering success, what does engineering failure look like? Asking for a friend.
Comment #153 January 27th, 2017 at 11:51 am
I like the modern world too, but maybe you can see why I think it’s a withered shadow of the world that would have existed if the Victorian world had survived and the wars of 1914 and 1939 had never happened. Just for starters, you’d have a lot more fifth cousins. So would I.
I also notice that Marx, Mao and Stalin don’t make your short list; you seem to blame the cataclysm on the side that was trying to preserve or restore the old world, not the side that wanted to set it on fire. Hm. Coincidentally, the latter is the side whose Jedi mind tricks are so strong, they almost persuaded someone with a 160 IQ to castrate himself.
And the Enlightenment? You mean the Enlightenment that guillotined Lavoisier? “The Republic has no need of savants.” Add 1789 and even 1641 to that list. Why would a savant pick Praisegod Barebones over Prince Rupert?
You might notice that in our dear modern world, whose quantum cryptography and seedless watermelons are so excellent, “the Republic has no need of savants” is out there still. Know anyone working on human genetics?
And the modern world you so love is the First World. The First World is a piece of the past, lovingly restored, like SF with its Victorian homes. We can’t build new Victorian cities or even new Victorian buildings, but gosh we love our old ones.
But the future is the Third World. Try a test on the scientists you know — ask them to find a principled, ethical reason why your rights as a human being depend on the GPS coordinates of your birth. Everyone will fail this test, because no one knows the ethical language of nationalism.
Then, ask them what Boston looks like when it contains the entire population of Maiduguri, Nigeria. Ask them who Boston elects! You’ll see some better angels then! Have you been to the Third World? There are some tiny, well-fenced places where some of your grad students probably came from. Then there’s the rest, which makes Hobbes look like John Lennon.
(As for Athens, a little more history is in order. Periclean Athens is at the end of the Greek golden age, not the start. It wasn’t Thales of Athens, it was Thales of Miletus. And the Athenian lust to dominate the polycentric Greek world is the cause of its downfall. The wars of centralization end in a far bleaker global era, the Roman Empire, which turns into a totalitarian superstate under which all thought ends.)
And yet you claim the benefits of nationalism for your own two tribes — the tribe of science, and the tribe of Zion. Just not for the nation that happens to fund your research.
Comment #181 January 27th, 2017 at 5:26 pm
An interesting term, “ratchet of progress.” Nature is full of ratchets. But ratchets of progress — extropic ratchets — are the exceptional case. Most ratchets are entropic ratchets, ratchets of decay.
You happen to live inside the ratchet of progress that is science and engineering. That ratchet produces beautiful wonders like seedless watermelons. It’s true that Talleyrand said, “no one who remembers the sweetness of life before the Revolution can even imagine it,” but even Louis XIV had to spit the seeds out of his watermelons.
This ratchet is 400 to 2400 years old, depending on how you count. The powers and ideologies that be are very good at taking credit for science and engineering, though it is much older than any of them. It is a powerful ratchet — not even the Soviet system could kill or corrupt science entirely, although it’s always the least political fields, like math and physics, that do the best.
But most ratchets are entropic ratchets of decay. The powers that be don’t teach you to see the ratchets of decay. You have to look for them with your own eyes.
The scientists and engineers who created the Antikythera mechanism lived inside a ratchet of progress. But that ratchet of progress lived inside a ratchet of decay, which is why we didn’t have an industrial revolution in 100BC. Instead we had war, tyranny, stagnation and (a few hundred years later) collapse.
Lucio Russo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucio_Russo) wrote an interesting, if perhaps a little overstated, book, on the Hellenistic (300-150BC, not to be confused with the Hellenic era proper) golden age of science. We really have no way of knowing how close to a scientific revolution the Alexandrians came. But it was political failure, not scientific failure, that destroyed their world. The ratchet of progress was inside a ratchet of decay.
You ask why I don’t take your “American nationalism” seriously. I take it about as seriously as I take Earl Browder, who founded the “Jefferson School of Social Science” and had a great line: “Communism is as American as apple pie.” My grandparents were members of Browder’s party, and his flag-wrapping maneuver is now (like many other ’40s CPUSA memes) totally mainstream.
Ideologies are inherited cladistically, and it’s incredibly easy to distinguish between genuine American nationalism and Hillary with a stage full of flags. You’ll have to forgive me if my antennae are sensitive enough to tell Brooklyn Jewish “Americanism” from the American Legion or the John Birch Society.
And what an unkind comment about President Davis! As I always ask people when they drop this kind of virtue signal: have you ever read a book by a Confederate? If someone was condemning you and your entire world, wouldn’t you at least want them to first hear your own perspective in your own words?
Not to mention that the past is a foreign country, and if you actually had a time machine *both* sides would seem completely insane to you. Do you really want to inject yourself into the election of 1860? Inject yourself into this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide_Awakes
In short, you seem to feel your John Lennon worldview is a sort of natural corollary of the scientific work you do. I’m pretty sure it isn’t. I believe I have some expertise in the origin of this worldview, and I’m quite confident in saying it has nothing to do with science.
One thing scientists often do is understate the difficulty of disentangling received wisdom about the world they live in. This is not restricted to those on the left — consider the case of Oswald Teichmüller. To Teichmüller, National Socialism and geometric function theory were inextricable parts of the future. This caused him to go and get himself killed on the Eastern front, which I’m sure we can all agree was a waste.
Comment #192 January 27th, 2017 at 10:21 pm
Scott, rereading your comment I keep coming back to this:
“I predict that you’ll have greater success in advocating your preferred policies, if you don’t frame them as a return to the past.”
One: what on earth would make you think I am “advocating policies?” Have I done that here, or anywhere?
You asked for an intellectual context in which these government actions, which seem inexplicable and cruel to you, could make sense to a sane adult not possessed by some kind of demonic sadism. It seemed like a genuine, non-rhetorical question.
I should offer the caveat that I’m perfectly aware that the US immigration system, at least as it pertains to nice educated people like us (although Mohammed Atta was not exactly uneducated), who just have a small GPS-coordinates-of-birth problem, is a total disaster and nightmare that does inexplicable and cruel things all the time to all sorts of innocent people.
In fact, I know it so well that it’s hard to get any emotional shock from some new random bureaucratic mass f*cking-over. DC is DC and does as DC does. (This dark pattern of winking at the abusers, while abusing the legitimate customers, is what Sam Francis called “anarcho-tyranny.”)
The shock in your case is obviously genuine, since the f*cking-over is happening to someone close to you. Hopefully you can admit, though, that there is a lot of narcissistic, motivated false political emotion going around these days.
If you and the community actually want to solve the problem, rather than contribute to this wave of emotion, it is probably best to explain it in terms of the mentality of the people who made it. After all, they are the people you’ll have to petition to fix it.
A good argument in this direction, for instance, might be: “take Iran off the list and put Saudi Arabia on it, because as of right now Iran is fighting ISIS and Saudi Arabia is funding the bastards.” This is the kind of argument you could make to Steve Bannon.
Do you know anyone who knows Steve Bannon? Anyone who knows anyone who knows him? If so, and you want to actually solve the problem, surely it’s worth addressing your complaints in this direction, and formulating them in a form he’ll understand. I think he’s probably heard _Imagine_ before.
In order to do this or anything like it, you need exactly the intellectual context you were asking for (perhaps rhetorically). Sharing one such perspective, or at least trying to share it, is completely different from “advocating” some kind of “preferred policies.”
I just think smart people should have a good practical grasp of actual historical reality as it actually happened. This (as I see it) is a little bit different from what you get in school these days, though less in concrete facts than interpretations. And it includes being able to solve a simple “ideological Turing Test” for any recent period. As Cicero said, those who fail to understand history will always remain children.
A good way to frame this test is to ask what the best minds of some other period would make of ours. Once you can pass this test for a period, I’d argue, you can feel comfortable about applying the lessons of that period to our present reality.
Until you feel you can pass this test, I think, try another period. Or try an argument that doesn’t need to use history as a weapon.
Historically, it’s in turbulent periods like this that understanding our enemies is the most important possible thing. I’m not trying to persuade anyone of anything. I’m just trying to give people some tools which I think solve the problem in a neat way.
And two, on “return to the past”: I would argue that what some historians call “presentism,” basically racism as applied to the past, is fundamentally a problem that can’t be worked around. It has to be solved. A presentist society is a suicidal society. Feel free to disagree with me on this.
“Frame them” is just amazing. Everyone in the modern world is so experienced in solving Keynesian beauty contests. It’s a basic bureaucratic skill. A beautiful idea is an idea “framed” so everyone on the committee will approve it. The idea is a product, sold to a small group or a large. It succeeds if it has customers. So what idea does the customer want? I guess I am just more interested in regular, old-fashioned beauty contests…
Comment #193 January 27th, 2017 at 10:28 pm
I’m perfectly aware that the roots of leftism are deeply connected with the roots of Protestantism. In Anglo-American history proper this runs through two centuries of Puritanism before the American Revolution, itself of course a deeply Puritan affair. As was the Civil War, and so on.
\You might be amused by this primary source, which shows “Lennonism” in 1942 described in explicitly religious terms:
Comment #229 January 28th, 2017 at 7:05 pm
Nothing like the military and paramilitary mass murders of the 20th century has been seen in Europe since early antiquity, and in Eurasia since Genghis Khan. Perhaps the Mfecane of South Africa can compete. In medieval Europe you will see isolated instances of democide — the Albigensian crusade, the sack of Magdeburg, various pogrommy things.
But nothing like the industrial mass murders of which every side that fought in World War II was guilty. In the 20th century, 100-200 million people experienced murder by government. What statistics could possibly balance this? What seedless watermelons?
And what statistics could measure the nuclear holocaust that didn’t happen because the right Russian dude was on duty one day? Optimism in this situation is naked insanity. We have left the 20th century, but we’re still ruled by its institutions.
Yes, the wars ended, if only because one player won absolutely. Now we’re experiencing a few decades of peace at a dreadful long-term cost to the human race, the creation of a single global polity. Everywhere but at the core, peace is fraying into pure anarchy. This accelerated decay is what we’d expect in a global empire.
One phenomenon we see rarely in civilized history is the close juxtaposition or even forced intermingling of humans living in an essentially civilized/governed lifestyle, and those living an essentially tribal/ungoverned lifestyle. It scarcely matters whether the latter are historic hunter-gatherer people, or “ferals” descended from civilized ancestors.
In the late Roman Empire, for instance, as well as the usual Teutonic barbarians we see groups called “baguadae,” which seem to be both completely indigenous and highly barbarous. Bandit gangs, basically. Probably very similar to the gang structures we see in, for instance, Central America. And not only in Central America. These are parallel governments in a sense, but completely barbaric and informal in their organization.
Phenomena you’ll see associated with this juxtaposition are (a) high rates of intrahuman predation, where urban areas become unsafe for the civilized by night or even by day; (b) mass population migrations due to concern for physical safety. Has anything like this ever happened in the world you live in, in the lives of those now living? It’s a highly pathognomonic symptom.
A regime which cannot preserve the absolute physical safety of its subjects against systematic human predation is a sick one. It’s losing the essence of government: the absolute monopoly on violence. It’s probably in a late stage of political decay.
Accelerated internal decay of various kinds (cultural, political, economic) is observed in regimes which become physically immune to external competition of a military or economic nature. As with a business, competition keeps a nation-state efficient and effective. I think this observation holds true in all eras whose history we know. And it suggests that our “American century” should age quite badly.
That’s why, much as I regret the petty injustices and insults of the US’s ridiculous immigration system, I can’t help admire the sight of a changing regime which appears determined to actually enforce its own laws, and whose first priority is the interests and safety of its own population. It is not exactly the Scouring of the Shire. It won’t be. But after such hole-digging, I don’t mind a little filling in. I guess that makes me a Nazi, who deserves to be punched.
(It would be nice to see the Trump administration work out a sensible peace with Iran. Statements “like the days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over” must come as pretty sweet music to the Islamic Republic, although they may still smell a little of the repentance of the newly-sober drunk.
But honestly, it’s kind of ridiculous to have civilians traveling back and forth between two countries which are in a permanent state of semi-war. This was retarded in the Cold War and it’s retarded in 2017. There is no earthly reason at all why, especially in the age of the Trump-May Doctrine, the US can’t settle all its disputes with Iran. But if it can’t, it can’t.)
Comment #230 January 28th, 2017 at 7:14 pm
*in Eurasia since Genghis Khan*
No, that’s forgetting the Taiping Rebellion:
I once heard string theory described as “a piece of 21st century physics that accidentally fell into the 20th.” The “Heavenly Kingdom of Peace” was a piece of 20th-century European history that accidentally fell into 19th-century China…
Comment #267 January 29th, 2017 at 2:20 pm
Yes, when we look at history, it is a very interesting question to ask how a country treats its eminent scientists. But there remains another question: how do the eminent scientists treat their country?
And how do the institutions that employ said eminent scientists (taking a *very generous* rake of their funding, I might add) treat their country? Imagine if someone thought of you as endorsing every intellectual and political activity that goes on at MIT. But that’s exactly the way successor regimes judge their predecessors.
The powerful are used to judging. They are not used to being judged. When I look at this whole foofaraw, I see two things: a bunch of innocent victims of the usual Washington f*ckery (if you think Washington is normally f*cked, you’ve never seen it having to go about its business while actually trying to change its ways), and a giant media weapon whose use is simply, as usual, to make the powerful even more powerful.
Let’s be real: which is stronger, the universities or the proles? West Virginia can take it in the tail for decades; if Berkeley (or worse, one of Berkeley’s pets) stubs a toe, it’s a monstrous violation of the Constitution and George Washington is spinning in his grave.
Where are you absolutely positioned on a line segment whose length is 1? To answer this question is to ask: how much room would you have to move left? How much room would you have to move right?
Berkeley can teach the Marines all about how to fight wars (which, the latest research tells us, can only be won with a sensitive grasp of intersectionality). Imagine if the Marines instead taught Berkeley how to socialize 18-year-olds.
So not only are you listening to only one side of this power dynamic. You’re listening to by far the most powerful side.
It’s like attending a divorce-court hearing in which you hear only the husband’s story. If the lawyer is any good, out comes an eloquent and convincing picture is painted of this awful person, his ex-wive, and her awful deeds which are awful to the core.
Generally if you get to sit through the whole divorce hearing, you will come away with the realization that both spouses are awful people who come awfully close to just deserving each other. This is an illusion too, of course.
Probably you’ve heard of Julian Benda’s classic _La Trahison des clercs_, from the ’20s. 1000 people have heard the title for everyone who’s read the book, which is not as you might expect from the title a straightforward Bircher-style anti-egghead rant. But I recall it still being quite perceptive.
The “treason of the clerics” situation is an incredibly dangerous political signal. As in a divorce situation, generally when the clergy are treating the laity badly, the laity are also treating the clergy badly. The causality is hard to work out and in general irrelevant to solving the actual problem.
All European and European-derived civilizations without exception have four basic social roles: merchant, soldier, priest, and manual laborer. Societies which become dominated by their priest classes, theocracies basically, tend to be overthrown in titanic and horrible orgies with massive amounts of indiscriminate monk-slaughtering.
Russo, for instance, pins the intellectual death of Alexandria on Ptolemy VIII, of whom it was written: “He expelled all intellectuals: philologists, philosophers, professors of geometry, musicians, painters, schoolteachers, physicians and others.”
This is someone in 120BC writing about 145 BC. Sounds a lot like the evil Drumpf, doesn’t it? Ptolemy VIII ceded his kingdom to Rome. The Museum basically gathered dust for another half millennium and then was burned either by the Christians or the Muslims, or possibly both.
No one has come down to explain to us how, exactly, before Ptolemy VIII the Alexandrian intellectuals were shitting all over the Alexandrian non-intellectuals. But I’m sure it was something.
A more proximate case of this is the Russian Revolution, which arose from a situation in which all the world’s intellectuals, with very few exceptions even inside Russia, despised the old regime and equated “progress” with “democratic revolution.” The Russian situation was a vicious cycle: the attitude of the intelligentsia drained all the brains out of the old regime, which led it to imitate the hostile stereotype put forward by its enemies.
The result, of course, was the death of not only hundreds of millions of innocent people, but pretty much all the Russian intelligentsia. So… even if your commitment to scientific tribalism is complete, and I’m not faulting you for that, I think there are sound ethical reasons not to contribute to the virtue-signaling.
Comment #276 January 29th, 2017 at 3:46 pm
Calhoun isn’t a Confederate; he died in 1850. You still get mad props for actually having performed something like this exercise! But I would not recommend _Slavery as a Positive Good_ (which I haven’t read) or in fact almost any work of period political rhetoric.
Such a work is public propaganda that’s designed to impress the audience of its time. If you want to read propaganda from 1860s, that’s an interesting exercise, but again, read both sides; and bear in mind that whether it’s coming from the North or the South, it will generally sound batsh*t as f*ck. Especially as the war nears.
Compare Seward’s “higher law” speech to Wigfall’s departure speech from the Senate. They’re both extremely relevant today. Bear in mind that these men delivered this kind of rhetoric from memory without teleprompters, and would have laughed at a “statesman” who had someone else write his speeches:
But parsing reality out of political propaganda is an advanced exercise. If you don’t know what’s actually going on it’s hopeless. The one thing you need to understand a period is a sensitive, informed and realistic voice you can actually trust. You won’t find this in works of a basically rhetorical character.
The most important corrective fact to the 21st-century understanding of the period is that in a sense, we’ve adopted the Confederate theory of the war. That is: we think of the war as a great military crusade against slavery.
If you espoused this theory in a bar in Atlanta in 1861, they’d buy you another beer. If you did that in Chicago, you’d get punched in the mouth. If this is not obvious to you, you had probably best refrain from weighing in on the argument between Atlanta and Chicago. Why do you think the Emancipation Proclamation was controversial?
The way I try to explain the war is like this: at the time, Boston (as is its wont) was convulsed by a number of moral crusades. Slavery was not the only target — two others were polygamy and drink. Maine, which was to Massachusetts as Afghanistan is to Pakistan, had already abolished the Demon Rum. The US had also sent an army to Utah to intimidate the Saints into giving up polygamy.
To understand the objective causal role of slavery in the conflict without overloading your emotional receptors, replace slavery with alcohol. Shall the Territories be wet or dry? Is drinking doomed with the progress of society, or will bourbon spring eternal in Kentucky?
Before the beginning of the conflict, about 1830, the South had a general distaste for slavery and was moving toward abolition. Virginia almost passed an abolition resolution.
But what moderns can’t understand, because we’ve lost almost all our political reflexes, is that the South found it intolerable to be *forced* to change its laws and customs by the alien North. If the dispute had been over alcohol, you’d see easily that the specific question of drinking laws is secondary to the much more relevant political question of *who makes the laws*.
If Boston can ban multiple wives in Utah and the gin-and-tonic in Charleston, it can ban anything anywhere. To the South, the question was simply whether Boston would rule Charleston, and impose its own prejudices and beliefs on Southern society. The question was not symmetrical, because (contrary to the “Slave Power” conspiracy theory of the time) Charleston never had any idea of conquering Boston.
Moreover, the abolitionists in Boston were a small minority in the overall population of the North. Most of the North, and certainly the Northwest, fought not out of proto-humanitarianism, but out of nationalism. It was explicitly about power for them.
And to the extent that it was about issues, an “antislavery man” as opposed to an “abolitionist” hated African-Americans about as much as he hated slavery. This seems like a contradiction to us, but it’s really quite straightforward if you think about it.
This is why Southern polemicists used to say that “slavery was the occasion of the war, not the cause of the war.” Again, if we replace the devil slavery with the demon rum, we see clearly that Lewis Carroll is right as always. “The question is who is to be master, no more.”
Also note that if you do take the Confederate theory and view the Civil War as a public-policy initiative whose goal was to improve the lives of African-Americans, how’d that actually work out for them? By some estimates, about a quarter of black Americans died during or after the war, and de facto agricultural slavery had been reimposed by the 1870s. No one from the slave narratives speaks well of the late 1860s or 1870s — to say the least.
Similarly, WWII was neither a policy designed to help the Jews, nor a policy that was effective in helping the Jews. When success as defined in hindsight is neither the intended goal of a policy, nor the actual outcome of a policy, it seems hard to describe that policy as prudent, no?
Actually, you will not find anyone before either war who is arguing for any such crusade — except for a few radicals like John Brown. Yet it happened, and so had to be retconned into something that seems like it might have been a good idea.
The best period history of the Civil War I know is that of George Lunt, actually a Massachusetts man who published this work in Boston in 1865. Carlyle linked me to it. I know nothing about Lunt, except that he had to have his pants specially altered so he could walk around with watermelons in his underwear:
This is straight-up history in the style of Thucydides. For a more personal memoir, I really like John Wise, the son of the Virginian governor Henry Wise who hanged that original American terrorist, John Brown. He wrote this in 1901 and it still reads quite well:
Finally, the great unknown classic of the period is Edgar Lee Masters’ biography of Lincoln, written in the ’30s, _Lincoln the Man_. Masters was from Illinois and knew many people who’d known Lincoln. Imagine if a country’s leading poet wrote a biography of its founding revolutionary hero, it wasn’t a positive biography, it was almost banned, and 80 years later basically no one has read the book.
On slavery: I honestly do not think any 19th-century writer can speak to the 20th-century mind well enough to explain slavery. The closest you might get could be George Fitzhugh, a wonderful writer who was basically the Confederate Hunter S. Thompson. But it’s still hard.
Instead I would recommend three sources: (1) Eugene Genovese’s _Roll, Jordan, Roll_ (from the 70s, Genovese was a Marxist at least when he started writing this), which is long and not online; (2) the FDR-era slave narratives, which are online and long (but unedited, so you can sample randomly and it’s actually random); and (3) Robert Nozick’s _Tale of the Slave_, which is short and online:
Nozick is a little coy about his conclusion, which is simply that if the word “slavery” means anything, it just means “government,” except on a small scale. Slavery is microgovernment. As with all government, the extent to which it sucks depends on who’s in charge.
Comment #277 January 29th, 2017 at 3:50 pm
We know almost nothing of the Hellenistic period. We have tiny patches of history in a great expanse of darkness.
So, I’m just applying Bayes’ theorem. My prior is that in every political conflict I know of, shit is flowing in both directions.
Comment #278 January 29th, 2017 at 4:06 pm
Bertrand Russell in his long, long, long life went back and forth, like a drunk achieving periodic sobriety. He also issued the following statement on the death of Ho Chi Minh:
“President Ho Chi Minh’s selfless pursuit of Vietnamese independence and unity for over half a century made him both the father of the nation and a leading architect of the post-colonial world. At home his leadership and massive popularity were unquestioned. Abroad he symbolised the struggle for independence of small nations in a world dominated by great powers. There are very few heads of state whose death will cause such sorrow in all continents. I feel this sorrow myself for I greatly admired him and felt him to be my friend.”
Your whole worldview is based on the belief that there are two separate things, “Communism” and “liberalism.” Or maybe three things, “Communism,” “socialism,” and “liberalism.” Or maybe infinitely many shades of overlapping nuance, which prevents any label at all from being fair. Are you familiar with Occam’s razor?
For example, suppose I were to say: “it’s unfair to blame the Holocaust on fascism. First of all, the Holocaust was committed by Nazis, and not every fascist is a Nazi. Second, it was actually enacted as a wartime military secret by a small (less than 1000) group of radical, extremist SS-men. Most Germans and most Nazis never heard about the Holocaust, or heard only rumors they would have had no reason to trust, and they never would have approved of the mass murder of Jews as a public policy.”
These facts are historically true. But I would not make this argument. In my mind, as in yours, the Holocaust is inextricably connected with the SS, the Nazis, the fascists, right-wing extremism in general, right-wing politics in general, and so down to Jeb Bush.
The connection to Jeb Bush is pretty weak, but it’s real. So is the connection between Hillary and Stalin — and it’s a hell of a lot closer. But we tend to not be very lenient toward, say, someone in Vichy France whose “opposition” to the Holocaust was that he didn’t believe the Jews should be killed, only deported to Madagascar. This is roughly the position of Bertrand Russell, reflected in the left/right mirror.
If someone told you that “real fascism has never been tried,” you’d laugh at them, because you’d recognize the use of No True Scotsman and the flouting of Occam’s Razor. Fascism is being artificially divided into two categories, good and bad, in order for good-fascism (say, Salazar in Portugal) to be separated from Hitler. So the problem isn’t rightism or fascism. It’s Hitlerism. This is the use of the word “Stalinism” in 20th-century liberal discourse.
We just can’t get anywhere in discussing 20th-century history if we persist in little idiocies like this. The Right is responsible for the White Terror, the Left is responsible for the Red Terror. There are no other options, so let’s man up and figure out how to not do it again…
Comment #284 January 29th, 2017 at 7:07 pm
“Classical enlightenment liberalism,” ie the “Arab Spring,” applied in the last four years to the Middle East, started a civil war that has killed about a million people. And Egypt barely escaped political destruction at its hands, which would have made the Syrian war look like a snowball fight.
As Cromwell put it: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”
Why not evaluate this philosophy objectively by its results — not by its ideas or by its objectives, which don’t matter, but by its actual impact on physical reality, which does?
Suppose our “classical Enlightenment liberalism” is a drug, applying for FDA approval. If it fails this approval, why convince anyone to believe it?
Nows, there is no instance anywhere or anywhen of this drug being applied without significant acute morbidity. Even in the fall of the Soviet Union, even in the American Revolution, there is serious social morbidity. Standards of civilization are lost that seem unlikely to be regained. The quality of government as administered by the new regime is visibly lower in many ways. Did the American Revolution result in… lower taxes? Uh huh.
And these are the good outcomes! More frequently, as in France in 1789 and Russia in 1914, we see enormous clinical disasters. The patient is rushed to the ER and is lucky to only lose a leg. Or dies a month later, of sepsis. Sure, it’s the sepsis that killed him, not the drug. Tell that to the FDA.
The excuse given for these disasters is always as farcical as that. Russia and France and Syria have two revolutions, not one. The first revolution is the good one. The second, which usurps it, is bad. Sure, but you couldn’t have the second without the first. It’s like saying that the cure for stage II melanoma is stage I melanoma. And Occam’s razor is nowhere to be seen.
It certainly helps that the impact of democratic revolution on the Anglosphere has been weaker than its impact on the rest of the world. Most diseases exhibit the strongest resistance in the area of their origin. And a poison that makes you sick, but kills your enemy, is an excellent and devilish weapon.
And yet, how can we dispute the acute impact? Despite being stricken by all these revolutions and civil wars, Anglo-American civilization has gone to the moon, split the atom and conquered the world. Somehow, the acute measurable impact of each of these revolutions is negative, but their unmeasurable net impact is positive. Uh huh.
I value accurate predictions about out-of-sample data — how about you? If Dostoyevsky predicts that democracy in Russia will be a disaster, and Tolstoy predicts that it’ll be great, and it’s a disaster, Dostoyevsky is validated and Tolstoy is discredited.
Isn’t this also the way the FDA thinks? But does it seem to you as if our classically Enlightened liberalism actually worked that way?
The trouble is basically that sovereignty is conserved. If you try to design a political system that discards some element of sovereignty, like the right of the state to promote truth and suppress error, a parallel, informal state will rush into this gap and fill it.
Since control over information is incredibly powerful in the age of broadcast media, this parallel state will become the strongest organ in the actual government. It will be completely irresponsible and unaccountable, since it’s not even part of the official state. But there is no political, economic, or intellectual check on its operations. Once again, sovereignty is conserved.
This sovereign information-delivery system naturally assumes the religious imperiousness we expect from an intellectual sovereign. It is also disorganized, centerless and leaderless, which means there is no possible way for it to feel pity or shame. Sound familiar?
There is no way to disestablish religion. It’s just an unsolvable engineering problem. If the state disavows its religious authority, all it’s doing is disavowing control over that authority. Which leaves said authority in a perfect position to control the state. So the nominal objective of separating church and state leads naturally to the theocratic state. This is not a new phenomenon in Anglo-American history.
Even if you don’t care about quality of government, but just about quality of thought, putting the church in charge of the state — ie, the nerds in charge of the jocks — has a nasty effect on quality of thought. Thought is distorted not by the repulsive force of a fascist jock state that discriminates against nerds, but rather by the attractive force that offers free power to power-craving nerds.
The state which disavows religion is basically a flawed engineering structure that’s leaking power. The power leak has a horrific evolutionary effect on the nerd population, basically favoring sniveling, student-government weasels over good sensible open-minded people. Noticed anything like this around you? Anyone? Bueller?
This is only one of many reasons why humanity flourishes under leaders who unite both nerd and jock qualities, ie, true aristocracies, and has serious difficulties when these qualities are opposed or even just divided.
The late Roman Empire had a bizarre system of separation between political and military bureaucracies, specifically designed to prevent the creation of any Scipios or Caesars. The result was an empire operated by a coalition of fops and boneheads. Not a good look — and we’re not that far from it.
As for what you *believe in*, I believe these qualities are also fine and good and true. But qualities of government don’t come from wishes and unicorns. They are produced by political machines, which have to obey the laws of political engineering — as laid down not by Spinoza and Mill and Jefferson, but Aristotle and Machiavelli and Hobbes.
Take free speech. Free speech is much easier to implement under an “absolute” regime that doesn’t leak power — for one thing, if the state has no reason to care what you think, it has no reason to censor you. And its official religion can just be science and truth; since you don’t vote, it has no motivation to delude you. And aren’t you already pretty done with “populism”, anyway?
(In my mind, the #1 resource for learning to think in this way is James Burnham’s _The Machiavellians_. This is a summary of the Italian School of political science, whose leading figures are Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca. Mosca is in my view a sort of lost Darwin of 20th-century political science.)
Comment #285 January 29th, 2017 at 7:29 pm
Also, I just want to point out that “being responsible for zero of the atrocities” strikes me as a nearly perfect example of No True Scotsman.
To divide leftism, or fascism, or anything, into good-leftism and bad-leftism, then point out that only bad-leftism commits atrocities, is a casuistry that would embarrass a Jesuit.
The case would be stronger if we didn’t see extensive social and intellectual interpenetration between the “good” and the “bad” ones. Are they actually causally connected? Are they basically the same people, the same circles of friends, of institutions? Well… hey, did you read this? It’s super good:
For most of the 20th century, the American left was quite successful in maintaining the preposterous fiction that there were actually two completely separate lefts, a nice one and a nasty one. Frequently the nice one would hint at the threat of the nasty one, as in RFK’s line that “the only substitute for violent revolution is peaceful revolution,” or MLK’s “riots are the language of the dispossessed.” Yeah, sure, whatevs, I recognize that language.
But in 2016, come on. Imagine you were at Facebook, and you were programming an algorithm to tell from the social graph whether someone was a Hillary voter or a Trump voter. Easy as pie! Now, try to tell whether someone is a Hillary voter or a Sanders voter… almost impossible. And everyone goes to the stupid International ANSWER rallies. There is one Left. Come on.
It’s true that the Left is not currently shooting people in the back of the neck. (Although it has started to punch, apparently.) Usually winning ameliorates its crimes, whereas losing exacerbates them. So it might get interesting.
Moreover, the historical institutions of goodleftism that rule the world today are hopelessly contaminated by their past diabolical collaboration with badleftism. For goodness’ sake — the UN was founded by Alger Hiss, and the IMF by Harry Dexter White! Imagine if, say, Interpol was the pet project of Himmler.
Comment #334 January 30th, 2017 at 8:16 pm
Because you are thinking politically, rather than meta-politically. You are thinking in terms of the discourse. This prevents you from thinking *about* the discourse.
If it didn’t seem inherently judgmental, I’d say that you’re thinking poetically, not scientifically. I forget who said: politics is bad poetry. Actually, most politics originates as good poetry. But as it ages, it becomes a cliche and can’t help but be bad.
One of the many privileges of any ruling class is to not be thought *about*. If you think about the class as a single class, if you give it a single label, it almost seems to have one neck. A dangerous direction for proles to think of. Better not to be characterized at all — to contain all thoughts, to be above all labels.
Obviously I can’t endorse this privilege. Can you?
So when I think *about* your ideas, or anyone’s, I have two questions. One, have I heard these ideas before? Did the thinker himself (a) invent them himself? If not, was he (b) reasoned into them? If not, did he (c) absorb them emotionally at a young age? Surely you agree that (b) is a hundred times more common than (a), and (c) a thousand times more common than (b).
Therefore, political beliefs, religions, and other deep traditions are transmitted *genetically* in the broad English sense of the word. Much as languages are transmitted. Like languages and like actual DNA, transmission is basically hereditary, though it involves syncretism and mutation.
Phenotypic, pre-genetic study of phylogeny and linguistics was essentially wasted scholarship. The 20th-century introduction of cladistic terminology (synapomorphies, and so on) further increased the gap between genetic and literary investigation.
The power of a cladistic classification is so much greater than the power of a poetic classification that anyone who believes in precise thought and language has the responsibility to shun the latter. I refuse to use a linguistic tool that classifies bats as birds.
For example, the flag-wrapping tactic I referred to earlier was often used by 20th-century American leftists, in the day when the left was much weaker and the right much stronger, to confuse and disarm the intruder-detection system of the right. The “Jefferson School of Social Science” and so on was an entirely Orwellian fiction. Of course, a true leftist would say this was for the greater good — like punching Nazis.
For a sympathetic close look at the intellectual tradition whose DNA fingerprint you seem to match, try George Packer’s _Blood of the Liberals_. I’m especially confident about matching this “accent” because it’s my own native tongue.
A simple, intuitive way to ask this question is: who are the people in 1917 whose beliefs and folkways are closest to 2017 American college students? You will find these people in Greenwich Village, in London… in very small numbers. The tradition that expands the most is the tradition that prevails. Not coincidentally, this is also how language evolution is studied.
If you want to learn the more general art of thinking about politics in terms of realities, rather than in terms of symbols, I again recommend Burnham’s _The Machiavellians_, or Mosca’s _Elements of Political Science_. Pretty big upgrade from John Stuart Mill.
Comment #346 January 30th, 2017 at 11:46 pm
Dameprimus #340: I agree with you in all the specifics. My problem is just the way in which these specifics are being used.
I could imagine a very different isolationist policy that actually aimed to construct an Iranian physics that wasn’t inherently second-rate, and that developed divergently from Western science, in the way that Soviet science often did a little.
Having this separate and competing voice of the Soviet scientific system was valuable, I think, for Western science. But certainly just randomly f*cking with peoples’ green cards does nothing to create any such competing fork of science.
It would actually take insane measures to fork global society so effectively that it forked science, though I’d probably be for those measures. For example, on one side of the divide you might have a high-energy physics that wasn’t string theory? But this is a very, very abstract and hypothetical argument on my part.
Bear in mind, though, that when you stand up for not f*cking with peoples’ green cards, let’s say at a protest, you are acting in the real world. Your actions and their effects can and must be evaluated independently of your motivation.
You came to the protest because you “support the rights of science” or whatever. But that is the reason you act. It is not the action itself, which is purely physical in nature.
As in all political action, unless you yourself are actually the leader, you are delegating your atom of power to a larger political force. Always and everywhere the effect of any meaningful political action is to support some movement, machine, mafia, monarch, or other political player, in their desire to exercise power. What else could political action possibly mean?
In our case, the movement you’re supporting is the loosely organized (but amazingly well-funded) American left. This narrative creates political energy in your mind. You are actually just helping to propel the machine, not to direct it. But you *feel* the emotional direction, the sense of personal ownership.
You may have a small direct impact on your issue of choice. And the victory of the machine (say, impeaching or constraining President Trump) may have a large indirect impact on the issue. This still has no bearing on the objective activity you’re engaged in, which is: supporting a political machine.
You may feel it’s a good machine, or better than any competitors, and it deserves your support. You may well be right. It’s just neat to have the tools to look at your actions objectively, which is what the Italian School of political science gives us.
The chain of motivation that leads an individual to support a government or other political machine is what Gaetano Mosca called the “political formula.” Mosca’s _Elements of Political Science_ (horribly mistitled in English as _The Ruling Class_) seems to be available in a bootleg edition here:
(You don’t have to read this crap. It’s fine. But when I lead a horse to water, at least I’d like to think I got him all the way there.)
Because an ornithologist is often much better than a bird in making accurate predictions about out-of-sample data?
For instance: there’s a very small number of writers who are on the record predicting, from the very start, that the Arab Spring would end in massive bloodshed and destruction. It’s like the Big Short. Except that we didn’t make any money. Oh, and no one learned anything. (You could say that of the Big Short as well.)
Erich Voegelin had a great indictment of the 20th century’s intellectual sin, which he called *gnosticism*. Gnosticism by Voegelin’s definition is acting in the real world, while thinking in an imaginary world of dreams.
But since we can see and think only in the dream world, we stand in the hole and keep digging. In the dream we’re actually *filling in* the hole, or something. The two share elements — it’s the same hole, terrifyingly deep. We have to fill as fast as possible.
We have to work hard! We have to care! Otherwise, we are *such* assholes. In fact, we probably deserve to be punched! Hey, did you hear Tom Brady is friends with Donald Trump? Asshole. This is the party that all the good and wonderful and decent people support. The rest of us are like, you guys have lost your minds.
The real-world result of gnosticism is that our governments repeat ineffective actions while hoping for different results. This leads to enormous bloodshed and destruction in easily predictable and avoidable ways. Were you brought up to not care about this?
Or does a bird just not care about accurate predictions? It’s true — the bird order doesn’t have a great reputation for super-long attention spans.
So… it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Look, I’ll admit it: my shit is all retarded and I talk like a fag. Isn’t that a butterfly over there?
Comment #357 January 31st, 2017 at 11:52 am
If only you could convince me that you’d read anything by Ernst Jünger!
Actually Jünger, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, was never in good odor with the NSDAP. In 1940 he published his incredibly prescient anti-Nazi allegory, _On the Marble Cliffs_, which also has a lot to say about Trump. It’s short, really almost a novella, so you might be able to take a crack at it. (Hitler is Braquemart; Trump is Biedenhorn.)
I love how when you scrape away the “reality-based community” and “I fucking love science,” all you’re left with is “the Republic has no need of savants,” or possibly “please continue talking after I shove you in this locker.”
If anyone wonders why I go out looking for reasons to respect Jefferson Davis, “he wrote his own speeches and his own book, and back then everyone considered that normal” is pretty high on that list. I rue the day I ever watched _Idiocracy_. Ow, my balls!
Comment #359 January 31st, 2017 at 12:06 pm
I’ve both explained the historical roots of Scott’s ideology and why I don’t find it convincing. I know there’s a lot of text up there. The Age of Reading is passing; the Age of Search has begun. Just search for “FDA”.
A good exercise that will show you both sides of this question is to reread John Stuart Mill’s magnum opus, _Considerations on Representative Government_ (https://books.google.com/books?id=emABAAAAYAAJ).
If you actually read the whole book rather than the usual predigested excerpts, you’ll see that Mill is actually remarkably moderate on the virtues of representative democracy. He predicts (accurately, as we see from the Third World) that his constitutional machine won’t work with a population anything short of Victorian Englishmen.
And he has a very strange idea, which he keeps coming back to, that exercising the franchise not only depends on the personal virtues of the electorate, but in fact augments those virtues, creating a true virtuous cycle. Well… I think that one was pretty solidly debunked before the 20th century even started.
Small wonder that Mill once wrote (in a private letter, 1837):
“I myself have always been for a good stout despotism, for governing Ireland like India. But it cannot be done. The spirit of democracy has got too much head there, too prematurely.”
A sensible fellow, John Stuart Mill! We’ve borrowed his ideas, but not his nuance. And I’m pretty confident that Mill himself, if he saw his predictions falsified, would be able to change his mind.
Comment #360 January 31st, 2017 at 12:24 pm
I found your “belief in Enlightenment liberalism” right here:
It’s true that the percentage of Americans who literally wanted communism has never been more than about 20%. But, frankly, you’re looking at the best 20% of Americans. Since all societies are governed by minority ruling classes, we got it anyway.
There’s a great memoir by Bella Dodd called _School of Darkness_. Dodd was on the US Politburo in the ’40s and was purged with Browder after the Duclos letter (when Stalin, after the war, ended the Popular Front and reimposed strict ideological discipline worldwide). To purge Dodd, they held an internal trial in which she was charged with… racism. (Still a new word back then — “white chauvinism” was the official charge. Specifically, she was accused of being mean to her Puerto Rican building super, among other thoughtcrime charges.)
In 2017, anyone can be purged from anything for “racism.” The Americans of 1947, who were pretty much all “racist” by our standards, could not possibly have imagined this future. But if you were on the US Politburo in 1947, you used phrases like “politically correct” with zero irony, and you got to experience a little taste of 2017 70 years in advance.
When your fringe ideas in the present become everyone’s mandatory ideas in the future, how is that anything but winning? I fucking love science…
Comment #364 January 31st, 2017 at 1:13 pm
Sorry, you and Pinker are both misinformed:
“We take seriously your concerns that for this march to be meaningful, we must centralize diversity of the march’s organizers at all levels of planning. Diversity must also be reflected in the march itself, both through the mission statement and those who participate.”
As a political force, in the real world today, there is only one Left. Over the last century it’s vacuumed up every shred of power it could find. Your only political choice is to resist this force or join it. Your march is not a march for Science, it’s a march for Power.
You will not find one instance in history in which the methods of “classical Enlightenment liberalism” have successfully competed with revolutionary power. Not a single one. Lafayette is nothing but a machine for bringing Robespierre to power.
If you’re lucky, chance throws up a competent despot, a Cromwell or Napoleon or Deng. (Even Lee Kuan Yew started his career as a leftist agitator.) It’s actually the one way the last two centuries have produced some decent governments. But it’s super dangerous, obviously.
And looking at these people, I don’t feel all that lucky. Do you?
Comment #376 January 31st, 2017 at 6:05 pm
The American Revolution is a very complicated political and military affair which can’t be understood without understanding both American and British politics of the era. A good comparison would be the Vietnam War.
Briefly, there are strong quasi-Jacobin revolutionary forces which more or less start off the action. Think Samuel Adams. After the British finally depart, there’s a right-wing coup (which we now call “the Constitution”) which succeeds, often by quite rough and illiberal tactics. The whole Articles of Confederation period is confined to the memory hole (notice that you don’t know anything about it, except that it existed), and all of this hard political fighting gets retconned into our wise Lockean-Burkean “founding fathers.”
Somehow the Anglo-American world keeps managing to repress its revolutions illiberally, without either curing them completely or succumbing to total chaos. However this trick works, it doesn’t seem particularly transmissible and I don’t like relying on it. It also seems to rely on deep social structures which are eroding.
For instance, when America had a responsible social aristocracy, it was fairly straightforward for the Tea Party bomb-throwers of 1776 Boston to grow up into the Federalist reactionaries of 1796 Boston. Later, Billy Ayers and his friends became harmless college professors and learned to love Goldman Sachs. At the same time, bridge-and-tunnel voters everywhere decided that no, criminals really do belong in jail. This pendulum swing created a sort of reactionary Indian summer after the ’60s revolution. I feel like this summer is ending — how about you?
Basically all the goods and services you consume are delivered by the little monarchies we call “corporations” or “businesses.” The standard management structure of one of these systems, big or little, has one individual with complete operating authority, responsible to creditors whose power is proportional to stake.
Seems to work perfectly well — in fact, I think there’s a case to be made that the Industrial Revolution was really the Corporate Revolution. It’s never been tried at the sovereign layer, but the closer governments get to this design, the better they seem to work — viz., today, Singapore.
Sorry, there is no golden age when it all worked beautifully. “Quam parva sapientia regitur mundus,” as Oxenstierna put it. We can hope to escape from history — I’m a good extropian — but first we have to understand how completely we’re still inside it.
Comment #377 January 31st, 2017 at 9:16 pm
Our host also turned out to be surprisingly broad in historical literacy, so I shouldn’t be surprised again. Still, which works of Jünger have you read? At the risk of being proved again a cad, I’ll go way out on a limb and guess: none, only excerpts. (I have read everything in English, which isn’t enough. I would love to read his Paris diaries, for instance.)
It is a really horrible practice to read excerpts of primary sources. I can only compare it to feeding fresh buffalo mozzarella into a Domino’s pizza factory. The editor of the excerpt can impose any perspective whatsoever on the source. Even if the editor is completely honest, the whole experience is spoiled. For similar reasons, when reading a new edition of a primary source, read the modern introduction *after* the source. If at all.
If you actually do read Jünger, I hope I don’t have to turn you on to his good friend Ernst von Salomon. Also, I knew your screen name reminded me of something:
One can argue about old books. But surely as fellow intellectuals, we can agree that no one at all watches nearly enough old films…
Comment #379 January 31st, 2017 at 10:30 pm
“Control every branch” — do you have any idea what you’re talking about?
I mean: do you see the actual organizational structure of Washington, DC as in any way corresponding to the narrative either (a) explained in the literal in the Constitution, (b) matching the narrative you see on CNN, (c) both (a) and (b)?
Because if so, like, wow, man. I mean, if that narrative was *true*, you should definitely be worried. I mean, if you actually thought the President controlled the executive branch and could make it do whatever he wants. Do you know anything about how DC works?
Basically, under normal circumstances, the President is not in any remote sense in charge of the executive branch of USG, in the way a CEO is in charge of a company. The whole thing is a complete fraud — or at least, has been since FDR died. Not only would DC run perfectly well without a White House at all, it would run better. In fact, that’s pretty much what you elect if you elect a Democrat.
I know that *I know* what I’m talking about, because both my parents were career civil servants in core DC agencies. Look, don’t trust me. Trust some other dude who sounds like he knows what he’s talking about:
To put it very simply, the difference between a President and a CEO is that the CEO can change the personnel, structures, and procedures of the institution.
The President can’t fire civil servants, all of whom belong to the other party. He can’t change budgets. He can’t change org charts. He can appoint people, but the people he appoints can’t do any of these things internally. And they are strictly prohibited from any contact with the personnel records or hiring procedures of the civil servants.
They do have to share an office with these people, though. It’s insane. And it can have no possible positive outcome. Honestly, Hillary was probably a better vote for anyone who wants to just replace this whole institution. Trump is just going to annoy it a lot, creating a ton of bullshit media both right and left. Probably a good time to invest in clicks.
There are levers that can be turned, but nothing terribly serious. Remember the line-segment example? Redefining the power position of the White House over USG, to make it much weaker, would be hard. Redefining it to make it exponentially harder (for instance, the power of a CEO) would be incredibly easy. (I mean, of course, to contemplate mentally — not to actually accomplish.)
There are only two possible impacts of a Trump presidency: some kind of insane auto-coup (see below), or a giant nothingburger like the Nixon and Reagan administrations. You might notice that “populism” (or, to those of us less afflicted by No True Scotsman syndrome, “democracy”) elected Nixon and Reagan.
What impact did these hostile “populist” administrations have on the actual USG? Well.. some. Not *none*. I don’t know – what impact does a storm have on a coral reef? There is certainly more sloshing around, way up at the surface.
You certainly didn’t need to *worry* about Nixon. I think there were a few budget cuts under Reagan. Being a Schedule C is hazardous, of course, as is being a Hill staffer in a weak / junior district. But this is a very small number of people compared to the total size of DC.
Otherwise… you are being shown the *exception* to the rule. This illusion is just taking advantage of your instinctive innumeracy. The USG is a huge, gigantic, immense thing. It did 10,000 things on December 30 and another 10,000 on January 30. 9,999 of them are exactly the same as they would have been had Hillary won.
Control of the White House is relevant and has real consequences for real people, sure. But… adjust your eyes, because the rule is always more important than the exception. If the rule looked at all like it was actually changing, don’t you think I’d let you know?
Here’s one way to think about the state of democracy in America. It’s undergoing a common political transition: moving from a functioning power center to a non-functioning one.
This has hilarious linguistic consequences, like a political language in which “democracy” is maximally positive, but “populism” and still worse “politics” carry a severely negative charge. Uh, last time I checked, “democracy” is a property for which it is both necessary and sufficient to put the election winner in charge of the government.
Historically, the transition from a functioning power center to a ceremonial one is common. Think of the difference between Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II.
A simple test is whether we can devise a substantively trivial transformation that removes the suspect institution. If Elizabeth II had passed away at any point in her not-very-useful life, the impact on both Britain and its government would have been minimal. The same cannot be said for Elizabeth I.
Therefore the Tudor Elizabeth is a functioning organ and the Windsor Elizabeth is a non-functioning organ. This doesn’t mean the organ has no use or purpose — ceremonial monarchy is by far the best way to preclude a real monarch. Elizabeth II’s ancestors have served this function since the glorious events of 1688. It just means you don’t intervene substantially in actual governance.
There’s a trivial way to show that Washington is already a non-democracy. Can we construct a nearly-equivalent Washington, which operates under exactly the same rules, but with elected officials who are purely ceremonial? Well, for one thing, Brussels already works this way. So we know it’s possible.
But let’s make a minimal change to Washington, while eliminating elections entirely. We’ll just eliminate all elected officials. Everything else will be the same.
No new “laws,” or rather, giant collections of vaguely-related patches like a Debian update gone terribly awry. So we don’t need a Congress, or any of the army of lobbyists and activists that attends it. The perfect labor force, they’ll build the best north wall. The Supreme Court can appoint its own new members, like Israel’s. I love Israel. They’re the best. They have the best wall.
As for the Presidency, all the agencies can run perfectly well or even better without any sched Cs. The White House is needed in some cases to resolve actual interagency conflicts. These can be handled by a device readily available for $6.99, the Magic 8-Ball.
All three branches eliminated, no enormous impact on reality or even on DC. Ergo: elected officials are a fraud. Ergo: democracy itself is a fraud. And inherently in today’s real world can’t be anything else.
It’s true that the regime (like all regimes, regardless of “democracy”) still has to maintain its popularity; but only its popularity relative to any competitor. It has no competitors. The closest thing is Trump, but Trump is just the President.
So this is a basically useless and nearly ceremonial office to which we’ve in our great wisdom elected Trump. Of course, if he substantially changes the real-world nature of the office, that’s totally different. I don’t see much sign of that yet. And it’s hard to even imagine. Is it even possible?
If Trump or any President can essentially change the quasi-legal form of government, perhaps acting in a Jacksonian way, that would be a true auto-coup in the Alberto Fujimori tradition. He would have no choice but to continue across the Rubicon, and simply govern by EO indefinitely.
Perhaps this would come after some kind of enabling legislation. Perhaps it would just mean ignoring Congress, which after all has a popularity of 10% and consists of a collection of crooks, flacks and hacks with the collective charisma of a senile banana slug. It might even mean defying the much more attractively-dressed judicial branch. Whose popularity is much higher, surpassing that of investment bankers and approaching the common raccoon.
I just don’t think Trump would do it, though. Also — I forget the source of the quote, but it is an actual quote from someone who was somehow connected to DC — “Trump has no people.”
You can’t have regime change without some kind of alternate government, and there is no such thing. There’s nothing within three orders of magnitude of being ready to become the next regime. I mean, is there? If there is, I don’t know about it. Not that I would, obviously.
And again you’re just not looking at this kind of operator here, I think. If it was Elon Musk… he’s not eligible, of course. But perhaps, in the 21st century, that’s just a technicality.
Even Trump 20 years younger might be something different. But really he’s this strange, amazing, wonderful creature from the ’50s. Honestly, I think you should just relax and enjoy the show.
Actual participation in the governance process, should that become genuinely available to you, is one thing. Political doomsaying is another.
You may not believe any of this other stuff, but I really don’t think you should be worrying about Donald Trump at all. I would be super surprised to see any real change in Washington as a result of his administration, and my predictions are often accurate.
Comment #381 January 31st, 2017 at 10:56 pm
Should a government fund science? Should it invite talented immigrants? “Of course” and “in most cases, probably, depending on the purpose.”
In any case I agree that a government should not break its promises, which is shitty service, or let anyone else break theirs. _Pacta sunt servanda_ – the basic Roman axiom of government. Promises must be kept.
But if the government cannot make an exception and break its own promises, it is not a government at all. Whoever holds it to its promises, or releases it from them, is the real government instead. As Carl Schmitt said: sovereignty is the power to decide the exception. And someone always has it. If the king is not above the law, he is a fake king.
This means many, many, many fewer participate in the political process. It means political celibacy for almost everyone. Perhaps this is a hard blow. There are few TV shows as exciting as “the news.”
I can appreciate that life in a nation governed without any particular public sentiment, governed by the same kind of person who runs a chain restaurant operator, a perfectly competent no one in particular, seems like a barren and pointless existence.
Really it means the end of your, mine, and almost everyone’s involvement in the sovereign governance process. Which can be reasonably accomplished with an order of magnitude fewer full-time personnel, and no voters at all.
A rational person would be happy to drop this thankless job. But actually, politics provides positive utility in the neurological sense. It stimulates dopamine secretion — like sports, gambling, porn, etc.
Unfortunately, politics in the democratic sense is an artificial stimulant. It stimulates your chimpanzee instincts for chimpanzee politics, which in Darwinian impact is comparable to that of the sex drive — for obvious reasons. But, since you are not actually involved in the governance process, you are jacking it in front of your monitor, not actually making it with those hot lesbians.
Democracy is an artificial stimulant, so long as democracy (as in the vast majority of historical examples) remains a cover story for a stable oligarchy. On those rare occasions in history when democracy becomes a real form of government, shit gets crazy. Nothing compares to the real experience. Artificial stimulation only becomes popular when the reality is rare.
But the American TV audience is pretty sedate, historically speaking, so any kind of breakout from the Truman Show still seems pretty unlikely. Obviously this particular brand of redpill is just too large for most peoples’ throats.
And don’t fear! Once you cut yourself off from the artificial stimulant of public politics — realizing that you don’t give a shit except to regret the predictable screwups, and also that anything real which might happen will be an unusual accident — you’ll start sleeping much better at night. After a month or two, you may even be able to see the drab, mundane, real political world in color.
Comment #383 January 31st, 2017 at 11:11 pm
Whether you choose to think about it or not, I have a very simple explanation of Anglo-American success as it relates to democracy.
If you see democracy as a pest, like Dutch elm disease, it makes perfect sense. Dutch elm disease originates in China. Therefore, Chinese elms are resistant to Dutch elm disease. But not immune! It’s still a crippling disease in China. But the trees live.
The result of globalization: Chinese elms dominate the world. And hybrids. An elm does not live, anywhere in the world, unless its DNA is mostly Chinese. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that Dutch elm disease is good for elm trees, and the Chinese should export it to everyone. Unless they’re just plain evil.
All we have to observe, to show that this is the case, is to show that politics in the Anglo-American tradition (don’t forget, Marx wrote in the British Library, and his column appeared in the New York Tribune), (a) frequently causes serious damage to Anglo-American countries, and (b) always or almost always has two results in other countries: it either causes massive, traumatic disasters, or brings the country under effective Anglo-American supervision, and/or both.
That makes exporting politics/democracy it look like a political weapon, which is basically what it is. This weapon has run out of enemies and no one really understands its purpose, which was external subversion against genuine peer-level competitors.
Now it just runs around doing its best to burn down the world. There will probably never be another US Embassy in Libya in our lifetimes, for instance — it’s 100% Mad Max from here on out, because American diplomacy will instinctively side *against* the physically strongest party.
This is why the international community is still so pissed at Sri Lanka for actually winning its war. For one thing, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of good jobs in the aid industry were lost as a result of the Sinhalese victory. That war had been a career!
But burning down the world with “freedom and democracy” is the State Department’s job. And career civil servants are, of course, tenured both individually and institutionally.
Ultimately you as an elite-American need to believe in this weapon as well, or it really doesn’t work. “Soft power,” as they say in the IR community, is real. Sulfuric acid is also real, which doesn’t make it a healthy and refreshing beverage.
Comment #385 January 31st, 2017 at 11:25 pm
Also, the problem of governing effectively is engineering. But it’s *incredibly easy* engineering. Only the shitty institutions we have could do this shitty a job.
The crime rate in the UK 120 years ago was roughly 1/50 the present value. They had no fingerprints, CCTV, DNA. What function of government, exactly, is hard?
Remember the ratchet of decay? The only way to see it properly is to read period books. Read enough, and you’ll get a good picture of how our ancestors would see our world. They’d be horrified.
Imagine if the America of 1917 could somehow be teleported into the Pacific Ocean, intact, with period technology. How much do you know about the America of 1917? How long would it take them to catch up on Wikipedia, then start kicking our asses in every way possible? They’d probably conclude they had to occupy us militarily, at once, to stamp out the infection. And in 1917, America was considered a louche and frivolous country.
Does this have anything to do with democracy? The great Victorian historian Froude, a disciple of Carlyle, had an interesting theory of the British Empire’s political evolution. He saw liberal politics and culture as the flowering stalk of the century plant; certainly beautiful, creative and unique, but consuming political energy produced by centuries of disciplined monarchy. At least as far as the British Empire goes, his predictions proved accurate.
I think this is an optimistic view, not a dark one. The “ratchet of decay” is easily fixable — all that has to be fixed is the political system. Borrow almost anything from almost any era, staff it with good people (maybe draft 10,000 Googlers), and it’ll work fine. It’s like the good news you want to hear when you take your car into the shop.
If you’re actually allowed to *use* the texts of the past as your guide for governing the present, you have more than enough instruction manuals. With that, actual power, and good people, it’s basically impossible to fail.
Sure, Sir William Petty died in 1687. But if he knew how to govern England in 1687, when it took a man on a horse a week to get from London to Edinburgh, what would a new regime have to worry about in 2017? Unemployment?
Trust me, Sir William Petty knew all about balancing the supply and demand for labor. And to the extent he didn’t, someone else did. Once you learn to believe in the past, you are never alone. It’s a very, very pleasant stress relief. Almost as good as believing in God, I think.
Comment #386 January 31st, 2017 at 11:37 pm
That *is* a reason to care about politics.
But that makes it absolutely critical that we care about it with our heads, not our hearts. Acting practically and rationally is not just much more productive than acting passionately. It’s also much easier, because you are *doing* rather than performing. All the agitation can be entirely cut.
Also, in my version of politics, no one (excluding people actually “in the loop”) does anything at all until it’s actually time to act cohesively, collectively, effectively and peacefully. Remember: force is not a synonym for violence, but the opposite of violence.
The rational use case for democracy, at least in our situation or anything like it, isn’t to replace the current regime with democratic governance. With the present population, that’s just impossible and in fact hilarious. I mean, can you even imagine?
No, the rational purpose of politics is to produce a one-time pulse of energy, which switches sovereignty from the current nondemocratic regime to a different, but better-organized, nondemocratic regime.
The hopes and fears and dreams of the people involved in creating this pulse don’t matter, because the new regime is also autocratic. (Not a moral judgment, just an objective synonym for “doesn’t leak power.”) They don’t end up in charge of it. They just help make it happen. And, hopefully, they’re fine with that.
To compare this “revolution” to another natural stimulant, it’s one tremendous lay, followed by a lifetime of strict celibacy. I think a lot of guys might take that deal.
Comment #418 February 1st, 2017 at 9:25 pm
Did you read the section of Scott Alexander’s FAQ? It’s just Scott saying he doesn’t believe in Victorian statistics. You feel pretty confident in his judgments, even though you wrote 1800 rather than 1900.
Murder is a shitty index crime, because it lumps about 10 different phenomena (from crimes of passion to gang shootouts) into one number. The one I like is robbery. Robbery is not the only kind of intrahuman predation, but it’s a good
Anyone who knows the Victorian era (like, has actually read *books* from the period) knows that (a) British statistics were, if anything, more reliable than ours, and (b) there was no systemic crime problem in (later) Victorian cities.
The Chicago Prohibition experience was written up in such lurid detail because it was unique. There were no no-go areas in any American or European city in 1900, or for that matter 1950.
If you don’t like Victorian statistics, how about Japanese statistics? See above. Again, 100x difference in robbery rate. Mind explaining how X and (X * 100) can both be described as “crime is low?” What is it in Japan — ultra-low?
My children learned somewhere that Japan has free-range children. My 8 year old, I kid you not, was like: “If you wanted groceries, you could just send me to the store! I could go on the subway!” She said this like she was imagining conditions on Mars.
So basically, my kids live as if they’re in prison, or at least on a strict work-release program, basically because you and 100 million others prefer listening to our Western TASS, which constantly assures us that crime is low and tractor production is up.
Therefore, instead of asking the government to do its job and protect you from the dangerous and the mad, you’re in fact lobbying it to open its vast pens full of the criminals it’s bred.
Instead of doing the sane rational thing of adopting the Japanese criminal-justice, immigration and mental-health care systems basically yesterday, you’re doubling down on a new version of the ’60s revolution, which caused the first spike. The Giuliani/Reagan reaction seems to have run its course. It’s like a schizophrenic who feels so good when he takes his meds, he decides he doesn’t need to take his meds anymore.
You might not agree with this perspective, but I hope you understand it. And I hope you can excuse me if this makes me a little cranky…
Comment #420 February 1st, 2017 at 9:32 pm
Those employment-population numbers would look a lot different if they didn’t include the imported helots from parts south.
You also appear to be a strong believer in 20th-century utility economics. Hedonic utility metrics (which, as an Austrian would point out, are not commensurable across individuals) are not the only way to think about the purpose of an economy. Start here:
Not that there aren’t plenty of direct metrics of social and personal health and satisfaction that aren’t cratering. But Carlyle’s point about the meaning and use of statistics (I once saw a copy of this posted as a PDF on a stats department website) should be read, and completely appreciated, first.
Comment #422 February 1st, 2017 at 9:47 pm
> Monarchy, at least as I understand the term, catastrophically fails the test of bad ideas being open to criticism by anyone. (If all the subjects feel free to attack the king’s bad ideas, then it’s not much of a monarchy, is it?)
You understand the term very poorly, I’m afraid!
“Monarchy” just literally means a system of government with a single ultimate decisionmaker. Basically like every company. Probably, in reality,
All governments are absolute. There is no necessary correlation between the organizational structure of a government and its policies on free speech, or anything else. Moreover, there is no reason, either a priori or a posteriori, to think a committee of men in robes will propound more liberal and open policies than one man wearing a crown.
It’s actually often easier for a stable monarch to tolerate free speech — the more secure the monarch, the more easily he can adopt the principle of (this quote is either Bismarck or Frederick the Great, I think) “they say what they want, I do what I want.”
As for free speech in democracy, if we include all systems claiming to be democracies, it has a very poor record. Even if we look only at ours… have you been outside lately?
As a good Enlightenment liberal, I am interested in all infringements on my liberties, whether or not they are implemented directly by men in blue. Should I treat official or unofficial assaults on my rights differently? If I do, that’s just a great incentive for tyranny to get its job done indirectly.
Tocqueville, in the 1830s, described America as the country with the least practical freedom of speech. There was much you could say in the 1830s that you can’t say in the 1930s. There was much you could say in the 1930s that you can’t say today.
So it’s pretty hard for me to endorse this line of reasoning!
It’s easy to get these kinds of issues distorted by looking at the failed 20th-century monarchies we call “dictatorships.” You have to understand that all these 20C regimes, from the beginning to the end, were fighting both internally and externally against the empire of liberalism we live in now. That’s just one reason why we have a lot more to learn from Frederick the Great than from Hitler.
Ultimately this excuses nothing, but you can’t think of their acts as anything but emergency wartime measures — and our own team has a pretty exciting record of emergency wartime measures, too. Which didn’t exactly start with Guantanamo!
Comment #423 February 1st, 2017 at 9:49 pm
To respond to the point you imply, rather than trying to play Nostradamus for you, see my analogy to Dutch elm disease. I would rather be a Chinese elm than an American elm, yes. But Dutch elm disease remains a disease, not a symbiosis.
Comment #424 February 1st, 2017 at 10:06 pm
The problem with your eigendemocracy, as with Hanson’s futarchy, is that it doesn’t account for the feedback cycle between knowledge and power.
We already tried the solution of putting the universities in power. That’s the whole thrust of American governance in the 20C. That’s the way Washington already works! Scientific public policy! Indeed this idea dates back to the Fabians, a 19C phenomenon. Ultimately it even dates to Carlyle, since Fabian founder Ruskin was an acolyte of Carlyle’s.
The basic problem is that this is yet another plan to defeat Sauron by persuading Gandalf to put on the Ring. It just turns Gandalf into Saruman. Haven’t we, like, seen that?
Power corrupts science. Do you really, actually, think there are 1000 negative effects of a global temperature increase, for every 1 positive effect? But there are a thousand negative effects published for every positive effect published. Obviously I’m pulling this number out of my ass, but you know what I mean.
But why? You have… been to a university, haven’t you? You are familiar with this game of building alliances, seeking funding, demonstrating impact?
Well, I guess quantum computing doesn’t have much impact. “Impact,” of course, is just one of those nice euphemisms for power. If you put the scientists in power, they are simply going to get addicted to power. And their science will start to tell them whatever it needs to tell them, so they can get more power.
My mother worked at DOE in the ’90s, when this whole circus was really ramping up. Joe Romm was her boss. So I got a nice inside view of how the scientocratic sausage is made — strictly from a policy and budget standpoint.
Have you ever seen the checklist for “you think you’ve solved the spam problem”?
I think there should be a similar checklist for “quis custodiet ipsos custodes”:
Any design for a regime in which authority and responsibility aren’t combined, preferably as tightly as possible, doesn’t work. “Build an inherently trustworthy guardian and put it in power” does not work unless you can figure out how that guardian is also responsible. Otherwise its trustworthy character won’t last long.
Responsibility backpropagation for eigendemocracy? Hmm, can’t really see it. You would wind up with Robin Hanson type schemes. These would allow you to buy outcomes.
Meanwhile, over on the corporate side of the fence, we have a perfectly reliable, proven mechanism for incredibly responsible and efficient management. The problem is just that it doesn’t make anyone’s dick hard.
Comment #426 February 1st, 2017 at 11:08 pm
I suppose a good exercise for eigendemocracy or any similar device (basically a political perpetual-motion machine) is that, before you imagine putting it in charge of the world, you imagine putting it in charge of its own funding.
You will see it quickly change its mind in whatever direction makes it more important, and therefore more worthy of funding. This bias is absolutely absent in a field whose funding is set by some higher authority. Obviously the least important fields, like math, do the best under this regime.
On a level playing field, in certain specially designed circumstances, truth will genuinely outperform error. We can agree on this, I think. But the field has to be exquisitely leveled, the referee has to be completely clean, etc, etc, or it’s just another Soviet shitshow. Above all, power bias must be excluded.
And if you have an authority who can create this level playing field, you might as well put that authority in charge. It’s turtles all the way down.
Personally, I don’t think any of us can imagine what an awesome university system you could make out of the one we have today, if you could free it from bureaucracy and politics. A monarch might or might not succeed in this. But certainly the present regime, whatever we call it, will not.
Comment #493 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:03 pm
> Really? I think futarchy does account for that. The prediction markets are ultimately grounded in directly measurable facts, and the whole point of markets is that, compared to other mechanisms, they’re robust against such politicking and manipulation.
Not when you can either profit by changing the facts, or pay for outcomes. An assassination market is a special case of futarchy. For more:
> If we really had “scientific public policy” — ignoring for now the question of whether the instituion of science is producing correct facts and just looking at to what extent the facts it does produce are accounted for in public policy — we’d have had a carbon dioxide tax ages ago. Among many other things.
Observe yourself, fixated on the exception and ignoring the rule. It is actually very stressful to be 99% in charge. The 1% bugs the crap out of you, constantly. Is it growing larger? Is it?
> As best I can tell, most companies work terribly, and failure to assign responsibility like you claim is part of that.
This is where I LOLed. Visit SF sometime. You can walk almost straight out of the Twitter building, into the Van Ness Muni station.
Like most people who live in the present and in the narrative, you could probably get much better at fixing your position on an absolute scale. It is true that many people who work at Twitter probably think it’s a horribly managed company. But to compare it to Muni is a matter of exponents.
Comment #494 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:10 pm
If you weren’t just snarking, you’d have a snappy answer for the 100x US/Japan crime ratio. Snark all you want at the 40x UK/Victorian crime ratio — direct your snark to Parliament, here, page 14:
For your information, though I don’t have older statistics, my sense of the period is that you’ll see a good deal higher crime rate in the earlier 19th and of course 18th centuries. England had a longstanding criminal demi-monde and this merged with a lot of economic dislocation in the earlier Victorian period.
If you’re actually interested in the social changes in England in this century, read Robert Roberts’ _The Classic Slum_ (then) and Theodore Dalrymple’s _Life at the Bottom_ (now).
But somehow it feels like these people are all just numbers to you, which you haul out when it suits your argument. Honestly, I do not need statistics to tell you that modern Japan or Victorian London has two orders of magnitude less crime than San Francisco. It’s nice to have these numbers. But if numbers were all I knew, I would shut up and talk about something else.
Comment #495 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:20 pm
> Indeed, restricting to Victorian England, substantial sections of East London were considered extremely dangerous.
That’s true! But that’s by *their* standards, not ours. In Victorian England (I unfortunately don’t have this statistic handy, but it jibes with the Parliament statistics) there was about 1 robbery a day, *in all of England*.
By their standards, our cities are completely insane. Even then, America was insanely dangerous. In fact, I recall reading a Victorian traveller writing with a shudder of horror that in Chicago, robberies were not unknown *even within the city limits*.
Forget your modern academic trash and actually read a work of poor-ology from the period. I recommended Robert Roberts, who is an Edwardian, and actually grew up in the slum he described. A great cliched classic for New York is Jacob Riis’ _How the Other Half Lives_.
Shorter Riis: the “other half” is (a) dirty, Jewish and Italian, (b) lives in ridiculously cramped, dark quarters, (c) works way too hard, (d) often doesn’t have time to make the bed in the morning. You will search in vain for anything worthy of _The Wire_.
Riis is exactly as shocked as a modern writer is about the modern slum. But the modern writer has “defined deviancy down” by a couple orders of magnitude. When you don’t adjust for this change, you get a totally ridiculous and distorted picture of the past world.
Comment #496 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:30 pm
> It should go without saying that, if I ever let myself fantasize about competent scientists running the country, such people—not the ones who think like bureaucrats, and also not the absentminded nerds like me!—are the ones who I have in mind.
You’ve got it exactly!
One, a word like “fantasize” is a pretty strong tipoff that your brain is operating in Voegelin’s gnostic dream world.
And two, any mechanism you hypothesize that can separate those who are scientists in spirit, from those who are bureaucrats in spirit, is itself competent to govern, and in fact is governing.
So you don’t need the scientists (except as employees). Again, it’s an infinite regression: quis custodiet ipsos custodes.
Surely you can’t possibly disagree that this problem is too important to “fantasize” over. If you’re thinking rationally, you can only think about it in terms of designing mechanisms, institutions, processes. Not people.
I feel like in a sense you understand this, but in another sense the only political mechanism you understand is “I wish for X, everyone wishes for X, and if there are enough of us our wish comes true. Except in an evil non-democracy, which is a sinister form of government where wishes just don’t work.”
It would be foolish for me to utterly discount coordinated mass wishing as a political mechanism. It has made things happen. If not always good things. But is it ridiculous to hope that we could do better?
Comment #498 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:36 pm
Jelmer Renema #456,
> Interpol actually *was* the pet project of Himmler, or rather of the SS. Heydrich was its president from 1940 to 1942.
Well… “pet project” implies that Himmler *invented* it. Actually Interpol was part of the old WWI-era “international community,” but just happened to be in Vienna when the NSDAP took over. But it’s still a story I didn’t know:
The important question is: should this change the way we feel about the *band*, Interpol?
Comment #499 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:45 pm
> Or else say that the solution lies in the marketplace.
“Bake the cake.”
You might have heard the saying: “when you are in power, I demand my rights, in accordance with your beliefs. When I am in power, I take away your rights, in accordance with my beliefs.”
What Jim is, very clumsily, trying to tell you is that when you cease to live in the political dreamworld of “we all wish for X,” X in this case being a consistent system of either universal public services (you have to bake the cake and allow the speaker), or libertarian individual choice (no one has to bake a cake or let anyone speak), you must begin to think in the realist terms of Machiavelli or Lenin or Lewis Carroll: “what matters is who is to be master, that’s all.”
I think a system of government predicated on the foundation that Democrat-Americans shall be master over Republican-Americans (which is basically the system we have today, believe it or not), is absolutely awful. I also think the converse is absolutely awful, although at the moment it would certainly be a refreshing change.
But absent some actual, structural synthesis (like restoring the Stuarts, or whatever), this conflict is all that’s going on here. We really need to stop pretending it’s a battle of abstract ideas, and you win if your ideas are consistent and the other side is proved a hypocrite. It’s not an argument, it’s just a cold civil war.
Comment #500 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:52 pm
> But compared to the alt-right nationalists who now control the planet, I’d say that the SJWs are rank amateurs at cruelty and horribleness
Call me back when I start a civil war in Libya and Syria, and kill half a million people.
Remember Samantha Power and R2P? Where were you when this happened? I’m guessing one of us was cheering the “Arab Spring.” It wasn’t me.
And that’s only taking it back half a decade! Honey, I’m not even starting! Do you see how it’s hard for me to be super appalled if the Trump administration screws up some peoples’ travel plans, or even their careers? In the insane world we live in today?
Comment #501 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:54 pm
Don’t worry, annoying intellectuals throughout history, both by their friends and enemies, have been told that their lives would work out better if only they’d shut the f*ck up and mind their own business. And indeed it is probably true.
Comment #502 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:59 pm
> Even if we completely accept that a God-Emperor would be better than democracy, it is far from clear that there is any way we can get there from here without immense amounts of suffering and pain and with little chance of success.
Possibly. On the other hand, the US is an absolute monarchy with an effective CEO-President, about every 75 years. You’ll find it’s very easy to name the three figures I mean.
On the other hand, all three of these periods have involved a major war. So you may be right. My hope is that people these days are such pussies that peaceful change is easier.
Comment #503 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:01 pm
Your friend is right — renewals of political decay are rare. We have to look on long timescales. The Byzantine Empire is a successful renewal. China and Egypt have, of course, their dynastic cycle. But for every attempt, dozens of failures.
Comment #504 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:07 pm
> Please explain: if you were in my shoes, why would you take the claim that the US is awash in an epidemic of Congo-like violence because of lib’ruls and Obama and Ferguson, more seriously than you take any of those other claims?
And, if you live in a major American city,
The last will probably do the most to open your eyes. Literally every day in my email I see people, my neighbors, crying out in pain and violation. A few blocks away from me, about a year ago, on a beautiful little Duboce Corner block which has a bistro and looks like it could be in Paris, a couple, people just like you and me, was attacked by a group of thugs with hammers. The woman was raped and left with brain damage. The husband posts all the time trying to figure out various kinds of caregiver stuff.
Here is an exercise for you: imagine all crimes were in fact, committed by racist white cops against suffering African-Americans. Then imagine the same human death toll was taken by, say, a negligent gene-therapy test. Then imagine it was from radiation leaks from
You’ll discover that your tolerance of morbidity from all these sources is *wildly* different. For no apparent reason. All human testing of DNA therapy was shut down for, what, a decade, after the death of Jesse Gelsinger?
The Japanese and Chinese have zero tolerance for crime, as we have zero tolerance for nuclear radiation leaks. They come to our cities and think we’re completely fucking insane. As we are.
Comment #505 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:12 pm
> I attach enormous weight to the observation that monarchy actually was tried, not just once or twice but all over the world and for thousands of years, and it never seems to have come up with a good solution to the succession problem.
One: at least it had a good solution to the democracy problem. (I know — but all the great European revolutions, against Charles I, Louis XVI, and Nicholas II, came about due to a weak and irresolute monarch.)
Two: unfortunately, the age of monarchy was ending just as the correct solution to the governance problem, the joint-stock company, was being invented.
Various kinds of elective monarchies have been tried, and worked reasonably well (as does hereditary monarchy). But there is a real qualitative difference between joint-stock governance and anything else. Which is why joint-stock companies kill all competitors which experiment with different operating systems.
Comment #508 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:22 pm
> Steven Weinberg, an extremely smart man, remarked to me that it’s probably the climate-change denialism that should worry us the most, because in the grand sweep of decades or centuries, all the other damage that Trump can do is more likely to be reversible.
I once put a comment on HN asking HN readers to upvote if they didn’t know whether thermal forcing due to CO2 was (a) linear, (b) logarithmic, or (c) exponential. Imagine caring deeply about global warming, being a quantitative person, but not knowing the answer to this question. (It’s logarithmic.) I f*cking love science!
Now, a thought-experiment. Take the predicted thermal flux from AGW over the next 50 years. Pretend instead that AGW isn’t real, but we’ve studied the sun — a completely natural force — and project that insolation will increase by 1% (or whatever) over this period.
Next, are you willing to spend $100 trillion to defend the planet from this menace? Bear in mind that for all of human history until the ’70s, all thinkers just assumed that warmer temperatures == better crops == better for people.
Actually, scientists don’t seem terribly interested in planetary defense at all. I think another big bolide just missed us. This might suggest a different force, not rational concern for planetary defense, behind this concern of yours.
Third, explain when computers became fast enough to scientifically validate general circulation models (models of the earth’s atmosphere over decades). This modeling was happening in the ’70s and it’s happening now, so you have a few decades to choose from. ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, teens? Those error bars shrinking? How do they calculate the error bars, anyway?
And if the models aren’t validated, and can’t be validated, this work is not science; so why exactly are we funding something that looks like science, but isn’t? If the precautionary principle was enough…
Comment #509 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:22 pm
In short: come to the dark side! We have cookies. And a library.
Comment #559 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:36 pm
> There was a peaceful protest by Berkeley students, also those students’ right. Then violent protesters, apparently not Berkeley students, came from elsewhere and shut the talk down.
If just as a case study in epistemology: where exactly does this neat disjunction between “peaceful student protesters” and “non-peaceful non-student rioters” come from? What is the source of this decidedly nontrivial information?
I cannot even imagine how you or anyone could know that there are/were no Berkeley students in the Black Bloc. In fact, I’ll spare you a link to the dox, but the man who punched a Milo guest and left him flat appears to have been a Berkeley *employee*.
Here is how I suspect you got this idea. One easy way, commonly used in the media, to generate false impressions without actually lying, is the old “no evidence that” trick. “There is no evidence of X” rapidly turns into “there is no evidence against not-X”, from there to “not-X is a proven fact,” and from there to “X is a dirty lie.” (There is obviously a name for this fallacy but I can’t remember it right now.) It’s just null-hypothesis juggling.
Since users are familiar with courtroom logic and not with Bayesian logic, this actually works. For example, in an electoral system in which voter rolls are not validated and essentially work on the honor system, there is no evidence that illegal aliens are voting, or that they’re not voting. Therefore, the election is fair, and anyone claiming there is illegal voting is a liar.
> I think the violent protest was both deplorable and stupid, but we should be clear that this wasn’t Berkeley’s fault.
I think that if you are so concerned about maintaining this “classical Enlightenment liberal” marketplace of ideas, in which you to my continued amazement seem to believe we actually live, you had better at least familiarize yourself with the normal tactics of its normal enemies — the totalitarian state that meets ideas with brute force.
Did you miss the part where *the police did nothing to protect the victims*, and *no one was arrested*, and *the mayor praised the rioters*? And so did, let’s not forget, three-quarters of the *noble, independent-minded and civic-spirited American press*? I have never seen the Washington Post use the word “intense” so many times in one article.
How do you think this sort of thing is handled in Moscow today? Or in any 20th-century total state not in wartime? Any level of violence can be stimulated against anyone by adequate tolerance. The Jim Crow South of course used this power extensively, simply declining to pursue or prosecute the extra-legal forces that imposed all of its violent power.
If you reverse the polarity, you see how ridiculous it is. Imagine Amy Schumer has booked a speech at Berkeley, but the Aryan Brotherhood led by Mike Cernovich and Matt Forney is trying to shut her down, by doing their best to burn down the student life center with Roman candles, not to mention beating the guests with clubs and dousing them with bear spray.
But David Duke is Governor of California and Richard Spencer is the chancellor of Berkeley. Joke’s on you, libs! Later, the skinhead mob goes cruising down Shattuck, looking for Jewish-owned banks… In what world, even remotely like ours, could this happen?
In our world, the world is full of giant government agencies (and even pseudo-agencies, like the bizarrely quasi-official SPLC), with special extra laws imposing special extra bad sentences, to crush out and destroy *any* violent political activity even a hundredth this size. But only on the right.
Ultimately it can’t prevent the existence of lone-wolf terrorists. But it can present anything and everything else — all the way to wrongthink on Twitter. Do you remember six months ago when everyone was shocked about “violent” right-wing discourse on Twitter? Ha.
On the left side of the fence, this dog does not bark. That’s because there is no dog. There used to be “Red Squads” in places like NYC, dedicated to fighting leftist terror, but the last of them were disbanded in the ’70s. (They were certainly not disbanded, nor did the terror stop, because *leftism lost*.)
Oh right, leftist terrorism in America, let me link that one again:
Hm, looks like kind of a pattern. And memory-holed, you say? Aren’t these pieces fitting together a little?
You must be familiar with this tactic of tolerated informal violence. Do you think (not a rhetorical question) that on Kristallnacht, the German Army went around burning down synagogues? I’m betting more SA-men got arrested that night, than anarchists on Berkeleynacht.
I seem to recall you being shocked, earlier, by my ominous suggestion that one could be happy to see the government enforcing the law. Wasn’t “rule of law” one of those “classical Enlightenment liberal” things? Or am I thinking of a different John Stuart Mill?
Comment #560 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:41 pm
As for preserving Berkeley: well, I only spent about a year and a half at Berkeley, and that was in the early ’90s (just before the CS department moved out of the horrid, brutal thing that is Evans Hall). I guess my feeling is that there are many things about UCB that should be preserved, and that any sensible regime would preserve. Not sure the campus, sportsball, etc, are on this list.
(Curiously, I had a date to speak at Berkeley next week, though not about politics. Definitely does not look at present like I’m going to be there.)
Let’s imagine you, Scott Aaronson, were put in charge of “preserving” Berkeley. But is preserving really the goal? Or can we do better? Why not do better?
Suppose God-Emperor Trump has split the new Berkeley into two parts, a school of science/math/engineering and a school of, uh, non-science. You’re the new CEO of Berkeley Science.
The God-Emperor has suspended all tenure and other work rules, so you can reorganize the operation however you want. And of course fire or hire anyone you want. Also, all grants now go through you — Berkeley’s current annual grant stream is replicated as yield on an infinite-termd issued by the Fed.
Do you not think that, under these conditions, you could both (a) restore classical Enlightenment liberalism to Berkeley, (b) get it out of the business of being a political machine, and (c) greatly improve the quality of the science it does?
In fact, don’t you think you could do all these things, and still cut the whole system’s budget by at least 20%? I bet you could. But maybe I just have a weakness for good writers in power.
Berkeley is not one great thing. It is a bunch of great departments. Ultimately, all that’s valuable is connections between people — and only the relatively small set of true scientists who *actually should* be doing science. In every field, I think, that set knows and could name itself — but it’s completely informal, and no one who isn’t in it can even describe it.
But the buildings, the paperwork, the football team, the bureaucrats, the retarded performance metrics, the incessant, ever-present bureaucrats…
Here’s an experiment: go to your search bar. Type in the words “academia is”. The top 5 instant hits for me are: “a cult”, “dying”, “toxic”, “not for me,” and “killing me.”
(Is this reality? Or personalization? Or have reactionaries infiltrated Google? Try it yourself. Heck, Bing and decide.)
And that’s without considering the American university’s incredibly toxic impact on the country, about which we’ve just been talking. After all, it plays the same basic political, social and economic role as Panem in the Hunger Games. Doesn’t it?
Of course any measures directed at Berkeley alone would be retarded. I don’t think the administration is quite that dumb, though. It’s obvious that this is not a local problem.
Finally, at the most mercenary level in the pure interest of science, even when an institution like American science is working perfectly well, massive disruption to the point of institutional extinction can be an enormous boon.
Look at Germany and Japan after the wars — the young and talented took over immediately. The rebirth was amazing, even after so many scientists had been killed by the pointless American city bombings. Even the Soviets benefited from this effect in the ’20s and ’30s.
So I’d argue that once again, the question of “should Berkeley live” is nowhere near as close to a no-brainer as you think. (It is also a million miles away from anything the real Trump administration could actually do — we are strictly in the imaginary realm here.)
Comment #561 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:45 pm
Charlie #555 and Mateus #552,
You are both right. The truth is that I’m only here because (a) our host hasn’t kicked me out, and (b) I was feeling a little rusty and wanted to see if anyone could hit my serve yet. It seemed like if anyone could get the ball back across the net, it would be Scott.
Comment #562 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:52 pm
> I’ll see your law ‘n’ order and raise you HBD. (cf Dan Freedman’s work here.).
Great. Yeah, that’ll really vindicate our century in the eyes of the 22nd. Is there a formal fallacy, with a proper Latin name, that means “out of the fire and into the frying pan”? Or are you just a troll? I worry that you’re just a troll…
Comment #563 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:54 pm
This is a brilliantly worded and soberly restrained comment.
Apparently Boldmug says quite a lot.