Don't call it a spade
Monthly Archives: January 2017
This is momentous. Any country that bans Somalis is on the right track.
Next goal is stripping citizenship.
So let me follow up on my last post on Sam Harris vs. Jordan Peterson, and what constitutes a solid epistemology. The podcast itself is quite painful to listen to, and Jordan Peterson doesn´t do much of an argument there. I think the guy doesn’t do debates well. He’s best when you let him speak for hours. Just give him a mike and let him ramble. He’ll get somewhere. You’ll notice he doesn’t use notes when he speaks, he improvises all the time.
That’s impressive, but there’s a reason why most good intellectual output, like for example this blog, is done on writing. We’re kinda losing that, now with the popularity of podcasts and Youtube videos with men speaking in pseudoprofound voice tones. You can get away with being incoherent and contradicting yourself in speech if you push the appropriate emotional buttons frequently enough. But in writing you have to make logical sense, else people will stop reading. The Greeks realized that pretty soon; they’d go in the Agora and make some sophist speech, and they’d get famous, because even if people don’t like what you’re saying, they can’t help hearing you blabber, and odds are you’ll say some good line sooner or later, and people can’t help remembering that one line that made sense.
Anyway, the reason I like Jordan Peterson is, besides because he has balls of steel and refuses to bow down to the latest bout of the leftist singularity, where a law has been passed in Ontario saying that self-styled transexuals can demand you to refer to them with whatever pronoun they wish, on punishment of a $100,000 fine or something. Now, I’ve been against leftists since way before this; if I were a Interview with the Vampire character I would have started opposing leftism around 1880 or so. But as a linguist, playing with language is a 是可忍孰不可忍 moment. You don’t play with words. And you especially don’t fucking play with closed-class words. That’s evil. But I digress.
The reason I respect Prof. Peterson intellectually is because he understands evolutionary psychology, he understands pragmatic philosophy, and he’s even read his Wittgenstein. Now that is quite something. Ever since he completely demolished traditional philosophy and linguistics in 1953, poor Wittgenstein has been totally ignored by the intellectual establishment. That’s no wonder, philosophers like having a job, as do linguists, and understanding Wittgenstein basically means you should go home, shut up, and take a job in the private sector. It’s much more lucrative to just keep going with the bullshit and pretending nobody has noticed that it’s precisely that: misunderstanding how language works and sounding arcane so that nobody actually notices what you’re blabbering about. Nobody besides your fellow philosophers who, of course, have a vested interest in keeping the racket going.
The key insight of Wittgenstein is that speech is a kind of a game. You agree on a set of rules, e.g. that the word “apple” stands for a certain kind of fruit, and you agree to use that word to refer to that fruit. But games, like most human social interactions, are a local thing. There’s no universal set of rules, and you can come up with a different set of rules with other people. Kinda like good friends sometimes may modify the rules of their card games just went playing among themselves. So you can use the word “apple” to refer to apples, but with some other group you can use the word “apple” to refer to the breasts of women, or whatever. The thing often gets out of hand, as in things like Cockney rhyming slang. The point being that words don’t have “meaning”, they only have patterns of use in certain contexts, governed by local sets of rules. Understanding those rules is a form of sociology.
If you can only watch one clip by Jordan Peterson, it should be this one. I’ll say more: just watch this one clip, you can skip the others. Sorry Jordan, no disrespect, but you’re making enough money. This video is by far the most insightful. Here he explains how human society is in fact just a collection of overlapping games, and what we call morality is just the rules of the game(s). This is not a new idea. Confucius didn’t call it “game”, he called it “ritual”. Plenty of people, most infamously communists, have seized upon this idea to argue that political power can change the rules of the social game in order to change people’s behavior. To some extent that is true, but game rules aren’t completely arbitrary. A game to be a game has to be playable. And that puts severe limits in what kind of rules it can have. The game has to be playable. It has to work. There are natural limits to that. Which brings us back to Gnon’s law. But do listen to him.
From 30:00 there’s a fairly good, if rather unfocused, exposition of pragmatic philosophy. Humans have brains; brains have evolved in order to survive and reproduce. It follows that while your brain has to perceive external reality, it only has to do so to the extent that it allows you to survive and reproduce. Once it has gone to that level it’s quite free to evolve in ways that make you completely oblivious of it. Or at least unaware of reality’s details. Humans being a social species, survival and reproduction depends on your social status inside the group. So if for some reason the group has decided that that animal isn’t edible, even though all evidence tells you it is, you better believe it’s not edible, else the group is going to murder you, skin you and put your head in a pike. Hence groupthink.
That’s one part. The other part, which necessarily follows, is that you can never be sure of your knowledge. You have some ideas in your brain, how do you know which are true and which aren’t? David Hume said it well, you never know what’s going to happen. All you have is some confidence that things that happened before with some frequency are going to happen again. What Hume missed is that there’s a reason why habit makes you have that confidence. Kant kinda got halfway there, but the very reason why “custom” basically stands as knowledge is that, well, humans have evolved over millions of years that propensity to take habit of perception to stand for the laws of nature. And they have evolved that because it pretty much works like that. To put it in other words, you don’t really “have ideas in your brain”. Your brain is not a hard-disk. What your brain has is a proclivity to modify its behavior in order to expect that things that happened before on a certain sequence will happen again, which is a good approximation of causality.
Being skeptical of knowledge at this level is just being an ass (David Hume had good reasons for being an ass). All living beings understand causality at the behavioral level because causality is real. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have survived and reproduced. Causality is true because it works. That’s what “true” means, as Jordan Peterson wants to put it.
But again, your human brain has also evolved so that if your tribe says you gotta put a lip-plate or some ghost is going to snatch your husband’s penis, well you’re gonna put a lip-plate and make sure every single friend of yours does so too. So we’re back to square one. Epistemology is hard. What is true? Is causality true, contra Hume? Well you bet it is. Is true the fact that failing to put a lip-plate will make your husband lose his penis? Well many Nilotic tribesmen say it is. Passionately so. Why? It works for them. By Jordan Peterson’s argument, it is true. I don’t think it’s true.
Again, epistemology is hard. Given how brains work, and how the brains of social species work, there is just no way to set up a complete set of axioms. You can propose a One God that does that for you; but we don’t have that, and even if we did, social factions would soon start to twist the definitions of things to fuck with their enemies. So we don’t only need a One God, we need a One God which is constantly coming down to earth to make sure that we don’t change the agreements we had on what is real. That we don’t have. All we can do is make an agreement among ourselves, fallen humans, on what is true, what is not, and how to go find it. That’s what we have right now, actually, with most scientific minded people agreeing that the best standard of truth is predictive power. You’ll notice that is similar to the animal instinct of assuming causality after confirmation of predictive validity. It works pretty well.
So we non-Sudanese lip-plate wearers, have this rule among ourselves, to assume an objective reality independent of subjective hangups, and to test the truth of theories according to experimentation, observability and predictive power. This rule is, again, a kind of game. It is a good game. A playable game. A very productive game.
So when Jordan Peterson says that the concept of “truth” shouldn’t be just applied to objective reality, but should be modified so to aid the flourishing of human existence, whatever that means, he’s proposing we change the rules of the game. Of this particular game, which we call the English language, in which the word “truth” is generally used to mean conformity to external reality. He makes it sound as if some cabal of scientists conspire together to change the meaning of the word so that it excluded subjectivity and religion and whatnot. Well, no, it wasn’t like that. The word “truth” has always excluded subjectivity. In English and in all languages I’m aware of, which are quite a few. That doesn’t mean some groups of people, like say Christian theologians, didn’t have their local rules where they used the word to refer to unfalsifiable and honestly quite bizarre claims. But that wasn’t about claiming a new sense for the word. They really meant that their stuff was also objective reality. If only to signal that they had the power to get away with any sort of absurd claim.
Even the Sudanese lip-plate guys actually think that ghosts are objectively real and they actually snatch the penises of dissenters. They don’t think it’s “true enough” for the purposes of tribal cohesion. So you can’t change the rules of the “truth” game even if you wanted to. I get it that he wants to stop Communist scientists from crossing Ebola with Smallpox. But the way to do that is not by changing the rules of the language and epistemology game. To the extent that that’s even possible; you can’t mess with one word and expect the others to stay the same. Language is a self-referential network. You change one node and the other nodes shift too. Often in unpredictable ways.
Now, I’m a friend of Jordan Peterson. I agree with his dislike of modern society. I agree there’s lots of problems. Lots of nihilism and mental illness and despair. Society is going to hell. Sure enough. But that’s not because of the overzealous objectivism of the scientific establishment. Again, Prof. Peterson is being attacked by Gender Scholars. The problem with science is not that it insists in analyzing objective reality. The problem is that the scientific method only works when observation is reliable. Which worked well in earlier physics and biology. But the prestige of science made us come up with things which just can’t be measured with any reliability. Economics. Psychology. Climate science. Much of medical science. It’s just too complicated to take any reliable data on much of it. And we refuse to admit that we don’t know much about it, and that we can’t know much about it. It is not possible. There is only one ancient intellectual discipline which hasn’t been made into a science: history. It can’t be done. The data just isn’t there. And historians always understood that. There was this healthy skepticism about “history is written by the victors”. You had to take it with a grain of salt. But it has its value nonetheless.
Instead of understanding Economics, or Climate Science any other intellectual disciplines as being the same sort of intellectually dubious and politically charged discipline as history is, we have deluded ourselves into thinking they are epistemologically sound sciences such as physics or chemistry. No, they are not. And they can’t be. And it’s ok. We just have to stop spending billions on them and using them to justify public policy. Yet again history is used to justify public policy all the time.
That half, or 80%, or 90% of modern science is bullshit that doesn’t replicate, and obfuscates more than reveals, is a problem of our modern scientific establishment, not of the scientific method itself. And most certainly not of the idea of “truth”, which again, predates science by millennia, and is a very important foundation of human sociability. Even if Prof. Peterson were to get his way and change the definition; which would require Stalinist levels of social influence; people would soon invent another word to refer that stuff to that stuff out there which doesn’t depend on our subjectivity: the Truth. That’s a good game.
Let me finish with some Chinese history. I wrote about this before. During the last stages of the Jurchen-Chinese war, in the 1140s. General Yue Fei, the most successful Chinese general, was arrested for plotting a coup against the emperor. One of his fellow generals, Han Shizhong, run towards the prime minister, Qin Hui, at court. He then asked him: “What is this thing about Yue Fei plotting a coup? Is any of this true?”.
The prime minister, laconically answered: “It doesn’t have to be”.
By which he meant, the emperor wants him dead, so the hell cares anyway. Note that he didn’t say “it’s true enough”.
Now after reading all this, you can listen to Prof. Peterson make his truth argument at length. Tell me what you think of it now.
Last week Jordan Peterson went to Sam Harris’ podcast. I had mixed feelings about it. I thought nothing good could come out of that. And as I had expected, Sam Harris trounced Jordan Peterson. Completely. The podcast got into a complete bog down on epistemology, where Jordan Peterson tried to define the word “truth” as “good”, and Harris wasn’t buying it, explaining 30 times how it’s very useful to have a concept of truth which is separate from the concept of good. Peterson stood his ground and confronted with volley after volley of sheer logic, refused to concede the point. The guy is stubborn. Which would be ok if he explained his logic, which he fails to do.
Now, I’m no fan of Sam Harris. I find him a bit of a narcissistic douche. You can see that on his completely unhinged criticism of Trump. And of course his dumb promotion of atheism alongside some senseless mystic crap aided by Amerindian drugs or something. This guy wants to be a liberal with the status it brings, but he wants to make sense too. And he also wants to be a guru. He’s trying to sell you the leftism of yesterday as it if were some new awesome deal. Well it doesn’t work like that.
That said, Sam Harris is smart. He’s very articulate, his thinking is fast and precise. The guy can do logic. All things which aren’t Jordan Peterson’s strong suit. So he got trounced. He didn’t get trounced on ideology, mind you. Jordan Peterson has semi-overtly become a prophet of Gnon, mostly on grounds of his brave refusal to submit to Ontario’s Social Justice Tribunals. Sam Harris would never confront the establishment openly like that. But, credit where it’s due, he’s no fan of the extreme left either, and he has been quite outspoken as a critic of Islam, which hasn’t made him any friends in polite society. So the guys aren’t that far away in ideological terms. But they’re selling different stuff. Sam Harris is selling logic. Materialism. Science. Jordan Peterson is selling pragmatic psychology. But Sam Harris knows his stuff better than Jordan Peterson knows his own stuff.
Now not knowing quite well what he’s selling doesn’t stop him from making $15,000 a month on Patreon, which I’m sure Sam Harris isn’t making. So maybe he knows what he’s doing better than anyone in pragmatic terms. But still, I do like consistent and articulate ideas, so let me do some fisking of Mr. Peterson. I do think he’s on the right direction, widely speaking. His stuff has more potential than Sam Harris. Atheism has been tried. There was this thing called objectivism. Doesn’t work very well. Pragmatic philosophy is a more robust philosophical framework to understand how living beings actually work. And putting that in a wider Darwinian framework is exactly the way it should be done. But it’s hard. It’s really hard. So I don’t blame Jordan Peterson for being confused. I do blame him for being so inept at arguing with Sam Harris. Getting emotional I guess works for a class full of 18 year old girls or to do clinical therapy, but it sure fails to work as robust pragmatic philosophy. It’s a pity, because again he’s on the right track. He has really brilliant moments. So I’ll try to improve on some of his ideas myself, I believe I have an advantage. Jordan Peterson is trying to understand Wittgenstein while being monolingual. It doesn’t work very well like that. As insightful as he is, he just lacks in worldly experience. And that comes pretty handy if you want to see things as they are and not just as your culture primes you to see.
Anyway, you can check out the podcast here. If you have a long commute by all means check it out. Seeing Sam Harris come up with a very good thought experiment every 5 minutes is something to behold. He’s really good at it. But all in all I found the whole conversation pretty infuriating. The two professors speaking of morality this, morality that, how we need to make science subordinate to morality, either through cold unbiased logic, or through wholesale reform of our definition of reality. I’m starting to hate the very sounds of the word “moral”. I mean, please. Science is already subordinate to morality. To morality as it actually exists in the world: to politics. Try to make science against the establishment. Try to deny global warming, or HNU. Heck, Jordan Peterson himself is getting tarred and feathered and risking life and limb for fighting those who would subordinate science to social justice.
Yet again, Professor Peterson is a prophet of Gnon, of a sort, and he is a brave man, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. I went through the whole set of lectures of this Maps of Meaning class he gives every year, and some other stuff. I’ve reached the point where he’s repeating the same stuff all over again, so let me put some highlights and my comments on them.
The first few sentences. Brilliantly put. It doesn’t work. Evolutionary thinking takes you to the dark side. The Dark Enlightenment. I don’t agree that rationality is new, though. Language is new, but animals are plenty rational at following their goals. A good compromise is to say, indeed, that it hardly matters, but he should explain why. He should explain that behavior is what matters, and what we call “rational” behavior is a tiny subset of behavior which doesn’t need any special rules to explain.
Watch until 39:30 or so. I don’t know if he has read Roissy, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Yes, sexual selection is very important. Natural selection is adapting to a changing enviroment. Sexual selection on the other hand drives you back to a more fixed, ancient standard. That standard of course evolves, but slowly. So modern men still kinda like cavewomen and modern women most certainly like cavemen.
Watch until 1:14 or so. This guy has balls of steel. Here he’s telling a psychology class, which must be 80% female, that conflict resolution requires violence, better still the complete destruction of the enemy. But women don’t do that; and when men get an annoying women, it’s really hard to know what to do. Because the way to resolve that would be to beat the hell out of her. But that’s not proper in our society, so men will basically remove themselves out of society. Which to some extent is happening.
The Yungian argument for immigration restriction. “Every place where the things that you expect to happen, happen, is your territory. You’re at home whenever you know what to do”. Yes, yes. Bringing people from foreign cultures into your land makes you not know what to do; because you learn what to do, you learn your culture when you’re a child. Bringing foreigners, especially hostile foreigners, messes with the cognitive map of your environment. How many people in Europe say they don’t feel at home in their own countries?
Yes, yes. It’s behaviorism. Prof. Peterson is a smart guy to make that connection. But there’s nothing wrong with behaviorism. You’re the guy who said that you can’t be a rationalist if you understand evolution. Well if you’re not a rationalist you’re a behaviorist. Or you should be. Now of course, Behaviorism with a capital B was a historical movement with people like Skinner, and yes many of those guys were blank-slatists, who though they could condition any behavior on any animal given enough time and food pellets. Then they were beaten by the nativist rationalism of Chomsky. But Chomsky and Fodor and all those were full of shit too, let us remember that. There is no necessary link between nativism (i.e. anti-blank slatism, the idea that the brain has an innate structure) and rationalism (or it’s modern descendent cognitivism). Conversely there’s no necessary link between behaviorism (the idea that the brain is organized to produce behavior and not to manipulate abstract information) and blank slatism. Surely we can all agree that the brain has an innate structure, and innate behaviors. We call that instincts. Surely we can say that some behaviors are hard coded, and others rather less soft-coded, and others very soft-coded, so that there are pathways that given certain experiences over time will produce broadly similar behaviors. That’s all compatible with a behaviorist perspective while being perfectly nativist.
And please, let us stop with the Magna Carta nonsense (1:50:00). The Magna Carta wasn’t about “the people” against “the monarchy”. It was about the nobles vs. the king. The nobles had hereditary rights which the king couldn’t invade. That happened in Hungary in 1222 too, by the way. It resulted in the complete destruction of the Hungarian state by the absolutist Turks, but anyway. The point was about how to share the spoils of state power, not about “the people”. That came way later when the much expanded nobility fought a war against the English king in 1642, by which time demotism was a thing.
So people aren’t consciously computing what to do in every instance. Which is… behaviorism. Come on Jordan, don’t fight it. Join the Dark Enlightenment.
The point of how wolves and other animals have evolved strategies to come up with a dominance hierarchy without having to actually kill their rivals is a good one. Humans of course do that all the time, with the highly ritualized wars of tribal people, where people basically just show up and shout to each other. Or the very limited wars of antiquity with those chariots and stuff. Then cavalry happened and proximity vs. diversity produced vicious war. Those guys just didn’t get the joke. There’s this story on the Mongol invasion of Japan. The early Samurais had this fairly lame form of warfare, where they would run to the battlefield, start reciting their ancestry. My father was Lord Fujiwara this my grandfather was Lord Fujiwara that, I am the lord of here and there, then they would have this jousting contest and maybe have their minions shoot an arrow or two. Then the Mongol army came with gunpowder bombs and shooting arrow waves on sight, killing thousands of people in minutes.
Now of course we’ve gone back to ritualized fights to minimize bloodshed. We call that democracy. You count the armies’ soldiers, whoever has more gets to rule for some years.
Jordan Peterson has many little gems like this; you might have caught the general gist of his worldview. But then he goes into epistemology and moral realism and he gets confused. You can see that very clearly because he actually doesn’t know what to say. He stops for seconds trying to find a way of putting it. I think he’s trapped. He’s pwned by his Christian rationalist substratum. Next time let’s see if I can help him get out of his confusion. Hopefully I’ll be briefer than Moldbug’s depwning Richard Dawkins.
This pic has been doing the rounds in the Chinese Internet. It’s a parking sign in a mosque in Gansu province, Western China. There’s a lot of muslims there, about a million, 3% or so of the province population. There used to be quite a lot more, until they rebelled in the 1860s. Then Zuo Zongtang and his army came and massacred every muslim he could find.
Those days are long gone, though, and muslims are quite assertive in China today. Back to the sign. It’s just a run-of-the-mill sign, telling people who go to park inside the mosque what they have to do. Drive slowly, follow directions from the staff, pay the ticket, watch your valuables, you know. Now take a look at rule 3. in the second section. It says:
“All cars who are carrying flammable, explosive or toxic products, especially all cars which are carrying women, cannot drive into the mosque. Else they will face the consequences.”
Doesn’t say which consequences. But it can’t be very good. I kinda like the “especially”. Like bombs and poison is bad, man. But be especially careful about bringing women! That’s even worse! That’s just trolling. And successfully, now the sign is all over the Chinese internet. And the Chinese are pretty feminist. Women there almost universally work, nag and are often pretty annoying in general. Nothing like the modern West, of course, not even close. But stuff like this really gets them angry.
But still, muslims are quite assertive in modern China. As often, the bulk of political signaling is done in universities, this bizarre contraption where young people in the pinnacle of their narcissism and status-seeking instincts are put in a closed area for 4 long years doing nothing at all but listening to senseless bullshit. And men and women put together! Well, what many Chinese college students do is go on online forums to bitch about muslims. Those bitches with the hijab claiming discrimination. Those fuckers who get private halal canteens. Who always walk in packs and hit on our women; while if we hit on their women we get beaten up and nobody cares. I hear it’s getting worse. For how long, I wonder.
The Dark Enlightenment is Dark. That’s the whole thing about it. The more you know the truth the darker it gets. The very term was coined by Nick Land who is pretty much a Skynet apologist. He doesn’t seem humans have it in them to get out of this shit. Now most people don’t agree with that, but the term Dark Enlightenment has stuck, and there’s a reason for that. Many understand that truth is dark, and that we’re heading to dark times.
I also get called very gloomy and pessimistic myself. I think that’s a bit unfair; I write more about history, which is plenty dark, and more abstract points on how human society works. There’s always some room for uncertainty when you write in the abstract. You wanna see real dark? Real, concrete, visceral dark? Take a look at this guy.
Now I don’t know who this David Hines guy is. But he knows his stuff. He knows it really well. Some snippets:
Of course they are. The Left is about Power. The Left is where psychopathic status maximizers go in order to attain power, i.e. maximize their status. It follows that the Left will always have the upper hand in any political conflict (i.e. war), because they’re more committed to gaining power. That’s the whole point on being on the left. All the stuff they believe in, all that “progressiveness”, that’s just means to an end. The ideas change; the goal does not. The goal is to have crush your enemies having them driven to you and hear the lamentations of their women. The left is good at that.
Yes, yes. The Left knows how to fight. The left is an army. What we call the left is the descendants of the dissenting mobs which destroyed the old state order in Europe. They destroyed the English monarchy, the French monarchy. That’s no joke. Nobody ever managed to destroy the traditional order in China or the Islamic world. It’s some pretty virulent virus that managed to destroy European states. Of course they had inside help; but that’s besides the point. Once the tactics were created, once it was shown how effective political agitation can be, it could never die again. Every time a psychopatic status maximizers was born, all he had to do was to look back, see how it’s done, and do it.
I could paste the whole series of Tweets; but go read the whole thing. His point is very insightful. The Left knows how to do violence; it has been doing it for centuries. They invented this shit. As I say, a better argument would be that the tactics come first; the ideas are accessory. They come up with whatever ideas are best in order to raise a bigger army, have it funded, and keep agitating. If the Right wants to survive, if it wants to fight back, it’s not going to be easy. Having balls is important. Donald Trump has balls. Many of his people have balls. But balls is not enough. You need organization. You need logistics. And you need the will to power. You need the psychopathic status-maximizing drive to keep you from giving up. Remember Leftists died all the time for the cause. The Right doesn’t want to die. That’s the whole point of being on the Right! If the Left is about maximizing status whatever the costs; the Right is about being left alone and allowed to survive.
Well, in a fight, the guy without scruples always has an advantage over the guy with scruples. When the Jihadists in Europe go bust Rightist demonstrations, they shout “you will lose, you love life, we love death”. It’s hard to argue against that. The Samurais also said their edge was that they loved death. It’s hard to fight against an army who doesn’t mind being sacrificed. It’s not impossible; especially if they’re dumb Muslims who are a bit too eager to die. But Communists aren’t suicidal, the get that point. They’re just ruthless. They are willing to kill, and ostracize, and starve their enemies.
As David Hines point out; the Left is not a set of ideas; it’s a set of optimized tactics for agitation. And the only way to win a fight against an optimized set of battle tactics is to adopt them yourself. That was Fascism was about. To use Communist tactics against them. Some retarded conservatives use this point to argue that “fascism was leftist”. No, that’s really dumb. That’s like saying that a Republican army is monarchist because it has a chain of command. The words “left” and “right” are not about their proclaimed ideas. They’re just fighting teams, you got two of them, and you gotta give them opposite names so that the idea gets across. If the Left is winning because it’s doing something right, well the Right is going to do the same. So Mussolini and Hitler ran party armies harassing the populace, it run massive rallies, it assassinated political enemies. And yes, it adopted some ideas that made it easier to raise and fund an army. He had to if he wanted to get anywhere.
The thing is that to raise an army you gotta motivate it. The Left pays it people, but more than anything it has a very solid memeplex to sell. It sells equality. If you’re below average, “equality” to you sounds like “raise in status”, so by definition half the population is always on board for that. And if you’re running the army you get to be pretty high in status, which is very attractive for greedy status-maximizers. The problem with the Left of course is that to deliver equality you have to destroy society. The whole thing. But society has this habit of reconstructing itself, because that’s what social species do; so you need to become increasingly crazy and destroy everything that can support human life if you want to deliver equality. So you get a signaling spiral. Now they’re denying that biological sex is real.
The Right really just wants to survive. The Right is by definition the reaction against the Left, whatever the Left is in a particular time and space. AlfaNL says that the Dutch Right are Left Libertarians. He means they are what Americans would call Left Libertarians. But in Holland they are the Right alright, because the Left comes first, and the Right is whatever army can be raised to oppose the Left. If the Left becomes crazier and murderous, the Right will morph into whatever can effectively oppose the Left. When the Left was Jimmy Carter, the Right was Ronald Reagan. When the Left is Hillary Clinton, the Right becomes Donald Trump. If the Left is going to go back to the 1930s, the Right might as well have to do so too.
Nationalism used to be a Leftist movement against the traditional monarchies of Europe. Once they won, and Nationalist democracies became the establishment, the Left became Socialist internationalism. That was a winning strategy. It spread like wildfire. It destroyed 3100 years of Chinese monarchy, which was no mean feat. But as 20th century history showed, there was a way to counter act that. Doubling down on nationalism. Equality is effective. But tribalism is pretty effective too. Especially for men. If anything, this time it should be even more attractive for men, as the Left has gone much further on feminism this time around. Now of course tribalism is harder because every Western country has hordes of enemy tribes in their midst; so going racist is basically declaring a will to engage in ethnic cleansing war. Those are harsh. Being racist in 1933 Germany was pretty much harmless LARPing. Yeepee, Aryans are awesome. Trying saying that in Berlin right now. It takes balls.
But the Right by definition doesn’t have balls. It just wants to live. Nobody wants Civil War. The Left doesn’t mind it, if that’s what it takes for them to gain more power. So they might force it. Somebody else said that the USA today sounds like Spain before the Civil War. That was a textbook example of the Left forcing the Right into rebellion. I recall reading that the Army generals that rebelled said on the day of the uprising: Half Spain does not resign itself to die. The Right half. I think that really says it all.
Miss Helsinki 2017 in the center and the runner ups at her sides
Or, making virtue out of lack of lack of other paths for upward mobility.
The most important topic in social science, the humanities or however you want to call it, is what drives cultural change. Things change, that is obvious enough, and humans have been discussing it since they ever started doing abstract thinking. We understand a lot of change now. Physics tell us why the physical world changes: by obeying the laws of physics. Biology tells us why living things change: through evolution. What we still haven’t figured out is why societies change. Cultural change. You can define culture as behaviors inherited through non-genetic means. We still haven’t quite figured out the laws of cultural change. It happens they’re immensely complicated. We know it has a lot to do with politics. And it happens that the very act of trying to figure culture out is a political statement, so it’s hard to get honest inquiry running. The stakes are too high.
But still, I’ve always been fascinated (I’d say obsessed, but the word is quite abused these days by all sorts of posers) by why different societies do different things; and how people do different things across history. Even the same persons end up having different opinions over time. Of course you could buy the Christian-Enlightenment paradigm and think that they’ve just earned new information over time. You see, they suddenly realized that gaymarriage is a human right. Or you may take my Darkly Enlightened behaviorist idea that they changed their behavior because behavior follows status and they figured out that the means to earn status have changed. That would be a good subdiscipline to focus on: the study on what societies regard as high-status and how it changes.
The Melian dialogue, perhaps the first red pill ever, said it quite clearly. The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must. You could rephrase that to say: the high-status do what they want, the low-status do what they must -in order to raise in status. Which in humans, due to the way our behavior is imprinted through social pressure, tends to trump even the survival instinct. The Melians famously chose death before surrender. They had been raised to expect dishonor would result in extremely low status. And death is rather preferable to that. While fighting for their freedom they must have felt rather happy, doing what, if they had been able to survive, would have brought them high-status for a lifetime.
So, different societies allow for different pathways to high status. Of course societies aren’t exactly free to set a standard. Those standards have evolved over time. Gnon, you know. Evolution works through environmental constraints. Even in their absence there’s always genetic drift; weird practices evolve kinda randomly over time in the absence of selective pressure against them. But most of the time environmental constraints on social evolution are quite obvious.
A couple of things I read recently reminded me of a think I’ve always thought, and written in this blog from the very beginning. My most basic intellectual inquiry has been to understand why people have gone increasingly ideological over my lifetime. I remember people in the 80s being quite easygoing, then increasingly getting worked-up about quite absurd ideological points; which of course it’s getting worse. Over the years we have now developed a good conceptual framework to explain is: signaling spirals. Which indeed explains a lot: but we don’t write enough about what drives them. What makes them go slower or faster. My hunch has for a long time been that the economy is perhaps the biggest factor.
The Great Stagnation is here; the great era of worldwide economic growth is over. And it’s not coming back. We won’t invent another energy source that improves over oil as oil did over coal. We won’t invent another method of locomotion which is faster than a car or a jet airplane.All that is gone; forever. Even Moore’s Law is dead now. Some things are advancing: genetics, materials science. But that doesn’t fix the most important. Much of the economic boom since 1800 has been a population boom of productive populations. The population of Europe multiplied several times, filling Europe and its colonies, much of what was empty land. Well that’s not going to happen, ever again. And as it happens, we have state finances all over the world set up so that increased populations of productive people are necessary to keep the system going. Well that’s not happening. The system is not going. The sheer mass of rent-seeking rot is collapsing before our eyes. Even if technology were still advancing we’d still be in deep, deep shit. And it’s not, so you can imagine. For some time after WW2 it used to be very very easy to make money. Now it is very very hard.
If you live in a society undergoing an economic boom, well the easiest way to gain in status is likely to be to make a lot of money. Make money, drive a fancy car, buy expensive clothes, maybe some stupid overpriced Swiss watch, go on vacation to some fancy beach, that stuff. Watch some movies of the 60s in Europe or Japan. Go take a look at China today. The people there aren’t ideological. They don’t give a shit. They just want to make money. Tyler Cowen was in Nigeria recently, and he reports the Muslims and Christians get along well there. Because they’re too busy making money to care much about religion anyway.
So when do people care about religion? Or ideology, which is pretty much the same. Well when that happens to be the best way to get status. If it’s easy to earn status through money, you’ll get a fancy watch. If there’s no freaking way you’re making any money, well you need something else. What else? Well you can always be holier-than-thou.
I saw a Tweet by a Japanese guy who noted how these days, the temples are brimming with people for New Year’s. This is often toted as a Shinto Tradition. But he distinctly remembers how when he was a child the temples were always empty. Now they’re not only full in New Years; there’s people going all the time. And while back in the 70s and 80s people would just to there and bow randomly, now everybody comes and does a very elaborate ritual without fail. Two bows, one clap, one bow. Now it’s common for people to have strong opinions on the soul of the nation, our sacred traditions and all that. Good luck trying to find that in old movies. TV is a very good example. Now half of the programming is history and stories about how awesome our country is. It used to be girls in miniskirts and fast cars. What happened?
Well the Japanese economy went to hell, that happened. Well it didn’t quite go to hell. In nominal terms the Japanese have kept a pretty respectable GDP per capita. But economic growth has tanked, taxes are up, debt is up. It’s just very hard to make money. You can get a job, ok. But not a job that gets you high status. So what do you do? You go to the temple a lot. And you bow very carefully. See? Now you’re a Good Person. It’s the least you can do.
I’ve always thought that the ideological spirals we are seeing recently have much to do with that. Why are American journalists so insufferably leftist? Because they aren’t getting paid. The industry is in tatters, it’s awfully hard to get a decent job. So they gotta compete in holiness. Why is Europe full of regionalist movements, some of them even threatening independence? Because the rural economies have collapsed. There’s nothing out of the big cities anymore, except in Germany, and not for long. So what rural people do is make virtue out of necessity and ceaselessly brag about their rurality. Hey, we speak Scotts here. Yeah. Oh, and we eat Haggis. Yeah. With a bit of luck they can get a job in the Scottish Parliament. The public sector isn’t stagnating.
How was the world economy doing in the 1930s, when all ideological hell broke loose in the whole world? You get the point. Of course this isn’t the only factor affecting signaling spirals. But it’s an important factor in how they trickle down into society at large. Elites are always playing signaling games to compete with each other. Money doesn’t get you status when you have too much of it. Money does get you status when you don’t have it. Well now there’s not much money to be made by anyone: so signaling games it is. That’s not going to change unless we get an economic boom; but rent seeking bloat, bad demographics and technological stasis have made that impossible. So the signaling spiral will go on. The only question is to which side it will swim.