Revolutions are produced by rising expectations

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

As Louis C.K. says, right now everything is amazing and nobody is happy:

Each citizen carries on her person a computer more powerful than any available to a billionaire two decades ago, and many are using their devices to express their unbridled rage at the society that put them in our pockets.

(That’s Adam Gopnik, discussing Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger.)

America Had a Government Before the Constitution

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

America had a government before the Constitution, Tyler Cowen reminds us, as he discusses the original Articles of Confederation, the foundational document for American government from 1781 to 1789:

It is noteworthy just how weak the office of the president is in the Articles. There is a presiding council drawn from state congressional delegate-nominated members, and the president leads this council. But he is not allowed to serve any more than one year out of three. In some regards this resembles the current system of Switzerland, and it really does check executive power.

The legislature is set up to have only one house, with equal representation for all states and term limits on delegates (each state gets one vote but two to seven delegates). While I wouldn’t opt for such a system today, in an era plagued by gridlock, gerrymandering and out-of-touch professional politicians, I can’t say it sounds crazy.

More worrisome is that the Articles themselves can’t be changed without the unanimous approval of the states. Overall, it is striking how much today’s European Union resembles some features of this system. The Articles worked out in America because they were born into chaos and later able to evolve into a stronger federal government without requiring actual unanimity. It is hard to imagine contemporary Europe traversing the same route, since the continent has some quite settled national governments. They are now reasserting their powers and reversing governance at the pan-national level.

But I would say that the Articles, for all their formal flaws, are badly underrated. They are a brilliant construction for a power vacuum, given that the relevant parties in the 1780s couldn’t agree on very much, but nonetheless needed some path forward.

In other words, think of the Articles as an early business plan or charter for a startup. The point isn’t to get everyone’s roles and responsibilities right on first crack, but rather to make sure that the institution survives and that continued growth is possible.

By this metric, the Articles were an unprecedented success. Keep in mind that many European thinkers of the time thought that America was hopelessly disunited and that its system of government was due to collapse. The Articles proved them wrong by serving as a bridge from the Revolution to the later development of America as a fully fledged nation.

It is sometimes forgotten just how fruitful the Articles period was for laying the foundations for the further growth of the country. A system of relatively egalitarian and transferable property rights was codified for the settlement of external lands. Most importantly, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 determined that future settlements could be incorporated into the country as states rather than subordinate territories or colonies. The independence and sovereignty of the initial founding states allowed them to support such policies, without fearing much dilution of their power or influence.

These decisions were part of a broader constitutional order for the United States, and that broader order was very much one of dynamic growth (Article XI welcomes Quebec to the United States, should it wish to join). It is a common criticism of the Articles that they didn’t allow for the effective funding of the federal government. But Article VIII lays out clearly that the states have a responsibility to send money to Congress, and it even specifies the relevant formula, namely proportionality to land value.

I remember being taught that the Articles denied Congress any powers of taxation; it could only request money from the states. That distinction seems subtle, when the states have unanimously agreed to Article VIII:

All charges of war, and all other expenses that shall be incurred for the common defense or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several States in proportion to the value of all land within each State, granted or surveyed for any person, as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated according to such mode as the United States in Congress assembled, shall from time to time direct and appoint.

The taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several States within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled.

I didn’t realize the original plan was for the “federal” government to “tax” the states based on land value. I would suggest giving each state votes proportional to its tax contribution.

Addicts wake up “sick” and need to “make money”

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Addicts wake up “sick” and need to “make money”:

Some neighborhood bodegas — the addicts know which ones — will pay 50 cents on the dollar for anything stolen from CVS. That is why razor blades, printer cartridges, and other expensive portable items are now kept under lock and key where you shop. Addicts shoplift from Home Depot and drag things from the loading docks. They pull off scams. They will scavenge for thrown-out receipts in trash cans outside an appliance store, enter the store, find the receipted item, and try to return it for cash. On the edge of the White Mountains in Maine, word spread that the policy at Hannaford, the dominant supermarket chain, was not to dispute returns of under $25. For a while, there was a run on the big cans of extra virgin olive oil that sold for $24.99, which were brought to the cash registers every day by a succession of men and women who did not, at first sight, look like connoisseurs of Mediterranean cuisine. Women prostitute themselves on Internet sites. Others go into hospital emergency rooms, claiming a desperately painful toothache that can be fixed only with some opioid. (Because if pain is a “fifth vital sign,” it is the only one that requires a patient’s own testimony to measure.) This is generally repeated until the pain-sufferer grows familiar enough to the triage nurses to get “red-flagged.”

The culture of addiction treatment is marked by an extraordinary level of political correctness:

Several of the addiction professionals interviewed for this article sent lists of the proper terminology to use when writing about opioid addiction, and instructions on how to write about it in a caring way. These people are mostly generous, hard-working, and devoted. But their codes are neither scientific nor explanatory; they are political.

The director of a Midwestern state’s mental health programs emailed a chart called “‘Watch What You Call Me’: The Changing Language of Addiction and Mental Illness,” compiled by the Boston University doctor Richard Saltz. It is a document so Orwellian that one’s first reaction is to suspect it is a parody, or some kind of “fake news” dreamed up on a cynical website. We are not supposed to say “drug abuse”; use “substance use disorder” instead. To say that an addict’s urine sample is “clean” is to use “words that wound”; better to say he had a “negative drug test.” “Binge drinking” is out — “heavy alcohol use” is what you should say. Bizarrely, “attempted suicide” is deemed unacceptable; we need to call it an “unsuccessful suicide.” These terms are periphrastic and antiscientific. Imprecision is their goal. Some of them (like the concept of a “successful suicide”) are downright insane. This habit of euphemism and propaganda is not merely widespread. It is official. In January 2017, less than two weeks before the end of the last presidential administration, drug office head Michael Botticelli issued a memo called “Changing the Language of Addiction,” a similarly fussy list of officially approved euphemisms.

In 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings

Monday, March 20th, 2017

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States.” — Max Noel, FBI (ret.)

As Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage explains, in 1968, many radicals absolutely believed that the United States was getting ready to collapse:

SDS leadership is disproportionately well-off Jewish kids at elite universities. The kind of people who create Facebook.

Well, in 1968 you can’t go to the Bay Area & create a killer app, so if you want to disrupt stuff you literally have to start a revolution. And that’s the equation: Paranoid fervor of chemtrail-sniffers + Silicon Valley’s faith in its ability to change the world = the Weather Underground.

When it shakes out, two of the big SDS movers and shakers are John “JJ” Jacobs and Bernadine Dorne. Their goal: to take over SDS entirely. Because, remember, organization is critical. SDS is a nationwide organization. And college campuses are receptive to radical messages.

How receptive? In fall of 1968, there were 41 bombings and arson cases on college campuses. We’re not talking letters under doors or vandalism, here. We’re talking about Molotov cocktails setting shit on fire. Here’s how radical SDS was: Burrough notes that Weatherman’s opponents for leadership in SDS elections were “Progressive Labor,” who were literal Maoists. To distinguish themselves, Weatherman called for white radicals to live like John Brown: ie, to kill the enemies of black liberty.

The election was nuts; Weatherman literally expelled their opponents from the party before the vote, so SDS split. But Weatherman occupied the national office, which meant they could evaluate SDS members as potential recruits.

The FBI was up SDS’s ass, and Weatherman’s. They harassed the core cadre. Beat them. Threatened them. This does not dissuade revolutionaries. Weatherman started doing crazy stuff with SDS: street brawls, public nudity, sexual orgies, ordering established couples to break up. If you think it sounds like a cult, you’re right. This is literally cult indoctrination stuff. They were remaking people, seeking the hardest of hardcore.

[...]

In the end, the Weather’s fugitives turned themselves in with little trouble. To give you an idea: Bill Ayers was scott-free. Cathy Wilkerson did a year. Bernardine Dohrn got three years probation and a $1500 fine. The radical lawyers, accessories to Weather’s bombings? Nada. Zip. Zero.

They did pretty well afterwards. Bernardine Dohrn was a clinical associate professor of law at Northwestern University for more than twenty years. Another Weatherman, Eleanor Stein, was arrested on the run in 1981; she got a law degree in 1986 and became an administrative law judge. Radical attorney Michael Kennedy, who did more than any to keep Weather alive, has been special advisor to President of the UN General Assembly. And, of course, Barack Obama, twice President of the United States, started his political career in Bill Ayers’s living room.

This is the difference between the hard Left & hard Right: you can be a violent leftist radical and go on to live a pretty kickass life. This is especially true if you’re a leftist of the credentialed class: Ph.D. or J.D.

The big three takeaways for me about Weatherman, when it comes to political violence in America as we might see it in 2016:

  1. Radicalism can come from anywhere. The Weathermen weren’t oppressed, or poor, or anything like that. They were hard leftists. That’s it.
  2. Sustained political violence is dependent on the willing cooperation of admirers and accomplices. The Left has these. The Right does not.
  3. Not a violent issue, but a political one: ethnic issues involving access to power can both empower and derail radical movements.

The story gets much, much crazier.

I’m reminded of The Baader Meinhof Complex and Carlos.

Cloaks, Daggers, and Dice

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

South by Southwest included a talk called Cloaks, Daggers, and Dice, which examined how the CIA uses games:

In “Collection,” Clopper’s first CIA game, teams of analysts work together to solve international crises against a ticking clock. His second title, “Collection Deck,” is a Pokémon-like card game in which where each card represents either an intelligence collection strategy or a hurdle like red tape or bureaucracy.

[...]

Also speaking on the panel was Volko Ruhnke, who is an intelligence educator at the CIA and a freelance game designer. Ruhnke said he is particularly interested in one type of game: a simulation tabletop game to train analysts and help with analytic tasks. It could help forecast complex situations by forcing players to handle multiple scenarios simultaneously.
Ruhnke himself created a commercial board game to simulate the Afghanistan conflict and walk players through military, political, and economic issues in the region. It gives players “a much more dynamic understanding of the issues of modern Afghanistan,” Ruhnke said, adding that a similar game could be of use internally at the CIA as well.

Volko Ruhnke is famous — in the wargaming community — for designing the card-driven wargames Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001–? and Wilderness War. He was also the original designer of GMT Games’ COIN series, which includes Cuba Libre, A Distant Plain, and Liberty or Death: American Insurrection.

Kerensky’s Missed Opportunity

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

One hundred years ago Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, ending 300 years of Romanov rule of Russia, and this so-called February Revolution presents one of the great what-ifs of history:

If this revolution — which actually took place in early March 1917 according to the West’s Gregorian calendar (Russia adopted that calendar only later) — had succeeded in producing a constitutional democracy in place of the czarist empire as its leaders hoped, the world would be a very different place.

If the leading figure in the provisional government, Aleksandr Kerensky, had seized on an opportunity presented by a now-forgotten vote in the German Reichstag, World War I might have been over before American troops reached Europe. In this alternative history, Lenin and Stalin would be obscure footnotes, and Hitler would never have been more than a failed painter.

Aleksandr Kerensky reviewing the troops in 1917

What is surprising, to anyone who has absorbed the standard victor’s view — according to which the Allies were fighting a defensive war to liberate small states — is that Britain was disingenuous about its war aims, while France declined to state them at all. The reason is that those aims were too discreditable to avow openly. In a series of secret treaties, they agreed in the event of victory to carve up the empires of their defeated enemies.

From the Russian viewpoint, the big prize was the Turkish capital, Constantinople, now called Istanbul; this was promised to Russia in a secret agreement in 1915. The subsequent publication of this and other secret treaties by the Bolsheviks did much to discredit the Allied cause.

Kerensky could have repudiated the deals made by the czarist empire and announced his willingness to accept the Reichstag formula of peace without annexations or indemnities. Perhaps the German High Command would have ignored the offer and continued fighting (as it did when the Bolsheviks offered the same terms after the October Revolution at the end of 1917). But the circumstances were far more favorable in July than they were at the end of 1917. As the Kerensky offensive demonstrated, the Russian Army, while demoralized, was still an effective fighting force, and the front line was far closer to the territory of the Central Powers. Moreover, Kerensky commanded credibility with the Western Allies that he could have used to good effect.

Kerensky’s determination to continue the war was a disaster. Within a few months, the armed forces were in open revolt. Lenin, who was transported across Germany in a sealed train with the High Command’s acquiescence in the hope that he would help to knock Russia out of the war, seized the opportunity. The provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. This Bolshevik Revolution consigned the February Revolution to historical oblivion.

After accepting a humiliating treaty imposed by the Germans, Russia was soon embroiled in a civil war more bloody and brutal than even World War I. By its end, the Bolshevik government, launched as a workers’ democracy, was effectively a dictatorship, enabling the ascendancy of a previously obscure Bolshevik, Joseph Stalin, who would become one of the great tyrants of history. On the other side, the German High Command’s rejection of peace similarly led to defeat, national humiliation and the emergence of the 20th century’s other great tyrant, Adolf Hitler.

We cannot tell whether a positive response from Kerensky to the Reichstag peace initiative would have achieved anything. But it is hard to imagine an outcome worse than the one that actually took place.

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

Three new studies show surprisingly bad results from school vouchers:

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state’s governor. “In mathematics,” they found, “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement.” They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

There’s always the chance that a single study, no matter how well designed, is an outlier. Studies of older voucher programs in Milwaukee and elsewhere have generally produced mixed results, sometimes finding modest improvements in test scores, but only for some subjects and student groups. Until about a year ago, however, few if any studies had shown vouchers causing test scores to decline drastically.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools,” the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

If the voucher programs are new, and all the existing private schools are aimed at (slightly) better-than-average students, perhaps the schools are just a terrible fit.

The Only Thing That’s Curbed Inequality

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

The only thing that’s curbed inequality has been catastrophe, Walter Scheidel notes:

Throughout history, only massive, violent shocks that upended the established order proved powerful enough to flatten disparities in income and wealth. They appeared in four different guises: mass-mobilization warfare, violent and transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic epidemics. Hundreds of millions perished in their wake, and by the time these crises had passed, the gap between rich and poor had shrunk.

[...]

But what of less murderous mechanisms of combating inequality? History offers little comfort. Land reform often foundered or was subverted by the propertied. Successful programs that managed to parcel out land to the poor and made sure they kept it owed much to the threat or exercise of violence, from Mexico during its revolution to postwar Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Just as with the financial crisis of 2008, macroeconomic downturns rarely hurt the rich for more than a few years. Democracy on its own does not consistently lower inequality. And while improving access to education can indeed narrow income gaps, it is striking to see that American wage premiums for the credentialed collapsed precisely during both world wars.

The Biological Origins of Higher Civilizations

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Elfnonationalist explores the biological origins of higher civilizations:

It is my opinion that the most successful civilized nations of Europe, namely, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, (and to a lesser degree, Northern Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, and Russia) have been so successful, not necessarily due to early adoption of manorialism, but rather due to this balance of genetic input from both genetically pacified farmers, who were accustomed to a settled, relatively peaceful existence, as well as the more mobile, “barbaric” in Nietzschean terms, Indo-Europeans who were descended primarily from hunters and fishers who had recently adopted a highly competitive pastoralist lifestyle on the Pontic steppe (see David W. Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language). The aristocracies of early Greece and Rome would have also possessed this ideal mix of genetically inherited traits, being descended from Indo-European invaders who married local Neolithic farmers, introducing the early Greek and Italic languages into the Mediterranean basin. This aristocracy is practically gone now, however, through an overwhelming genetic absorption into the conquered Neolithic farmer populace, who were ultimately descended primarily from early Near-Eastern agriculturalists.

The end result of the ideal genetic admixture which I have described is a people which are both civilized and politically organized, and also are also willing to innovate, take risks (like exploring the New World), and challenge old notions of thought, as was done in the scientific revolution.

Trump’s aggression would never be tolerated in a woman

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

After watching the second televised debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea:

Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?

Guadalupe reached out to Joe Salvatore, a Steinhardt clinical associate professor of educational theatre who specializes in ethnodrama — a method of adapting interviews, field notes, journal entries, and other print and media artifacts into a script to be performed as a play. Together, they developed Her Opponent, a production featuring actors performing excerpts from each of the three debates exactly as they happened — but with the genders switched. Salvatore cast fellow educational theatre faculty Rachel Whorton to play “Brenda King,” a female version of Trump, and Daryl Embry to play “Jonathan Gordon,” a male version of Hillary Clinton, and coached them as they learned the candidates’ words and gestures.

[...]

Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression — his tendency to interrupt and attack — would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

[...]

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened” — meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman — that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another — a musical theater composer, actually — said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate — you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.

Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

I remember being shocked when I first learned that Erik Prince was able to start a mercenary company in the US. (Blackwater was originally just a tactical training facility before it started hiring out private military contractors.)

He has since moved on to providing logistics in dangerous places via his Frontier Services Group, but they’re not just helping Chinese mining interests in Africa. They’re now setting up Blackwater-style training camps in Chinese provinces:

In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate. “He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

Amateurs talk abouts tactics; professionals study logistics. I guess the true professional provides logistics without dirtying his hands doing anything explicitly tactical at all.

By the way, Erik Prince is Betsy DeVos’s brother. I’m surprised that doesn’t come up more often.

All men and all women were their friends

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

T. Greer shares a parable concerning tolerance:

There once lived in a far country a people of gentle nature and perceptive understanding. They were led by a man of great vision. At great cost to his person and his standing, he decided to dedicate his life to preserving his people’s established way of life. He did this because he saw in them a beauty and virtue he could find nowhere else. In a world of bigotry and darkness they were a rare light: they blindly followed no authority, nor were they were slaves to custom. No trace of the regressive attitudes so common to their countrymen could be found among them. Women were valued highly among them. Indeed, their women were cherished not only as mothers or wives, but also as honored leaders. This was a people filled with a spirit of love: all men and all women were their friends, rich or poor, young or old, saved or heathen. The poor they sustained; the needy they gave generously to (and gave to, no matter how low their background or coarse their appearance). In their eyes, to be learned was considered good. The more learned one was, they supposed, the greater service one could give. Kindness was thus their byword; brotherliness their call-sign. They disdained violence. In politics it was their part to push for less war, smaller armies, and a more peacable way of living with other humans on the Earth. This view extended into the domestic sphere: in political controversies, theirs was always the voice of tolerance. Let the downcast, the unusual, and even the heretic be allowed their natural liberties, they would say, and do not fear if they live among us. In their conception a good society was a society that let men of different beliefs and customs all live happily together. It was a self-serving position: they understood that only if tolerance ruled the day could their less enlightened countrymen be compelled to tolerate them. But this did not bother them: they were happy in the knowledge that in this case self interest aligned so well with virtue.

Their leader was not content (visionaries rarely are). The fight for toleration had been difficult. He and his allies had not been truly victorious. Their future was uncertain. He foresaw a rising tide of anger and reaction that could not be beat back. What then for his happy people? How could they secure their way of life then?

The answer was clear: separation. He would do what he could, of course, to bring about a victory for the light within the kingdom that then existed, but more drastic measures were needed. A new realm was needed. His people would secede. They would establish their own government that would protect the rights of his people. This new country would champion their values: it would be an example to the other nations of the Earth of just what humanity could achieve unencumbered by the dogmatisms and hatreds of the past. But it would be more than that. This new country would not just be an example to the world: it would be an invitation to it. His people would not just protect their own rights–they would protect and cherish the rights of any man or woman who moved there. All sects, all kindreds, all kinds of people would find a home in their homes. Love would be emblazoned in the title of her cities; toleration would be embedded in the hearts of her citizens. It would be a land without war, without fear, and without prejudice. It would be a country man (and woman) was meant to live in.

Read the whole thing — and definitely read the addendum.

Turning Postmodernism Against Itself

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

If politics flows downwards from culture, David Ernst says, then it was only a matter of time before a politician mastered the role, and Donald Trump cracked the code. Ernst explores that postmodern code:

Postmodernism is the source of the emphasis that our culture puts on authenticity, and the scorn it directs towards phoniness. After all, if the only one true thing in the world is that all truth and morality are relative, then anyone who pretends otherwise is either an idiot or a fraud. Hence the contemporary appeal of the antihero, and the disappearance of the traditional hero.

Heroes who stand for traditionally good things in a world where everything supposedly “good” has long been discredited are corny Dudley Do-Rights who are at best too stupid to know better. Antiheroes, by contrast, ingratiate themselves with their audiences for their gritty realism and their candor, no matter how bad they are. Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall with his viewers and brings them along for his evil schemes; Walter White’s moment of redemption is his final admission to his wife that he sells meth because he likes to, and not to do right by his family; and Tony Soprano establishes a close bond with his daughter early on when he admits to her that he’s not actually a “waste management consultant.” In the postmodern world, there is no greater virtue then authenticity, and there is no greater vice than phoniness.

Postmodernism is also the source of the assumptions underlying the glib jokes of late-night comedians who exhibit disdainful prejudice towards patriotism or religion, but show bitter judgment towards any form of perceived prejudice. It is the baseline for just about every plotline in funny shows about aimless, self-centered people like “Seinfeld,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Archer.” It is hyper-prejudice against prejudice, or in the words of Evan Sayet, “a cult of non-discrimination.”

In contrast to the many religions, systems of moral thought, and other ancient traditions that have distinguished every effort to better the human condition, postmodernism presumes that all of these endeavors are the cause of human failure. It therefore operates according to just one moral imperative: discredit anything that other people presume to stand for goodness, because the belief that anything is superior to anything else inevitably results in prejudice, interpersonal strife, and inequality.

Thus, the Venus de Milo has no more aesthetic value than a crucifix in a jar full of urine; Beethoven’s symphonies are no more profound than the latest round of top 40 hits; all religions are fundamentally the same, and their “moderate” postmodern adherents are all comfortably represented on the “Coexist” bumper sticker. In a sense, it isn’t culture at all, but rather an anti-culture that measures success insofar as it deconstructs anything that other people value.

Provided that the postmodern man believes in nothing and values nothing, one wouldn’t be unreasonable in concluding that he cares about nothing. But anyone who knows postmodern man also knows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, the “cult of non-discrimination” is filled with bright-eyed idealism about making the world a better place, and in the cases where it challenges baseless prejudice, it does make the world a better place. Like other utopian visions that seek to remake human beings into something alien to their nature, however, it is incapable of compromise, and thus lends itself to hypocrisy and fanaticism.

How to be a patriarch

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Marcus Sidonius Falx is a Roman of noble birth who has — with his assistant and amanuensis, Dr Jerry Toner of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge — written How to Manage Your Slaves (2014) and Release Your Inner Roman (2016). Here he explains how to be a patriarch:

If you marry a woman just because she is beautiful, then she will feel she never has to do anything else for you. She will not mind if the house is a mess or your meals are badly cooked. And you will have to put up with this because you married her just for her beauty and not for her domestic skills. The same is true if you marry a woman just because she is rich or from an important family. She will always think she has done enough just by being with you.

Of course, you do need to take her looks and her background into account. But wealth, good family and beauty do nothing in themselves to make a wife think kind thoughts towards her husband. In fact, the opposite is more the case. These attributes are more likely to make your wife feel superior to you. She will feel you do not deserve to have her as a wife and resent doing anything you tell her to do. Make sure you check to see whether her family has a good track record in producing healthy, male children. When it comes to a potential wife’s physical appearance, all that really matters is that she is strong, healthy and looks normal. If she is less than beautiful she will be less hassled by other men’s attempts to seduce, and if she has a strong body she will be better suited to hard work and bearing children.

Most girls get married in adolescence and your duty as an older husband is to teach your young bride how to become a good wife. She should be loyal, obedient, affable, reasonable, and work hard at her wool-making. She should be religious without being superstitious, dress modestly and use little make-up. She must be devoted to her family and show as much attention to her mother-in-law as she does to her own. The following checklist for a happy marriage will help her:

1. The passion of newlyweds soon burns out. Marriage starts with lust but will only last if a more sustainable fuel can be found.

2. When the husband got married, yes, he wanted his wife to have children. No, he did not want her to stop looking after him.

3. A modest wife should be seen in public mostly with her husband, but when he is away on business she should stay at home.

4. A wife should have no emotion of her own but should reflect the mood of her husband. She should laugh at his jokes when he is happy and be sad when he is low.

5. A wife should have no friends of her own but should cultivate those of her husband.

6. A happy marriage is one where the words ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ are seldom heard. All things, whether good or bad, should be shared, and the bond will be strengthened all the more by it.

7. A woman should never try to rule her husband. It is the man’s lot to govern his wife, not as a master does his slave, but as the soul does the body by sympathy and goodwill.

8. A sensible wife will stay quiet during her husband’s tantrums.

9. If there is one golden rule, it is that wives should be submissive. As my dream interpreter, Artemidorus, says: ‘If a man dreams that he has sexual intercourse with his wife and that she yields willingly and without reluctance to the union, then it is good for all alike.’

Moral Outrage Is Self-Serving

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Moral outrage is self-serving, Bowdoin psychology professor Zachary Rothschild and University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor Lucas A. Keefer have found:

Triggering feelings of personal culpability for a problem increases moral outrage at a third-party target. For instance, respondents who read that Americans are the biggest consumer drivers of climate change “reported significantly higher levels of outrage at the environmental destruction” caused by “multinational oil corporations” than did the respondents who read that Chinese consumers were most to blame.

The more guilt over one’s own potential complicity, the more desire “to punish a third-party through increased moral outrage at that target.” For instance, participants in study one read about sweatshop labor exploitation, rated their own identification with common consumer practices that allegedly contribute, then rated their level of anger at “international corporations” who perpetuate the exploitative system and desire to punish these entities. The results showed that increased guilt “predicted increased punitiveness toward a third-party harm-doer due to increased moral outrage at the target.”

Having the opportunity to express outrage at a third-party decreased guilt in people threatened through “ingroup immorality.” Study participants who read that Americans were the biggest drivers of man-made climate change showed significantly higher guilt scores than those who read the blame-China article when they weren’t given an opportunity to express anger at or assign blame to a third-party. However, having this opportunity to rage against hypothetical corporations led respondents who read the blame-America story to express significantly lower levels of guilt than the China group. Respondents who read that Chinese consumers were to blame had similar guilt levels regardless of whether they had the opportunity to express moral outrage.

“The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doers” inflated participants perception of personal morality. Asked to rate their own moral character after reading the article blaming Americans for climate change, respondents saw themselves as having “significantly lower personal moral character” than those who read the blame-China article—that is, when they weren’t given an out in the form of third-party blame. Respondents in the America-shaming group wound up with similar levels of moral pride as the China control group when they were first asked to rate the level of blame deserved by various corporate actors and their personal level of anger at these groups. In both this and a similar study using the labor-exploitation article, “the opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doing (vs. not) led to significantly higher personal moral character ratings,” the authors found.

Guilt-induced moral outrage was lessened when people could assert their goodness through alternative means, “even in an unrelated context.” Study five used the labor exploitation article, asked all participants questions to assess their level of “collective guilt” (i.e., “feelings of guilt for the harm caused by one’s own group”) about the situation, then gave them an article about horrific conditions at Apple product factories. After that, a control group was given a neutral exercise, while others were asked to briefly describe what made them a good and decent person; both exercises were followed by an assessment of empathy and moral outrage. The researchers found that for those with high collective-guilt levels, having the chance to assert their moral goodness first led to less moral outrage at corporations. But when the high-collective-guilt folks were given the neutral exercise and couldn’t assert they were good people, they wound up with more moral outrage at third parties. Meanwhile, for those low in collective guilt, affirming their own moral goodness first led to marginally more moral outrage at corporations.