Monday, October 17, 2016

He Shall Be Cut Off From Among His People

Apparently the gay clergy convened a synod to debate a highly abstruse point of theological doctrine for the purpose of confirming Peter Thiel's excommunication. The agreement they settled on is that while Thiel might engage in "gay sex", he's not truly "gay" in his heart and soul by virtue of his reactionary politics. No word yet as to whether he might be permitted to use his tech fortune to buy some indulgences. But to the superstitious medieval mind, Thiel's sins are so grievous that his evil spirit still possesses a company he sold more than a decade ago, prompting church officials to urge lay worshipers to boycott it until a professional exorcism can be performed.

If you've ever wanted to see the arrhythmic, worm-infested heart of identity politics, there it is — the group giveth identity, and the group taketh away. Black conservatives and anti-feminist, pro-life women nod and smile ruefully. Identity only counts within the boundaries of the party line. According to the Great Chain of Intersectional Being, straight white males, a monolithic group, are at the top. Everyone else is defined by degrees of alienation and oppression, the foundational concepts of the left-wing worldview. If you happen to reside further up the chain among the clouds of privilege, your only hope of being provisionally tolerated by the professionally oppressed clerisy is by engaging in public displays of obsequious flattery, maudlin pity, and anguished self-loathing. Still, however devoted your efforts, you may rest assured that a dossier is nevertheless being kept on you for use when you become inconvenient or tiresome. If, as an officially recognized victim, you deny that your agency has been completely compromised by structural factors far beyond your control or understanding, or you fail to display sufficient resentment against your oppressors, you, too, will be cast out into the outer darkness.

Update: And here I thought I was exaggerating for effect!

The article headline itself goes with "tolerate", while the URL uses "shun", but still, the message is the standard progressive party line. "Tolerance" means that conservative-leaning people need to put up with things that bother or offend them. "Diversity" means that everyone looks different in superficial ways while marching in ideological lockstep. For me, the funniest part is Oremus wrinkling his nose in disgust about a book Thiel co-wrote, which he describes as "noxious" and "as un-PC as it gets." I don't know, I haven't read it, but judging by the description, Oremus sounds like quite a delicate flower, which, I suppose, is all too typical of the hothouse environment he and his fellow progressives sequester themselves in.

Friday, October 14, 2016

I Wanted to Be With You Alone and Talk About the Weather

It is a piquant irony that I, of all people, should be forced to defend small talk, a practice in which I am neither a skilled nor enthusiastic participant, but thus have the fates decreed it. I must say, my esteem for Dan Ariely has taken a plunge after reading this article, which reads as if a social engineer with severe autism has legislated that conversations become key parties.

Now, as many supercilious, antisocial adolescents have long observed, small talk is often frivolous and tedious. But like many sub-optimal practices, it has evolved that way for a reason, given the inherent difficulties of easing tensions and forging bonds with complete strangers. Ariely and Berman note that their experiment works precisely because it is structured, or "socially coordinated" — being informed in advance of the new rules governing this particular social interaction obviates the need for individuals to tentatively feel their way through it by means of light conversation. Festivals like Halloween, which temporarily subvert the normal order and expectations of social life, are also powerful and exciting for that reason, but only a freak raised in a Skinner box would conclude that we could and should routinely go around wearing masks and costumes because it makes us feel creative and liberated. Likewise, heady talk about "creating new social norms" which make all the participants "happier" based on superficial metrics is the kind of hyper-rationalist delusion one might expect to read about in a history of utopian intentional communities. A practice like this could only function in very specific situations with clearly-understood rules; blurring the boundaries between random strangers in public and PostSecret is not likely to end well.

The unexamined axiom here is that deep, profound conversation is what we all truly desire on a ritual basis, and if only the inefficiencies of the oppressive system were removed, we would blossom in our natural, uninhibited state. But perhaps bad faith is our natural state. Perhaps we secretly appreciate shallow living while making occasional aspirational gestures toward deeper meaning and significance. Perhaps the forced intimacy of Ariely's dinner party would be an unwelcome mirror and harsh light to our self-image. Only the most naive idealists go around overturning rocks that have been secured in place for ages and expect sunshine and charming melodies to come forth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Calling You Wrong, Calling You Out, Calling You Gone

Cathy Young:

This is a familiar argument: It's really the critics of "political correctness" who want to suppress speech.

It's also ridiculous. Of course Shriver doesn't want to suppress negative reviews of her books. There's a massive difference between criticism and "callouts." Criticism is an individual opinion; callouts are groupthink. Criticism is a judgment primarily focused, in the case of art and literature, on artistic and intellectual merit. Callouts are an expression of offense, moral judgment and condemnation, delivered on behalf of a purported righteous community or collective. Criticism says, "This is bad." The callout says, "This should not exist." The response to "cultural appropriation" and other ideological offenses that has come to dominate much of the left-of-center media in the last few years is not criticism; it's public shaming and pillorying. Its tone is scarily reminiscent of campaigns against ideological transgressors in the Soviet press.

Nothing needs to be added to that.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

No One Can Belie Optimistic Proof

Phil Torres:

Thus, a world without religion would be a significantly improved world than the one in which we now inhabit.

Lord, these people make me embarrassed to be unchurched. The rest of the article is the usual collection of New Atheist tropes that will likely be enshrined in the Constitution of Neil deGrasse Tyson's utopian nation of Rationalia, and you almost have to admire the unblemished, uh, faith in the salvific potential of evangelical atheism, given the prominent and entirely predictable implosion of one of its most prominent online hubs. Bertrand Russell, favorably quoted, as always, in the article regarding the intrinsic obstacle religion presents to moral progress, could have warned them about the danger of trusting pure logic to trump animal nature — in fact, in his autobiography, he did. Reflecting on the messy damage caused by his progressive experiments with free love, he admitted that, "Anyone else could have told me this in advance, but I was blinded by theory."

All that aside, I'm just impressed by the blithe confidence with which our hero asserts the above sentence. We've been here before, and the point still stands: for people who prattle on and on about the value of evidence and experiment, they seem remarkably indifferent to the fact that "a world without religion" is something that has quite literally never existed, making summary pronouncements on its shape and character quite literally meaningless. Faith-based, you might even say. "Religion" is not a mere integer to be easily subtracted, or a simple proposition to be assented to or denied, but rather a tangled knot of threads comprising everything from culture and history to personal identity and psychology. But presumably new developments in "enhancement technologies" will succeed where previous political attempts to rationally remake the world failed horribly. I'm afraid I'm incapable of making such a leap of faith.