The Rise of the Neoreactionaries

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Klint Finley (@klintron) doesn’t quite get the rise of the neoreactionaries:

It’s not hard to see why this ideology would catch-on with white male geeks. It tells them that they are the natural rulers of the world, but that they are simultaneously being oppressed by a secret religious order. And the more media attention is paid to workplace inequality, gentrification and the wealth gap, the more their bias is confirmed. And the more the neoreactionaries and techbros act out, the more the media heat they bring.


I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s not like I think the media should ignore the tech industry’s misdeeds. But maybe recognizing that cycle is the first step towards fixing it.

These white male geeks keep imagining that journalists are policing their thoughts. How do we fix that?

Toronto tailor introduces bulletproof three-piece suits

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

When I saw the headline that a Toronto tailor was introducing bulletproof three-piece suits, I assumed that the story was that a Canadian was doing this kind of work, but I was surprised to find something more interesting — the suits aren’t made of Kevlar:

Garrison’s tailors have lined the vest and suit jacket with several ultrathin sheets of carbon nanotubes: a state-of-the-art puncture-proof and bullet-resistant material Mr. Tran sourced online through a company that has provided anti-ballistic gear for the U.S. Army Special Forces. (The manufacturer agreed to work with Garrison’s so long as it remains anonymous.)

Created by scientists through manipulating carbon atoms into tube-like shapes, carbon nanotubes can be woven into fibres or sheets like the ones used in the lining of Garrison’s suit, which were so strong the shop’s tailors had to cut them with a band saw. They provide a level of protection against bullets that is far superior to that of Kevlar, and are said to cause less bruising than other materials when hit by a bullet.

Carbon nanotubes are 50 per cent lighter than Kevlar and 30 times stronger than steel, which is why they are increasingly being used to make more streamlined protective gear for military and security professionals, not to mention politicians — U.S. President Barack Obama was rumoured to have worn an overcoat and suit incorporating carbon nanotubes during his first inauguration.

Muppets Most Wanted

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Muppets Most Wanted has new a new UK trailer:

Changes in measured GDP aren’t capturing everything

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

We live in a richer world, Russ Roberts notes, and changes in measured GDP aren’t capturing everything:

I think I got something in my eye…

Is there a problem with the lethality of the 5.56 NATO caliber?

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Is there a problem with the lethality of the 5.56 NATO caliber? No, says Per G. Arvidsson, Chairman of NATO Weapons & Sensors Working Group:

Two ways to incapacitate

  1. Hit to the central nervous system.
    • Immediate incapacitation regardless of caliber or type of projectile!
  2. Loss of blood pressure by massive bleeding.
    • Incapacitation can take time!

Small Arms Lethality

  • GBR hosted a two day ”NATO Workshop on Small Arms Lethality” in February -09 at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom in Shrivenham.
  • The conclusion was that shot placement is the most important parameter.
  • This is achieved through good and realistic training.

New Swedish Pop-Up Target

Benefits of 5.56 over 7.62

  • Equal lethality.
  • Half the mass (12g – 24g).
  • Half the volume.
  • Reduced recoil and signature (noise and flash).
  • Better penetration in thin metal plates.
  • Flatter trajectory and shorter ToF out to 700m
  • Lighter weapons.
  • Higher hit probability.

Trajectory of 5.56 vs. 7.62 with 20-inch barrels

Trajectory of 5.56 with 14.5-inch barrel vs. 7.62 with 20-inch barrel

Swedish experience

  • In SWE we realized already back in the early 80’s that you must “train as you fight”.
  • A dynamic shooting training was therefore introduced in 1985.
  • There are three levels of ”Marksmanship badges” that are worn by soldiers and officers.
  • When SWE introduced the 5.56 ak 5 rifle in 1986, the score had to be increased because otherwise everybody qualified as a Marksman.
  • The same thing happened when we introduced the ak 5C with its red-dot sight.

(Hat tip to Weapons Man.)

The Mini-Series in 1878

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

David Foster recently re-read Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native, which was originally serialized in Belgravia: a Magazine of Fashion and Amusement.

At the time, even finished novels were published in parts:

The tone and style of 19th century English literature were heavily influenced by the moral strictures imposed by the then-prevailing publishing system.

A typical mid-Victorian novel stretched cost a guinea, at a time when a skilled worker could expect to make a little less than a guinea a week. (The guinea, or sovereign, was a gold coin with a metal content worth about $200 in our modern money.) Obviously, the market for such books was rather small, usually a few hundred copies, most of them purchased by private lending libraries, which sold all-you-can-read memberships for about a guinea a year. To maximize their revenues, the libraries insisted that novels be published in three volumes, so that one book could serve three customers at a time. That practice explains the wordiness and the convoluted subplots of so many Victorian books: the authors had to stretch their story to fill a specified number of pages. The very most popular authors could also serialize their novels in monthly magazines, sometimes for amazing fees.

The serialization-lending library system reduced the economic risk to publishers, who could count on a minimum number of sales. But it imposed severe artistic restraints on writes, who had to conform to a strict standard of propriety. There’s a reason why no mid-Victorian heroine so much as kisses her fiance — and it’s not that no woman ever did so, or no author ever noticed. There’s a reason why prostitution is never mentioned in print at a time when the streets of London teemed with prostitutes.

By the 1880s, however, the growth of a middle-class market with disposable incomes tempted some publishers to sell directly to the public. Magazines also began to experiment with more realistic themes. These changes made possible the career of a writer like Thomas Hardy, author in Far From the Madding Crowd of what I think is the first explicit description of female sexual arousal in English.

Elite Overproduction

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Peter Turchin describes elite overproduction to the Bloomberg audience:

Past waves of political instability, such as the civil wars of the late Roman Republic, the French Wars of Religion and the American Civil War, had many interlinking causes and circumstances unique to their age. But a common thread in the eras we studied was elite overproduction. The other two important elements were stagnating and declining living standards of the general population and increasing indebtedness of the state.

Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class. This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions. Consider the Antebellum U.S.

From 1830 to 1860 the number of New Yorkers and Bostonians with fortunes of at least $100,000 (they would be multimillionaires today) increased fivefold. Many of these new rich (or their sons) had political ambitions. But the government, especially the presidency, Senate and Supreme Court, was dominated by the Southern elites. As many Northerners became frustrated and embittered, the Southerners also felt the pressure and became increasingly defensive.

Slavery had been a divisive force since the inception of the Republic. For 70 years, the elites always managed to find a compromise. During the 1850s, however, intra-elite cooperation unraveled. On several occasions Congress was on the brink of a general shootout. (As one senator noted about his “armed and dangerous” colleagues, “The only persons who do not have a revolver and a knife are those who have two revolvers.”)

Although slavery was the overriding issue dividing the elites, they also differed over tariffs and cultural attitudes toward immigration. In the decade before the Civil War these centrifugal forces tore apart the two-party system. The Democratic Party split into its Northern and Southern factions, while the Whigs simply disintegrated.

Slavery was an absolute evil and was going to be abolished, sooner or later. But its abolition didn’t need to result in hundreds of thousands of Civil War deaths. (About the same time, Russia banned serfdom without a civil war. The Russian Revolution came 50 years later — when Russia was hit by its own elite overproduction.)

This U.S. historical cycle didn’t end with the cataclysm of the Civil War. Huge fortunes were made during the Gilded Age and economic inequality reached a peak, unrivaled even today. The number of lawyers tripled from 1870 to 1910. And the U.S. saw another wave of political violence, spiking in 1919–21.

This was the worst period of political instability in U.S. history, barring the Civil War. Class warfare took the form of violent labor strikes. At one point 10,000 miners armed with rifles were battling against thousands of company troops and sheriff deputies. There was a wave of terrorism by labor radicals and anarchists. Race issues intertwined with class, leading to the Red Summer of 1919, with 26 major riots and more than 1,000 casualties. It was much, much worse than the 1960s and early 1970s, a period many of us remember well because we lived through it.

This suggests that political offices should represent a certain number of people or a certain amount of tax revenue, rather than a certain geographical region (of fixed size).

Or that political power and prestige should somehow be limited.

Trying to Secede

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Fed up with liberal overreaching, rural counties are talking about seceding from their states — but there’s no chance of success:

The U.S. Constitution allows a new state to be formed out of an existing one only if approved by both the original state’s legislature and Congress, which almost never happens. The most recent states to form this way were Maine, which separated from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia, which broke off from Virginia in 1863, when Virginia belonged to the Confederacy.

Claire Suddath, the Bloomberg writer, doesn’t seem to understand political “science”:

The interesting thing about these new movements isn’t their likelihood of success, but the fact that they constitute blatant attempts at ideological gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering isn’t about Democrats wanting to be with Democrats and Republicans wanting to be with Republicans; it’s about redistricting so that your party has a slight majority in as many districts as possible, since each district goes to whoever wins the winner-takes-all majority vote.

“If people want to live in ideologically homogenous communities, they’re better off if you let that happen,” says Jason Sorens, a lecturer of government at Dartmouth College and the founder of the Free State Project, which is working to get 20,000 Libertarians to move to New Hampshire to swing the state’s political makeup. But if we divide our states into smaller and smaller units, won’t we eventually have communities too diminutive to take care of themselves? After all, a city block doesn’t have the resources to care for its citizens the way an entire city can, and a handful of rural counties is rarely able to make up a whole state, unless it’s Wyoming. “Yes, but you don’t want people to live in a political environment they don’t believe in,” Sorens says. “The best we can do is give the most people the kind of government they want.” There’s a name for that idea: democracy.

Won’t we eventually have communities too diminutive to take care of themselves? Um, no? Why do we have states at all then? Why do we have counties within states? Why don’t we let the biggest, best government, the federal government, handle all our problems?

I suppose that doesn’t come across as reductio ad absurdum to some people. Anyway, if you call it democracy, it can’t be wrong.

Two Markets for Comics

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

There are two markets for comic books, Salkowitz says:

“There’s the market for gold-plated issues with megawatt cultural significance, which sell for hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. But that’s a very, very, very limited market. If a Saudi sheik decides he needs Action Comics No. 1, there are only a few people out there who have a copy.” And then there’s the other market, where most comics change hands for pennies and nobody is getting rich or even breaking even. “The entire back-issues market is essentially a Ponzi scheme,” Salkowitz says. “It’s been managed and run that way for 35 years.”

A Black Man’s Path to Race Realism

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

I can’t vouch for the veracity of A Black Man’s Path to Race Realism, but Larry Murdock’s story is… interesting:

For all these reasons I married a Chinese woman and we have a son. I don’t want him to identify as black. We speak Chinese at home, and I have decided that he can learn English as a second language—maybe after age five. We’ve had his DNA tested, and he is actually more Han Chinese (48.6 percent) than any other race (9.3 percent white, 42.1 percent black).

We are converting to Judaism, and therefore adopting a cultural environment that is as far from black as I can find. My son has options. He can think of himself as strictly Jewish. His names are Hebrew, and can be used in either the Sephardic or Ashkenazi traditions.

Or, he can think of himself as Chinese. Surprisingly, Chinese people have a better attitude towards those they think they are assimilating. My son has a Chinese passport, and if he decides to stay in China and can play the role of someone who accepts the glory of Han culture, he’ll do fine.

Or maybe he can think of himself as American—race unspecified. For his sake, I don’t want him to think of himself as “black,” because that just has too much baggage.

In Praise of Smaller Schools

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

A new study links school size — not class size, but school size — with performance:

One of the most wide-ranging reforms in public education in the last decade has been the reorganization of large comprehensive high schools into small schools with roughly 100 students per grade. We use assignment lotteries embedded in New York City’s high school match to estimate the effects of attendance at a new small high school on student achievement. More than 150 unselective small high schools created between 2002 and 2008 have enhanced autonomy, but operate within-district with traditional public school teachers, principals, and collectively-bargained work rules. Lottery estimates show positive score gains in Mathematics, English, Science, and History, more credit accumulation, and higher graduation rates. Small school attendance causes a substantial increase in college enrollment, with a marked shift to CUNY institutions. Students are also less likely to require remediation in reading and writing when at college. Detailed school surveys indicate that students at small schools are more engaged and closely monitored, despite fewer course offerings and activities. Teachers report greater feedback, increased safety, and improved collaboration. The results show that school size is an important factor in education production and highlight the potential for within-district reform strategies to substantially improve student achievement.

Why exactly do we bus American children to concrete-and-steel institutions again?

Official Rule

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The Japanese imperial family has officially ruled Japan for 125 generations, Spandrell notes:

The first emperor was the grandson of the Sun goddess, came to Japan in 660 BC, and ever since, the same bloodline has ruled the Japanese islands. Of course the date, and the number of emperor don’t make any sense; archeology tells us that in 660 BC the Japanese didn’t even have agriculture. Not much is known of the early stages of the Japanese monarchy, but there is reliable historical evidence of a Yamato clan around the 6th century AD. And again all evidence says that the patrilineal succession has continued, uninterrupted, to this day. That’s still very impressive, and if you count from then, you still get around 100 emperors. From the same family.

How did that happen? How does a family get to rule for 100 generations? That’s some rock-solid Schelling point there. Except it isn’t. The Japanese imperial family didn’t actually rule for that long. Actually it didn’t rule for very long at all. From a very early stage, the big clans of Japan, the Soga, the Fujiwara, etc. fought for influence over the imperial house, and they settled on a very straightforward system. You marry the emperor’s heir to a high rank girl from your clan. Then you get the emperor to appoint you Supreme General in Charge of Everything. If the Emperor disagreed, you kill or exile the bastard, and appoint yourself Regent until his son, i.e. your grandson comes of age. Still the patrilineal line continued, even if actual power was transmitted through the maternal line. Hey, it’s still blood.

Eventually, around the 12th century the centralized state based on the imperial house collapsed, and Japan fell into Samurai feudalism. Still there was no Odoacer who killed the emperor and took his place. The empire had collapsed, feudal lords were taking land for themselves and fighting each other without regard to imperial edicts, but the emperor was left in his palace, pretty much undisturbed. They even stopped calling him Emperor. He became the “Mikado”, i.e. the holy gate. The gate of the imperial palace, that is. So while a new military based polity grew out of Samurai bands 500 kilometers in the East, the old majestic Emperor was just “that guy in the palace”. Still the Shogun did get out of his way to get the emperor to name him “Great Shogun”.

The old Schelling point that said: “the king must rule because he has royal blood” lost effective power, but not so much that you could go and kill the emperor and take his place. Not like the emperor didn’t ask for it, as he more than once raise an army to battle the Samurais, only to be defeated. But he was never harmed, at worst he was forced to surrender his place to a brother. The imperial blood was still holy, and was the source of legal sovereignty. He had lost power, but he was kept in his place. The Schelling point stood. Quite similar to the way that the Abbasid caliphs were kept in their Baghdad palaces while his Empire fell to every kind of Turk. Or the way European constitutional monarchies left the Kings as sovereignty symbols while stripping them of any legal power. Eventually Hulagu Khan killed the last caliph, and republicans keep trying to abolish the ceremonial monarchies of Europe.

Nothing like that happened in Japan though. The imperial palace in Kyoto kept this sort of august aura, this Schelling charm that made every power holder wanted to be close to it. Of course it has to do with the fact that Japan wasn’t invaded by Hulagu Khan, or Wilsonian State Department apparatchiks. The Schelling point had evolved into saying: whoever gets appointed by the guy in the palace as Great Shogun, wins. And so we get the Onin war, and the subsequent Warring States period, where all the warlords in Japan go in a fighting spree to see who’s first to invade Kyoto and force the emperor to say he’s the awesomest Samurai in the world. Kinda ridiculous in the face of it, and it was. Getting to Kyoto didn’t stop Oda Nobunaga from getting killed. And in the end the big winner of the Warring States period, and final reunifier were the Tokugawa, based in the eastern plains where Tokyo is today. He overturned the Schelling point through the old trick of having the biggest army.

Still even the great Tokugawa didn’t go as far as getting rid of the guy in the palace. Again he kept him there, well fed, tightly controlled through a bureaucratic agency setup for the purpose. Tokugawa even went as far as make himself called“big holy palace”, which is obviously bigger than the name for the emperor, “holy palace”. So it’s not like he was full of reverence towards the holy blood of the imperial family. For the most part the Tokugawa’s didn’t give a shit about the emperors, and didn’t even bother to force the emperors to marry their daughters (they tried once at the beginning, didn’t work out).

In doing so the Tokugawa shoguns made a big mistake. You can respect a Schelling point, or you can break a Schelling point, trying to bring a new one into place. But you don’t ignore a Schelling point. You don’t just close your eyes and wait for it to disappear. For chances are it won’t.

The Tokugawa inaugurated the rebirth of the Japanese nation. It reunified the state, closed the borders, promoting native industry and agriculture, and the suppression of Buddhist sects created a new secular popular culture which evolved into most of what we recognize as Japanese today. The Tokugawa shogunate was a strong state, but it wasn’t without enemies. The shogunate run a very peculiar form of territorial control, a sort of finely bureaucratized feudalism. Most of the old Samurai bands of the warring states period were granted a fief, to be ruled at their pleasure. Lords who had been friendly to the Tokugawa during the war, were given big fiefs, hostile lords were given smaller fiefs, far from the center. Taxes were paid according to the rice production of the fiefs, and lords were to spend every other year in the capital, where their wives and children were held hostage permanently.

The big fiefs themselves contained smaller fiefs for junior lords. And this patchwork of feudal fiefdoms was controlled by a central bureaucracy, who could anytime they wanted strip a lord of his title, take away his land or move him to somewhere else. All in all it was a very smart, surprisingly modern system, and clearly the reason why it lasted so long. But while it kept the Samurais peaceful, it didn’t make them happy. In made a lot of them real pissed with the government. With war being out of the question, the opposition started looking for some good rationalization for their hating the government. They needed something to converge upon, a rallying point. Or should I say, a Schelling point. Conveniently there was a guy in a palace in Kyoto who was the perfect candidate. The imperial house had been suffering decline for several centuries already, but something was about to change.

The Tokugawa era, the Great Peace as it was called back then, had produced this very funny society, in which all Samurais, friendly or hostile, had nothing to do. They had their legal status as warriors, and they could, actually had to carry their fine katanas all the time with them. But there was no war to be fought. Yes there was a lord to defend, but nothing to defend him from. Still they couldn’t just grab a piece of land and grow food, or start a shop in the nearest town; even if they could go stand the thought of downward mobility, there were laws against that. There were 4 castes, warrior, artisan, peasant and merchant, and they had to respect their jobs. So what’s a warrior, millions of them, to do when there’s no war? They did like any other politically-connected class do. They manned the civil service. Oh, and the schools. Sounds familiar? Yes, the Samurais had their own mini Cathedral going on back then. They became a clerk-class, which means literate, and when a lot of people became highly literate, interesting ideas are bound to come out.

The Edo period saw the birth of the Kokugaku, the national studies, which saw many breakthroughs in philology, history and political theory. They deciphered the old classical texts, started to read them, and found that the imperial family actually was pretty damn awesome. Hey, did you know they descend form the Sun Goddess? That’s what this book commissioned by the imperial house in the 8th century says anyway. The knowledge of the ancient past of the country spread quickly, even to the imperial palace, who had forgotten itself. The Kokaku emperor in the 1800s found out that he wasn’t just the Guy in the Palace. He was the Emperor, or in the original Japanese, the Heavenly Sovereign. That has a different ring to it. So he restored the title, mostly unused for a whopping 900 years.

The reappraisal of the awesomeness of the Unbroken Imperial Line was of course a loaded weapon in the hands of hostile Samurai fiefs, which found it made a good rallying point for opposition to those perfid Tokugawas in the capital. We should overthrow those bastards, not because they took away half our land in the 1600s. No, it has nothing to do with that. They must be overthrown because they are not nice to the great Emperor in Kyoto, the real sovereign. How’s that for a Schelling point? Suddenly all opposition to the government had a very strong rationale. It didn’t help that the Tokugawas had adopted Neoconfucianism, of the Zhu Xi variety, as their official ideology, taught in the official schools. Confucianism teaching basically tell you to obey to the real King, and it happens that the Tokugawas were nominally just a military commander appointed by the King, and in reality they were just a bunch of stationary bandits which had seized the capital centuries before.

So it’s not surprise that that guy in Kyoto, who had no army, little land, and had wielded no real power for almost a millennium, suddenly found himself being held as the greatest King of all time. The only unbroken line of kings in the world.

Correcting a Malfunction

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Lt. Col. A.J. D’Amario, USAF. Ret. found his own way to correct a malfunction on a test flight:

On my first solo flight at K-13, Suwan, Korea, in June 1952, I took off in an F-80 Shooting Star. It was not a combat mission. All I had to do was go up and have fun boring holes in the sky for about an hour and a half.

Immediately after takeoff, I felt the left wing was heavy and determined that the left tip fuel tank was not feeding properly, or at all. Afraid it might fall off and rupture during landing, potentially melting asphalt on the runway, the tower would not let me land with the full tank. I was instructed to make a bomb run and drop the whole tank.

Arriving at the bomb range, I set up my bomb-release switches to release the tank. Flying over the impact area I pushed the button, but nothing happened. I tried a second time and again there was no response. On my next pass, I tried the manual release handle but to no avail. Making one final run, I used the button we called the “panic button” because it allegedly released everything hanging on the airplane. It worked as advertised and dumped everything, save my errant left tip tank.

The tower control officer advised me that if I couldn’t get rid of the tank or its contents, I should give them my location, eject and await pick up. Well, pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane, and I figured I still had one option worth trying.

The canopy of an F-80 can be opened in flight up to about 220 m.p.h. So, I opened the canopy and unholstered my G.I.-issue Colt M1911. Now, liquid fuel will not burn, at least not like vapors, so I aimed for the part of the tank I was sure would be full of liquid. Firing my first shot I had no idea where the bullet went—perhaps airborne, high-speed physics were at work, or maybe just my nerves. But my next three shots punctured the tank, passed through the fuel, and exited cleanly out the far side of the 24-inch-wide tank.

For the next 30 minutes, I flew with the left wing down in a series of circles to drain the fuel and slowly return to base. By the time I got to the airstrip the tank was empty, and I made a routine landing. As far as I know, I am the only pilot in the Air Force who ever shot his own plane to correct a malfunction.

Thank goodness for my .45.

(Hat tip a` mon père.)

Senseless but not Mysterious

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Mass shootings are senseless but not mysterious:

Building on Dr. Dietz’s seminal 1986 article on mass murder in the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, researchers have used these characteristics to develop a taxonomy of mass killing outside of warfare. The major types include serial, cult, gang, family and spree killings.

But it is another kind that dominates the headlines: the massacre or rampage shooting. Whereas the other types of mass murder usually occur in multiple incidents or in a concealed manner, massacres occur as a single, typically very public event.

In 2004, Paul E. Mullen, then the director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, wrote an illuminating study based in part on his personal interviews with rampage shooters who survived their acts. He notes that rampage shootings tend to follow a definite pattern, what he called a “program for murder and suicide.” The shooter, almost always a young man, enters an area filled with many people. He is heavily armed. He may begin by targeting a few specific victims, but he soon moves on to “indiscriminate killings where just killing people is the prime aim.” He typically has no plan for escape and kills himself or is killed by police.

Among the more pervasive myths about massacre killers is that they simply snap. In fact, Dr. Mullen and others have found that rampage shooters usually plan their actions meticulously, even ritualistically, for months in advance. Like serial killers, massacre killers usually don’t have impulsive personalities; they tend to be obsessive and highly organized. Survivors typically report that the shooters appear to be not enraged but cold and calculating.

Central to the massacre pattern is the killer’s self-styling. James L. Knoll IV, the director of forensic psychiatry at the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University, describes in a 2010 article how perpetrators often model themselves after commandos, wearing military dress or black clothing. Investigators usually find they had a lifelong fascination with weaponry, warfare, and military and survivalist culture. Their methodical comportment during the act is part of this styling.

Contrary to the common assumption, writes author Michael D. Kelleher in his 1997 book “Flash Point,” mass killers are “rarely insane, in either the legal or ethical senses of the term,” and they don’t typically have the “debilitating delusions and insidious psychotic fantasies of the paranoid schizophrenic.” Dr. Knoll affirms that “the literature does not reflect a strong link with serious mental illness.”

Instead, massacre killers are typically marked by what are considered personality disorders: grandiosity, resentment, self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement. They become, says Dr. Knoll, ” ‘collectors of injustice’ who nurture their wounded narcissism.” To preserve their egos, they exaggerate past humiliations and externalize their anger, blaming others for their frustrations. They develop violent fantasies of heroic revenge against an uncaring world.

Whereas serial killers are driven by long-standing sadistic and sexual pleasure in inflicting pain, massacre killers usually have no prior history of violence. Instead, writes Eric W. Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies, in his 2009 book “Serial Murderers and Their Victims,” massacre killers commit a single and final act in which violence becomes a “medium” to make a ” ‘final statement’ in or about life.” Fantasy, public expression and messaging are central to what motivates and defines massacre killings.

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control.

So, how do you reduce such mass killings?

A 1999 study by Dr. Mullen and others in the Archives of Suicide Research suggested that a 10-year outbreak of mass homicides had occurred in clusters rather than randomly. This effect was also found in a 2002 study by a group of German psychiatrists who examined 132 attempted rampage killings world-wide. There is a growing consensus among researchers that, whether or not the perpetrators are fully aware of it, they are following what has become a ready-made, free-floating template for young men to resolve their rage and express their sense of personal grandiosity.

Whatever the witch’s brew of influences that produced this grisly script, treating mass killings as a kind of epidemic or contagion largely frees us from having to understand the particular causes of each act. Instead, we can focus on disrupting the spread.

There is a precedent for this approach in dealing with another form of violence: suicides. A 2003 study led by Columbia University psychiatrist Madelyn Gould found “ample evidence” of a suicide contagion effect, fed by reports in the media. A 2011 study in the journal BMC Public Health found, unsurprisingly, that this effect is especially strong for novel forms of suicide that receive outsize attention in the press.

Some researchers have even put the theory to the test. In 1984, a rash of suicides broke out on the subway system in Vienna. As the death toll climbed, a group of researchers at the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention theorized that sensational reporting was inadvertently glorifying the suicides. Three years into the epidemic, the researchers persuaded local media to change their coverage by minimizing details and photos, avoiding romantic language and simplistic explanations of motives, moving the stories from the front page and keeping the word “suicide” out of the headlines. Subway suicides promptly dropped by 75%.

This approach has been recommended by numerous public health and media organizations world-wide, from the U.K., Australia, Norway and Hong Kong to the U.S., where in 2001 a similar set of reporting guidelines was released jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health and the surgeon general. It is difficult to say whether these guidelines have helped, since journalists’ adherence to them has been scattered at best, but they might still serve as a basis for changing the reporting of massacres.

How might journalists and police change their practices to discourage mass shootings? First, they need to do more to deprive the killer of an audience.

That isn’t likely to happen. If it bleeds, it leads — TV news lives by this credo.

Why is that guy over there the king?

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Why is that guy over there the king?

Because his father was king? How fair is that? His father was a good man, while he is an evil bastard. Why should he rule? It’s not fair.

Of course it’s not fair, but that’s not how human societies are arranged. Human societies are organized over Schelling points. Primogeniture is a Schelling point. Monarchy is a Schelling point. And primogeniture monarchy is another Schelling point. Schelling points happen through trial and error. Lots of error really. And they don’t assure there won’t be any more error. But given the huge and numerous constraints which exist, this was the best arrangement possible.

Schelling points are fixed in place not because of an explicit understanding of their origin and importance. They just stumble upon existence, after which the people involved come up with some bullshit that sounds right. Or may I rephrase, people see Schelling points and come up with elaborated post-rationalizations to justify them. How do you justify that some kid, who has done nothing of merit in his life, who is ugly, dumb, clumsy and of bad character, becomes king just because his father was? Well I don’t know. But it’s always been like that, so if sons have a right to the kingship… well, it must be about blood. Yes, the bloodline. That’s it. It is of utmost importance that all the kings must be of the same blood as the previous king, as this is the blood of the founder, which was awesome. We can’t afford losing this awesome blood. It doesn’t matter that the lawful heir of this bloodline is ugly, dumb, clumsy and of bad character. That’s… uh… the fault of his teachers. Yes, bad teachers. The kid shares the bloodline so he must be king.

On the face of it the theory is quite stupid. Let’s assume blood alone makes you awesome. Even if you keep the father’s line, sons have mothers too, so the ‘bloodline’ gets diluted each time. By the 5th generation the new king shares very few genes with the great founder. And that’s if you are lucky and you don’t have a slutty queen who fucks someone else and fathers his children. Surely someone must have noticed this fact, but of course the solution to it is even worse. You keep using women from inside the family to avoid diluting the precious bloodline, and what you get is a monster. So you gotta worship the bloodline while doing all you can to dilute it. Hypocrisy is by no means an innovation of our times.

Dynasties in most of the world changed quite often, especially in Europe. So the common rationalization for the legitimacy of kings was not so much the bloodline, as simply the law. There are inheritance laws that say who has titles, and sometimes kings agree to leave the crown to some guy. And law is sacred. Most of the time anyway, European history is full of succession wars where people didn’t quite agree on the sacredness of laws, and everybody with a big army always found a plausible legal claim to the throne they wanted. But the emphasis was still in the law, which is a funny thing to take as sacred. Surely there are more important things that some agreement reached at some point of time, in some state of mind, by some old guy who didn’t really know what he was doing. But hey, another Schelling point, can’t touch that. Perhaps the famous legalism of Europeans, which is quite distinct to other civilizations, comes from the fact that we had no other concept in which to base our politics.