Saturday, June 30, 2007 18 Comments

Carlyle rages against the coming of the light

From his Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850):
Not the least disgusting feature of this Gospel according to the Platform is its reference to religion, and even to the Christian Religion, as an authority and mandate for what it does. Christian Religion? Does the Christian or any religion prescribe love of scoundrels, then? I hope it prescribes a healthy hatred of scoundrels;--otherwise what am I, in Heaven's name, to make of it? Me, for one, it will not serve as a religion on those strange terms. Just hatred of scoundrels, I say; fixed, irreconcilable, inexorable enmity to the enemies of God: this, and not love for them, and incessant whitewashing, and dressing and cockering of them, must, if you look into it, be the backbone of any human religion whatsoever. Christian Religion! In what words can I address you, ye unfortunates, sunk in the slushy ooze till the worship of mud-serpents, and unutterable Pythons and poisonous slimy monstrosities, seems to you the worship of God? This is the rotten carcass of Christianity; this mal-odorous phosphorescence of post-mortem sentimentalism. O Heavens, from the Christianity of Oliver Cromwell, wrestling in grim fight with Satan and his incarnate Blackguardisms, Hypocrisies, Injustices, and legion of human and infernal angels, to that of eloquent Mr. Hesperus Fiddlestring denouncing capital punishments, and inculcating the benevolence on platforms, what a road have we travelled!
The historical conundrum is inconvenient indeed. Carlyle could not have guessed that Mr. Fiddlestring's great-grandchildren would resolve this duel by turning off the light-saber, surrendering the title of Christianity for the humble office of universal truth. But surely he would have mocked and applauded the gambit.

(A typical but unfortunate casualty of the God wars is the word evangelical, which once meant Mr. Fiddlestring and now refers to his adversaries. Of course, if we could resurrect Hesperus Fiddlestring himself and set him back on his soapbox, his actual policy proposals would be well to the right of Strom Thurmond, and Carlyle with his penchant for the n-word is often literally unspeakable (did he have to put it in the title?); but the armies are the same, though field and flags have shifted.)

It is fascinating and frustrating to read Carlyle, because his diagnoses are often startlingly prescient and his remedies are almost invariably dangerous and ineffective. (This is a very familiar conservative syndrome.) Carlyle is often described as a predecessor of fascism, and I see no reason at all to discount the charge, although I should note that I also see no reason to treat fascism and communism differently.

I was reminded of Carlyle by frequent commenter TGGP, who linked to this well-written essay about the conflict between Carlyle and John Stuart Mill. Levy and Peart, whose theory of presentism is ironic to say the least - it is at least as bad to patronize the past as to condemn it - severely mischaracterize a passage from Charles Kingsley's delicious Water-Babies (which I have to thank Conrad Roth for recommending), and in the usual modern style regard the dispute as thoroughly defunct, presumably courtesy of the Eighth Air Force. But they are excellent writers and they bring the affair to life quite vividly, and these peccadillos are trivial by the standards of today.

A useful, even essential, exercise when reading a writer like Carlyle, with whom any modern reader is certain to find numerous points of vigorous disagreement, is to try to construct arguments against his positions which deploy modern history as it happened and modern science as we know it, but are designed to convince Carlyle or his contemporaries. Assume that Carlyle trusts your claim to be a time traveler from 2007 and accepts your veracity, but has no other reason to agree with you. If even with the spectacular rhetorical munitions that 150 years of hindsight have armed you with, you can't win the argument, it's time to worry.

For example, in the matter of Governor Eyre, Peart and Levy see absolutely no reason to refer to the future history of Jamaica, or of colonialism in general, or of any of the many subsequent attempts to suppress revolutionary violence using military techniques more acceptable to Mr. Fiddlestring and his descendants, whose philanthropic zeal has hardly mellowed with time. Peart and Levy are economic historians, and the idea that they could have any opinion on the subject that might differ even slightly from their generation's conventional wisdom, if it even did occur to them, would be thoroughly out of place in their work.

Carlyle has many flaws. But for all of them, he was a generalist, a species long extinct. A real aurochs. And if anyone in the 19th century forecast the corrupt and bloodthirsty empires of the People that would dominate the 20th, it was he.

Of course, many in the 20th tried to apply his remedies. Carlyle's economics are nothing short of disastrous, and he is particularly fond of slave labor in almost any form imaginable, especially if there is some kind of paramilitary component. I'd like to think the Third Reich would have been much too democratic for him, but perhaps this is overly generous.

Carlyle's error as I perceive it was that he took all the doctrines of his foes, whom he perceived correctly as fools, and simply reversed them. The tragedy of the Enlightenment period is this dissection into Whig and Tory, liberal and fascist, progressive and conservative, each with almost exactly half of what I in my humble hubris consider reality. Two heads are too much for one brain, and cotton wool doesn't do well in the skull. Today our "little liber-al" or "little conserva-tive" is launched into life with a great black nest of fungal hyphae sitting right there next to the remaining hemisphere, forcing him to actually rotate his neck if he wants to see the real world to his right or left respectively, a tough maneuver even if practiced. Removing this bolus of pious delusion is difficult, replacing it with healthy tissue almost impossible.

For this, like Carlyle, I blame politics. Which means I blame democracy, because democracy without politics makes the Immaculate Conception look routine. But, again, it is important to separate this diagnosis from the many remedies that have been proposed for it - not least by Carlyle himself.

Thursday, June 28, 2007 58 Comments

The Rawlsian god: cryptocalvinism in action

Regular visitors to this dank intellectual alley will be familiar with my obstinate insistence that progressive idealism, multiculturalism, liberal universalism, or any similar label for the set of thoughts that all good people think, are not just good thoughts, but in fact the dominant modern sect of Christianity.

As an atheist I have no interest in theology, and I do not find theological doctrines, such as the divinity of Jesus, the existence of God, the nature of the Trinity, etc, a useful way to classify the patterns of belief around me. I am only concerned with what people believe about the real world. I think these beliefs evolve much as languages do, I feel it is important to track their evolution across time, and I refuse to remove them from my radar screen on account of theological mutations which strike me as purely superficial.

You may or may not buy this story. But I hope you can agree that the Harvard faculty in 2007 by and large believes in human equality, social justice, world peace and community leadership, that the faculty of the same institution held much the same beliefs in 1957, 1907, 1857 and 1807, and that in any of these years they would have described these views as the absolute cynosure of Christianity. Perhaps I am just naturally suspicious, but it strains my credulity slightly to believe that sometime in 1969, the very same beliefs were rederived from pure reason and universal ethics, whose concurrence with the New Testament is remarkable to say the least.

At least for the purpose of abusing it, I call this sect cryptocalvinism: "crypto" because it conceals its ancestry; and "Calvinist" first because it is the leading direct descendant, through the New England Puritans, of Calvinism proper, and second because it resembles Calvin's Genevan theocracy in many details, most strikingly its fondness for official truth.

Calvinist doctrine has mutated considerably over the years, especially but not exclusively in the theological department. Today's hippie creed of universal love, though it owes less to the 1960s than the 1830s, would come as quite a shock to the grim old doctor. However, one feature that almost all descendants of Calvinism share is an essentially postmillennial commitment to building the kingdom of God on earth - as seen, for example, in the Puritans' city-on-a-hill rhetoric.

But, as some commenters have pointed out, this is all quite irrelevant. Don't we all want to live in a good society? Is it utterly surprising that many Biblical ideas are good ideas? Didn't Jesus also say the sky was blue? Certainly Harvard was founded as a Christian institution, certainly it remained explicitly so until recently, and certainly our secular universalist culture has deep Christian roots. But in the liberal postwar era, we wisely discarded the aspects of Christianity that are obsolete and superstitious, while retaining its sound ethical core, reinforced with a bracing dose of modern reason and science.

This is a very sensible argument. No superficial rhetoric can dismiss it. Certainly there's an element of what one might almost call McCarthyism in my attempts to connect universalism with Protestantism. Of course, McCarthyist techniques of guilt by association are routinely applied against Nazis, fascists, racists, and other bad actors, but this doesn't make them good. The Third Reich, for example, was the first Western state to connect smoking to lung cancer. Which doesn't make me want to go out and buy a pack of Marlboros.

The belief system I call "cryptocalvinism" claims to be a pure product of philosophy, not a mere evolution of blue-state mainline Protestantism. Similarly, the modern "intelligent design" movement assures us that its association with red-state Christianity is just as coincidental.

The only way to refute these claims is on the merits. The fact that proponents of "intelligent design" tend to be fundamentalist Christians is a good clue that atheists such as myself should scrutinize their theories closely. But it is not actually evidence in the case. Likewise, the fact that multicultural universalists embrace ideas closely related to those of their own Christian forebears could explain, if those ideas are unrelated to reality, how they got to be so popular and successful. But it goes nowhere at all toward showing the if.

So I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the leading political philosopher of liberal universalism: John Rawls. Specifically, Rawls is a theorist of social justice, one of my "four points" of cryptocalvinism.

Actually, I don't just want to take a look at Rawls. I want his head for my mantelpiece. The trouble is that so many writers have debunked Rawls so completely - Nozick's treatment is perhaps the most thorough - that the best anyone can hope for now is a cheap Chinese copy. Nonetheless I will engage in this ritual of decapitation as though it actually mattered.

My contention is that Rawls is not a philosopher, but a minister. Like his Calvinist forebears, he is trying to establish the kingdom of God on Earth. Unlike them, he doesn't admit it. The basic thrust of my attack is to make the Christian aspect of Rawls' theory explicit, and note how much more sense Rawlsianism makes in this light - and how little sense it makes when we take the light away.

The first thing we notice about Rawls is the title of his famous book, A Theory of Justice. As I've mentioned before, this is not just hubristic, but actively Orwellian. For about the last 2500 years, the word justice and its various Indo-European predecessors have meant "the accurate execution of the law." Rawls is no more interested in law than I am in dressage, and when he redefines the word justice to mean, effectively, righteousness, one notes with some dismay that he is confiscating a noun with no existing synonyms. But perhaps this was the publisher's decision - maybe A Theory of Righteousness just wouldn't have moved as well.

The second thing we notice is that Rawls is that he's an incredibly tedious and turgid writer. He has one idea, which he repeats at a length that's simply unbelievable. Bad writing is worrisome in any defense of the status quo, because it fails Auden's ogre test. But again, it is not conclusive.

So let's take a closer look at Rawls' idea, the famous veil of ignorance. But let's try it out in the context where it makes the most sense - the kingdom of God on earth.

Suppose God did, in fact, exist. Suppose he was omnipotent, omniscient, and infinitely benevolent, employing an arbitrary number of angels to achieve his perfect wishes. If you are such a hardcore atheist that you can't imagine this at all, imagine God as a space alien with access to infinite alien technology.

Said alien is newly arrived in the Solar System and wishes to establish his kingdom on Earth, perhaps on account of its water-based ecosphere, mild climate and excellent chocolate. Because he is, in fact, God, implementation details are not a concern. And because he is infinitely benevolent, he wants the best for everyone. Therefore he consults John Rawls.

Rawls tells him that an ideal society will be the one chosen by arbitrary humans who are unaware of the position they are to occupy in that society. So, for example, a Rawlsian might ask: who should be paid more, a NASCAR driver or a truck driver? The observer behind the veil of ignorance is likely to say the truck driver should be paid more, because driving in the Daytona 500 is a hell of a lot of fun and hauling a load of sofas from Chicago to Vegas is no fun at all. Unless the truck driver is paid more to compensate for this inequality, he or she is relatively disadvantaged, an outcome the observer (who can have no reason not to fear assignment to this role) will seek to avoid.

There's an almost medieval flavor to this exercise, and it can lead to an infinite amount of intellectual entertainment. Of course, not even John Rawls can derive "ought" from "is," and there is no rational reason to prefer his definition of an ideal society to anyone else's. Ethics are fundamentally aesthetic. But there is a clarity and prettiness to the Rawlsian theory of righteousness that makes it aesthetically quite attractive, and I certainly cannot imagine any solution to the same problem that I'd find more satisfying.

The difficulty, of course, is in the problem. What Rawls has performed is a beautiful feat of misdirection. His imaginary problem is almost perfectly designed to misdirect the thinking man's attention away from the real problem.

In the kingdom of God on earth, God finds it very easy to make sure NASCAR drivers are paid less than truck drivers. No one can disobey God. He assigns us to our roles, he directs our every movement. If God tells you to turn left at the next light, you don't hang a right.

The question is: what relevance does this have for the actual problem of government? The answer is: none. As Madison put it, if men were angels, we would need no government at all. In Rawls' kingdom, we are not angels, but we are governed by angels. The great engineering problem of designing a system in which fallible humans can govern each other and get along simply does not exist in Rawls' philosophy.

Of course Rawls does not actually say this. He just encourages it. By setting up an ideal of righteousness that only divine rule can achieve, Rawls supplies the perfect distraction to help his readers forget that in reality, men are governed only by men, and history knows only two kinds of government: those based on law, and those based on violence.

For example, in the NASCAR-teamster example, what sort of law would ensure a Rawlsian result? Do we have wage and price controls, Nixon style? The odor of medieval Christianity is unmistakable. You can almost taste the sumptuary laws.

Or would there even be laws? In keeping with its derogation of mere formalist justice, Rawls' philosophy is profoundly antilegal. The veil-of-ignorance problem does not even pretend to any objective solution which can be reliably agreed by multiple disputing parties.

If we were ruled by the Rawlsian god, who solves the veil-of-ignorance problem himself and imposes the answer by sheer angelic force, that'd be just lovely. But in the kingdom of men, when different men have different definitions of "justice," they have a well-known tendency to fight over the result. Cosmic righteousness and consistent, objective law are not just different things. They are actively opposed. Arbitrary rules whose derivation is entirely historical, but whose result is absolutely clear - such as property titles - are often the only way to define a consensus that everyone can agree on peacefully.

In other words, Rawlsianism without the Rawlsian god is an almost perfect recipe for friction. Small wonder that in the 20th century, almost 100 million people were murdered in various attempts to construct egalitarian utopias. You can't fault Edward Bellamy for not knowing better, but you can fault Rawls - and I do.

The design of legal systems is an engineering problem. When we understate this problem, when we replace it with a religious or quasi-religious substitute, or when we seek levels of perfection that are only achievable through the intervention of benevolent spirits, we invite engineering disaster. Rawls himself was lucky enough to live his whole life in a country governed, if imperfectly, by something that still resembled the rule of law, in which "justice" still meant justice and not heavenly righteousness. But not all have been so fortunate.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 45 Comments

Cryptocalvinism, slightly tweaked

As usual, much excellent discussion has appeared on my last ultracalvinism post. Of course, readers should bear in mind that many of these commenters, especially the more flattering ones, are posting from my IP address. Perhaps they are outside in a van, snarfing the wireless.

Nonetheless, various persons have convinced me that the name is not quite right. I think the problem is the "ultra," which does not say enough and comes too close to a mere pejorative.

So on further reflection, I prefer cryptocalvinism, meaning two things: that, like Calvin and as a direct result of his intellectual heritage, cryptocalvinists are building the Kingdom of God on Earth, a political system that seeks to eradicate every form of unrighteousness; and that they prefer not to acknowledge this characterization of their mission and heritage.

One problem is that there's already an early Lutheran schism called Crypto-Calvinism. But then again, there's also something called Calvinism. Both these terms are customarily used to describe theological doctrines, such as predestination, grace, etc.

I find it fascinating to observe the fights people once had over Christian theology. Modern readers, especially nontheists such as myself, but I suspect also Christians, have trouble understanding the emotional investment in these details of the heavenly universe. Perhaps it's easiest to see them as mere tribal identifiers, the 16th-century version of Manchester United, Hamas or the Crips. This strikes me as disrespectful, though, and presentist. Readers with a better eye for history are invited to comment.

In any case, my interest (and I think that of most readers) is not in theology, but in culture, government and the evolution of ideas. Stalin for me remains part of the history of Marxism, although few points of Marx's doctrine can be identified in his actions. Ideas and languages have similar patterns of evolution, and it is not a misnomer that Old English and English share a name, though the two are nowhere near mutually intelligible.

For me, Calvinism is a system of government which aims at total righteousness. As Stefan Zweig describes it, in his wonderfully dramatic The Right To Heresy: Castellio Against Calvin,
A master of the art of organization, Calvin had been able to transform a whole city, a whole State, whose numerous burghers had hitherto been freemen, into a rigidly obedient machine; had been able to extirpate independence, and to lay an embargo on freedom of thought in favor of his own exclusive doctrine. The powers of the State were under his supreme control; as wax in his hands were the various authorities, Town Council and Consistory, university and law-courts, finance and morality, the written and the spoken and even the secretly whispered word.
Zweig describes the Consistory, Geneva's religious police:
The members of this moral Cheka thrust fingers into every pie. They felt the women's dresses to see whether their skirts were not too long or too short, whether these garments had superfluous frills or dangerous slits. The police carefully inspected the coiffure, to see that it did not tower too high; they counted the rings on the victim's fingers, and looked to see how many pairs of shoes were in the cupboard. From the bedroom they passed on to the kitchen table, to ascertain whether the prescribed diet was not being exceeded by a soup or a course of meat, or whether sweets and jams were hidden away somewhere.
And the burning of Servetus:
The chains attached to the stake were wound four or five times around it and around the poor wretch's wasted body. Between this and the chains, the executioner's assistants then inserted the book and the manuscript which Servetus had sent to Calvin under seal to ask Calvin's fraternal opinion upon it. Finally, in scorn, there was pressed upon the martyr's brow a crown of leaves impregnated with sulphur. The preliminaries were over. The executioner kindled the faggots and the murder began.

When the flames rose around him, Servetus uttered so dreadful a cry that many of the onlookers turned their eyes away from the pitiful sight. Soon the smoke interposed a veil in front of the writhing body, but the yells of agony grew louder and louder, until at length came an imploring scream: "Jesus, Son of the everlasting God, have pity on me!" The struggle with death lasted half an hour. Then the flames abated, the smoke dispersed, and attached to the blackened stake there remained, above the glowing embers, a black, sickening, charred mass, which had lost human semblance.
But Zweig (whose World Of Yesterday is simply required reading) is as fair as he can be:
Granted, dynamic variety was sacrificed to monotony, and joy to a mathematical correctness; but, in return, education was raised to a niche among the arts. Schools, universities and welfare institutions were beyond compare; the sciences were sedulously cultivated...
This sounds not unfamiliar at all. As does the first quote above. Unless it be "Punch" Sulzberger, no Protestant pope presides over this new Geneva of the postwar West; and yet the views of our professors, journalists and civil servants are, by historical standards, remarkably synoptic. (Of course, they could all just be right.)

But the other two quotes feel strange to us. No one is burning heretics these days. Or even racists - though, like Castellio, they do have some trouble remaining employed. We have no religious police who fondle women's dresses - although it is, of course, important to recycle.

And to the extent that we are religious, we almost exclusively follow the theology of Servetus - who has a good claim to be considered the first Unitarian. Most Christian denominations are still technically Trinitarian, but few make a big deal of it.

The details change. The details will always change. In Calvin's day, big hair offended God. Today, burning fossil fuels is bad for the Environment. Able logicians can argue either point. All kinds of evidence - biblical or scientific - can be deployed.

But as any Castellio can tell you, no Calvin will ever conclude that big hair pleases God, or that burning fossil fuels is good for the Environment. The evidence is sought and, obedient, it appears. Few even doubt it, none argue the converse. Calvinism speaks with one voice.

As this wonderful TIME article (which I've quoted before) reveals, 65 years ago the Federal Council of Churches, an organization of mainline Protestant sects with Calvinist roots, endorsed a system of world government strikingly similar to that supported by right-thinking persons, such as Bono, today.

TIME described this program as "super-protestant," and if modern readers are baffled by this usage, they can consult such works as Richard Gamble's The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation, which moves the clock back another 30 years, and is full of bloodcurdling Calvinism in a much more militant vein. This same strand reaches back to Beecher's Bibles, the Puritans, Cromwell and his republic of saints, and ultimately, of course, Calvin himself.

But somewhere in the last 60 years, it vanishes. The modern descendant of "super-protestantism" is obvious. Now and then, like Barack Obama, it will even claim to "take back Christianity." But such audacity is rare, and for the most part cryptocalvinism is simply "secular." As far as most people these days know, it was born adult in 1945, like Minerva from the head of Zeus. Or it had always existed all along. Or old versions of it are fabricated in previous generations, in the classic style of Whig history.

I see secularization as an extension of ecumenism, the process that gave us the Federal Council of Churches in the first place. In the 20th century, rationalism - the claim that one's beliefs are derived from reason and science - will always outcompete justification from revelation. Of course, a genuine freethinker has no reason to believe any such claim. But nor does a genuine Methodist have any reason to make nice with a genuine Presbyterian.

Another benefit of secularization is that cryptocalvinism, unlike "super-protestantism," can twist the First Amendment and the general humanist tradition of religious tolerance into a weapon to assault its enemies, the unreformed revelationist Christians. Before the 1950s, the nature of the US as a Christian nation was generally accepted. But when the Warren Court revised this tradition, it had the letter of the law (if not its historic meaning) on its side. Effectively, cryptocalvinism rose to power through Christianity, and then used that power to "pull up the ladder" - a classic Machiavellian maneuver.

Of course, all of these changes are adaptive, rather than conscious. There is no plot. The Illuminati are not involved. The miracle of evolution is that its results are indistinguishable from the product of an intelligent designer. Or, in this case, an intelligent conspirator.

One fascinating fact about the secularization mutation is that, like the human lactose-tolerance gene, it has arisen spontaneously more than once. The relationship between Calvinism and Rousseauvianism is remarkably like that between super-protestantism and liberal universalism. Rousseau, of course, hailed from Geneva, and Robespierre used Rousseau's nominally non-Christian message of universal love to establish a reign that made Calvin look like Coolidge. In fact, through Hegel, Rousseauvian idealistic nationalism was a significant contributor to the progressive Christianity of Woodrow Wilson, which of course begat "super-protestantism." Like languages, ideas tend to have family trees which are actually dags.

Since I've changed the name, let me repeat the four ideals of cryptocalvinism: Equality (the universal brotherhood of man), Peace (the futility of violence), Social Justice (the fair distribution of goods), and Community (the leadership of benevolent public servants).

Cryptocalvinists that believe these ideals are universal, that they can be derived from science and logic, that no reasonable and well-intentioned person can dispute them, and that their practice if applied correctly will lead to an ideal society.

I believe that they are arbitrary, that they are inherited from Protestant Christianity, that they serve primarily as a justification for the rule of the cryptocalvinist establishment, or Polygon, and that they are a major cause of corruption, tyranny, poverty and war.

We'll look at some of these disagreements in upcoming posts.

Monday, June 25, 2007 4 Comments


"As though Achilles had to think he lived
In some Olympian age, Schliemann put
Him down to the middle-to-late Bronze,
Jazz, rockets, acid, and the Internet

Can't be much of what the backhoe bites.
No, our best material was just Rome's:
This hydrate silicate, stable under
Vast compression, weak to tensile loads

But easily reinforced with steel bars.
Pure forms of any shape the eye could stand
Poured out like water, held up like rock.
Do watch your step on this scrap of land:

Our works were fine, but not always true,
And we doubt the ground they lift is even.
In our defense, we wished no more than you,
Some hardy things for our careless children."

Sunday, June 24, 2007 52 Comments

The ultracalvinist hypothesis: in perspective

The "ultracalvinist hypothesis" is the proposition that the present-day belief system commonly called "progressive," "multiculturalist," "universalist," "liberal," "politically correct," etc, is actually best considered as a sect of Christianity.

Specifically, ultracalvinism (which I have also described here and here) is the primary surviving descendant of the American mainline Protestant tradition, which has been the dominant belief system of the United States since its founding. It should be no surprise that it continues in this role, or that since the US's victory in the last planetary war it has spread worldwide.

Ultracalvinism is an ecumenical syncretism of the mainline, not traceable to any one sectarian label. But its historical roots are easy to track with the tag Unitarian. The meaning of this word has mutated considerably in the last 200 years, but at any point since the 1830s it is found attached to the most prestigious people and ideas in the US, and since 1945 in the world.

The trouble with "Unitarian" as a label is that (a) it exhibits this evolutionary blurring, and (b) it at least nominally refers to a specific metaphysical belief (anti-Trinitarianism). So I took the liberty of coining "ultracalvinist."

The "calvinist" half of this word refers to the historical chain of descent from John Calvin and his religious dictatorship in Geneva, passing through the English Puritans to the New England Unitarians, abolitionists and Transcendentalists, Progressives and Prohibitionists, super-protestants, hippies and secular theologians, and down to our own dear progressive multiculturalists.

The "ultra" half refers to my perception that, at least compared to other Christian sects, the beliefs of this faith are relatively aggressive and unusual.

In fact, they are so unusual that most people don't see ultracalvinism as Christian at all. For example, on the theological side, ultracalvinism is best known as Unitarian Universalism. (It's an interesting exercise to try to find any conflicts between UUism and "political correctness.") Ultracalvinists are perfectly free to be atheists, or believe in any God or gods - as long as they don't adhere to any revealed tradition, which would make them "fundamentalists." In general, ultracalvinists oppose revelation and consider their beliefs to be pure products of reason. And perhaps they are right in this - but I feel the claim should at least be investigated.

I am not a theist, so I don't care much for theology. Paranormal beliefs are not beliefs about the real world, and cannot directly motivate real-world action. As a result, they are usually of no adaptive significance, tend to mutate frequently, and are a dangerous basis for classification.

And when we look at the real-world beliefs of ultracalvinists, we see that ultracalvinism is anything but content-free. By my count, the ultracalvinist creed has four main points:

First, ultracalvinists believe in the universal brotherhood of man. As an Ideal (an undefined universal) this might be called Equality. ("All men and women are born equal.") If we wanted to attach an "ism" to this, we could call it fraternalism.

Second, ultracalvinists believe in the futility of violence. The corresponding ideal is of course Peace. ("Violence only causes more violence.") This is well-known as pacifism.

Third, ultracalvinists believe in the fair distribution of goods. The ideal is Social Justice, which is a fine name as long as we remember that it has nothing to do with justice in the dictionary sense of the word, that is, the accurate application of the law. ("From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.") To avoid hot-button words, we will ride on a name and call this belief Rawlsianism.

Fourth, ultracalvinists believe in the managed society. The ideal is Community, and a community by definition is led by benevolent experts, or public servants. ("Public servants should be professional and socially responsible.") After their counterparts east of the Himalaya, we can call this belief mandarism.

Now, where do these beliefs come from? What is their origin and etiology? Why do so many of us in 2007 believe in these particular concepts? Were they invented in 1967? Or 1907? Or 1607? Or what?

Richard Dawkins has referred to his beliefs, which certainly include the four points above, as Einsteinian religion. Dawkins' description of this creed is poetic and extremely reminiscent of Emerson's Divinity School Address. Has he never heard of Transcendentalism? Is he unaware that Emerson was a Unitarian minister?

Einstein certainly believed in the four points as well. Did he invent them during his annus mirabilis? Did they arrive in a stroke of light along with Brownian motion, special relativity and the photoelectric effect? Probably not, because the four points also feature very prominently in a little book called Looking Backward, which appeared in 1888 and sold about a bazillion copies. The author of this novel was not a Hindu. His readers were not Zoroastrians. The political movement Bellamy helped spawn did not put its faith in Allah. And nor were any of these folks atheists, which was still quite a dirty word at the time.

In fact, the four points are very common and easily recognizable tenets of Protestant Christianity, specifically in its Calvinist or Puritan strain. You can find them all over the place in the New Testament, and any subject of Oliver Cromwell's saintly republic would have recognized them instantly. Rawlsianism is definitely the last of the four to develop, but even it is very common in the 17th century, when its adherents were known as Diggers - a name that, not surprisingly, was later reused. Ultracalvinism fits quite neatly in the English Dissenter and low church tradition. (Note the blatant POV of the latter page, with loaded words like "reform," a good indication that Wikipedians incline to ultracalvinism.)

So the proposition that "Einsteinian religion" is some kind of 20th-century novelty is at least as much of an offense to Occam's razor as any Flying Spaghetti Monster. It's like saying that the modern inhabitants of France are not in fact the French, because sometime in the Middle Ages the French died out and were replaced by immigrants, who coincidentally happened to also speak Old French.

If the above is an accurate analysis, what we have here is very interesting. Because it is a modern, thriving, and remarkably well-camouflaged, example of crypto-Christianity.

Ultracalvinism's camouflage mechanism is easy to understand. If you are an ultracalvinist, you must dispute the claim that the four points are actually Christian, because you believe in them, and you believe they are justified by reason rather than faith. Therefore they are universal and no one can doubt them, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew.

If you are not an ultracalvinist, you are probably some other kind of Christian, presumably one who still believes in God, the Bible as revelation, non-universal salvation, etc. Therefore you see ultracalvinism just as Catholics once saw Protestants, or Trinitarians saw Unitarians - as not Christians at all. So the result is the same. The ultracalvinist cloak of invisibility is only at risk from freethinking atheists, such as myself - a tiny and mostly irrelevant population.

The question is: why? How did we fall for this? How did we enable an old, well-known strain of Christianity to mutate and take over our minds, just by discarding a few bits of theological doctrine and describing itself as "secular"? (As La Wik puts it: "Despite occasional confusion, secularity is not synonymous with atheism." Indeed.)

In other words, we have to look at the adaptive landscape of ultracalvinism. What are the adaptive advantages of crypto-Christianity? Why did those Unitarians, or even "scientific socialists," who downplayed their Christian roots, outcompete their peers?

Well, I think it's pretty obvious, really. The combination of electoral democracy and "separation of church and state" is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity.

As I've said before, separation of church and state is a narrow-spectrum antibiotic. What you really need is separation of information and security. If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it's a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer. Game over, you lose, and it serves you right for vaccinating against a nonfunctional surface protein.

We can see this very easily with another modern crypto-Christian movement: intelligent design. Supporters of intelligent design claim it is not Christianity at all. Rather, it is good science, derived like all science from pure reason, and the fact that it seems to resemble the Bible is (a) a coincidence and (b) evidence for how true the Bible is, after all. Therefore, like all good science, it should be taught to innocent young people.

I wouldn't want my children to go to a school where they learned intelligent design. At least not if they learned it as simply reason and reality. But I also wouldn't want my children to go to a school where they learned ultracalvinism as reason and reality.

Unfortunately, the latter is a lot harder to avoid.

Saturday, June 23, 2007 33 Comments

Why I am not an anti-Semite

(This is the first in a series of "why I am not" posts, with homage to Bertrand Russell. My plan is to run the political spectrum outside-in. Next: why I am not an anarchist.)

I thought I'd start with this because vacation interrupted me in the middle of an interesting discussion with an an anonymous anti-Semitic commenter.

(I'm not sure if Anon would embrace this adjective, but I am using it in the same sense as, say, "anti-American," which seems perfectly reasonable to me. While I admire Murray Rothbard's definition of an anti-Semite as anyone who proposes legal disabilities against Jews, by this definition the creed is basically extinct. So it strikes me as sensible to use the adjective for anyone with negative views on Jews as a whole.)

More specifically, the commenter is a fan of Kevin MacDonald. My views on MacDonald roughly track those of John Derbyshire. (MacDonald's response to Derbyshire's essay is here.)

There are many bad reasons not to be an anti-Semite. For example, anti-Semitism is unfashionable. If you want to be fashionable, don't be an anti-Semite. Obviously this is not a concern here at UR.

My father is Jewish, at least racially. This does not make me Jewish, but surely it makes me suspect, at least to some anti-Semites. But if this was my best reason for not being anti-Semitic, surely it would tend to confirm rather than refute MacDonald's theories. If your father is Catholic, are you not allowed to be an anti-Catholic?

In fact, anti-Semitism MacDonald style is probably the most courageous political belief anyone can hold in 2007 - at least if you live anywhere west of Gaza City. This does not make it right, but it certainly does not give anyone who believes in "diversity" and "the environment" any right to sneer. I admire conviction, I despise cant. Anti-Semitism was cant in Munich in 1936, or in 1886 for that matter. It is cant in Tehran today. In California in 2007, it can be nothing but conviction.

Anon's argument specifically was that, in my classification of American castes and conflicts, and my discussion of the belief system of the ruling Brahmin caste, I neglected Jewish influence. Specifically, as per MacDonald, I neglected the importance of Jewish intellectuals in the transition of the American establishment from 1920s style "super-protestantism" to postwar secularism and multiculturalism.

Basically, the reason I neglected this is that I don't see it. But the point is certainly debatable - so let's debate it. The basic question is whether, as I argue, multiculturalism is best understood as a simple development of mainline Protestantism, or whether, as Anonymous believes, it should be seen as a Jewish-Protestant syncretism.

If we use the five tests of belief system classification to ask this question, we get a very interesting result. We have a clear positive on one tests: the cladistic (many multiculturalists come from a Jewish background). We have a clear negative on the nominalist and typological methods (multiculturalism does not claim to be Jewish, and it's pretty hard to get from massacreeing the Midianites to supporting open borders).

We have what I believe is a false positive on the morphological test. The problem is that not only does Christianity have ancient Jewish roots, but the Puritans of Cromwell's era for some reason developed an Old Testament fetish and decided they were Israelites, which is why boys are still named "Jacob" or "Ezra."

What was this reason? Well, Anon argues that this reflects actual Jewish influence. He points to the fact that Cromwell rescinded the expulsion of Jews from England. But it is a little difficult to figure out how this could possibly have been the result of Jewish scheming. How can you scheme when you're not there? The Japanese, also, have a bizarre fascination with the Jews, and they're not even Christian. Occam's razor tells me the Jewish odyssey is just a plain good story, especially if you feel persecuted. (The Christian Identity movement, which is actually anti-Semitic itself, is still pushing this one.)

If we factor out "Hebraic-Puritanism," the only significant morphological resemblance between Judaism and multiculturalism is the absence of an afterlife. Significant? Perhaps. But, as I've pointed out, mainline Protestants have been shedding theological baggage in a frenzy of streamlining for the last 200 years. Emerson had already discarded hell in the 1830s. Rumors that he was born Ralph Waldo Emerstein are, as far as I can discern, unsubstantiated.

We are left with the adaptive test. This, of course, is MacDonald's favorite.

But MacDonald uses it in a very bizarre way. It's not just that he believes in group selection - he believes in group action. I believe in human action. A group is not a person.

It is perfectly possible that Germans, Sioux or Irishmen are full of Khaldunian asabiya and act collectively in ways that favor Germans, Sioux or Irishmen. But in order for this to work, you need a cohesive belief system that rewards altruism on behalf of the group, and discourages "defecting" actions that would otherwise favor the individual. You need, in other words, an actual movement of ethnic nationalism.

Of course "Judaism" has this in theory. The whole Torah is a story of pure asabiya. The Jews get their asses kicked when they're divided. They kick ass when they're together.

But just as Christianity is not the Bible, Judaism is not the Torah. It is an evolving system like any other. Is there Jewish ethnic nationalism in the 20th century? There certainly is. But it is found among Zionists, Hasidim, etc, and certainly not among the Reform and socialist Jews who in the middle of the century became part of the American elite. For example, Reform Judaism is almost nonexistent in Israel.

I think there is a Jewish influence in ultracalvinism. But I think it is exactly the opposite of what MacDonald's theory suggests. What we're seeing is not syncretism - it is assimilation.

Basically, the Jews (like my ancestors) who came to the US were people who wanted to get ahead - as individuals. They were done with the ghetto and the shtetl. They wanted money and power. Doesn't everyone?

It was only natural, therefore, that they would be drawn to the social patterns of the most prestigious class in their new country - the mainline "super-Protestants." Like most converts, they adopted the most fashionable views of the Brahmin elite, which was already well down the road toward secularization and Unitarianism in the modern sense of the word. Indeed, for the earlier-arriving and (much as I hate to admit it, since my ancestors spoke "jargon") more cultured German Jews, much of this process had already happened in Europe. Reform Judaism is pretty much Protestantism in all but name, as is of course "scientific" Marxist socialism.

Whereas the Brahmins had no reason at all to adopt Jewish ways of thought. Nor do I see any way in which they did. The assimilation was entirely in the other direction. The daughters of the Mayflower did not learn Yiddish.

There is certainly no denying that the injection of smart Jews into the Brahmin caste made it all the more successful, which presumably has contributed to the incredible arrogance with which it bestrides the world today. But I simply do not see the Jewish asabiya, which is why I will continue to lay the whole trip on the Calvinists.

Now, Anonymous has an advantage in that he has actually read MacDonald's books, as opposed to just a couple of essays, and he is surely right to note that MacDonald has an enormous mass of "corroborating evidence."

Because all historians do. A historian is not a mere collator of facts - he or she is creating an interpretation, much like a trial lawyer. The goal of history is to paint a picture of the past. The test, for any reader, is simply whether you find that picture convincing. Volume of evidence has not much to do with it.

In fact, it is often a contrary indicator, because a lawyer with a weak case often feels the temptation to try to inundate the jury with a vast mass of detail. The strategy is essentially to demand that the reader either agree, or do the work of assembling the same detail into a counter-narrative. The canonical example is Johnnie Cochran's great gambit, "if the gloves don't fit, you must acquit," although you often see the same strategy in Holocaust revisionists, such as Germar Rudolf. (MacDonald does not claim to be a Holocaust revisionist, and I am not accusing him of being one.)

Why didn't the gloves fit? Why weren't the gas-chamber walls stained blue? The only possible answer is "who the hell knows." There are all sorts of chemical and physical processes that can cause leather to shrink, Prussian blue to decay, etc, etc. There is no evidence, there can be no evidence, for any particular one of them. Forcing your opponent to prove a negative is not a legitimate rhetorical tactic.

As members of the jury, we have to evaluate the totality of the evidence on both sides. We have to look at both pictures. We have no time machines and we cannot expect perfection.

My view is that the pictures that show OJ as the killer, and the Holocaust as a German war crime, are much more convincing than the pictures that show OJ being framed by the LAPD, and the Holocaust as Allied propaganda. And similarly, I think the history of the American intellectual elite in the 20th century is much more a picture of Jewish assimilation than Jewish infiltration.

But of course, I am perfectly ready to be proven wrong on any of these issues. My patience is not unlimited, but one of the trials of having unpopular opinions is that you find it difficult to condemn others for their own unpopular opinions. (I actually view this as a benefit, rather than a trial, but the Jew in me feels free to complain about it anyway.)

Friday, June 22, 2007 14 Comments

Some objections to ultracalvinism

If by any chance you read this blog just for the articles, it's my duty to inform you that you are missing out on most of the fun. UR may not be the smartest blog on the net, but it certainly has the smartest commenters. This is probably just because it's new, and the yahoos haven't arrived yet. But it remains wondrous to me.

(At some point I may slacken the flow of verbiage so that old discussions stay fresh longer. I feel it's important, since UR is a new blog, to maintain a pretty brutal tempo, so that the site doesn't seem inviting to the wrong kind of reader. Hopefully at some point there will be a critical mass of disgruntled, speed-reading malcontents who can discipline their own ranks.)

There were a couple of comments on my original ultracalvinism post that I didn't get a chance to respond to. Rather than posting to a long-dead thread, I thought I'd bring them out here.

First, commenter extraordinaire Michael, who regularly exposes the superficial threads of my flimsy autodidactic pseudoerudition.

Michael points out that, given that most of us think of the essence of Calvinism as predestination (the doctrine that God, who knows all things, knows which of us will or will not be saved), describing progressive-idealists (who are universalists in the strict Christian sense, ie, they believe we are all saved) as "ultracalvinist" is pretty strange.

And indeed I am bending the usual meaning a little here. The reason I think I can get away with this is simple: if you define Calvinism in Michael's way, Calvinism is pretty much as dead as Mithraism.

Is there really anyone in the world in 2007 who is seriously concerned with the Synod of Dort? Who has any strong opinions at all on the subjects of unconditional election, total depravity, the perseverance of the saints, limited atonement, or irresistible grace - the "Five Points" of orthodox Calvinism?

Well, actually, they do have opinions about one of these: irresistible grace. This is the general path of doctrinal evolution: unused organs atrophy, and the whole machine becomes stripped down, like white cave-fish that shed their eyes. Jefferson dumped the Trinity, Emerson relieved us of Hell, and so on down to Harvey Cox and his "secular theology." (If you think "secular" is synonymous with "atheistic," the full horror of the situation is not yet clear to you.)

When Michael - along with, admittedly, most educated people - equates Calvinism with predestination (aka unconditional election), he is applying what in an older post I called a nominalist classification strategy. That is, he is taking Calvinist theology at face value. Calvinism defines itself as the Five Points, so why shouldn't we respect this?

Here's why: because the result that the nominalist approach produces is that a replicating prototype of considerable political and cultural significance, with known pathological tendencies, has simply disappeared. It has become extinct. There is no need at all to worry about it. These are not the droids you're looking for.

If we apply either the morphological or cladistic strategies, however, we get a very different result. The replicator at once pops back into view. It has not disappeared at all - it just mutated into Unitarianism (that is, non-universalist Unitarianism, now itself extinct), which begat Transcendentalism, which begat Unionism, Progressivism and the ecumenical movement, which became the "super-protestant" Establishment so derided by the late great flower children, who conquered it and gave us multiculturalism, "diversity," etc.

Not an unusual turn of events at all. Belief systems and languages evolve in much the same ways, and if you look at the historical gyrations of, say, English, the evolution from Calvinism to ultracalvinism seems positively straightforward and sedate.

And when we use the adaptive method, the result is even more disturbing.

First, of course, this trick of dropping off the radar screen is very suspicious. In fact, as I pointed out in my last post, ultracalvinism has extremely compelling reasons for not wanting to be known as either Christian or Protestant, because its patterns of intolerance are extremely ugly and familiar to anyone who can swallow any such taxonomy. (Peter Hitchens has called its Limey equivalent "the most intolerant faith to dominate Britain since the Reformation.") If there was ever a general understanding that "political correctness" is merely a case of common-or-garden religious intolerance, its apologists would find their jocular habit of excusing it as a kind of intellectual rowdiness, boys-will-be-boys and so on, to no longer roll so smoothly off their tongues, and its foes would find themselves infinitely better-armed.

But worst, the adaptive method does not identify predestination as the salient invariant of Calvinism. Nor does it focus on total depravity or even irresistible grace.

Instead, it notes that a shared feature of all prototypes in this line of descent, from Calvin to Emerson to Hillary Clinton, from Geneva to Chautauqua to the Haight-Ashbury, has been their assiduous insistence on building God's kingdom on Earth.

Of course this is what Erich Voegelin called "immanentizing the eschaton." Doctrinally, it originates in a postmillennial interpretation of the Book of Revelation. If you disagree with this interpretation, as many do, you might say (as Michael has) that this represents a rejection of Christianity in favor of gnosticism.

But again, this is nominalism. And it is also focusing, as I have said many times, on metaphysical beliefs. By definition metaphysical beliefs cannot be directly adaptive, that is, they cannot by themselves create an incentive to alter the real world in ways that improve the belief system's ability to transmit itself.

Whereas building God's kingdom on earth is certainly a physical action, and the belief that it is morally imperative is certainly a physical belief. And is it adaptive? Can Kobe drive the lane? Did Zeppelin rock? Does the Pope... etc.

So when we identify progressive secularism as one thing and Protestant Christianity as another, we have basically just walked up to one of the most dangerous intellectual pathogens in Western history, said "how ya doin," invited it to a wild hot-tub party and promised to deactivate our immune system for the evening. Is this safe epistemology? I think not.

There was another comment in the thread I wanted to respond to, but I'm out of time for today. I'll try and get to it tomorrow.

Thursday, June 21, 2007 43 Comments

Why conservatives never quite catch the boat

In a sad effort to boost my sagging stats (only twelve people visited UR last week - seven of them were commenters, and the other five were me), I have decided to begin attacking other bloggers. I thought I'd start with one of the wisest and most perceptive conservatives around, Lawrence Auster, and one of his excellent frequent correspondents, "Thucydides."

Thucydides writes in, apropos of nothing (the sheer brainpower in Auster's salon is enough to carbonize an ox, especially if the ox is pro-immigration):

It occurs to me that one reason most liberals refuse to recognize the problems of illegal or excessive legal immigration, even though some of the effects, for example, driving down wages for the lowest earners, should attract their concern, is that their utopianism prevents them from acknowledging that we have a culture worth preserving. Their dreams are of some universal rationalist civilization in which human difference will evanesce, by comparison to which our existing culture seems lacking. They gain an elitist self satisfaction on the cheap by positioning themselves as critics of what actually exists; it is unjust, discriminatory, racist, etc. The minute they would acknowledge that we do have a culture that, whatever its flaws, compares favorably to most others in the world, that we do have things to be thankful for, that we have reason for gratitude, they are out of business as superior critics and morally worthy people who imagine a better world. Since their whole sense of identity is bound up in this posture, they cannot for a minute think of abandoning it, even when it clashes with their other goals.

Being unable to acknowledge that there is anything worth preserving about our culture, their universalism takes complete control. Since all people are the same in all places and times, regardless of their particular historic inheritances, any sort of division or border seems in need of rational justification, and they, given their assumptions, cannot find one.

Auster replies:

Very well put. They cannot ever allow themselves to be in the position of defending our particular culture, because then they would not be superior to all cultures.
In my opinion, it's not well put at all. Its logic is almost right, but it's not quite right.

Who, for example, is "we"? What is "our culture"? Why should subjects of a particular political entity have anything particular in common? What is the difference between this set and the set, say, of all the people whose names start with the letter A, or the set of all people with brown hair?

Not that I am a universalist (a word I like a lot, along with Brahmin, idealist, progressive-idealist, ultracalvinist, or any other names I may invent, or others may submit, in UR's ongoing name-that-death-star contest, whose prize is as usual a bottle of Laphroaig; the referent is the same thing Auster means when he says "liberal," a word I dislike intensely).

Au contraire. I recognize that the section of North America ruled by the government in Washington, DC, is very different both in geography and population from, say, the section of West Africa ruled by the government in Abuja. In fact I feel as if I'd have a great deal of trouble assimilating into any of the many cultures in Nigeria, and I see no reason to assume the converse would be any different.

But the US, too, has many cultures. What do Thucydides and Auster even mean by "culture?" I am really not sure. I prefer to think of America's major social divisions as castes; here is my taxonomy, here is my analysis of the conflicts.

Surely, if one attempts to construct some description which combines all these castes - Brahmin (liberal, Democrat), Dalit (ghetto, Democrat), Helot (laborer, Democrat), Optimate (old-school aristo, Republican), and Vaisya (middle American, Republican) - you get mixed nuts with maraschino cherries and calamari. If this is somehow a single "culture," a description I doubt can be defended with any conceivable definition of the word, its main common denominators are McDonalds, "public" schools and CNN. Pound, Hamsun and Celine, come back, we miss you, all is forgiven.

In fact, when you look at the actual issue Thucydides is concerned about, but use my framework rather than his, you see (IMHO) a very clear and intelligible pattern.

The Brahmins, universalists, ultracalvinists, etc, do not hate "our culture" at all. They have a very distinct culture of their own - with a family tree that spends a remarkable amount of time in Massachusetts, upstate New York, etc, etc. (In Charles Royster's excellent and only mildly neo-Unionist picture of the Civil War, The Destructive War, he mentions a foreign traveler in 1864 who asked some random American to explain the war. "It's the conquest of America by Massachusetts," was the answer. Massachusetts, of course, later went on to conquer first Europe and then the entire planet, the views of whose elites as of 2007 bear a surprisingly coincidental resemblance to those held at Harvard in 1945. But I digress.)

No, the Brahmins love their own Brahmin culture. And they hate the culture of their enemies, the Optimates and Vaisyas. I mean, where does a bear shit? Not in the Vatican, that's for sure.

As for Brahmin feelings on the Dalits and Helots, opinions are more complex. Orthodox ultracalvinists idolize Dalits and Helots (as this hilarious study reveals), but most of them do not know any Dalits, and converse with Helots only occasionally and in their professional capacity. They certainly do not want to live in the same neighborhoods as Dalits - although some daring ultra-Brahmin youth do use this as a social selection device, especially with Dalits of the Hispanic variety, who for some reason are less violent. (The principle is much the same as that which leads young Yanomamo warriors to torture themselves with bullet ants; the decision to accept the various discomforts of living in a Dalit neighborhood is the rite of initiation into an exclusive social circle. Though it also of course tends to be cheaper, allowing our "hipster" to attend more assiduously to his various unproductive pursuits.)

But if Brahmins needed to work up a lather of hate against Dalits and Helots, they probably could. However, this is not presently useful. It is quite the contrary. And so instead we see a lather of love. Again, we are not talking about the Pope doing his business in the woods, here.

The Dalit and Helot castes are wonderful allies for the Brahmins. First, they provide, of course, votes. If we counted just B versus OV votes, the OVs would win in a walkover. As a very rough proxy, the last US president to win the white vote was Lyndon Johnson.

Almost if not quite as important, the high crime rates of both Dalits and Helots (if illegal immigration isn't a crime, what is?) make them such useful allies. These entire castes can be deployed as crude but effective demo-armies in the grand old leftist style.

Here, for example, is a major presidential candidate deploying them - rhetorically, at least - as a direct threat in order to extract money. ("It would be really nice if all riots would be quiet riots," and it would be really nice if you could put your hands on your head and accompany me to the nearest ATM.) In fact, the only reason the riots are quiet (that is, pretty much nonexistent), is that sometime around 1975, the black man started to get a little tired of being used as the white man's pawn - if I may indulge in a little blast of retro-rhetoric.

Therefore, what is going on is simple. Brahmins don't really believe all cultures are equal. They believe their culture is superior, and they have a system of thought ("multiculturalism") that contradicts all other systems of thought on the planet, past and present. Again, the Pope and the bear, etc. All cultures are brutal, aggressive predators, and all are positively orgasmic, Highlander style, at the prospect of eliminating any of their competitors. Certainly the Brahmin culture, which as I've described is the current heir to the American and Western European mainline Protestant tradition, is the leading contender and going strong.

Ultracalvinism, this modern descendant of the Puritans, is an aggressive cultural predator that has evolved a cool new trick. It likes to partially reanimate or reinvent the corpses of its smaller and more-decayed victims, as "Aztlan" reinvented the Aztecs, "Kwanzaa" the Ashanti or "Ossian" the Celts, and pretend they're real. Since there is actually no prospect at all of any actual revival of the Aztec, Ashanti or Celtic cultures, this is safe, and it demonstrates ultracalvinism's so-called "tolerance." Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly!

And ultracalvinism is also "tolerant" to branches of other religions which it has in fact taken over, such as Reform Judaism or "moderate" Islam. In fact, no "moderate" of any modern faith could find any conceivable reason to raise his voice in any conversation with any randomly selected Unitarian, which while it may not be entirely conclusive is pretty good evidence that they are actually devotees of the same religion. It's the old zombie manuever.

So we end up with a very simple and quite mundane (exit the Pope, pursued by the bear) reason why the Brahmins are trying to augment the US's Helot population: everyone always needs more allies. (Especially when your stagnant empire is crumbling.)

Of course this is not a conscious thought. But it doesn't need to be a conscious thought. It just needs to be adaptively successful. In other words, it just needs to work. And boy, does it.

So, again, I'd say Thucydides is not quite right. Perhaps he agrees with this logic, perhaps he doesn't (if he finds this post he's welcome to comment). But it is certainly not what he said. And "not quite right" may be almost right, but that "not quite" is the difference between the ventilation shaft and the ventral asteroid plate.

Which may not matter at all if you just want to fire up a mob. But dissidents in the West today cannot win by firing up a mob. They can only win by convincing young smart people, who will otherwise be convinced by the numerous extremely convincing official sources of information that are constantly competing for access to their tender eyes and ears.

Conservatives: if Washington could be conquered by peasants with pitchforks, don't you think it would have happened by now? Do you think there are more peasants with pitchforks, or fewer, than there were ten years ago? Do you have any strategy for reversing this trend? If not, aren't you just wasting time and annoying the pig?

In my opinion, it is not Larry Auster's words that we can learn from - although those words are often remarkably cogent and well-informed. It is his actions. He may think in terms of a strain of American nationalism that hasn't been effective since Robert Taft was a little boy, but his blog tells a different story. Compare it to National Review's Corner someday, and you'll see the difference. Auster's random emailers (he hand-moderates everything, and only accepts comments via email) are much smarter and better-informed than most of NRO's pros.

Auster is collecting the smartest people around. So why does he keep pursuing rhetorical strategies that appear calculated only to rally people who already support his movement - rather than strategies designed to compete with and defeat ultracalvinism's own reproductive system, capturing the cream of their youth and turning them to the dark side of the Force? Excuse me, I meant away from the dark side, of course.

If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that "liberalism" is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc, etc, etc, is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It's a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines. (I will say more about this in a bit.)

Of course, if you are a Christian, you don't believe these features are superficial. But doesn't that make a nice trap? Neither side can call a spade a spade. The ultracalvinists need to hide the fact that they are spades, and the conservatives, since they believe that only conservative spades are true spades, refuse to bestow upon their enemies the prized status of spadefulness.

Whereas if you can make it past this trap, you are rewarded with an enormous store of clear and easy-to-apply metaphors for religious persecution, an entirely quotidian and extremely common phenomenon which everyone understands.

For example, if ultracalvinists are Christians, "political correctness" is religious orthodoxy. Hm, where have we seen this before? Perhaps in Massachusetts? I mean, is it any surprise that Ivy League schools are acting, in effect, as ultracalvinist seminaries? Isn't that exactly what they were founded as?

And what are "multiculturalism" and "diversity" but religious tests for office? Hm, I don't know anything of the sort in history. Maybe in Nepal? Nah.

In fact, religious conservatives, whose Christianity is generally of the non-mainline sort, although not every single one of them is an actual practicing snake-handler, have basically taken over the traditional role of Catholics in the British political system.

For example, Brahmins are all in a tizzy that the Justice Department under Bush has hired eight lawyers from conservative Christian law schools (Ave Maria and Regent). Of course, in the same period, it hired sixty-three from Harvard and Yale, but once the camel's nose is in the tent, etc. It invites contamination. You can't just let your institutions be captured like that, and the New York Times is very wise to object. I mean, they should know, shouldn't they?

And this is why conservatives never quite catch the boat. They do not want to admit that what they are fighting is, in fact, a very old religious war, in which their side holds and has always held the losing hand. Conservatives cannot admit that conservatism is futile, because then they'd have nothing to do. No man will willingly abolish his own occupation.

So conservative political activists, too, do good service as their enemies' pawns. Because the only winning political strategies I can imagine for conservatives, at least in the near term, involve things like boycotting elections. Since conservatives believe in "America" and in democracy, they will never do this. Therefore, they lose, and they will continue to lose.

This castrated pseudo-opposition is of enormous use to the ultracalvinist blue government. It disguises the essentially one-party nature of the Polygon, the vast majority of whose servants are Democrats, and whose bizarre idea of apolitical or "post-partisan" government would otherwise not withstand two chimpanzee-seconds of actual mental cogitation.

Furthermore, the conservative movement is remarkably effective as a scare puppet. The American political system consistently promotes the most idiotic, backward and ridiculous "conservatives" it can find. Every year, mainstream American conservatives are stupider, more venal, and more crass. The gradient from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Albert Jay Nock to Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz, let alone to Michael Savage or Ann Coulter, is simply pathetic. Again, this is not somebody's "plot," it is not a conscious design, it is an adaptive pattern whose beneficiary is quite obvious.

Stupid conservative foreign policies are wonderfully useful as well. The war in Iraq has been the greatest boon to the Polygon since - well, since the war in Vietnam, in fact. Gee, isn't it funny how that works?

There is no exit strategy for conservatives which does not involve (a) disassociating themselves completely from the failed Republican Party, and (b) successfully communicating with young Brahmins who are willing to question the tenets of the rapidly-ossifying ultracalvinist cult and the rule of the vast, moribund Brezhnevite institutions which sustain and transmit it.

Moreover, any such conversation has to involve you converting them, rather than them converting you - something by no means guaranteed with your average "South Park conservative." And no, you are not going to convince them to handle snakes or speak in tongues. Focus on the basic fact that while they may think they're rebels, they're actually loyal servants of a theocratic one-party state, and you might even get somewhere.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 6 Comments


The "Magic Johnson," or triple-double,
invented by my officemate Mark Fox,
is the monster-edged edge of the map.
Crabs with wings, aneurysms, strokes.

But for the last phase of a deliverable!
Blood-brothers branded in our black ulcers,
we will ship this bitch. Then, we'll quit.
Insolent and lazy, like beaten soldiers,

for months and months... who here hasn't used
his butt as a bed, his right hand as a pillow?
A slow learner, I was thirty and some change
before I ordered my first single espresso.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 34 Comments

Friction in theory and practice

In my first post I defined "violence" as the combination of conflict and uncertainty.

This was a mistake. Not that the analysis was wrong, but the practice of redefining words like "violence," with their inalienable emotional connotations, is rhetorically foul. It makes me think of the egregious George Lakoff, who wrote a whole book to define "freedom" as everything that is sweet and good and true, at least in George Lakoff's opinion. And then of course there's Barack Obama. And so on.

So let me work back over this idea, as bloggers always must (who reads archives, anyway? A blog is not a book), and use a different word: friction.

(I figure "friction" is fair game, because I don't think anyone has any strong feelings good or bad about friction in the abstract. It is true that many of us have suffered from friction - for example, through chafing. On the other hand, it makes our brakes work and keeps us from falling on our asses, and the prospect of eradicating it from the earth seems both improbable and unappealing. Therefore we can, I hope, regard it with some small calm.)

Conflict exists whenever two men (or women) want the same thing, but only one can have it. Economists call this a scarce resource. Scarce resources are everywhere. My car, for example, is a scarce resource.

Uncertainty exists whenever it is difficult to predict the outcome of a conflict. For example, you might want my car. (This is only because you haven't seen it.) But it has an ignition lock and I have the title, and the full military power of the United States is on my side. (This is only because it doesn't know me.) So it's easy for both of us to predict that your chance of obtaining my car without my consent is quite small.

But if we lived in, say, Gaza City, things might be different. For example, suppose you were an adherent of the People's Front of Gaza, an extremist terrorist gang, whereas I paid dues only to the peaceful, moderate and democratic Gazan Popular Front. If the former rose up and drove the latter into the sea, it's certainly possible that there might be someone you could speak to on the subject of "my" car.

And it's quite possible that I would feel the need to accept this fait accompli. In which case, although there was friction between the PFG and the GPF, there is none between us. The car is now yours, as once it was mine. Nothing says we can't be perfectly civil about it.

However, it's also possible that I might have a cousin - or two - in the PFG. And if any such uncertainty exists, the result is friction: we both expend effort toward resolving the conflict in our respective directions. We may expend some ammunition as well. Or we may just expend time, vocal cords, bribes, and innumerable cups of tea. In any case, this labor is unproductive by any conceivable definition of productivity.

In theory, it's important to distinguish between uncertainty, which is incalculable risk, and probability, which is calculable. For example, if both of us could agree on a probability of the car's eventual disposition - let's say 70% for me, 30% for you - we'd find it easy to compromise. 30% of a car is not so useful, but we could agree to have it appraised and I could give you 30% of the market price. (Of course, this would be a contribution to the victorious people of Gaza, not a mere bribe, kickback or shakedown.)

But calculable probabilities are pretty rare in practice. (Prediction markets can help with this, but bear in mind that a market price is just an average opinion, not a magic 8-ball. Nonetheless, I always wonder why some brave soul hasn't set up prediction markets for judicial decisions.)

In a frictional conflict, both sides may estimate a probability. But since uncertainty exists, there is no reason for their calculations to match, and so no reason for their respective estimates of success to sum to 100%. It's only human nature to overstate one's own chances. And in conflicts between organizations - such as states, companies, or even People's Fronts - it is almost inevitable. So the joint expected value can be, and typically is, 150%, 180%, etc. Leaving a lot of room for noble sacrifice.

Note that this is a very different theory of "violence" than the prevailing progressive-idealist or ultracalvinist view, which of course is basically Christian, and attributes all violence and other bad behavior to the fact that not everyone is Christian enough. Of course our ultracalvinists generally do not put it this way, being not Christians but crypto-Christians.

But "violence" in the philosophy of the New York Times, Obama, Lakoff and the like seems to always be the result of one of three things: (a) violations of the Golden Rule, ie the "cycle of violence" theory; (b) justified violence, a natural response to poverty etc, as in Obama's Quiet Riot Theory ("I bring not peace, but a sword"); and (c) any other psychological aberrations, inexplicable failures to be enlightened, and other forms of medieval ignorance, all of which would vanish at once if we could just get an NPR station in Gaza City.

The point of the friction model is that friction is rational. Therefore, it cannot be eradicated by missionaries, no matter how many Bibles they have discarded. In terms of its intellectual parentage - or, as doubters may prefer, pathology - the frictional model of violence is best seen as a case of Misesian praxeology, falling in Rothbard's categories B2b-c, C and D (basically, politics, war and game theory).

(It's important to note that praxeology does not assume "rationality" in the dumbed-down Homo oeconomicus form sometimes peddled by university economists. It does not attempt to construct any objective definition of utility. It defines subjective rational preference as the consequence of any intentional act. Action reveals a preferred state of the world. For example, to a Misesian, a suicide bomber in a Starbucks can be rational, if the fact that he presses his little red button is the result of the fact that he wants to turn a world that contains a man in a cafe, into one that contains a mess of ball bearings, blood and charred Frappucinos. However, if he has Down's syndrome and is whacked out on magic mushrooms, and has no idea what will be the result of pressing the button or why he should care, he is not rational. Nonrational acts certainly cause problems - there will always be an undiagnosed schizophrenic or two, lurking behind you in the subway. But most suicide bombers, I believe, are of the former variety.)

In case all this theory is too dry, let's look at some actual forms that friction takes in the real world today. As Clausewitz for one observed, the lines between these flavors are never sharp. Nonetheless they are different enough to deserve their own terms.

Friction in the general case can be defined as war. In war, we use any means that may be effective to achieve our objectives. For example, you want my car? I want to shoot you. Bang. Before, problem. Now, no problem. Maybe I get my cousins together and we shoot your family, too, pour encourager les autres.

Of course, this is the Gaza City scenario. In San Francisco, these means would not only be ineffective - they would be counterproductive. (This, I feel, is one of the reasons these places, with such similar Mediterranean climates, seem so different.) Instead, if we could construct any kind of uncertainty as to who owned the car, we'd probably settle it with a lawsuit, which takes our friction into the realm of politics. In politics, we use nonforceful methods to pursue our claims, but the effect at least as it pertains to the car is the same - one of us gets it, and there is no way to tell in advance which one of us it will be.

Politics can be defined as limited warfare. For example, you can see a democratic election as a form of civil war, in which both sides agree to settle the conflict by simply counting soldiers. While this is a long way from a war in which tank battles are legitimate but poison gas is not, the principle is the same, and no qualitative line can be drawn between the two. You cannot separate force from non-force, militants from civilians, etc, etc.

It would be iconoclastic of me to stand up for poison gas, but this would be taking il gran rifiuto slightly too far. While arms limitation is not my favorite mechanism for controlling friction (I prefer the rule of law), it certainly works, and there is much to be said for it. The trick is making sure that there is no incentive to escalate.

For example, despite the barbaric and pointless attacks on civilians perpetrated by both sides in World War II, poison gas was never used in combat, which I attribute to the fact that each side was prepared to deploy it almost instantly if the other did. So no advantage but a very temporary surprise could be obtained by resorting to this measure, and even that advantage would be more than canceled by the political consequences. (The story may be apocryphal, but apparently chemical warfare was almost initiated as a result of German interceptions of American signals ordering vast quantities of "GAS," ie, of course, petrol, to North Africa.)

A fascinating species of friction, quite popular in the current era, is something called asymmetrical warfare. In asymmetrical warfare, the two sides play by different rules, which often lends a remarkable uncertainty to a conflict whose outcome would otherwise be clear. For example, in extreme cases of asymmetrical warfare, one side has to obey rules that are essentially those of a police department, whereas the other is almost perfectly laissez-faire.

A fellow by the name of Carl Schmitt, whose main claim to fame is that he was a Nazi, wrote an interesting if frustrating essay called Theory of the Partisan, inflicted on the world in 1962. The piece is full of bizarre Teutonic mysticisms (you can take the boy out of Prussia, but you can't take Prussia out of the boy), and not really readable as such. But it is a peek at the modern era from a very non-modern perspective. Such things may not interest others, but for some reason they always fascinate me.

One of Schmitt's concepts (which he attributes to the far more obscure Rolf Schroers) is the "interested third party." The interested third party is basically whoever it is that is keeping your asymmetric (or "partisan") war asymmetric. In other words, it is the political ally of the weaker, laissez-faire force, which ensures that its escalations are not rewarded with corresponding counter-escalations which would nullify the advantages they provide.

This is such a sensitive topic (notice that I'm not mentioning any examples - not that I fear the subject, but it deserves its own post) that even the word "ally" is contentious. When most people think of an "alliance," they think of two sides openly and knowingly cooperating to implement one vision of a result, like the US and Britain in WWII, or two sides agreeing on a limited set of interests, like the US and Russia in WWII. (As Churchill said in 1941, "if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.")

However, as long as the actions of two parties advance each others' interests, they can be considered allies, even if their philosophies of the world are so utterly opposed that they cannot afford the luxury of any such favorable reference. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, and the same goes for the political opponent of your enemy, the enemy of your political opponent, etc, etc. Perhaps we can venture a neologism and define this kind of hands-off alliance as a paralliance. Partners in a paralliance will often cooperate quite unconsciously, without any institutional realization that their success is due to their odd bedfellow.

Another flavor of friction is, of course, crime. The distinguishing feature of crime is that it has no vision of establishing a monopoly of power - unlike politics and war, it does not aspire to create a new status quo in which it is the dominant order. Instead, it is opportunistic and local. However, it is quite good at reappropriating vehicles, livestock, and other movables.

Again, there are no clear lines between any two forms of friction, and crime is often indistinguishable from guerrilla warfare. Many criminals in many societies have thought of themselves as quasi-warriors. In an ideal society, all crime would be committed by psychopaths, ie, people with no objective theory of right and wrong, but this has seldom been the case. When crime is motivated by political aspirations, let's call it paracrime.

As with its cousin, asymmetric warfare, paracrime generally cannot exist without an interested third party, which shields it from the repressive, escalating response that its political opponents would otherwise inflict. This situation bears some resemblance to what the late Sam Francis described as anarcho-tyranny, although I'm not sure Francis had a very clear conception of the forces that create and stabilize this species of paralliance. (Although I share his admiration for James Burnham, and am sympathetic to many of his diagnoses, I find few if any of Francis's prescriptions to be of any use.)

Finally, the last important form of friction is pure tyranny, that is, repressive government in the vein of Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il, the wartime Third Reich, etc. This is sometimes called "totalitarian" government, though I think that term, strictly on the basis of its linguistic roots, should be extended to any state which exercises legislative omnipotence, or omnipotence with a few carved-out exceptions as with a "bill of rights."

Tyranny is often misunderstood, which is not surprising, as few of us have lived in tyrannical states. Even the Soviet Union of Khrushchev and Brezhnev is far closer to present-day Western forms of government than to the murderous system of Stalin. A common error, for example made by Ayn Rand, is to identify tyranny and monarchy, which in fact are quite unrelated political forms - all they share is the coincidence of personal rule. We may not all know it, but we'd almost all rather live under the "autocratic" and "absolutist" tsars than under Stalin.

In my opinion, tyranny is best seen as a sort of static civil war. The tyrant's office differs from the monarch's in that the latter's legitimacy is assured by law, whereas the former's is a matter of personal power and prestige. Every servant of a tyrant is a potential usurper - the military tyranny of the late Roman Empire, in which no emperor was safe from his own bodyguard, is an excellent example.

Tyrants may repress their subjects out of sadism. It is certainly easy for them to acquire this taste. But they also do so out of necessity, because if they relax their grip for a minute they will be overthrown. Stalin had excellent rational reasons for purging the Old Bolsheviks, as Hitler did for purging the SA. A tyrant cannot allow any center of opposition to develop.

Tyranny, in other words, is essentially informal and unstable. At least in the modern era, they tend to evolve into juntas, which tend to evolve into oligarchies, which tend to evolve into democracies. The paths of Russia and China after Communism are good examples. With each of these steps, legitimacy and internal security increase, and the state becomes stronger and harder to overthrow. Unless Gaza is your idea of fun, a strong and secure state is a good thing.

(Perhaps the principal error of modern libertarians is their failure to distinguish between weak government and small government. My ideal government is extremely small, extremely efficient, and extremely strong - its authority cannot be challenged. It does not repress its citizens not because it is physically incapable of repression, but because repression is, far from being in its interests, directly opposed to them. But this too is a separate post.)

In future posts I'll look more at some of these forms of friction, and ways to resolve them.