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The Informed Position on Tibet

Years ago I used to read a lot View from the Right, the blog of Lawrence Auster. Auster was a very peculiar guy. A Jew convert to Christianity, chanting the joys of social conservatism when being single (and most likely gay), he spent half his time criticizing progressive ideology, and half his time criticizing fellow critics of progressive ideology. His criticism was vivid, sharp and often accurate. Some of his criticism of rightist pundits was very good (Auster’s law of race relations is brilliant and more relevant than ever), in many ways anticipating what today is called cuckservatism. Much of his material wasn’t that good though, especially his awkward attacks of Steve Sailer for not defending Israel. The best part of his blog was how often he updated it (I was bored at college and appreciated the entertainment), and the comments by Jim Kalb. I wonder what Auster would’ve thought of Trump.

Auster was also quite obviously a man of the right, but he wasn’t part of anything. He wasn’t a paleocon, he wasn’t a white nationalist. He was his own man. Being your own man is underappreciated. See this blog. It started as a neoreaction blog. At times I wrote quite actively about the “movement”. Then the Eternal September happened and hordes of retards fell into neoreaction, driving the level of discussion down to the left half of the bell curve. Is this still a neoreaction blog?

See, I studied linguistics, and this sort of questions always interested me the most (though not my fellow linguists). What’s in a name? What is the definition of “neoreaction”? What’s the definition of anything, really? What’s the definition of “race”? What’s the definition of “rape”? The classical theory is that words have definitions, much like dictionaries do, and people have a “mental lexicon” which harbors dictionary definitions inside every individual brain. But the empirical evidence shows it doesn’t work like that. People don’t have mental dictionaries. People never agree on definitions. The definition of a word is whatever that word evokes in your mind, and that mental effect depends on a whole lot of cognitive and social factors. People say race is a social construct. No, the word “race” is a social construct. As are all other words. That’s how language works.

That’s why “racist” doesn’t mean “person who is prejudiced against people because of their racial affiliation”. The effective meaning of the word “racist” is whatever the word “racist” reminds you of; the Left has taken care that the word “racist” reminds you of evil white men, so the words “racist” effectively means “evil white man”. QED. The word “race” for many reasons reminds most people of humans of different innate skin tones, which is why Bantus and Somalis are both regarded thought as “black”, even though people with a better understanding of human genetic history know that’s not a very useful way to put it. But it works, so the word stays in the language.

Once you understand this, (which you really should, nominalism in various forms is thousands of years old), I can ask, what is neoreaction? In actual fact, not what I’d like it to be. Neoreaction is whatever people are reminded of when they hear the word. 3 years ago, the word “neoreaction” reminded me of Moldbug, Foseti and Jim. That was a pretty cool thing. I was happy to join that boat. Today, however, “neoreaction” reminds one of Twitter and Social Matter. And I’m sorry, but that’s not my thing. I can’t say for sure if it’s just them being boring, or it’s just that my thinking has changed, while they remain faithful to the project. I get slightly embarrassed every time I browse my archives. At any rate it could be both. The point is, as the word “neoreaction” stands today, it has little to do with me. So I feel free to be like Auster and criticize them without restraints.

I mention this because of an article published a while ago at Social Matter, titled “What is the Neoreactionary position on Tibet“? The title itself triggered me so slightly. I happened to know something about the history of Tibet and China, and I was worried that some Eternal September neoreactionary intellectual was going to say something stupid yet again about something he knows nothing about. I was relieved to see that no, the article made a fair point that neoreaction has no position about Tibet because it doesn’t give a shit about Tibet, as it doesn’t give a shit about Trump, nor about politics in general.

Now, quietism is cool, and I would indeed prefer that more people went quietist and stopped blabbing about what they know nothing about. 99.99% of people with a firm opinion on Tibet know absolutely nothing about Tibet. Why do they like to blab about Tibet? Because they’re signaling something, of course, generally some edgy variant of progressive bona-fides. I’m all for people stopping to signal things that make me angry, as people blabbing about some topic in which I am knowledgable does to me. Gell-Mann Amnesia is preceded by Gell-Mann anger.

avatamsaka-sutra-lecture-at-berkeley-buddhist-monastery-21-september-2013-html-640x360

Source:Dharmastation.com. How funny is that? “Dharmastation”. Hah.

But wait a minute. This blog has been writing for years already about how politics is precisely about signaling. There’s little else. Social life itself is about signaling. Social Matter saying they refuse to signal things about Tibet means they are refusing to do basic human sociality. Why do you have a blog if it’s not about signaling? To have an opinion about something which doesn’t affect your livelihood is signaling, by definition. To have an opinion about the benefits of not having an opinion is… yes, signaling. That’s how human cooperation work. You say something, people agree or disagree, you make friends by signaling the same things, and next thing you know you got a big fat army to conquer your opponents. So saying that neoreaction doesn’t have an opinion on Tibet because neoreaction isn’t about having opinions doesn’t make sense at all. If you don’t have opinions, if you are a good quietist, you don’t run a blog. Much less a group blog.

The real reason that neoreaction has no opinion on Tibet is that it knows nothing about Tibet. And the reason neoreaction knows nothing about Tibet is because Tibet is not a very compelling story for a reactionary. One of the most entertaining periods of Larry Auster’s blog was when he blasted Moldbug for arguing that Britain had “chronic kinglessness”, and that we needed a strong king like Henry VII. That never made much sense. Yes, if progressive ideology disgusts you, going back to the Birchers is a gush of fresh air. I just posted about how Disraeli could speak like an intelligent person in the British Parliament 150 years ago, while today you get thrown in jail for half that. And yes, the kings of yore obviously understood the realities of power because they had skin, limb and neck in the game, and they could afford to speak their mind to a much higher degree than the vapid potheads we have at Davos every year.

So yes, if you want to minimize the brain insults of stupid propaganda, absolute monarchy is not a bad idea. I write a lot about Chinese history, and the Chinese invented absolute monarchy a whole 2300 years ago. And their political philosophy is, in general, more realistic and down-to-earth than the Christian-descended sweet talk we peddle here in the West. It’s a joy to read, and I enjoy writing about it. That said, ancient China wasn’t pretty. It was a nasty and brutish place, where the court had absolute power to use and abuse its people without any legal recurse. The aristocracy had explicitly no say in government. The European feudal notion of gentleman’s rights and limited power of the king didn’t exist in China; and you could and often did get killed alongside your whole family just because it was convenient for some factional dispute.

And if China was bad, you know nothing about Tibet. I wrote once that the history of Japan is funny because it is short. Well Tibetan history isn’t much longer. In fact Tibet appears in history just a bit later than Japan, in the 7th century AD. Both the first Tibetan and Japanese states were clients of the huge, prosperous Tang empire. As Peter Turchin or Christopher Beckwith wrote about, it often happens that the unification of great agrarian empires results in the unification of pastoralist empires on their frontier; for the obvious reasons. The rich Tang China had lots of stuff moving around, which means that pastoralists needed to gang up to raid or to extract good trade concessions.

tibet-800

Tibet is the unlikeliest place to build a strong state; it’s an arid, cold, sky-high plateau, with a thin population of livestock herders, and some little farming in the river valleys. But for some reason the first Tibetan Empire (618-842) was a very strong state, eventually invading the Chinese capital Chang An once, taking over the whole Tarim Basin, Yunnan, invading India every now and then, and having a strong presence in Central Asia. After the Tang declined, the Tibetan empire declined with it, eventually disappearing a few decades before China.

The early Tibetan Empire was not Buddhist; that came later, during the last half of the empire. And the power of the Buddhist establishment only grew into dominance after the empire fell; in a somewhat similar development to what happened in Western Europe after the fall of Rome. What happened after that is that Buddhist Monasteries ended up owning most of the good land in the realm, and basically ate up the whole society. Monasteries owned the land, which was worked by serfs. Monks were recruited semi-forcibly from the peasantry, but who didn’t want to be a monk before a serf? Monasteries merged and split, forming different schools (factions), who were constantly fighting each other. That means actual war. The whole thing sucked very badly; but it’s hard for Tibet not to suck. It’s just very bad real estate.

map-yuan

Eventually the Mongol Empire conquered Tibet, and from there onwards Tibet was the Mongols’ bitch. Mongols of course being also pastoralists, and living close by, all they had to do is ride south and they had plenty of pasture to take over. That they didn’t actually exterminate the Tibetans and replace them is perhaps a function of the genetic adaptation that Tibetans seem to have to living in 4,000m+ altitude, which the Mongols lack. Tibetans lived under the Mongol yoke until the Yuan Dynasty itself fell in 1368. After that the Mongols were divided and in no position to dominate Tibet, which achieved independence and returned to their rule by monastery. China, by then the Ming Dynasty, tried to conquer all the territories that the Mongols had controlled, even if they hadn’t been Chinese before then. They conquered Yunnan, sent expeditions to Jurchen territory, and claimed suzerainty over Tibetans too. The Ming never actually sent an army and conquer the place, nor had any actual administrative control over Tibet back then, but they did “appoint” (i.e. sent a fancy seal every couple of decades) their leaders as being good subjects of the Chinese Lord of Heaven, which the Tibetans were happy to accept. They were cool looking seals.

Time passed, and the divided Mongol tribes started to get strong again, raiding into China, capturing their emperor once, and flexing their muscles around as much as they could. Eventually the Mongols again started getting involved in Tibet. You know the Dalai Lama, that guy who is supposed to be the epitome of all holiness? Well that’s not a Tibetan title. That’s the title that Altan Khan, khan of the mongols, gave to Sonam Gyatso, the leader of some Tibetan monastery. Altan Khan was the strongest tribal leader of the Mongols back then, but he wasn’t directly descended from Genghis, so he was never accepted as the great leader he wanted to be. Altan then saw that these Tibetan guys had this weird religion thing going on, and they had mastered how to made their people more obedient to authority. So he got this monk, called him the Ocean Lama, and made him convert his people to Tibetan Buddhism. It worked, and the Mongols became pious Lamaists until the Soviets invaded.Then they became pious Communists.

In 1642, the Tibetans started fighting again, got the Mongols involved, and Gushi Khan conquered the whole thing, founding the Khoshut Khanate. All in the name of the holy lamas, of course, but the Mongols owned the place. Eventually the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911) conquered the Mongols, piece by piece, and by 1720 they invaded Tibet to take it over. Tibet kept being what it was; a miserable wasteland administered by feudal monasteries lording over serf masses, while a Chinese overlord took care that the monasteries didn’t fight each other, and especially that they didn’t bring any foreign powers in. Which for the most part they did. In 1788 the Nepalese invaded, which the Chinese repelled. In 1848 the Sikhs invaded, and again the Chinese took care of that. Then for some stupid reason the British invade in 1904.

440px-qing_dynasty_1820

Well, it was more some bored British elite boys deciding to do something fun for the kicks of it. It was a good time to be a white man in 1904, and Francis Younghusband knew how to have fun. Under some lame excuse (contain Russian ambitions! The Great Game!) they went over with machine guns and occupied Lhasa for a couple of weeks, then went back to India with a lot of pictures and stories to tell to their pals in London. They also extorted trade concessions and a big pile of money.

The stories did get through, and the invasion was a hit in London, i.e. the Cathedral  of the day. Everybody was fascinated with this remote land of buddhist monks who lived in (forced) peace and (theocratic) harmony. Soon afterwards the Qing Empire collapsed in 1911, and the Tibetans know found themselves without a reliable overlord. China fell into civil war. And Chinese warlords are notoriously fickle and brutal. The Tibetan elite remembered that the Brits were close, so they tried to make friends, running a PR operation to gain favor of the British elites. It didn’t quite work out; Britain never committed to Tibetan independence, and once the Chinese civil war was over, with the Communist victory in 1949, Mao soon invaded Tibet and took it over in 1951.

The eternal question is what right had Mao to invade Tibet. The answer to that question is your “position on Tibet”. The opposition to the Chinese invasion of Tibet comes mostly from the British invasion by Younghusband, which made Tibet a fancy topic of conversation by London housewives, followed by the Tibetan leadership PR campaign in the West, followed by the Dalai Lama becoming a CIA-funded celebrity used to have leverage to fuck with China. All that worked because, well, the English, and then American Empire’s media apparatus (what we call the Cathedral) is very good. But the best salesman can’t sell what doesn’t sell. And Tibet sells. Tibet has fairly striking art, awesome architecture, and a very interesting culture. Tibet is a very good narrative, and the Cathedral know how to use a good narrative.

potala-palace

Now, the narrative they sell is that Tibet was a peaceful land of Buddhist monks, which spend their time in meditation and contemplation of the Buddha. Then comes Mao and kills them all. That sounds evil, and it’s not exactly false. Tibet was, indeed, run by its monasteries for at least one thousand years. But what does it mean for a country to be run by monks?

Monks are, by definition, celibate. Monks don’t have children. Where do monks come from, then? Monks were taken, forcibly or not, from peasant families, taken to monasteries, where they did their monk thing. They recited their sutras, they meditated, they discussed theology, they wrote books on it. They made art, lots of it, and pretty nice. Who did all the work? The peasants, which were serfs to the monasteries. The monks were monks, of course, but they were also gangs of single men. Gangs of single men tend to be… not very nice. And the Tibetan monks weren’t very nice to their serfs, men or women. Or to themselves. While monks couldn’t marry, they still had balls, and odds are they liked to use them once in a while. Tibetan monasteries weren’t like European, or Chinese monasteries, were people who weren’t interested in the physical world could opt-in to join. Tibetan monasteries were the ruling class; it just happened that the ruling class was made of single men. I imagine that it was the closest thing to a permanent fraternity, but one ruled by old men. There are records on how the hazing, beatings and all manners of physical and sexual assault were fairly brutal. Of course they were.

Besides that, having a placed where the highest status is achieved by gangs of single men has interesting demographic consequences. According to some estimates, Tibet had 3 million people in the old days of the 8th century Empire, but by the 19th century it barely had 1.2 million people. Well of course, the monks weren’t reproducing themselves, and around 30% of the male population were monks. Serfs had children, but no great incentive to have a lot. Tibet is one of the few places on earth attested to have polyandry, i.e. men (usually brothers) sharing a single wife.

people_of_tibet46

Tibet being very, very bad real estate, losing population was perhaps not a bad thing. The article in the link argues that Tibet, being the wasteland it is, was able to produce its highly sophisticated culture because its demographic system staved off Malthusian pressure, allowing for surplus wealth to go for the monasteries, which created a very striking religious package. Religious package which after being exported to Mongolia also reduced its population, and completely changed Mongolia from being an overpopulated land of bickering riders into a fairly urbanized and literate society.

Anyway, to the point: was China right to invade Tibet? The question is: how could it not invade Tibet? China had good reason to think that Tibet would become an Indian, and indirectly a British, or at least Western vassal. Why would China not grab a huge swath of land populated by a handful of people, which could perhaps contain some natural resources, but most importantly, was a hugely useful strategic asset? Of course Mao seized Tibet. That’s how the world works. Do you know both the Yellow River and the Yang-Tse both start in Tibet? And the Mekong, and the Indus, and the Bhramaputra, and the Salween. China is supposed to leave that alone? Come on.

Is the world worse off without Tibetan Buddhism having a sovereign state of their own? That I don’t know. As for the religion itself; I find it all to be pointless drivel, to be honest. Probably better than Chinese Communism, which is positively toxic. But Tibetan culture was pretty crappy, all things considered. It suited them well, for a thousand years, until it didn’t, because we entered the industrial age, and the military equilibrium changed. You are not allowed to have your own idiosyncratic culture and do your thing these days. Everybody is on everybody’s nerves, and looking for ways to take advantage and fuck with you.

Personally, I think it’s probably for the best that China was able to seize Tibet and achieve a better strategic position as a sovereign nation. China is very, very Westernized these days, more than I like, but it’s an independent state, one of very few on Earth today. If Tibet had to be sacrificed for that, well tough luck. Their culture was ok but not that interesting really, and at any rate that’s the world we live in. And there’s always pleasure in sticking it to USG and that insufferable contractor of theirs, the Dalai Lama.

Moldbug talked of the Patchwork of neocameralist nations. Pope Francis (!) talks of a Polyhedron of independent nations, all doing their thing. I think Scott Alexander had something similar. The idea of letting the hundreds flowers bloom, having a myriad cultures all doing their thing is of course a good and noble one. I’d rather we had more different cultures competing on this planet, instead of the rapidly declining death-cult of the modern Progressive state. I do feel Tibetans should be allowed to keep doing their monastery thing, dress in yellow, rape young monks and call Mongol mercenaries to burn rival monasteries. I find the Tibetan script to be very beautiful, even though they only use it to write pointless drivel. So I’m a little bit sorry that Tibetan culture couldn’t survive. And most Chinese I know would rather Tibetans stayed home. Tibetans are rough, high-T, low IQ people. The gypsies of China, in a sense. They’re also smooth with the ladies, good singers, dancers, and all that. They are a really, really bad fit in China. For everyone’s benefit they should have their own country and stay there.

Alas, this is the world we live on. There’s this thing called politics, and yes, foreign policy too. Bad people exist, they do bad things, and they force others to do bad things, sometimes preemptively, lest they do bad things to them first. Often it’s not very clear what is bad or whether it’s going to actually happen. Often foreign policy is used just as a way of achieving internal power. Shit happens. It will always happen. We can’t wish it away. All we can do is study it.

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43 responses to “The Informed Position on Tibet

  1. Pingback: The Informed Position on Tibet | Neoreactive

  2. el supremo April 6, 2016 at 15:17

    An interesting parallel process is how the Qing dynasty promoted Tibetan Buddhism and monastic culture in Mongolia to bring it under imperial authority and weaken the threat Mongolian nomads had traditionally posed to the sedentary Chinese lands.

    Once the Qing emperors established themselves as the patrons of Tibetan lama Buddhism, they energetically promoted Tibetan sects in Mongolia and expanded the power and landholding of the monasteries, at the expense of the more independent Tibetan nobility.

    The lama sects had lines of spiritual authority and political power that flowed out of Beijing, and could be shuffled around to serve the interests of the Qing rulers, and generally broke up the existing sources of Mongolian order. Promoting monasticism also tied up lots of young men who otherwise could have been involved in raiding or war – at some points 50% of men where monks, more even than in Tibet.

  3. Michael April 6, 2016 at 20:41

    “The idea of letting the hundreds flowers bloom, having a myriad cultures all doing their thing is of course a good and noble one.”

    This made me LOL.

    Didn’t work too well for Mao last time.

    All things considered, I’m in agreement.

    The funny thing about small states around larger ones. They always play the far against the close and, in the process of pursuing their ends, have the habit of playing the brinkmanship game all too well. See Vietnam.

    It’s hard to imagine what game an independent Tibet would be playing, but it would be troublesome for certain. It would also work directly into the hands of the current American Empire, which wouldn’t be good for us.

  4. Hedgehog April 7, 2016 at 00:54

    In other words you conclude your essay by saying that aside from your distaste for Social Matter in particular Michael Perrilloux is exactly right

    (http://www.socialmatter.net/2016/03/11/whats-the-neoreactionary-position-on-tibet/#sthash.OUg0p3pY.dpuf)

    “I agree of course that studying the happenings of the system is useful from an educational case-study perspective. But for testing theories that are not directly about the system, historical contemporaneousness is probably an active hinderance. Better to test out theories on older history where the political radioactivity has burned out over time. For example, who in America has a “position” on Tokugawa vs Meiji Japan? Not many. But it would be fruitful to study that restoration and come to understand what happened and which parts we would like to emulate or encourage. Probably easier to avoid political bias, too.

    I noticed, though, that it’s hard to find examples of good historical case studies that aren’t charged with contemporary political slant. Everything we know about history has been selected and promoted for its political valence. And all historical events are politically “hot” in a system that bases its legitimacy on grand theories of historical progress.
    So maybe we can’t avoid studying these issues, and we can’t avoid that any kind of judgement on historical matters will look like taking a “position”, but we can mostly confine ourselves to the obscure ones where possible so that we at least are reminded that we aren’t playing the same game as everyone else.”

    • spandrell April 7, 2016 at 02:24

      What does that even mean? The Meiji revolution is indeed a great case study, and there’s tons of good material out there. What does it matter that some of it has political slant? Go read some more until you learn to filter it.

      I did say he makes a fair point by stating that he doesn’t give a crap about Tibet and he has no good reason to do so; but looking for “obscure” history has no good rationale besides larping. “All historical events are politically ‘hot'”. Oh come on.

      My point is not just that Tibet is talked about because of politics; my point is that Tibet was invaded because of politics, and quite interesting ones at that. Politics which to some extent falsify the libertarian optimist of many, including Moldbug. But oh, let us not study these things because they are politically hot, and they have been written by our enemies. Whatever.

  5. Rollory April 7, 2016 at 05:35

    I really wish that back when the late unlamented Auster was actually responding to people off his blog somebody had suggested he was homosexual. The exploding head effects would have been hilarious. He was interesting, certainly, but he was easily one of the most unrepentantly dishonest people I’ve ever encountered on the internet, and that’s saying a lot.

    Neoreaction is “not doing anything” because no neoreactionaries are in power. If that changes, neoreaction will be studied as being the obviously successful and interesting political philosophy of winners. Otherwise it will have been just another internet fad.

    Wait and see how many kids grow up in the next 30 years having been taught certain ideas that were brought to the forefront by neoreaction. Then you’ll know if it meant anything.

    • spandrell April 7, 2016 at 06:28

      Neoreaction, or simply any reality-based set of ideas just don’t work as a coordination mechanism. The Chinese legalists were slaughtered to a man. Machiavelli was sent to rural exile and died a lonely man. At best it’s the kind of thing a ruler must know but must also deny knowing.

      The most important part of the project, after telling the truth, is coming up with a good disguise for the truth. We’re not there yet.

      I always thought Auster being gay was obvious. His look, the way he couldn’t stop talking, his complete denial of ever being wrong; can’t think of any more stereotypical Jewish gay intellectual. I do miss him, though. He was a good counterpart for Sailer.

      • Toddy Cat April 7, 2016 at 20:56

        Auster could be infuriating, and was not a particularly pleasant person to deal with, but he had guts to spare, and he was sounding the alarm about immigration in the early ’90’s before almost anyone else. He was also willing to condemn Jews for their role in deconstructing traditional America, which is unusual now, and was even more remarkable when he wrote it. He is much missed.

      • Candide III April 8, 2016 at 21:54

        How about attaching to Buddhism? It’s doxology is flexible enough to admit almost anything we need, it does not excite rejection in Brahmins (duh) and it even used to be cool not long ago, before the slush of consensus Buddhism developed. Something like Rinzai would suit our kind fine.

  6. StAugustine April 7, 2016 at 14:13

    Finally, someone else who thinks about definitions and how they relate to how we think and remember, but also that allow us to communicate. In my imagination, a problem between progressives and conservatives (to use words with ever-changing, vague definitions, but that I think will serve to demonstrate the concept I am thinking of) is that they can no longer communicate rationally with each other, as the concept words and slogans they use mean different things to each side. If the one side says “Capitalism is good” the other side hears “I love greedy corporations” and if the one side says “We need a safety net” the other hears “I’m a welfare queen”.

    To choose something as interesting to me, but less controversial (perhaps), is “what color is that?” in looking at “in-between” colors such as lavender and fuchsia or magenta stuff. Is it Blue or Purple? Is it Red or Pink? Someone said to me recently: “Look at the sign on the purple bus” and I looked around for a purple bus… then said “you mean the one on that blue bus?” Our cutoff for colors didn’t quite match up. But – I’ve always wondered if this is from a physical difference in our eyes (this I doubt-because “color” is just a name we give to a range of reflected light frequencies, and if your eyes happen to perceive them differently, it won’t matter in the naming…), or because when you learned, gradually, the names of the colors, was it someone who taught you where the cutoff between red and pink was, or do our brains arbitrarily put the cutoff somewhere after we have learned the name for categories of light frequencies of a certain range?

    I occasionally wonder about the differences between animal brains and human ones as it relates to concept and memory. Leaving out whatever that chimps can do, I wonder what, say, a dog classifies as memory? My gf is learning to train horses. I’m amazed how much can be done verbally – but I can’t tell how much is done by conscious or unconscious gesture by the trainer, versus how much the horse can differentiate between the words spoken by the trainer. She showed me recently a video of a horse playing with some touch screens programmed to show circles of different sizes that gave a carrot reward. The horse was very fast – one second response time to choose the correct screen. However, the video experiment stated that the horse did a good job for “different area” shapes, but not for “different shape” shapes with similar area: that is, the horse can do “bigger” and “smaller” but not circle vs square. Why is this? Is it that horses are not big manipulators of environment, thus lack any internal concept of shapes? But since horses lack a “language” in the human sense (not that they lack communication), how can they create a new “concept”? And again, if you have no concept to use as a label, how can you remember whatever it was that occurred?

    In that circles vs squares experiment, what must the horse have been thinking? It’s not using words like we understand words – can a horse have a conversation with itself inside its head? Can it say – “ok, bigger and smaller, I’ve got that, but what the heck is the difference between these two: they’re roughly the same size!!” Will the horse get frustrated at its inability to determine the rule between circles and squares because it lacks a concept to say “a-ha! this is a thing with pointy things, and this is a thing with no pointy things” because its brain does not or is not able to abstract “pointy things”. Or will the horse have no “feelings” about “not being able to not figure out the rule for the carrot” and just be happy about the occasional seemingly random carrot?

    This assumes that horses can be “frustrated” or “annoyed” in a sense with which humans can understand and sympathize, which is perhaps misleading. But for lack of any other concept with which to describe what I’m talking about – I’m stuck with the words I know, not being a wordsmith, and thus, I’m stuck with the definitions for those words.

    • spandrell April 7, 2016 at 17:34

      Language is very overrated. I’d know, I speak 5.

      To the extent that concepts are a fixed thing, animals have concepts. A horse can tell something you can eat from something that you can’t eat. He can tell a male from a female. He may not be able to tell a square from a circle, but he surely can distinguish some things that humans don’t.

      You can call those “concepts” or whatever, but it has nothing to do with language. The fact that humans have an internal dialogue is not “thought”, it’s language practice. You’re so used at talking with people that you talk to an imaginary person. But you don’t have to. Plenty of thought happens without language at all.

      Now of course language is useful because it reminds you of things that aren’t there at the moment; animals can’t do that. You can remind yourself of a square by saying “square”; a horse would need a more direct cue for that. This surely creates a lot of change in mental habits. But it’s not fundamentally different.

      • Rollory April 8, 2016 at 13:43

        We have a cat. Sometimes she wants to go outside, in which case she’ll stand by the kitchen door and meow. Sometimes she wants to go in the basement. But the basement door is in a place where people probably won’t notice her meowing. So she goes to the kitchen door anyway, meows there, and then looks impatient and annoyed if we go to open it. Go towards the basement, and she comes running along immediately.

        I don’t find it out of the realm of credibility that she’s successfully generalized the concept of “open the door”; that meowing at the kitchen door is a way to ask for _a_ door to be opened, not necessarily that specific one.

      • Candide III April 8, 2016 at 21:37

        Language (or some process so closely underlying language as no matter) also permits us to abstract your “concepts”, manipulate and combine them in various valuable ways. One example, due to Tolkien, is the development of adjectives and of nouns corresponding to qualities described by adjectives. 荘子 wrote quite a lot of text around this, too.

        • spandrell April 9, 2016 at 02:45

          Where does Zhuangzi say this? Old Chinese barely has parts of speech.

          • Candide III April 9, 2016 at 05:21

            秋水。 It doesn’t write about this, but around this, since the first part of the discussion can be viewed as being about the proper application of adjectives and their difference from the largeness and smallness of concrete objects. Old Chinese may not express parts of speech syntactically (English doesn’t always, too, consider ‘I look’ and ‘Nice look’), but it does have a notion of grammatical functions, and indeed its very flexibility in this department (consider the ‘putative’ usage, like Mencius’ wife saying 是客妾 or the River Earl asking 吾大天地而小毫末、可乎) is a good instance of the linguistic ability I mean.

            • spandrell April 9, 2016 at 06:10

              Yes, old Chinese transitives are a mess. Fortunately both putatives and causatives disappeared, now you actually know what a verb means at first sight.

              Again I’m not sure abstraction is about language; although it does help create the habit. When Mencius’ wife feels treated as a stranger, that only requires understanding how strangers and family are treated differently, and knowing that being cold to family is a punishable offense in Chinese culture. Her language allows her to express that in a very succint way, but the feeling is no different in modern Chinese, where people often express the same cultural concept with the more verbose 他把我当成外人.

              • Candide III April 9, 2016 at 06:34

                I like the mess, and it’s usually obvious from context whether a verb is used putatively or causatively. It’s the constant suppression of subjects and confusion about what a pronoun refers to that cause me most trouble.

                • spandrell April 9, 2016 at 07:07

                  Most texts printed in China have copious notes accumulated since antiquity, and they underline proper names so you know when some character refers to a person and not its literal meaning.

                  I’m still looking at a proper explanation of how 此是斯之其彼夫 are distributed.

      • StAugustine April 21, 2016 at 14:42

        That’s a good point, or a fine point, about internal dialogue not being “thought” as much as it is a “conversation”. I ran a little experiment on myself (sample size 1) of humming out loud, and then singing out loud, while trying to think about something unrelated – I found I could hardly “think in words” in my head, but that I had no problem seeing, hearing, tasting, moving about. One could try the experiment in reverse – try singing in your head and then talking, or just thinking something in your head and saying something else at the same time. I think it’s impossible to do – limitations of the brain-or of the body as we only have one vocal chord/speaking apparatus. Sample size 1 of course.

        Language is also useful because it enhances our ability to communicate – but you’re right, it’s not essential to communicating. I’ve often wondered about whether animals really do have some form of language, or whether they are just making noise depending on their mood (also a way to communicate information). Maybe I am making an unnecessary delimitation between structured speech and emotional noise? After all, in spoken speech, there is plenty of unstructured information apart from the mere words.

        I guess crows can do pretty well without words – but they have to physically show with actions, so the teaching method is limited. “Crows aren’t born knowing how to make these tools; they teach the technique to their young. And they can improvise, too. In one lab experiment, a crow bent the end of a wire using the edge of a glass as a cantilever. It used the hooked wire to retreive another stick, which was long enough to reach some food it wanted. So it used one tool to make another tool — and then used that tool to grab still another tool. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff.”
        http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-mysterious-tool-making-culture-shared-by-crows-and-1460350033

        The proprietor at the horse place where my gf works made the point, as we were discussing various foods that horses eat, that she had a horse that wouldn’t eat carrots (or pretty much anything else), until she thought to show this silly horse the other horses eating carrots. Then carrots were ok – but anything new? Not likely. Picky eater? My gf was telling me that horses have different taste preferences, just like humans do. Banana’s are not my thing, but my gf likes them (with nutella) – and it turns out that her horse likes banana peels (or the whole banana), but most of the other horses aren’t interested. The same follows for some of the other vegetables – although carrots and apples pretty much all horses have no problem with.

        Anyway, I’ll have to noodle it some more – animal intelligence is interesting to me.

  7. j April 7, 2016 at 20:27

    As for the religion itself; I find it all to be pointless drivel, to be honest.

    Yes. How can a very stable theocracy be based on a contentless religion? You compare it to Communism, but communism as economic theory made sense in the 19th century. What are those thousands of lamas and monks meditating all day about?

    • spandrell April 8, 2016 at 04:07

      I think the point of meditating is that it’s not “about” nothing at all, you gotta empty the mind and whatever.

      I’m not saying it’s contentless; it has content to spare. I just don’t think it makes much sense at all.

      • AnonymousCoward April 11, 2016 at 12:54

        Another way to put it is that it’s like computer games. It’s a compelling time-sink.

        During my last visit to Tibet in 2002, I noticed a lot of Computer Cafés, with people playing primitive local equivalents of WOW.

        • spandrell April 11, 2016 at 14:08

          Yes, I’ve heard the argument that Pachinko replaced meditation in Japan. One wonders why people found meditation compelling though. Games are designed to keep you busy in a mindless sort of way. Zen literall asks you “just stay seated”.

  8. B April 7, 2016 at 21:12

    I’d like props for being the first, as far as I know, to apply the phrase “eternal September” to NRx.

    The problem with NRx and Machiavellianism is not that they are reality-based. The problem is that they are myopic. In other words, there are aspects of reality beyond the most base, and the playing field is not level. I love Machiavelli, but he gets it wrong in a big way by saying that the good will always lose to the evil because the latter have more options, being free to act in good ways as well as evil ones.

    This is only true in the short term.

    In the long term, being evil is not game-theoretically optimal, unless you are working in a system where everyone is evil. At which point the first not-evil group that shows up will benefit from massive defections from evil. See: the pre-Columbian civilizations and their conquest by handfuls of Spaniards.

    In other words, a so-called realist perspective ignores something very fundamental about reality and focuses on the surface aspects.

    Regarding Buddhism being drivel-it’s not. Their focus on the existence of a basic reality beyond words, concepts and perceptions, from which everything else springs, is a deep concept. We have it as well-the “Ein Sof,” the infinite. Obviously, as a Jew I think they are wrong in their basic approach to existence, seeing it as pointless suffering caused by attachment, but there are things to be learned from them. Drivel doesn’t get civilizations built for thousands of years, and doesn’t survive outside contact.

    • spandrell April 8, 2016 at 04:58

      I don’t know when you said it, but I’ve been talking about it in private for some time now.

      You should really see how Buddhism is actually practiced in China or Japan. Fat monks chanting sutras in a language they don’t understand. Classical Tibetan is famously arcane, I have good reason to suspect that most Tibetan monks don’t really understand what they’re reading either.

      It reminds me how the Quran doesn’t really make much sense, besides sounding pretty and rythmical, to the extent that a scholar suspects it’s not really even Arabic.

      I agree that being evil is not game-theoretically optimal. At least not being overtly evil. Being evil in a plausibly deniable way though works pretty great. Look at what liberals do and tell me it’s not working.

      • Steve Johnson April 8, 2016 at 07:38

        Progs have plausible deniability evil but more importantly they have exquisitely sensitive evil detectors that are tuned in to sanity instead of evil. They need to see someone else as evil and it’s a huge relief when they get to denounce anyone who articulates exactly what they fear is true.

      • B April 10, 2016 at 13:35

        I mentioned the Eternal September of NRxa few times on Jim’s Blog, starting 2 years ago: https://www.google.co.il/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=inurl%3Ablog.jim.com%20%22eternal%20september%22

        When the guy that founded your movement leaves to work on his startup, and you’re left with Xenogibberish, a dude who thinks that prepubescent girls regularly seduce 40 year old men, that women should be bought and sold like livestock, and that injecting testosterone is great for your mental clarity and 5K Fashy Bronies, it’s ovah, Rocky. There’s nothing left to talk about.

        I don’t know much about how Buddhism is practiced, nor about the Koran. I do know that they both served as the basis for several legal schools that worked well enough when it came to running vast empires with relatively weak human capital and technology, in an orderly fashion. Unless you have a completely postmodernist view of things, where the source texts could be a transcription of random syllables for all it matters, the conclusion has to be that they had some sort of deep truths embedded in them.

        Being evil in a plausibly deniable way works longer than being overtly evil. It’s a weaker strategy, and takes longer to flame out. Compare the overtly evil Third Reich (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToKcmnrE5oY) with the covertly evil American system (https://youtu.be/dkmAcAmg7j8?list=PLHJ7RGz9nu9x8DxjfezbK3KrFchM1ZLjp)

        The first led to predictably bad results within 12 years. The second is taking 120 years to get to the same point. The Germans could recover from the devastation of the war they brought upon themselves. I am not sure whether the Americans will be able to recover from their steady improvementation. In any case, evil involves lies and leads to very bad things, sooner or later.

      • Ananda Hohenstaufen April 11, 2016 at 02:29

        Institutional ‘Buddhism’ has degenerated into a rotten husk in Asia, much the same way that Christianity has in the West. That doesn’t mean that the real thing isn’t there to be found.

      • Movenon July 20, 2016 at 07:06

        Hi, this is a great post.
        Could you elaborate/explain about what you are referring to when you say some scholars even thing the Qur’an isn’t really Arabic? Do you mean that they say it is an artificial dialect? Or is this something else you are referring to?

    • j April 8, 2016 at 08:03

      Tibetan Buddhism is the most primitive and stupid Buddhism of all. And its ideology of passive detachment leads to nowhere.

      • spandrell April 8, 2016 at 08:41

        In purely functional terms it works pretty nicely though. It’s still around, and has increasing number of Chinese converts. Meanwhile Japanese Buddhism is dying, Korean Buddhism is completely dead, and Chinese Buddhism is a lame tourist attraction with fortune tellers attached.

  9. Dystopia Max April 9, 2016 at 05:23

    “Shit happens. It will always happen. We can’t wish it away. All we can do is study it.”

    Nah. The world only makes sense when you force it to.

    -Batman (not Bateman)

    Jim’s going for a more simplified version of your fuck-the-thousand-flowers thesis, at any rate:

    “East Asian men should build a great Chinese civilization, or maybe several east Asian civilizations, White men should build a multitude of great white civilizations (since whites will never form one nation) and the rest of mankind needs to be conquered and subdued.

    I am not unduly worried about whether Japan gets absorbed into the greater Chinese co-prosperity sphere or vice versa, but it is a really bad thing that America rules the white world, this being contrary to our nature. We really need at least one white civilization west of the Hajnal line, and at least one white civilization east of the Hajnal line. One white civilization is far too few. (Hurrah Putin.)”

    E pluribus whatevum! Triumverum? Ethnum? Reginum?

  10. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Chaos Patch (#109)

  11. Giovanni Dannato April 24, 2016 at 13:20

    You have also blogged recently about social signalling getting out of control in a “holiness spiral.”
    Clearly, it seems there is a healthy, essential role for signalling but also many dysfunctional outcomes, i.e. “keeping up with Joneses”, elite overproduction.
    I really enjoyed both the social matter original article and your responses. I got out of the social matter article advocacy for a more realpolitik discussion of international affairs, in which outrage over a tiny mountain province of a huge nation is an insignificant concern. Signalling over things that do not concern us is ornamental in nature and when taken too seriously can be a dysfunctional distraction. A holiness spiral can get out of control, leading to disastrous foreign policy decisions.

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