Don't call it a spade
Monthly Archives: March 2017
You might also remember that Jordan Peterson was invited to the podcast of Sam Harris, of which I wrote about here and elaborated here. That podcast made me very, very conflicted. Because I think that Peterson is right, and Harris is wrong. But Peterson makes absolutely no sense in the podcasts, neither the first or second; while Harris is eloquent and logical and just sounds smarter. Or at the very least easier to understand. Peterson just sounds like a broken record of a snake’s oil salesman pitch. But make no mistake about it: Peterson is right. Harris is wrong. The problem is he isn’t capable of explaining it in a way that makes sense so that he can win the argument. Now they made a second podcast; and while it’s better, it’s still far from persuasive.
Well, allow me to win the argument for him. And I’ll do it for 1% of his Patreon salary. Nah, I’ll do it for free. Sam Harris deserves being proved wrong. That’s the least I can do for his good cadence of speech and the clarity of his thought.
So the two men are basically arguing about ethics: how should human people behave in society. Peterson goes on his by now familiar shtick about evolution and lobster serotonin and archetypes and Horus and Set. Harris answers that all that’s very good as biology or history perhaps; but not as ethics. We’re trying to come up with a system of morals, with rules of behavior; an accurate explanation of human nature, to the extent that Peterson’s explanation is accurate, doesn’t help there. And that’s because really existing humans have had, and some still have, pretty fucked up systems of morality. Read some ethnographies and you’ll find out plenty of stone age tribes with unbelievably stupid religions (i.e. beliefs about ghosts and stuff) and appalling behavior towards one another. My personal favorite are the lip plate wearers in East Africa. And of course, Harris is an outspoken enemy of Islam; and surely if you’re an Enlightened, blue-pill, 1960s guy, Muslim societies today are in general quite appalling.
Harris’ argument, which you can listen to from about 48:00 in the Youtube clip, is that appalling societies just have “failed science”. Their religion is a way of figuring things out: but they’re wrong. They’re mistaken, and so they do bad things, and their societies suck. If they only knew the truth, the Scientific Truth as discovered by Western Civilization, their societies would flourish and they’d all be as nice as Scott Alexander at a gaypride parade.
This argument is, of course, as old as sin. It’s moral intellectualism. That’s Socrates’ idea. People do bad things because they are ignorant. We should strive to know more so that we can be good. How do we know more? By asking questions and having a Socratic dialogue. Rince, repeat, then have Socrates executed for being annoying as hell.
It doesn’t occur to Harris that, even granting the Whig theory of history, that humankind progressed from ignorance to wisdom on a straight line, and things get better that way, that truth needs to be sold . There’s this thing in linguistics called diachrony and synchrony. Diachrony is watching the evolution of a language through time. Synchrony is watching to a language as it currently exists. You can take a synchronic look at the world today: and you’ll see that while Western Civilization has used Science™ to get to this pinnacle of wisdom and morality, there are plenty of other societies out there who aren’t buying it. They could buy it. Some even were buying it 50 years ago. But they’re not buying it now. And they’re right there, looking at us, kinda envying our technology and our wealth: but they’re still not buying it. These guys are out there and they don’t give a crap about we knowing the truth while they are suffering in falsehood.
And why aren’t they buying it? Peterson should have explained this to him. I guess it’s what he wanted to explain to him all along. The guy is a creative one and he very often finds it hard to put things into words. He should speak less and write more. He’d find it easier to make coherent arguments. Alas he gets paid infinite times more to speak than I get paid to write, so I don’t blame him there. But the point is that the Scientific Truth does not matter when you try to arrange a society. Not only it does not matter; pervasive knowledge of truth quite likely is deleterious for societal harmony. You basically can’t have a society, not a long-lasting one anyway, if the truth is widely known.
You may have noticed that after centuries of the scientific method; most people, i.e. 70% of the population don’t give a crap. Homeopathy is still around. People believe in all sort of crap; and they’re not even consistent about it. Why don’t people care about the truth? Because, as Peterson said, what people care about is what their biological drives have them care about; and those biological drives have evolved over millions of years. What they tell us to care about is what people across age and culture care about; and you can discover that by reading their myths and stories. What they care about is the survival of the tribe as a unit, i.e. the resiliency of their society. What makes the group function. And sex; how to get those picky annoying women to notice you individually. Here, I spared you 20 hours of Jordan Peterson’s Youtube clips. That is his argument.
Actually Sam Harris makes his own counterargument when he claims that the fact of human evolution has no place in a system of ethics, because if so anybody who understood Darwin would spend his whole life in a sperm bank so that he could have the maximum number of descendants. Yes, indeed. A society which placed high value on scientific knowledge would have people do exactly that. People want to win. Certainly guys want to win. But a society in which people understood in very clear terms that human females only mate with high-status men, and the status is a zero-sum game; well that wouldn’t be a very cooperative society, would it. And so humans have evolved to put a lid over all that stuff, which is kinda obvious when you think about it. But seeing the obvious is not what human nature is about. We wouldn’t be here if it were. Human nature is about coming up with bullshit, believing it and sticking to it, so that we can all get along.
Now there’s a lot of ways of getting along. Some people put 10 inch diameter plates inside our lower lips. Some people have women wear burkas while they shove their dicks in the anus of 12 year old boys. Some give high public status to women, while actually paying money to high-IQ code monkeys, who then can’t get laid, then dress like women so they can get the status, and allow this men to use the women’s restroom, which women hate but can’t complain because… I’m not really sure about that one.
Sam Harris wants a new system of ethics: well then he first must understand how systems of ethics came to exist. Peterson knows something about that. Then you can argue, indeed, that some ways of getting along are better than others. But the truth argument just doesn’t make sense. You can’t just drop the truth on a stone age tribe and expect they’ll come out next day as Californian 140 IQ Jews. Two reasons for that. The present American culture that Harris finds so dear wasn’t produced by the truth. It was produced by the Blue Pill. Which contains some truth, and a lot of made up unfalsifiable crap. That is, a lot of religion. And, as it happens, the society the blue pill produced is collapsing before our eyes. Peterson knows something about that too.
What we need is two things. One, ironically, is what Harris says he wants, but doesn’t actually want. The truth. The red pill. The other is some other stuff, not quite true, to put inside the red pill and make it sweeter. Else people won’t take it. People like sweet pills. That’s how we evolved.
By the way it’s the content of this second pill that Peterson wants to call “truth”. That which works. And yeah, ok, you can put that on the package. That’s probably good salesmanship. But first we have to make it. And you sure as hell shouldn’t be telling people at this stage that what we call truth isn’t really the truth.
Cool title, huh? It always feels good to type this kind of stuff. “Empire”. Pronounced with a 1900s British accent. Feels good man. Insert happy frog pic.
Anyway. The most interesting, shall I say “official” theory of historical geopolitics of the reaction must surely be Peter Turchin’s theory of meta-ethnic frontier armies pumping up their asabiya and conquering the civilizational center.
The theory basically says that to run a civilization you need a strong army. To run a strong army you need cohesion, discipline, i.e. asabiya. To produce this cohesion and discipline you need your soldiers to feel its need. Discipline isn’t nice. You’d rather slack off and drink beer and be merry. The kind of discipline an army runs off is produced by massive amounts of violence and unreasonable demands. You can only get people to do so if they feel is absolutely necessary. And they will only feel it’s necessary if they get to the realization that either they behave like good soldiers, or they’re dead, and they will lose everything they hold dear.
The way you get your soldiers to feel that is to stack them against a different civilization. People so alien to you that they you have nothing in common. If they win, everything you are accustomed to, all your life, all those little habits of behavior that form your identity: all that will be destroyed. And you don’t like that. It’s taken a while for you to adapt to that culture. Starting at birth. Your brain unconsciously produced a very fine set of motor sequences that make you able to gain some status inside that culture. If that culture were to change, because you got invaded by a different one, you’re screwed.
I mean, most likely you’d be directly screwed, in that your wife and daughters will be raped and you and your sons will be put into slavery; but even if the invaders were nice, they are just alien sons of bitches. So you gotta be sure they don’t conquer you. So you gotta be strong. So you join the army and you become a good soldier.
Once you are part of this strong army, you realize that all your fellow countrymen down below in the center are a bunch of pussies; you could easily conquer their asses in no time. Not that you need to, most of the time, but every now and then the center just collapses out of sheer dysfunction and runaway rent-seeking. So when the center collapses, the strong armies of the meta-ethnic frontier come down and restore order. That’s the Ibn-Khaldun civilizational cycle.
It’s pretty easy to understand, and it makes a lot of sense. Check your history and it fits quite mightily well I must say. And it also fits stuff that didn’t end up happening but people used to think it would. See this quote that a commenter at Nick Land’s left some days ago:
“The oppression of Hungary has ratified the oppression of all our continent. Since she has fallen, Italy has been completely crushed, the moderate freedom of Germany has been put down by Austria with the support of Russia; lastly, the usurpation of Louis Napoleon has been made possible. Without the restoration of Hungary Europe cannot be freed from Russian thraldom; under which nationalities are erased, no freedom is possible, all religions are subjected to like slavery. Gentlemen! the Emperor Napoleon spoke a prophetic word, when he said that in fifty years all Europe would be either republican or Cossack. Hungary once free, Europe is republican; Hungary permanently crushed, all Europe is Cossack.
The political fragmentation of Europe is an obvious historical anomaly. The history of mankind is the history of great empires. China, surely. The Persian Empire, and it’s Arab successors. The Roman Empire was the only one which didn’t rise again. Of course there’s a thousand theories about it; mainly Britain being a pain in the ass. But if you look at the map, it is pretty reasonable to conclude that Europe would end up a part of the Russian Empire. Russia is of course a perfect example of a meta-ethnic frontier, with White Christian Farmer Russians fighting for centuries against Asian Muslim Nomads. Now I know someone who is just going to come and write that the Russian army was a piece of shit, and that Russia only won because of sheer numbers and an Asiatic disregard for human life. But anyway. Those guys could fight. Hell, they conquered up to Alaska, the whole of Central Asia, and would’ve conquered Constantinople if not for British and French intervention.
So why didn’t Russia end up conquering the decadent Europeans? Well, in great part because the fragmented Europeans weren’t quite decadent. We could fight pretty well. France and Britain kicked ass everywhere they went. Which is weird, as neither of them are on a meta-ethnic frontier. Or are they?
Britain and France were huge colonial powers, which meant that their effective frontier was all over the place. By that argument Western Europe was the longest meta-ethnic frontier ever to occur in human history. They were out there fighting extremely alien peoples all over the planet.
But again that doesn’t quite apply to Napoleonic France. Or to the German Imperial army, by most accounts the strongest and most disciplined army in the world, probably since the Mongols. And Germany was no colonial power. By no stretch of the word you could argue that Germany is on a meta-ethnic frontier.
So what is it? The Napoleonic singularity should give you a hint. Nationalism is what fed the French army. And very much what fed the German army. Nationalism creates a meta-ethnic frontier from thin air, by changing the parameters of what makes an ethnicity. If you force people to become extremely anal about their group identity, the asabiya-production algorithms are much easier to activate. The Germans understood that was the basis of their strength; and so after losing WW1 they doubled down and came up with a Hitler.
Of course the asabiya-hacking ability of nationalism is a collective action problem. The point of asabiya is war. Of course it’s useful for a lot of other things, namely to run a wealthy industrial economy. But, at the end of the day, the business of groups of men is war, and excess asabiya will end up creating the circumstances so that it can show itself in the battlefield. And so nationalism ended up creating meta-ethnic frontiers all over the place. Which created the most massive and coordinated armies ever seen by men. Which was complete overkill. Not a good idea.
But now that Europe has forsaken nationalism, maybe the old patterns will reassert themselves, and Europe will fall to the closest meta-ethnic power. That is kinda the situation right now, with the USA as the conquering power. But they didn’t do so explicitly, and they are likely to leave in short term.
I never read him, but isn’t this argument basically what that Alexander Dugin guy is always talking about?
A basic idea of this blog is that people don’t choose ideas according to the merits or the logical value of those ideas. People have different personalities, different status-seeking dispositions, so to speak. Some people desire a lot, some people are content with less, some people are willing to go further in order to attain it, others don’t. Given that basic foundation of personality, people then choose the ideas that think can better aid their status-seeking plans. Ideas spread or don’t spread according to how well they fit the wider aggregate status-seeking dispositions of the population. Which of course is affected by the current idea landscape of the culture.
This is why rabid leftists become rabid rightists, or viceversa, while seldom becoming apolitical. They’re just into politics, period, so they get behind whatever is fashionable or suits their background better. Understand this point and you’ll understand much better how the ideological landscape in the West is going to change in the next few decades. For instance, take a look at this:
How can they be so different? Well it’s quite obvious. The guys just aren’t into mainstream crap. They’re edgy, as brothers they share those edgy genes, they just happened to stumble into different edges.
But of course ideas have consequences. Not ideas themselves; but different ideas help different groups get together, and social circles have big consequences. Social circles are everything, really.
Another point of this blog, of course, is to look at human behavior from a biological perspective. Richard Dawkins was able to write his masterpiece The Selfish Gene, because he was a zoologist. Everybody should be a zoologist. Everything makes much more sense when you look at stuff like that. Gnon is a zoologist. He really is. Now let’s look at the British brothers as zoologists. One looks happy, has two children, an obedient wife. The other has… his pub mates. Doesn’t look very content, does he?
Now I could start with that and start with the sociological consequences of that… but you already get it, don’t you? Again, I’m no apologist. I completely agree with this post by Jim. This is the solution we don’t want. But I’m not sure Gnon cares about what we want.
Yesterday I wrote that the leftist media (i.e. all of it) can’t shut up about the alt-right because they’re fascinated for finally having a worthy rival. They see the appeal.
Another possibility is that journalists basically spend all their lives in Twitter, and our Frog-Twitter friends are trolling them so hard that their Dunbar brains are just saturated with alt-right people. And so they react. And react, way beyond the real world importance of them. It’s like high-school kids talking all the time about their classmates. Of course they do, it’s where they spend their whole lives. But it’s all absolutely trivial in hindsight.
Here’s some evidence of how journalists work, and why they’re brains are basically on drugs with Twitter. This is a passage from David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, a 1972 book detailing how the Cathedral back then, the media and the bureaucracy, botched the Vietnam War because they couldn’t stop sucking each others’ dicks. Basically because everybody wanted to suck JKF’s dick.
David Halberstam was a fairly successful journalist, who took a long leave of several years in order to write a book. He writes how hard it was to quit his usual routine as a journalist for the lonely job of writing a book who would only be complete after years of work.
The hardest thing I had to do at the start was to take leave of my byline for the next four years. Ours is a profession built upon the immediacy of reward: We graduate from college, and our peers go off to law school and graduate school and medical school. They have barely started their first-year classes, and our names are bannered across the front pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. They get their medical or law degrees, and start out in their residencies or as the lowest hirelings in a law office, and we are old-timers, covering the statehouse, or on our way to Washington, by now, we believe, the possessors of a well-known brand name. The byline is a replacement for many other things, not the least of them money. If someone ever does a great psychological profile of journalism as a profession, what will be apparent will be the need for gratification—if not instant, then certainly relatively immediate. Reporters take sustenance from their bylines; they are a reflection of who you are, what you do, and why, to an uncommon degree, you exist. It was hard enough to give so much of it up when I went to Harper’s, where I would get only five or six bylines a year. But to go from the world of easy recognition, from the world of the Times and Harper’s, to a world where I might get only one byline in four years, was a great risk. A journalist always wonders: If my byline disappears, have I disappeared as well? My friends, knowing my compulsions, my innate impatience, wondered if I could do it. Would I be able to resist assignments and stay with my project?
The liberal media won’t shut up about the Alt-Right. They’re even talking about Neoreaction. Apparently Trump has read Moldbug. Or at least Bannon has. The counterrevolution is happening. Or so you’d think if you believed the liberal press.
Funny thing is, the dark side of the Internet is a small, tiny little thing. Really. Neoreaction is, what, 1,000 people? Spread around the whole world. 75% in the US, maybe. And the alt-right, which has inherited much of good ol’ national-socialism, is what, 20,000 people? I love those guys, I really do. Frog Twitter is hilarious. /pol/ is very funny. But come on. Even Steve Sailer, who has been writing for decades, who is a middle-class, 50+ old, utterly middlebrow guy who writes in very accessible language, who writes about sports! Steve Sailer has 13,000 followers on Twitter. Ezra Klein has 1.6 million. Ezra Klein, that doofus-looking doofus. Even Matthew Yglesias, whose picture is in English phrasebooks to explain the phrase “his face looks like a joke”, has 270k followers. The alt-right is beyond small. Trump didn’t win because of the alt-right. He won because he got 60 million Fox News watchers to vote for him.
But, the liberal press won’t shut up about the alt-right. Why? Why aren’t they writing about the actual Trump voters? Because this is not about numbers. This is a war of ideas. And even if ideas can adapt to people, more often than not people adapt to ideas. Ideas are the stuff of humanity. The stuff of social coordination. Ideas is what we use to get together and to stuff. Schelling points, remember? Well, for the first time, the left is scared. They’re very scared. And why are they scared? The left are masters in ideas. They have come up with this steel-strong memeplex that even though it doesn’t make any logical sense whatsoever, even though it wrecks every culture and civilization it touches, even though it makes men and women miserable and keep them from having babies; these guys keep winning. The left is good at ideas. And the left won’t shut up about the alt-right.
Maybe they sense something? Maybe they’re scared that they know that fascism is a good product. Not that it makes much sense. Slightly more than what the left sells, but fascism isn’t about truth and logic. Fascism is about what it has to be about; about coordination. About power. What the left is also about, if only in a more cheating and roundabout way. Maybe the left is scared because they know what happens when good ideas get out of the bottle. First some guy like Bannon reads Moldbug. Then he becomes the Chief Strategist of the POTUS. Then the guy actually manages to have political power. They’re trying hard to stop him. It’s likely that they succeed. But say they don’t. Say Trump and Bannon manage to stop the meddling of the US judiciary in the legislative process; say he purges the shuts down the CIA and consolidates the 16 intelligence agencies into a single one that actually follows orders; say he gets Paul Ryan to go home and work as a stripper for fat cougars.
If that happens, then whatever Bannon thinks will, slowly, become high-status. And then people who want a piece of that status will start to believe in the same stuff. And once some critical mass has been achieved, everybody will start believing in it. And once the ideas go mainstream, then they become a religion, a self-catalytic process where people start signaling and out-signaling each other and manipulating others into signaling too. That provided the ideas are a good sell at the beginning. Provided the ideas can get that critical mass. That means they must sound like a good deal, in abstract. But of course fascism sounds good. That’s the whole point of fascism. It’s catnip for civilized men.
Journalists are peddlers of ideological catnip. They’re drug dealers. That’s why there’s so many. It’s a nice job. I mean, it’s not, it doesn’t pay crap, but some people are irresistibly driven to it. And those guys who were driven to the Current Year Leftism, just can’t stop writing about the alt-right. Part is tribal anger, of course. But again, the tribes are incommensurably different in size. There’s no contest really. There’s a million leftist writers for every alt-right Twitter account. And yet… they can’t stop being curious. They see those Frog-Twitter kids, they see the drive, the passion, the brotherly manners. The asabiya. They know that’s how ideas get started. And once they get started, they can get big very, very quickly. And once they do, the guys doing the street violence won’t be Berkeley communists. They’ll be Berkeley nazis. The same people, perhaps. Because people are just empty vessels, looking for a kick. They don’t really care who provides it, only that it’s good.