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Scott Aaronson v. Curtis Yarvin a.k.a. Mencius Moldbug a.k.a. “Boldmug.” Foundations of Enlightenment and liberal democracy versus monarchists and neoreactionaries.

Boldmug Relevant Comments

Jan 25th, 2017 First they came for the Iranians http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3167

Premise

And to those who cheered Trump’s campaign in the comments of this blog: go ahead, let me hear you defend this.

Scott's update

Feb 2nd: If you haven’t been checking the comments on this post, come have a look if you’d like to watch me and others doing our best to defend the foundations of Enlightenment and liberal democracy against a regiment of monarchists and neoreactionaries, including the notorious Mencius Moldbug, as well as a guy named Jim who explicitly advocates abolishing democracy and appointing Trump as “God-Emperor” with his sons to succeed him. (Incidentally, which son? Is Ivanka out of contention?)

I find these people to be simply articulating, more clearly and logically than most, the worldview that put Trump into office and where it inevitably leads. And any of us who are horrified by it had better get over our incredulity, fast, and pick up the case for modernity and Enlightenment where Spinoza and Paine and Mill and all the others left it off—because that’s what’s actually at stake here, and if we don’t understand that then we’ll continue to be blindsided.

Boldmug Says:

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #62 January 26th, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Maryam #37:

It would be great if you tell us your opinion on how he actually got elected and people who voted for him.

As Paul Krugman said, this is a global calamity that almost didn’t happen. It took a perfect storm of racism, xenophobia, voter ignorance about basic facts and statistics (e.g., the unemployment rate is currently good, crime is low, and net illegal immigration is roughly zero), a compliant and trivializing news media, the incredible lie-spreading power of Facebook and Twitter, Hillary being so widely disliked (with ~95% of the hatred irrational), apathy in many of the young/urban voters who turned out for Obama, the disenfranchisement of millions of poor and minority voters, the quisling behavior of Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and all the other Republican “leaders,” Wikileaks, the unprecedented Russian interference in the election, James Comey, and the idiocy of the Electoral College itself. Change a single one of those things and you change the outcome.

Boldmug Says:

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #78 January 26th, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Boldmug #61:

All Trump is doing is reiterating that we don’t live in the world of John Lennon’s Imagine.

The world of John Lennon’s Imagine might never have existed, but Obama’s America did, and I definitely liked it better.

In particular, I want the US to be a better, stronger country, and I think it’s stronger when it more fully participates in the global community of science. In that sense, I see no conflict at all between nationalism and scientific internationalism.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #82 January 26th, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Scott #78:

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…)

Anonymous Snowflake Says:

Comment #113 January 26th, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Only now I realize how far the left-wing propaganda has led me to misunderstand Trump’s government directives. Our new president merely acknowledges the brain drain problem which is severely affecting great nations such as Iran and Mexico, and has consequently decided to take drastic steps to help these new friends out.

He of course realizes that this is going to affect the US economic and scientific landscape, but it is a price he is willing to pay to ensure the prosperity of these countries. A true and generous world leader we should all follow in his quest to make America, and the world, a better place!

The liberal rhetoric and the media of course prefer to paint another picture — that of Trump’s supporters’ racism and his attempt to please them — but we know very well how much the media is to be trusted and how absurd this picture is.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #130 January 26th, 2017 at 10:09 pm

AS #113,

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #131 January 26th, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Abel #120,

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?

Vadim P. Says:

Comment #86 January 26th, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Boldmug #61, why shouldn’t we want Iranian-Americans voting in our elections? I’m originally from the USSR, which was somewhere between incredibly corrupt and ridiculously corrupt. I certainly wouldn’t want Soviet-style government in the US. Actually, getting away from that was one of the biggest reasons for coming here. People who are abandoning their home country to start completely new lives somewhere else generally don’t want to bring the worst parts of their old country with them. We want their best, their brightest, and the ones so disillusioned with their government that they’d willingly relocate to The Great Satan. Academics, of all people, are good at seeing through their respective governments’ bullshit.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #132 January 26th, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Vadim #86,

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #144 January 27th, 2017 at 7:47 am

Boldmug #130:

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.

You know, I actually like the modern world.

I say that as someone who’s far from blind to its drawbacks—in fact, as someone who just two years ago was subjected to massive online denunciations for suggesting that the courtship norms of his great-grandparents’ time might have led to less misery, in some respects and for some people, than the norms in force now. But all things considered, I don’t want to return to my great-grandparents’ shtetl. Even if I’m “optimized” for that world, I prefer to work to fix the problems with this one. I like the Internet, I like seedless watermelons, I like the historically-low levels of violence that Steven Pinker documents in The Better Angels of Our Nature, I like legal rights for gays and blacks and women, I like my Iranian colleagues, I like being part of a global scientific enterprise. The fact that turning back the ratchet of the Enlightenment seems likely to be impossible—despite the best efforts of history’s Hitlers and Trumps—for me is mitigated by the fact that it wouldn’t be desirable either.

Scott Says:

###Comment #146 January 27th, 2017 at 9:05 am

Free Style #93 and YekNafar #118: I didn’t think this thread was the place for yet another long argument about Zionism. But OK…

For me, before 1948, Zionism meant the belief that the tiny population that had produced Einstein, Bohr, Born, von Neumann, Bethe, Ehrenfest, Cantor, Jacobi, Noether, Hadamard, Minkowski, Hausdorff, Tarski, Erdös, and Ulam, but which the rest of the world tended to murder at every possible opportunity, should probably have a place to protect it from being murdered; that it might as well be the tiny sliver of land that they were indigenous to, had maintained a continuous presence in for millennia despite multiple conquests and expulsions, and had prayed the whole time they’d eventually return to; that resettlement of that place would need to be via voluntary purchases of land and “win-win” economic cooperation with all its inhabitants and neighbors, with the aim being to build a democratic society that, while it existed to protect a particular population from being murdered, would be open to all religions and ethnicities as well. In the wake of the Holocaust, the UN formally agreed with this, when it created two states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab—a proposal that decent people of all backgrounds and political persuasions still support today. (Over the past two days, I’ve been delighted to learn how many of my Iranian friends and colleagues support it.)

Unfortunately, the local Arab leadership, much of which had enthusiastically allied itself with Hitler (and supported his Final Solution) during World War II, then launched multiple wars of extermination against the Jewish part of Palestine. Facing absurd odds, Israel successfully repelled those attacks, while also absorbing 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries, expulsions that produced no outcry from anyone. But the constant battle to survive changed Israel’s own character, eventually turning it into an occupying power itself, a situation that many of us who believe in the original Zionist vision abhor and want to see reversed.

But regardless of where one stands on that question, today “Zionism” simply means the belief that a currently-existing albeit imperfect country, which happens to be a scientific and technological powerhouse, should not be destroyed and its current inhabitants murdered or expelled, any more than the same should happen to the US, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, or the countless other countries whose creation displaced earlier inhabitants in orders-of-magnitude less morally defensible ways than was the case here.

Or to put it differently: Zionism is the philosophy without which perhaps 30% of my theoretical computer science colleagues wouldn’t exist, their families having been murdered. My wife is among that 30%.

So, if you read the Jan. 27th update to this post—about how my interest is in the safety and welfare of the actual scientists and thinkers (of whatever backgrounds) who I actually meet, rather than in destroying the world’s current scientific talent pool in a cleansing fire, in order to recreate it along more utopian lines—you’ll see why Zionism is simply a logical consequence of my more fundamental commitments. In fact it’s a consequence of exactly the same commitments that lead me to support my Iranian students today.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #153 January 27th, 2017 at 11:51 am

Scott,

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #172 January 27th, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Boldmug #153: So what you want is a world that has many of the same benefits of modernity that we enjoy today, but in which the world wars never happened? Well, it’s hard to argue with that desire, but what’s its relevance to any of the questions we face now, like whether to support demagogues whose whole promise to voters is to turn back the ratchet of human progress?

Or do you want modernity, except with new Victorian houses being built, and eugenics or selective breeding to produce savants? In that case, I’d suggest that you simply argue directly for the things you consider to be good, even if it feels like participating in the democratic process. I promise to stand up for your right to do that, and even for your right to do that while also giving technical talks at LambdaConf. Just one piece of unsolicited advice: 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. (Trump “won” that way, but only by promising older white people a return to a past that they remembered. If the past that you want ever existed at all, no one remembers it anymore.)

There’s just one remark in your latest comment that I found deeply unfair:

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.

I love this country, or at least everything in it that sides with Lincoln rather than Jefferson Davis. And as I said in #165, I consider recruiting the best science students from around the world to be a straightforwardly nationalistic, pro-American policy. If I weren’t a patriot, why would I care that much if the best students went somewhere else and helped make that other place the next superpower?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #181 January 27th, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Scott:

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.

Boldmug Says:

###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…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #193 January 27th, 2017 at 10:28 pm

John Sidles,

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:

http://www.unqualified-reservations.com/American+Malvern.pdf

jim Says:

Comment #199 January 28th, 2017 at 4:28 am

Scott wrote:

“like whether to support demagogues whose whole promise to voters is to turn back the ratchet of human progress?”

This is far from being the first time that the ratchet of human progress has been ratcheting along.

Taking the long view of history, the ratchet of human progress has a striking tendency to end in terror, mass murder, and economic collapse, as for example the Populares of Rome. Indeed, you yourself, Scott, have frequently noticed and remarked upon the dangerous intolerance of your fellow progressives.

Take a look at the activities of your fellow progressives on the streets of Washington and outside the Milo’s talk in Seattle. You will observe striking symptoms of the problems that led to past catastrophes.

When Alexander the Liberator freed the serfs, he also gave them land collectively. It is non trivial to manage land. In fact it is quite difficult. The typical serf was simply incapable of doing it. It is even harder to manage even the simplest things collectively. This led to a series of ever worsening crises, where the problems of socialism were solved with even more socialism, that ratchet of progress of which you are so fond, that eventually resulted in Alexander’s royal descendents being murdered, and then a very large proportion of the peasants also murdered, mostly those peasants that showed any competence in managing a farm.

In America, the ratchet of progress has caused the collapse of the health care system – no matter how much money you have, you cannot actually buy health insurance that will insure you against a broken leg, and when you turn up at hospital with a broken leg that your insurance does not cover, you will find in front of you one hundred drug addicts trying to get free drugs and a hundred vagrants trying to get free bed and free food.

Doubtless if Obama was still in charge, he would have fixes for this crisis, applying the ratchet of progress, much as the Tsars had fixes for the emancipated serfs on collective farms, applying the ratchet of progress. Trump is arguably letting it collapse, but it was already collapsing and collapsed before his inauguration.

Doubtless you are confident those fixes would have worked, unlike the Tsar’s fixes for collective farms, but what I saw on the streets during Trump’s inauguration gives a very different impression.

Yes, I think the people fixing our healthcare system are much the same people as were setting fire to cars in Washington, and their fixes, though more complex and expressed in vast piles of paperwork, are as well thought out and have similar consequences. In the end, their fixes for the health system rest upon “You did not build that”, the same foundation as led to those cars being torched.

You are in a bubble, and outside the bubble there is a whole raft of indicators, for example the collapse of the family, that the ratchet of human progress is having bad consequences that will shortly lead to far worse consequences.

jim Says:

Comment #200 January 28th, 2017 at 5:03 am

The alliance between the Populares and the Samnites much resembles the alliance between the Democratic party and the Muslim brotherhood, and the alliance between the State Department and Al Qaeda.

The Populares wanted a better and fairer Roman Empire in which subject peoples like the Samnites were better treated. The Samnites wanted to level the walls of Rome, kill every Roman male, and enslave every Roman woman.

Bran Says:

Comment #219 January 28th, 2017 at 4:47 pm

John Sidles #211:

That estimable organization “Our World In Data” provides abundant objective evidence that (in a nutshell) Scott is right.

We have technological progress in medicine, which Boldmug has acknowledged. (Though, if you account for infant mortality, historical mortality rates are actually not so bad.)

However, you are failing to address Boldmug’s central claim: that we have a ratchet of technological progress inside a ratchet of social and political decay. No amount of technocratic triumphalism about technology and medicine is an adequate response to this claim.

It is necessary to address the social and political decay thesis on its own merits, but this would quickly reveal the prevalence of received wisdom on that subject, because mathematically and technologically talented people tend to outsource their moral thinking (often to horrible ideologues who would persecute them if given a chance).

Your examples of modern success are interesting ones. Switzerland, for all your admiration of its healthcare, is still relatively ethnically homogeneous, and it banned construction of new minarets on mosques in 2009, which is more extreme that anything Trump has proposed. Evidently, the Swiss know something that you and our host haven’t figured out yet.

If moral progress is allowed to have its way, then Switzerland and the Netherlands will move on from their happy, homogeneous, racist pasts, and advance to the blissful state of France, Belgium, Sweden, and the UK, at which point they will enjoy events like the Paris attacks, Molenbeek, and the Rotherham scandal.

As for the Quakers, we view them as basically normal enlightened people, because our values are descended from theirs. And now these descendants have low fertility rates: from Quaker to Shaker. If historical Quakers, Puritans, and other Protestants could see the consequences of their own ideas, they would have rushed off to Rome to kiss the Pope’s ring.

If a historical Quaker could see modern progress, his only response would be “kill it! kill it with fire!”

Someday it would be nice to see someone address arguments like Boldmug’s on their own merits, without constantly getting distracted by technological triumphalism. To pass the Turing test of him, and of Trump supporters, it is necessary to stop handwaving about some isolated metric in technology, medicine, or “GDP”, and take a critical look at moral progress and its darker social and political consequences (e.g. Rotherham, Paris attacks, crime, bureaucracy, democracy, culture wars, destruction of the family, and leftist ideological persecution, to name just a few examples).

Modernity would be a much nicer place if those things weren’t problems, no? So if they seem to be problems, then this is evidence of problems with modernity. We need to update on those problems and see how far they go, but I don’t see people updating, I see handwaving, scoffing, and cognitive dissonance. Can’t we do better than this?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #229 January 28th, 2017 at 7:05 pm

John Sidles,

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.)

Boldmug Says:

Comment #230 January 28th, 2017 at 7:14 pm

in Eurasia since Genghis Khan

No, that’s forgetting the Taiping Rebellion:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #231 January 28th, 2017 at 7:28 pm

“The basic idea is this: for those of our Iranian colleagues who wish to stay in the US, we can force the Trump thugs to literally drag them out kicking and screaming, creating a visual spectacle for the world. Like, imagine if Maryam Mirzakhani, the world’s first female Fields Medalist and a Stanford professor, were escorted onto a plane in handcuffs by ICE agents. How much play would that get on CNN? How many YouTube views?”

I’m afraid the straightforward sentiment you’re describing here, which I can only read as eminent scientists should be above the law, will play very well on CNN and not very well at all among the deplorables.

It’s unclear how someone who believes in democracy can simultaneously believe that Stanford should be above it. Or at least, above the law. Stanford is a very good university — well, like the curate’s egg, many parts of it are good — but above the law?

Even when (as in this case) you are substantively right on what the government should do, asserting the power to implement this decision (either by ignoring the law, or by overriding it) is an assertion of sovereignty. Who then is Stanford accountable to? Why do we have elections at all?

If you feel that a law has been violated, of course, sue. My understanding is that the law in this case is quite clear.

Bran Says:

Comment #232 January 28th, 2017 at 7:56 pm

Mateus Araújo #223

Nonsense. Let’s take a look at Switzerland’s demographics.

– 8.1 million people – 1.9 million permanent residents, but mostly from European countries (1.6 million) like Germany, Italy, and Portugal. – 80k African, 70k Turk, less than 1% each – Sri Lankans, who you mention, are 27k (0.3%) – 5% Muslim (keep in mind this includes European Muslim groups like Bosnians) – 70% Christian

Switzerland is heavily European and Christian. It’s main diversity is between different groups of white Europeans. If you go back a decade, it would be even more white and Christian.

Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries are often trotted out as evidence of success of democracy, healthcare, or socialism. Unlike the US, these countries have been highly ethnically homogeneous. As these countries get more diverse, and more Islamic, they have increasing levels of terrorism and instability. France, Germany, and Sweden are a good representation of where this is all going.

As for the Swiss minaret ban, if Trump cracked down on minarets in the US, it would be viewed as a violation of religious freedom. That’s why I say that’s it’s more extreme than his approach.

European countries have been coasting on their homogeneous European and Christian human capital, but now that this is changing, they are crashing and burning, yet our educated class responds to this with cavalierness and endless dishonest nitpicking. If they won’t address what is going in the world, then it’s no surprise when the lower-class masses—the ones who disproportionately bear the cost of social experiments and crime—take things into their own hands.

Out of all the progressives who think that Trump’s supporters are “unthinking populists,” or something like that, how many of them have even heard of Rotherham and spent any time thinking about it? Because I can assure you that Bannon has spent a long time thinking about it, and Breitbart readers are quite aware of the disasters occurring in Europe. We are all living in two different realities.

I realize this comment is going to inflame some people here, but if you feel like I am trolling, then perhaps this discussion is already too polarized. You guys are stunned by recent events: by the rise of Trump and his policies. You are trying to make sense of it. Several people in this thread are providing additional context, in which the worldviews of Trump, Bannon, etc… make more sense. Either you can appreciate that, consider it, and engage in a real dialogue with us, or you can double-down, shoot the messenger, accuse us of being in a bubble, and engage in tedious and off-base nitpicking.

From the standpoint of your own goals, you either need to figure out how to crush Trump’s faction (attempts at which have catapulted him into the presidency), or you need to need to negotiate with it. Either way, you need to understand why the right believes what it believes. This is going to mean considering the criticisms towards open borders, free trade, and eventually yes, the Enlightenment. And it’s going to mean observing the actual consequences of leftist policies, which are galvanizing the right.

Right now, essentially two halves of the the country can’t talk to each other because our educated classes consider it too icky to think through what the other side is saying—and because we have seedless watermelons. This situation is pretty dumb, isn’t it?

Scott Says:

Comment #240 January 28th, 2017 at 11:06 pm

Boldmug #231: No, I don’t endorse the proposition “eminent scientists should be above the law.” I do endorse some other propositions. For example: “regimes are judged by history in large part by how they treated their eminent scientists.” And: “if an injustice affects millions of people, but we need to pick a few to make the injustice more salient, then we might as well include eminent scientists, or others whose achievements make their value to the world and/or to the nation that hosts them beyond dispute.” Thus: Einstein for the Nazis, Sakharov for the Soviets, etc.

Scott Says:

Comment #258 January 29th, 2017 at 11:23 am

Boldmug #181: I’ll respond to some of your other points when I have time, but for now—

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? Yes, actually. I read Slavery as a Positive Good by John C. Calhoun. I found the arguments there sort of pathetic, a letdown, as in: “so this is the best case that this immense losing side of human history has to offer for itself? seriously?”

But maybe I simply wasn’t reading the right book. Mr. Yarvin, since you’re an acknowledged expert on this subject: which Confederate books should I read in order to find the truly solid and rigorous pro-slavery arguments? (Note that I’m not interested in defenses of the Confederacy that sidestep the slavery issue—only the real deal.)

Scott Says:

Comment #260 January 29th, 2017 at 11:41 am

Incidentally, Boldmug #181 and Bran #219: Yes, I’ve long had precisely the feeling of living my life in a ratchet of scientific progress that’s inside a larger ratchet of political decay. From where I stand, however, Trump’s election just enormously accelerated the decay. If science gets decimated in the near future because of events in the larger political ratchet, is there any serious doubt that Trump will be the cause?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #267 January 29th, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Scott #240:

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 fckery (if you think Washington is normally fcked, 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.

Scott Says:

Comment #271 January 29th, 2017 at 2:40 pm

Boldmug #267: So your unparalleled historical erudition, which was looking for precisely such things, failed to turn up any evidence of Alexandria’s intellectuals shitting all over its non-intellectuals (in order to provoke Ptolemy’s expulsion of the intellectuals), but you assume that must have happened regardless? Do you realize how circular this seems to someone not marinated in your worldview?

My experience has been that bullies don’t need any justification to make life miserable for nerds. Why should I imagine things were different in 145BC?

Scott Says:

Comment #275 January 29th, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Also, Boldmug #267: I consider my intellectual tradition to be that of (the early) Bertrand Russell, who visited the Soviet Union shortly after it was founded and wrote a scathing critique of what he saw, breaking with his friends in the British intelligentsia and correctly predicting much of what would happen later. If you peruse the archives of this blog, you’ll find me constantly getting into arguments with people who, in my view, belong to the intellectual tradition that fell for the Soviet line and would fall for it again.

In my view, there are at least two overwhelming reasons to oppose Communism: its own inherent badness, and the fascism that it inevitably provokes on the other side.

(Likewise, in response to an earlier comment above: I wrote an unequivocal condemnation here of the PC attitudes that had allowed Rotherham, well before the white nationalists who use Rotherham as their rallying cry had taken over the world. It amazes me when people can’t see that the effort to cover such things up is not only immoral, but will inevitably lead to a monstrous, cataclysmic backlash.)

Boldmug Says:

Comment #276 January 29th, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Scott #258:

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 batsht as fck. 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:

http://history.furman.edu/~benson/docs/seward.htm https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth498862/

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:

https://archive.org/details/originoflatewart00luntge

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:

https://books.google.com/books?id=mgITAAAAYAAJ

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:

https://www.amazon.com/Roll-Jordan-World-Slaves-Made/dp/0394716523

https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/about-this-collection/

http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/nozick_slave.html

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #277 January 29th, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Scott #271:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #278 January 29th, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Scott #275:

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…

Scott Says:

Comment #283 January 29th, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Boldmug #278: According to Ray Monk’s biography, what happened late in Russell’s life is that his personal secretary, Ralph Schoenman, started issuing proclamations in Russell’s name praising every tin-pot murdering Communist dictator he could find, and Russell was too weak or too senile to put a stop to it. But, yes, notwithstanding the senility, this is a permanent stain on Russell’s name, and is the reason why I specified the early Russell.

But there is a philosophy that the early Russell believed in, and that I believe in too, that’s a relative neither of fascism or Communism but is consistently against both. You can call this philosophy “classical Enlightenment liberalism” if you want, but the name doesn’t matter much: what’s important is that it’s the philosophy whose overriding obsessions are free speech, a free press, democratic norms, equal treatment under the law, checks on those in power, the possibility of being wrong, the importance of facts and reason in public discourse, and respect for science (not this or that perversion of science but the real thing). To varying degrees, this was the philosophy of Spinoza, J S Mill, the founders of the US, and the abolitionists. And I think this philosophy, and the other things it enabled, have been responsible for nearly all the improvement of the human condition that there’s been in the past 400 years, while as far as I know, being responsible for zero of the atrocities. I recommend it.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #284 January 29th, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Scott #283:

“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.)

Boldmug Says:

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:

https://status451.com/2017/01/20/days-of-rage/

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.

Bran Says:

Comment #290 January 29th, 2017 at 9:12 pm

(Still have a post that is detained in the spam filter. If you could liberate it, I would appreciate it.)

Scott,

What about the French Revolution? The Terror? Was the French Revolution not the logical consequence of Enlightenment philosophy? The Terror? Or do we say that the Enlightenment has never been tried?

Modern nerds are brought up to believe that the Enlightenment is the best thing since sliced bread, and they heavily invest their self-image in it. But if you were to ask observers such as Henry Maine, Joseph De Maistre, or Thomas Carlyle, they would not have such a rosy view of the Enlightenment.

For their perspective, it would look as is popular government turned the world upside-down. The French Revolution. The Napoleonic Wars. Nationalism (remember, nationalism was a left-wing concept joined at the hip to the Enlightenment ideas about popular sovereignty and the leader ruling for the benefit of “the people” in “the nation”). Total war and nationalism destroy Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Communism, with it’s own terror. If you compare communism and Nazism to the French Revolutionaries and Napoleon’s regime, you will notice an amazing amount of parallels.

From the anti-Enlightenment standpoint, it was popular government, “rights” and “liberty” which opened this Pandora’s box of chaos. From this standpoint, the Enlightenment has a lot of blood on its hands. And these same ideals are justifying policies that result in mass sexual violence such as in Rotherham. All of this stuff is cladistically connected.

Bran Says:

Comment #316 January 30th, 2017 at 2:08 pm

(Attempting to repost something that got stuck in spam.)

Scott, thanks for pointing out your previous comment on Rotherham. It is nice someone taking an honest look at those events.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Rotherham scandal was when 1,400 lower-class British girls were molested by immigrants, mostly Pakistani. The police were getting reports, but they covered it up for years out of fear of being racially insensitive. Eventually it got blown open and was all over the British media, but barely reported in the US outside of Breitbart. The government commissioned investigations and discovered horrific torture of these girls, such as dousing them in gasoline to terrify them out of reporting their rape. And Rotherham isn’t alone: similar events are happening in other cities with large Muslim populations.

Scott, you are taking a principled stance by opposing the coverup of Rotherham. It also makes a lot of sense that you advocate an immigration policy that favors industrious people who are compatible with Western liberal values. You are also correct to point out the irony of progressives and feminists railing against “rape apologists” among white men, and then turning a blind eye to some of the most terrifying examples of rape around, as long as the rapists are non-white and vote to the left. You predicted that backlash would come, a lot of other people did, too, and oh boy, were you correct on that one.

Let’s be clear about what the stakes are: If we continue to see episodes of mass sexual violence towards native women by Muslim immigrants, and terrorist attacks, then there will be an increasing likelihood of violent reprisals by the natives. This could spark a full-on sectarian war with Muslims, who have a reputation for retaliating globally for local insults (see the Free Palestine riots in France). This puts countries at the risk of a civil war. Take a look at the breakup of Yugoslavia to see how this could look.

In the event of sectarian conflict, it would be a humanitarian disaster that quickly eclipses all supposed gains of immigration. Either the non-elite natives get ethnically cleansed, or the immigrants do. This needs to be accounted for when calculating the expected value of immigration: we need to include the bad scenarios, not just the rosy ones. Let’s try to avoid this future.

Utilitarians are fine with accepting the negative externalities of mass immigration as collateral damage, but not everyone shares their view. Whenever the open borders crowd starts trivializing the rates of immigrant crime, whenever they present an increase in terrorism and rape as an acceptable cost of diversity, consider how this sounds to everyone else.

I think you can agree that if we dropped the entire male population of Somalia into New York city, it would have negative expected value (and cause a ton of crime, collapse of social services, and rape). The difference between you and Bannon is that Bannon believes that we have already hit the point of negative marginal utility of mass immigration from Muslim countries and Mexico.

You may think that he is wrong, but after looking at Rotherham, can anyone say that he is crazy? Obviously, the first priority of Trump’s team is to tighten the borders and stop the slide of the US towards the constant terror attacks, mass rape, and riots that are now occurring in Europe. That’s the big picture here.

For a more quantitative picture of Muslim immigration, see this excellent article cataloguing their differences in values with the West, along with disproportionate crime rates, sexual assault rates, and welfare usage. Most of the data comes from news, government publications, and Pew surveys.

Of course, PhDs and green-card holders get stiffed. I hope that the Trump administration fixes that soon (many observers believe that he is making an opening move and will relax his policy later). I understand why you object to the consequences for science and why you want an immigration policy that focuses on high human capital immigrants with compatible values.

But keep in mind that your ideal immigration and assimilation policy is currently a fantasy, at least in relation to Muslim countries. No European country has figured out how to construct such a policy, which is why several of them are full of sexual assault, Sharia marches, and terrorism. If you look at the stats link I gave, the gulf between Muslim and Western opinions is gigantic. Seems like Imagine is a long ways away.

Western European immigration policies are a failure, and we know that Trump and Bannon believe this based on their statements about Merkel. They are entirely correct, but progressives haven’t figured this out yet, due to the media covering up the true extent of migrant crime, because according to the progressive ratchet, talking about it would be racist.

(Yes, some hypothetical policy could only take high human capital immigrants, but then this policy has other problems, such as strip-mining their original countries and ensure that they remain in the 3rd world.)

Until the US can figure out a way to vet Muslim immigrants successfully and create a policy for high-skilled immigrants, it’s entirely reasonable for Trump to shut down immigration from these countries until we can “figure out what’s going on.” It might seem that Trump should allow STEM professionals from Muslim countries, but even this isn’t clearcut: multiple Muslim terrorists, such as Mohammed Atta, were engineers, so a sensible vetting policy isn’t something that can come off-the-cuff.

Rather than focusing solely on the consequences for particular immigrants and the inconvenience for science, it’s important to understand the big picture behind Trump and Bannon’s policy: avoiding the US from sliding towards France, and eventually towards Yugoslavia, Brazil, or South Africa over the long-term. They believe that this goal is so important that they need to act now, and figure out the details later.

If progressives woke up to the situation in Europe, if they learned the lessons of 9/11, San Bernadino, Boston, Pulse Nightclub, etc… then they would be able to see the method to Trump’s madness and we could have a real debate. I don’t see progressives and open borders people acknowledging the externalities of immigration, and even your sensible remarks from 2015 are compartmentalized from your perspective today. The left had years to enact a more sensible immigration policy with better vetting and mandatory assimilation, but instead they decided that this was racist due to the ratchet of their ideology, and now here we are.

Unfortunately, the left benefits from mass immigration because it’s easy to buy the votes of immigrants. They have an incentive to push immigration past the point of negative marginal utility. Leftist politicians, media elites, and wealthy progressives tend to live in safe neighborhoods, so they don’t have to bear the consequences of their policies going wrong. They have no skin in the game. The more dysfunctional the immigrants are, the more social services and big government they will need, and the more virtue-signaling can occur over them. These perverse incentives distort the debate. If the left hadn’t tried to sweep events like Rotherham under the carpet, and if additional vetting and assimilation had been encouraged, then maybe we wouldn’t be in the place we are now.

Bran Says:

Comment #318 January 30th, 2017 at 2:40 pm

For a more quantitative picture of Muslim immigration, see this excellent article cataloguing their differences in values with the West, along with disproportionate crime rates, sexual assault rates, and welfare usage. Most of the data comes from news, government publications, and Pew surveys.

Of course, PhDs and green-card holders get stiffed. Many observers believe that he is making an opening move and will relax his policy later. I understand why you object to the consequences for science and why you want an immigration policy that focuses on high human capital immigrants with compatible values.

But keep in mind that your ideal immigration and assimilation policy is currently a fantasy, at least in relation to Muslim countries. No European country has figured out how to construct such a policy, which is why several of them are full of sexual assault, Sharia marches, and terrorism. If you look at the stats link I gave, the gulf between Muslim and Western opinions is gigantic. Seems like Imagine is a long ways away.

Western European immigration policies are a failure, and we know that Trump and Bannon believe this based on their statements about Merkel. They are entirely correct, but progressives haven’t figured this out yet, due to the media covering up the true extent of migrant crime, because according to the progressive ratchet, talking about it would be racist.

(Yes, some hypothetical policy could only take high human capital immigrants, but then this policy has other problems, such as strip-mining their original countries and ensure that they remain in the 3rd world.)

Until the US can figure out a way to vet Muslim immigrants successfully and create a policy for high-skilled immigrants, it’s entirely reasonable for Trump to shut down immigration from these countries until we can “figure out what’s going on.” It might seem that Trump should allow STEM professionals from Muslim countries, but even this isn’t clearcut: multiple Muslim terrorists, such as Mohammed Atta, were engineers, so a sensible vetting policy isn’t something that can come off-the-cuff. Plenty of terrorists have been on green cards.

Rather than focusing solely on the consequences for particular immigrants and the inconvenience for science, it’s important to understand the big picture behind Trump and Bannon’s policy: avoiding the US from sliding towards France, and eventually towards Yugoslavia, Brazil, or South Africa over the long-term. They believe that this goal is so important that they need to act now, and figure out the details later.

If progressives woke up to the situation in Europe, if they learned the lessons of 9/11, San Bernadino, Boston, Pulse Nightclub, etc… then they would be able to see the method to Trump’s madness and we could have a real debate. I don’t see progressives and open borders people acknowledging the externalities of immigration, and even your sensible remarks from 2015 are compartmentalized from your perspective today. The left had years to enact a more sensible immigration policy with better vetting and mandatory assimilation, but instead they decided that this was racist due to the ratchet of their ideology, and now here we are.

Unfortunately, the left benefits from mass immigration because it’s easy to buy the votes of immigrants. They have an incentive to push immigration past the point of negative marginal utility. Leftist politicians, media elites, and wealthy progressives tend to live in safe neighborhoods, so they don’t have to bear the consequences of their policies going wrong. They have no skin in the game. The more dysfunctional the immigrants are, the more social services and big government they will need, and the more virtue-signaling can occur over them. These perverse incentives distort the debate.

Mathematicians and tech businesses also lack skin in the game of national security, because they don’t have to internalize the negative externalities of mass immigration. The US could slide towards Brazil, and it would take decades for you to even notice what is happening. Then someday, there would a major terrorist attack, civil war, or ethnic cleansing, and you would wonder what happened.

I don’t necessarily expect to convince anyone here of this perspective, but take it in the spirit of helping you pass the Bannon Turing Test.

Scott Says:

Comment #320 January 30th, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Boldmug #181, one other reply: all your arguments establish is that my “American nationalism” is a fundamentally different creature from the “American nationalism” of the people who voted for Trump—an obvious and uninteresting conclusion. Nevertheless, I claim that my “nationalism”:

(1) Sees, and desires, a central and exceptional role for the United States in leading human civilization toward the ideals of the Enlightenment

(2) Believes in the furtherance of American interests and ideals around the world

(3) Can trace its intellectual lineage back to Franklin, Paine, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Lincoln

(4) Is the only kind consistent with the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the inscription on the Statue of Liberty

(5) Is supported by at least as many Americans as support Trump’s kind of nationalism, and almost certainly more

(6) Is the overwhelmingly more popular kind of “nationalism” in the parts of the US responsible for the lion’s share of the innovation and GDP

(7) Advocates policies that would lead to vastly better outcomes for most American citizens, including Trump voters, than the policies of the other kind of “nationalism”

So then why on earth should the other kind of “nationalism” get to be considered the only real kind, with exclusive use of the flag, national anthem, etc.?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #334 January 30th, 2017 at 8:16 pm

Scott #320:

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.

dameprimus Says:

Comment #340 January 30th, 2017 at 9:02 pm

@Boldmug

This has gotten impressively off topic.

I contend that banning brilliant young scientists from studying in the US because they were born in the wrong country is bad policy. There is already a tremendous amount of selection against them – the only ones that make it are the ones that a far above their peers. It’s bad for the US which benefits from their research, and I would argue that it is bad for their country of origin as well, because some students return home and their country benefits from their education and skills. If you think that banning them is good policy, I’d love to know why specifically.

Scott Says:

Comment #342 January 30th, 2017 at 9:29 pm

dameprimus #340: Yeah, I was going to say to Boldmug—if his long comments exemplify what it means to “think meta-politically,” then let me remain forever at the object level, please. 🙂

His central conceit is that, while everyone else engages in little power-plays, repeating things they read in The Economist to gain status, he alone stands above it all bemusedly, just analyzing the world as it is and not advocating any position beyond that people should read old books. Now, I don’t believe that for a nanosecond: I’d say that his comments in this very thread often betray what he wants to see happen down here in our object realm (“I can’t help admire the sight of a changing regime which appears determined to actually enforce its own laws…”). But supposing it were true, why should the rest of us pay him any more attention than birds pay an ornithologist?

Sid Says:

Comment #345 January 30th, 2017 at 11:29 pm

Boldmug #334 (and other comments as well):

You are intent on showing that Scott’s arguments are not his own, but instead that they have been absorbed from some other historical thinkers who might have had some views very different from Scott’s.

Suppose we say that that is entirely true. Are his arguments now refuted?

No.

So, please, if you want to refute an argument, then refute the argument. Don’t trace its genealogy.

Boldmug Says:

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:

http://davidmhart.com/liberty/ClassAnalysis/Books/Mosca_RulingClass1939.pdf

(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.)

Scott #342:

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?

quax Says:

Comment #349 January 31st, 2017 at 12:37 am

Boldmug, thanks for your last paragraph my eyes glazed over at the third sentence in. If nothing else at least the Nazi’s favorite intellectuals like Ernst Jünger were able to write compellingly. This is such a fascist movement of mediocrity.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #357 January 31st, 2017 at 11:52 am

quax #349,

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!

Boldmug Says:

Comment #359 January 31st, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Sid #345,

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #360 January 31st, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Scott #325,

I found your “belief in Enlightenment liberalism” right here:

https://twitter.com/ScienceMarchDC/status/825496158269227009 March for Science ‏ @ScienceMarchDC Jan 28 colonization, racism, immigration, native rights, sexism, ableism, queer-, trans-, intersex-phobia, & econ justice are scientific issues ✊🏾🌈 Retweets 1,456 Likes 3,646

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…

Scott Says:

Comment #361 January 31st, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Boldmug #360: According to Steven Pinker’s twitter feed, they took that stuff down from the science march’s website after an outcry among scientists. So maybe there’s some hope yet for enlightenment liberalism…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #364 January 31st, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Scott #361,

Sorry, you and Pinker are both misinformed:

https://www.marchforscience.com/#

“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?

Scott Says:

Comment #365 January 31st, 2017 at 1:23 pm

Boldmug #364:

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. The American Revolution?

Also, which methods have worked better? Should we pledge our loyalty to a king? If so, then can we at least have a better king than Trump? Like, maybe one with some scientific training, and some smatterings of self-doubt? (And even if so, what mechanism do you propose to ensure that the next king also has those qualities?)

And a related question: at what point, in your worldview, did human history go off the rails? Was the American Revolution a good idea, but all the subsequent developments (e.g., abolishing slavery, extending the franchise to women) mistakes? Or would you reverse the American Revolution as well? Would you stop at classical Athens, or was that already too enlightenment-y?

quax Says:

Comment #368 January 31st, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Boldmug #349 look at that, you can at least write like a normal human being. Well done!

And yes I read some Jünger, and unlike you I can read it in the original German. He indeed managed the astounding feat to be too conservative for the Nazis. At the beginning they really, really liked him, but you are right the love was mostly a one way street. So in his own mind he managed to retain his honour, which for conservatives of that era was really all that mattered.

His archaic world-view that he not just theorized but lived by, gave him some uncanny insights into the darker aspects of human nature, unaccessible to more idealistic thinkers.

jim Says:

Comment #370 January 31st, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Boldmug #364: “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.”

Scott: #365 “The American Revolution?”

Survivorship bias: Wait a little longer and then we will see.

It was inevitable that the branch of leftism that took the longest time to go pear shaped would wind up ruling the world, as each of the other branches self destructed.

The “March for science” is, as Boldmug says, revolutionary power, not classical enlightenment liberalism.

Anglo Saxon leftism, descended from the Unitarians, who were descended from the Evangelicals and congregationalists, who were descended from the puritans, who were descended from the Brownists, keeps changing its name, regrouping, and absorbing other religions such as Judaism, as each previous version becomes deservedly unpopular and discredited.

But in each reinvention and reincarnation, it comes closer and closer to the apocalyptic final stage leftism of the red terror of the French Revolution.

Charlie Croker Says:

Comment #371 January 31st, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Boldmug #357: Actually, Jünger’s relationship with the nazis was always rather ambivalent. He once sent one of his books to Hitler and dedicated it to “our national leader” well before Hitler became Reichschancellor of Germany. What is true is that he was never a supporter of nazism in general and rather viewed the nazis as tool that should one day enact his own policy views. This also holds for most other members of the “Conservative Revolution” movement who often thought Hitler would just abolish the Weimar republic and they would then just take over power from him. I can highly recommend Edgar Julius Jung’s “Rule of the inferior” from 1931. He was an opponent of the nazis and German democracy alike and describes the position of the “Conservative Revolution” in detail.

Scott Says:

Comment #372 January 31st, 2017 at 5:11 pm

jim #370 (and Boldmug): I don’t know if you realize just how far your comments currently are from anything that could possibly influence me to your side. For one thing, if not only Marxism and leftism, but also the enlightenment and pro-science sentiment and the American revolution (plus Judaism and many branches of Christianity…) are all terrible mistakes that need to be swept away, then what’s left? The restoration of Sparta? You seem to be describing a world with no place for me or anyone I know or anything that any of us value.

For another thing, if you put yourself in my shoes (as Boldmug urged me to put myself in Steve Bannon’s shoes), why would I fear the hypothetical revolutionary tendencies of the “March for Science” people, even one-millionth as much as I fear the people who they’re planning to march against—i.e., the ones who actually control every branch of the US government right now, and are eagerly taking an ax to the systems that support science (and much else besides)?

After all, the worst thing revolutionary leftists have ever done to me is to insult and shame me on the Internet—but right-wingers have done that to me as well! 🙂

Charlie Croker Says:

Comment #373 January 31st, 2017 at 5:12 pm

quax #368: First of all, you cannot meaningfully say that it is an “astounding feat” to be “too conservative for the nazis” because the nazis were not conservatives, neither in the 1930s meaning of that word nor the modern one. In 1930s Germany, a conservative was someone who wished to revive the Hohenzollern monarchy. Think of Paul von Hindenburg or Franz von Papen. The nazis, on the other hand, called traditional conservatives and monarchists” reactionaries” or “Bonzen” (rich bastards). They rejected monarchy, traditional religion and other main elements of past German conservatism. Many conservatives supported the nazis to get rid of the Weimar republic, but they never thought of them as conservatives.

But at the same time, Jünger was no traditional German conservative either. He also rejected the Hohenzollern monarchy, traditionalism etc. and considered himself a right-wing , anti-democratic revolutionary. Like Julius Evola, he was to much of an elitist to be a nazi or fascist, but that does not make him a conservative. Although he is considered to be a member of the “Conservative Revolution”, this is somewhat misleading because most people nowadays would see little different between that movement and fascism. Since most people don’t see a difference between old-school Prussian conservatives, fascists and nazis either, this fact is not necessarily relevant, but it highlights that the term “conservatism” meant many different things at different times.

If you proposed a renaissance of the Hohenzollern monarchy today, most people would consider you an extremist (and definitely not a conservative), although this was the mainstream position of conservatives in Germany in the 1920s.

psmith Says:

Comment #374 January 31st, 2017 at 5:21 pm

“then what’s left?”

Restore the Stuarts.

(It wasn’t a democratically elected Whig parliament that founded the Royal Society.).

Boldmug Says:

Comment #376 January 31st, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Scott #365:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #377 January 31st, 2017 at 9:16 pm

quax #368,

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitlerjunge_Quex_(film)

One can argue about old books. But surely as fellow intellectuals, we can agree that no one at all watches nearly enough old films…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #379 January 31st, 2017 at 10:30 pm

Scott #372:

“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:

https://foseti.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/on-government-employment/

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #380 January 31st, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Again and again in his comments here, Boldmug has advanced a dark but interesting thesis. Namely, that the philosophy of classical Enlightenment liberalism that I cast my lot with, the one that’s obsessed with science and free speech and error-correcting processes and democratic norms, is always just a Trojan horse, a prelude to a power-grab by violent radicals. On this view, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” is inevitably just a warmup act to the Reign of Terror, as the Russian Revolution is to Leninism, the Iranian student revolution to the takeover by the mullahs, the Arab Spring to violence and chaos and military dictatorships, etc.

And the American Revolution? Well, that one seems to have enjoyed a pretty good 240-year run, outlasting even communism and Nazism and a ruinous civil war. And if, in 2017, the American experiment might finally be finished, then it certainly wasn’t the Enlightenment faction that killed it! Our side was ready to keep the Republic alive for quite a while longer, and we could have, if not some for cruel and trivial accidents of electoral politics.

But in Boldmug’s view, insofar I understand it, 240 years differ from two months by a mere unimportant constant factor. The American revolution, too, has now finally succumbed to the same iron laws of history that did in the French and Russian revolutions, and every other attempt to apply the ideals of science and the Enlightenment to human affairs.

I see the situation differently. For me, building a robust liberal democracy is a hard and complicated engineering problem—not unlike building a transistor or a plane. Even if you know what to aim for (which is already nontrivial), if you get a tiny detail wrong you could fail. Your plane will stay aloft for a few seconds and then careen out of control; your material will either conduct electric current or not, but surely not conduct only if a smaller current is applied to its surface. Likewise a violent overthrow of a despotic regime, without extremely careful thought about what comes next, will almost certainly lead to an equally bad or worse regime filling the power vacuum, which is indeed what we’ve seen again and again.

But I’d say we’re fortunate that these observations didn’t dissuade the Wright brothers, or Bardeen and Brattain and Shockley, or the American revolutionaries! In each case, even if an engineering problem has the character of balancing a pencil on its tip, a solution might be so self-evidently desirable that it really does make sense just to work on it more and more and more until the pencil stands. Even then the pencil probably won’t stand forever, but after it falls we can do a careful postmortem, and try again to rebalance the pencil for an even longer time. What else can we do?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #381 January 31st, 2017 at 10:56 pm

Scott #372:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #383 January 31st, 2017 at 11:11 pm

Scott #380:

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #384 January 31st, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Boldmug #381: Didn’t you already point out in this thread that politics resulted in the murder of most of your and my extended families, within living memory? And is that not reason enough to care about it (as you obviously do, despite protestations to the contrary)?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #385 January 31st, 2017 at 11:25 pm

Scott 380:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #386 January 31st, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Scott #384:

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.

quax Says:

Comment #387 January 31st, 2017 at 11:39 pm

Boldmug, if you must know Pariser Tagebücher it is, and yes excerpts not all of them, other than that of course this interview.

Charlie Croker, so many words and so tentatively close when you write that “the term “conservatism” meant many different things at different times.”

I would like to add:

… and different places … and to different people

Jünger was conservative, because that’s what he called himself, and other conservatives regarded him as such. He was a conservative who experimented with LSD, and a Wehrmachts officer who took some absurd pride in having saluted a Jew marked with the yellow Star in Paris (heroism!).

He was a man of great talents and physical courage who was mostly in it for himself.

Has there ever been a term that is more malleable than “Conservatism”? There are times and places that I like to call myself a Conservative. Because I like to conserve the good things.

I just sure as hell don’t like to call myself a Conservative in the US, because everybody I know of who uses that label there sucks … hard.

quax Says:

Comment #388 February 1st, 2017 at 12:34 am

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.

Boldmug nicely describes Orwell’s Animal Farm for us. Makes sense, after all Bannon calls himself a Leninist.

Of course they will keep calling it “Land of the Free”. As in free range chicken coop. With a beautiful Trump wall all around.

Sid Says:

Comment #389 February 1st, 2017 at 12:52 am

Boldmug:

(1) On your theory, the fact that most normal people would prefer to live in countries that are at the top of the democracy index rather than countries in the bottom is stupid, correct?

(2) On your theory, the countries at the top of the index are just temporarily diseased states and will fall very soon, correct?

(3) Further, you predict that these countries will be taken over by tyrannical governments soon, correct?

(4) If you answered Yes for (3), then that’s a bold and non-trivial prediction. Can you please provide a rough time frame for such downfalls? Perhaps predict which countries will fall first, given your deep knowledge of these matters?

Bran Says: Comment #391 February 1st, 2017 at 3:15 am Imagine if the American Revolution hadn’t happened, and America was still a British colony and be ruled by a monarch. To all those who oppose Trump on the grounds of him being a demagogue and populist, wouldn’t a king or queen be better?

What is likely to select a better leader, from the standpoint of your values: succession in the British Royal family… or the readership of Breitbart.com?

Interestingly enough, the Enlightenment political tradition says that British kings are horrible tyrants, and elected leaders like Trump are better.

As H. L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Scott Says:

Comment #392 February 1st, 2017 at 4:06 am

Bran #391: You stack the deck in your hypothetical by comparing Trump only to the current British royal family, rather than to Kim Jong-Un or anyone else who claims a hereditary right to rule. In particular, England (if I’m not mistaken) has seen its share of murdering tyrants; who’s to say that the king would be mild-mannered like Prince Charles in your hypothetical universe?

But there’s maybe one point where I converge with you. Namely, taking inspiration from David Deutsch, what I really care about is not this or that particular system for aggregating votes, but the broader norms of liberal democracy—and most importantly, a tradition of criticism that’s in principle open to anyone, and that allows bad ideas to be rejected (i.e., the thing that open-source software projects have, and that we’ve had in science for 400 years).

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?

But there are many systems other than the kind of democracy we have today that could pass the test, and possibly much better than our current system does. For example, a system in which one needs to earn voting power by passing a test of basic history and economics; what I called an eigendemocracy; or some system modeled after Wikipedia or the Internet Engineering Task Force or the program committee of a scientific conference.

I don’t know. Like Scott Alexander, I’d love to see a thousand such aggregation systems tried in a thousand different micro-nations, and then maybe we’d find out which ones were most effective at weeding out bad ideas and resisting takeover by the cruel and willfully ignorant—i.e., at balancing the pencil on its point for longest.

Scott Says:

Comment #403 February 1st, 2017 at 1:15 pm

J. L. Seagull #398: I call bullshit on your numbers. Sure, only 20.6% of the country voted for Clinton, but only 19.7% voted for Trump!! Also, what source are you relying on for 60% believing in Noah’s Ark? My understanding is that the answers to such questions vary wildly depending on how they’re phrased, and that a nontrivial fraction of the country will say they believe both in evolution and in Noah’s Ark (not that that’s a logical impossibility, I suppose… 🙂 ).

But you seem to agree with me on the essential point: yes, Trump voters (or many of them) really do thirst for the destruction of the country that I think of as home, and for its replacement by what I’d consider a different, alien country within the same borders. If so, then what advice could anyone possibly give the targeted country, except “fight for your life, and try to preserve what you can”?

Of course, the irony here is that the Confederacy needs the Union vastly more than the Union needs the Confederacy. It’s our US that contains Silicon Valley and biotech firms and the universities that produce startups, and that generates the lion’s share of the GDP and the tax revenue. If Trumpland really does succeed in its goal of destroying blue America, it will be like a tapeworm that kills its host only to kill itself.

John Sidles Says:

Comment #395 February 1st, 2017 at 10:01 am

Boldmug recommends (circa #334) “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 (1943), or Mosca’s Elements of Political Science (1896).

Please let me agree with “Boldmug” that these works are worth knowing — so much so, that every senior USMC officer is familiar with both of these works, and familiar too with contemporary criticism of them. This state-of-affairs arises because of a long-standing USMC Commandant’s Guidance:

ALMAR 009-16 Guidance Commandant’s Choice books are required reading for all Marines.

(Senior Level Officer: Colonel – General)

STRATEGY: A HISTORY (2013) Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the world’s leading authorities on war and international politics, captures the vast history of strategic thinking, in a consistently engaging and insightful account of how strategy came to pervade every aspect of our lives.

Specifically, Freedman’s Strategy (2013) surveys both Gaetano Mosca and the neo-Machiavellians (p. 321-26) and James Burnham’s anti-communist worldview (p. 334-36). Freedman criticizes their work as follows:

“The [modern] role of ideas requires … a more subtle analysis than Burnham’s because the [modern] marketplace of ideas is much larger.”

Dereliction of Duty In uncritically praising theorists like Mosca and Burnham, aren’t the luminaries of alt-* deplorably derelict in civic duty by not mentioning (at least) the severe criticism their works by modern historians?

In essence, doesn’t the uncritical embrace of outdated theorists like Mosca and Burnham amount to a willfully ignorant rejection of the capacities and challenges of 21st century modernity?

Indeed Mosca’s work (of 1898) and Burnham’s work of (1943) appear only halfway through Freedman’s survey of notions of “strategy”. There’s plenty of modernity still to survey, and neither Shetl Optimized readers nor USMC officers can responsibly sanction willful ignorance of it.

Ask your doctor if your heart is strong enough … With a view toward illuminating the personal experience of modernity, here is an after-action report regarding my wife Connie’s letter to Senator McCain (comment circa #328), the writing of which was exceedingly stressful to her.

Seeking relief, Connie and I treated ourselves to an on-the-couch YouTube video-concert, specifically focussing on Leonard Cohen’s (1934-2016) song “Hallelujah” (1984). Kids, don’t try this at home! Ask your doctor if your heart is strong enough for serious romance! 🙂

YouTube hosts hundreds of versions of “Hallelujah”, sung by amateur singers and professionals alike, representing pretty much every nation, culture, class, race, gender, age, and religion.

Indeed, the philosopher Babette Babich has contributed a one-hour YouTube lecture “The Birth of k.d. lang’s ‘Hallelujah’ out of the Spirit of Music“, as presented at the The Juilliard School (Fall 2016) for Prof. Babich’ class “LARTS-395-01 Philosophy and Digital Media”. This work is reprinted in Prof. Babich’ recent book The Hallelujah Effect: Philosophical Reflections on Music, Performance Practice, and Technology (2013, Routledge Press). Prof. Babich’ thoroughgoing and often-hilarious YouTube lecture mentions Nietsche, Hegel, Derrida, Foucault (etc). Good!

The version of “Hallelujah” that Babich liked best (my wife and I like it too), is the version titled “K.D. Lang sings Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah” (at the Juno Awards in Winnepeg, 2005). Although, as a loyal Seattleite, Connie likes the bootleg recording “KD Lang Performs Amazing Version of ‘Hallelujah’ At Woodland Park Zoo 2011” even better. You compare, you decide! 🙂

In any event, the following YouTube comment concerning the Cohen/Lang performance directly addressed, better than any amount of academic theorizing, certain vital concerns regarding elements of human cognition that are deplorably absent in alt-* discourse:

Dave Organ (Bows in humility) For most of my life, I was straight-laced, unforgiving, uncompromising and very specific in my views. KD Lang started the transition with this unbelievable performance. I knew she was lesbian and I hated her for that. To my great shame, I called her “Ugly” and “Dyke”.

This incredible performance rocked me to the core; it opened my eyes to the stupidity and narrow-mindedness of my life. At 50 years of age, I’m finally starting to learn about the wonderful complexity and love of people not exactly like myself – and I’m learning how wrong I’ve been for half a century.

To learn that I have, in fact, been the thing I hated most: a bigot – shamed me so completely I’ve had to relearn and reconsider everything I’ve held “true”. 🙂

( 🙂 as in the original).

In a nutshell Vital elements that are notably lacking in alt-* cognition — as evident in comments here on Shtetl Optimized and elsewhere — can be remediated to good effect by sustained therapeutic exposure to a modernist regimen of Lawrence Freedman’s history, Babette Babich’s philosophy, Leonard Cohen’s poetry, and kd lang’s singing.

J.L.Seagull Says:

Comment #398 February 1st, 2017 at 11:50 am

@Scott #396: Since you asked…. if you want to know Trump’s actual plan, I would point you to what Pat Buchanan has written on this subject. You are speaking a bit naively about “the destruction of []our country,” but Trump really is quite possibly aiming for the destruction of YOUR country, in order to save quite another country entirely that exists within the US borders.

Perhaps people don’t realize how urgent this is. Only 20.6% of Americans actively voted for Clinton. Meanwhile, 60% of America believes in a 6-day creation and Noah’s Ark. Some of that 60% are doing their best to appreciate the multicultural vision of the future, but others believe that the intellectual class has left them behind and really do hope for their destruction. And they do feel like their increasing despair is being actively ignored, even the minorities among them.

Anyway, I recognize that this is not a political blog and I didn’t mean to make things sound so apocalyptic and hopeless, but the fact of the matter is that voters sent Trump to go pierce a bubble, and it may be painful to realize how limited the power of the 20.5% really is. At best, you may be dealing with visas slowly expiring instead of being revoked.

Scott Says:

Comment #403 February 1st, 2017 at 1:15 pm

J. L. Seagull #398: I call bullshit on your numbers. Sure, only 20.6% of the country voted for Clinton, but only 19.7% voted for Trump!! Also, what source are you relying on for 60% believing in Noah’s Ark? My understanding is that the answers to such questions vary wildly depending on how they’re phrased, and that a nontrivial fraction of the country will say they believe both in evolution and in Noah’s Ark (not that that’s a logical impossibility, I suppose… 🙂 ).

But you seem to agree with me on the essential point: yes, Trump voters (or many of them) really do thirst for the destruction of the country that I think of as home, and for its replacement by what I’d consider a different, alien country within the same borders. If so, then what advice could anyone possibly give the targeted country, except “fight for your life, and try to preserve what you can”?

Of course, the irony here is that the Confederacy needs the Union vastly more than the Union needs the Confederacy. It’s our US that contains Silicon Valley and biotech firms and the universities that produce startups, and that generates the lion’s share of the GDP and the tax revenue. If Trumpland really does succeed in its goal of destroying blue America, it will be like a tapeworm that kills its host only to kill itself.

quax Says:

Comment #407 February 1st, 2017 at 2:33 pm

John Sidles, ##395, thank you for beautifully highlighting the fundamental deficiency of the alt-*

Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit.

grendelkhan Says:

Comment #409 February 1st, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Boldmug #385 has started to make some factual claims. Well, also in #67. Probably some places in between. While the reaction that can fail is not the true reaction, they deserve to be examined.

Crime in the UK in 1800 was not a fiftieth of what it is today; see the anti-reactionary FAQ section 1.3 as well as “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and any other study of long-term trends in homicide you care to name. (Most crimes didn’t involve the authorities, so you can’t reliably count anything but murder.) The results are even more impressive than they look; cities are more violent than the countryside, but homicide has declined even as urbanization has proceeded.

“they don’t dare push it back even to 1950”? Why stop there, since we’re keen on pre-Industrial Revolution systems? Go back to the Middle Ages, where living on a farm in the sticks was more dangerous than living in Caracas is today, and tell me about how wonderful the past was.

Technology is more complex, supply chains are distributed, efficiencies are far, far higher, and we’re at least ten times as wealthy (likely more in the first world). Trying to achieve modern quality of life with old-timey organization is incredibly difficult. So no, you couldn’t plunk down the Americans of 1917 and expect them to run the America of 2017 handily.

Also, the employment-population ratio has been steadily recovering since the Great Recession; news to the contrary fails to adjust for age, i.e., Boomers are retiring.

The dank-truths schtick was charming pre-2013, but when you get popular, people look into your exciting claims, and when they turn out to be generally exaggerated, inadequate or just plain wrong, it kind of saps the mystique from your “Ancient Neocameralist Red Dragon” MtG card.

jim Says:

Comment #413 February 1st, 2017 at 7:55 pm

Scott 380 “the philosophy of classical Enlightenment liberalism that I cast my lot with, the one that’s obsessed with science and free speech and error-correcting processes and democratic norms,”

You are late to the party. It was not classic Enlightenment liberalism that set Ferguson, America’s health care system, and the Middle East on fire.

Rather it was “You did not build that”. Power is in the hands of people who smash the old expecting to immanentize the Eschaton by so doing.

The terrorists, Saul Alinksy and Bill Ayers, are already in charge, and in due course they will send a tumbrel to take you to the guillotine. The election of Trump will merely buy you a little more time, unless he makes himself King, to be succeeded by his sons.

When the Warren court had the inner cities ethnically cleansed of whites, this was the equivalent of Alexander the liberator “liberating” the serfs into collective farms – equivalent in starting the actual violence that culminates in the red terror of the French Revolution.

Classic Enlightenment Liberalism is doctrine of Locke, which holds that government should protect life, liberty, and property. Compare and contrast with Ferguson and Obamacare. Is Obamacare classical liberalism? Scientific? Error correcting? Rather it was the act of a Ferguson arsonist who thought that the owner of the old supermarket “did not build that”, but rather the building was created by magic, and who expects after he burns the supermarket to the ground it will be magically replaced by a new supermarket staffed by black people who allow shoplifting.

Good intentions failed because of magical thinking, and it is going to be politically difficult for anyone, including Trump, to create a health care system that does not rely on magic, because magic is so popular. Trump knows what is needed, but that is a third rail that even one so fearless as he may fear to touch.

Classic liberalism would be wonderful if everyone was IQ 130 and up, but the masses need throne and altar, or they are just going to screw everything up and set everything on fire. This is more obvious in the middle east, where IQs are a little lower – compare the successful monarchies like Jordan and Dubai with any attempt at Middle Eastern democracy – for example our efforts in Iraq. Elections in the Middle East produce outcomes so disastrous that there is seldom a second election. Reflect on the Algerian election which was won by the Islamic equivalent of the Khmer Rouge.

Democracy is apt to instantly self destruct in low IQ nations. High IQ nations are not, however, immune.

For classic liberalism to be stable and workable and not degenerate into the red terror of the French Revolution, you need a certain intelligence level. The smarter the population, the more workable classic liberalism. The population was not smart enough in the nineteenth century. Even less is it smart enough now.

People need throne and altar, throne to prevent destructive struggles for political power, altar to tell ordinary people how to live happy and productive lives. Maybe you are smart enough that you don’t need an official government backed priesthood preaching monogamy and chastity backed by police officially enforcing official church morality, but how does your sex life compare with that of your grandfather, who probably married a virgin at a young age and had half a dozen kids?

jim Says:

Comment #414 February 1st, 2017 at 8:16 pm

“Crime in the UK in 1800 was not a fiftieth of what it is today; see the anti-reactionary FAQ section 1.3 as well as ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ ”

As evidence of high crime levels in nineteenth century, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” reports Victorians becoming shocked and alarmed at an outbreak of what we now call muggings. If memory serves me, becoming shocked and alarmed about one mugging in the city of London per month. A truly intolerable crime wave.

Victorians had to coin a new word to describe this crime.

##jim Says:

Comment #416 February 1st, 2017 at 8:33 pm

“Trying to achieve modern quality of life with old-timey organization is incredibly difficult.”

Dubai is a modern twenty first century state with modern twenty first century quality of life, ruled by a theocratic monarchy similar to the Throne and Altar governments that Europe generally enjoyed during the eighteenth century. Works a whole lot better than the non monarchic part of the Middle East.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #418 February 1st, 2017 at 9:25 pm

grendelkhan #409:

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…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #420 February 1st, 2017 at 9:32 pm

grendelkhan #409,

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:

https://books.google.com/books?id=kaelVuyDq20C

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #422 February 1st, 2017 at 9:47 pm

Scott #393:

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!

Boldmug Says:

Comment #423 February 1st, 2017 at 9:49 pm

Sid #390,

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #424 February 1st, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Scott #393,

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”?

https://www.rhyolite.com/anti-spam/you-might-be.html

I think there should be a similar checklist for “quis custodiet ipsos custodes”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quis_custodiet_ipsos_custodes%3F

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #426 February 1st, 2017 at 11:08 pm

Scott #393:

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.

jim Says:

Comment #431 February 2nd, 2017 at 3:18 am

John Sidles Says: “Comment #395 “In uncritically praising theorists like Mosca and Burnham, aren’t the luminaries of alt-* deplorably derelict in civic duty by not mentioning (at least) the severe criticism their works by modern historians?”

Modern historians emit unremitting and unvarying totalitarian boilerplate, monotonous in their dreary shrill fanatical political extremism and their piously Orwellian language.

This becomes apparent if you read works written by participants in the events that modern historians describe (what Moldbug called slow history), and look up modern accounts of these events.

History gets revised ever more abruptly at ever shorter intervals.

By modern standards, every single person in our recent past was unthinkably right wing – Obama against gay marriage in 2008, Obama pausing Muslim immigration in 2011. So of course everyone around the time of George the fourth was super duper ultra hyper right wing. Now how do you think a modern historian is going to describe someone who is super duper ultra hyper right wing?

He is going to describe him rather differently from the people who were there and lived the experience. This really should not surprise you.

Sniffnoy Says:

Comment #435 February 2nd, 2017 at 3:56 am

Boldmug #424:

The problem with your eigendemocracy, as with Hanson’s futarchy, is that it doesn’t account for the feedback cycle between knowledge and power.

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. I agree with you that this problem of power corrupting science is a common problem with epistocracy-style proposals, but I’m not seeing it for futarchy.

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!

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. (Let’s not forget the periodical articles on “Here’s a list of things economists almost all agree we should do, but that no major candidate dares suggest!”) I am pretty doubtful of your claim here.

Meanwhile, over on the corporate side of the fence, we have a perfectly reliable, proven mechanism for incredibly responsible and efficient management.

I don’t think we do, actually. As best I can tell, most companies work terribly, and failure to assign responsibility like you claim is part of that. I think the problem here is the human hierarchical instinct — not hierarchical organizational structure, mind you, which is just a useful structure, but the hierarchical instinct that takes this structure and warps from its proper functioning it into something where those higher in the hierarchy are considered better in all ways and thus avoid responsibility for the problems they cause. There’s exceptions, of course, but how long do they last before decaying back to this? Seems to me it’s only competition that keeps it working. If you actually had such a mechanism — one that could resist decay over time — I think you could solve a lot of the world’s problems by getting people to implement it. But what we already have is not it.

jim Says:

Comment #436 February 2nd, 2017 at 4:23 am

grendelkhan Says: Comment #419

But let’s stick to the facts, as best we can. Here (p. 99, Table 1), it looks like murder rates were about equivalent in the late Victorian period and in the 1975-1994 period;

Homicides are not necessarily an indicator of your ability to let children wander off to do the shopping.

I don’t care what your statistics say. How does he know how many murders? He was not there. I have seen so much history of our past radically falsified at frequent and ever shortening intervals. And supposing his statistics are true, maybe they were criminals taking care of their own, or wives taking care of mistresses, not criminals predating on random passers by.

I read what people who lived then wrote, and this sort of danger was not part of their world the way it is part of the modern world.

Random predation, as for example Jack the Ripper, was extremely rare in Victorian times, so much so that they found such incidents extraordinary and they became legendary, while we scarcely notice them, treating them as routine background noise, as for example the Green River murders. The Green river killer a lot more people a lot more recently than Jack the Ripper, but you are going to have to look up the Green River killer. His killings were lost in the background noise.

Every incident of random predation in Victorian times was an extraordinary and major incident, major incidents being remembered to the present day. Any twentieth century data that supposedly shows crime rates are similar is simply unbelievable, for when we read the writings of the people who lived at the time, it is clear that genuinely dangerous crime against random people in the street was rare and really big news.

It often happened that a shoplifter stole something, he and the shopkeeper got into a fight, and somebody got killed. But you did not have gangs sticking up the shopkeeper. Crime was furtive and evasive. Criminals got in trouble, but did not proudly march down the middle of the street like the lord of all creation looking for trouble the way they do today.

People, in Victorian times, were ashamed to be criminals and felt bad about it.

Scott Says:

Comment #438 February 2nd, 2017 at 5:13 am

Boldmug #424: Yes, I do have some experience by now with the underbelly of academic science. My experience has basically been this: there are the people who think like scientists, and then there are the people who think like bureaucrats. As you move higher up the administrative ladder, from the active researchers to department heads to deans to provosts and presidents and NSF bigwigs, not surprisingly the proportion of bureaucrats increases. But even at the highest levels, you can still clearly see the people who think like scientists—as, conversely, you can also see the people who think like bureaucrats even at the lowest levels. (You also, of course, see the mixed cases: the ones who are torn, Gollum-like, between their scientist half and their bureaucrat half.)

The people who think like scientists at the high levels are the ones who are constantly asking: “how can I work around the rules, in order to bring in the best people and support the best research? what are the researchers telling me they need, and what do I need to do to make that happen?” They’re never asking: “which actual productive scientist can I find today to punish for a small rule violation—or what I’ll interpret as a rule violation—just to remind them which one of us is boss?”

Crucially, by describing some high-level administrators as “thinking like scientists,” I’m not claiming that most scientists could do their jobs! Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth: plunk down your average productive scientist in a position of responsibility over thousands of other scientists, and he or she will utterly lack the people skills and finesse for it—and will certainly lack the emotional makeup to interface with the bureaucrats, to serve as what’s sometimes called the scientists’ “shit umbrella.”

But I can tell you that scientists genuinely respect or admire the administrator who thinks like a scientist—not only as the person who makes their own work possible, but as the person who does whatever they would have done in the same situation, if only they’d had a thousand times better people skills and finesse.

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.

Scott Says:

Comment #439 February 2nd, 2017 at 5:32 am

jim: I’m grateful to you for so forthrightly setting out the sort of worldview that could lead a person to support Trump—as you recently did in your “Open Letter to Scott Aaronson”, where you unironically wrote:

I hope that Trump will make himself King to be succeeded by his sons, and so does pretty much everyone who uses the phrase “God Emperor Trump”.

Yes, and it wouldn’t shock me if that was a third of the country. But I can’t help feeling like, if we could just get enough people to agree with you, that the real urge animating Trumpism is to roll back all the social change not merely of the last 50 years but of the last 250, and to make the masses submit to “Throne and Altar” and be ruled by an Emperor—then we would’ve finished the work we needed to get the other two-thirds on our side.

Scott Says:

Comment #440 February 2nd, 2017 at 6:05 am

jim and others: Have you read The Better Angels of Our Nature? The statistical case that violence of virtually every form really has gone down all throughout human history—with even the world wars, Stalin, and Mao showing up in the numbers as temporary blips—strikes me as mind-numbingly, eyes-glazingly thorough and conclusive. (Of course, as Pinker allows, there’s no guarantee that the pattern will continue, particularly in a world with extremely unbalanced people controlling nuclear weapons.)

And Steven Pinker is not exactly an SJW ideologue! Indeed, one of his main purposes is to refute the leftists who imagine that our era is uniquely violent because of colonialism and American militarism and white supremacy and rape culture and “the violence inherent in capitalism” and so forth. He shows that, even if you share those leftists’ goals (which, yes, I know, you don’t), they could hardly be more wrong about the past.

So when I see someone say: “but there was hardly any crime in Victorian England, compared to the modern US!—oh, the data says otherwise?—well, how can you trust the data? after all, leftists rule the world and fabricate data all the time, and you can just read the diaries of Victorian Englishmen and see that murder wasn’t an everyday occurrence in their immediate world…”

I have two reactions: first, murder isn’t an everyday occurrence in my immediate world either! This is why we use statistics for such things.

Second, I’m reminded of the claim that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was way larger than the crowd at Obama’s because the leftist media doctored the photos. Or for that matter, the people who confidently trot out some isolated fact or statistic to prove that the entire edifice of evolution is a lie, or that the Holocaust never happened—and then, if their specific factoid is refuted, switch without batting an eye to explaining why you can’t trust the statistics anyway.

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?

jim Says:

Comment #443 February 2nd, 2017 at 6:39 am

jim and others: Have you read The Better Angels of Our Nature? The statistical case that violence of virtually every form

Thank you for courteously engaging those that disagree with you.

Yes, I have read it.

And discussed it extensively, my two major posts on the topic being http://blog.jim.com/culture/pinker-on-violence/

http://blog.jim.com/culture/taleb-refutes-pinker-on-war/

it is true that over the long term violence has gone down, reflecting the rise of western civilization But starting with the French Revolution, violence started going up, reflecting the continuing decline of Western civilization. Pinker grossly tortures his data to get the contrary result. Almost every form of violence is at utterly unprecedented levels – well, unprecedented in recent centuries. If you go back to the holy wars of the early seventeenth century, before the peace of Westphalia, then yes compared to how we were we before the peace of Westphalia we are still pretty peaceful. But if you start the story shortly after the peace of Westphalia, things are going downhill, and the general trend is likely to lead to nuclear holocaust before long.

Indeed, progs were so offended by Putin jailing Pussy Riot for chopping down crucifixes and desecrating a Cathedral, and so offended by him preventing genocide and establishing peace in Syria, that they seemed to be working their way up to nuclear war with him until Clinton lost the election. Which is about right for the general trend, if we look at things starting with the peace of Westphalia.

jim Says:

Comment #444 February 2nd, 2017 at 7:05 am

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?

http://blog.jim.com/war/ethnic-cleansing-in-ferguson/

Scott Says:

Comment #449 February 2nd, 2017 at 8:47 am

Boldmug #424: The way I pose the question is, “if we exclude me and my family and my close friends and colleagues, then who would I be least terrified to see ruling the world?”

Every time I ask myself that, the answer comes back:

(1) People with scientific expertise who are also friendly and public-spirited and levelheaded and have strong interpersonal skills and common sense (Rush Holt, Steve Hsu, Terry Tao, Tim Gowers, Eric Lander, …).

(2) Technology leaders with similar qualities (Bill Gates, Paul Graham, Sam Altman, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, …)

(3) Leaders with no particular science or technology expertise, but the sorts of worldviews that would cause them to turn to people in classes (1) and (2) for science or technology advice (Barack Obama, most other mainstream Democrats…)

And yes, I’ll grant you that I’d probably rather pick any of those people and make them world emperor, than continue living in a democracy (certainly if it’s the broken, dysfunctional sort of democracy we have now). But then the fantasy starts to falter when we ask what comes next, if not a return to some democratic system. Sure, Paul Graham would probably pick someone wise and just to succeed him as emperor, and that person would probably pick another wise and just successor, but eventually you’d get a despot, who’d appoint an even worse despot, who’d then get overthrown in an orgy of bloodshed and replaced by someone yet worse—and then we’d be back to square one.

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.

So if you tell me that my system needs to continue to work in equilibrium—i.e., even after the memory of my initial wise choice of ruler has dissipated away—then you’ll force me to some form of democracy or republicanism, which I’ll then seek to enhance using crowdsourcing and eigentrust mechanisms and modern behavioral science research and all the practical experience of the past few centuries about what causes democracies to develop catastrophic instabilities. As they say, a terrible choice except for all the alternatives.

Joshua Zelinsky Says:

Comment #450 February 2nd, 2017 at 9:27 am

When people like jim are so absolutely willing to ignore any data that doesn’t suit their pre-existing claims and preconceptions, I’m not sure dialogue is at all productive. I’m strongly against punching people I disagree with (for the same reasons Scott has outlined in earlier posts), but seeing Jim’s complete and absolute anti-epistemology at work here makes me really see where the desire by some to do so comes from. It is extremely difficult to have a serious conversation with people who believe whatever facts suit their pre-existing narrative.

Scott Says:

Comment #451 February 2nd, 2017 at 9:42 am

Joshua #450: Yeah, I’m sure I’ll lose interest before long—just like I years ago lost interest in debating creationists, JFK conspiracy buffs, and Bell’s Theorem deniers. In fact I’m already feeling like I should wind down this thread and do some research for a nice change of pace. 🙂 But I can’t remember any previous case when I got into an extended debate with people who really, earnestly wanted to roll back the entire Enlightenment and submit to a king, and who were ready to say so with no circumlocutions. So, particularly given the obvious relevance to our unfolding national emergency, I figured it was something I should try once in my life.

Charlie Croker Says:

Comment #452 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:01 am

Joshua #450: Instead of fantasising about punching other commenters, maybe you could elaborate on what “anti-epistemology” you see in Jim’s posts.

Although I might disagree with some of the points in Boldmug’s and Jim’s posts on crime rates, I think the main argument is very convincing.

Consider election results in the DPRK. Usually, Kim Jong Un will win an election with 99% of the popular vote. However, most of us will mistrust these results. We do so because the data is not reliable in our view. However, none of us has ever seen the North Korean government manipulate the election. Also, Kim Jong Un does not allow election observers to visit the country, so we cannot rely on eye witness testimony. Indeed, it wouldn’t be too surprising if there were actually not much empirical evidence of manipulated elections at all since the DPRK is so isolated from the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the election result is fake. We can deduce this from the general observation that even the most revered political leaders will never get that many votes in a free election and also from the fact that the DPRK is a dictatorship. Both of these observations are common sense principles and do not use statistical evidence, but they easily establish that the election statistics in the DPRK are unreliable.

Obviously, neither Victorian England nor the United States are similar to the DPRK and there is no reason a priori to assume that crime data in either of them has been purposefully forged. Nevertheless, the issue of reliability again comes up.

An obvious observation is that most statistics on crime rates deal with crime that was actually reported to the police. This means that if a crime is not reported, it will not show up in the data. Thus, in order for the statistics to be reliable, you have to establish that most criminal acts are actually reported or, in this case, that unreported crime accounts for the same amount of total crime in the countries (or centuries) you want to compare.

However, there is ample evidence that this is not so.

  1. There were no crime syndicates like modern day Mexican drug cartels (or their European equivalents) in Victorian Britain. Since most criminal acts by these groups are unreported and it is well established that they earn billions of dollars every year, it is not an unreasonable assumption that they alone are proof of a significant difference in unreported crime between then and now.
  2. There were now no-go areas then, but they exist now. Since a) people in these areas lose faith in the police and tend not to report even violent acts against them and b) the police themselves tend to be present less often in these areas, it is likely that the percentage of criminal acts that are never reported there is non-trivial.

On the other hand, I have seen no evidence so far that crime in Victorian Britain was underreported. Indeed, Victorians prioritised fighting crime in a way that modern day “Law-and-Order-Conservatives” can only dream of, society had zero tolerance for crime (modern day discussions about “criminal justice reform” would have lead to social exclusion even among liberals) and, as pointed out by Jim, there is no mention of unsafe areas in books from that time. Since intellectuals were free to discuss social problems (unless related to sexuality), it would be surprising if there had been serious problems with crime back then, but no books about them.

wb Says:

Comment #454 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:38 am

defend the foundations of Enlightenment

The real issue is how much of your precious time you waste arguing with this “Mold” et al. instead of doing something valuable.

Scott Says:

Comment #456 February 2nd, 2017 at 12:17 pm

wb #454: Yeah, fine, the part of me that’s in charge right now thinks you’re right. Ok, I’m closing this thread by the end of today. Get in any last thoughts between now and then.

Scott Says:

Comment #471 February 2nd, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Chinese Student #467:

However, why go on totally off-topic tangents defending “Enlightenment values”, the same ones that are responsible for the destruction of our environment and planet and to our future (very likely) demise?

Firstly, I don’t agree that it’s off-topic. I think that the people who support Trump, and his horrible actions like the ones last week, do so because they really, actually reject the values of the Enlightenment. Of course only a tiny minority of those people, like Boldmug and Jim, are intellectual enough to articulate their anti-Enlightenment, anti-democracy attitudes in as many words (with, in Boldmug’s case, emphasis on the “many” 🙂 ). But they speak for the tens of millions who’d cheer with animalistic glee if (for example) Trump went through with his recent threat to destroy UC Berkeley or the US’s other great research universities. These are people who so thoroughly reject the idea of human betterment that they’re eager to make their own lives miserable, just as long as the lives of the know-it-all intellectual snobs become miserable even faster. And if the rest of us are going to battle that dark side of humanity, we’d better get a very good look at it first.

Secondly, I don’t agree that Enlightenment values are responsible for the destruction of the planet. The causal chain is instead like this: Enlightenment values are responsible for the scientific discoveries that enabled the technologies that then, in the hands of people with anti-Enlightenment values, are bringing about the destruction of the planet.

So “should” we have never started down this path in the first place? If that’s how we feel, then I’d say that we as humans might as well go ahead and render ourselves extinct after all, in order to give some other animal species a chance!

quax Says:

Comment #461 February 2nd, 2017 at 1:09 pm

سادات’s take on this is about as rational as Boldmug and Jim, but he is more succinct and writes better.

Jim and Boldmug: Seriously guys, did you win the lottery or is Peter Thiel your sugar daddy, so that you can afford to waste your time and life on these pseudo-intellectual exercises?

Candide III Says:

Comment #472 February 2nd, 2017 at 2:54 pm

quax #461: no more than you have, and probably less if you are some kind of a scientist or a public officer. As is well known, Moldbug has independent means from his earlier IT work, and Jim is retired. Since Pinker’s book has become a point of contention, I’ll post a link to this old review https://foseti.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/review-of-the-better-angels-of-our-nature-by-steven-pinker/ Here’s a couple of paragraphs:

Pinker’s basic problem is that he essentially defines “violence” in such a way that his thesis that violence is declining becomes self-fulling. “Violence” to Pinker is fundamentally synonymous with behaviors of older civilizations. On the other hand, modern practices are defined to be less violent than newer practices.

A while back, I linked to a story about a guy in my neighborhood who’s been arrested over 60 times for breaking into cars. A couple hundred years ago, this guy would have been killed for this sort of vandalism after he got caught the first time. Now, we feed him and shelter him for a while and then we let him back out to do this again. Pinker defines the new practice as a decline in violence – we don’t kill the guy anymore! Someone from a couple hundred years ago would be appalled that we let the guy continue destroying other peoples’ property without consequence. In the mind of those long dead, “violence” has in fact increased. Instead of a decline in violence, this practice seems to me like a decline in justice – nothing more or less.

Here’s another example, Pinker uses creative definitions to show that the conflicts of the 20th Century pale in comparison to previous conflicts. For example, all the Mongol Conquests are considered one event, even though they cover 125 years. If you lump all these various conquests together and you split up WWI, WWII, Mao’s takeover in China, the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, the Russian Civil War, and the Chinese Civil War (yes, he actually considers this a separate event from Mao), you unsurprisingly discover that the events of the 20th Century weren’t all that violent compared to events in the past! Pinker’s third most violent event is the “Mideast Slave Trade” which he says took place between the 7th and 19th Centuries. Seriously. By this standard, all the conflicts of the 20th Century are related. Is the Russian Revolution or the rise of Mao possible without WWII? Is WWII possible without WWI? By this consistent standard, the 20th Century wars of Communism would have seen the worst conflict by far. Of course, if you fiddle with the numbers, you can make any point you like.

Bran Says:

Comment #476 February 2nd, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Whenever modernity and democracy is criticized, the same tired points about Kim Jong-Il and Pinker’s Better Angels are trotted out. The critics consider these points to be an absolute gotcha and game-ender. They are considered to be such a knockout punch that they slay the entire trustworthiness of the anti-modern side: they are to now be viewed as irresponsible miscreants, guilty of “anti-epistemology”, who’s arguments supposedly collapse when prodded, and can safely be dismissed.

But before declaring victory over someone in a debate, it’s a good practice to make sure that your supposed knockout punch actually landed, before you bounce around the ring and celebrate.

Let’s start with Better Angels, the supposed debate-ender on the subject of modern crime. It turns out that there are many criticisms of Better Angels. If these criticisms are correct, then the book is a piece of scientism that cannot be used to decide the debate over modernity.

The biggest problem with using homicide to measure violence is that it is confounded by advances in medical technology:

Our lethality findings are strongly consistent with the hypothesis that progress in emergency medical care has converted an ever increasing proportion of homicides into non-lethal assaults and thus, by virtue of good intentions, ironically and unintentionally masked a continuing epidemic of violence in America

John Gray in the The Guardian also has a critical review of Better Angels that is an excellent read. According to Gray, the first half of the 20th century causes big problems for Pinker’s argument:

Along with fatalities caused by state terror were unnumbered millions whose lives were irreparably broken and shortened. How these casualties fit into the scheme of declining violence is unclear. Pinker goes so far as to suggest that the 20th-century Hemoclysm might have been a gigantic statistical fluke, and cautions that any history of the last century that represents it as having been especially violent may be “apt to exaggerate the narrative coherence of this history” (the italics are Pinker’s). However, there is an equal or greater risk in abandoning a coherent and truthful narrative of the violence of the last century for the sake of a spurious quantitative precision.

“Abandoning a truthful narrative of violence of the last century for the sake of a spurious quantitive precision.” Ouch. In other words, Gray is accusing Pinker of scientism.

Pinker is probably correct that violence has declined up-to the 20th century, but the 20th century itself causes big problems. Gray also points out that if a nuclear war with the Soviet Union had occurred, it would have blown away Pinker’s angelic trends.

Let’s take stock. Better Angels was considered to be a knockout punch to anti-modern arguments, ever since Scott Alexander’s Anti-reactionary FAQ. Yet I think we can see from these counterarguments to Pinker, that he is quite busy in his own ring fending off multiple opponents, and not available to deliver the knockout punch.

So here’s the question: would a neutral observer to this thread figure out the correct answer, that Better Angel’s does not end the debate over modern crime? If someone didn’t read Jim’s links, and didn’t read this post of mine, then it’s quite likely that they wouldn’t, and they would believe that Boldmug and Jim were debunked. And they would be wrong. The consensus of the pro-modern side in this thread would then lead a skimming, neutral observer away from the truth, unless they did their own research.

What’s going on here is simple. The pro-modern side is deeply uncomfortable with anti-modern arguments. They immediately latch onto any data or stock arguments that they think can shut down the debate, and then they declare victory. This is not the sort of debate tactics that will arrive at the truth.

I understand why Boldmug and Jim rub some people the wrong way rhetorically, but I believe that superficial dislike of them is motivating knee-jerk, unfair responses to their arguments. It’s an inverse halo-effect. To subtract that inverse halo-effect, let’s take a quote from John Gray’s Pinker review that I mentioned above:

The ancient world, along with all the major religions and pre-modern philosophies, had a different and truer view. Improvements in civilisation are real enough, but they come and go. While knowledge and invention may grow cumulatively and at an accelerating rate, advances in ethics and politics are erratic, discontinuous and easily lost. Amid the general drift, cycles can be discerned: peace and freedom alternate with war and tyranny, eras of increasing wealth with periods of economic collapse. Instead of becoming ever stronger and more widely spread, civilisation remains inherently fragile and regularly succumbs to barbarism. This view, which was taken for granted until sometime in the mid-18th century, is so threatening to modern hopes that it is now practically incomprehensible.

If you can’t hear it from them, maybe you can hear it from him.

The anti-modern position is that history needs to be evaluated qualitatively using narrative and judgment, and that there is no particular dataset that’s a debate-ender for some of the most interesting questions.

My view is that plenty of things about the perspectives of Boldmug and Jim are counter-intuitive and debatable, but most of the debate with progressives involves occurs at a shallow and specious level, retracing the same set of arguments from 2013. The knee-jerk responses prevents the debate from moving on to the subjects that are actually interesting, like the details of the engineering project of fixing government, the proper role of the church, imperialism vs nationalism, absolutism, etc.

Maybe someday we can move past the level of “gotcha” debate and have a real dialogue, because getting political philosophy right is going to be really important for the future of humanity. It’s not as if what we’ve got is working very well.

Candide III Says:

Comment #477 February 2nd, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Scott #470

These are people who so thoroughly reject the idea of human betterment that they’re eager to make their own lives miserable, just as long as the lives of the know-it-all intellectual snobs become miserable even faster.

Of course, the know-it-all intellectual snobs have given no cause whatsoever to be regarded as such, oh no! They can tolerate everybody except the outgroup. (Scott Alexander, for all his defects, is more self-aware in this respect than you appear to be.) Seriously, though, every time your side has bet on human betterment the results have been bloodbaths. 道可道、非常道. If humans can become better, it is not going to be accomplished by trying to make them better, especially since there is after all such a thing as human nature, and it is such that attempts at making people better invariably involve making other people better (according to your lights), or hating them for being worse. Many millions of years have passed and uncounted billions of our ape and hominid ancestors have lived and died before we could sit in front of our screens today and discuss these issues, and you have the hubris to think some social science mumbo-jumbo is going to overturn that in a couple of decades or even centuries? Pfui.

Bran Says:

Comment #478 February 2nd, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Scott:

You stack the deck in your hypothetical by comparing Trump only to the current British royal family, rather than to Kim Jong-Un or anyone else who claims a hereditary right to rule. In particular, England (if I’m not mistaken) has seen its share of murdering tyrants; who’s to say that the king would be mild-mannered like Prince Charles in your hypothetical universe?

What is the basis to believe that British monarch would behave like a Korean communist dictator? They have entirely different histories, philosophies, and justification behind their rule. Kim’s is a popular government that rules in the name of the people, which makes him required to oppress the people to make sure that they continually will him to rule them. He is insecure. British monarchs were much less oppressive than him. And the relatively more oppressive ones, like Bloody Mary, were oppressive because they were insecure: it’s insecurity, not autocracy itself, that creates evil.

The failure mode of your state turning evil is not limited to monarchy. The totalitarian governments of the 20th century were far worse than Western European Kings at oppressing their own people, and they were all justified by reasoning from the Enlightenment clade.

Some people believe that monarchy is higher variance and democracy is safer, but Angela Merkel’s Germany puts the lie to that notion. Merkel is so insecure that she has to import voters from the 3rd world to bolster her position, resulting in state-sponsored mass sexual violence and crime against her own people. Note that her state is based on Enlightenment logic, and she is a former communist (or present communist, depending on your perspective).

The typical dualism of “democracy good, autocracy bad” is immensely simplistic. Those categories do not cleave reality at the joints. Here is a good article that will help clear up the confusion:

http://devinhelton.com/2015/08/dictatorship-and-democracy

As for succession problems, the advantage of monarchy is that the long life-span of monarchs means that you only have to solve the succession problem occasionally. In contrast, the democratic US is in a constant culture war that turns tears the country apart every 4 years: it’s another version of a succession problem. We already had a civil war that caused an immense amount of death, followed by one quarter of the freed slaves succumbing to hunger or disease.

1 dynasty of 2-3 monarchs could easily cover you for a century, even if that dynasty degraded. In contrast, 1 century in US democracy would be 25 elections, and goodness knows how much civil unrest.

Scott Says:

Comment #483 February 2nd, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Candide #477:

If humans can become better, it is not going to be accomplished by trying to make them better, especially since there is after all such a thing as human nature

Will it be accomplished by trying to make humans worse? I guess we’ll find out soon enough! 🙂

Note that Steven Pinker, who’s probably the planet’s preeminent living defender of the idea of a universal, biological, extremely-hard-to-modify human nature (something that I completely agree with), went on to document how human behavior changed massively on much faster than evolutionary timescales, not only because of science and technology but because of changes to institutions and social norms. I see no reason not to hope for further improvements, although in the foreseeable future, it will be a major achievement just to preserve or restore the institutions and social norms that we already had.

(Hey, maybe I too can be a neoreactionary! See, I also want to restore a better, vanished America of the past: the pre-Trump one.)

Scott Says:

Comment #484 February 2nd, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Samuel #473:

Remember when Brendan Eich was fired… I strongly disagreed with the firing of Brendan Eich. But here’s the difference from our current subject: Mozilla is a private organization. And as such, they claim the right to fire people for their anti-gay-marriage beliefs, just like other private organizations claim the right to fire people for being gay (or being openly gay).

In such cases, it seems to me that we have only two options: either put the government in the business of dictating to private companies which private beliefs they can or can’t fire someone for—which I thought was something that conservatives opposed! Or else say that the solution lies in the marketplace. I.e., that people who oppose the firing can act on that belief by denouncing it, switching to a different web browser, offering to hire Brendan Eich themselves, etc.

Here, however, we’re talking about using the federal government—indeed, a rushed executive order from the president, bypassing the relevant federal agencies in an unprecedented way—to ban thousands of students and scientists from entering the US, thereby also harming all the scientists in the US who had planned their lives around their colleagues and students being able to enter. Furthermore, the comments in this thread are strongly consistent with the idea that for Trump supporters, harming American science isn’t a regrettable byproduct of the policy, but a goal, something to be gleeful about.

Look, I know as well as anyone on earth that there are SJWs who are cruel and horrible people. 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: babies mashing a piano while you guys compose entire Mozart-quality shit symphonies. I mean, the SJWs couldn’t even permanently harm me, and I was about as vulnerable a target for them as there ever was!

jim Says:

Comment #485 February 2nd, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Scott Says: Comment #337 January 30th, 2017 at 8:43 pm

Have you actually read hardcore Trump supporters? Do you understand how they think?

If you think you have read Trump supporters, you are in error. Your crimestop and hatred set in, and your eyes moved over the text, but you refused to understand.

I implore you to take the people that just won the election seriously, and make an honest effort to understand where we are coming from.

You accuse Trumpists of hating liberals, but who is getting beaten up, and who is doing the beating?

During the campaign, you accused the Trump campaign of beating up protesters, but the observed reality was the exact opposite, that people going to and coming from a Trump rally were physically attacked, and actions taken inside the rally were self defense against violent infiltrators.

We are afraid of liberals because we reasonably believe they are going to kill us all, starting with each other – just as the Khmer Rouge mostly killed Khmer Rouge, “all” includes you. If one believed the Khmer Rouge were possessed by demons, one had a much better chance of surviving Cambodia, than if one believed they were saints.

There is ample and overwhelming evidence for our belief, in the physical attacks that are happening daily. It is Trump supporters that are in the position of Jews in early Nazi Germany, not Trump opponents. If we plan to give progressives helicopter rides to the pacific ocean, it is because we see an urgent need to defend ourselves.

jim Says:

Comment #486 February 2nd, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Scott Says: Comment #451 February 2nd, 2017 at 9:42 am

But I can’t remember any previous case when I got into an extended debate with people who really, earnestly wanted to roll back the entire Enlightenment and submit to a king,

But your are not in fact getting into an extended debate. You are just pointing and spluttering. You are not engaging your adversaries, not responding to our arguments, not even showing any awareness that we have made arguments. Our arguments hit your crimestop filter and you just do not hear what we have said.

Scott Says:

Comment #487 February 2nd, 2017 at 6:38 pm

jim #485: I’m sorry that you feel I didn’t understand your message (is there anything you would’ve counted as understanding it, short of agreement?). I do think I understand the part about how you “plan to give progressives helicopter rides to the pacific ocean” because you “see an urgent need to defend ourselves.” With that threat to murder your political opponents, presumably including me—a threat that I find all too plausible in the world of today—I believe you’ve overstayed your welcome here. Bye.

Charlie Croker Says:

Comment #491 February 2nd, 2017 at 7:38 pm

Joshua #457 First of all, I would very much like to see the different metrics that apparently establish the correctness of modern day crime statistics and invalidate my arguments.

Personally, I don’t think a comparative analysis of crime rates should only focus on murder rates just because other crimes are harder to analyse. (When it comes to murder, it just seems to me that this crime has been institutionalised in the 20th century as evidenced by the Nazis, the Soviets, the Khmer Rouge etc).

Even in failed states, criminals won’t murder you just because they can or to steal your money since murder is the crime that most likely leads to the severest forms of retribution. It is no coincidence that the mafia was originally founded to punish criminals when the victim’s family thought the criminal’s sentence was too lenient or there was no punishment by the state at all. There is always a baseline number of murders that you can hardly prevent because they are committed by people with mental illnesses or someone in an extreme emotional state. For murders to become so important that they meaningfully affect people’s general sense of safety, that baseline has to be exceeded in a way that was neither present in Victorian Britain nor modern day Britain nor the US or any Western country I can think of in the past years. This is in contrast to countries like Mexico in which murder is frequent and criminal gangs consider it a legitimate act to fight other gangs.

On the other hand, the prevalence of other crimes is evident. Unless you provide me with some source that says that people avoided many areas for fear of being mugged in the past, I will not believe it. This simply contradicts so many other facts; for example, did you know that it was quite common in many Western countries 50 years ago not to lock your door? Where do you see this phenomenon now? I have never seen it anywhere in my entire life.

Also, no-go areas are not exagerated and are different from places that just have higher crime rates than others. Take Berlin. You can watch German prosecutors say on state television that they lack the resources to prosecute drug dealers, even when those violently rob others in certain areas. They are indicted 1 or 2 years after the original crime (if they are ever indicted) and continue breaking the law in the mean time. There are even areas where DHL couriers refuse to deliver packages anymore because they were so often attacked in the past. What statistic could refute this? It is just a sign of a slow breakdown of public order and not comparable to temporary problems with crime in the past.

grendelkhan Says:

Comment #492 February 2nd, 2017 at 7:51 pm

Bran #476, that’s an incredible ratio of “liberal tears can’t melt dank truths” to actual argumentation. Is the decline in homicide due to improving medical technology? Note that murder technology has also improved, and that the change doesn’t show a discontinuity at the invention of antisepsis, or anesthesia, or blood typing, or anything like that. Pinker would have had to not just be wrong, but be wrong by a similar magnitude in the opposite direction for your thesis to be correct. I’m just not seeing it.

Gray makes qualitative arguments. Maybe it’s my Enlightenment bias showing, but I’m much more easily persuaded by looking at how likely people were to die violently. And to whatever extent Jim wants to write them off as gang-related rather than random violence, well, it looks like a plurality of today’s murders are sex or gang-related.

Sniffnoy #480, remember that time when he was telling us all that progressive education had left us horribly ignorant, and then he thought Eugene V. Debs was a court case? I know, I know, it’s years ago, but a cheap part of me wants to make sure we all remember it.

Boldmug #418, that’s my bad; I wrote 1800 instead of 1900 and just went from there. Trends look flatter from 1900 to the present, but there’s no steep increase.

Perhaps people wondering why the Victorians didn’t have professional criminals or no-go areas (wasn’t the entire American West a “no-go area” for much of its history?) haven’t looked closely enough; there were screwsmen and snakesmen and greasemen, and if you go back a little earlier, thieves had their own dialect. If we’re going to make arguments from feelings rather than data, then we should at least have a good basis for those feelings.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #493 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Sniffnoy #435:

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb-6ikXdOzE

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #494 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:10 pm

grendelkhan #493:

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:

http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/RP99-111

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #495 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:20 pm

Joshua Zelinsky:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #496 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:30 pm

Scott #439,

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?

Boldmug Says:

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:

http://modernnotion.com/how-interpol-became-the-long-arm-of-nazi-law-during-world-war-ii/

The important question is: should this change the way we feel about the band, Interpol?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #499 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:45 pm

Scott #485:

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.

Boldmug Says:

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?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #501 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Candide #473,

If only!

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #502 February 2nd, 2017 at 10:59 pm

Sid #466:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #503 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:01 pm

sf #457,

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.

Boldmug Says:

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?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Japan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_justice_system_of_Japan

And, if you live in a major American city,

https://www.nextdoor.com

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #505 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:12 pm

Scott,

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.

an_cap Says:

Comment #506 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:18 pm

Scott #367,

Are you aware of the case of Stanford PhD student Rahinah Ibrahim who was put on the no-fly list because an FBI agent accidentally checked the wrong box? And the Obama administration, via Eric Holder, despite unending rhetoric to the contrary, argued numerous times that disclosing the fact that her inclusion on the no-fly list was a simple bureaucratic mistake would be a grave violation of national security? If you’re interested, here is a link to a summary of the case – https://theintercept.com/2014/02/14/ongoing-abuse-state-secrets-privilege/.

Here’s a hypothesis: Trump and Obama largely have the same values when it comes to Muslim immigrants, namely that the president has unchecked due-process free authority to ban (or assassinate by drone) whoever it pleases as long as there is some remote possibility of a connection with terrorism. Obama just happens to not have any qualms about giving erudite speeches saying the exact opposite of what he does.

If you’re receptive to seeing arguments in favor of this hypothesis, I would be happy to dig them up for you.

Samuel Skinner Says: Comment #507 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:20 pm “I strongly disagreed with the firing of Brendan Eich. But here’s the difference from our current subject: Mozilla is a private organization.”

Because if we use Obama and Zimmmerman/BLM case you’ll spend your time arguing he was right, good came out of it, complaints were justified, etc, etc, etc.

Nothing I could say using another Democratic president would get through since you have a bunch of justifications pre-prepared about how it was completely different and so you opponents don’t have arguments and are hence evil. – – “In such cases, it seems to me that we have only two options: either put the government in the business of dictating to private companies which private beliefs and practices they can or can’t fire someone for—which I thought was something that conservatives opposed!”

Neither me, B or Jim are conservatives so…

And yes, the government is in the habit of dictating what private beliefs and practices they can fire people for- that is the current law of the land. – – “indeed, a rushed executive order from the president, bypassing the relevant federal agencies in an unprecedented way”

Rushed? It was on Trump’s campaign platform. People had over a month to get used to the fact Trump was going to do this.

Also I like how you complaint is ‘Trump defied custom’. Firing someone for the political beliefs is also defying custom. Gee, that sounds exactly why the Mozilla case is relevant. – – “Furthermore, the comments in this thread are strongly consistent with the idea that for Trump supporters, harming American science isn’t a regrettable byproduct of the policy, but a goal, something to be gleeful about.”

No, they are consistent with you being unable to form accurate internal models of your opponents. – – ” But compared to the alt-right nationalists who now control the planet”

What planet are we talking about? Because Trump has specifically stated he is in favor of continued immigration (so your definition of altright appears to be anyone who wants to reduce immigrant volumes). Europe currently is the opposite of altright. Latin America is run by a variety of leftists and neoliberals, Africa by a variety of strongmen backed by ethnic coalitions. Russia has large scale immigration from central Asian Muslims. India is currently falling apart. The closest I can think is Japan, China and Israel. – – “I’m sorry that you feel I didn’t understand your message (is there anything you would’ve counted as understanding it, short of agreement?).”

You have to engage in crime think. I recommend the posting of dangerous facts with unfortunate implications; I believe the best example you could use is inter-racial. – – @grendelkhan “Note that murder technology has also improved, and that the change doesn’t show a discontinuity at the invention of antisepsis, or anesthesia, or blood typing, or anything like that.”

Because there is a time lag between when something is invented, when hospital adopt it and when hospital use it correctly. – – “remember that time” “(wasn’t the entire American West a “no-go area” for much of its history?) ”

Irony- complaining about someone’s lack of self awareness while committing it in the next paragraph. – – “Perhaps people wondering why the Victorians didn’t have professional criminals”

No one has claimed the Victorian’s lacked professional criminals. The fact people have to keep massively straw manning these sort of arguments is good evidence there simply isn’t a case progressives can make.

Boldmug Says:

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…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #509 February 2nd, 2017 at 11:22 pm

In short: come to the dark side! We have cookies. And a library.

quax Says:

Comment #512 February 3rd, 2017 at 1:06 am

Boldmug, your contention that the Arab spring and Lybian civil war would not have happened, if it wasn’t for the US, is typical American navel gazing.

For somebody who is supposed to have some sort of reputation I would have hoped for less conventional thinking.

But just for the record, I really don’t want you to “shut the f*ck up and mind your own business” as you put it. It’s still a free country, so go for it. Fortunately, I don’t have to tune in.

But I do feel a bit sorry for you. The fear of crime clearly animates you, and unfortunately you lack the analytical skills to figure out, why a highly diverse place like Toronto, with a far more lenient legal system, has less of a problem.

But hey, at least you have cookies and a library. And if you get your groceries delivered you may be able to manage your fears better. Just a thought …

Bran Says:

Comment #514 February 3rd, 2017 at 3:39 am

To summarize this thread:

Scott asks for a defense of Trump’s policy. Certain long-winded, cranky intellectuals drop into this thread and take his question seriously, at which point we get into a debate about crime rates, the Enlightenment, and democracy. Some people start scoffing , at which point Boldmug becomes exceptionally long-winded. Snark escalates on both sides. Both sides start grandstanding and trying to reduce each other’s credibility. Eventually we get all the way to helicopter pilots, like any good discussion about politics.

What have we learned here? It seems that normally intelligent, virtuous people cannot communicate across a political divide without the claws coming out.

I hope it’s possible for the neutral observers to cut through the posturing to the actual arguments here.

Coming from the anti-Enlightenment side of the debate, here is my question: what is a better approach?

Let’s say that you believe that you have a novel historical and political synthesis that opposes modern politics. And you believe that this synthesis is relevant to present questions, including questions that are contentious (like Trump). How do you go about explaining your perspective?

Obviously, references to hypothetical helicopters seems to be a bad strategy, but what is a good strategy?

If you give a summary of your perspective, then people start scoffing, and the conversation goes downhill. If you give the long-version, then people get exasperated with all of this detail about something they don’t want to hear. This reaction also comes from people who advertise how intellectually open-minded and fair they are.

You could explain your perspective in a try and neutral way, but nobody is going to care. If you use a polemic approach, then you are viewed as a dangerous, irresponsible threat to society (though at least you will persuade some of the onlookers).

When you engage, your perspective will naturally sound absurd to someone who doesn’t have the same historical and political background as you do. They think you are full of shit, they think you are deliberately being ridiculous, and there is no way for them to realize that you might possibly not be full of shit without them actually reading particular books, which they are never going to read at the suggestion of someone so incredibly evil as you. Why would someone ever read an old book or your meticulous 7,000 word post which threatens to overturn their sense of themselves as a good person and a member of the club of good people who have already figured out the best moral philosophy? Not going to happen.

You may feel that their behavior is the rankest sort of Philistinism, but you cannot cure someone of Philistinism by telling them that they are being a Philistine. It’s never going to work.

If you believe someone is committing scientism and over-relying on questionable quantitative data with low reliability and validity, then what can you do? The conversation is over. You may believe that their epistemology is dumb, but there is no getting over that. Any arguments you provide will only harden their existing perspective. Question someone’s epistemology, and they will hate you forever.

So what can you do? You can try to patiently explain your view, or you can grandstand and try to play to the crowd, or you can do a bit of both.

Hopefully, if you are in this position, you are in a world where you are just a crackpot, people rightly ignore you, and you should do something more productive with your life. But what if you are not? What if someone in this position actually does have valid arguments?

If modern political thought hypothetically has gone wrong, how would someone be able to communicate that? Is it even possible? Or are they doomed to be a resented Cassandra-like figure?

Are we just doomed to believe any political ideology that can take over and call itself the best thing since sliced bread, or, if this situation hypothetically occurred, could we figure out what has gone wrong?

Is there any way to communicate to people from another political tribe? Or is it simply impossible to have a productive discussion about politics without interpersonal rapport and trust? If so, then we better hope that political communication between adjacent people is enough, and we never have to span any big gaps.

Is it possible to explain things step-by-step in a cooperative way, between people with very different starting points? Or we just grandstand to the crowd and try to marginalize each other? If cooperative communication can work, is there a way to do this on a timescale that’s shorter than a matter of decades? We may not have that much time.

In short, if we were fucked, could we ever unfuck ourselves, or are we just fucked?

For those who are interested in a relatively less-inflammatory approach to contrarian political theory, check out this blog. It’s a good place to start.

BLANDCorporatio Says:

Comment #515 February 3rd, 2017 at 3:50 am

And for the other shoe to drop.

One of the sad things here is that nobody got called a shitlord*. Hear me out. It’s good that no one got called a shitlord, and that the discussion, from all participants, has been vigorous, polemic, but polite*.

(*: well, until there were murder threats implied against our good host. Way for dumb facts to spoil my great narrative.)

Meanwhile people were getting maced in the face for wanting to attend a talk by Milo Yannopoulos. There were calls to boycott a sandwich shop chain because its CEO happened to appear in a Trump photo op. And the narrative about Russia hacking the election will only cease to be hilarious to me when there’s proof found of tampering with the voting records (how’s that recount going btw).

The “Left” are idiots, is what I’m saying. That’s the sad thing. It’s very easy to believe someone who tells you crime was low under kings. Especially when they don’t mace you in the face.

And it’s very easy to believe them when they say the Left has no ideas and is just after virtue signalling (the useful idiots on campuses and social media), and conserving its power (the political establishment).

It would be convenient to believe that the violence that accompanied anti-Trump protests, or that Milo thing, were some sort of double agents. Too convenient. I have no problem believing there are SJWs out there who do believe their no-platform policy to its logical conclusion, even if that means denying rights to free speech and assembly.

I’ve been hoping that, post-Trumplection, the Left would wake up and rethink its commitment to virtue signalling. We seem to double down on it instead. Which is totally in keeping with simple political struggle, pursued with the only means we know how, for the only things most of us care about (the symbols of our tribe). It’s depressing that this development would have been well predicted by Moldbug, because that is one stopped clock I’d rather not have become trustworthy.

Cheers y’all.

Mateus Araújo Says:

Comment #516 February 3rd, 2017 at 5:08 am

Scott, I don’t think it is a wise thing to keep discussing with Boldmug. He is clearly enjoying your attention, and you are giving him a platform to spread his hateful ideas. Let him do it in whichever obscure corners of the internet he usually posts instead of in a famous and respected computer science blog.

Charlie Croker Says:

Comment #521 February 3rd, 2017 at 10:17 am

Quax #511:

What does it mean to you that Berlin is “booming”? How are rents even remotely related to my point? Price regulations notwithstanding, rents are governed by the principle of supply and demand. In Germany, people have become more and more reluctant to rent out their property due to increased regulations and other factors and rents have increased everywhere in Germany regardless of crime rates and the general quality of life in the cities. In all Western countries, larger cities are expensive places to live, regardless of the crime rates.

And the reference to “startup culture” is even worse. How is this even closely relevant? Do you think “startup culture” is representative of cities with millions of inhabitants? This is just as arbitrary as saying that Munich is safe because of the great “Octoberfest culture”. It is an argument of the not-even-wrong type.

The article you linked to also does not seem to be too relevant. The article uses metrics like “digital safety” or the frequency of natural disasters. How is this related to a discussion about crime? The only point that is highlighted by this article is that “social science” is mostly based on arbitrary operationalisations of phenomena to support a point chosen in advance of the study.

I also do not see what meaningful contributions you have made to this discussion so far that would justify your claim that Moldbug lacks analytical skills or that makes your thinking “unconventional” as opposed to his. At least he has bolstered his claims with literature references and arguments. On the other hand, every of your posts so far has either consisted of insults or claims that are blatantly wrong (such as your claim that Ernst Jünger was considered a conservative). Presenting trivialities and insults in ironic language is not a substitute for a coherent argument. How about you start presenting some arguments instead of ad hominem talk?

Samuel Skinner Says:

Comment #522 February 3rd, 2017 at 10:18 am

@quax “Boldmug, your contention that the Arab spring and Lybian civil war would not have happened, if it wasn’t for the US, is typical American navel gazing. ”

We bombed government forces in Libya and armed the rebels in Syria. I’m not sure how you can imply the US is blameless. – – “The fear of crime clearly animates you, and unfortunately you lack the analytical skills to figure out, why a highly diverse place like Toronto, with a far more lenient legal system, has less of a problem.”

Toronto is 8.5% black?

@BLANDCorporatio “They’re fighting this liberal/progressive empire, and the injustices are simply emergency measures. ”

Reactionaries don’t consider civilization decline something that is an emergency, rather is is inevitable fact of human nature. So I’m not seeing how emergency measures applies. – – “But if the argument is we should value the concentration of power because it results in better societies, well one of those example societies actually wasn’t that power-concentrated (and really neither is Japan today), and there are many examples to show concentrated power, unaccountable power, power “to set exceptions”, is rather shitty for almost everyone under it. That’s why some people, such as Scott and me, don’t see power concentration as a value worth pursuing.”

And we disagree with the claim it is an inevitable feature of concentrated power. – – “I’ve been hoping that, post-Trumplection, the Left would wake up and rethink its commitment to virtue signalling.”

That requires there to be something more to the left then virtue signaling. Don’t feel bad- there isn’t much more to the right than virtue signaling either (the virtues it signals are ones that haven’t made civilization suicide yet which is why it comes across as more sane).

The issue is people are rational and using politics to advance their reproductive value while eating away at social trust advances the heuristic goal of ‘have kids’.

@Mateus Araújo We have helicopter references, but you consider B hateful? I think you need to get your opinions re-calibrated.

@fred It depends on how competent the first AI is. I’m sure if it doesn’t exterminate the human race, we will be significantly more capable at dealing with AI threats in the future.

Charlie Croker Says:

Comment #524 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:00 am

Scott #484: You are right that the firing of Eich was legal, but the converse – firing someone for being gay – is actionable under the Civil Rights Act. This act clearly establishes that the federal government can dictate to companies whether they are allowed to fire someone or not. These types of laws also prevent companies from people like Eich in a certain way. If you decide to hire Eich, you are opening yourself up to lawsuits as well because other employees can now sue you for creating a “hostile work environment” because a “homophobe” works in your company. Aside from public pressure, this is one of the main reasons companies don’t want to hire “extremists” even if they don’t care about their political views at all.

I also disagree that alt-righters are more dangerous than SJWs. How many people do you know that were fired from their job due to pressure from alt-righters? Or just mainstream conservatives? Even the university professor who recently wished for “white genocide” on Twitter just received a warning from the university administration.

I also do not see alt-righters beat up SJWs on the street, but I see SJWs beat up alt righters. There is also no left-wing Milo Yiannopolous who can’t express liberal opinions in public without fear of being attacked.

By the way, I agree with some enlightenment principles such as the freedom of speech or rational and skeptical analysis of dogmas, but I would like to ask you who you think it is that is currently living up to these principles and should be supported instead of Trump. Most liberals also oppose science, just other kinds of science. While Christian conservatives dislike the theory of evolution in general, liberals will generally not be very pleased if you try to talk to them about hereditarianism (in particular the heritability of intelligence and personality or racial issues) or any influence of human genetics on social issues at all. James Watson was fired for opposing liberals on this point, although there actually was no public figure to defend him, neither liberal nor conservative. Events like these make me think that scientific inquiry and free debate are not among the main principles of Trump’s opponents.

Mateus Araújo Says:

Comment #525 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:55 am

BLANDCorporatio #518: No, I’m not Boldmug in disguise. I’m not sure what he wants, for he for sure likes commenting in this thread. If there is something that we should definitely not tolerate are enemies of liberal democracy. There are some ground rules to participating in our political system, and almost every country makes defending democracy one of them. See Nazis getting elected, for example.

Samuel Skinner #522: Mr helicopter references already got himself banned, there is no point in asking Scott to ignore him. And Boldmug is defending the destruction of everything I hold dear. If this is not being hateful, I don’t know what it is.

Bran Says:

Comment #535 February 3rd, 2017 at 3:06 pm

BLANDCorporation:

I wasn’t quite saying that this thread had gotten uncivil: my point was more that the level of discourse had sunk below what the participants are capable of.

Also, there was a moment in the thread when some absolutist regimes of today and the recent past were given an excuse for their problems. They’re fighting this liberal/progressive empire, and the injustices are simply emergency measures. I feel that argument can go both ways, and a lot of the problems we see today in liberal democracies are emergency measures from fighting/coping with an external enemy and the fruits of their action. The current refugee crisis in Europe being a salient example.

While this observation may be attempted as a refutation of the anti-democratic position, it actually is an excellent explanation of the anti-democratic position.

We began this sub-discussion when Kim Jong-Il came up. Boldmug and I pointed out that Kim, and Hitler, and Stalin, were all facing a hot or cold war with an extremely powerful empire. This conflict explains a good part of why their leaders become so paranoid and crazy. You take our explanation as a “justification,” but it is not. We are speaking amorally about the qualities of certain governments, not morally. The important point is that all of these autocratic states would have done less crazy and evil stuff if they weren’t fighting the American Empire. Would they have still done some crazy and evil stuff? Certainly yes, because they were also insecure internally (particularly the communist totalitarian states which were full of backstabbing and purges).

You point out that liberal democratic regimes may justify their own flaws by the conflicts with their opponents. It could be either internal or external opponents. Yes, you are absolutely right. That’s the point!

Regimes act in crazy and Machiavellian ways when they are insecure. This principle is true regardless of whether they are officially labeled “democracy” or something else.

Security against both internal and external threats is one of the most important virtues of government: aka peace. So an important question is whether certain styles of government have a better chance to be secure.

Think in terms of democracy vs autocracy is the wrong frame, because both of those categories are not any single thing, and have a lot of variation. I’ll link again to this article explaining  the messiness of those categories, and correcting a lot of misconceptions about “authoritarian” states. A quote:

While such top-down evil has happened, in most of the worst instances of tyranny, the oppression was due to insecurity of the leaders at the top, factional fighting, mobs, or a security apparatus operating outside the authority of top-down command-and-control. The oppression is often sideways and peer-to-peer. There is often a sense in which the entire thing is outside of any person’s control. The revolution devours everyone, even its own, without anyone able to stop it or inject sanity. The oppression is neither due to the wishes of the majority, nor to the wishes of the top down ruler. Rather the tyranny is at the hand of fractured, unaccountable parties that are wedded to the instruments of power.

In the monarchist view of the world, the biggest distinction in government is between monarchy vs popular governments (rule justified by the legitimacy of the state or divine right of kings vs rule justified by the “will of the people”). Within popular government, there is another split, between multi-party popular government (democracy) and single-party popular government (e.g. communist states, fascist states, Orban’s Hungary, and Merkel’s Germany).

Here is the monarchist claim: popular governments, either single-party or multi-party, cannot be internally secure. Since those governments are predicated on the will of the people, the current coalition is always insecure, due to elections, or other appeals to “the people” that their political opponents could make. As for monarchy, yes, it may have internal divisions and insecurity, but at least monarchy is designed to place someone legitimately in power with no challengers, and give the monarch the formal tools to stop any fractious challengers.

This is why we believe that a monarchical structure is a necessary but not sufficient condition of secure rule. In practice, of course, many flesh-and-blood monarchs have been weak, which made them insecure and filled their reigns with infighting. But at least monarchy is trying to solve the infighting problem in its design. The design philosophy of democracy, and all popular governments, encouraged internal infighting, because anyone can appeal to “the people.” (Yes, they can try to appeal to the people in monarchy, also, but monarchy is designed to stop this.)

Democracy isn’t even trying to solve the problem of internal competition for power. And, surprise, Western democratic states are full of internal competition for power, which manifests as the culture wars we see today, which are getting increasingly fractious and violent. Culture wars are not a bug in democracy, they are a feature of democracy.

Returning to your point, yes, coalitions in liberal democratic states will use the presence of their opponents to justify taking measures that are oppressive or divisive once they get the power to do so. And so we go back in forth with this punitive behavior forever. This is the horror of democracy.

The refugee crisis is actually about internal competition, not about an external threat. The left is bringing in refugees because it wants to enfranchise them, use them as captive voters, and wreck the neighborhoods of their opponents. Remember, Tony Blair literally said that he was bringing in immigrants to “rub the right’s noses in diversity,” which is different from the public humanitarian justifications. Leftist parties have an incentive to do this, because otherwise, median voter theorem says that the center-right will encroach on them and pose a risk of defeating them in an election.

In democracy, no coalition can permanently win, so coalitions need to keep fighting. If the left had “won” the culture sometime between 1950 and 2000, and then been frozen in time, I would be OK with this, even though it would not be ideal by my values. The problem is that the left could never fully win, so it had to keep getting crazier. This is why we now have social justice and black-bloc violence.

If we look at history in Western Europe, we can see that when monarchies became more secure, they started to become less warlike, less oppressive, and more enlightened. Unfortunately, they became so nice that they became soft, and allowed popular government (Parliaments) to destabilize them, eventually turning into fully popular governments full of unending culture wars.

This article on TFP gets into a more technical discussion of the challenges of structuring government in a way that minimizes damaging infighting and insecurity:

Democracy is actually a complex of related machanisms, rather than a single institution. Besides the voting thing, it mostly boils down to inability of a ruling coalition to use the most efficient parts of the state apparatus, like the legal system, police, state funds, official propaganda, and so on, directly against the opposition. It’s not democracy if you can just arrest the opposition for crimes against political order. But even if you can’t just arrest the opposition, the imperative for the governing coalition to neuter the opposition by any means necessary remains, and is redirected.

… So restricting the powers of the state, by structural or other means, means that the struggle for political order is less decisive, and thus more escalated, and more damaging to society.

Regardless of whether this comment is sufficient to convince anyone, I hope it helps establish that this is actually quite a deep and technical subject.

Bran Says:

Comment #536 February 3rd, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Correction: The quote on “rub the right’s nose in diversity” is not from Blair himself, it’s from Andrew Neather, an advisor to Blair:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6418456/Labour-wanted-mass-immigration-to-make-UK-more-multicultural-says-former-adviser.html

Scott Says:

Comment #544 February 3rd, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Raoul #543:

Nobody here is in favor of NCL’s (Nut Case Leftests) at Berkeley. In fact, prior to the worst disaster in US history currently unfolding, Scott was often attacked by NCL’s.

LOL! I was going to write a comment saying the same thing at much greater length, but I prefer your formulation.

For those marinated in alternative facts from right-wing news sites, maybe it’s worth stressing: the Berkeley administration was fine for Milo to perform there—mean-spirited and clownish though he is—and even gave the College Republicans the space and security for the event. 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. I think the violent protest was both deplorable and stupid, but we should be clear that this wasn’t Berkeley’s fault.

I’m a billion times more concerned about the president of the United States (!!) having threatened to use this as a pretext to cut funding to Berkeley. Even if Berkeley had screwed up, it would be monstrous to destroy one of the world’s great research universities, and make it impossible for all its students and professors (whatever their political views) to continue their work, over an error by the administration. And again, I can’t even see that the administration did anything wrong in this instance.

BLANDCorporatio Says:

Comment #546 February 3rd, 2017 at 5:49 pm

irt. Mateus Araújo #537:

Come on, not the ad Hitlerum. In 1933, I would hope I would have sided with Churchill for fighting against Hitler’s Germany. I would have liked to know who I was fighting though.

I don’t believe denying platforms will just make opposing arguments go away.

At least, consider a practical argument. If one side argues, and the other snubs, which do you think an undecided observer will find more convincing? You may not win the heart and mind of Boldmug by generously giving him a platform, but surely you lose many minds and hearts when they see that yes you do prefer to live in a safe space bubble.

Mateus Araújo Says:

Comment #552 February 3rd, 2017 at 7:02 pm

BLANDCorporatio #546:

When you have white nationalists in power whose supporters openly make the Nazi salute I think reduction ad Hitlerum becomes a valid argument, not a logical fallacy.

But in practical terms, think about the consequences of letting Boldmug post his drivel here. Let’s say 90% of the people who read his discussion with Scott conclude that indeed, absolute monarchy is a terrible way to organize a society. Congratulations, you just gave the neoreactionaries 10% of Scott’s readers that they would never be able to reach otherwise.

This is not a discussion between two honest thinkers trying to discover whether Babai’s algorithm is quasi-polynomial or subexponential. This is a fight for power. Do not apply the standards for academic debate to it.

Samuel Skinner Says:

Comment #554 February 3rd, 2017 at 8:49 pm

@Mateus Araújo “And Boldmug is defending the destruction of everything I hold dear. If this is not being hateful, I don’t know what it is.”

Odd- he feels the same way about you. I’m sure your feelings are more important then his. – – “And he has shown to be undeserving of this trust and incapable of living in an open society. Simply because he wants to use the very openness of our society to destroy it.”

All your opponents are literally Hitler. All of them. You know what B wants? Singapore with more explicit laws. But that is apparently so evil he must be silenced. Presumably we can’t let the people from Singapore speak either. They might have nice things to say about Singapore! – – “When you have white nationalists in power whose supporters openly make the Nazi salute I think reduction ad Hitlerum becomes a valid argument, not a logical fallacy.”

Spencer isn’t in power. Spencer is a guy who is trying to build a think tank. Your argument appears to be the mere existence of white nationalists means Hitler. This is insane since Hitler was not a white nationalist. In fact the closest nation we have to white nationalist at the time would be the United States, also known as the people who fought Hitler. – – “Congratulations, you just gave the neoreactionaries 10% of Scott’s readers that they would never be able to reach otherwise.

This is not a discussion between two honest thinkers trying to discover whether Babai’s algorithm is quasi-polynomial or subexponential. This is a fight for power. Do not apply the standards for academic debate to it.”

The same could be said of letting Republicans speak. On the plus side this is an incredibly good demonstration of why democracy is bad and self destructs- because to win you need your faction to be emotionally invested in the cause, the more invested they are the more they see criticism as a personal attack and the less likely they are to engage with other individuals as opposed to escalating. – – @BLANDCorporatio He is refering to insecure power. That is a universal feature (not limited to dictatorships or democracies) and we can see that across the board. – – “Retreating now, in your post, into how reactionaries expect decline as a fact of nature is simply a retreat.”

No, it is a description of how reality actually works. Claiming your political philosophy is superior because it is more moral because it ignores bad things is not an improvement. – – “Maybe there are saints who would be perfect, absolute rulers. ”

Why on Earth would you need a saint? Jim has said he’d be fine with Trump’s sons and there is no reason to think any of them are saints. The feature of absolute power isn’t that the monarch is perfect, it is that there is one center of power. – – “One of the Enlightenment ideas is, as far as I understand it, a certain kind of trust in humanity. ”

I’m naively curious at how high the crime rate has to be before this is dropped. The fact of the matter is that people vary in intelligence and people vary in morality. The idea they should all be treated equally is an article of faith, not a logically derived conclusion. – – “Exceptions exist, but for the most part the political machinations of a social-democratic European country are slaps with velvet gloves compared to succession wars that you might see in monarchies. ”

How many succession wars did you see in Enlightenment Era European monarchies? – – @Scott “For those marinated in alternative facts from right-wing news sites, maybe it’s worth stressing: the Berkeley administration was fine for Milo to perform there—mean-spirited and clownish though he is—and even gave the College Republicans the space and security for the event.”

No, the college demanded a security payment at the last moment and threatened to cancel the event. Milo only got to speak because an anonymous individual ponied up the money.

In short the college acted exactly the opposite of how you implied. Which is why we on the right trust claims that it is just ‘crazy leftists’ who are the problem with the scorn it deserves. The crazy leftists are supported by all the other leftists.

” Then violent protesters, apparently not Berkeley students, came from elsewhere and shut the talk down.”

Watch the videos. The violent individuals work with the rest of the crowd- the destroy things and run back into the student body which then close behind them. The Berkley students are protecting them.

“Even if Berkeley had screwed up, it would be monstrous to destroy one of the world’s great research universities, and make it impossible for all its students and professors (whatever their political views) to continue their work, over an error by the administration.”

Since you are incapable of honestly understanding what occurred, why should anyone on the right (you know, the people with the power to shut the college down) care what you have to say? All your arguments are optimized for internal consumption. – – “I happen to have a secular moral framework that doesn’t find the slightest thing wrong with a person choosing homosexuality, supposing it were a choice (or supposing a bisexual person).”

Homosexual individuals are more likely to spread STDs and less likely to have children. These are bad for insuring society continues. The fact you appear to have literally never considered this is depressing, but unsurprising.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #559 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:36 pm

Scott #544,

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:

https://status451.com/2017/01/20/days-of-rage/

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?

Boldmug Says:

Comment #560 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:41 pm

Scott #844:

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.)

Boldmug Says:

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.

Boldmug Says:

Comment #562 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:52 pm

psmith #535:

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…

Boldmug Says:

Comment #563 February 3rd, 2017 at 11:54 pm

sf #530:

This is a brilliantly worded and soberly restrained comment.

Bran Says:

Comment #567 February 4th, 2017 at 3:08 am

BLANDCorporatio #546:

You raised some good questions.

in liberal democracies power struggles tend to be very tame.

Your thesis about the peacefulness of power struggles in democracy only works if you look at recent Western states. That’s not a lot of data, and it’s full of confounds, like wealth, technology, and subordination to the American Empire. It’s possible to identify many periods of decades in which particular dynasties had no problems, either.

I can give you a bunch of counter-examples that show violent struggle in democracies:

– US Civil War – Hitler’s rise out of Weimar democracy – Breakup of Yugoslavia – Ukrainian Civil War – 1970’s violent leftist activism (“Days of Rage”), the 70’s crime wave, LA riots – Present crime, including political violence like Ferguson

Historically, democracies have had plenty of internal violent political struggle. Now Western democracies are increasingly fragile and potentially at the brink of civil war. Additionally, we have crime at greater levels than Japan for no good reason: the left is soft on crime when the criminals are immigrants or other blocs of people who vote left. Violent crime generated by the left’s electoral strategy should be seen as political violence.

When you speak of the succession problems, let me ask, which successions in which countries in which centuries are you talking about? And why would they apply to today? The Hundred Year’s War could not happen with modern military technology. It’s unfair to blame monarchy for the fact that territorial warfare was highly prevalent during most of its history, while modern liberal democracies get nuclear deterrence to prop them up.

Succession struggles are often used as an objection to monarchy, but these concerns are greatly overblown, and based mostly on English history (or Rome, or Game of Thrones).

In France, the Bourbon Dynasty lasted 203 years with 5 kings until it was ruined by the Enlightenment. Prussia was ruled by the Hohenzollern family for 393 years, which is longer than the American republic has even existed! Out of all the people in this thread who are convinced that succession is a horrible risk of monarchy, how many of them knew anything about Europe’s successful dynasties?

If American democracy lasts 393 years and can get to 2169 without falling apart, then perhaps we can reassess. After our last election, who here is looking forward to the next 38 of them?

You are right that no monarch can be completely secure. Security is a sliding scale. But since security is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for good government, more is better, and modern military technology will make monarchies even more secure than they used to be. Popular governments like democracies and communist states have a ceiling on their security, which is an insurmountable problem with them.

Competition was supposed to be a good healthy thing to keep one vigorous and honest.

That’s what it was supposed to be in the democratic theory, but does the theory line up with the reality? Does the competition between American political parties keep them honest, or the opposite? Competition in a market is good, but competition between political powers just causes them to get increasingly nasty to each other and wreck society in the process.

BLANDCorporatio Says:

Comment #568 February 4th, 2017 at 3:28 am

irt. Samuel Skinner #554:

Succession wars during the Enlightenment period, well you might have the Austrian succession war of 1740, the Polish sucession war starting from 1733 I think, and depending on how you wish to count it, the war of Spanish succession of 1702. All of these are just before (Spanish) or smack-middle of the traditionally considered age of Enlightenment.

It’s nice to think monarchies of the late XVIIIth, XIXth centuries were peaceful (except for the occasional revolutionary blip, which wasn’t the fault of the monarchs -at all-), but by that time the monarchic power had eroded considerably.

I dare say, the reason why you didn’t have succession wars after a certain point is that the stakes were much lower. No absolute power to gain, no complete punishment for the vanquished. All in all, a better system to control the ebbs and flow of power.

As to the decline and retreat– which I insist you’re doing– nobody here is denying decline exists. I don’t. But in the face of this reality, surely a system of unconcentrated power is better, to diminish a regime’s unavoidable hysterics on the way out. Meanwhile, while your side always argues for the benefits of monarchy, you still find it convenient to excuse the bad symptoms of monarchies as simple artifacts of unavoidable decay.

May I suggest then that monarchy can’t handle decay very well?

On the issue of rulers and saints, look, I might, in my weaker moments, acquiesce to an absolute ruler who’s a saint. When pinning that power to a particular, known, visibly flawed individual though– no thanks.

As for my article of faith in basic human decency, it is unabashedly an article of faith, similar to the presumption of innocence. If crime is your litmus test for citizenship it would be worth discussing policies that disenfranchise criminals. I don’t find such politics particularly unreasonable btw, though they do need to be careful in where they draw the line and how definitive the punishment.

As for how high should the crime level be for that article of faith to falter, lets put it this way. The vast majority of people I’ve met have been decent, and I have rarely been given reason to suspect otherwise of the vast majority of people I see while I walk about my business. I really don’t live in a forest of thugs (and I live in Germany btw). And you can look at crime statistics instead and see the same thing– the vast, vast majority of people aren’t criminals.

Scott Says:

Comment #573 February 4th, 2017 at 7:56 am

Boldmug #500:

Call me back when I start a civil war in Libya and Syria, and kill half a million people.

I was talking about SJWs—by which I mean, the people who call those who they disagree with “privileged white cishet douchecanoes” on the Internet, and sometimes even try to get them fired. I’m pretty sure that’s a disjoint set from those responsible for the civil wars in Libya and Syria, even if you thought (which I don’t) that liberal Western politicians bore more than incidental responsibility for those wars.

But I forgot that you evaluate ideas and movements purely according to the “cladistic” method—according to which, if someone can trace any of the intellectual antecedents of X and Y back to the same sources (and they get however many pages they need to do so), then X and Y are basically the same and X is responsible for whatever Y does. By the same standard, I suppose I could hold you responsible for all the immense right-wing crimes of history, and the other ones surely to come in the next few years.

Scott Says:

Comment #574 February 4th, 2017 at 8:01 am

Boldmug #504: When I tried nextdoor.com, the top posts by my neighbors were:

  • Car break-in on XX St, see anything?
  • Babysitter needed this Friday on YY St
  • Looking for reliable & reasonably priced mechanic

Is the car break-in supposed to have opened my eyes to the fact that I basically live in a war zone?

Scott Says:

Comment #575 February 4th, 2017 at 9:42 am

Boldmug #508: With CO2 concentrations increasing exponentially, and with feedbacks such as the thawing permafrost releasing vastly more CO2 and methane, it seems to me that alas, even a logarithmic dependence of thermal forcing on CO2 has at least as great a probability as nuclear war of bringing about the end of our civilization. If only the dependence were loglog(n).

I’ve never thought that the general circulation models were the primary reason to accept the reality of human-caused climate change. The primary reasons are:

(1) The basic 19th-century physics and chemistry of the situation, already known to Arrhenius. Most strikingly, in the 1950s, long before the issue had become politicized, John von Neumann (otherwise known as a conservative Cold Warrior, and someone who was not often wrong) took it as simply obvious that the increasing CO2 concentrations from industrial civilization would eventually lead to a catastrophic warming of the earth, if something wasn’t done about it. This, more than anything else, leads me to think that it’s only the political implications of the obvious that make it non-obvious.

(2) Feedbacks, which give us much less time than we would have had otherwise.

(3) The actual empirical fact that this is all already happening—giant ice shelves are collapsing, winter in the US is a different creature than it was 30 years ago, animals are shifting their habitats, etc.

Among the hardheaded physicists who I know in real life, every single one of them—I can’t think of an exception—agrees with the usual consensus views about climate change, in the same way that they all agree about Maxwell’s equations. You’re asking me to believe that all of them merely go along for political and ideological reasons; none of them understand thermal forcing themselves? Should I not believe my physics colleagues about quantum mechanics or general relativity either?

There’s exactly one place where I regularly encounter climate deniers, where they even seem to predominate—and that’s blog comment sections.

Which simply leads me to think that Mateus Araújo might have a point about the value of these sorts of threads. If there were a way to ensure that the proportion of blog commenters defending position X bore some sensible relationship—even if off by a factor of 5 or 10—to the proportion of intelligent, knowledgeable people who believe position X in reality, then these threads could provide a wonderful way to clarify our disagreements.

As it is, though, an extraterrestrial encountering this thread would get the impression that most thinking people want to burn down our existing civilization, trash the universities, throw progressives into the ocean out of helicopters, and install an emperor to whom the masses will be forced to submit. And then there’s some tiny outnumbered minority that advocates fringe positions like “liberal democracy” and “the US Constitution.”

When the actual reality is that, among the people whose intelligence (say) Boldmug would respect, probably 98% are closer to my side than to his—and the issue is just that, among that 98%, the overwhelming majority can’t be bothered to participate in comment sections. So then I, and one or two others, are left to carry the torch of Enlightenment on our own, against adversaries with unlimited time and paragraphs, and the absurd impression gets created that we’re an embattled minority.

I don’t regret having this sort of debate once. But in future posts about Trump’s attacks on civilization, I’ll consider adopting the same policy that Peter Woit did:

I’m moderating comments here and will only post one kind of comment: positive ideas about what to do about this emergency situation.

Boldmug et al. would still be welcome to participate, as long as they adhered to that policy.

Scott Says:

Comment #576 February 4th, 2017 at 9:48 am

Boldmug #509:

In short: come to the dark side! We have cookies. And a library.

NOOOOO! In the movies, there’s only one thing that’s cooler than the dark side, and that’s the hero who sees the dark side, understands its appeal, is even tempted by it once or twice, but ultimately chooses to battle on the side of light.

Samuel Skinner Says:

Comment #577 February 4th, 2017 at 10:01 am

@Steve Johnson Thanks; I’m weak at verbal jitsu.

@BLANDCorporatio Those aren’t internal wars. “Putting my guy in charge” is a political universal up to the present day.

“As for my article of faith in basic human decency, it is unabashedly an article of faith, similar to the presumption of innocence.”

I suggest you look at South African rape rates. Faith in basic human decency IS unwarranted.

‘The vast majority of people I’ve met have been decent,”

You live in Germany. They systematically executed the most violent individuals over a period of centuries in the middle ages, removing the traits for intense violence from the gene pool. I recommend going to places where that hasn’t happened. Your idealism will disappear very quickly.

@Mateus Araújo “He is defending returning to some sort of racially-segregated nationalistic authoritarian regime. ”

No. Mencius Moldburg advocates for neocameralism. Interestingly enough it is the same as Scott Alexander’s Archipelago. The difference is Moldburg has a mechanism to enforce things and Alexander never got around to elaborating one.

In case you don’t want to bother looking it up, it basically means having a bunch of Singapore like city states with free movement and explicitly based political power. It is the exact opposite of ethno-nationalism.

“But don’t ask me to defend the freedom of speech of people who want a Singaporean regime in the West. One thing that the people in Singapore definitely do not have the freedom to do is to advocate for a Western liberal regime.”

He wants a variety of city states with different laws. Why on Earth would anyone want multiple city states if they are all going to have the same laws?

“Your statement that the Nazis were not white nationalists is just ridiculous.”

It happens to be true. The Nazis were committed to a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Slavs. Slavs are white people (the Nazis agreed to this). Hence the Nazis were not white nationalists because they did not believe in acting in the interests of white people. I’m not sure why you find this unbelievable. The place controlled by white nationalists was the United States.

“But just in case you are actually interested in communication, by white nationalist in power I did not mean Spencer, but Stephen Bannon.”

I’m not aware of any evidence showing he is a white nationalist. As far as I’ve seen Trump and his team are all civic nationalists.

@Scott “But I forgot that you evaluate ideas and movements purely according to the “cladistic” method—according to which, if someone can trace any of the intellectual antecedents of X and Y back to the same sources (and they get however many pages they need to do so), then X and Y are basically the same and X is responsible for whatever Y does. ”

No, we are more on the “Obama started his political career with Ayer’s backing” sort of relationship when we refer to cladistic. Or is this intentional dishonesty, in which case I congratulate you on the rhetoric which takes a long time to honestly respond to and lets you ignore most what they write.

“By the same standard, I suppose I could hold you responsible for all the immense right-wing crimes of history, and the other ones surely to come in the next few years.”

Moldburg has a vision for the future that resembles The Holy Roman Empire and Golden Age Greece. It has little to no resemblance to popular right wing movements (which he views as too liberal after all- they are based on the people’s will). Blaming him for them is a bit like blaming Louis XIV for Hitler and Stalin because they all believed in centralizing power.

Scott Says:

Comment #578 February 4th, 2017 at 10:07 am

Boldmug #560: I was at Berkeley 2000-2004, after CS had moved from Evans Hall to Soda. Maybe that’s why I apparently had a better experience there than you did? 🙂

If I were put in charge of Berkeley, then sure, I’d love to do away with the football team and also massively reduce the amount of administration and bureaucracy. On the other hand, I love the campus and all the Thai noodle and smoothie places surrounding it on Telegraph, Durant, and Shattuck—it’s one of my favorite environments on earth, actually—and would keep that. And the moment tenure was abolished, my world-class faculty would immediately start bolting for other universities that had tenure. And without the faculty, there would no longer be anything worth reinventing.

Samuel Skinner Says:

Comment #581 February 4th, 2017 at 10:19 am

“The basic 19th-century physics and chemistry of the situation, already known to Arrhenius. ”

It was agreed that CO2 could raise temperatures, but it was believed there was a saturation point. This wasn’t ‘discovered and ignored’- it took decades of research in order to show how the mechanisms worked. This is really a complicated subject and you can’t solve it by appealing to basic physics- it only looks that way because most of the hard work of figuring out how the atmosphere works is done. – – “You’re asking me to believe that all of them merely go along for political and ideological reasons; none of them understand thermal forcing themselves?”

How many academics support Human Bio-Diversity? We really do have multiple different departments all going along with things that are trivially false for political and ideological reasons. Forgive me for doubting you, but from the outside there is no reason to think that people in physics are completely immune to pressures on everyone else. – – “And then there’s some tiny outnumbered minority that advocates fringe positions like “liberal democracy” and “the US Constitution.””

That would be conservatives. Liberals believe in the ‘living constitution’ which means it has whatever powers in it they find convenient. – – ” So then I, and one or two others, are left to carry the torch of Enlightenment on our own, against adversaries with unlimited time and paragraphs, and the absurd impression gets created that we’re an embattled minority.”

What you do if you don’t want endless paragraphs but do want to engage is to write out a manifesto, email it to the other person, have them write out their manifesto and do that back and forth until you are both satisfied you’ve used all your arguments and then post them.

I’m honestly not sure why you didn’t do that. I guess you didn’t want to read what Modlburg has to say? If so, why on Earth are you bothering to read and respond to him? Yes, I know you have the same mental flaw I do. But that is no excuse- you are alot more successful then me- you should have coping mechanisms for this!

Scott Says:

Comment #583 February 4th, 2017 at 10:26 am

Mateus: I hope you can appreciate why your comments leave me torn.

On the one hand, I can’t accept any viewpoint that claims that liberal democracy can only work so long as the views inimical to it are quarantined in dark corners of the Internet, where hardly anyone sees them. If liberal democracy is worth fighting for at all (which it is), then it has to be because the views inimical to it are wrong and can be vanquished in argument—which they can be.

On the other hand, a major practical problem arises when the defenders of the Enlightenment, who are the overwhelming majority among thoughtful people, simply don’t show up for the fight, because they judge that the opponents aren’t worth debating, they have better things to do, etc. Then I, and one or two others, are put into the ludicrous position of defending all the human progress of the last few centuries by ourselves, as though we were a fringe movement. And many of us just don’t have the time to keep it up. That, more than anything else, is why I’m now finally closing down this thread: in order to spend the rest of the day with my family, except for the time I’ll spend writing a problem set for my course.

It’s been a fascinating discussion. Thanks so much to everyone who participated without threatening to throw progressives out of helicopters.

grey enlightenment Says:

Comment #584 February 4th, 2017 at 10:27 am

Just this very page alone including the comments has over 100,000 words, enough to fill a 300 page book.

America’s system of government is resilient because it’s very redundant, has a lot of inertia (which helps when things are going well, but also makes it hard to change things too), and also the help of the very strong private sector, as well as research and development from universities, which carries a lot of weight and offsets the cultural decay.

The problem with Taleb’s argument against Pinker is he is trying to prove a negative

Taleb is incapable of debating at a high school level. For example, regarding Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature”, which argues that the world has become less violent, Taleb’s counters that we don’t know the ‘true’ variance of the distribution that underpins violence, meaning that Pinker is not accounting for possible black swans like nuclear war that may kill millions of people at once. Taleb uses this argument against all his critics, but the problem is, methodologically, such an argument is fallacious. Taleb is invoking the argumentum ad ignorantiam logical fallacy by forcing Pinker prove that there won’t be nuclear war or some black swan, and in the absence of such a proof Taleb must be right. Of course, such a proof is impossible. Whereas Pinker’s arguments involve empirical evidence of how the world is safer, Taleb waves it away by forcing Pinker to prove a negative: that nuclear war (or some other great crisis) won’t happen.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Thin-Skin In The Game

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