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A Letter to Dr. Michael White

There are debates in linguistics about how to categorize languages and dialects; Nicholas Wade has reignited the debate over how to categorize human populations.

Michael White’s recent article is titled  “Why Your Race Isn’t Genetic,” although at the end of his essay, he writes, “Without natural genetic boundaries to guide us, human racial categories remain a product of our choices. Those choices are not totally arbitrary, biologically meaningless, or without utility.” So, perhaps a better title would have been “Why Your Race Isn’t Only Genetic.”

I recommend you read the article before reading the following letter.

– – – – – –

Dr. White,

In your article, you cite Templeton’s “Biological races in humans,” where Templeton argues that all humans share a common lineage and that races are not sub-species because the five major ‘races’ of humans account for only 4.3% of cross-population human genetic variation—well below the 25% threshold set for sub-species categorization. But, later, Templeton himself writes that “this finding does not mean that all human populations are genetically identical. Past founder events, isolation-by-distance, and other restrictions on gene flow ensure that human populations are genetically differentiated from one another, and local adaptation ensures that some of these differences reflect adaptive evolution to the environmental heterogeneity that our globally distributed species experiences” (9).

So, there are genetic differences between human populations, but the argument offered by you and Templeton is that those differences don’t meet the standard for classifying different human populations as sub-species. I accept this argument completely insofar as “sub-species” is given an objective cut-off point, but it still doesn’t tell us how to classify (or whether we should classify) the differences that do exist between human populations. With that point in mind, here’s my first extended question:

I mentioned dog breeds on Twitter, and it seems that variation across breeds is near 27%, while human genetic variation has been found to be somewhere on the range of 5-10% (Parker et al. 2004), though, as just noted, Templeton puts it at 4.3%.

However, all of these numbers take large swaths of humanity (or dog breed-dom) into consideration. Ostrander and Wayne 2005 note (Figure 2) that within certain clusters of breeds, there is considerably less variation between one breed and the next. Two other papers (Erdogan et al. 2013 and Ye et al. 2009) have shown that cross-breed genetic variation drops well below 25% in certain contexts. Genetic variation between labs and springer spaniels, for example, is set at 0.09.

That dog breeds are the results of artificial breeding is inconsequential for this discussion about categorization. We know a priori that the notion of “breed” in dogs is a valuable classification system. So, if it’s true that among certain breeds, cross-breed variation drops well below 25%, then why isn’t it possible to have such a classification system to describe variation among human populations, which likewise drops below the 25% threshold for sub-species categorization?

My next extended question is related to this idea of variable genetic distance:

You make much of the fact that human populations are fuzzy and not distinct; the reticulating nature of our human family tree makes any kind of intra-human categorization moot:

. . . . But as it turns out, our species’ family history is not so arboreal. Geneticists have methods for measuring the “treeness” of genetic relationships between populations. Templeton found that the genetic relationships between human populations don’t have a very tree-like structure, while chimpanzee populations do. Rather than a family tree with distinct racial branches, humans have a family trellis that lacks clear genetic boundaries between different groups.

But doesn’t the truth of this statement wax and wane depending on which parts of the human family tree you’re talking about? I could be wrong here, so it’s an honest question. There can be fuzzy boundaries in Northern Europe and fuzzy boundaries in Southwestern Africa, but does that mean that the boundary between populations in Northern Europe and populations in Southwestern Africa is equally fuzzy as when comparing within those geographic boundaries? Isn’t this the point of Figure 2 in Templeton’s paper?

There’s a lot of fuzziness between dialectical boundaries in English and dialectical boundaries in Ojibwe, but not nearly as much fuzziness between English and Ojibwe. If boundaries are as universally unclear as you imply here, what’s the use of FST scores, and how is it that scientists manage to know a person’s ancestry down to a small geographic area?

Templeton argues for an isolation-by-distance model of human genetic variation, and I don’t disagree at all. But isolation-by-distance plus small but not negligible amounts of allele frequency variation between populations . . . . sounds a bit like allopatric speciation to me, at least when you’re comparing the far ends of that isolation cline?  But then, I’m a linguist, not a biologist, so I’m willing to be corrected.

Final question:

We can all agree, I think, that there is variation in allele frequencies between human populations, and that geography is a decent proxy for the occurrence of those frequencies. (This is all that I, and most people, mean by “race.”)  Where we disagree is on whether or not that variation is worth codifying with a classification system. Some people think it is; you think otherwise.

Not all human populations are genetically identical, and insofar as some of us think the study of genetic differences in human populations is interesting, we need a word for those differences. If you want to abandon “race,” fine, but what word would you use? Or would you not use any word because you don’t think these differences are meaningful or worth studying?

Discrimination is natural

Social Darwinism is just Darwinism. Social Darwinism is just the rational assumption that mankind does not exist in a special bubble, cut off from forces we see at work every time we turn on National Geographic.

The common retort is that “social Darwinism” is merely a  just-so story concocted post-hoc to explain away the effects of discrimination. There are haves and have-nots, power and oppression, and in my mind it is an obvious statement to say that such things are inevitable or “natural” given the dynamics of life on Earth. To others, however, by saying it I am erasing the real culprits, the real agents of inequality among humans: discrimination, privilege, and so on. Nothing natural about those. Combat them, and you will see equality flourish.

But this is a misunderstanding. Discrimination and privilege are absolutely a part of the natural order of things that we see at work on National Geographic.

Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) have a stark hierarchy of who does and who does not get to soak in the hot springs. There is a certain class privilege given to young macaques who are lucky enough to be born to dominant females. They get the warm waters of the hot springs; the others are quite literally left out in the cold.

Elk regularly face discrimination—the ones who are weak, elderly, retarded are the ones who will be eaten by the wolves, not the ones who are strong, young, able. Clearly, ageism and able-bodied privilege are at work on the arctic tundra, and the consequences are not psychological but a matter of life and death.

Rape-culture is rampant in nature. Just the other day, at the zoo, I saw a male lion humping a female lion despite her obvious displeasure and anger. Yet she was weaker and smaller than the male lion, and had nowhere to run.

Privilege, discrimination, rape-culture . . . the academic concepts of the Progressives are merely labels for behaviors that we see across the animal kingdom, and it is the existence of privilege, discrimination, and rape culture across the animal kingdom that completely undermines the utility of these concepts—they are supposed to name uniquely human (and therefore alterable) phenomena. But as spending five minutes in front of a wildlife documentary will demonstrate, they are not uniquely human phenomena. They exist in the non-human world. So the onus is on the progressives: what makes you think you can change the behavior of the human animal any more than you can stop dominant macaques from keeping the other macaques out of the hot springs?

Dark Matter

Dark Matter won the neoreactionary journal title poll by a landslide. Personally, I was pulling for “Northern Latitudes Quarterly,” but that was near the bottom. Humorous write-in titles included “Compendium of Pseudo-Intellectual Suggestions”, “The Radish is already doing this”, and “Basement Dwelling Losers Anonymous.”

Here’s the link: darkmatterjournal.com

I’m sure there are some bugs, so if you find them, let me know.

Someone had suggested putting up .mobi as well as .pdf files, but I found that the .mobi files were acting quirky, and anyway, there are several different file types people use for e-readers, all of which are easily convertible from .pdf.

Why did I set this up? I set it up for the same reason other bloggers set up an individual site for Land’s “Dark Enlightenment” sequence and for Moldbug’s best posts. It’s important, I think, to save our more interesting posts from archival obscurity. 75% of what we produce is probably throw-away, just like 75% of what any writer produces in any context is throw-away. But the things that are worth saving, we should save in a more permanent, edited form.

Obviously, as a quarterly journal, Dark Matter serves a very different purpose from that served by the excellent Theden.tv, which you can and should visit frequently. And, yes, the Radish is already doing this, but DM’s content will have a broader scope. It will also be, for better or worse, far less witty, ironic, visual, and humorous than the Radish.

A Dialogue

After the Tech Crunch article was published, I had a very long Twitter conversation with a self-styled “anarchist.” I’ve transcribed it here (with minor modifications). It demonstrates plainly that even in radical anarchists we find the Puritan’s universalist impulse to re-make the world in its own eyes, with its own moral compass as a guide, consequences be damned.

The conversation begins with my trying to explain that the coupling of “monarchy” and “neoreaction” is overly simplistic:

Scharlach: The core of neoreaction is not monarchy. The monarchy angle is oversold in the Tech Crunch piece. There are a few earnest monarchists in the neoreactionary ranks, but most of us simply believe that monarchy would in some ways (certainly not in all ways) be better than universal democracy. Defending monarchy is an intellectual point we like to make, not a solid policy proposal.

Anarchist: Fine. So what is the core of neoreaction, if not an apologia for monarchy?

Scharlach: In a few words? Neoreaction is a critique of democracy and demotic excess.

Anarchist: That’s just as absurd as the monarchy business. Everything we enjoy in the West today is thanks to democracy. Democracy is the most positive force in the history of the world.

Scharlach: Quite the opposite. I’d argue that everything we enjoy in the West today has occurred in spite of democracy.

Anarchist: That makes no sense. You must be a racist.

Schlarlach: Can I at least give you some examples of what I mean before you write me off as racist?

Anarchist: Alright. Go ahead, racist.

Scharlach: As one example, I know that every department at my university is very un-democratic when it comes to accepting students. We require both undergraduates and graduates to score well on the SAT and GRE, respectively. There is no voting, no policies to accept all students equally (like at a community college). Once in, students have no say whatsoever in their graduation requirements. And yet my university is ranked in the top 50 nationally and in the top 10 in at least a dozen specialties. As another brief example, how about every successful tech company in existence? Do the janitors at Google get a say in how the company is run?

Anarchist: Okay . . . so you have examples of un-democratic systems that aren’t absolutely shit in every situation. So what?

Scharlach: Oh, but I have lots of examples! I can list them for you if you want.

Anarchist: Spare me.

Scharlach: So why is it then “racist” to suggest that non-democratic social orders might be worth trying?

Anarchist: But non-democratic social orders have been tried. In fact, I’m tempted to argue that the obverse is true. We’ve seen a lot of examples of tyrannical systems trotted out with “democracy” written all over them.

Scharlach: And you don’t find it a bit . . . interesting . . . that so many tyrannical systems seem to find “democracy” a useful cover?

Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get what you’re saying? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind. I agree that we don’t have anything like true democracy in America or anywhere else on earth. But I would argue that wherever you find things working—in government or in the private sector—you’ll find very little that resembles a democracy in any sense of the word.

Anarchist: Then how about we try democracy? It seems like trying more non-democratic models would be trying the very same things that aren’t working.

Scharlach: Wait. Didn’t we start this conversation based on the assumption that a lot of things are working?

Anarchist: Huh? What? I don’t get what you’re saying? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind. How do you define democracy? What is this system that you claim to venerate even though it has never really been tried?

Anarchist: Democracy, as I define it, is a system of governance by which individuals group together to decide on those things that impact the whole.

Scharlach: So everyone should have a say in everything. Sounds very unstable.

Anarchist: No, let me clarify: individuals group together to decide on things that impact them.

Scharlach: Sounds like a tricky distinction to make. In such a system of governance, it’s only a matter of time before political leaders convince people that everything impacts them.

Anarchist: That’s not true. It seems like there will always be a clear distinction that can be made in any given context whether something directly impacts you or not.

Scharlach: Alright. So why do people in Vermont get to vote on Mexican immigration, when said immigration only impacts people along the border states? Or why do I get to vote on same-sex marriage laws when such marriages have no impact on me whatsoever?

Anarchist: That’s not democracy in my anarchistic sense of the word. Under the current authoritarian government model, people get to vote on these issues. But I don’t like how you’re putting immigration and same-sex marriage together here.

Scharlach: Why not? In both cases, we’re talking about people voting on things that don’t directly impact them.

Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get it? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind.

Anarchist: No, wait, I have an answer: if there is true democracy, “immigration” and “Vermont” become meaningless concepts. Sexuality, in contrast, is a universal human constant.

Scharlach: How would democracy override geographically bound populations and population movement? Those seem like universal human constants, as well.

Anarchist: Uh, uh, uh . . . not every decision is geographical. Consider internet protocols and transnational standards.

Scharlach: That’s a complete non-sequitur, but I’ll bite: lots of people are affected by tech standards who have no idea about technology. Should they get to vote on tech standards?

Anarchist: Actually, if you look at how internet standards are decided, the answers is, Yes: rough consensus among people who are actually coding. With the internet, the rules are a) anybody can participate, b) anybody can make a standard, and c) anybody can choose to use or not use it. And in practice, there is no voting. There is deliberation until rough consensus is reached among those who show interest and actually get involved.

Scharlach: “Deliberation among those involved until rough consensus . . .” That’s actually a mildly neoreactionary way of looking at things. Left-anarchy and neoreaction overlap here. But I’d also point out that we can define “those involved” in this context as individuals who have come together through a decidedly un-democratic process. In theory, “anyone” can participate in computing, but in practice, very few people have both the intelligence and the access to technology needed to code. So, “deliberation among those involved until rough consensus” works in the tech world because the people involved have been culled from the populous and are homogenous in many ways. So, in the end, I agree with you that what you’re defining as democracy can work—but only in small, homogenous groups. But the larger and more racially mixed the group, the more difficult it is to reach consensus about anything. Too many competing factions.

Anarchist: What does race have to do with anything?

Scharlach: Replace “race” with “culture” if that makes you feel more comfortable. Most of us neoreactionaries believe that some cultures are simply incommensurable with others. Impossible to reach consensus about things affecting the group when incommensurable cultures are forced to inhabit the same space.

Anarchist: Sorry, but how much have you traveled?

Scharlach: I’ve grown up in and around Los Angeles. Half my family is Mexican. I know plenty about cultural diversity, if that’s where you’re going.

Anarchist: So what’s wrong with cultural diversity?

Scharlach: It’s fine when there’s consensus about it, I suppose. It’s bad when enforced from the top down.

Anarchist: Cultural groups are not as different as you’re implying here. I’ve traversed enough of this planet to know that human cultures are very similar . . . the differences are relatively small.

Scharlach: The differences are small? That’s interesting. I heard just the other day that Afghanistan might go back to stoning adulterers.

Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get it? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind. I’d just say that your globe-trotting has most likely been from cosmopolitan city to cosmopolitan city. Everyone looks the same in those cities because they’ve all just adopted your Western norms and ways of living. These people are a minority.

Anarchist: Well, then, the key for democracy is to . . . . to . . .

Scharlach: To what? To make sure that no one on the globe really is all that different from anyone else?

Anarchist: You’re putting words in my mouth!

Scharlach: You just said a moment ago that you define democracy as a system of governance in which individuals group together to decide on things that impact them directly. So let’s look at the Afghan example: do you think it’s alright for Afghans to stone adulterers?

Anarchist: Of course not! That’s horrid! It’s especially horrid because it’s almost always the women who get punished, not the men! Misogyny!

Scharlach: Maybe. But I personally think Afghans have every right to stone adulterers if that’s their cultural consensus. Just as Americans have every right to jail anyone who stones anyone else, if that’s the American consensus.

Anarchist: So you have no problem with murder, slavery, genocide, so long as they’re “culturally consensual”?

Scharlach: I think that any attempt I might make—as an outsider—to solve a problem in Africa or the Middle East would only make matters worse. And you should agree with me, too, if you believe your own version of democracy just defined a moment ago. You need to ask yourself, if you’re such an anarchist, such a believer in organic decision-making among people involved in something, why do you feel this impulse to interfere with something happening in an alien culture five thousand miles away from you? Do adultery laws in Afghanistan “impact you directly”? Does slavery in Africa “impact you directly”?

Anarchist: First, even if it didn’t, we still need to take moral stances on some things. And, second, yes, it does: slavery in Africa makes electronics cheaper for me.

Scharlach: This is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning: in a democracy, it’s only a matter of time before everyone comes to believe that everything affects them directly . . .

Anarchist: [Silence]

Scharlach: And in the end, maybe everything does, in some Cloud Atlas kind of way, affect everyone at some level. Which is why the universalist democratic impulse is dangerous. When everyone has a voice about everything everyone else does, the world becomes its own tyranny.

At which point the anarchist blocked me from his Twitter feed.

Neoreaction = Monarchy?

neoreaction

There it is. Neoreaction’s first profile in a popular media outlet (Tech Crunch’s global Alexa rank is 371). It’s unfortunate that “monarchy” is the term that most people will now associate with neoreaction. Honestly, how many of us are hardcore monarchists?

An assumption linking all neoreactionary camps is that the ideal of universal democracy—of universal voice—leads only to demotism, idiocracy, tyranny, or all three at once. We are anti-universal democracy, yes, but that is not exactly the same as anti-democratic, and certainly not the same as monarchist. From the maxim “To all voice, no exit” there is still a long, long road to monarchy.

I think a fine case can be made for monarchy. But I think what neoreaction is after is naturally emergent hierarchy and order, an order with feedback loops to ensure the failure of things that need to fail and the success of things that optimize for human intelligence and flourishing. Such an order can take many hypothetical forms; indeed, on grounds of naturally emergent order and feedback mechanisms to ward off zombies, one can argue just as well for anarchy as monarchy. Those of us with a Landian bent would love to see all these hypothetical forms flourish, so we can see which ones crash and burn and which ones deliver the Singularity. (Honestly, at this point, my political utopia isn’t monarchy but a world in which one can shop for a geo-political home like one shops for shoes.) So, I respect and, after a few bourbons, sometimes agree with monarchists, but monarchism is not neoreaction any more than Steve Sailer’s citizenism is neoreaction. The beauty of the reacto-sphere is that, having recognized that our current homes may not be inhabitable for much longer, we’re all spinning our hypothetical habitable worlds based on our own visions of the orders and hierarchies we believe will naturally emerge once the social engineers fall and the world is freed from the Cathedral and her Stereopticon. Neoreaction, however, is not any one vision, any one habitable world. It is the belief that each man should be free to find his own world, his own home, and to build one if he can’t find it.

[I think there are problems with what I’ve just said, but I really wanted to connect my blog’s title to the discussion.]

ADDED: I want to save this excellent comment from comment-thread oblivion. WhiteDeerGrotto on the Tech Crunch article, Scott Alexander, and neoreaction more generally:

This article is a soft pitch left over the plate, waiting to be smashed out of the park. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this Klint Finley was a neoreactionary confederate, a planted heckler in the crowd, soon to be silenced by the magician.

At its heart, neoreaction is a critique of the entire liberal, politically-correct orthodoxy. The Cathedral, a term coined by Moldbug, is a description of the institutions and enforcement mechanisms used to propagate and maintain this orthodoxy. It would take more than some 100~300 word blog comment to adequately describe either the Cathedral or neoreaction, but Moldbug’s “Open Letter”, Nick Land’s “The Dark Enlightenment”, and Scott Alexander’s “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell” are all good places to start. All three are easily 10000+ words each. Neoreaction is a complete re-build of a political worldview. For those of us who have been indoctrinated since kindergarten that tolerance and democracy are the best things ever, this requires a through tear-down to the intellectual bedrock. Your patience will be rewarded.

Neoreaction does not have a single monolithic doctrine or political program. In its current state, it is, at best, a loose synthesis of various criticisms of our reigning liberal ideology. The politically-correct propagandists assert that humans are essentially interchangeable, regardless of culture or genetics, and that some form of multicultural social-welfare democracy is the ideal, final political state for all of humanity. Neoreaction says no. The sexes are biologically distinct, genetics matter, and democracy is deeply flawed and fundamentally unstable. It does not follow that all neoreactionaries are monarchists. The author is attacking a strawman.

The author of this article cites Scott Alexander’s anti-reactionary FAQ as if he were a shipwrecked sailor clinging to driftwood. Unfortunately, for him, Scott Alexander will not provide the salvation he desires. Alexander’s anti-reactionary FAQ is an impressive feat – it is nearly as long as a novel. But ultimately it is false advertising, because it does not refute any of neoreaction’s core criticisms of the Cathedral. Rather, it can be used as a guide to mark the current boundaries of neoreactionary thought. Where an individual neoreactionary writer has overextended his arguments, the anti-reactionary FAQ counterattacks, forcing back the salient. The monarchist position, for example, remains rather weak and underdeveloped, and Alexander pushes back quite effectively.

But this should give the anti-reactionary little comfort, because Scott Alexander himself has written one of the most effective, and persuasive summaries of neoreaction, as mentioned before, titled “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell.” It’s so effective, in fact, that his anti-reactionary FAQ doesn’t even address his own summary of neoreaction. When probed on this point, he argues that he had actually “steelmanned” (the opposite of strawman) neoreactionary arguments, and chose to attack weaker targets, such as monarchists. By his own admission, his anti-reactionary FAQ only attacks the periphery of neoreaction, while avoiding the core.

And it gets worse. Even if you take the “Against Neoreaction” list at face value, you are still miles away from the liberal orthodoxy. To cite Ron Unz as an opponent of neoreaction is laughable – that would be like a lamb enlisting the help of a wolf to fight a lion. Scott Alexander’s position is already a significant retreat from the liberal worldview. None of the people cited are actually interested in defending the blank-slate theory of humanity, or the globalist multicultural social-democratic project. Each of them have put up their own barricade of resistance on the road to reaction, yelling “Here, and no further.” They are better described as moderates on the Cathedral-Neoreaction spectrum.

Don’t take my word for it, read for yourself.

Moral Progress turns hostile against Technological Progress

Headline: Cure for deafness a reality as scientists make animals hear again… and promise first human patients will be treated in a “few years”

First commenter:

Am flabbergasted! How does the power of media continue to conjure such nonsense passive ideologies to raise money for further research sickens me – anyone even the stone deaf can feel or even SEE the lorry approaching! (It’s not that small!) These monies should and can be better invested in the global recession and life threatening illness. Dr Ralph Holme of the RNID has no concept of being deaf so does not represent us all. We should all embrace the universal benefits of being deaf such as sign language which brings us all together in many aspects. Please stop using us to pave your paid role. Being deaf enriches my life so stop selling us short with lame cites such as it “eroding my quality of life” – you have no right at all. Nothing about us without us.

Bad Eagle

David Yeagley is terminally ill. David Yeagley is a bad ass. Go donate to him.

A Response to Scott Alexander’s Response to my Response to Alexander’s Response to Neoreaction

I appreciate Scott Alexander’s willingness to address neoreactionary ideas at a deeper level than one usually finds in progressive screeds. He makes excellent points that force us neoreactionaries to sharpen our arguments and refine our positions. I wish we had more interlocutors like him. We often accuse the Left of operating in an ideological echo chamber, so we need to ensure that we are constantly deconstructing our own.

In any debate, the devil is in the details. Too often, however, we conflate the details with the debate itself. Arguments are nested within arguments, and within this nesting exists a hierarchy of importance. The crux of a debate rarely hinges on a single data point but rather on a collection of data, a preponderance of evidence, a forceful trend in one direction or the other. The tête-à-têtes that make up a debate move that force toward one position or another. But we should not confuse this small movement with an end to the debate writ large. No one is going to change his progressive or reactionary mind based on, e.g., the results of an argument about the Roman corn dole.

With all that in mind, I’ll address some points brought up by Alexander in his counter-argument, recognizing, from the outset, that many of these issues are nested within a larger argument over worldviews, and that any one of these sub-issues are but one node within a larger argumentative network. Let’s not lose the forest for the trees.

~~~

Part I. Rome. 

Alexander’s reformulation of his original argument brings me into almost entire agreement with him. He writes:

The original question was whether ancient Rome could be called a progressive society. I say it was. Scharlach objects that it wasn’t, because it didn’t have the particular brand of progressive philosophy we do today. But I respond that the philosophy is irrelevant to what we presumably care about – social policies and social outcomes. Policies (like welfare) and outcomes (like the existence of a large class of welfare-dependent poor) were the same in classical Rome and modern America, and for the same reasons. Therefore, it is correct and useful to call classical Rome an early progressive society, though with the obvious caveat that it did not go as far in that direction as our own.

I did indeed object to the labeling of Rome as “progressive” because Rome “didn’t have the particular brand of progressive philosophy we do today.” I don’t think Alexander negates my objection. Rather, he simply argues that my point is irrelevant—“philosophy is irrelevant to . . . social policies and social outcomes.” The title of my original post was The Motives of Social Policy. Ergo, my entire post is irrelevant. However, the way Alexander re-frames this question of social policies and outcomes, I agree that my post is irrelevant. Let’s not quibble over semantics, Alexander says, providing instead a wonderfully Machiavellian analysis of “progressive” societies wherever they may be found and whatever their political ideals:

According to legend, Frederick the Great declared of his conquests: “I will begin by taking. I shall find scholars later to demonstrate my perfect right” (okay, Reactionaries, I will admit Frederick the Great was hella cool). If Frederick was in the welfare business, he might have said “I will begin by giving welfare. Later, I will find scholars to come up with a philosophy supporting welfare.” . . .

I’m sure if Frederick conquered both classical Rome and 21st-century America, his Roman supporters would declare he was following the will of Jupiter, and his American supporters would declare he was trying to help disprivileged minorities.

Indeed! Most neoreactionaries strain to make this same point: progressive lip-service to “social justice” is in fact conquest by other means (c.f., e.g., demographic history of Los Angeles or Detroit). Progressivism is about grasping power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict. I am in total agreement with Alexander here.

Alexander also writes:

States that are militarily secure, economically advanced, multicultural, and urbanized tend to adopt progressive policies (here I am confusingly lumping some values like multiculturalism in as policies, but you know what I mean). Ancient Rome and modern America are both militarily secure, economically advanced, multicultural, and urbanized.

Again, I am in complete agreement on this point. Just now I wrote that progressivism is the means by which individuals grasp power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict. Societies that cannot afford conflict are precisely the successful and secure ones. Neither neoreactionaries nor Black Panthers are going to war because that might cost them their Netflix and Starbucks, not to mention the USG would be quick to throw them all in jail.

One more time, then: Progressivism is the political means by which individuals grasp power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict because it has become urbanized and economically advanced. For example, in a society in which blacks, mestizos, whites, Jews, and Asians all live within a few hundred yards of one another, and they all live relatively comfortable lives, sheltered by a strong economy and national military . . . why the hell would you light the fire of ethnic tensions in that society? Much better to circulate false memes about equality and acceptance. These memes keep the ethnic tensions in check. Who knows? Maybe some day all the ethnics will actually believe these bullshit memes. Someday . . . In the meantime, it’s enough that they pretend they believe them, so that everyone can enjoy their Netflix.

~~~

One small point of continuing disagreement with Alexander over the Rome question. He writes:

If [Scharlach’s] essay is trying to compare the grateful Roman poor and the entitled, demanding modern poor, I propose that the Roman recipients of the annona were as entitled and demanding as any modern.

They may have been equally demanding, but what they were demanding was very, very different. I can feel sympathy for an underclass that demands its right to basic food items. I can feel no sympathy for an underclass that demands its right to, e.g., free tax credits for purchasing $2500 hand bags.

~~~

Part II. Alexander’s Progressive Values Equation. 

This whole discussion is interesting enough, but it is mostly valuable as an entry point into a more basic discussion about the emergence of progressive values. Alexander provides an equation for this emergence:

Urbanization + Growth -> Social Change -> Progressive Values

(really the “social change” node should be called “pressure for social change”, and it and the “progressive values” node should have little circular arrows both pointing at each other, but let’s keep it simple)

He provides an example of his equation:

A 25th century historian, looking back at our own age, might notice two things. She would notice that suddenly, around the end of the 20th century, everyone started getting very fat. And she would notice that suddenly, around the end of the 20th century, the “fat acceptance movement” started to become significant. She might conclude, very rationally, that some people started a fat acceptance movement, it was successful, and so everyone became very fat.

With clearer knowledge of our era, we know better. We know that people started getting fat for, uh, reasons. It seems to have a lot to do with the greater availability and better taste of fatty, sugary foods. It might also have to do with complicated biological reasons like hormone disrupters in our plastics. But we have excellent evidence it’s not because of the fat acceptance movement, which started long after obesity rates began to increase. If we really needed to prove it, we could investigate whether obesity is more common in populations with good access to fat acceptance memes (like, uh, Wal-Mart shoppers and American Samoans).

To us early-21st century-ites, it’s pretty clear why the fat acceptance movement started now. Its natural demographic is fat people, there are more fat people around to support it, they feel like they have strength in numbers. and non-fat people are having trouble stigmatizing fat people because it’s much harder to stigmatize a large group than a small group (no pun intended).

Once more, I broadly agree with Alexander here. Now, at some point, once the progressive values are in circulation, a feedback mechanism emerges that accelerates the social change. But Alexander is correct that before those values enter wide circulation, certain social, political, or demographic conditions must already be in place. Obviously! There needs to be fat people for there to be a fat acceptance movement. (Likewise, there needs to be a lot of people divorcing and already-progressive divorce law before you get no-fault divorce.)

Let’s input some specifics into Alexander’s equation relating to fat acceptance. We could quibble about the inputs, of course, but this is just an illustration:

Urbanization (more sedentary lifestyles) + Growth (more access to sugary foods; hormone disrupters in plastics) –> Social Change (more fat people) –> Progressive Values (fat acceptance movement)

I agree with this equation, but I agree with it as a purely descriptive matter. The equation captures how progressive values emerge from diverse material conditions, but as a normative matter, I think this equation is precisely the problem. Once Social Change and Progressive Values enter into a feedback loop, sooner or later, there is no incentive to combat the inputs leading to the emergence of that feedback loop. Again, as a normative matter, I don’t think that “obesity” is a value my culture should adhere to, and I certainly don’t want to see people “optimizing for obesity.” But that is what may be happening. Why? See the equation.

To combat the feedback loop, you need to combat its inputs, if possible. How do you combat the inputs in the equation above? There are many ways to do it, but one way not to do it is to foster the progressive value of fat acceptance. If obesity deserves our respect and acceptance, then what incentive exists to combat the root causes of obesity? We might for a while pay lip service to the idea that “well, fat acceptance is not about refusing to combat obesity but about being nice to fat people. We want both!” You can’t have both. If a society decides to be nice to X, then X it will accept and X it will have because X will eventually become normalized. Indeed, isn’t that what the fat acceptance movement is all about? Normalizing fatness? That is the end result of Alexander’s Progressive Values Equation: normalization.

Urbanization (more sedentary lifestyles) + Growth (more access to sugary foods; hormone disrupters in plastics) –> Social Change (more fat people) –> Progressive Values (fat acceptance movement) = Normalization (fat is a normal and legally protected way of life) 

I would rather see the following equation:

Urbanization (more sedentary lifestyles) + Growth (more access to sugary foods; hormone disrupters in plastics) –> Social Change (more fat people) –> Reactionary Values (tough love on the obese) = Incentives (combat sedentary lifestyle, sugary foods; surgery; etc.)

Now, obesity is largely genetic, so I don’t think we should shame fat people any more than we should shame low-IQ students for dropping out of high school. Fat Shaming Week was about pushing back against the normalization of obesity, not about making fun of fat girls. However, by responding to Social Change (more fat people) with Reactionary Values (tough love on the obese), the end result is not normalization of obesity but the creation of a society in which fat people want to combat their own fatness to the best of their ability, with help and support from the skinnies who have set the anti-obesity standard. Will all obese people lose weight? Of course not. Like I said, there are obvious genetic issues involved, as well as intractable environmental issues. But there will be more weight loss and less obesity in general in a world that responds to increased obesity rates with Reaction rather than Universal Progressive Acceptance. And I think that, up until now, America has generally responded to obesity in a wonderfully right-wing manner. As I said, the fat acceptance movement is still fringe. The only fat people I know who want to be accepted as such are my far-left colleagues; my Spanish family is quite large, but all of them actively try not to be, and some have been quite successful.

~~~

The fat acceptance movement is still fringe, but growing (heh heh). It may grow very quickly because we live in a hyper-mediated world in which memes circulate swiftly. However, will it grow because there are more fat people?

Alexander seems to imply that numbers drive this emergence, from social change, of progressive values of acceptance:

To us early-21st century-ites, it’s pretty clear why the fat acceptance movement started now. Its natural demographic is fat people, there are more fat people around to support it, they feel like they have strength in numbers. and non-fat people are having trouble stigmatizing fat people because it’s much harder to stigmatize a large group than a small group (no pun intended).

Indeed there are more fat people around today. But what do we mean by “more”? As I discussed in this post:

The population increases, but the percentage of people committing themselves to political movements probably stays the same. But . . . math: the population increases, the percentage stays the same, but nevertheless the raw number of people getting involved in politics increases. Conservatives in their 70s and 80s are asking themselves, “Where did all these wierdos come from?” There is not a higher percentage of people than ever feeding their bizarre Rights fetish; but there are more people from which the same percentage of political malcontents can be gathered. Ergo, seemingly more wierdos with a Rights fetish. And they are the people who matter. Neither the nation at large nor the fickle politicians notice the 90% not agitating for political movements; they notice the 10% who do. They’re the few, the proud, the Neopuritans with a megaphone and an attitude that says, ‘by any means necessary.’

More fat people are not needed to fuel a fat acceptance movement. More fat people willing to start and agitate for a fat acceptance movement are needed to fuel a fat acceptance movement. But there needn’t be very many of them. I think Alexander is wrong to implicate Social Change with large numbers of people. If it were a matter of numbers, the LGBT movement should never have gotten off the ground. Only about 5% of the population is LGBT, and certainly only a small percentage of that already small percentage is willing to agitate for LGBT rights. If you add in the straight “allies,” maybe you get back to 5% of the whole population agitating for LGBT rights. Yes, 5% of 300 million is a lot of people, but it’s not a lot of people given the total population.

The conclusion I draw is that the influence of political agitation does not control for total population size. This fact is the basis of pressure politics. Pressure politics—and its latest manifestation, “shame politics”—relies on that relatively small percentage of the population that is bored or unemployed enough to commit to political agitation. The progressives win because they know pressure politics. They know how to control the breeze to create the appearance of a storm, which ends up causing a real storm. Progressives know they don’t need ‘the people’—an empty rhetorical concept—they just need a few percent of the people. And they need just one percent of that few percent to agitate, to scare CEOs into firing people, to scare politicians into voting for progressive policy.

Alexander’s equation is incomplete. He seems to assume that Social Change will be widespread, and the widespread nature of Social Change leads to Progressive Values, a natural emergence. But the change needn’t be widespread at all. In terms of pure percentages, there are no more LGBT individuals (or blacks, for that matter) in America today than there were 100 years ago. It should, in Alexander’s terms, still be easy to stigmatize these small groups. In reality, though, people lose their jobs and are socially shunned if they stigmatize these groups.

Small groups with great political Voice. A progressive thing. Which would be fine if these groups were agitating to terra-form Mars or build a Death Star. They aren’t. What are they doing instead? Go back to the strategy with which we started:

Progressivism is the political means by which individuals grasp power in a society that cannot afford the costs of direct violent conflict because it has become urbanized and economically advanced.

Neoreaction is, in part, the realization that progressivism is power politics among groups who don’t think they have enough power and are putting all their energy (and, ultimately, the nation’s energy) into gaining the power they believe is rightly theirs. Left unchecked, this progressive impulse can lead nowhere but down, into cultural and intellectual decline—just like Rome.

Ruin Porn. French version.

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

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.