Bloody shovel

We shall drown, and nobody will save us

The truth is out there

I first became acquainted with the name of Christopher Beckwith when I borrowed this book on the origins of old Japanese from my college library. It’s a groundbreaking book on a very interesting topic that nonetheless has received little scientific scrutiny. Most Japanese themselves don’t know much, nor seem to care about where their language, and hence their people come from. The book was interesting in part, but also full of wild speculations and non-sequiturs that left on me the impression that Mr. Beckwith is quite the nutter. It’s one thing that Japanese has relatives in old Manchurian Kingdoms. It’s a different one altogether to posit that Burmese and Japanese share common ancestry because they both have a pronoun which starts in /wa/ and have a lot of monosyllabic words.

To be honest I never cared much about the topic, or the man. Until last week Razib at GNXP declared himself a fan of a recent book of his on Central Asia. I recall the guy was an expert on Tibet, so he must know more about Central Asia than Japan. And Central Asia is also a poorly understood region, so there must be lots of low-hanging fruit for the committed scholar to gather. On the same post, Razib links to a paper by Beckwith on his particular theory on the Indo-Europeans. Now, everybody who has even the slightest interest in history has an interest on the Indo-Europeans. Their descendants dominate most of the Earth, so it’s only natural we care about where they came from. I had thought the science was mostly settled on the Indo-Europeans being steppe-dwellers who pretty much domesticated the horse, invented the chariot, and used it to conquer most of the temperate world. Well the science isn’t settled if Dr. Beckwith has anything to say about it. And he’s quite the polemicist. Check out the paper and tell me you’re not intrigued.

I certainly was, especially by this little gem that came out of nowhere:

Duchesne says I “erroneously [assume] that the development of organized warfare in Greece and Rome, and the rise of the polis and the Roman senate, signalled the end of the aristocratic mind set.” I nowhere say anything of the kind, and never even thought it, as far as I can recall. This is an example of Duchesne’s failure to read my book carefully and in full. If anything I support Aristotle’s idea of the superiority—in some respects—of an aristocratic (or anyway, hierarchical or ‘feudal’) system over the deception known as ‘democracy’, and thus agree with Duchesne, in part, on this issue.

Hey, that sounds interesting. So interesting that it led me to buy his Empires of the Silk Road. I haven’t quite started with the book, yet he has this pretty little gem in the preface (my bolding):

With respect to the data and history writing in general, some comment on my own approach is perhaps necessary, especially in view of the recent application of the “Postmodernist” approach to history, the arts, and other fields. According to the Modernist imperative, the old must always, unceas- ingly, be replaced by the new, thus producing permanent revolution. The Postmodernist point of view, the logical development of Modernism, rejects what it calls the positivist, essentially non-Modern practice of evaluating and judging problems or objects according to specific agreed criteria. In- stead, Postmodernists consider all judgments to be relative. “In our post- modern age, we can no longer take recourse to [sic] the myth of ‘objectivity,’ ” it is claimed. “Suspicions are legitimately aroused due to the considerable differences in the opinions of the foremost authorities in this area.” History is only opinion. Therefore, no valid judgments can be made. We cannot know what happened or why, but can only guess at the modern motivations for the modern “construction of identity” of a nation, the nationalistic po- lemics of anti-intellectuals and nonscholars, and so on. All manuscripts are equally valuable, so it is a waste of time to edit them—or worse, they are said to be important mainly for the information they reveal about their scribes and their cultural milieux, so producing critical editions of them eliminates this valuable information. Besides, we cannot know what any author really

intended to say anyway, so there is no point in even trying to find out what he or she actually wrote.6 Art is whatever anyone claims to be art. No rank- ing of it is possible. There is no good art or bad art; all is only opinion. Therefore it is impossible, formally, to improve art; one can only change it.

Unfortunately, obligatory constant change, and the elimination of all criteria, necessarily equals or produces stasis: no real change. The same applies to politics, in which the Modern “democratic” system allows only superficial change and thus produces stasis. Because no valid judgments can be made by humans—all human judgments are opinions only—all data must be equal. (As a consequence, Postmodernists’ judgment about the invalidity of judgments must also be invalid, but the idea of criticizing Postmodernist dogma does not seem to be popular among them.) In accordance with the Postmodernist view, there is only a choice between religious belief in what- ever one is told (i.e., suspension of disbelief) or total skepticism (suspension of both belief and disbelief).

In both cases, the result, if followed resolutely to the logical extreme, is cessation of thought, or at least elimination of even the possibility of critical thought. If the vast majority of people, who are capable only of the former choice (total belief), are joined by intellectuals and artists, all agreeing to abandon reason, the result will be an age of credulity, repression, and terror that will put all earlier ones to shame. I do not think this is ‘good’. I think it is ‘bad’. I reject Modernism and its hyper- Modern mutation, Postmodernism. They are anti-intellectual movements that have wreaked great damage in practically all fields of human endeavor. I hope that a future generation of young people might be inspired to attack these movements and reject them so that one day a new age of fine arts (at least) will dawn.

Damn. This guy is good. Very good. But wait, it gets better:

Viewed from the perspective of Eurasian history over the past four millennia, there does not seem to me to be any significant difference between the default underlying human socio- political structure during this time period—that is, down to the present day—and that of primates in general. The Alpha Male Hierarchy is our system too, regardless of whatever cosmetics have been applied to hide it. To put it another way, in my opinion the Modern political system is in fact simply a disguised primate-type hierarchy, and as such it is not essentially different from any other political system human primates have dreamed up. If recognition of a problem is the first step to a cure, it is long past time for this particular problem to be recognized and a cure for it be found, or at least a medicine for it to be developed, to keep it under control before it is too late for humans and the planet Earth.

The day all historians accept that biology is destiny, I guess we will have won.

Also related (darkly enlightened famous people), see this interview the Guardian did with Neil Bloomkamp:

“You’d literally have to change the human genome to stop wealth discrepancy. But it’s happening now on a globalised level. The outsourcing of whatever you need done, at low cost, can happen in a different country; you don’t even need to know about it any more.” Elysium brings all of this into the multiplex, and the film’s substantial thrills and spills don’t disguise Blomkamp’s glum outlook. “That’s good, that’s what I wanted people to think,” he says. “We have biological systems built into us that were very advantageous for us, up until we became a functioning civilisation 10,000 years ago. We are literally genetically coded to preserve life, procreate and get food – and that’s not gonna change. The question is whether you can somehow overpower certain parts of that mammalian DNA and try to give some of your money out, try to take your wealth and pour it out for the rest of the planet.”

Watching Elysium, it’s apparent he thinks the human race is probably buggered, although the solution he’s holding out for is reassuringly Blomkampian. “The only way things will change is if we’re smart enough to develop technology that can think us out of this, meaning augmenting ourselves genetically to be smart enough to change shit,” he says. “Or to have artificial intelligence and programs to help solve the problems.”

It seems to me we are not as alone as we think we are. What we need is to write, to write well, and to write a lot.

19 responses to “The truth is out there

  1. anon666 October 5, 2013 at 02:22

    “the Modern political system is in fact simply a disguised primate-type hierarchy, and as such it is not essentially different from any other political system human primates have dreamed up.”

    I agree with this, which is in part why I don’t fully understand the aims of neoreactionaries (although I do find their blogs to be more interesting than that of any other faction). We already have an aristocratic hierarchy complete with a caste system and cadre of oligarchs. The “democratic” features it contains are largely ceremonial, as the scope of legitimate debate has already been determined by the priestly caste (e.g., The Cathedral), and the scope of what is possible has been determined by the permanent unelected bureaucracy and various established interest groups. While it’s true that official ideology is egalitarian and altruistic, the system’s actual operation in no way conforms to these ideals. Perhaps ideals of equality, democracy, etc., are simply adaptive rhetorical tactics that allows the elites to compel obedience from their subjects without the direct use of force. Few political systems have advocated an explicitly Darwinist or Machiavellian ethos, as people are more likely to obey even when they can get away with not obeying if they view the state as deriving its legitimacy from a transcendent moral principle (particularly one found to be benevolent to non-elites). Nonsensical morality is a cheaper of method of ensuring compliance than violence. People will never do more than the bare minimum if the only incentive is to avoid punishment.

    • spandrell October 5, 2013 at 06:12

      That’s a good point, and one I’ve been thinking about lately.

      It’s obvious that our problems are not a lack of hierarchy, as we very much have one in place. It follows that the solution is not hierarchy, as we already have one and it’s not working very well.
      Moldbug’s argument was that the problem is that the public rhetoric somewhat forces the hierarchy into demotist nonsense, so “formalizing” the power structure will make the hierarchy safe in its power so they will stop the demotist nonsense.

      As you say, no society has ever been openly antiegalitarian, with the exception of Hinduism, and most governments have to some extent justified their power by claiming to “serve the people”. Serving the people is a transparent lie, yet Hinduism doesn’t look like an attractive model.

      • anon666 October 5, 2013 at 21:00

        Most premodern societies did not advocate an egalitarian ideology, but they still didn’t explicitly promote “might makes right”, even if that was the actual operating principle. They did claim/argue that the authoritarian power structure was somehow benevolent to the lower orders, even if only to the point of promoting their interests in the afterlife. Reactionaries could promote a similar social order: antiegalitarian, but still claiming to serve the interests of all classes. In an economy that’s increasingly cognitively stratified, the system probably doesn’t have to persuade the underclass, as it doesn’t have the capacity to orchestrate an effective revolt regardless of how unhappy its members are. It does, however, need to persuade intelligent/educated non-elites (or would be elites) of its benevolence.

        Perhaps you can comment on what degree the Asian powers promote egalitarianism. My impression is that they claim to serve a “common good” of sorts, but that doesn’t necessarily involve promoting the notion that all citizens are equally capable of the same accomplishments, nor does it involve unqualified outgroup altruism. The idea seems to be that different people of different capacities have different roles to play in creating prosperity and harmony. Foreigners are welcome insofar as they are useful in promoting the general prosperity of the realm, but there is no messianic attempt to liberate outsiders from oppression or poverty of their homelands in an attempt to gain status in the game of secular moral righteousness. I’m not certain that we can emulate the Asians, as the moral righteousness status game is many centuries old. I don’t foresee a future in which westerners — and whites in particular — stop playing it.

        • spandrell October 6, 2013 at 07:46

          Asia has a longer history of centralized government, and its elite was irreligious, so they always justified their rule in utilitarian terms; it’s better for all the people.

          Asians are just less preachy in general, and their hierarchy is fixed by traditional rules such as seniority and backroom deals, so open status-whoring is not common. Inasmuch as all countries today have a state-run education system, cognitive uniformity is assumed, and difference of outcomes is blamed on lack of effort.

          Casually most people understand that some people are born smart and others dumb, but there is no clear pattern that makes heredity obvious. The lack of ethnic minorities means there is no easily identifiable “Gap” that needs to be closed. I’d say the general view is in a spectrum between the Tiger-mom blank-slate-ish “you just need to put work harder”, and the idea that smarts are assigned randomly at birth.

          I’ve talked to people about IQ hereditary component being 0.8, racial differences, and most people don’t like the idea. There are no paroxisms of righteous rage, but nobody likes to think about it. And that’s understandable.

    • Baker October 5, 2013 at 09:13

      Established elites, the people who inherit advantages rather than fought or it, are generally incapable weaklings. They much prefer stability of current affairs. Leftism is the best way to avoid conflict, ie to avoid pain. It also evades responsibilities in form of the tragedy of the commons. It is the path of least resistance.

      Power promotes and protects itself at the expense of everything else. Reactionaries have tendency to think things as right or wrong, productive or destructive. But in real world things are decided by selfish profitability; the most selfish profitable get most power. So, there must be a more profitable or competitive “business model”, workable within the constraint of current environment, if things are to change.

      In the current context, a leftism business will either run until it is no longer profitable (eg until a collapse), lose to some competing business (eg a winning China or Russia) or some extraordinary technological breakthroughs (eg genetic engineering, singularity) manage to reverse its degenerative tendency thus making it a long term viable model.

      • spandrell October 5, 2013 at 09:50

        Leftism is the best way to avoid conflict

        I like structural theories of leftism, but is this really true? Leftism seems an awfully chaotic system, especially compared with the aristocracies of old. The turnover for elites today is higher compared with the premodern world, and elite infighting today is quite severe.

        • Baker October 5, 2013 at 10:35

          Being chaotic is not a problem since being orderly and efficient is not the goal. As long as it is selfishly safe and profitable. Leftists face less hardship and gets faster promotion and the worst outcome in case of failure is milder.

          Since modern environment is so much different than old time we cannot really directly compare their models. Each is fit for their environment. But I disagree that old aristocracies are safer or easier than modern leftists. The chinese say 富不過三代, which is largely true.

          • spandrell October 5, 2013 at 12:35

            Tell that to the Liechstenteins, the Rothschilds or the Grosvenors.

            Of course wealth doesn’t last much in competitive environments. China’s bureaucracy was very much one, and today’s elite is also quite competitive. But Europe’s nobility is full of 10+ generation dynasties which still command a lot of wealth, even under the current progressive regime.

            That leftists enjoy power under leftism is a circular argument. All regimes have an elite, and a method of selecting the members of the elite, but it seems to me that the leftist way of selection (being holier than thou) is a very troublesome for everyone involved. The English used to select their elite according to who had the biggest landholdings; now that was a stable system.

            • Baker October 5, 2013 at 14:24

              I didn’t mean transfer of power in a lineage is rare, obviously it happened both then and now. I just don’t think that the aristocracies has an easier time in their power struggle than modern elites. Also there is only one member per generation to inherit a title. As a random member in the ever branching family tree your chance is no good.

              My bottom line is that leftism happens to be the dominant strategy for a reason, it consistently out competes its counter force as the environment change dramatically approaching modern era. You cannot deny that it so far is a fit strategy, just as theocracy happened to be a fit strategy despite being a massive lie. Yes “holier than thou” can be troublesome and unstable, but who’s to say life is easy and stable? To truly change things, you need a realistically more competitive or more profitable strategy in the power struggle system at the right time.

              • VXXC October 5, 2013 at 21:46

                For leftism to continue …they have to somehow get around bankrupt fiat finances, utter incompetence in any aspect of governance or indeed any enterprise [like rolling out the enrollment of your flagship domestic program], the fact that the military, police, and the stock they come from despise and distrust them.

                Two generations have been riding the laurels and inertia of the New Dealers. They’re fit to flatter each other, the mere sight of them repulses most people. Do you know of any unhappier or more miserable body of men in America, to include prisoners more unhappy than the functionaries of the Cathedral in MD or VA? I’ve known people mired in Organized Crime that were happier.

                Can we revisit the enduring fitness of Leftism say around Oct 18th?

              • spandrell October 6, 2013 at 05:13

                The idea that even if the family keeps its wealth, many individual members of the family are screwed is a very good point.
                Indeed I’m quite sure that many of the most strident leftist leaders in history have been junior members of the elite, i.e. younger brothers of the wealthy.
                The heir has no incentive to upset the status quo, but the rest of the siblings have all the incentives to push holier-than-thou as the measure of value. They can’t compete under traditional law, but they can be upwardly mobile by being holier than thou.

              • Baker October 6, 2013 at 07:57

                Precisely. In the modern environment even wealthy elites need to signal leftism if they want to be safe, especially if they are “incapable weaklings”, lest they risk upsetting the government and the populace and blow up their business.

                Leftism being dominant is not a social design, it is the net result of power struggle between elites, elite-wanna-be and the populace. Criticizing it from the academic aspect of how the design sucks is not going to change things if you cannot offer a viable power struggle strategy. To this I share the same opinion as the quote in your post: leftism/democracy is just the latest primate power game.

          • spandrell October 6, 2013 at 09:30

            Leftism being dominant is not a social design, it is the net result of power struggle between elites, elite-wanna-be and the populace. Criticizing it from the academic aspect of how the design sucks is not going to change things if you cannot offer a viable power struggle strategy.

            Well competition through sanctimony is perhaps a necessary consequence of a modern society without kinship clans and an open marketplace, but the particular ideological tenets of the Cathedral seem quite contingent to me. Back in the days there was plenty of santier-than-thou competition in Europe, and even China had its fair share of do-gooders, but it didn’t generate the lunacy feedback loops we are seeing today.

            The biggest problem today is that sanctimony is achieved through denying particularly obvious aspects of reality. Christians used to do that too, for a time you could attain power by, say, denying heliocentrism, but the obvious falsehoods of the many of the Church’s dogmas made it lose power over time.
            The obvious falsehoods of the modern Cathedral don’t seem to be losing traction, in fact the lunacy is getting worse; see feminism, homo/transexual rights or global warming.

  2. VXXC October 5, 2013 at 21:39

    Who pray tell shall be the American Hereditary Aristocracy?

    You may rest assured the House, Senate, Beltway, K-Street, Acela Corridor, Harvard and Yale have their own ideas. As does J-Street. Mind you J-Street just can’t figure out to wash the Rental once in awhile, and that’s after 4000 years of dysfunctional relationships. The common element in which is of course everyone else.

    I’m afraid just speaking for myself I can’t consider submitting to someone weaker than me, especially when they couldn’t run a bath.

    I’m afraid there’s no one competent enough to do it on the horizon.

    You are also overlooking that if the New Dealers couldn’t do it..who possibly could? For background consider that Reagan was actually the last New Dealer. Yes.He.Was.

    But I am listening. WHO?

  3. Alexander Irwin October 6, 2013 at 04:04

    The Cathedral elite is not stable because its status posturing and ideation is not compatible with even replacement-level fertility. This alone tells one that they are not really happy, healthy or stable, without going on to examine the mental disorders and existential nausea demonstrated within the caste.

  4. VXXC October 6, 2013 at 11:23

    You will never meet people in America more miserable than the Cathedral Functionaries. I can quite justly condemn the entire state of Maryland for instance. This is true all my adult life, I never met anyone happy who worked in DC. If you are a wretched, hateful weasel type who enjoys academic and court scheming against all you smile at all day long, a criminal with a degree and malice towards all, justice towards none then they have a place for you.

    Any conscience along the southern terminus of Acela would constitute a personality disorder in terms of deviating from the mean, and may well become a clinical personality disorder.

    Compared to say people working in Wall Street finance or other NYC area enterprises, or even some form of criminal enterprise who have consciences the wretches in DC are far unhappier. It’s pervasively poisonous to the soul. The poison spreads like Black Squid Ink into all it touches and it means to touch all. The only souls so dead you’ll meet are prostitutes on the downslope. Dead eyes, dead souls.

    [Ahem]

    But hey it’s a check, right?

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