Archive for October, 2013

Ruin Porn. French version.

It’s not just in Detroit where Western accomplishments are being abandoned and left to rot . . .

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Uninhabitable California 1

One question we’re all interested in is whether or not progressivism’s social justice crusade is an earnest crusade or just a sheen to disguise the fact that social justice warriors are actually motivated by what reactionaries assume everyone is motivated by: money and power.

Via the Sacramento Bee:

State Sen. Ron Calderon accepted about $88,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio owner and a Southern California hospital executive  . . .

[The FBI affidavit] details an arrangement to funnel money for the Calderon family’s later use through a nonprofit organization run by his brother Tom Calderon. It describes an instance in which Calderon hired a female undercover agent as a staff member as a favor to another undercover agent despite her apparent lack of qualifications for the job. It says that as Calderon steered legislation, he asked those he thought would benefit to secure jobs for his children, Jessica and Zachary.

“One way you could be a real help to (my daughter) is, you got any work?” Calderon said to an undercover agent posing as the film studio owner during a June 2012 dinner in Pico Rivera, according to the affidavit.

“I told you, man, anything you can do, any help you could do for my kids is, is – you know that’s, that’s diamonds for me. That’s diamonds.” . . .

Eventually, Ron Calderon’s older brother Tom entered the picture. He is a former assemblyman who works as a consultant for businesses that lobby the Legislature.

They cut Tom Calderon in, according to the affidavit, bringing the [undercover] agent’s monthly contribution to $10,000, including $2,000 to cover taxes, $3,000 for Jessica Calderon’s “job” and $5,000 for Tom Calderon’s consulting fees. Those were to be paid through the nonprofit he runs, called Californians for Diversity. Later, Ron Calderon and the agent discussed skirting suspicion by passing money into the Calderon Group, Tom Calderon’s consulting company . . .

After the undercover agent boasted to Ron Calderon about securing $50,000 a year from a three-picture deal, the two discussed what to do with the windfall.

“I mean, if there is something that you think that I can do to help you out with that fifty each year, you tell me. And, I will set it up,” the agent said, to which Ron Calderon, according to the affidavit, replied, “Right.”

Over time, Calderon drew down the $50,000 by asking for a $3,900 deposit into the Ron Calderon for Controller 2014 committee; a $25,000 infusion for his brother’s nonprofit, Californians for Diversity . . .

The affidavit also relates how Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal with Calderon following a tiff within the Latino caucus over who would serve as its chairman. Ron Calderon had been in line to become caucus chairman in December of last year. But Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, had the position and wanted to hang on to it.

In exchange for Calderon backing away from the chairmanship and allowing Lara to keep it, the affidavit says Calderon told the undercover agent that de León told Calderon he would give him a paid appointment after he left the Senate and $25,000 in “seed money” from one of the caucus accounts to “hire consultants and do presentations.”

Campaign finance records show that a fundraising committee connected to the Latino caucus gave Californians for Diversity $25,000 on Jan. 2, a month after Lara was elected to remain chairman.


Wisdom from Screwtape

Whenever I bad-mouth Christianity, I find myself returning, for penance, to those Christian authors whom I respect immensely. While re-reading The Screwtape Letters this evening, I came across this gem from C.S. Lewis.

Democracy is connected with the political ideal that men should be treated equally. You then make a stealthy transition in people’s minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in people’s thoughts the most degrading of all human feelings . . .

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say, “I’m as good as you.”

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says “I’m as good as you” believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only be those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept. And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation.

Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it–make it respectable and even laudable–by the incantatory use of the word democratic. Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level.


Christians

Via Age of Treason, some open letters from Asian Christians, who cunningly display their watered-down, strategic ethno-solidarity (“Asian” means nothing unless you’re outside Asia) using the language of Christianity.

If U.S. evangelical Protestant churches – now 81 percent white, according to 2012 Pew research – hope to become a more diverse representation of all the people of God, they must respond more positively to constructive criticism like that in the recent open letter.

And:

It is the conceit of religious white racism to presume that one’s evangelicalism transcends racial and cultural identities, making such “worldly” labels no longer important. The letter reminds church leaders that those identities still matter. White evangelical Christians must stop clinging to an alibi of color-blindness and recognize that vibrant growth within “their” churches has much to do with nonwhite members’ views of them.

And:

The evangelical church in America needs a reality check to honestly assess how it relates with its Asian American family members.

And the money shot:

We highly value the concept of family, and it deeply distresses us when our non-Asian brothers and sisters do not seem to recognize or embrace that we are called to be one united body. We are  in your churches, your communities, your workplaces. Whenever you marginalize, ostracize, or  demean us through carelessness and ignorance in print, video, or any other medium, you are  doing more than just ruffling the feathers of a small group of online activists. You are damaging  the very cause of Christ, by maintaining and increasing fissures within the church.

. . . We would ask those who have influence in evangelical circles to consider the following specific action items:

– Examining hiring practices in Christian organizations, particularly in the areas of media and publishing, to see if there are systemic issues preventing Asian Americans from having a  presence and a voice in the evangelical world

In other words: we are called to be one unified body, without division . . . so you’d better accept us, put us into positions of power, and acquiesce to our demands. In Christ’s name, amen.

A comment from a NY Times reader not afraid to say what’s really going on:

As a 4th generation Asian Christian, I have been told & lectured to many times over the years by whites in and out of church circles with a “Get with the program” attitude. These are admonishments to do things the “white” way. However, it is increasingly apparent that the program known as the USA is changing. Also, the center of gravity of the program known as evangelicalism is shifting away from whites towards Asians and Central & South Americans. It is high time the white Christians establishment realize, accept, and even embrace these changes which are happening under the Sovereign Will of God. In other words, it is the turn for white Christians to “Get with the new program!”

Just more evidence for my general thesis: Christianity died long ago and is now used only as a source of rhetorical energy for ethnic factions, victim groups, status whores, and the upper-class white leftists who enable all of them.

(I must admit that I cringe to see Asian Americans write like this. I have such high hopes for the world dominated by the Chinese, but things like this make me wonder. It would be much better if they just said, “Hey, whitey, you fucked up and gave up on your own civilization. Step aside and let us take over, because you’re clearly no longer competent to steer the globe into the future.” That kind of attitude, I can get behind.)


The Motives of Social Policy

Everyone has read Scott Alexanders’ anti-reactionary FAQ. Handle is probably right not to let Alexander frame the debate by responding directly. However, one issue Alexander brings up is something I’ve thought about addressing myself, so I may as well address it in response to his FAQ. It has to do with the genealogy of progressivism.

Moldbug and most neoreactionaries situate progressivism within post-Reformation Protestantism, claiming that the nearest ancestor of contemporary progressivism is 19th century millennial theology. Alexander wrongly associates our genealogy with Calvinism: “So please, tell me again how utopian desires for peace and social justice were invented wholesale by John Calvin in 1550,” he writes. I don’t know anyone who claimed that, and if someone did, I would thoroughly disagree with him.

However, Alexander’s larger point is that social policies that look an awful lot like modern progressive policies clearly existed before the Reformation. He travels back to Rome to prove it:

The ideals commonly called progressive predate Calvin by several millennia. Consider the example of Rome. The early Romans not only overthrew their kings in a popular revolution and instituted a Republic, but experienced five plebian secessions (read: giant nationwide strikes aiming at greater rights for the poor). After the first, the Roman government created the position of tribune, a representative for the nation’s poor with significant power in the government. After the third, the government passed a sort of bill of rights guaranteeing the poor protection against arbitrary acts of government. After the fifth, the government passed the Lex Hortensiana, which said that plebians could hold a referendum among themselves and the results would be binding on the entire populace, rich and poor alike. By the later Empire, even slaves were guaranteed certain rights, including the right to file complaints against their masters.

The Romans pioneered the modern welfare state, famously memorialized by its detractors as panem et circenses – bread and circuses. Did you know welfare reform was a major concern of Julius Caesar? That ancient Rome probably had a higher percent of its population on the dole than modern New York? That the Romans basically worshipped a goddess of food stamps?

. . . Equality has a clear antecedent in the plebian secessions of ancient Rome, peace in the Pax Romana, social justice in the Roman welfare system, and community in…well, it’s so broadly defined here that it could be anything, but if we’re going to make it the leadership of benevolent public servants, let’s just throw in a reference to the philosopher-kings of Plato’s Republic (yeah, fine, it’s Greek. It still counts)

First, it’s problematic to associate the plebian secessions with “strikes aimed at greater rights for the poor.” The plebian strikes were in fact aimed at greater rights for plebians, who could be wealthier than the patricians. Most of them were what today we would call the lower-middle and middle classes. Alexander is playing fast and loose with his definitions, as he does in most of his FAQ.

The more important point worth looking at is Alexander’s discussion of the Roman welfare state. Alexander could easily have looked outside ancient Rome to find examples of what he calls “progressivism.” E.g., in Islamic society during the age of the Caliphate, or in the charity policies designed by the Church in the Middle Ages. But the question is: do these seemingly “progressive” policies stem from what today we would consider progressivism? Do they have anything to do with “social justice”? We should remember that when looking back at history, curious similarities arise, but they do so at incongruous joints, and their existence may not signify anything but the fact that large-scale political ecologies have limited practical expressions. Think of it this way: A society whose political discourse and ideals sanction welfare to the poor because it is believed that the underclass is genetically inferior, incapable of taking care of itself, and might revolt if not given enough food . . . that’s a very different society from one whose political ideals sanction welfare because it is believed the poor have a right to good living standards or that the poor deserve welfare because it re-distributes goods rightly theirs but taken from them through an oppressive economic system.

Contemporary progressive policies emerge from ideals and discourses about morality, justice, oppression, and rights. The poor (especially the dark-skinned poor) deserve the welfare they get; it is theirs by Constitutional right. It is a moral and political imperative not to take away the welfare they receive and to give them more if possible. Progressives actively try to alleviate the shame once associated with receiving welfare. Pointing out that the poor in America have it pretty good is a distinctly right-wing thing to do. “Food stamps” are now “EBT cards” that look and function like debit cards.  Medicaid patients sit in the same waiting rooms as patients paying high insurance premiums, and you can’t tell the difference. (Well, you can, but . . .) Welfare in America has become a right, a moral imperative, a matter of justice and just desserts, a thing that brings no shame, a thing to be proud of, a thing to demand, a thing to stand up for.

~~~

When categorizing social policy, the motives and ideas behind a policy are just as important as the policy itself. Among the ancient Israelites, slaves and indentured servants were freed every 50 years, during Jubilee. But obviously, Jubilee should not be compared to 19th century abolitionist movements. Roughly similar policy. Very different motives. And a very different context. Abolitionists did not argue that the slaves should be freed and the fields laid fallow because the Sabbath demands rest and that, as servants of God, men should not always be bound to serve both man and God. The moral fervor of abolitionists was cranked up much higher than that and drew from new and radical Protestant theologies that mostly eschewed the Bible. The Good Book is clear that, outside of Jubilee, slavery and servitude are fine with God as long as masters treat their slaves decently. (But as far as I know, not a single abolitionist took the position that slavery needn’t be abolished as long as laws were passed to ensure the better treatment of slaves.)

So Scott Alexander is correct that social policies in ancient Rome look similar to contemporary progressive welfare policies. But were the motives the same? Did the poor and the plebians get free or reduced-cost corn, grain, wine, and olive oil . . . . because they deserved it? because it was theirs by moral and legal right? because it was a matter of social justice?

I’m not a classicist, so I’m willing to be corrected on this, but as near as I can tell, the Roman dole was wrapped up in discourses about a) the might and wealth of Rome and b) goddess worship. Welfare policies in ancient Rome were built upon very different ideals and emerged from very different motives than contemporary progressivism’s welfare policies.  Nowhere have I been able to fine a discussion of the Roman congiarium in terms of rights or justice. The dole was there because it made the emperor more popular and demonstrated the wealth of Rome to the people. What’s more, the dole was personified as Annona, a goddess to be worshiped and thanked. Scott Alexander even recognizes this difference in motive when he says that ancient Romans “worshiped a goddess of food stamps.”

Indeed they did. And that’s the whole point. When was the last time you heard welfare policies discussed in terms of worshipful gratitude, mercy, and thankfulness? If that were the discourse surrounding welfare policy, America would be a very different country. It seems that Roman welfare and American welfare are as different from one another as Jubilee is from abolitionism.


Harvey Mansfield, contra American democracy

I’d heard of Harvey Mansfield before. He’s somewhat popular in American academic circles for giving “ironic grades” to his students as a way to combat grade inflation—he gives a real grade (usually a low C) and then an ironic grade (usually a B or A) that goes onto the transcript. This way his students know they don’t deserve the higher grade they are getting.

He’s a Harvard professor of political science and a conservative. Usually, when I hear “Harvard” and “conservative,” I assume that it means “progressive by the standards of 1950.”

But then, prompted by Spengler’s latest article, I did some more searching and found this excellent interview with him from the Wall Street Journal. If you’re not acquainted with Mansfield, you’ll be surprised that someone at Harvard is not only a real conservative but a reactionary, anti-democratic one:

The political task before every generation, Mr. Mansfield understood, is to “defend the good kind of democracy. And to do that you have to be aware of human differences and inequalities, especially intellectual inequalities.”

American elites today prefer to dismiss the “unchangeable, undemocratic facts” about human inequality, he says. Progressives go further: “They think that the main use of liberty is to create more equality. They don’t see that there is such a thing as too much equality. They don’t see limits to democratic equalizing”—how, say, wealth redistribution can not only bankrupt the public fisc but corrupt the national soul.

“Americans take inequality for granted,” Mr. Mansfield says. The American people frequently “protect inequalities by voting not to destroy or deprive the rich of their riches. They don’t vote for all measures of equalization, for which they get condemned as suffering from false consciousness. But that’s true consciousness because the American people want to make democracy work, and so do conservatives. Liberals on the other hand just want to make democracy more democratic.”

Equality untempered by liberty invites disaster, he says. “There is a difference between making a form of government more like itself,” Mr. Mansfield says, “and making it viable.” Pushed to its extremes, democracy can lead to “mass rule by an ignorant, or uncaring, government.”


Moral and Technological Progress 2

It’s difficult to question the progress of technology and science. However, during the aptly named Progressive Era, the inexorable march of sci/tech became confused with the inexorable march of moral progress. The two shapes of time—moral and technological progress—became interlinked. Looking back at this interlinkage, i find much to admire in its resultant philosophy. I don’t agree with it entirely, of course, but it’s better than the progressivism of today. A Cathedral cleric writes about it disapprovingly:

It is a Whiggish temptation to regard progressive thought of a century ago as akin to contemporary progressivism. But, befitting the protean nature of the American reform tradition, the original progressives entertained views that today’s progressives, if they knew of them, would reject as decidedly unprogressive. In particular, the progressives of a century ago viewed the industrial poor and other economically marginal groups with great ambivalence. Progressive Era economic reform saw the poor as victims in need of uplift but also as threats requiring social control, a fundamental tension that manifested itself most conspicuously in the appeal to inferior heredity as a scientific basis for distinguishing the poor worthy of uplift from the poor who should be regarded as threats to economic health and well-being.

So, while progressives did advocate for labor, they also depicted many groups of workers as undeserving of uplift, indeed as the cause rather than the consequence of low wages. While progressives did advocate for women’s rights, they also promoted a vision of economic and family life that would remove women from the labor force, the better to meet women’s obligations to be “mothers of the race,” and to defer to  the “family wage”. While progressives did oppose biological defenses of laissez-faire, many also advocated eugenics, the social control of human heredity (Leonard 2005b). While progressives did advocate for peace, some founded their opposition to war on its putatively dysgenic effects, and others championed American military expansion into Cuba and the Philippines, and the country’s entry into the First World War. And, while progressives did seek to check corporate power, many also admired the scientifically planned corporation of Frederick Winslow Taylor, even regarding it as an organizational exemplar for their program of reform. Viewed from today, it is the original progressives’ embrace of human hierarchy that seems most objectionable. American Progressive Era eugenics was predicated upon human hierarchy, and the Progressive Era reformers drawn to eugenics believed that some human groups were inferior to others, and that evolutionary science explained and justified their theories of human hierarchy.

It sounds to me like the progressivism of the Progressive Era had yet to become one-eyed. Scientific and moral progress were coupled together, which meant that, for a brief moment in American history, one ideal kept the other’s excesses in check. This explains people like Margaret Sanger, who believed in the moral progress of racial equality but also realized that, empirically, the best way to achieve racial equality was through serious eugenic policies for blacks.

Today, in practice and in reality, moral and scientific progress are completely de-coupled. This explains people like [insert random progressive here], who believe in the moral progress of racial equality but have no empirical foundation for bringing it about, and so resort to a magical defensive tactic (“institutional racism!”) to explain why the good magic hasn’t happened yet. Today’s progressives are often outright hostile to notions of scientific progress.

Nevertheless, despite the reality, in today’s progressive and popular imaginations, moral and technological progress still are one and the same, inextricably linked. This is an epiphany I had while teaching class today. I overheard some students talking, and they seemed to reject a right-wing position as quickly and thoughtlessly as though they were rejecting the use of horse-and-buggy as a means of transportation to tonight’s sorority party. “Oh, people just don’t think that way anymore” or “We’ve moved beyond that kind of philistine thought” or “That is so how my grandfather talks!” As though notions of sovereign borders were as quaint as Ptolemaic cosmology.

Moral and technological progress are two non-overlapping time-shapes. The latter is empirically observable, the former is either a fiction or a temporary reprieve from Hobbesian violence safeguarded by high-trust civilizations. In the American Progressive Era, they were coupled together, with interesting and not entirely unsatisfactory results. Today, we operate only with the Progressive Era’s belief in moral progress, but this belief is, among the progressive elite, de-coupled from a concomitant belief in scientific and technological progress. No more checks and balances. The one-eyed, headlong pursuit of the Moral Prize hurtles us toward Left Singularity.