Bloody shovel

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Craziness

There’s two sorts of people. The optimists who periodically get enthusiastic about something and feel how everything is going to turn out great, and they’re gonna be part of it personally. Then there are the adults who come by and tell you to calm down. It’s not gonna turn out great and you aren’t gonna be part of it anyway.

The Internet has brought the inner optimist in a lot of people. Bitcoin is a recent example most will know about. But there’s also the more general principle, that the Internet has dramatically lowered the ease of access to publishing. Anyone can run a website or a blog, and tell truths that the establishment doesn’t want in the official media. So the truth will be published, so that everyone can read it, and so the truth will prevail, and the people set free!

Instead we see the people organizing online campaigns to get Brendan Eich fired. Actually this is a pretty old threat in the blogosphere. Is the Internet a good thing? Will it help dissenters get together, to spread and refine their views? Or will the Cathedral simply colonize the Internet and use its technology to run a massive surveillance and brainwashing operation, also making it easy to subvert foreign countries? Well it probably has done both. But it’s also obvious which has more important consequences.

Yet… that doesn’t mean the Internet is bad. Far from it. For one, it has given us great websites such as Real History. And now seriously, every now and then one finds a mindblowing piece of scholarship in the web that makes you glad you like reading. It certainly makes me glad of having learned to read English.

Randall Collins’ blog is a great example of that. It’s just great. Amazingly insightful writing. I found it thanks to a link at Isegoria. Isegoria himself wrote once that Moldbug had hacked his brain. Well I kinda feel that Mr. Collins has hacked mine.

Be sure to check out the whole thing, at the very least his posts during 2014. They’re all great, but his last on Jesus as the epitome of charisma is amazing. Part of it is that I love this sort of alternate views of history. But Collins is good. Very good. I’d link to the best parts but Isegoria has done that already.

I’d like to point out the part where he analyzes Jesus’s alleged miracles:

 

Here we can apply modern sociology of mental illness, and of physical sickness. As Talcott Parsons pointed out, there is a sick role that patients are expected to play; it is one’s duty to submit oneself to treatment, to put up with hospitals, follow the authority of medical personnel, all premised on a social compact that this is done to make one well. But ancient society had no such sick role; it was a passive and largely hopeless position. Goffman, by doing fieldwork inside a mental hospital, concluded that the authoritarian and dehumanizing aspects of this total institution destroys what sense of personal autonomy the mental patient has left. Hence acting out– shouting, defecating in the wrong places, showing no modesty with one’s clothes, breaking the taboos of ordinary social life– are ways of rebelling against the system. They are so deprived of normal social respect that the only things they can do to command attention are acts that degrade them still further. Demon-possessed persons in the Bible act like Goffman’s mental patients, shouting or staying mute, and disrupting normal social scenes.*

 

* This research was in the 1950s and 1960s, before mental patients were controlled by mood-altering drugs. The further back we go in the history of mental illness, the more treatments resemble ancient practices of chaining, jailing or expelling persons who break taboos.

 

One gets the impression of a remarkable number of such demon-possessed– i.e. acting-out persons– in ancient Palestine. ** They are found in almost every village and social gathering. Many of them are curable, by someone with Jesus’ charismatic techniques of interaction. He pays attention to them, focusing on them wholly and steadily until they change their behavior and come back into normal human interaction; in every case that is described, Jesus is the first person in normal society with whom the bond is established. Each acknowledges him as their savior and want to stay with him; but Jesus almost always sends them back, presumably into the community of Christian followers who will now take such cured persons as emblems of the miracles performed.

 

** A psychiatric survey of people living in New York City in the 1950s found that over 20% of the population had severe mental illness. (Srole 1962) It is likely that in ancient times, when stresses were greater, rates were even higher.

This is an idea I’ve long toyed with, even though it’s quite counterintuitive from a reactionary point of view. Part of most critiques of modernity is the idea that modern people are especially dysfunctional, that modern life is unnatural and dehumanizing, and that people today are full of mental issues which were unknown to our more wholesome ancestors.

Well what if that’s completely wrong? I have relatives not very far removed from a medieval peasant lifestyle, and while they are free of many of the psychological ills of modern people (they don’t get depressed, they are not lazy nor obsessed about minutiae, and gender roles are crystal clear), but I wouldn’t say they are all models or psychological wholesomeness. They drink copiously, are often irritable, non cooperative, and act in their own selfish interest without the slightest sign of introspection.

Then there are the crackpot-ish yet infinitely interesting theories of psychohistory and the bicameral mind. Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind hypothesis said that ancients before the Bronze Age collapse had underdeveloped language skills which made their executive function manifest itself as external voices which commanded to do things, so strictly speaking the ancients weren’t conscious, i.e. self-aware. No internal dialogue in the old books.

Psychohistory is the theory of Lloyd deMause, who noted that many ancient civilizations, if not all of them at some point, practiced ritual child sacrifice, and even after that stopped, infanticide was common until not that long ago. Well imagine being a kid in those circumstances. Seeing your little friends being killed in scary altars, and your parents referring to you as a burden, with dad and mom often fighting over whether they should just throw you into the river once and for all, that’s likely to mess you up in the head. Even if they don’t end up killing you to save some shekels, you’ve either been a candidate for an early death, or seen your friends killed. And those traumatized children eventually grow up to become the adults. Chechar has great stuff on how that applied to the Aztecs, which were big on killing children on stone pyramids.

For better or worse though, Julian Jaynes’ theories on the origin of language were disproved. And a casual reading of deMause tells you the guy is full of shit. Yet you don’t need a new encompassing theory of history to feel that maybe our ancestors weren’t as well adjusted as we may think. Going back to Jesus, Randal Collins seems to have read Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity, which basically explains the growth of Christianity because urban life in the Roman Empire sucked so incredibly bad that the little niceties that Christians did for each other (giving water to sick people) produced such a difference on fertility and mortality rates that starting with 12 dudes, after 300 years they outgrew everyone else.

Certainly the Palestine of the days of Jesus wasn’t a very rational place. Lots of prophets in the streets, predicating their crap, some better than others. And people actually stopped and listened to them! Collins makes a convincing case for Jesus being an unprecedented charismatic genius, but there were many other preachers in Rome at the time, presumably not as good as Jesus, but still managed to get following.

And don’t go that far. Stay in 19th century America. Certainly there was something wrong in the head with the people that followed Joseph Smith? Or all those who joined the wacky communes mushrooming all over New England? What about the huge followings people like Marx or Freud got? Freud was kinda like the original Yudkowsky. Making people mad while claiming to fix madness, running a cult about not running a cult. One day they’ll call them the Ironic Intellectuals.

None of this is an apology for modernity, or self-congratulation on how far we’ve come and how much better we have it. I’d rather have neighbors join Joseph Smith cult, rather than my kids forced to attend a gender-neutral school, or being forced to refer to a dude who has a fetish for injecting himself with estrogen as a woman. All the bullshit of the prophets of antiquity would feel quite at home with our Global Warming advocates.

The problem is we don’t have good data on the past. Fish don’t know what is water, most people back then probably didn’t feel anything notorious about there being a bunch of witches and crazy dudes in every town block. We on the other hand are too self-aware, and obsessed about psychology.

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15 responses to “Craziness

  1. Rollory April 25, 2014 at 16:43

    “No internal dialogue in the old books.”

    You say later the theory was disproved, but I want to reiterate how clearly untrue this is.

    “This is what took place. As soon as he [Xenophon – the author, referring to himself in the 3rd person] was fully awake, the first clear thought which came into his head was, Why am I lying here? The night advances; with the day, it is like enough, the enemy will be upon us. If we are to fall into the hands of the king, what is left us but to face the most horrible of sights, and to suffer the most fearful pains, and then to die, insulted, an ignominious death? To defend ourselves—to ward off that fate—not a hand stirs: no one is preparing, none cares; but here we lie, as though it were time to rest and take our ease. I too! what am I waiting for? a general to undertake the work? and from what city? am I waiting till I am older mysef and of riper age? older I shall never be, if to-day I betray myself to my enemies.

    Thereupon he got up, and called together first Proxenus’s officers; and when they were met, he said: “Sleep, sirs, I cannot, nor can you, I fancy, nor lie here longer, when I see in what straits we are …”

    – Anabasis, book 3.

    • spandrell April 26, 2014 at 02:45

      That’s 1,000 years removed from the end of bicamerality as Jaynes put it. The idea is that the Bronze Age Collapse was the turning point. Check out texts from before 1200BC, the Homeric poems, the Old Testament, etc.

      Read the book. It’s interesting.

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  3. Toddy Cat April 25, 2014 at 21:57

    “They drink copiously, are often irritable, non cooperative, and act in their own selfish interest without the slightest sign of introspection.”

    I didn’t know that we were related…

  4. fnn April 26, 2014 at 02:01

    “They drink copiously, are often irritable, non cooperative, and act in their own selfish interest without the slightest sign of introspection.”

    Russians?

  5. fnn April 26, 2014 at 02:19

    And don’t go that far. Stay in 19th century America. Certainly there was something wrong in the head with the people that followed Joseph Smith?

    A lot of wacky cults in the period 1968-75. I think nearly all them have disappeared, but Dave “Spengler” Goldman’s La Rouchies are still around.

    Though nothing took off like the Mormons-maybe the Moonies came closest.

    • Toddy Cat April 26, 2014 at 04:14

      Yeah, America seems to go through these odd revival-like phases. The most enduring cult that I can think of that came out of the 1968-75 period was modern American “New Left” style liberalism, and it’s been pretty successful. That’s because the millennialism was there in the late 60’s but the mode of expression of the time was political, not religious.

      • Red May 25, 2014 at 06:30

        Protestant Christianity doesn’t have any firm center of tradition and hierarchy to stabilize it, so it’s always breaking into a million peaces like a hunter gather village does when it becomes to large.

  6. Handle April 27, 2014 at 19:40

    One of my theories of mentally-odd people is ‘biased drift and recalibration’.

    If people are socially isolated, or ‘atomized’, then they begin to drift away from normal mental patterns and social well-adjustment, according to their idiosyncratic predilections. Voluntary hermitage or involuntary isolation (like Cast Away) has a well-earned reputation for driving people loony and making them increasingly so with time, so that it’s very difficult to rehabilitate them and help them ‘fit in’. It’s not just a drunken-sailor random walk, you keep drifting away in the same direction. And prolonged self-isolation is easier than ever before.

    Indeed, it is tempting. Socializing requires compromises, and there is no way to maximize one’s experiences of one’s own preferences without compromise except by simulating a cloistered and solipsistic life. Being a ‘facebook-alpha’ minor-celebrity in your own mind within your tiny online dunbar group is probably very mind-warping, the same kind of mind-warping that happens to people who remain actual A-list celebrities for too long. You need to be friends and relatives with ordinary people who will bring you back down to earth, over and over, or else you lose your tether to social reality.

    The theorized solution to this was to form a new, non-physical, ‘virtual’ community with those who are like-minded, have similar preferences, and with whom you can produce your own subculture. The problem is that this doesn’t recalibrate people towards the social median, but instead the positive feedback seems to produce vicious cycles that accelerate the drift away from the norm.

    But repetitive social exposures help to constantly recalibrate ones mentality and steer it closer to the median. Without those, or when those are replaced by entertainment, or strange internet niches, the recalibration process tends to break down. And, as I’ve said elsewhere, politics is more than just a replacement for religion, is also acts a replacement for these social and community functions.

    Consider this passage from Charles Murray’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead (p. 124) (buy it for the teenager in your life). He is advising people to ‘show up for’ his four primary sources of happiness: family, vocation, community, and faith.

    Consider: If it is the year 1875 and you are anyone except a wealthy person living in one of a handful of large cities, what are your choices about how to spend your day? Almost nothing in your daily life does not involve engagement with family, vocation, community, or faith. Even the things you do purely for fun almost inevitably involve family or friends: If you want to listen to music, you and family or friends will have to sing or play music yourselves. If you want to play a game, it will will have to be with family or friends. Being a passive spectator at the theater, an athletic event, or a public concert is so rare that each occasion stands out in your memory.

    What was true in 1875 has been true throughout human history. Day to day, people didn’t have any choice but to show up. Then the phonograph and motion pictures were invented, providing the first opportunity for people to have entertainment besides books provided for them by impersonal means on a daily basis, but those by themselves had trivial effects on life as a whole. A half century later, the spread of commercial radio radically expanded the ways in which life could be brought to people on a platter and the ease with which it could be done. The spread of commercial television in the late 1940’s pushed the process still further. But those distraction from the four domains were as nothing compared to the ways in which the IT revolution has made it possible for us to occupy ourselves all day long and all night long by sitting alone in front of a screen.

    We aren’t well-adapted for this kind of thing. It’s too tempting, too pleasurable, too addictive, and no one is successfully sounding the warning bell about the mass socio-psychological consequences. And no one is really sure what those consequences are going to be, either. I think one is going be a whole hell of a lot of craziness.

  7. fnn April 29, 2014 at 00:51

    Gregory Cochran on Murray:

    http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/the-long-and-short-of-it/

    …In using an ancient and poorly-documented possibly-selective one-generation event as an explanation of a general phenomenon which does not even exist, Murray makes Fryer look like a genius. By comparison only, because Fryer’s argument has zero chance.

  8. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/04/30 | Free Northerner

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