Illiberal Reformers

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Thomas C. Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers is hard to classify politically:

Among his revelations: The minimum wage was created to destroy jobs; progressives (including the founders of this magazine [New Republic]) really did hate small businesses and they were all way too enthusiastic about Germany’s social structure. But Leonard’s personal politics are hard to read, and at the very least he’s invested in progressivism, writing that it’s “too important to be left to hagiography and obloquy.”

The illiberal reformers of Leonard’s title are the first generation of American economists, born between 1850 and 1870. Late nineteenth-century tycoons, their hearts full of social gospel and their pockets full of other people’s labor, founded colleges like Cornell, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, The University of Chicago, and Vanderbilt. These new schools weren’t bound to the classical curricula of their New England predecessors, and they prioritized practical research and creating experts. They promoted the study of “political economy” — “economics” by 1900 — and the discipline took academia by storm.

The first generation of American economists were not laissez-faire capitalists, as an observer might reasonably imagine based on the current state of the field. In fact, they were anything but. “As Christians they judged laissez faire to be morally unsound,” Leonard writes, “and as economists they declared it functionally obsolete.” The British (think Adam Smith) model was unsuited for the era of railroads, labor unions, and scientific management. They much preferred the German idea of society as a single organism. Granted the premise that individuals were shaped by the nation and not the other way around, progressive economists had to decide who would run the country. These people had to be unbiased, scientific, brilliant, and out for the public good. The progressive economists decided on themselves.

In the early twentieth century, progressives displayed an open contempt for individual rights. In a 1915 unsigned editorial at this magazine, the editors ridiculed the Bill of Rights as a joke. “They insist upon invoking abstract principles, instead of trying to determine for concrete cases whether social control should supersede individual initiative…how can we discuss that seriously?” The doctrine of natural rights will “prevent us from imposing a social ideal.” The progressives were able to unite idealism and pragmatism via science and the administrative state. What good was democracy if people voted against their collective interest? What expertise did the average American have in managing a state or a race? Black Americans in particular could not be trusted with the ballot. “The progressive goal was to improve the electorate,” Leonard writes, “not necessarily to expand it.” Jim Crow laws suppressed turnout in the South, but it fell in the North as well. New York state’s participation went from 88 percent in 1900 to 55 percent in 1920.

At Least One Anti-Soviet Counterintelligence Agent

Friday, January 29th, 2016

Malcolm Muggeridge came home from Mozambique near the end of WWII and was promoted into the inner circles of British military intelligence:

His new position was under Kim Philby, the head of the Department Of Counter-Intelligence Against The Soviet Union, who turned out to be a really bad choice for this position given that he, LIKE EVERY OTHER PROGRESSIVE INTELLECTUAL IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OF BRITAIN, was a secret Soviet spy. But at the time he seemed okay enough, and he sent Muggeridge to France to aid in the Liberation there.

We like to think of the Liberation of France as a nice, happy time, but for Muggeridge it was basically the time when an entire country worth of very angry Frenchmen massacred, pogrommed, lynched, or otherwise descended upon anyone accused of collaborating with the German occupation. Unsurprisingly, everybody turned out to think their personal and political rivals had collaborated with the German occupation, so it was basically the atmosphere of a 17th century Massachusetts witch hunt, only with less restraint.

Muggeridge’s job was, as usual, darkly hilarious — actual spies for the French and British governments usually acted all cooperative toward the German occupation to keep their cover and get a chance of infiltrating enemy ranks; as a result, they were usually First Up Against The Wall When The Liberation Came. Sure, they said “I was just a spy doing it as part of a secret plan,” but of course everybody said that. So Muggeridge had to rush from prison to prison, trying to convince mobs of angry Frenchmen not to execute the people who had just been most instrumental in saving them.

His spy career ended with what seems like maybe the most typical incident in the entire book — somehow P. G. Wodehouse had wandered into Nazi Germany and been stuck in a prison camp there. Then he had wandered out into France, gotten marked as a Collaborator, and was now in serious fear for his life. The British Secret Service picked Muggeridge as their Official Attache For P. G. Wodehouse Related Affairs, showing such exceptional genius in choosing the right man for the job that you would think they would have been able to get AT LEAST ONE ANTI-SOVIET COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENT WHO WASN’T A SECRET SOVIET SPY. Anyway, Muggeridge and Wodehouse wander around the cratered, mob-ruled French landscape, having a series of very Wodehousian adventures, until finally the war ends, Wodehouse is deposited safely the United States, and Muggeridge is able to return to Britain.

Chronicles Of Wasted Time

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Scott Alexander asked Mencius Moldbug to suggest one book, and he chose Chronicles of Wasted Time, the autobiography of Malcolm Muggeridge:

His reaction to journalism is an increasing terror that this might be his calling. He is very good at it, takes to it like an old veteran almost immediately, feels in some strange way that he has come home — but the entire enterprise fills him with loathing. He watches in horror how easily the words flow on to the page when his puppet-masters tell him to argue for a particular cause, how fluidly he takes to idioms like “It is surely incumbent upon all of us to…” and “there can be no one here present who does not…”.

[...]

But getting back to the story… although it is clear to him that the Soviet economy is struggling, every dispatch they are given to send home declares that things are better than ever, that the Workers’ Paradise is even more paradisiacal than previously believed, that the evidence is in and Stalinism is the winner. It doesn’t matter what he makes of this, because anything he writes which deviates from the script is rejected by the censors, who ban him from sending it home. He is reduced to sending secret messages at the bottoms of people’s suitcases, only to find to his horror that even when they successfully reach the Guardian offices back in Britain, his bosses have no interest in publishing them because they offend the prejudices of its progressive readership. Finally, he finds himself a part of the elite fraternity of western journalists on the Soviet beat, who maintain their morale by one-upping each other in how cynical and patronizing they can be towards their Russian hosts and their credulous readers back home.

[...]

His final break with the rest of the enlightened progressive world comes when he decides to do something that perhaps no other journalist in the entire Soviet Union had dared — to go off the reservation, so to speak, leave Moscow undercover, and see if he can actually get into the regions where rumors say some kind of famine might be happening. The plan goes without a hitch, he passes himself off as a generic middle-class Soviet, and he ends up in Ukraine right in the middle of Stalin’s Great Famine. He describes the scene — famished skeletons begging for crumbs, secret police herding entire towns into railway cars never to be seen again. At great risk to himself, he smuggles notes about the genocide out of the country, only to be met — once again — with total lack of interest. Guardian readers don’t look at the newspapers to hear bad things about the Soviet Union! Guardian readers want to hear about how the Glorious Future is already on its way! He is quickly sidelined in favor of the true stars of Soviet journalism, people like Walter Duranty, the New York Times‘s Russia correspondent, who wrote story after story about how prosperous and happy and well-fed the Soviets were under Stalin, and who later won the Pulitzer Prize for his troubles.

We are not smart

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

We are not smart, Joe Rogan reminds us:

That’s the scariest thing about life, it’s that dumb people are out-breeding smart people at a fucking staggering pace. And nobody ever even talks about it! We all kinda know it’s happening, and the real problem is; most of us are dumb. We don’t want to admit it, but really, how many of us are really smart? Look, I know I’m stupid. I know. I know I’m stupid, yet I’m smarter than almost everybody I meet! And the real problem with dumb people is, they don’t even know they’re dumb. That’s a part of being dumb, you’re not aware!

There should be a way to tell, like a home pregnancy test type thing. Some shit you take at home and you lick it and you go “Oh, I’m a fucking idiot! Shit! The fuck is this?! It’s broken, gimme another one!” Dudes would never believe it, idiots would have fucking boxes stacked to the ceiling. “LIAR! COCKSUCKER! NO!”

The real problem is, most of us are idiots! We just like to think that we’re not idiots because we use a bunch of shit that smart people have figured out. But how many of us understand any of that shit? Think about the technological level the world operates on, how many of us really understand that? What if everybody out there died, and we had to take over the world? How well would you think we’d do?

[Crowd starts cheering]

“Yeah, terrific! We would do awesome!” Yeah, does anybody really know how any of this shit works?

[Taps microphone]

Why’s that loud, any idea? I’ve been a comedian for sixteen fucking years, I have no idea what’s in there! I don’t know, some loud shit? I don’t know.

[Points at spotlight]

What makes that bright, bright shit? I don’t know. Think about all the stuff you need to run your life. Computers and palm pilots and cell phones, how many of you know how to make any of that shit?! I mean, if I left you alone in the woods with a hatchet, how long before you can send me an email?

We are not smart! We buy shit from smart people! I don’t have a camera on my phone because I’m smart! If you left me on an island for a fucking million years I could never figure out how to put a camera on a phone! I don’t even know what a camera is! I know that I press a button and a picture shows up. What happens between me pressing the button and the picture showing up is anybody’s fucking guess! There might be leprechauns with spray paints fucking gremlins up the ass!

All I know is “megapixel”! Yeah, you gotta say that to get the good shit. I don’t even know what a megapixel is! It’s like a noise you make with your mouth. “Megapixel! Ohhh, you’re clever! You are clever!”

Who knows of people who know that shit? Does anybody know anyone that’s invented anything? Who are they? Is anybody watching them? Making sure they’re alive? Making sure that somebody mixed kids with them? No! No one’s paying attention! I think what’s going to happen is that one day smart people are just gonna die and they’re gonna leave us with a bunch of shit we don’t understand. I think there’s gonna be no warning!

We’re just gonna be sitting around, having a good time, having a couple of drinks, power’s just going to shut off. Everybody’s gonna get out their lighters “Way to go, you fuckin’ idiots! Can’t even keep the power on, what the fuck…” And what do you do when the power goes out? I don’t know what you do, what I do usually is that I sit around and I wait. Cause I figure “There’s a guy fixing that shit. Probably working out it right now…” How long will it take before you figure out all the smart people are dead? It would take years. You would have to run out of batteries, “Dude I don’t know how to make a fucking battery, what do we do? SHIT!”

“Listen, just get together with a torch, okay? Get a torch, we’re all gonna meet in the street and we’re all gonna work this out. It’s gonna be cool.”

Standing out in the street with a torch, “What’sup, fag?”

“Dude, you know how to get the power on?”

“I thought you did!”

“No… alright, keep me posted.”

“You too!”

We’d just be sitting in our houses with out torches. That would work. ‘Till the animals realise we don’t have electricity any more and they start sneaking around, checking shit out. And they realise there’s no loud noises to scare them off any more and bears just start grabbing people.

[Imitating bear attack]

They just realise we’re fat and slow, they don’t even have to catch us. They scare us, we’ll just black out. It’s a matter of time before they start eating us! More evolution! But not me motherfucker, I’ve got guns! I’ve got bullets, I’m gonna be fine! …until I run out of bullets

“I don’t know how to make a fucking bullet, do you? SHIIIITTTT! Dude, there’s bears out there, we don’t even have any bullets, what the fuck do we do?!”

“Listen man, we’re gotta get out of the city, we’re sitting ducks. This is what we should do; we should move back into the caves!” People will live in the caves again!

“Dude, it’s safer in the caves, bro! Just fucking guard the entrance with sharp, pointy sticks!”

“GRRRR”

“AAHHHH!”

We would just get down to a core group of survivors, fighting off the bears. And within one or two generations we would forget EVERYTHING! Trigonometry, calculus, all that shit’s gone! Science, the ‘net, it’s gone! It’s never gonna happen again! It would take thousands of years, you would have to reinvent electricity… Within one hundred years would think the world’s flat and the sun is seventeen miles away. Just like the people that wrote The Bible, that’s what they thought, ain’t that funny?

“GRRRR”

“AAHHHH!”

We would just devolve to a core group of survivors and let them re-evolve and re-discover the earth. How crazy would that be? How crazy would a caveman discovering downtown Phoenix be? Just coming out of the cave with his fucking club, with his buddies.

“Dude, who fuckin’ built all this shit?”

“Bro, it had to be aliens!”

“FUCK YEAH! Fuck yeah it’s aliens! I can’t do that, you do that?”

“Neither can I! What the fuck?”

See, I think this has happened before. I think it explains the pyramids. And yeah, I was reeeallyy high when I thought this up. But it makes sense! If you ever watch a documentary on how they built the pyramids, they have no idea how they made those things.

“Well, we believe they used levers”, but this is all that you really need to know. They know they’re there, so they know somebody made them. But all you need to know about the Great Pyramid of Giza; there’s two million, three hundred thousand stones that weigh between two and 80 tonnes – some of them were cut form a quarry that was that was five hundred miles away! No machines, no trucks, no steel, they had copper tools and they were perfectly cut, you couldn’t even get a razor blade in between these rocks and they were perfectly aligned, true North, South, East and West. And if you cut and place ten of these monstrous stones a day it would take you six hundred and sixty for fucking years to make one pyramid! All brought to you by people who thought the god Ra took the sun across the sky in a canoe and returned later that evening with the moon. They had sixteen year old queens! Cleopatra was sixteen years old when she was running shit. That’s like Lindsay Lohan being Queen of the world!

And they built that?! They built that? Are you sure? Are you sure? Okay, because I have another theory. I think people used to be really, really, really fuckin’ smart! But the dumb ones just out-fucked the smart ones! That’s what I think! I think that we are all the bastard children of the idiot stone workers of Egypt! I think that at one point there was a master race and they were reading each other’s minds and they were free of ego and they were totally honest and they were mapping out the cosmos and behind them, the stone workers just fucked away.

[Mimics stone workers having sex, and giving birth to a child]

“Oh look, he look just like me! That’s my fella right there!”

They just took over. And one day the smart people just die. There’s probably no warning. Just one day the idiots show up at the pyramids “Hello?! Anybody in there?! We’re supposed to get our checks on Friday! Hello?! The boy’s have got overtime coming! The holidays’ just around the corner, have you no heart?”

Then eventually they just realise the smart people are all dead.

“What do you want to do?”

“I think for now we should just move into the pyramids then we’ll figure it all out.”

And that’s what they did, they just moved in. Then they just started lying about it. After a couple of generations, “Who built this?”

“WE DID! We’re the best, we’re number one! Egypt! Egypt! Egypt! Look at that beautiful flat wall! That’s craftsmanship, son! I think I will draw stick figures on it!

[Mimics drawing]

“This.. is a woman… she’s carrying food upon her head… that’s important to document! And this… is a man… but, he has a head of a dog! And he’s evil!”

You sure they made that? They wrote in stick figures, dude.

An Idle Class That Can Only Dream

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Within the context of how life is lived in this country these days, we’re not going to stop massacres from happening, James Howard Kunstler argues:

And what is that context? A nation physically arranged on-the-ground to produce maximum loneliness, arranged economically to produce maximum anxiety, and disposed socially to produce maximum alienation. Really, everything in the once vaunted American way of life slouches in the direction of depression, rage, violence, and death.

This begs the question about guns. I believe it should be harder to buy guns. I believe certain weapons-of-war, such as assault rifles, should not be sold in the civilian market. But I also believe that the evolution of our Deep State — the collusion of a corrupt corporate oligarchy with an overbearing police and surveillance apparatus — is such a threat to liberty and decency that the public needs to be armed in defense of it. The Deep State needs to worry about the citizens it is fucking with.

The laws on gun sales range from ridiculously lax in many states to onerous in a few. Yet the most stringent, Connecticut, (rated “A” by the Brady Campaign org), was the site of the most horrific massacre of recent times so far, the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting. The handgun law in New York City is the most extreme in the nation — limiting possession only to police and a few other very special categories of citizens. But it took the “stop-and-frisk” policy to really shake the weapons out of the gang-banging demographic. And now that Mayor Bill deBlasio has deemed that “racist,” gang-banging murders are going up again.

Which leads to a consideration that there is already such a fantastic arsenal of weapons loose in this country that attempts to regulate them would be an exercise in futility — it would only stimulate brisker underground trafficking in the existing supply.

What concerns me more than the gun issue per se is the extraordinary violence-saturated, pornified culture of young men driven crazy by failure, loneliness, grievance, and anger. More and more, there are no parameters for the normal expression of masculine behavior in America — for instance, taking pride in doing something well, or becoming a good candidate for marriage. The lower classes have almost no vocational domain for the normal enactments of manhood, and one of the few left is the army, where they are overtly trained to be killers.

Much of what used to be the working class is now an idle class that can only dream of what it means to be a man and they are bombarded with the most sordid pre-packaged media dreams in the form of video games based on homicide, the narcissistic power fantasies of movies, TV, and professional sports, and the frustrating tauntings of free porn. The last thing they’re able to do is form families. All of this operates in conditions where there are no normal models of male authority, especially fathers and bosses, to regulate the impulse control of young men — and teach them to regulate it themselves.

The physical setting of American life composed of a failing suburban sprawl pattern for daily living — the perfect set-up for making community impossible — obliterates the secondary layer of socialization beyond the family. This is life in the strip-mall wilderness of our country, which has gotten to be mostly of where people live. Imagine a society without families and real communities and wave your flag over that.

Welcome to the Guest House

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Sophie Kasiki — not her real name — was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then “raised in a fervently Catholic and comfortable household of strong, independent women,” but moved to Paris to live with her sister when their mother died.

While employed as a social worker helping immigrant families, she converted to Islam — without telling her atheist husband:

Her new faith brought only temporary psychological comfort, but introduced her to three Muslim men, 10 years her junior, whom she nicknamed Les Petits (the little ones) and teased like younger brothers.

In September 2014, the three disappeared, later turning up in Syria, from where they maintained daily contact with Kasiki. She saw herself as a conduit between three lost boys, who simply needed to know their mothers were missing them to catch the next plane home, and their distraught families. Slowly the roles reversed. “I thought I was in control of the situation, but I realise now they were probably trained to recruit people like me,” she said. “Little by little they played on my weaknesses. They knew I was an orphan and I had converted to Islam, they knew I was insecure …”

On 20 February 2015, Kasiki told her husband she was travelling to work in an orphanage in Istanbul for a few weeks and taking their son. Instead she took the well-worn jihadi route to southern Turkey and into Syria.

Installed in the Isis stronghold of Raqqa, the reality of daily life was predictably different from the “paradise” painted by her hometown friends. Kasiki was ordered not to go out alone and only then covered from head to toe, to hand over her passport, and to limit communications with her family in France.

At the city’s Isis-run maternity hospital, where she was to work, she was shocked by the squalid conditions, staff indifference to patients’ suffering, and a hierarchy in the city that put “arrogant foreign fighters” at the top of the social heap and Syrians at the bottom. The family apartment Kasiki was allocated had been hastily abandoned by its Syrian owners and their caged canaries served as an increasingly potent metaphor for her and her son’s confinement.

[...]

The Frenchmen took Kasiki and her son to the madaffa (guest house), a prison in all but name and home to dozens of foreign women, where she was shocked to see young children watching Isis decapitations and killings on television while their mothers cheered and clapped. “The women saw Isis fighters as their Prince Charming, someone who was strong, powerful and would protect them. The only way out of the madaffa was to marry one. In reality, these western women were just wombs to make babies for Daesh.”

How the War Was Won

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Many Americans see their own country as having won WWII. After the French and British failed to stop the Nazis, the Americans came in and did what they couldn’t do.

More sophisticated Americans point to the entire Eastern Front, where the Soviets lost more men fighting the Nazis than everyone else combined.

In How the War was Won, Phillips Payson O’Brien argues that our air-sea power won the war after all:

Those who laud the Soviet contribution do so within a paradigm that understands the contribution to victory through manpower. O’Brien cannot deny that the USSR engaged a larger percentage of the Wehrmacht than the Western Allies. His argument is that the Second World War was primarily a mechanized war. The production and destruction of equipment is what decided the war in spite of the human cost of 70 million dead (civilians included).

The production of air and sea weaponry far outstripped that of land weaponry. As such, O’Brien argues that the air-sea war was more significant than the fight on the ground. For instance, the German army received only between 30–35% of production when it was lucky. A plurality of production effort was generally aimed at air weaponry. For instance, in May 1943 40% of German production efforts were spent on aircraft. American, British, and Japanese production efforts were similar, with the UK spending approximately one half of its production efforts on aircraft from 1940 onwards. Naval production for each of these four nations also typically outstripped that of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) associated with the great land battles.

Air and sea power allowed for more efficient destruction of Axis equipment. This destruction could be achieved in three phases. “Pre-production” destruction prevented the Germans and Japanese from producing weaponry in the first place by damaging factories and destroying or preventing the arrival of raw materials. “Production” destruction meant destroying equipment as it was being assembled in the factories. “Deployment” destruction refers to equipment lost as it was in transit from assembly plants to the front lines. The Western Allies — mainly Great Britain and the United States — were primarily responsible for these equipment losses. The Russians did not maintain a very large navy, nor did they invest in many large, four-engined bombers to strike at the German economy.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

Ten Theses on Immigration

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Ross Douthat presents his Ten Theses on Immigration:

  1. The nation-state is real, and (thus far) irreplaceable.
  2. Immigration is a perilous solution to demographic decline.
  3. Culture is very real, and cultural inheritances tend to be enduring.
  4. Cultural commonalities help assimilation; cultural differences spur balkanization.
  5. Punctuated immigration encourages assimilation; constant immigration limits it.
  6. Cosmopolitanism is unusual; tribalism comes naturally.
  7. [There is no 7. Odd.]
  8. Native backlash against perceived cultural transformation is very powerful, and any politics that refuses to take account of it will fail.
  9. Liberal societies are not guaranteed survival.
  10. Europe and America are different.

Free Blonde Swedish Girls

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

This is not about just refugees from Syria’s civil war, Henry Porter notes:

At a feeding station run by Greek volunteers in the shadow of Mytilene’s castle, I discovered young Moroccans, Tunisians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Ethiopians, and one man from Mali. An entire generation seems to be on the move. You are struck by their good nature and the resourcefulness that propels them across continents. There is also acute loneliness on the long road into Europe. I met a charming Afghan man of about 20 who was giving half his free meal to a gang of friendly dogs. He told me he did this every day simply for the company.

Demographics, poverty, and communications are driving economic migration. According to the research group Youthpolicy.org, young people aged between 15 and 24 constitute about 20 percent of the populations in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Because many are poor, they cannot marry — half of men in the Middle East between the ages of 25 and 29 are single. They have little money and few ties; however, they do have the Internet on their phones (an indispensable item on the road), and they know about the wealth and opportunities of Europe, and these are what put them in a dinghy, even if they have never seen the sea before. But there are other enticements — one people-smuggling Web site is reported to have promised speedy asylum procedures in Sweden, “free blonde Swedish girls,” and accommodation in a luxury hotel.

History is Fundamentally Tragic

Friday, January 15th, 2016

“We have forgotten,” French prime minister Manuel Valls let slip to foreign-newspaper reporters, “that history is fundamentally tragic.”

Such fatalism is extremely rare among modern European politicians. Ever since the European movement began, in the 1940s, spearheaded by Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, the basic operating principle of the project and its leaders has been an almost cultish optimism. For at least two generations, Europe’s highly educated, Financial Times-reading mandarins assumed they could inoculate the Continent against every possible contingency with ingenious layers of bureaucracy and legislation.

But Valls came right out with it: history cannot be defied by rules and regulations, or by institutionalized wishful thinking. His implication, I believe, was that France and its European Union partners needed to think anew, and act anew.

It is worth recalling the original optimism of the European movement after World War II, here articulated in the spring of 1948:

We must proclaim the mission and design of a United Europe, whose moral conception will win the respect and gratitude of mankind and whose physical strength will be such that none will dare molest her tranquil sway … I hope to see a Europe where men and women of every country will think of being European as of belonging to their native land, and wherever they go in this wide domain will truly feel “here I am at home.”

These were the words of Winston Churchill speaking at the inaugural Congress of Europe in The Hague, and they may surprise his Euro-skeptic heirs in the British Conservative Party, some of whom favor what is known as “Brexit” — Britain’s exit from the E.U., in order to reclaim control over laws made in Brussels and to end the right of people from E.U. member states to work in the U.K.

Brussels Lockdown

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Nowhere are the shock and change in Europe after the attacks better represented than in Brussels, which went into total lockdown:

I arrived in Brussels on the Eurostar at night to find only homeless people and camouflaged military on the streets. It was as if the Belgian Army were policing an insurgency in some distant, indigent colony, not guarding a city that also happens to serve as the de facto capital of the European Union. I dined in the empty Le Petit Boxeur, which I mention because it was the only restaurant I found open. I walked the spookily deserted streets, visited the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, which announced in a panicky notice on the door that it was closed because of the THREAT LEVEL FOUR, and toured the feared Molenbeek neighborhood, where business seemed to be going on pretty much as usual, with all the cafés open as well as the stores selling North African clothes and exotic fruit and vegetables.

This is exactly what ISIS wants: to shut non-Muslim Europe down, to close the schools and places of culture and have people trembling in their beds, which, to be fair, was what ordinary Belgians were saying. I watched a debate on local TV in which mystified citizens questioned an official on the exact difference between Threat Level Three and Threat Level Four. He had to confess that he had no idea.

After 24 hours, I had had enough and decided to leave. At the station, there were more armed police and soldiers than passengers, and the train to Paris was patrolled by five police officers with automatic weapons, which was understandable, given that this was the line where a heroic intervention by three unarmed Americans, including two servicemen, and a British businessman prevented a terrorist attack last summer.

It is about sex, not power, after all

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

In the 1975 bestseller Against Our Will, feminist Susan Brownmiller asserted that rape is about power, not sex — only that’s simply not true:

In the ensuing 45 years, there has been no significant empirical research to support her claim. Yet, almost everyone repeats it.

In examining eight years of FBI data on 250,000 rapes and other sexual assaults, one factor stands head-and-shoulders above the others: the age range of the victims. Herein lies the key to unlocking the mystery of the offender’s motivation.

Social science has demonstrated a strong relationship between age and sexual attractiveness. Heterosexual men are sexually attracted to young women, while homosexual men are attracted to young men. The age preference explains why adult film stars, sex workers, exotic dancers as well as glamour models are often young, and why their earnings decline as they age.

Studying the ages of victims, therefore, provides an opportunity to examine sexual motivation. If rapists are primarily motivated by the desire for power and domination, then one would expect them to prefer middle-aged, career women. However, if rapists primarily desire sex, then one would expect them to prefer young women and men. Our research demonstrates that offenders almost always attack the young (see the figure below). The percentage of female victims who are over 50 is close to zero. Similarly, in male prisons, where women are extremely scarce, heterosexual men target the youngest inmates.

Rape Victim Age

Donald Trump and the Politics of Disgust

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

The Trump campaign has stunned bemused pundits by growing in strength with every controversy and outrageous policy proposal, Alexander Hurst notes, and disgust may play a role in his success:

In 2012, a team of academics from Europe and the U.S.—Yoel Inbar, David Pizarro, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt—published a paper titled “Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting,” looking at the role disgust plays in political orientation. The researchers posited three different types of disgust: interpersonal disgust (i.e., the feeling produced by drinking from the same cup as someone else); core disgust (the response to maggots, vomit, dirty toilets, etc.); and animal-reminder disgust (how we react to corpses, blood, anything that evokes our animal nature).

[...]

Even when controlling for age, education, geography, and religious belief, individuals with higher “disgust sensitivity” were found to be more likely to tolerate wealth inequality, view homosexuality negatively, and place more belief in authoritarian leaders and systems.

Most strikingly, interpersonal disgust was an important predictor of anti-immigrant attitudes.

Political Identification vs. Disgust Sensitivity

Trump, of course, is a well-known, admitted germaphobe. “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.”

Trump even described shaking hands as “barbaric” in an interview with Dateline in 1999, saying, “They have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don’t catch?”

Beyond the aversion to hand-shaking, Trump used to pre-test his dates for AIDS, and reportedly avoids pushing elevator buttons.

The connection between modern xenophobia, disgust sensitivity, and the strength of Trump’s campaign is fairly easy to make. As Inbar, Pizarro, Iyer, and Haidt point out, “Disgust evolved not just to protect individuals form oral contamination by potential foods, but also from the possibility of contamination by contact with unfamiliar individuals or groups.” And after all, Trump’s success has come not from presenting voters with detailed policy proposals, but from connecting with them on a gut level.

If liberals find themselves immune to such appeals, it may be because liberals and conservatives have different physiological reactions to disgusting images and situations. Last year, researchers at Virginia Tech observed liberal and conservative brains under fMRI machines, and found that, “Remarkably, brain responses to a single disgusting stimulus were sufficient to make accurate predictions about an individual subject’s political ideology.” Furthermore, they showed that our emotional responses are tightly intertwined with our belief systems.

Auditory Digital Aspect of Communication

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Richard Greene markets himself as “The Master of Charisma” and suggests that Trump has virtually every communication quality that he coaches candidates to have — with one glaring exception:

Trump is brilliantly conversational. The best I’ve ever seen in a political campaign, and this is a huge advantage. People listen differently, and more, when a candidate speaks in a conversational tone.

Trump speaks in what I call “Lasered, Compelling Messages.” These are headlines that turn a potentially boring topic (border fences) into a provocative and powerful theme (“We have to build a really big fence . . . and Mexico is going to pay for it!”). Very few politicians have the ability, the confidence, and also the naivete, to do this in the way Donald does.

Trump is phenomenal at communicating The Big Picture. This excites the “Visual” part of all voters’ brains, shows vision, gives voters comfort and is quite rare.

Trump knows how to tell and use stories — relatable, interesting, human, “behind the scenes” stories that almost no one can not listen to, understand or enjoy. Storytelling is THE art of public communicating and The Donald leverages it brilliantly.

Trump, in stark contrast to all but Bernie Sanders and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Ben Carson, brings in the absolutely critical “Authentic Passion.” Emotion is what stirs audiences and “Authenticity” is even more important. Even if every word out of Donald’s mouth is thought to be unrealistic or even crazy, the fact that Donald authentically believes it, and is passionate about it, is like catnip to almost every human being. It is what voters crave from all candidates, yet most candidates — throughout history — have somehow not gotten that memo. Add a dose of this to the Democratic front-runner, especially the “Authenticity” part, and her poll numbers would soar. Guaranteed.

But, despite Donald’s 5 great attributes, it is literally impossible, psychologically and even neurologically, to be taken seriously, by all people, as a major political candidate without one more piece.

It is what we call in Neuro Linguistic Programming, (NLP) the “Auditory Digital” aspect of communication. It is a special sub-part of the “Auditory” mode of the human brain and it is the Albert Einstein, fact, detail, analytical part that is generally appreciated by voters but absolutely essential to the “Auditory Digital Types” (highly educated, professional, scientific, mathematical, legal, financial types who also wanted, really wanted to know what books or newspapers Sarah Palin did in fact read).

[...]

I am not suggesting that Trump go into excruciating detail about his plans. No clever candidate, especially at this point, would ever do that. But by:

a) simply citing a real statistic, the names of obscure world leaders, some studies or books that he has read, here or there, and when relevant

b) giving more specificity on simple things (the exact height and precise building materials of his famous wall, for example)

c) citing historic examples to show that he has an intellectual grasp of history (when, for example, other countries, even centuries ago, might have, indeed, agreed to pay for security infrastructure to keep their people in).

If The Donald did these 3 things, or even any of them well, he would communicate that he does have the all-essential “Auditory Digital” part of his brain and forever change the nagging perception that he is not substantive enough to be President of The United States.

It’s really that simple.

Free Riders

Monday, January 11th, 2016

In two separate sections of The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt notes that conservatives are much more focused on the issue of free riders:

First, he acknowledges, somewhat surprised, that conservatives are more generous to others, but notes that they like to keep control over who benefits from their generosity. They are very quick to help those who are clearly innocent victims, or those who are perceived as having been on the short end of luck, such as bystanders or those in extreme weather conditions. But as the causes of the misfortune become more ambiguous, conservatives back off. In the cases of folks who have caused much of their own misery, conservatives are not only uncaring, but often hostile. Liberals, he finds, tend to make these distinctions far less often. Suffering in itself calls out for compassion, and more subtly, we seldom can see cause and desert as clearly as we think we do.

The Assistant Village Idiot continues with his own thoughts and feelings:

Contemplating that the free rider problem is an enormous issue to conservatives, I realised that it is an enormous issue to me personally as well. It may explain nearly entirely my siding with conservatives generally despite my objections to them on many fronts. To not be a free rider is as powerful and animating force for me as I can identify. My children were clubbed by it, sometimes in word, always by example. One does his bit, however distasteful, and there’s an end to it.

I make distinctions that many conservatives, or at least the noisier ones, do not, revolving around my fury at their declaring some to be free riders who have had little or no control over their situations. It might be technically true that people with Down’s Syndrome are free riders, but I don’t respond to the helpless that way emotionally, and I certainly can’t find Christian justification for it. You may quote “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” as much as you please, but Jesus didn’t seem to address beggars in that way, nor did Peter and Paul. Yet you can find Christians who draw the circle very widely of who is a free rider and who is not. I find it infuriating.

Yet at some level, I get it. I apply a very high standard to myself on such matters (or did until a few years ago; there are lacunae in the fabric now). I have little sympathy for those who ride free off others — and I have known some quite well. One consequence is that I no longer regard their opinion on any moral issue as having the least weight. If hatred for free riders turns out to be heritable, and a common cause of conservatism, I would put down money that I have plenty of genes that could play out that way.