Hate to be self-referential but….
Just coming out of about 3 weeks of various ailments, hope to post again soon if I can gather the strength to face the shit-storm that is this world at the moment.
Yeah, not one of my catchier titles but sometimes you just have to say it plain.
I’m in the midst of reading a new book about the long history of pseudo Libertarian incursion into American democratic progress and it’s enlightening to say the least. As far as I’ve always understood it, Libertarianism as defined as a political ideology, is basically the capitalist version of Anarchism, the main difference being that somehow the magical free market will save us all as opposed to the rainbows and butterflies that come with mutual cooperation without coercion doing the same. Both ideas come mainly from intellectually elite boy-children whose moral superiority casts no doubt on their otherwise easily disprovable assertions.
Make no mistake though, with enough money and a firm commitment to fundamentally changing the balance of power back to elite, white, landholding, educated, moneyed folk you can talk the ignorant unwashed masses into almost anything. The dog whistles drown out the jack hammers drilling into the power of working folks. Racial and ethnic fear mongering hold the head of reason underwater until the bubbles stop, it’s too late, democracy as even the least of us understand it is dead.
At the risk of turning this post into a book report, in Democracy in Chains, author Nancy MacLean tells the story of James McGill Buchanan a Nobel Prize Winning economist and the arguable grandfather of Political Economy. The book constantly refers to his philosophical adherents as Libertarians but that tag will prove to be inaccurate as the story goes on.
In short it outlines the transformation of an economic movement more in line with the way colonial America worked than the idea of democracy we’ve come to accept. A way of thinking that basically obliterates the current social order. It’s one of those books that confirms with eerie accuracy what many of us have seen happening around us.
Basically, read the book.
My tangential comments on the ideas surrounding the book will follow.
I’ve talked about my own anarcho-libertarian leanings before, I’ve also talked about my sympathy for all types of middle to lower class people (being one of them myself doesn’t hurt) but i want to step back from both and look at this transformation through my own experience of them. It means fundamentally different things to different people but the general gist is that individuals are prime before the state, whatever state that is.
I lived through the Reagan revolution so I felt the behind the scenes machinations that steered the political ship during that era even without knowing they were there. I felt the meanness that was tested during that era, the proto-tea party movements of “Angry White Men” (I never get tired of this clip) the anger and resentment that helped restart the Klan and create the still racist but less obviously so patriot movement. The “Libertarians” of the Virginia school of political economy were making inroads into the corridors of power, aided and abetted by none other than Charles Koch (who to this day is the grand wizard of “Libertarian” direct action) they used any social movement that would benefit their oligarchic elitism. Many of the same tactics used by the preservers of the Confederacy are still being used today to divide and sterilize the power that the working class attained post labor.
They used racial animus, fearmongering and outright lies and distortions to push an agenda that legitimized the idea that only certain people had the right to weigh in on political matters and only certain experiences mattered. You can easily rectify this with many of the “constitutionalist” provocations that defended slavery, opposed universal suffrage and defend ideas most of us hold as undemocratic. The cause beyond all causes though is to restore a colonial ideal that only educated, land-holding white me be given the franchise. The erosion of voting rights among communities of color not only assumes that the poverty-stricken are not educated enough to make a valid decision in determining their future but that the cannot be given the information to make that choice in a rational fashion. White rural poor America gets a second tact.
“When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
This is the foundational truth of the new Libertarian movement, it is the fuel that has fired the engine of their attracting their most ardent followers. As demographic changes continue to become more apparent, women become more powerful and racial minorities become (collectively and deceptively) the majority, white males have become the target audience for a newly lipsticked pig.
This movement will and has used any means to grab power. It uses disinformation directed at communities of color and majority communities as well. It uses a slow steady well-funded effort through a network that feels increasingly comfortable coming out from behind the scenes. It intends to wrest what we think of as democracy as broken as it already is (and much of this is by design, designed by, guess who?) into what actually is a plutocracy. This makes the Republican Libertarian wing’s tacit support from the Trump agenda in all its fracturing, disenfranchising, Russia-loving glory make much more sense.
Trump is not only a useful idiot for Russian oligarchs, but for American ones as well.
This will not end well if it ever ends at all.
Its ironic that people like Jordan Peterson, Mike Cernovich, Ben Shapiro and even Alex Jones have allied themselves with a philosophical tactic they often rail against. Peterson especially name checks postmodernist thinking in his critique of gender identity and gender politics, yet the very fact that he can pepper his statements with the very dishonesty and untruth that he accuses the philosophy of bringing to the table is just logic-defyingly stupid.
Every single one of the folks listed above have said things that have a sliver of truth. Peterson’s assertion that we should be radical in our self-assessments and his claim that self-actualization often comes at a very high price are both truisms that very few people would argue with. Cernovich, in the past, quite accurately has spoken about manhood being tested and twisted by the expectations of women, hardly an original thought, but at least its accurate and debate worthy in a genuine way. Shapiro too has made some salient points about personal responsibility and having some moral foundation for your ideology. Hell, even Jones in his less crazy less tongue up Trumps ass years made allusions to real issues with the government’s unnecessarily secretive side.
Now I’m not sure if it is the allure of fame, the draw of infamy or some other ego driven magnetism that has pulled all of the above in to the crazy-town station, but with each one of them there are distinct patterns of ascending levels of insanity as their notoriety grew.
Citing the Dunning-Kruger effect is all the rage by well-meaning folks on the center and left. It speaks to the large majority of voters who, despite numerous silos full of evidence, feel that they know better in matters of government and science especially. It’s been used effectively by activists predominantly on the so-called right but also the so-called left. “So called” being used the way Malcolm X used the term. He’d often cite the “So called Negro” as a way to quickly deconstruct the language of the oppressor. In my mind the right and the left are used by moneyed elites to muddy the waters and call into the code word lexicon a form of identity politics they use to keep the focus off the wealthy. But I digress…
Dunning-Kruger is a great party trick for dismissing the economic reality and manipulation of the white working class by some people who in using it, display its qualities. I’ve gotten into the boneheaded ways the left loves to play the holier than thou game and I’m sure I’ll go there again. It is a real phenomenon but shouldn’t be used as a cudgel to dismiss a whole group of people. Ironically combining this and post-modernistic reality modes to manipulate people are what these Guys do best.
Everything is a lie, the media is evil, they are lying to you. Don’t believe what you hear, feel and see, only believe me.
I hesitate to say that each one started out really wanting to help enlighten us menfolk but that’s the narrative anyway. I do believe that of all the above Peterson is probably the likely one to have altruistic motives, at least in the beginning. Jones has always been a bit nutty and Cerno a bit sleazy, Shapiro I think is just a smarter than average boy child who got his conservative Orthodox faith confused with real morals. But at some point, each one saw the allure of the spotlight and followed it like a moth down the nut-ball tunnel.
I really do think that, at least in this case. our way of life may be brought down by foibles smaller than hatred or nationalism. Honestly I believe that as long as there have been humans in human civilizations there have been and will be smaller, more human things that take down nations, things we call Nazism, or nationalism, or Fascism but are really greed, envy, lust, anger you get it.
I don’t think anyone not blinded by the allure of fame whatever form that takes, adulation or recognition, especially those who regardless of what a perspective on reality would give feels like they got the shitty end of an otherwise clean stick, is subject to the self trickery that enslaves them. Anyone with a brain sees that we are heading toward a dangerous future for our democracy, a future that makes it harder to think about the repercussions of daily actions.
Postmodernist ideas of the flexibility of perspective and the dissection of humans into identities are, I think, dangerous if they don’t include the starting point from which we all begin. When there are too many sub divisions of us into this and that, the nationhood that brings us together disappears and becomes a series of roaming nation states. Bisexual, transgendered, white, christian, Black, Jewish, American are all aspects of who we are NOT the limits of that identity. The same goes for political labels although those can be more easily affected, Candice Owens’ and Dave Rubin’s sudden disaffection for the left and all its better philosophical parts betrays something else at work. In their cases I believe it’s purely money, but I won’t fully presume.
It always seems that there is more defection from left to right, usually followed by some sort of steady income. Miller, Horowitz, Owens…all scored some duckets by flipping off the left and demonizing all lefties as dumb, misinformed bullies. Fame is an amazing aphrodisiac it lulls you in and cradles you and insulates you, it seems much easier to be stuck in an echo chamber at either end of the income spectrum. I know at some point all of these people have to look at themselves in the mirror and realize the damage they have done, none of these people (save Owens, or Rubin who really seem not to have a clue as the exchanges below the end of this post prove) are so painfully self-unaware as to not see what they have contributed to the polarization and collaginization of this country.
Whether its money, fame, ego or whatever, the bill will eventually come due. And boy will that tab be heavy, very heavy indeed.
Edited on 4/25/2018 for clarity and a few careless grammar and spelling errors.
Radicalization has come to be synonymous with Islam and Islam signals folks who are non white although there have been a few notable Caucasian converts. It’s generally reserved for people who fall of the liberal western wagon and fall into the muddy ditch of identitarian authoritarianism. In other words radicalized = converted to radical Islam.
We use the term which should serve as a general description of anyone who has committed beyond reason to an ideology, usually a violent and destructive one, as a shortcut for signaling Islam. It’s a mistake that both reflects and colors our values, one that on some level is not a mistake at all but instead a value judgement based on so many assumptions.
We do operate in the sphere of cultural supremacy, the combination of assuming that so-called western values are the most “right” and that those values have all their roots in white western culture and those roots are purely derived from Europe and the cultural superiority of being American. Both are pretty ignorant, they assume that the blanks of history are all colored in White. They assume that, given all the interaction between the subjugated and the subjigators both here and abroad, now and in the past, that there is only one way to rub off.
They assume that missionaries and explorers, slavers and guests, never had any contact with people who produced any kind of two-way exchange. They assume that the spices and foods, culinary habits being one of the first and best introductions to a culture, were never traded. They assume that hunting and gathering and farming in different climates did not have some impact on those who observed them. They assume things that we in our daily lives know to be patently untrue. In the US, our art, culture culinary traditions and language borrow so much from outside influences that we’ve sometimes assumed they started here.
We operate, despite evidence to the contrary, in a blanket of assumptions that color our culture and language. We assume that only the Islamists are radicalized, we reserve that word for non-whites and race traitorous converted whites. When an instance of violence occurs perpetuated by a person of white European descent we make every excuse for their actions even when the targets and methods would suggest otherwise. We assume there is any other motive than what would be obvious if they were Muslim.
Until we can call a terrorist a terrorist, regardless of the color of their skin, until we can equate acts of violence based on ideology, regardless of what that ideology is, we are hopelessly lost in our delusion that White western culture is the only source from which civilization springs. We are also ignorant of our own cultural infancy as Americans, our civilization is not half as old as those we pull influence from and we can’t seem to integrate that into our collective consciousness.
We keep arguing around these issues, talking about SJWs instead of just being courteous enough to each other to simply listen, consider and then react, we keep using language that diminishes the concerns of people to tropes, on all sides. We color “flyover states” and BLM with broad brushes, not recognizing the breadth of opinion in the pigeonholed groups we create. We talk about western culture like it came about in a vacuum and ignore all the surrounding pieces assuming that the history we know, despite so many obvious modern parallels, is history with nothing left out.
We make a lot of assumptions, we kind of have to, but with the expanse of information we have at our fingertips we ignore even the slightest tweaks to our own worldview.
Even when it is as obvious as the growing number of violent acts perpetrated by those steeped in “western values.”
Note: You can skip right over this if you have no interest in Charles Murray or the ripple effects of his being on Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” podcast. If you ARE interested in learning about the controversy and why it matters, a simple google search for Sam Harris will provide all the background you need and probably a lot more.
I’ve mentioned before my fondness for podcasts and audiobooks, one of my favorite producers of both is Sam Harris. Through listening to his Waking Up podcast I’ve been exposed to ideas I would have not been otherwise, been privy to conversations I would have missed out on and just generally feel wiser and more informed as a result of being a listener.
What I am not is a devotee, a fan or a follower of his. He, like the rest of us, is human, very human in fact despite his vulcan-like demeanor and “just the facts” presentation.
I referenced his conversation with Charles Murray of The Bell Curve fame before and am no fan of Murray’s policy solutions or his belief that any attempted impact on IQ by social policy is a fool’s errand. Even if no significant increases in IQ are driven by so-called entitlement programs, the simple fact that education, at even the basic level, is largely dependent on resources including health care and nutrition as well as simple things like oh say….housing is enough to convince me of their absolute need. As I’ve also stated before, government intervention was what made the middle class possible (and the fact that said intervention was largely a white phenomenon) post WW2 is a critical component of any argument concerning “The Great Society.”
Although I see through Murray’s ideological bent, I also see how many current pols hold the same beliefs and use the same data to justify them (outgoing Speaker Ryan is one) so the focus on Murray for holding these beliefs and being assaulted and de-platformed for them while the really dangerous folks who have a real dangerous ability to enact retrograde policies is misspent ire.
When Harris invited Murray for a discussion on Race and IQ about a year ago, the blow-back is actually part of what brought me to the podcast in the first place. I wanted to revisit the controversy, having never read the book myself, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.
Now, a year later, unfortunately Harris has turned a groundbreaking discussion into a reflexively toxic sideshow.
The discussion he had with Murray wasn’t a game changer for me, I’d always believed that people should be allowed to speak their minds at college campuses and if we oppose those ideas we have the right to voice our opposition. This back and forth is crucial for the functioning of democracy, even on such a tiny niche level. Even bad ideas should get an airing, when exposed to sunlight bad ideas are for the most part burned away and rejected, it may take some time, but rigorous debate and a civil discussion of even the most outlandish ideas is a crucial component of a functional democracy.
As far as the content, Murray’s glaring omissions, or glossing over of data that didn’t meet the narrative was obvious so that didn’t change my mind at all. What was refreshing and enlightening was the conversation itself. Harris challenged Murray on many of the things I would have, the social science that was left out of the data, the lingering results of the yoke of slavery and its genetic contributions to racial difference, no problem there. In general the conversation left me with the same feelings about Murray’s work as I did prior to listening, that the book and the data presented is fully supportive by design of his social stance, not the reverse.
The resulting effect on Harris’ public image is the subject of much conjecture, from a whole group of new neo-fascist, illiberal classical liberals and the alt-right (AKA actual racists) there seems to be a Ben Shapiro-like exaltation of him as a defender of racist IQ purveyance, from everywhere else a bemused take down of Harris’ “cult”. From my point of view, neither get it truly right.
My criticism of Harris doesn’t come from a place of worry about what he himself believes. Although his petulant debate with Klein definitely makes him a useful idiot for the right, I don’t believe like some others that it is by design. He’s never indicated to me that he believes or cares about the race and IQ debate and in some cases seems to dismiss IQ as a factor for determining who can and cannot have a full meaningful (and wealthy) life. My criticisms come from the sizeable ego it has exposed.
Debating Klein could have been a defining moment had Harris not failed to realize and admit to his own blind spots. Harris clearly missed the fact that his personal feelings of persecution and the persecution of others made him deaf to the very real concerns (and alignments) he and Klein shared. Klein made some salient points about this although I think he phrased them wrong and failed to follow-up on them Harris failed to see that he put himself in Murray’s shoes a little too much.
What this does to Harris’ career, his podcast and his public persona is yet to be seen but I would have made a few suggestions prior to the conversation that would have made the conversation a whole lot less unbearable for those of us who chose to listen to it.
- He should have gotten to know Klein personally before having the debate. He should have taken a cue from one of his guests Christian Picciolini (a former neo-nazi) and as he did with Richard Spenser (a current neo-nazi) sit down and get to know him outside of their personal history. It’s so much easier to define ground rules and speak kindly of someone who you disagree with if you know them as a person first.
- Take a cooling off period after meeting off-line. Both parties would have had a much better time of it if they’d met, exchanged a few clarifying emails and tried really hard to keep it civil.
- Simply agreed to disagree.
Harris has been rightfully been a bit jumpy about being misquoted, something people do and have done regularly, but not taking the proper time and doing the proper warm-up exercises is no excuse for stumbling and falling on your face right out of the gate.
When we talk about violence, specifically gun violence in this country we hear a few very different takes depending on the location and the background of the shooter.
When the shooter is ideologically motivated and Muslim, we hear about terrorism first. We hear the panicked cries of mostly white conservatives and a few moderates and liberals about the cultural significance of Islam and its propensity for creating violent jihadists. Even though the insane, rational gymnastics of connecting violence and extremism, in these cases we still won’t talk about Guns, and there is little to no discussion about mental health.
When the attacker is White, and the ultimate ideological motivations are sussed out, we revert to the discussion about “mental health” and family and run away as far as we can from Guns and ideological motives. Somehow access to firearms, however they achieved them, is eliminated from the conversation and the ideological motivations all but erased by about day 2 or 3.
If the assailants are young black men and they are killing each other over gangs, drugs or other petty conflicts, it’s all about the culture. Single moms, video games, and music are the usual suspects; again, surprisingly the narrative no longer focuses on the availability of firearms, even illegal ones.
In my mind there are four primary causes of violence in general, particularly gun violence, and they cut across most cases regardless of whether they are in a school or out on the streets. Irrespective of where we come from or who we are there are a set of preestablished reactions to stressors that trigger us to want to hurt or kill. Those motivations go right to the heart of what we all share emotionally as human beings, and I believe that is one of the reasons we don’t talk about them.
1. Personal/Group Insult or Revenge – One of the most common reasons for violence and aggression of any kind is feeling violated in some way. Whether it is through direct insult or insulting one’s group, it is a defensive reaction to a breach of some social contract that causes most violence. I believe this tendency is built into us as we are social beings. Our hierarchical understanding of group and private structures create a means through which we have a built-in trigger, groups that tout exclusive membership use this instinct to manipulate people into reacting with violence when they otherwise would have just cooled over time.
2. Fear – Is it that pop-psychological to indicate fear as a primary motivation for violence or aggression. As well as being social we are also programmed to be wary of personal injury. This is an odd one because fear as a concept can be very nebulous or very specific. Fear that a bear is coming right at you is very different from fear of being attacked by a bear. The chemical reactions, the physical changes that result from the various states of fear are very distinct and can be manipulated by people and institutions that are more powerful and have some of their fears to contend with. I found this discussion of fear interesting as it almost serves as a surrogate for the triggers of violence.
3. Social Engineering – As social beings who have developed hierarchies to survive under specific circumstances we have also come to understand how reinforcement of those structures is required to keep the status quo. I’m not passing blanket judgment on this as dangerous by any means, some social structures have helped us advance to the point where we have created a better life for millions of people. Others, however, though seemingly good ideas at the time, often descend into disruptions that do damage to a great many people. It’s tough to say without the benefit of hindsight that some form of social engineering was good or bad especially if we learn from the results. In this case, violence based on established and enforced social norms.
4. External Perceived or Existential Threat – this is admittedly a kind of toss off. Its fear but not the tangible bear chasing you down type, it’s a minor madness in a way and it crosses the bridge to woo-ville in some cases, but either the feeling of something “not being quite right” or the manipulation of that feeling can drive people to violence, what distinguishes this factor as a trigger is its slippery nature. In a way its one of the most potent modern triggers because of the deluge of information we receive and have access to on a daily basis. So much information crosses our eyes and ears daily that it’s often really hard to distinguish between what is demonstrably real and what is pure hokum. Existential threats have us not believing our own eyes when we see a concrete example of the opposite of what we believe or are told to think. Cognitive dissonance is the state this puts us in and in and of itself is a kind of mass mental disorder that affects our macro brain. It is also one of the ways large groups and governments keep control of the status quo. In fact, it is the prefered method of tyrants, both big and small.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of everything in terms of an organism. From my limited understanding of the organization of life, it looks distinctly like from the tiniest cell to the largest societal collections the functions are similar but blown up accordingly. Using the example of the internet (again with a basic knowledge of biology) you can see how humans have organized themselves in the image of their biological networks. You can look at societal organizations similarly, but the internet is the clearest model of our mimicking the structure of our neural networks in our construction and organizations I can see. We build on what we know.
I look often at how these incidents of violence make perfect sense. Ideas are like mutated cells or gut influenced genes; they can grow and spread, are road tested by the environment and shaken out accordingly. You have to get non-judgemental when you think this way and see both the biological process and the spread of ideas the same way. Physiological changes, random occurrences of genes or the environment’s influence on them, have consequences. It is my feeling that biological evolution and the evolution of ideas may not only be linked but now be one in the same. We’ve reached a level of complexity in out inner and outer constructions to see where our intellectual developments have gotten almost as complicated as our biological ones.
When you look at movements, especially extreme movements, be they nationalistic, religious or racially based they broadly share the same development cycles and paths of growth. Some, like Islamic fundamentalism, are less exclusive biologically and more rooted in ideology. This is part of the reason Islam has snowballed so quickly. It is not as exclusive as some other movements, it requires no biological purity test, no cultural purity test, and no nationalistic paternity test, there is a small barrier of language, but learning a few prayers can solve that. Many other extreme movements are based on passing some racial or nationalistic purity test and have far fewer adherents as a result. At the risk of sounding like an Islamophobe, it is the perfect virus in that way.
Let me make something clear right now; I hate no person. I am opposed to certain ideologies because they make no rational sense to me beyond social grouping, but I don’t hate anyone who believes in them. I apply cancer or virus metaphor to almost all religions and any social group that forcibly bends its members to a particular kind of violence or extreme coersion.
When violence arises as a result of these affiliations, a large part of how you get perfectly rational and not insane people to enlist is through the use of the last cause of violence. In a sense, you are taking a little bit of the first three elements and mixing them to create a stew of cognitive dissonance. You create a world where, by some non-biological or vaguely biological association, you pit one association against another. The reasons could be cultural, circumstantial or just made up entirely but they don’t pass a rational examination.
What also doesn’t pass the rational examination is the ways we here in the US, separate these groups and their affiliates into little social boxes that have unequal weight on the actions of people who commit violent acts.
I’ll talk about how we treat different groups and ideologies differently in Wednesdays post.