Thursday, September 29, 2016

Epistemic Virtue

Scott Alexander:

And since then, one of the central principles behind my philosophy has been “Don’t destroy all existing systems and hope a planet-sized ghost makes everything work out”. Systems are hard. Institutions are hard. If your goal is to replace the current systems with better ones, then destroying the current system is 1% of the work, and building the better ones is 99% of it. Throughout history, dozens of movements have doomed entire civilizations by focusing on the “destroying the current system” step and expecting the “build a better one” step to happen on its own. That never works. The best parts of conservativism are the ones that guard this insight and shout it at a world too prone to taking shortcuts.

Donald Trump does not represent those best parts of conservativism. To transform his movement into Marxism, just replace “the bourgeoisie” with “the coastal elites” and “false consciousness” with “PC speech”. Just replace the assumption that everything will work itself out once power is in the hands of the workers, with the assumption that everything will work itself out once power is in the hands of “real Americans”. Just replace the hand-waving lack of plans with what to do after the Revolution with a hand-waving lack of plans what to do after the election. In both cases, the sheer virtue of the movement, and the apocalyptic purification of the rich people keeping everyone else down, is supposed to mean everything will just turn out okay on its own. That never works.

...US conservatism is in crisis, and I think that crisis might end better if Trump loses than if he wins.

Since a country with thriving conservative and liberal parties is lower-variance than one with lots of liberals but no effective conservatism, I would like conservatism to get out of crisis as soon as possible and reach the point where it could form an effective opposition. It would also be neat if whatever form conservatism ended out taking had some slight contact with reality and what would help the country (this is not meant as a dig at conservatives – I’m not sure the Democrats have much contact with reality or helps the country either; I’m wishing for the moon and stars here).

As usual, Alexander says everything that needs to be said. I too hope to see a revitalized, healthy conservatism assert itself once the Trumpian fever breaks. That hope might be the only thing to sustain me through four-to-eight more years of our culture being absolutely saturated with social justice zealotry.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Lionel Shriver:

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left.

...Ms. Abdel-Magied got the question right: How is this happening? How did the left in the West come to embrace restriction, censorship and the imposition of an orthodoxy at least as tyrannical as the anti-Communist, pro-Christian conformism I grew up with? Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves “progressives,” forsaking a noun that had its roots in “liber,” meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit.

I suppose you could say that it's just another case of power corrupting. People with cultural territory to defend are fearful of losing it. Or you could look at the way in which left-wing politics have incorporated the worst aspects of the recovery movement, where everyone is defined by the supposed traumas and abuses that have shaped them from childhood, thus requiring politics to become another form of therapy. Or maybe it's just the inevitable end game of a political outlook that always aimed too high and has now lost momentum and direction. Even the "sane" progressives have little to offer but nostalgia anymore, dreaming of a magical return to the unique conditions of the postwar welfare state, defining themselves against those dreaded conservatives primarily by means of their largely-ineffectual conspicuous compassion.

Someone somewhere recently joked that we should start calling this generation of leftists the ctrl-left, in honor of their relationship to their mirror image, the alt-right. Brilliant. I'm all in favor of it.

The Company You Keep

And there you have it — for zealots like Snyder, there is no such thing as neutral ground in a holy war. Likewise, Jamelle Bouie informs us, with a pointed stare and a raised eyebrow, that using a useful descriptor like "virtue signaling" makes you guilty by association with the alt-right. Okay, fine, you got me, I surrender. Yes, I only recently stopped beating my wife. Yes, I'm a conservative. Yes, I consort with neo-Nazis in the darkest corners of the web where we plot foul deeds. Yes, I've sworn fealty to the Trumplord. There's no point in arguing. Confess early, confess often. Cheerfully admit to anything and everything in the hopes that your inquisitors will conclude you're too insane to understand what you're even saying.

Ben additionally makes an interesting, related point here: what does it even mean to call yourself a progressive when you oppose much or most of what modern progressivism preaches and practices?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mot Juste

Rachelle Peterson:

“Privilege” is to serious criticism what a strobe on a cop car is to natural lighting: a warning, not a source of illumination.

That is a phrase which makes me envious.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

You Are the Spooks You're Chasing. You Know Not What You Do

According to the usual voices on the multiculti left, the author Lionel Shriver gave an address at a literary festival in which she largely quoted entire passages from Mein Kampf. The full transcript, for those of you intrepid souls brave enough to face the beast head-on, can be found here.

There's little to be said that hasn't been said before. The left will always subject reality to Procrustean torture to make it fit the alienation/oppression framework that gives structure to their entire worldview. Still, even I, jaded though I might be, couldn't help but chuckle involuntarily upon seeing white people on social media declare that of course white people like Shriver don't understand what cultural appropriation really is (despite the fact that in her speech, Shriver quoted a definition of the term from a seemingly-unimpeachable source). According to other people of pallor, the real issue is about her lack of empathy, or maybe it's about unjust power differentials. But by their own reasoning, who are these people to affirm what cultural appropriation is or isn't? On what philosophical grounds do they assert their vision of justice to be objective and factually accurate when all else is relative? Either they have somehow managed to miraculously surmount the apparently-genetic inability of white people to understand left-wing ideological axioms, or perhaps those axioms are normative statements — ostensibly objective facts, their proponents might even say — about the world which can be understood by anyone.

And thus we run up against a modern version of the ancient Epimenides paradox, which you can see acted out in real time on social media every day. All white people are stained by the sins of racism and colonialism and must unquestioningly defer to the judgment of people of color, says a white leftist, just before arrogantly dismissing the objections of non-white people who disagree with him. Lesser contradictions abound as well — Kenan Malik reiterates how the supposedly-progressive notions aimed at preventing a slippery slope to racial hatred and genocide are theoretically identical to those supporting old-fashioned racial separatism. Sonny Bunch notes the astonishing irony of Shriver's loudest critic claiming to want to be "challenged" and made "uncomfortable". I hate to validate anything about psychoanalysis, but it's hard to avoid thinking that there's very little about these people that can't be explained as an illustration of projection.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Into the Void

Alan Jacobs:

Anyway, a few weeks ago I decided to resume my tumblr, on which I was very active for around eight years or so — I’ll have my 10-year Tumblrversary next March — because I wasn’t getting a ton of traffic here and I thought “Why bother to post stuff that almost no one reads?”

I resemble that remark, so allow me to offer some answers.

  • For the sheer joy of expression which requires no external validation
  • To avoid pestering individual friends with long-winded emails
  • For posterity
  • To nurture a self-pitying fantasy of yourself as a misunderstood genius surrounded by unappreciative philistines
  • Montaigne wrote his Essays without an audience for ten years before publishing them (if it was good enough for him...)
  • To give solid form, structure, and clarity to your thoughts
  • Because when you read a lot of books, your head gets filled with words, and if you don't empty them out periodically, they'll start talking amongst themselves, and the din will be unbearable
  • To look busy at work
  • For its own sake, as with other spiritual disciplines and practices
  • To be surprised by how often a piece of your writing looks better when rediscovered
  • Because even the latent possibility of an audience keeps you from lapsing into "Dear Diary" self-indulgence
  • For the same reason we do almost anything beyond eating, sleeping, and reproducing: to distract ourselves from thinking about our inevitable deaths
  • Because the older generations walked miles every day to work tirelessly on the website factory assembly lines so that you kids could one day have the luxury of playing with preassembled, smoothly-functioning text editing platforms in any color or design you could want, so I really don't think it's asking too much that you take a few minutes to sit down and use the thing without crying about the fact that it doesn't come with an audience included