I’ve been thinking quite a bit about some of the habits of thought that form, or rather deform, the collective conversation of our time. Partly, of course, that’s because here in the United States, the collective conversation of our time has reached a level of weirdness that would make a surrealist gasp. Has anyone else noticed that most of our Democrats seem to be channeling McCarthy-era Republicans, babbling about sinister Russian agents hiding under every bed, while Republicans insist with a straight face that Jesus really does want them to punish the poor for being poor?
At stray moments late at night I sometimes wonder if we’ve somehow slipped into an analogue of that classic weird tale, Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, which is about a play that drives people insane. (There’s good reason why people use the term “political theater,” after all.) I’ve gone so far as to plot out a story in which characters spanning the political spectrum come unhinged in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, until a liberal character bashes her brains out against a concrete wall while shrieking “Trump, Trump, Trump,” and a conservative religious fundamentalist ends up flinging himself on a pyre of burning books as a sacrifice to Kek the Frog God. The one surviving character stumbles to the bank of the Potomac, only to find that it’s turned into the cloudy lake of Demhe, and beyond it the nightmare towers of Carcosa rise against a sky dotted with black stars. The title of the story, of course, is “The King in Orange.”
The collective craziness that grips so many Americans just now has deep and troubling roots, and we’ll probably have to talk about that down the road a bit. Just now, though, I want to talk about one of the factors that’s helping to drive that craziness, a habit that’s just as weird but somewhat less deeply rooted: the way that so many people these days insist on talking about controversial issues in ways that guarantee that they’ll lose the resulting quarrel.
The example that brought this to mind came up a little while back on the comments page to an earlier post. One of my readers, a Briton of socially conservative views, wanted to talk about the way that British officialdom penalizes people who express traditional attitudes toward sexual minorities in public. Is it a controversial issue? You bet, but it’s not impossible that he could have won support, or at least respect, for his point of view by presenting a reasoned case based on the values of free speech and freedom of religion. Instead, he succeeded in making everyone not already committed to his point of view roll their eyes. How? By the simple but admirably effective expedient of referring to the officials in question as “the Gaystapo.”
Pick up that term, dear reader. Turn it over, glance at it from various angles, heft it in your hand, tap it to hear it clunk. Can you think of a word that does a better job of making its users look absurd? The officials thus labeled, I’m told, have caused a certain number of people to lose their jobs or to suffer various other social and financial penalties. I have yet to hear anybody claim that they’ve rounded up prisoners by the tens of thousands and sent them off to die. As a masterpiece of self-defeating absurdity, “Gaystapo” is thus hard to top (though Rush Limbaugh gave it the ol’ college try with his coinage “Feminazis”). The yawning gap between the Gestapo and the people my reader wanted to tar with that label is just too wide to bridge, except with a horse laugh.
Such embarrassments are by no means limited to the rightward end of the political spectrum. As a different kind of example from the other end, consider the way that a great many Democrats responded to the shifts in voting patterns that put Donald Trump into the White House. It so happens that a significant number of voters in the Midwest who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted against Hillary Clinton in 2016. The response of the Democrats I have in mind was to insist at the top of their lungs that the voters in question could only have been motivated by racism. The fact that everyone agrees that the voters in question voted to put the first African-American president in office somehow never got any traction in the resulting tantrums; nor, crucially, did the fact that yelling insults at people is not exactly a useful habit if you want them to vote for your candidate in 2020.
What’s more, when a variety of people tried to explain to the Democrats exactly why people in the Rust Belt voted for Trump in 2016, they got not merely pushback but full-on meltdowns. (I was one of the people in question, so I can testify to this from personal experience.) A great many Democrats insisted angrily that it was utterly unreasonable to expect them to find out what got Midwestern voters to vote for Trump, and what might make them change their minds and vote for a Democratic candidate in 2020. Since Those People (who, again, helped put Barack Obama in the White House) were all racists, what they wanted didn’t matter.
Do you see the similarity between the two behavior patterns, the embrace of self-defeating rhetoric and the embrace of a self-defeating strategy? My socially conservative reader and the furious Democrats were alike behaving as though they didn’t actually have to convince anyone who disagreed with them—and they were doing this in a situation where, by any reasonable assessment, they had to do just that. Behind this strange habit, I’ve come to think, lies a very curious and very widespread habit of thought.
We can get inside this habit most easily by a slightly roundabout route: in this case, by way of a neglected classic of American literature, the novel Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis recently had a second helping of fame when his brilliant satire It Can’t Happen Here, a novel about a fascist takeover of the United States in the 1930s, found a new audience again in the wake of Trump’s election. Babbitt is also a satire, but it aims in a different direction. Sinclair Lewis was a leading member of America’s intelligentsia between the wars; he was whip-smart, a university graduate at a time when that still meant something, and a habitué of avant-garde cultural circles—the kind of person, in other words, whose great-grandchildren were convinced that Hillary Clinton would surely become the next president of the United States.
George Babbitt, in turn, was Sinclair Lewis’ portrayal of his own antithesis. The main character of Babbitt, he’s a vulgar, glad-handing, back-slapping real estate salesman without a cultured bone in his body, pursuing the almighty dollar with every fiber of his being. A Republican, a Christian in that vague sense that doesn’t prevent him from committing whatever sins will make him rich, and an inhabitant of the flyover states before there were flyover states, he’s Lewis’ vision of the archetypal Trump voter, twenty-four years before Donald Trump was born.
So far, so good—but George Babbitt isn’t happy. In his heart of hearts, he knows that his life is empty and meaningless. As the novel unfolds, he makes several feeble attempts at rebellion, only to stumble back into conformity with the expectations of his peers when these fail. It falls to his son Ted to break the rules, elope with an unsuitable girl, and set out to become an engineer rather than being sucked into the same track as his father—and when crunch time comes, George encourages Ted to follow his dreams, telling him, “don’t be like me.”
It’s a great scene in a great novel, but it ultimately rings false, because Sinclair Lewis is trying to insist that in his heart of hearts, George Babbitt agrees with Sinclair Lewis about the Babbitts of the world. In Lewis’ fictive universe, there’s ultimately no room for valid differences of opinion; there’s the truth, which is of course identical to Lewis’ own values and opinions, and then there’s the malign make-believe of Babbitt and his peers, who know deep down that Lewis is right and they should all run off and become engineers or something, but persist in living their awful lives because they don’t have what it takes to act like Ted.
The same theme shows up in a far more crass and hamfisted way in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Here, in keeping with the increasingly vicious tone of political conflict in recent decades, Babbitt and his peers have morphed into the sinister Lord Voldemort and his legions of Death Eaters. Think about that last moniker for a moment. You don’t join a group called the Death Eaters because you believe in the justice and rightness of your cause. You join a group called the Death Eaters because you want to be baaaad. You join a group called the Death Eaters because you agree with Harry Potter and his pals about what’s right and what’s wrong—it’s just that for some reason or other, you want to be on the wrong side.
Imagine for a moment a Harry Potter series written in an alternate universe by an alternate J.K. Rowling. In this alternate universe, instead of having to contend with antagonists who go around with big signs saying KICK ME—I’M EVIL taped onto their rumps, Harry and his pals are up against the visionary idealist Tom Riddle and his Campaign for a New Wizarding Future, which is full of bright faces, youthful enthusiasm, and soulful concern about how the wizarding world is being crushed under the boot-heel of mudbloodcentric hegemony. What’s more, in this alternate Harry Potter series, Riddle and his followers believe in their cause. They’re not just spouting cant to deceive the unwary while cackling in secret about how baaaad they are. No, they really, truly believe that what they’re doing is right and good and just, and if that involves ugly deeds from time to time, well, the crisis is so extreme and the vision that drives them on is so glorious that it’s necessary to set aside moral quibbles and do what must be done, right?
That alternate Harry Potter series would have been a far richer tale, much less weighed down with cheap moral caricature, far more effective at speaking to the ethical crises of our own time. If Rowling had written it that way, though, she wouldn’t be the richest woman in Britain today, and the Harry Potter novels wouldn’t have made anything like the splash they did. They won the hearts of the mass media and the leftward end of the reading public precisely because they embraced the same fantasy Sinclair Lewis wove into Babbitt: the fantasy that the people that today’s liberals like to hate really do know they’re wrong, but just won’t admit it.
Here again, that’s a habit found with equal intensity on the other side of the political spectrum. The exact equivalent of the Harry Potter series, in its vast commercial success as well as its frantically monochrome moral one-sidedness, is Tim La Haye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ equally sprawling religious-fantasy series Left Behind. Nicolae Carpathia, the villain of the Left Behind series, is a precise equivalent of Lord Voldemort; in fact, he’s the Antichrist, the triple-distilled, charcoal-filtered essence of evil for evil’s sake, and he’s there for the sole purpose of acting out a set of dubiously Biblical prophecies and then getting the stuffing pounded out of him by God. In the process, though, he feeds the evangelical Protestant daydream that everyone who disagrees with them really does know better, and thus deserves to get the boot in the face forever once Jesus finally gets around to showing up.
Now factor this same weird fixation into the self-defeating behavior discussed earlier in this post, and see how it connects the dots.
Consider the notion, equally popular across the entire political landscape these days, that the best way to convince people to do what you want is to scream insults at them. To say that this doesn’t work is to understate the case considerably—after all, dear reader, if someone were to scream insults at you, especially if you had good reason to think that the insults in question are absurdly unfair, would you be likely to give their point of view a fair hearing thereafter?—but people who assume that everyone really does agree with them deep down don’t think of that. Since, in their view, everyone knows that the insulters are right, it ought to be an effective strategy to bully and shame other people into admitting what they already know to be true. Thus it makes a warped kind of sense for one side to scream “Gaystapo!” while the other side screams “Racist!”—and the mere fact that this sort of screaming has never changed anyone’s mind, not once in the history of forever, never occurs to those who haven’t grasped that changing minds is what’s necessary.
The notion that everyone really does agree with you after all, and just has to be bullied and shamed and insulted into admitting it, deserves a label. I propose to give it one: the Babbitt Fallacy. It could as well be called the Voldemort Fallacy or the Antichrist Fallacy, but those labels might encourage people on one or the other side of the political landscape to forget that the same rule applies to them, too. The Babbitt Fallacy it is, then: the notion that everyone agrees with you deep down in their heart of hearts, that no one actually has a different opinion and believes in it at least as firmly as you believe in yours. Ultimately, it’s the denial that anybody can have reasons for their beliefs except you.
There’s another work of fiction that comes to mind as I consider the Babbitt Fallacy and its alternatives, an old favorite of mine that had quite a burst of popularity at once point and then got shoved into our culture’s memory hole as its implications sank in. The novel in question is Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf.
Hesse’s tale is set right around the same time as Babbitt, in Germany rather than America, and the main character, Harry Haller, is basically the Antibabbit. He’s what Sinclair Lewis and his contemporary equivalents would think of as one of the Good People: a sensitive, cultured writer who’s rebelled against the lowbrow middle-class culture of his upbringing, and likes to imagine himself as a wolf on the steppes, estranged from the human world. He’s also miserably unhappy and kind of a jerk. He’s a jerk in an excellent cause—as Hesse himself did, he tries to oppose the movement toward a renewed militarism that ended up leading Germany into Hitler’s clutches—but he’s still a jerk, and one of the consequences is that he alienates an old friend who might otherwise have been sympathetic to his ideas.
So he ends up in a bar, afraid to go home because he knows that when he gets there he’ll probably cut his own throat—and a chance encounter with a younger woman plunges him into a face-first encounter with the realities he’s shut out of his life. He comes to terms with his dependence on his lowbrow middle-class origins; he comes to terms with the lowbrow pop culture he’s convinced himself he despises; he comes to terms with the whole dizzying reality of a world in which many different values and viewpoints and tastes exist. He doesn’t give up his own values and viewpoints and tastes, but he recognizes that they’re his and not everyone’s.
There’s a lot more to Steppenwolf than that; among other things, though it never breathes a word about Carl Jung or Jung’s theories, it’s probably the best introduction to Jungian psychology I’ve ever read. (Jung and Hesse were good friends.) It’s also simply a really good read, if you can handle a bit of surrealism in your fiction. (You should be able to do this, dear reader, given the amount of it that features these days on the evening news.) Still, it’s particularly relevant here, because its portrayal of the way that an intelligent person can get stuck in a self-defeating dead end, and then get popped out of it. That’s something a lot of us can stand to learn just now.
Ironically, when Steppenwolf had its fifteen minutes of fame in English translation, critics tended to describe it as a searing, bitter satire on the futility and emptiness of modern life—that is to say, as though it were Babbitt. I’m pretty sure that this was because the critics in question realized what Hesse was saying, and ran like Babbitts back to their familiar clichés. Hesse found all this baffling; in the introduction to the copy I have, a battered 1970s paperback with pleasantly lurid cover art, he points out that Steppenwolf is ultimately an optimistic book, a book about healing, and ultimately a book about spirituality. And of course that’s just it: Hesse is talking about ways out of the suffocating insistence that there’s only one way to understand the world, and that’s a very frightening thing…
…especially when your one way to understand the world doesn’t work any more.
That’s the deeper dimension, or one of the deeper dimensions, underlying the pervasiveness of the Babbitt Fallacy in contemporary life in the industrial world. None of the ways by which we’re taught to make sense of the world still live up to their billing. The grand liberal faith in a future of limitless betterment, in which economic abundance and moral improvement would someday turn the world into Utopia, has shattered on the rocks of reality. Its equivalent on the other end of the spectrum, the conservative faith in the enduring wisdom of traditional social arrangements, was quietly strangled by its supposed friends a long time ago, and functions now the way Lenin’s corpse functioned in the late and unlamented Soviet Union, as the mummified icon of an ideology long since replaced by straightforward kleptocratic mania.
Neither liberalism as currently practiced, nor conservatism as currently practiced, have answers for the spiraling questions of the present day. Neither, for that matter, do their self-consciously avant-garde offshoots, social-justice faux-liberalism or alt-right pseudoconservatism; nor does what passes for a moderate stance these days, which usually amounts to blind commitment to business as usual at a time when business as usual has definitively passed its pull date. Since these are the only socially acceptable viewpoints just now, in turn, those who hold them are stuck in a quandary at least as savage as the one that had Harry Haller sitting in that bar, desperately looking for reasons not to go home and cut his throat. It’s no wonder that so many of them react with such frenzy to the suggestion that someone else might have a different view of things.
There’s a surprisingly straightforward way out of the quandary, as it happens. It comes from an unexpected quarter: the old-fashioned art of rhetoric. We’ll talk about that next week—and in the process we’ll begin a sequence of posts I’ve been pondering for a very long time: a discussion of the place of education, and especially of self-directed adult education, in an age of decline.
With regards to Harry Potter, the fact is that if Riddle acts as you suggest, he’d win. The Ministry is corrupt and incompetent, and the Order of the Phoenix isn’t terribly capable either. Rowling would have to have the good characters up their game considerably… which would result in children not being able to affect the outcome to nearly the extent they did in her books, and the series being more for adults than kids. At which point some of the dysfunctional world-building would need to be fixed from the ground up.
I have seen some fanfiction that writes Riddle and/or his followers in the way you suggest. In cases where it is well-written and the darker parts of their agenda aren’t pasted over, things can get disturbing very quickly indeed. More often, it isn’t that well-written and you end up just switching the good and bad sides, or with people running around enjoying being evil.
I absolutely agree with a lot of what is said here. Some of it I am not in a position to either agree or disagree about. That would be because of my own ignorance. I do find a couple of things funny about these times – well lots actually. The belief that if I can only shout down the opposition stridently enough I will have won – what I am not sure – seems counterproductive. Surely the recipients of such behaviour go away, lick their wounds and become more convinced of their own point of view. Another oddity is that before the election the Democrats were talking about republicans not taking a defeat lying down. They would fight on. Anything there sound familiar to anyone? It seems that since we have lost self-respect we have also lost respect for others. Thank you, John, for so consistently trying to keep an even hand in whatever is discussed here.
It’s astonishing how popular this fallacy is in the aftermath of a school shooting. One side goes “Kill the NRA”, the other side mocks survivors for supporting gun control. You can’t make this sh*t up.
I’d like to nominate the Voldemort-Carpathian fallacy for a name. I know both of those, but I was not familiar with Babbit.
Steppenwolf does sound interesting.
I will look forward to the art of rhetoric post, and the self-directed education ones. The first especially sounds useful.
Thank you for this post. Really, thank you. Its so warm and wise, and gives me hope that there is sanity out there. I’m printing it out to keep having learned my lesson from ADR that what I love can go suddenly.
My friends who I keep in touch with on Facebook have absolutely lost their minds after this last school shooting. Many were already posting several times a day anti-Trump articles for the past year. Finally by end of January they began posting other things. I guess because a year had passed since Trump was inaugurated and he didn’t do anything Hitler-like and actually got some legislation passed that helped people, such as removing the health care mandate and cutting the tax rate. Thinking about it again, that’s too reasoned an approach; they were perhaps exhausted by their TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) and moved on. Anyway over the past week my friends have turned into people who feel that now is the time for the government to forcibly take away all guns from citizens. I’ve heard this after many shootings – Columbine, Connecticut and the Amish school – but this time feels different. An anger I haven’t seen and a new determination. It seems like CNN is fueling it from what I see online, although I don’t watch any news so not sure how bad the propaganda is from American Pravda.
So I struggle with what to do as I watch my friends who I don’t see on a regular basis struggle in this way online. They are watching a completely different “movie” of what is happening than I am, and I’m not sure how to break the spell of that movie. Its as if they are hypnotized.
Is it posible that there is group hypnosis occurring? Or some kind of mass delusion yet undetected? Or darker forces unseen? How do I help break it?
Thank you for your calm and reasoned approached. I wish you had office hours where I could stop by and chat too. Gonna throw a tip in the jar!
Excellent. Attempted persuasion is now often considered a violent assault. How dare you try to “change my mind!” This might also play a part in the denigration of expertise. Looking forward to your thoughts on self-directed education. It can be challenging to balance a faithfulness to a tradition or principles, build your own perspective and be appropriately open to others.
Another excellent post, helping to teach us how to think _again_. Now, if only ‘they’ would listen too.
Between Epictetus, you, and the ethnobotany/traditional skills classes I participate in, I can find peace, and teach useful wisdom to my children in this broken world. Nettles are almost in season here in western Washington, so we’ll be harvesting for spring tonic soup and tea soon.
I like the song and dance routine. Who knew that dancing and singing skill was a requirement for evil? Now I want to see Voldemort and the Death Eaters dance this. I bet they’d make a mess of it.
As a brief comment on some of my own experiences, my decision to finally stop engaging in conversations on PoliticalWire was due in no small part to the tendency of many (though admittedly not all) of those with whom I was conversing to end our debates with invectives sent in my general direction. I reached a stopping-point.
In my own political role as a local official, I have tried (not always successfully) to keep the mental framing that opposition to my proposals at council is not a personal issue, but a difference of perspective and that regardless of the length of the debate or the various arguments presented, sometimes there simply isn’t a middle ground where agreement can be attained. It is a challenge at times — particularly in the heat of debate — but I am working on being more mindful. (It is easier to see afterwards, but that is also less immediately useful.)
As to the American situation, I have finally come to the inner place of acknowledgement that our tumble down the back-slope of empire and the world’s tumble down the back-slope of industrial civilization just are and just will be. We can work to mitigate the relative harshness of the future, but that is the extent of our power. And that mitigation isn’t going to be done by engaging in loud, angry, futile conversations with people who are not yet ready to see what is happening and who remain stuck in the old narratives (just as I once was). While my personal acts may feel vanishingly small in contrast with the immensity of the challenge before us, they are better than nothing.
Hi John, I had noticed Steppenwolf mentioned in the comments of an earlier post and asked my ever amazon-ing wife to order a copy. It arrived within days of my request and I started to read. Those first few pages put me sleep with such ease that my wife was wondering what all the fuss was about. Then we went away and the book came with us. When I got to the Haller section, FOR MADMEN ONLY, well, needless to say the reading went pretty quick from there. By the end, my wife was wondering when I would put the book down. I had fallen horribly ill and was determined to finish this book before my awful cough finished me. Something about being in that lurid state made the book a crystal clarity for these awful days. Seeing the streets getting filter every day, listening to the endless traffic of the BQE, seeing the waste-based-economy thunder on and I, hating my part in it. Who doesn’t want to be the wolf of the Steppes, far away from the maddening fools? And yet here I am, better health and better for being told ‘You coward! You’re not afraid to die but you’re too afraid to live.’ It’s what every middle age man needs to hear. Glad I came across this book around the same age as Hesse was when he wrote it. It made the connection that much fuller. Thank you for recommending it those months ago and I’m glad you found cause to mention it again today. See you in the theater.
This post reminded me strongly of a conversation I had some 10-15 years back with a very intelligent, humane and compassionate undergraduate at my university, who moreover had chosen anthropology as her major field of undergraduate study. In the course of our conversation, I advanced the idea that a person actually did have the capacity to change her (or his) fundamental ethical or moral values, his (or her) most basic world-views, their habits of emotion, and so forth. It takes quite hard work, it demands considerable insight and subtlety, but it is possible.
That idea completely flabbergasted her. She had never so much as wondered whether such changes in “who one was” might be possible, and she was certain that none of her age-mates had ever done so, either. Her unexamined default position was something along the lines of “one is what one is, one’s values are what they are, and there’s no doing anything about it.” She said, too, that all her friends and acquaintances had the same view of things. She even, when I probed further, doubted that anyone’s views on anything that basic to one’s personality could ever be fundamentally changed by any sort of new facts or sound arguments. — Afterward I did bring up the same idea with other undergraduates, and discovered that most of them were equally knocked off balance by it. So she wasn’t just an outlier, but well within the mainstream.
This surprising fact, to my mind, explains so much about the current political climate, in which facts and arguments are cast aside as irrelevant, and it all comes down to who can yell the loudest and hit the hardest. Politics as bullying …
Corydalidae, oh, it would take a complete rewrite, no question. Have a hopelessly incompetent Ministry, an Order of the Phoenix sunk in institutional decadence, Tom Riddle’s movement sweeping all before it, and Harry et al. having the kind of impact real people can have in the face of a political system in terminal crisis, all the while feeling the temptation to side with Riddle’s bright, enthusiastic, hopeful, but catastrophically mistaken crusade…now that would be an interesting novel.
Jill, you’re most welcome; thank you, first for getting the most important point, and second for being willing to admit that you don’t know something. These days, that’s an act of courage many people won’t risk.
Spice, yep. It’s so much easier to yell about guns than it is to think about the actual causes of school shootings; there are, after all, plenty of countries where guns are just as available as they are in the US — if I understand correctly, most of Latin America falls into that category — and yet the same things don’t happen there. But nobody wants to talk about that…
Corydalidae, nah, that’s too lengthy, and Babbitt deserves his day in the sun. Besides, you could always read the novel… 😉
Fred, you’re most welcome. I propose to talk at some length as we proceed about the causes and potential cures for what I’m starting to think of as Everything Derangement Syndrome — the King in Orange has been a focus for a lot of it, but by no means all.
Daniel, it’s a huge challenge. That’s why it’s all the more important to rise to meet it, and to encourage others to do the same.
I have been on a fast from politics for exactly this reason. Since beginning my hiatus I have noticed a great deal of freshness enter my awareness, freshness to be present with life and a more attuned presence to the aesthetic dimensions of existence. While I do feel disconnected from the social and global scene I have been spending more time gardening, with my children, and reading fiction, and all around enjoying life. I wonder, JMG and readers, if you might offer any guidance as to how one might stay connected to politics without getting dragged into the miasma of one-sided discourses – or is such connection even worthwhile? I feel a desire to stay abreast of current affairs, to stay connected to the collective consciousness and movement of history, though I must say that it provides very little in terms of actual substance to my life, and instead sucks me into herd consciousness. How to stay aware of the movements of the herd without becoming a bleating woolly coat?
The only thing wrong with “Babbitt Syndrome” is that most Americans will have no idea whom you mean. “Harry Potter Syndrome,” maybe?
I look forward to this series of posts. And I feel like saying, isn’t this where you came in? The first essay of yours that ever floated my way was a review of a book called Globalize Liberation and in it you commented, among other things, that “[o]ur society has a persistent habit of always seeing things in binaries.” You go on to say that binaries are a trap and do not foster change. I’ve never forgotten that essay and while binary binds have been painful to witness — especially in friends and people I otherwise admire — it’s been a fair consolation to understand the mechanics of the trap and on rare occasions, be able to lure someone out of it with a well-timed ternary. Mostly though, I see a lot of outsourcing of thought and rhetoric rechauffé the only benefit of which is to permit the speaker’s continuted cooperation and collaboration with the object of their detestation. It’s like if you utter the correct anti-corporate incantation, your purchase of a shiny new iThing is rendered anodyne, fair trade, socially responsible, eco-friendly and, with any luck, invisible.
Thank you for every word of this post.
A popular occult podcast recently featured as a guest a young “shaman” from New York City, who was there on the show to talk about the spiritual realities of our time. It seems, you see, that much of America has been possessed by the Wetiko cannibal spirit believed in by the Ojibwa people. You won’t be surprised to discover precisely WHO our New York Shaman named as being “obviously possessed”– after making the point that he can tell these things quite easily, given his own extensive spiritual training– Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and all the people who voted for the latter.
I voted for Trump, for three major reasons. The first was an overlooked pair of incidents during the Republican debates, both concerning the reform of health care. In one, Trump mentioned the fact that Canada’s health care system works. Rand Paul rounded on him saying in so many words “You can’t be a Republican and say that.” Like most Americans, I’ve met at least one Canadian, and I know full well that their health care system works just fine. In the second incident Trump, arguing with Ted Cruz, said “We will have private health care but we will not allow people to die on the streets if I am president.” Cruz replied, “Did you just say you are a LIBERAL on health care?” Trump responded by repeating his previous point. That told me that I wasn’t seeing Just Another Republican, but something new; someone who was willing to step outside the broken two party formula.
The second reason: I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania– one of many places that voted for Obama in 2008, and Trump in 2016. Johnstown isn’t a city that’s worried about economic collapse. Like the rest of the Rust Belt, it already collapsed about 30 years ago. I don’t live in Johnstown now. I live in California. Roughly every six months, like a terrible clock, I get news that someone I grew up with has died prematurely. It’s called the “opioid crisis,” though it also includes alcohol and suicide. A better name I’ve seen for it is White Death, since the places that it afflicts are, like Johnstown, overwhelmingly white. I heard Trump talk about the crisis, and I heard him propose solutions that may help: limiting mass immigration and free trade deals that explode the supply of labor and thus decrease wages.
The third reason, of course, is that Hillary Clinton openly proposed a war with Russia with her babble about a “No Fly Zone” over Syria.
My point in sharing this is absolutely NOT to make the case for Donald Trump or to convince anyone that they should have voted for him. It’s only to make the point that I did so for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with “racism.” The second reason is probably the most important. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s every six months. Most recently it was my middle school bully, dead of an overdose. Before that it was my first girlfriend’s dad and his brother, both of whom I knew well. Before that it was my father’s brother. Before that it was my childhood best friend’s mom. Overdose, overdose, suicide, overdose. Trump suggested a solution that might, just might, help; Hillary put us all in a basket of Deplorables and threatened to “put a lot of coal miners out of business.” What do you think is one of the few remaining employers in my hometown?
Every time I have said this to a liberal friend, I have met with an absolute brick wall. A number of old friends, in fact, no longer speak to me. The feeling I get is of pushing on a wall; no matter what I say, they just grow colder and their body language more constricted. Typically they move on to telling me why I’m a bigot. No one has ever, and I mean ever, responded by addressing one of the concerns I’ve raised. And note– I have never once tried to convince anyone to vote for Donald Trump. I fully understand disliking the man, even hating him. It’s Donald Freaking Trump for Godsake! Until the election I found him to be one of the more repellent of America’s Unjustly Famous, and I certainly understand any number of reasons for voting against him. (The best reason, in my view, would have been that one genuinely preferred the policies proposed by Hillary Clinton, but I can’t remember anyone ever describing them to me or expressing in a rational manner why they made more sense.)
Now, in saying all this, I also have to admit that I am guilty of everything I am accusing people on the Left of. I recently had a Twitter encounter with a black American Christian bishop. The bishop made the claim that, since the North fought ONLY to preserve the Union in the Civil War, whites in America have never done anything for blacks. This struck me as profoundly disrespectful of the memories of 360,000 Northern soldiers who died in a war that ended slavery. Not to mention pre-war abolitionists, Reconstructionists, “carpetbaggers,” freedom riders and other whites who sacrificed and often gave their lives for black freedom. I said as much, and not at all in polite terms. You won’t be surprised to learn that I convinced no one– but I did make myself feel better.
On a side note, Twitter is absolute mental poison. I only started using it in July of last year, and recently deactivated my account.
I think that latter feeling, though, is important. It felt good to send angry tweets at the offending bishop. Some of them included lyrics to Union battle songs about ending slavery, and we might suppose that they educated someone– but realistically, the whole thing was just a snarl.
When I was in college, I was, like many students, a radical leftist; I was also, like many students, a habitual pot-smoker. Unlike many of my classmates though I really couldn’t handle it. The pot, I mean, not the politics. Any more than a little puff and I would descend into a mental whirlpool of confused paranoia. I recall one incident where I inhaled a collossal bong-load at a friend’s apartment and immediately had to leave, overwhelmed by anxiety and paranoia. I really thought my heart would explode. I made my way to a campus computer lab, and spent the next 2 hours reading article after article on radical left-wing sites. This was 2004 or 5, and the subjects were always the Iraq War and its atrocities, the then-new universal surveillance state, and the other crimes of the Bush administration. The tone was always apocalyptic– We Few Who Struggle Against Overwhelming Odds. As I read, my breathing slowed and my heart rate returned to normal, and I was eventually able to make it home.
The feeling I got from the reading was of a Manichaean struggle against absolute evil. And it was comforting enough to function as an anti-anxiety medication, overcoming the effects of a lot (I mean a lot) of marijuana.
Of course my politics are more conservative now, but it isn’t lost on me that they have shifted in this direction as I’ve come to live in a much more liberal city. It’s hard to feel persecuted when you’re in the majority.
And I’m convinced that this is a major part of what is going on in the American psyche as a whole. Rhetoric on the Left and the Right inevitably paints the other side not just as evil but as IN POWER. When I was a leftist, I used to hear all the time about how “We never win,” and now as a conservative I hear the same thing! Both liberals and conservatives, it seems, are up against overwhelming odds against whom they always, always lose. (This is often presented as a reason for doubling down and becoming ever more radical.)
You have talked about how, in personal matters, someone who keeps repeating the same mistakes or the same destructive pattern does so because there is something that they get out of it. Something that they like. I really believe that many, possibly most of us in this country love feeling persecuted. We find it deeply comforting. And so we don’t do anything that might lead to a compromise with the other side, because then we would have to give up that feeling of persecution that was the real point all along.
I have no idea why this is.
I’d like to add a word from the left-liberal end of the spectrum: mansplaining. If anything is going to get me to stop reading in the middle of an article, it’s that.
@David, by the lake:
IME, that’s one of the hardest things to do. Congratulations!
One thing that could happen if the Democrats win complete control of the state government this year (don’t bother to tell me what a long shot that is because I know that all too well) is that we could end up having a statewide referendum in the aftermath on whether or not we should legalize marijuana in the Badger State. That got me to thinking about how I should participate in the animated online discussions on the matter that would inevitably arise in the comment-sections of related Milwaukee Journal Sentinel articles.
What set of behaviors would be more likely to convince people that they should vote in favor of legalizing cannabis? Insulting people who are likely to be opposed and calling them rednecks or religious nuts or old fogies? Or would trying to turn the discussion to some good conservative reasons for legalization, such as keeping marijuana out of high schools with stringent and well-enforced regulation, be more likely to convince the wary? If we (which includes me, because this mind-virus of which you speak has become strong enough to infect even those who should know better) could apply this thinking much more broadly to our overall social and political discourse, some of that lower astral plane energy that is currently spiritually choking our society just might clear up a bit!
The Atlantic author Shadi Hamid recently gave a very good definition of the modern cosmopolitan elite, the people who you posit as subject to the Voldemort fallacy:
‘Wherever I go and wherever I’ve lived, there are others, from all over the world, who I can easily connect with—“anywheres” of the center-left and center-right who share a similar disposition. They don’t really have a local community or “home” they feel particularly strongly about. They tend to have graduate degrees; be interested in politics; speak various languages; avoid sports-related conversations; and be vaguely privileged financially (it’s never entirely clear how privileged). Perhaps most importantly, they are suspicious of happy people but especially earnest people. No one’s particularly religious, but if they are, they’re probably members of a minority group, usually Muslims or Jews, which makes it okay. No one’s perfect, of course, but such are the people of my “tribe.”’
And characterizes this cosmopolitan elite as defenders of the status quo and unable to see beyond business as usual:
‘Liberalism believes its victory to be essentially a matter of time. History’s long, progressive, and bending arc will eventually win out…All transformations, even largely good ones, come at a cost…But the incentives for meritocratic elites to do anything serious about [inequality]…are limited. Liberals are the new conservatives…Perhaps the most we can hope for—or worry about—is just somewhat more illiberal liberal democracies, variations on a continuum but still largely stuck in a liberal universe.’
Longrow, when I lived in Seattle, I used to harvest nettles every year for tea, and also to dry and grind up in a suribachi and make furikake — that’s a Japanese seasoning for rice, with toasted sesame seeds, salt, and either seaweed or something like nettles. Lovely stuff; the nettle harvest is one of the things I miss about the Pacific Northwest.
Corydalidae, hah! Yes, that’s the song “Bad Guys” from the movie Bugsy Malone, an oddball hit of my teen years. I like to imagine Darth Vader and the stormtroopers, Sauron and the Nazgul, or any other batch of drearily predictable cardboard-cutout bad guys singing and dancing it.
By the way, the penny finally dropped about your comment earlier, about how Tom Riddle would have won. You’re right — and in fact the whole genre of schlock fantasy is based on the notion that the powers of evil are too stupid to tie their own shoes, and so never think of the obvious flaws in their own strategy. That may explain why so many people melted down when Trump won; they couldn’t process the idea that maybe he had enough brains to figure out what Clinton was doing wrong and capitalize on it, as indeed he did, because that’s not how bad guys are supposed to behave!
David, delighted to hear it. Now you can actually accomplish something.
Jeff, I read it originally in my late teens, and missed half the point of it. When I returned to Hesse as a middle-aged man, Steppenwolf immediately became my favorite of his novels, which is saying something — Demian and The Glass Bead Game have been way up there on my list of faves for decades. Exactly; it really does say what a lot of us, as we reach middle age, need to hear.
Robert, thank you for this. I’d suspected that something of the sort was going on, but it’s good to hear it directly. That being the case…
The sentence YOU ARE NOT YOUR OPINIONS may just start surfacing in odd places as part of my memetic work. Ego identification with a set of opinions is something that can be popped loose fairly often, in the right context, by a sufficiently deft frontal attack — and since a lot of people are basically hag-ridden by their opinions these days, that may just be worth trying…
It worries me that Brazil is getting drawn into exactly the same kind of shouting match that you Americans have described for many years. This started in 2013, got worse in 2016 with the impeachment/parliamentary coup and is now getting even more heated with the instalment of a military government in Rio de Janeiro last Friday. Some people I know are calling for a gun in each house and long-term military participation in government, whereas others break off contact with any supposed traitor to the Black cause. Voldemort/Carpathian/Babbitt fallacies everywhere… Myself, I would like to go back to 2010, but I know that is impossible.
I really enjoyed this post. I never would have thought to compare the Left Behind Book series and Harry Potter. (I stopped being into Harry Potter when I asked the question, why would any of Voldermort’s followers follow him? He gives them no good reason; they already have all these magical powers. What more could they want?) I think this ties a little bit in with the religion of progress. We already have all these tools that could make our lives much easier than in the 19th century – Almost magical by comparison – Yet we pursue more to our detriment. So what happens is people just say, I’m going to forgo that thing called morality/quality because it’s seems like being original when it’s really just a way of avoiding harder questions.
The trend in literature I’ve been following is the assassination of characters we agree are good people; the turing of Atticus Finch into a hood wearing member of the KKK comes to mind. Having Luke even contemplate killing his nephew in the new Star Wars series is another…. The notion of right and wrong seem to be eroding on both sides of the political spectrum.
corydalidae- I think the reason JMG didn’t use The Voldermort/Carpathia Fallacy as the title is because we all know who they are. I was once in a creative writing class where I was told to tone down my vocabulary. I just looked around and said, “you’re all English majors?” I majored in Envi-Sci. Older books have the benefit of not being charged with modern emotion and give a greater depth to history, which gets shallower every year. Anything before the computer age to todays generation didn’t happen. Going back before 1980 to a millennial, like me, feels like going off the continental shelf in the ocean.
Self directed education. Bless my soul! I’ve heard rumors such a series was in the works, and am very pleased to hear it is incoming. I have myself noticed that rhetoric is in a bleak state as a generally distributed skill, and that this contributes greatly to the heat of our era.
One of the greatest blessings in my life is that I had the opportunity to go to a strange and experimental high school as opposed to public high school; it was called the self directed system, there was a curriculum put before you and you were told to learn it, assistance was available should you need, then find a way to prove that you had done the learning. Let me tell you roughly how that school functioned, as it is an interesting case study. The budget was half what a standard public school received in funding, because it was classified as part time, which was true, our hours at the building amounted to two five hour days a week, and sometimes a special activity on Wednesday. The building was a large couch filled room for the high school and some tables, with two bathrooms, a small office in the NW corner, a few over loaded book shelves, and two smaller rooms for the elementary and middle school. Out side was a small lawn and gravel area for rough housing, a vaguely sumo based game being particularly popular. The system, particularly for the high schoolers was the real treat…
You enter the building, and it is time for you to start earning credits toward graduation. There is a filling cabinet, you open the top drawer, in it are many folders, each labeled with a different class one can or must take during a high school education; you are asked to select up to seven to work on at a time. In each folder there are hand outs you can take. You grab chemistry thinking about an excuse to do experiments; language arts 9, a history half credit titled ‘war’, computer science and decide to select the other three later, as there are about six more you are strongly considering. You thumb through one of them, it is basically list which tells you how competence in this topic is defined in your State, language arts 9 for instance covers 27 different skills. You are instructed to gain proficiency in each of those skills and then to come up with a way to prove you have done so, them presenting this to a teacher and at least three students; as a bonus, you learn you can get some credits of your own by sitting in on and evaluating the demonstrations of other students. There is another drawer, labeled tools, it has about twenty folders in it labeled things like: experiment, field work, interview, essay, diagram, model, performance, surveying, and so on. You notice that you can get double credit for an project, for instance by writing essays on chemistry you can show your knowledge of orbitals and also satisfy one of the Language requirements; another student mentions a time someone did a four for one demonstration last semester. You told that to graduate on time you will need to do about four demonstrations a week; but that most people don’t reach that pace their first semester.
You are invited to sit down with two other students to evaluate Dave’s presentation on Boyle’s Law, he is using the diagram tool. Mindy, to your left, is throughly unimpressed with the diagrams and complains that some issue with temperature isn’t addressed, but you think they get the concepts across clearly if not artfully, reading the charts that go with you fairly quickly get the basics. Mindy isn’t badgering Dave, because he is baby stepping Dan, to your right, through the concept of atoms, so he can follow the chart; Dan just started after being expelled from Central High for being too drunk in class, but he is a nice enough guy and a fantastic musician… A week later you bring in your essay on atomic valences, and sit down to present it. After the presentation you go hang out at a spirited round table debate on Evolution between some of the Christian home school students and a very tall young man with pink spiked hair.
It is worth noting that the elementary class was more than half as structured as public school, the middle school less so, and the high school only gave a curriculum and a system to demonstrate and track progress; though many other resources were available if you asked and there were decent instructors available to talk with about any thing particularly confusing. Sadly the self directed system was brought to an end by petty politics before me or the guy with pink hair or Dave could graduate; though the three of us did get the three highest GED test scores for Western Colorado that year. It has not escaped my notice that the Green Wizard’s book is structured decidedly similar.
@RM: True–though I think some of my age cohort goes the other way, assuming that people only need the right kind of gentle hand-holding to stop being awful, and/or that they’ve never heard the other side’s arguments before. (I’d call this corollary the Jack Chick Fallacy, after the tracts that sort of assume atheists/pagans/etc have never heard of Christianity before, and will instantly convert after one “so this guy named Jesus died for your sins” lecture.)
I, as you know, come down on the side where people *can* change, but most people won’t: they might say they will when the consequences are bad enough otherwise, and they might put in as much visible effort to get credit for how hard they’re trying, but ultimately too few of them actually follow through to be worth the effort, as far as I’m concerned. And most efforts to try and get people to do so fall on the side of either altruistic but ultimately futile windmill-tilting or intrusive attempts to say you know better than others, so that the advice I’d give ninety percent of the time is just to abandon them to their own devices and/or fate.*
…not that I’m cynical. ;P
@JMG: “You join a group called the Death Eaters because you agree with Harry Potter and his pals about what’s right and what’s wrong—it’s just that for some reason or other, you want to be on the wrong side.”
People like that do exist in some fashion, I’d say–the “edgelord” crowd online, the Hot Topic Satanists of my youth, and so forth–but generally they either turn twenty-one or get arrested for something nasty, and don’t form much of a demographic as a whole. The nastiest people I’ve ever encountered are the ones who are thoroughly convinced of their own status as an innocent victim wounded-kitten type, so I’m with you.
In general, I suspect that a lot of what happens re: rhetoric, especially online is the sort of “might-as-well-have-the-game-as-the-name”** deal. Someone makes a statement, someone else reads that statement (deliberately or not) in the worst possible light, there’s a bit of an argument, and then the first person decides, FINE, I WILL say that blah blah blah, and FURTHERMORE…and so forth. Which is how some friends of mine have gone from “y’know, treating guns like cars would be a good idea for a number of reasons,” which I do believe, to “heck with it, let’s take all of them away then, if that’s what people insist we want.” It doesn’t help, but I understand the temptation. Conversely, I’ve known a number of otherwise-liberals who were really turned off by, say, the culture at the college where I was an undergrad: if enjoying the occasional Victoria’s Secret catalog, say, makes me a sexist, then I might as well call myself a sexist and be super-resistant to even reasonable feminist arguments. And I’m impatient with those folks, but…I see where it came from.
If I’m going to name fallacies, and why not, because it keeps me away from the chips in the breakroom, I’d call the above the DARE Fallacy: you set up a whole program telling kids how awful tobacco/cigarettes/weed are, and how short a path it is from one joint to DEATH IN A GUTTER OMG, and they’re actually *more* likely to try the hard stuff, because clearly you were off-base about the effects of beer so what are the chances you’re right about cocaine?
* Go not to the Izzy for relationship advice, I have said, for she will say both DTMFA and YOLO. Same in non-romantic interaction.
** It’s moderately well-known, for example, that constantly accusing your partner of looking at other people, asking them intrusive questions, etc,makes them *more* likely to cheat in many circumstances.
The belief that in their heart-of-hearts our adversaries agree with us depends on there being only one good answer to the subject in question, which is almost always untrue. Accepting genuine disagreement is easier when you understand that more usually there are several ok answers. The most contentious issues of our time are like this, where (in my opinion) most people on all sides of the issues are substantially correct. I find this difficult to get this across to folks.
Well, you certainly opened a can of worms, didn’t you?
Despite my (occasionally oppressive) Christian upbringing at the hands of very strict, very religious, German parents and grandparents, there are issues on which I firmly agree with liberals. On the other hand, I am quite comfortable reading ‘The American Conservative’ and ‘National Review’ and do find points of agreement with the writers and commenters there. As you can imagine, this leaves me exposed on all sides. When I had the gumption to comment on a popular progressive website that I might have more in common with my rural, farming, Trump-loving neighbors (I did not support Mr. Trump) than I do with urban liberals, there was considerable frothing at the mouth. I suppose I should be careful not to mention in those circles that, while I whole-heartedly believe that black lives matter, after hearing an interview with one of its founders, I have some reservations about the organization, Black Lives Matter; that might be a step too far.
“the mere fact that this sort of screaming has never changed anyone’s mind, not once in the history of forever, never occurs to those who haven’t grasped that changing minds is what’s necessary”
Unfortunately, there is much cause for pessimism with regard to what tactics WOULD work to change people’s minds. Recent psychological research shows that people with strong views on a polarizing issue — specifically, the question of the efficacy and safety of vaccines — actually double down on their anti-vaccine beliefs when presented with evidence contradicting their beliefs. Denial and tribalism are strong forces in the human mind — much stronger than reason, I’m afraid.
In light of this, I think you’re somewhat mischaracterizing the motives of those who employ the “Babbit Fallacy” — I think it very likely that they KNOW they’re not going to change anyone’s mind, because nobody has come up with a reliable way of accomplishing that. Instead, their rhetoric is calculated to:
1. Act as a shibboleth and tribal affirmation for their own in-group (“I hate those idiots on the other side, don’t you?”)
2. Signal members of their own tribe, as well as anyone on the fence, that they will incur high social costs if they defect to the other side (“Those idiots on the other side are scum, and we will do everything we can to make their lives miserable, so don’t even think about joining them or making any concessions to them.”)
In that respect, I don’t think it’s exactly fair to call it a “fallacy” at all. It’s not a method of persuasion; it’s just signalling.
The next meeting of the Green Wizard’s Association of Melbourne will be held this Saturday. All interested parties are invited to attend.
For those who are unsure about the nature of our meetings, imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.
If you are interested to join us, meet us on Saturday the 24th of February 2018 at 12:00, for lunch. The venue is, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.
Send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]gmail.com.
P.S. I have created a webpage where I will post the details of the next meeting and any further details for those who don’t frequent the comments here. The webpage can be found at wormlamp.com/gwam, where you can also sign up for the mailing list.
JMG, I see another round of school shootings has kicked off the gun control debate. We’ve seen this one before have we not? Mass shootings lead to mass denounciations of those against gun control. And it has proven to be an unsuccessful strategy so far since we have n number of shootings and zero number of gun control laws. What else could work?
Is there something else both sides could agree upon that may reduce the probability of mass shootings at schools? Could we think about how to make schools a little less soul-destroying, mind-numbing, pitiful excuses for educational institutions masquerading as low security child prisons?
Would a child engaged in their studies less likely commit mass murder? Is this something both sides of the gun control debate could start to think about?
Perhaps we could even try to reduce the rampant bullying in schools? At least that is something schools actually teach you, either how to be bullied or how to be a bully, so once you graduate, the sum of your problem solving abilities amounts to screaming insults at your opponent until they wilt, just like back on the school ground.
With regard to gun laws: I don’t want to enter the USA debate, just point out that Latin American countries completely dominate the world wide statistics on fire arms-related deaths (though not school shootings), so availability of guns in Latin America is not a conclusive argument against gun laws.
I have the feeling that naming this “Babbitt fallacy” is giving it a bit too fancy a name. I propose to call it simply “tribal politics”. It all has the feeling of hiding behind the wooden palisade of the local tribal morality hurtling insults and intimidation to the neighbors.
This is not a coincidence of course. This is also what Robert said. What I understand from the research done into this social phenomenon it boils down to people very often linking their opinion to their ego. And their opinions are spoon fed by their environment. If you’re raised on a diet of rep/dem opinions, their people and ideas basically become your tribe.
This results in people seeing any challenge of those opinions as an attack on their ego and their tribe. That of course demands swift and deadly rhetoric, mantras and insults to start with as this is an attack on our traditions! And that is the usual reaction that you report in your posts when trying to reason with strong believers. Hence the reason I see it as tribal politics.
The trick is to do what Robert said. First plant the seed of the idea that your ego and your opinions are not the same. Once the tribal glue keeping the ego and opinions together starts to dissolve, reasoning and insight becomes possible. I think this is what the you described the Steppenwolf character experienced.
Samuel, I’d encourage you to leave the herd to its fate, cultivate sources of information that are as far from the mass media as possible, and enjoy being alive.
Fuzzy, nope. Let ’em Google it.
Auntlili, I circle back around to such issues regularly, but we’re going to be exploring rhetoric and thinking from a different angle this time! Yes, I’ve also noticed the way that incantation replaces action among the privileged…
Steve, excellent. You’ve caught onto one of the great secrets of political activism in modern America: the people who do it don’t want to win. That’s true on both sides, by the way, and a large part of it is for the same reason: the people who do it think, for moral reasons, that they ought to hate the society in which they live, but they also benefit hugely from their participation in the things that they hate. They want to feel good about themselves without risking any disruption to the system that gives them the benefits they long for. Futile gestures of protest do that. So the liberal earnestly condemns the destruction of the environment, and then climbs into her SUV alone to drive home; so the conservative denounces sexual perversion in thundering terms and then slips off to a gay bar.
John, I get that. I had the advantage of being able to sit down with my wife and have her explain, in calm and dejargonized language, exactly what the behaviors were that were being labeled “mansplaining,” and how the term has come to be used and misused in the cage-match atmosphere of modern feminism; that got me past the initial eyeroll, and I was able to sort out the difference between behaviors that really are annoying and the use of the term as a thoughtstopper. Not everyone has that advantage, though!
Mister N., exactly. Exactly! Figure out what arguments will make legalization appealing, or at least acceptable, to the other side of the debate, and you have a shot at finding a compromise that gives your side what it wants while leaving the other side open to further negotiations on other subjects. One thing I’ve found that works tolerably well with a lot of conservatives is to point out how much revenue the states that legalize cannabis are getting as a result of the taxes, and suggest that some of the state tax burden can be shifted away from them onto the heads of happy stoners, who won’t mind at all (so long as there are plenty of hot dogs and taco chips handy…)
Matthias, and notice how in the second paragraph he quotes, he doesn’t seem to be able to envision the possibility that his class could lose — as in, be forced out of power and stripped of its privileges and its wealth. It’s a common fallacy of aristocracies to think that they’re indispensable. History shows otherwise…
Thanks for this…
“YOU ARE NOT YOUR OPINIONS” is certainly half of it… “THEY ARE NOT THEIR OPINIONS” also needs to be said if you intend to be in a conversation instead of a brawl.
I have just this week had a high stakes challenge in this regard, which I would like to relate here.
The following is by way of illustrating context, not making an argument.
It so happens that the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” argument is in full flow in Ireland just now, as there is the prospect that a foetal personhood amendment that was inserted into the Irish Constitution by means of a referendum in 1983 may shortly be put to referendum again to answer the question of whether it should it be repealed.
I myself have placed some posts on my own Facebook page to support the “pro-choice” side. As a result a close family member organised a sort of family inquisition via a group email. It so happens that all other close family members I have, that speak their opinions out loud (other than my own children) are strong “pro-life” believers. So I was virtually “surrounded” by people who do hold views that I cannot find it in myself to hold. But ALSO, I was surrounded by people who are complicated, who I love and who love me, and who I know would stand beside me if I was ever in trouble without even thinking, as would I for them. That is to say they were equally troubled to find me holding views that they could not find it in themselves to hold.
So my urgent need became – how to explain the views I hold, which they would see as morally reprehensible and basically an apologetics for the murder of infants – without endangering our collective ability to be a family. That is to say, how to have an argument that still allows for the making up and continuing to live together afterwards.
It took days of ruminating and turning the thing over in my mind. Where is the Druid Number Three, I wondered, that permits us to break out of our binary? I had to think through each of the arguments they were making, consider all the personal reasons they might be making them, then think through my own arguments and consider all the personal reason I might be making them, and then find a larger “ground” on which both arguments could live.
I won’t detail my full working out (could take pages and pages), but I did come to an understanding that I myself am pro-life, and have zero desire to create an apologetics for murder. How to explain myself? In summary, when I explained (in rather a lot of detail) how in my view a pro-life ethic is fully compatible with pro-choice laws, and why, I got an answer from the relative that had convened the matter to the effect that he could only trust that the facts I cited were valid, and that when it came to values he was happy to see that we were, in fact, sharing some very fundamental ones. His final words – “ok, nothing changes. We are a family that values life and health, and we have some disagreements. So we continue on as before.”
Well, I hope to continue learning this lesson, because in fact, after every debate that politics necessitates, a decision will be made, and after that we all still have to share a country, or a city, or a village, or a house, or what have you, together.
What are we really THINKING we’re going to do about those people we disagree with, unless we can conceive of their ongoing presence in our world as the fundamental fact?
>…especially when your one way to understand the world doesn’t work any more.
I believe you already mentioned it in a previous post, but the lack of civility in the political discourse has a lot to do with cognitive dissonance.
So maybe there is no Babbit fallacy at all: people do have multiple, inconsistent ideas about the world, and when they have to pick a winner, the screaming starts.
I am sure Republicans are as desperate about gun violence as Democrats are, but since they cannot admit it, they double down on the “people kill people” nonsense.
And I am sure Democrats can see that there is no Russian involvement, but admitting it would raise larger questions they do not want to hear.
Maybe people of different ideas do agree with each other, at some level. In the right circumstances, they might even admit it to themselves. Or their children.
Also, please be kinder to the Harry Potter series. It is literature for children and young adults. The moral dichotomy is indeed its weakest point, but I think that Ms. Rowling more than made up for that: in her first non-HP novel A Casual Vacancy, the only truly good character dies on page 6, and the rest of the book is about common human beings trying to come to grips with their own shortcomings.
Matthias, it’s pretty common these days. Thanks for the data point about Brazil!
Austin, it’s very much part of the religion of progress. If some is good, too much must be even better! I’d even compare that to the dreary literary metastasis of both series — in both cases, a trilogy with each book the size of the first one published would have been ample, or if you must do more volumes, make ’em smaller. An editor with a good chainsaw would have improved both of them. More is not necessarily better!
Ray, you were extremely fortunate. That sort of thing was still fairly easy to find when I was younger, though I had to slog through an ordinary high school; the problem, of course, is that kids who go through that kind of education aren’t well suited to function as mindless cogs in a corporate system, and so there’s been a lot of pressure to replace it with the kind of school in which conformity, tolerance for boredom, and the habit of bullying and being bullied are the main themes.
Isabel, oh, granted. I’ve known a few Satanists, and some other people who claimed to be really, really evil; they were by and large the dullest people I’ve ever known. I think you do that when you can’t think of any other way to get a life. As for the “name as the game” response and the DARE Fallacy — which is a good label, btw, for a very common fallacy — in both cases what’s lacking is any understanding of how to persuade people, and how to respond to attempts to persuade. We’ll be talking about that a lot, because it so happens that since ancient times there’s been an entire field of learning devoted to that, and our modern neglect of that field has produced the primitive grunting confusion that passes for rhetoric these days. More on this soon!
Vesta, it’s very difficult just now, no question. We’ll be talking about ways to do it in the posts to come.
Beekeeper, I keep a special can opener handy for cans of worms, and it gets a lot of use!
Picador, yes, I’m familiar with those studies. Have you seen the material they used to try to persuade the experimental subjects? They’d have been more honest if they’d described their results as follows; “We determined that inept, condescending propaganda that relies on themes already hashed to death by the mass media, heavily laced with markers of class privilege, gets people exposed to it to double down on their disagreement.” Well, yes; any rhetorician could have told them that. I’ll be discussing that in more detail as we proceed.
Marcu, glad to hear it.
Thecrowandsheep, oh dear gods, yes. When I was a child we used to sing a song to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The first line went, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school…” We meant it, too. Social pressures at that time were such that nobody ever acted on the feeling, but it was there. What’s changed since then? The social climate has changed, and the schools have gotten much, much worse. Look up the number of school-aged children who commit suicide each year in the US as a result of the bullying that’s actively encouraged in US public schools, just as one measure; the epidemic of school shootings is another.
Matthias, yes, but it’s certainly an argument against the claim that school shootings are caused by the availability of guns.
JC, “tribal politics” is too broad a term and loses the specific idea I’m trying to communicate. It also serves mostly as a way to try to make the problem seem inescapable, when it’s not. As for Steppenwolf, I’d really encourage you to read the novel, because, no, that’s not what happens to Harry Haller.
I think Picador makes a good point that a significant amount of this is virtue signalling to one’s own tribe, rather than genuinely trying to convince the other side. One on one conversations without an audience can sometimes avoid some of the pitfalls, at least as compared to social media.
I wonder to what extent the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, imported to America with any number of Christian sects, figures into this. (Extremely abridged version: God is omnipotent, so humans really have no free will – God has predestined most of them to eternal damnation.) So perhaps one feels free to abuse those Others not in an attempt to convince them, but because they’re already doomed, so convincing them is unimportant.
Scotlyn, thank you. That’s a very thoughtful and helpful description of how to avoid the Babbitt Fallacy, among other things.
Discwrites, hmm. Most of the cognitive dissonance I see around me in other people isn’t a matter of conflicts between one belief and another; it’s between their belief systems and their experiences in the world. To my mind, that’s what drives the Babbitt Fallacy. As for Harry Potter, you’re certainly entitled to have your own opinion of it, and to enjoy the stuffing out of it; de gustibus non disputandum est,, and so on. I don’t scorn children’s and young adult’s books; some of the books I enjoyed most when I was at the prime Harry Potter age — for example, Kate Seredy’s The White Stag and the mystical fantasies of Joan North are still on my bookshelves today — but I found the Potter books dreary and hackneyed, and would not recommend them to a child or young adult when there are so many better fantasies aimed at those ages. Sorry, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.
Corydalidae, that certainly plays a role, but I don’t think it should be overstated, or it becomes another excuse to avoid communication!
RPC, hmm! I could see that.
You define the Babbitt fallacy as: “the notion that everyone agrees with you deep down in their heart of hearts, that no one actually has a different opinion and believes in it at least as firmly as you believe in yours. Ultimately, it’s the denial that anybody can have reasons for their beliefs except you.”
It is reasonable to say that that the Babbitt fallacy is predicated on arrogance? This is, at least how I understood your description of Sinclair Lewis’ relationship with his character and Harry Haller’s behavior prior to meeting Hermine. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines arrogance as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions”. Is it fair, then, to say that the Babbitt fallacy is a manifestation of intense arrogance?
Violet, only in some cases. I think there’s something deeper going on here — not just a character flaw such as arrogance, but a failure of understanding, a gap in basic cognitive skills. I’ll be talking about that more in upcoming posts.
Thanks for another thought provoking essay JMG.
Two things to chip into the discussion.
I just read an article on Garrett Hardin, the ecologist who introduced the idea of the Tragedy of the Commons (on the Farnam Street blog). A quote of his seems to fit well:
“It takes five years for a willing person’s mind to change. Have patience with yourself and others when treading in an area protected by a taboo.”
While I have not read Hesse (literary novels scare me), something related is the Sundering series (Banewrecker and Godslayer) by Jacqueline Carey. The tag line is ‘If all that is good considers you evil, are you?’. Its essentially the LOTR, but exploring the motivations and choices of the evily evil evildoers; which turns out to be somewhat more complex then the forces of good would have you believe. Copies are probably available in your local second hand bookshop or library.
In my previous comment, I’d like to add the following post-script to the second but last paragraph:
“…no matter whether the decision favoured your side or their side…
In the last paragraph, I’d like to change “unless we can” with “if we can’t”.
@JMG: Pretty well agreed. Trying to be Really Really Evil, like trying to be really really anything else, always strikes me as a mark against someone being enjoyable company.
In re: schools: I think a couple things are going on there. One is that bullying, especially with the advent of social media, really is a lot worse than it used to be in many cases. School used to be, for most of us, a mildly unpleasant form of drudgery for six to eight hours a day, but for a lot of kids these days, it’s actively harmful. I mean, I was hassled some in middle school, but never to the extent that I hear about now.
Second and conversely is that, as in the latest case, some people do equate “bullying” with people just plain not wanting to be your friend, or reacting to obnoxious behavior with social shunning, or even a lack of comparative popularity. (Which I’ve seen in non-lethal form during the “Fake Geek Girl” controversy–people claiming they had a right to indulge in really nasty forms of gatekeeping because, essentially, they didn’t get to date the head cheerleader/QB.) The guy in FL was not an essentially decent person pushed too far: he was stalking his ex and selling knives out of his lunchbox on campus, for example; the student at VT was a loner, but nobody hassled him; and so forth. And I think there are a lot of online communities that encourage anger and violence, especially in young men, against people who “deny” them what they think they’re entitled to in terms of money, popularity, romance, etc.
(Much as I like the Internet, I think access to a community of people who will tell you that nothing is your fault and you deserve everything that you want, and dehumanizes those who “stand in your way”, is likely doing a substantial amount of damage, and contributing to a number of mass murders. And sadly, whoever you are, you can probably find a version of that community that suits your outlook.)
One of the things that’s interesting is that back when I was young, the sort of mass murder people worried about happened in the workplace–“going postal” and so forth–and while those incidents have gone up a little in the last couple decades, it hasn’t been nearly the exponential rate of growth that’s happened with school shootings. (I am not a statistician, but I’d say the per capita rate is likely about what it was.) And although I am for reasonable gun control laws, for any number of reasons, this makes me agree that there’s a number of other factors at play with those.
I was surprised to notice, some time back, that I no longer could work up much respect for my own preferences, and not just for those of people with opinions on “the other side of the argument”. That realization considerably accelerated my process of turning into myself. Really looking forward to your discussion of ‘self-directed adult education in an age of decline’ — that phrase alone gives me more hope than anything I’ve found in the news for a long, long time.
I’m waiting on a hold at the library for a book called Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle about the online culture wars. In interviews I have heard her mention the unwillingness of people to try to convince anyone of the other side, so this rings true.
I hear a lot of phrases that make me unlikely to listen even if I agree with the argument behind them. Words like microagression, rape culture, and toxic masculinity are good examples of this. I agree with the arguments made by those using these phrases, but the phrases really need to go if people want to do anything but preach to the choir. I agree that some people are rude or clueless about things they say to different minority groups, but I would not call that a microagression. I agree our culture needs to improve how we talk about and handle sexual assault, but I don’t think we have a rape culture. I think certain aspects of male biology and culture have big problems, but I don’t think it does any good to talk about toxic masculinity.
However, the Babbit fallacy is a keeper. I loved Steppenwolf when I read it in my early twenties for the reasons you mention. I love Hesse’s work in general.
Regarding the polarization and tribal conflict in social media: I find plausible the recent reports, in (for example) the Washington Post, that Russian “influence agents” have played on BOTH sides of controversial issues, both before and after the election. And, I suspect that as we learn to cope with it, it will be a challenge that makes our society stronger. And if it does, I hope that it blows back into Russia and makes THEIR society stronger (and more democratic) too. Wouldn’t it be fine if Russian politicians learned from this blog a strategy for managing a peaceful transition at the end of the Putin era?
If you indulge me, John, please let me tell y’all about this lovely fanfic which is one of my guilty pleasures: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
It has many flaws, but there are 2 redeeming qualities. The first one is that it correctly identifies the Potterverse’s magic as technology; specifically as Atlantean technology. That helps explain the wizard/muggle divide, too. All spells, charms and curses are the user interface of an ancient global technological infrastructure, and it will not respond to you if you lack the genetic marker that identifies you as a children of Atlantis.
But what sets appart this fanfic is its ruthless, antisocial, but clear-headed antagonist. Through the lenght of the book, a recurrent subject is what could drive a human being to turn in such a monster as Voldemort. Towards the end, Voldemort enlist Harry’s help, under duress and for the sake of saving the lives of his friends and many Hogwards studenst. They end up having a one-on-one during a reprieve on their mission, and Tom Riddle has a chance to tell his story…
Turns out this incredibly brilliant and powerful but socially akward wizard named Tom reaches the peak of his power. He’s not far from reaching middleage, and he begins to ponder what goal is worthy of pursuing next, and decides that stoping Muggles from destroying the Earth with their reckless pursuit of technology will do. In order to do so, he has to unite the forces of all the magical nations, so the natural first step is to gain control of his native Britain first.
He devices an overcomplicated plan to take over, and I will not go into details here, but the issue is that while he is knowledgeable of powerful magics that many would consider antinatural, he has no idea how to be a Dark Lord… so he invents Voldemort as a disposable identity to learn the ropes. And then, his plan is derailed by the utter incompetence of the Ministry of Magic.
According to his own account, he started recruiting Death Eaters amongst the drunkards and petty criminals in magical London. He expected his forces to be rounded up and arrested after a month or so of starting to cause trouble, but the government was never able to do so. Instead, he gained the attention of Lucius Malfoy, who began to provide money and connections to the respectable side of the blood purist comunity for the cause.
(Lucius is not stupid either, but desperate. He and his allies see Dumbledore as a wolf in sheep skin, slowly getting the whole country under his direct control; and they correctly assess this Voldemort guy to be, in spite of its craziness, the only living wizard that is nearly as powerful and therefore capable or challenging their enemy).
Please notice that for the most part of the wizarding wars Tom expected, even wanted, to loose. At some point he even had his Death Eaters assasinate the higher ranks of Magical Law Enforcement so that a younger and more competent leadership (the ones we know from cannon, Crouch, Scrimegour, Bones) would raise to positions that would make better use of their abilities… all to no avail. It was until much later that he decided that it would be much easier to just override this stupid government by brute force, but by then all his political capital was tied to this Bond-villian persona of Lord Voldemort and his agenda of blood purity.
@Scotyl, from last week discussion.
Thank you. As a matter of fact, I am teaching highschool nowadays. It’s a part time gig, but I am enjoying it so much.
@Violet – I think the Babbit fallacy is a symptom of empire. When you think about it America has a very arrogant culture. We virtue signal to show we understand other cultures but when it comes around to actually understanding the differences it’s nothing but lip service. More people would fear China if they understood how old China is and how good China’s proven in the past at playing a long form game. Geopolitical events have a shelf life longer than 10 years and we tend not to remember further back than 911 anymore.
Looked at my last post obviously wrote with haste. 🙂
On a the topic of old books I recently picked up a 1859 copy of Robert Burns poetry. And I was reading it and realized that the ability to hold a phrase in your head for more than ten seconds is important to understanding some of it.
Maybe we make books long now so we can forget. I call them video game books – Where characters level up, ie Harry Potter being told everything by Dumbledore in the last two books. Where as if it had all been known by book three books 4, 5, 6, and 7 would have bene pointless.
One thing I’ve noticed about this phenomenon though is that on some level it is really quite enjoyable. People I know who are “political” seem to oscillate between between the two poles of feverish optimism and despair. It’s an internal drama that gives their life meaning, and achieving their political objectives out there in the real world is not really their ultimate purpose.
It’s politics as sport. Football fans are notorious for taunting the opposing team and their supporters, and I think that much of the projection currently undergirding politics has the same purpose. Are football fans interested in understanding why fans would support another team? I suspect politics-as-spectacle demands symbolic victories (“owning the libtards”) more than real ones. Hence chasing people out of their jobs, creating viral memes etc.
i.e. Politics is now about avoiding real issues. It is the ultimate distraction, because it effectively hides the fact that it is a distraction.
I read the “Bobbitt Fallacy” assumed you were punning on the word phallus and expected a rather uncomfortable read. *whew*
I know you don’t do Facebook (good for you) if you want to see huge helpings of the type of behavior that is the place. Tragically, many of the people I see it from are (from my experience of them) very intelligent. But they are quite willing to yell at the top of their lungs that shaming, doxxing and even physically attacking those who disagree with them is a perfectly valid strategy. In point of fact I suspect that they *want* to find someone they can punch. Its like there is some deep well of anger that they cannot name or admit to and their “enemies” become the focus of that anger.
I think I’ve asked this before, but I would like to collect more of your works in hardback. So, if you are thinking of reissuing any of your past work in HB 1) I hope you will let us know and 2) I support that idea.
Hi JMG and all,
as an antidote to the Harry Potter series I´d like to suggest Terry Pratchett´s series about the adventures of a young witch called Tiffany Aching. I think he avoided falling into the Babbit Fallacy trap with his choice of ´´villains´´ (in one of the books it´s Winter himself). Although his depiction of the Fairie Queen in the first book is a bit one-dimensional that does get rectified in the last (5th) book of the series.
On another note: the ´´Russiagate´´- obsession has hit Germany well and proper. Last week Germany´s only tabloid paper ´´Bild`´ alleged in their headline that the Jusos (youth organisation of the social democratic party SPD) had accepted help and money from a Russian agent named Juri for their campaign against another ´´grand coalition´´ to form a SPD-CDU-CSU government. For ´´proof´´ they cited e-mails that have allegedly come from the Juso´s e-mail server. This week the satirical magazine ´´Titanic´´ ( the German equivalent of the ´´Onion´´ ) announced that the e-mails were faked – by them:
They also played the role of ´´Juri´´ on the phone to talk to the ´´Bild´´ journalist – well done, I say!
But the mere fact that ´´Bild´´ was willing to print this garbage without properly checking their sources shows how much of this insane propaganda has already been directed at the German public…
Frank from Germany
Perhaps The Onion reads Ecosophia? 😀
I recently stopped posting on Twitter. I made a mistake with someone I occasionally interacted with previously, I replied in a not very serious way to something she was taking seriously. She had commented on the lack of racial diversity in students attending a graduate lecture course, and I said something like “all hobbits with a token dwarf?” and then said I find race as it is usually spoken of a simplistic way of understanding human diversity as opposed to characters in fictional universes. This person then blocked me. What I was trying to say is that people are put into a handful of boxes by others based on what is not their most profound or important differences. The way in which race is thought of differs in the UK and the USA so the pressure points are subtly different.
Maybe its white priviledge because I have fairly pale skin and have always lived in places where those with similar albedo form the majority, and therefore haven’t really had to think about how my skin colour is perceived. Was I whitesplaining? I don’t know, but it taught me again that 140 (or 280) character tweets often can lead to miscommunications, so I’m read-only (and in smaller doses) now.
“I am sure Republicans are as desperate about gun violence as Democrats are, but since they cannot admit it, they double down on the “people kill people” nonsense.”
Without turning this into a debate about gun control, your assertion that conservatives secretly agree with you but just won’t admit it is false.
From my point of view, by using the term “gun violence” you’re both assuming your conclusion (that the gun is the issue) and conflating a range of disparate phenomena, from gang warfare to crimes of passion to school shootings, all of which have different causes and thus, different potential solutions. This can be demonstrated by the fact that these phenomena vary from time to time and place to place independently of levels of gun ownership. Gang violence, for instance, used to be a serious problem among Irish Americans but not among black Americans; today 34% of American gang members are black (compared with 12% of the population as a whole), while Irish gangs have dwindled almost out of existence. Globally, the United States has the 94th highest homicide rate out of all countries, despite having by far the highest level of gun ownership (almost twice that of the next two countries on the list, Serbia and Yemen. Serbia has a much lower murder rate than the United States, Yemen a considerably higher). Meanwhile, in the ethnographic literature there are hunting-gathering societies with no guns at all that had homicide rates surpassing 400/100,000 (almost 7 times that of St Louis, the most dangerous city in the United States, and 100 times that of the US as a whole).
If I feel any “desperation” about what I suspect you are really talking about– rampage killings, especially but not only in schools– it doesn’t lead me to want to ban guns. It leads me to increase my commitment to self-defense training and to never let any children I may have attend public schools.
The Babbit Fallacy does indeed exist.
Wonderfull post! Thank you so much for the story about Steppenwolf. Even though Sweden borrows heavily from German culture, I had missed this totally.
I was previously living in a university town, studying and then working and only recently (5 years ago) moved home to the small town of my birth.
I have out of necessity shed most of the illusions I had of my viewpoint being the only true one since my homecoming…
In the coming election this fall, I am a candidate for the green party, and I surely need the wisdom in the blog posts coming now for this endeavor.
Fascinating. I only know of Babbit by way of Joseph Campbell, who cited the book as what happens if you don’t “follow your bliss.”
The Babbit Fallacy seems like the what Hillary Clinton fell into when she referred to (half of) Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables.” It’s also strikes me as the core fallacy behind a lot of what we might as well call “political psychoanalysis”: ascribing hidden, malevolent motivations to opponents even when these are outright absurd, even when opponents’ stated beliefs make complete sense within their worldview. (Ex: environmentalists just hate humanity and want to kill us off for Gaia)
Finally, if there’s two things I wish the Democrats would take from the election, it’s (a) elections are not altar calls—don’t ask people to confess their sins and prove their purity by voting for you; and (b) don’t let swing voters take home the message, “we hate you.”
As individuals who have to live amidst this toxic political culture, perhaps the best thing we can do is talk more about our experiences, and not so much about our opinions. In my random conversations this is what I am trying to do. People will form their own opinions and usually nobody wants to be told what to think. I have seen people argue with a condescending tone and it amazes me that they do not seem to care that the other person will be put off by this.
I would describe myself as a disgruntled Democrat and I agree with your analysis that none of the political alternatives being offered now will address the real threats that are closing in on us.
I have been thinking that however the collapse unfolds it is essential to make connections with people of various backgrounds and skills. I might need a welder and a doctor and a gunsmith.This will be impossible if we are always butting heads.
I recently had a great conversation with an older man in the coffee shop who was wearing a red Trump cap. I am not a Trump supporter, and at first I was thinking “aw man, I don’t want to get into some pointless argument.” But we did talk, about everything but politics, and I made a new friend. He had an accent so I asked him where he was from, and he told me an amazing story about escaping from Hungary when he was 18, just after the Soviet Union invaded. From his experiences I understood that his political beliefs, whatever they were, were passionate and hard learned. Who would presume to educate him, to tell him he had it wrong? Not me. He and I may never change each other’s minds about politics but outside the “political theater” of the media, both mainstream and nonmainstream, we have plenty in common, and that means a lot in everyday life and even local politics.
By the way, I remember Howard Zinn commenting on the peculiarity of the term “theater of war.”
At stray moments late at night I sometimes wonder if we’ve somehow slipped into an analogue of that classic weird tale, Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, which is about a play that drives people insane. (There’s good reason why people use the term “political theater,” after all.) I’ve gone so far as to plot out a story in which characters spanning the political spectrum come unhinged in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, until a liberal character bashes her brains out against a concrete wall while shrieking “Trump, Trump, Trump,” and a conservative religious fundamentalist ends up flinging himself on a pyre of burning books as a sacrifice to Kek the Frog God. The one surviving character stumbles to the bank of the Potomac, only to find that it’s turned into the cloudy lake of Demhe, and beyond it the nightmare towers of Carcosa rise against a sky dotted with black stars. The title of the story, of course, is “The King in Orange.”
I definitely want to see “The King in Orange” in print. Sounds like it would be an awesome story and a brilliant satire, especially considering how bizarre, even surreal, American politics and culture have become. It’s nearly impossible to come up with fiction these days that matches present day real-life America for sheer weirdness.
JMG, and @Matthias, yes, indeed. That’s specially true in the upper middle class. Wealthy Brazilians have a very nasty habit of copying the worst American and European behaviors, and, right now, Prosperity Theology, social justice warrior activism and what JMG just named the Babbit fallacy are some of them. I’m old enough to have watched and participated in political discussions for two decades already, and I’ve seen their transformation over that period of time: in the nineties, almost everybody agreed upon a certain set of fundamental issues, and the only topics to be discussed were what the best or fastest path to change was, or how fast we should go. These days, merely mentioning the names of a few politicians in a conversation is enough to know where you stand, and God help you if most people in your vicinity are not in your side. The threat of political violence is already looming…
One little quibble about guns in Brazil, though: there are plenty of guns around (despite a very restrictive gun control legislation) and lots of gun-related homicides. But there are few to none school shootings and rampage mass murders: most of these gun related crimes are drug related organized crime shootings.
Woah, I *just* finished Olivier Rey’s “A mad solitude : the fantasy of the auto-constructed Man” yesterday (which is mostly about child education), and was asking myself the question of “self-directed adult education”… then this post happened !
My Mum voted for Brexit. Apparently this is because she’s a swivel-eyed xenophobe, and probably a racist, not because she has legitimate concerns about over-centralisation, or the diminution of her political voice.
Her nuanced concerns have been flattened over by a simple dualist narrative,
I’m currently reading a book called “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by a guy called Yuval Noah Harari.
Since it covers many topics covered by the author of this blog, but without particular reference to resource scarcity, anyone here that takes the time to read it would find themselves on familiar ground, at least in places.
One of the things that Harari covers is what Dualism actually is. Put briefly, in his view, it’s a link between Polytheism and Monotheism. Polytheists had no problem explaining evil, but couldn’t realily explain Order. Monotheists had a readily available tool to explain Order, but struggled to fit an all-knowing, all seeing, benevolent God with the existence of Evil.
Like “Cynicism” or “Stoicism”, Dualism has lost most of it’s meaning, becoming a handy word to describe the reduction of complex arguments to a debasement into a simplistic narrative of “Good” versus “Evil”
Well if you’re on the side of the angels, and the other side are devils, it doesn’t really matter what stone syou throw at them does it? So you can be as diablolical as you like in how you engage with your arguments. You can be as offensive as you like, because the other guy is scum, and you’re on the side of the angels.
Except of course, as JMG has pointed out, when it comes to actually changing people’s minds and trying to get people to see things your way, it’s the view from outside that matters.
And there will be a few who misread it as “The Rabbitt Fallacy…”. 🐰😄
“Greer, you dirty so-and-so, what have you got against rabbits, anyhow?” 😄
May I insert a quick question There was some talk about the lower astral and critters living thereon. Is there a book describing same?
First of all, right away I understood your reference to Babbitt as a reference to Sinclair Lewis’ novel, which I have not read. I think “Elmer Gantry” was as far as I got and that was a long time ago. Now “Steppenwolf” did impress me back in the sixties, in the same lurid paperback you describe. I read and reread it. I was in my twenties then and the first 3/4ths of the novel were exactly right for me. I never liked the last 1/4; too perverse, bordering perhaps on the homoerotic. On Trump: two things turned me against HRC. First her insistence as Sec. of State that “Assad must go.” I never believed it for a minute. Second, the way Bernie Sanders’ campaign was torpedoed by the DNC. We were simply supposed to default back to HRC. Ha! I voted 3rd party. Trump himself, promised to be a loose cannon who occasionally would make sense, but I have yet to see him disband NATO or stop the middle eastern wars. On gun control and school shootings: I’m in my second year of NRA membership. Their rhetoric offends me but it’s only $35/yr. “Freedom-hating-liberals” is a phrase they never tire of using. On mass shootings: I’d like to see more inquiry into the medication history of mass shooters. I can’t recall ever having heard any such inquiry. Is it a HIPPA issue? If so, I’d advocate an exception to the HIPPA privacy rules in cases of mass shooters. I wonder if it’s really the pharmaceutical industry’s privacy that is being protected in these disturbing cases.
I think the Babbitt Fallacy arises from confusing the self-evident with the repeatedly familiar. And that familiarity includes our habitual emotional responses. To give a (hopefully) non-political example: Just because I recoil at the prospect of eating grubs (although I did eat the Tequila worm once, just once) doesn’t mean that others don’t find them tasty.
If we live in an echo chamber, then our imagination becomes atrophied. And more and more Americans are fleeing to echo chambers, be they specific neighborhoods or websites. More often then we’d like to admit, “I don’t see how it could possibly be otherwise” says more about us than about reality.
Does this mean that there are no bedrock principles that could be accessible to everyone’s understanding? I think there are, but discovering those principles, and knowing which ones apply in a given situation are harder tasks than are commonly realized.
I’ve been saying for some years, to a fairly self-righteous liberal crowd, that “liberalism is inconsistent with physics”. Of course, given the liberal, and vaguely “scientific” education of that crowd, the response is spluttering indignation.
Hmmm, a very interesting concept: beliveing everyone actually agrees (knows they’re wrong) but won’t admit it. I’ll have to let that roll around the ‘ol brain pan for a while.
To me it has always seemed more a matter of being unable to even see much less understand the other side’s POV, rather than believing the other side secretly agrees. I suppose we are really talking about the same thing from just slightly different angles.
On the liberal side I’m seeing incredible arrogance – an attitude that “We are the smartest people in the room” therefore we needn’t bother trying to understand your POV since it couldn’t possibly make any sense.
This arrogance has effectively prevented them from formulating a set of policies designed to appeal to working class former Obama voters. The so-called left has wasted an entire year pretending that the election was invalid rather than trying to win “hearts and miinds”.
I didn’t vote for Hillary or Donald and my newfound independance has opened my eyes. I’m watching Trump haters act exactly as the Obama haters acted and they don’t know it, (Or maybe they know it and won’t admit it 🙂
What I unambiguously pick up, when I do my best to get into the middle between these stubborly shrieking poles is a whole lot of fear-
“What IF people really are autonomous beings with their own beliefs and reasons for their choices? What IF I could actually understand some of that if I make an effort? And who exactly am -I- (within the context of my chosen social/community/peer group) if that is the case? Am I still a “good person”? What is a “good person” anyway?”
So much of that would have to be re-navigated. Hard, scary work.
My hunch is that like regular practice of anything and getting past its Watcher, though, a person has to truly want to do it, too, to succeed in exploring the actual, unpropagandized (is that a word?) relation-space between self and other.
So much easier and seemingly safer to be frightened away, or just coast on those undigested bits of self-image and inherited opinions. It doesn’t happen until it’s time for it happen, whatever the individual catalyst may be.
Almost every liberal comic and columnist seems convinced that Trump is not just evil, but supremely stupid as well. Yet he appears to have neatly maneuvered the Democratic Party into seeming to put the interests of the 800,000+ Dreamers ahead of virtually every other issue addressed in the two government shutdown crises and the final spending bill. While I have sympathy for the Dreamers, the idea that a solution to their problems should be allowed to hold up funding for everything else the government does is ludicrous. It played right into the fears of the Trump voters that the Democrats no longer care about the native-born American working class. It is pretty easy to be outsmarted by an opponent whose abilities you have dismissed.
I recently posted to Facebook my Library Thing review of _The Righteous Mind_. One of my friends, who is an intelligent, usually level-headed person with some real insights into the problems of our culture took exception to the author’s ideas on ethics. I finally had to remind him that my review was merely an attempt to describe the book’s argument, not necessarily a defense of it. But it seemed as if he was threatened by the very idea that anyone could actually have a different moral basis for their beliefs.
JMG wrote : “We’ll talk about that next week (the old-fashioned art of rhetoric)—and in the process we’ll begin a sequence of posts I’ve been pondering for a very long time: a discussion of the place of education, and especially of self-directed adult education, in an age of decline.
Yes please! More tools with which to address this problem are most welcome!
Hey, I am one of those millions of working class whites who voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections and voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. So that must make me an evilly evil racist with an extra helping of evil sauce on top. 😉
PS – For all of their talk about “checking your privilege” and bloviating about the evils of “white privilege”, “structural racism” and all the rest, when was the last time you ever heard of an affluent white liberal give up their position of privilege in favor of a person of color?
Because I found your ADR blog a little later on, I didn’t get to your post “The Pornography of Political Fear” until quite a bit into Obama’s Presidency. I had the shock of instant recognition – I was one of the people who had worried a lot about what Bush and Cheney might be up to after reading so many liberal writings. By the time I read that post I begun to realize how familiar the current President’s politics seemed and how none of my liberal friends and acquaintances seem to notice or care.
With the help of your writings I recognized quite early that Trump might win – as in, “Wow, JMG is also thinking that Trump might win. Err – how did I come to that conclusion in the first place…” Your work has continued to be invaluable in evaluating what this President is doing. There is often too much fog surrounding him even in the work of some of the better observers.
Now I listen to so many of my friends and relatives as they act as though they are under a spell. Well I do suspect it is actually a real spell, not a enormous media entertainment conglomerate version of one. I very much look forward to what more you can say on this subject. What can you do to awaken someone who is in a dream state? Especially when the thought keeps coming back to me, “What happens when there are real problems?”
@ Austin of Ozmerst
I don’t know if Mr. Greer will allow a breif “bookclub” discussion or not, but – If we accept that “Watchman” was wriitten first but published second, (so the story goes) then the Atticus in TKAM is a better man than we might expect, not someone who has gotten worse. Also despite all the praise heaped on Atticus, all he really did was his minimal duty as a lawyer along with admonishing Scout not to use the N word. He’s not the paragon of brotherly love we’ve imagined him to be. He’s a man very much of his own time and place with a genteel manner. We expect that because he doesn’t act and speak the way Mr. Ewell does that he must be the antighesis of Mr. Ewell. He isn’t, he’s merely a more refined sort of racist. JMO.
@JMG, I would love to hear more about your recommendations for excellent Young Adult literature (to point my kids towards). Maybe a topic for a future post (although I know you must have gazillions of ideas, and this one is probably not high on the priority list…)
r.e. the gun control debate and polarised thinking:
As an Aussie – i.e. from a distance – the gun control debate in the USA (and the intensity of the polarisation of it) was always perplexing. Maybe I am missing something – I have all the failings in thinking that JMG illuminates in these posts!! – but the evidence is pretty clear. Sure, it’s people who use the guns who kill people, and not just the guns themselves…. but the point is also that without the guns being relatively readily available, it becomes much more difficult for said people to then act in such a way with such awful outcomes. Yes, humans are the ones doing the killing, but it’s also the context that enables humans to do more or do less harm with their inclinations.
The context extends beyond just gun laws, however, and also includes culture (e.g. the high rates of acid attacks in India & Bangladesh; the recent increase in the number of attacks that use vehicles driven into crowds) and group understandings about what is / is not ‘acceptable’ (which is why most media outlets refrain from talking about or even reporting suicides, unless they are celebrity ones…. because hearing about other people committing suicide gives people contemplating it ‘the permission’ to go through with it).
It also includes the culture of the educational institutions, families, the culture of the media, the culture of foreign policy – and how disagreements are dealt with in these areas. I think that having the USA culture of settling many foreign policy issues with military interventions, having mainstream media (e.g. FoxNews) model very binary and limited forms of ‘debate’ to air differences of opinion, the current online maelstrom that young people (along with many of the rest of us) are exposed to, etc., all have their part to play, too. It’s not just the fault of ‘guns’, nor simply ‘evil people’, by any means.
When we had a mass shooting here in Aus, the quite conservative Prime Minister initiated a massive voluntary no-questions-asked gun buy-back, related to a change in the law regarding gun ownership (which became much more restrictive and meant that many guns people owned were now illegal). Research into the effect of that legislation has varied in their findings, but most of the research points to the fact that there haven’t been mass public shootings in Australia since (there have been a couple – literally, just a few – of private/family mass shootings). That shooting was back in 1996. Yes, we haven’t had a major public gun-based attack for over 20 years where the shooter has killed 3 or more. Granted, our population is waaay smaller than the USA’s, but even so.
However, if you look at the statistics here regarding how people feel about the policy, only 6% of people (across the entire political spectrum, too – even those who vote conservative have a similar %) think that the laws are too harsh. The rest are split roughly half-half between thinking they are about right, and thinking they aren’t tough enough. We just don’t have the USA ‘constitutionally-enshrined’ equation of freedom with right to own and use guns. We don’t see them as being one and the same thing. We also don’t tend to equate guns with safety. Generally speaking, I would say we tend to equate being free-from-guns-being-readily-available-in-society as closer to freedom, and also safer (the former is unprovable / it’s just a value position, the latter seems to have evidence on its side). So, our entire context is very, very different. I’m doubtful that our gun control laws would translate into the USA very well at all – I think gun owners would resist them very violently, for starters!
is this the continuation of the education posts on the old blog that had homework, before you moved on to other topics? I remember the last assignment was reading a book from a different time period (I chose Wuthering Heights), and I felt like you hadn’t finished the series w/that post.
Regarding gun control–at least in my neck of the woods, left leaning folk are as hypocritical as Baptists and liquor regarding guns. While they may publicly promote gun control, privately, they’re closing the “gun gap” between them and conservatives and enrolling in CCDW (Conceal and Carry Deadly Weapon) classes and snatching up CCDW permits right and left. Perhaps it’s because of the political climate–my state overwhelmingly voted for Trump and is solidly GOP–that has left leaning folk threatened and arming themselves.
Thanks for the reply last week The topic last week really was excited my interest in evolution and the things which evolve.
The topic this week is much needed. As a few commenters have mentioned, especially after the Lakewood school shooting, there is a deeply rooted fervor to rise up against guns and all those who value the 2nd Amendment. I kept trying to engage one of my acquaintances whom I and others thought was opened minded enough to engage in conversation about the topic but every response was met with the same construct: false equivalence and MASS SHOOTING!
Since Trumps election, more and more people seem to be motivated to get involved in politics and activism, which is a great thing, But it’s scary when trying to converse with a great many of them as they seem be completely one sided in their thinking and are unable to open their minds even a little towards opposing viewpoints. This seems to be happening most of all with people of the left-leaning mindset (that’s not to say that right-leaning also don’t have this problem), and it is pushing me further and further away from wanting to share in views of that sort.
All in all, the situation is frightening. If this sort of behavior continues the middle ground is going to be extremely eroded, politics will become even more polarized and one can only imagine what sort of clashes will ensue.
With that said, it is always worthwhile to keep the skills of rhetoric alive, and to help reinvigorate the skills of self-education, especially for adults. But how long do you think we, as the United States of America really have?
Thanks for the homework of Babbitt and Steppenwolf!
If you aren’t already trying this, one of the best tricks to still be engaged with current affairs but not get dragged into all the pit of polarization is to stay off social media. Facebook especially seems to encourage echo chambers and empty discussion.
When I read your proposed parody of The King in Yellow, I was immediately reminded of this classic from Blue Oyster Cult, got out my old vinyl copy of Agents of Fortune and listened to it again. They were famous for their strange, obscure and sometimes downright weird song lyrics, so much so that many Christian fundamentalists were convinced they were devil worshipers back when I was growing up, which only made them more popular. Come to think of it, a lot of their music and weird fiction by authors like Chambers and Lovecraft seems to go really well with the surreal atmosphere of America these days…
“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)”
I hear the music, daylight disc
Three men in black said, “Don’t report this”
“Ascension,” and that’s all they said
Sickness now, the hour’s dread
He’s found the awful truth, Balthazar
He’s found the saucer news
I’m in fairy rings and tower beds
“Don’t report this,” three men said
Books by the blameless and by the dead
King in yellow, queen in red
He’s found the awful truth, Balthazar
He’s found the saucer news
Dead leaves always give up motion
I no longer feel the motion
Where prophecy fails, the falling motion
“Don’t report this, agents of fortune”
He’s found the awful truth, Balthazar
He’s found the saucer news”
@ thecrowandsheep The theme of mass shootings as a reaction to bullying brings to mind the late 60s British film If…. In the film, the juniors at an English boarding school react to the institutionalized bullying by the seniors. They come across a stash of WW2 machine guns, smoke bomb an assembly, and start gunning down their classmates and teachers. Of course, the buildings were built in stone, and the other students were able to hide, and then arm themselves from the schools armory. I didn’t remember how prescient it was until your post jogged my memory.
On the larger theme of this post, I live in the midst of the Resistance™. Every time I suggest that the Democrats need to understand why so many people who voted for Obama also voted for Trump, instead of looking for a scapegoat, I am denounced for being a Russian stooge. When I suggest that people may have had reasons to vote for Trump, although I didn’t, I am accused of being happy with Trump as President. Meanwhile, every scrap of trivia that escapes from the Sanctuary of St. Mueller is seized on as being the final nail in the coffin of the Donald (and, never noted, the ascension of President Pence). The more this keeps up, the more likely I am to ask Dmitri to sponsor me for Russian citizenship.
It just so happens I have been re-reading Steppenwolf as of late, so perhaps this is an example of synchronicity in action. I have long been a fan of Hesse and other German novelists from his era like Thomas Mann.
In his book C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse: A Book of Two Friendships, Miguel Serrano related a conversation he had with Hesse. Hesse told Serrano his books had always been far more popular in Spanish speaking cultures than English or French speaking countries. Serrano pointed out that Spanish speaking cultures have a traditional literary style that is very similar to that of German writers like Hesse and Mann, known as Magical Realism. As someone who has read many of the works of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Fuentes, I can tell you he’s quite right. I might also add that Serrano himself was a master of Magical Realism, as evidenced by works like El/Ella and NOS: The Book of Resurrection. Arguably his Esoteric Hitlerist writings can also be seen as works of Magical Realism.
AMark, I’ll consider it. You might consider Hesse’s novel Demian, which is fairly short and not literary in the dire sense of the word!
Isabel, those seem like important things in the mix. I simply don’t have a clear sense of the whole picture yet.
Tom, excellent. The phrase “don’t believe everything you think” strikes me as good advice along those lines.
Greg, exactly. My post a while back on thoughtstoppers could have made room for those phrases, and for equivalent phrases from the other side of the spectrum.
Lathechuck, I find it more plausible that the whole thing is a product of our nation’s longstanding habit of paranoid fantasy, at the moment channeled most clearly through Pravda on the Potomac aka the WaPo…
CR, funny! A nice inversion.
Phil, I won’t argue. I don’t enjoy drama at all, but I know a lot of people who seem to seek it out and generate it, and they apparently pine away if they don’t get their drama fix.
AV, regrettably I don’t have much say over what appears in hardback and what doesn’t; publishers make that call. If I do get more hardback editions, I’ll certainly make an announcement.
Frank, so noted. Good for Titanic; if my German was good enough I’d start reading it, as that shows a wicked sense of humor.
Ozquoll, funny! Thank you. (I also appreciated the article about Billy Graham taking a wrong turn at the Pearly Gates and ending up in Heaven’s largest gay neighborhood…)
MawKernewek, sounds like a sensible choice to me.
Alnusincana, glad to hear you’re getting involved in politics. I’ll be talking at length about persuasive rhetoric in the weeks ahead; I hope it’s useful.
James, exactly. If Hillary Clinton had stopped to realize that she needed to win the votes of the people she was insulting by that comment, she wouldn’t have made it. On the other hand, if she was the kind of person who was capable of noticing that she actually had to give people a reason to vote for her, she’d be President today.
Other Tom, one of the first tasks faced by anyone who wants to use persuasive language is to avoid turning off the other person, and anything likely to be perceived as “telling people what to think” is a classic mistake to be avoided. We’ll be discussing that as we proceed — but talking about your own experiences is one good approach here.
Armata, I’ll consider it. I’ve placed two straight-up Lovecraftian short stories recently (one in a magazine and one in an anthology), and so it’s not impossible that I could find a venue for a piece of really edged satire on the subject.
Bruno, many thanks for the data points!
Peak, all I can say is “synchronicity happens…”
Paul, good. I prefer to use a slightly different way of talking about what Harari calls “dualism,” but the concept’s more or less the same.
Pogonip, not that I know of. I’m still planning on doing that post!
Phutatorius, yes, the final part of Steppenwolf deals (among many other things) with the polymorphous nature of sexuality — that’s not surprising in a novel that, from one angle, is the story of somebody’s Jungian psychoanalysis. I’d also be very interested to know whether prescription drugs play a role in the rise of school shootings. The US is the most overmedicated society on the planet, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one or more of the psychiatric drugs constantly being pushed on children by MDs had that as one of its side effects…
Greg, excellent. Yes, indeed!
Peter, oh my. That would definitely set the cat among the pigeons!
Christopher, I think they know it at some level — the hysterical rage you can generate quite reliably by pointing out that they’re acting just like the people they hate is usually a good indication that the hypocrisy isn’t entirely unconscious. I used to get the same reaction by pointing out to Obama-hating Republicans that they were acting just like the Bush-hating Democrats they spent eight years despising…
Bonnie, the fear’s unquestionably there, and that’s one of the things that has to be approached and dealt with constructively. That’s possible, though; people who are afraid by and large want to stop being afraid, and if you can show them ways to do this that also appeal to their values and ideals, your chance of getting a constructive reaction isn’t small.
Rita, ding! We have a winner. Practically everyone on the American left takes it as a matter of faith that Trump is a moron. He cultivates that reaction — in fact, he spent his entire business career convincing people to underestimate him, and then taking them to the cleaners in ways they never saw coming. It does not speak highly of the intelligence of American liberals that they keep falling for the same simple trick over and over again…
Bonnie, stand by for toolkit deliveries!
Armata, ssshh! Next thing you know, you’ll be pointing out that affluent, privileged whites use talk about racism out of one side of their mouths, and talk about crime out of the other side of their mouths, to keep poor white people and poor nonwhite people at each others’ throats, so they don’t challenge the privileged classes…
John, yes, it’s a spell, but it’s largely self-inflicted — and the whole point of it is to avoid having to deal with real problems. More on this as we proceed.
CK, the cultural differences are huge. It’s been pointed out, and quite sensibly, that many of the differences between the US and Australia can best be understood if you remember that the US was founded by religious fanatics while Australia was founded by petty criminals!
Shane, I’m not entirely sure where this is going. As with so many of my sequences, we’re venturing out into unknown territory in pitch darkness with a blinding downpour crashing down over our heads, and the only map we’ve got was written five hundred years ago and probably refers to a different area.
Prizm, I expect the United States of America to slam face first into the consequences of its own history in the decades immediately ahead of us. Nothing I can do at this point can avert the crash. The question now is whether I can establish some foundations on which others can build after the rubble stops bouncing.
Armata, oh my. That brings back memories! Thank you. As for Serrano, my Spanish isn’t good enough to read his work, though I read the book on his friendships with Jung and Hesse. The accounts of his Esoteric Hitlerism trilogy I’ve read, mostly via Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, make it sound less like magic realism and more like really bad 1970s science fiction — but that may just be me.
“Bonnie, the fear’s unquestionably there, and that’s one of the things that has to be approached and dealt with constructively. That’s possible, though; people who are afraid by and large want to stop being afraid, and if you can show them ways to do this that also appeal to their values and ideals, your chance of getting a constructive reaction isn’t small.”
changing minds is what’s necessary
No. Sometimes what is necessary is changing circumstances, regardless of the opinions of others. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Ghandi and Abraham Lincoln didn’t change many minds, they just changed circumstances.
Mitch McConnell didn’t try to change any minds about Merrick Garland, he just changed circumstances, resulting in his being a hero to the right. Note that all the ‘friendly persuasion’ in the world from those who thought McConnell was acting inappropriately changed his mind not at all.
Sometimes mind-changing has to wait until after victors write their histories of how circumstances became changed.
When I was a child we used to sing a song to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The first line went, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school…” We meant it, too. Social pressures at that time were such that nobody ever acted on the feeling, but it was there.
When I was a schoolboy, we had several songs along the same lines that were even worse, which I won’t repeat here out of a sense of decorum.
Bullying has become a huge problem in public schools, something everyone talks (and virtue signals) about and the public school system does little or nothing to stop. I remember wondering where the bullying tactics we see being used by the so-called “social justice warriors” come from and then it occurred to me they are simply acting out behaviors they learned in elementary, middle and high school before they went off to college. Moreover, since the crypto-Marxist left has become the reigning orthodoxy in academia, these young social justice “crybullies”, as they are sometimes called, have been acting with the tacit approval of the establishment, which only reinforces such behavioral tendencies, just like repeatedly giving into to a ill behaved toddler’s bad behavior only encourages more temper tantrums. It seems to me that at least part of what is going on is that the liberal establishment has been in effect using the SJW’s as enforcers of the dominant pseudoliberal orthodoxy, not unlike how the Nazis used the Brownshirts and Chairman Mao used the Red Guards as gangs of officially sanctioned bullies.
I think of what’s happening right now with what passes for “the left” (really the middle-class-oriented folk who live in the archipelago of “blue cities” that stretch across the country) as a kind of black magic spell, and the only antidote for it is to be very dedicated to generating one’s own white magic. I know that magic and the world aren’t just black and white, but when you are increasingly surrounded and assaulted by “black” the only hope for getting back to a nice, normal silvery-gray is for balance-oriented people to start making as much white as they possibly can!
This whole area of trying to work out just what this basic error in cognitive skills is is consuming my waking hours at present so I look very forward to reading your thoughts and the comments here.
What kind of human comes forth when the combo you get is extreme alienation from the forest plus extreme alienation from your own body plus extreme alienation from your own community? I’ve been a little burnt recently by a bunch of young liberal writers online who, as is the seemingly only real major notes they play, accused me of being a racist when I jumped to the defence of a journo who had dared to question the rightness of the NYT sacking a tech writer 24 hours after hiring her because the Twitter court had adjudged her to be a Nazi sympathizer.
It doesn’t matter that the tech writer loathed her friend’s opinions. She was a sympathiser by default. Doesn’t matter that the journo I was defending was asking about corporate responsibility towards writers, whose rights are, well, ****. She was a sympathizer as well. As was I, for wading into the space of defending the tech writer.
Nuance is not now something to be valued. It’s a weakness. I think I understand that a little more now with the discussion here about the assumption of monocultural thinking.
I am needing to step away myself from those spaces. I may be closer to those liberals on the political spectrum than conservatives but I can feel the deep hatred starting to boil towards them. I’m beginning to suspect their forward thrust is really a status quo circle jerk. I’m not so sure they could handle the progress they believe they’re engaged in – there’s no society for them to place it in, in their own minds. And I don’t want to deeply hate them. You can only grow as strong as the soil you’re planted in and how much fertilizer have they really had? (They have been fed copious bull**** all their lives though, thus totally negating my metaphor/analogy – can never remember which one)
Armata, ssshh! Next thing you know, you’ll be pointing out that affluent, privileged whites use talk about racism out of one side of their mouths, and talk about crime out of the other side of their mouths, to keep poor white people and poor nonwhite people at each others’ throats, so they don’t challenge the privileged classes…
Too late! I’ve been telling everyone who will listen precisely that for years…
Looks like only part of my response made it through my computer hiccuping-
“Bonnie, the fear’s unquestionably there, and that’s one of the things that has to be approached and dealt with constructively. That’s possible, though; people who are afraid by and large want to stop being afraid, and if you can show them ways to do this that also appeal to their values and ideals, your chance of getting a constructive reaction isn’t small.”
True that. Knowing and trusting, and experiencing that one can have some help in dispelling the fear goes a long way towards lessening the conflict. Finding out that this is even possible is a big deal.
It’s good to know there are concrete skills that can be learned that facilitate this.
Neither the Communists nor the Nazis actually realize how evil they really are. Of course, the adherents of each of those ideological worldviews realize how evil those in the other ideological worldview are, but do not perceive the evil in their own hearts. As weird and alien as it may seem, especially to Americans, Stalin and Hitler may, indeed, have thought that they were doing good rather than evil.
Still, more controversially, i suspect that Communism and Nazism alike were Christian Heresies. Like Christianity Communists and Nazis believed in a Linear and Progressive view of History, wherein there would be an Endtime– a final battle, between Communism and Nazism, of course.
Thank you for yet another stimulating essay, and thanks to @Steve T and @Scotlyn for the personal and familial perspectives you have added.
I have watched two of my uncles stake out opposite ends of the political and critical thinking spectrums on the current round of the gun control debate. Both are equally firm in believing the right-ness of their positions, but their willingness to engage in reasoned conversations varies. They are probably making the same argument — that mass violence has societal causes that should be addressed. They probably differ on what those causes are, and certainly differ on what to do to ameliorate the problem while trying to tackle the societal causes. One uncle clearly seems to be holding forth noisily because of the power disparity that Steve T mentioned.
Not contributing to this particular debate is my father, who was emotionally and psychologically battered when national media sensationalized a hot-button story in the late 1980s in which he was a key player. Beyond the hot-button issue integral to the situation, media representatives missed the nuanced question of how local governments can make lawful decisions representing the best good for as many people as possible on cutting-edge social issues when the state’s experts fail to provide advice. Instead, reporters made the issue into something more easy to understand that devolved into debating sides of the hot-button issue and how awful the local government was. Dad now revels proudly in being a self-proclaimed iconoclast, voicing a cynicism that belies his pain.
Three factors contribute to communication failures between my uncles and with my dad’s situation viz-a-viz the media portrayal: (1) careful listening for the heart of the issue, (2) critical reasoning to ask the right questions and to sift through the rhetoric, and (3) emotional health so that speaking and listening are not clouded or made shrill by pain.
Meanwhile, close friends, students, and I are attempting to bring meaningful, self-directed learning to students. We are teaching them to build collaborations strengthened by diversity in skills and perspectives, shaped by articulating shared values to guide their interactions. What drives us is the hope that these learners will develop the skills to be agents for leading adaptations or responses to the serious challenges facing our world.
So I continue reading, eager to hear your much-anticipated thoughts about how education can help us.
Always challenging and enlightening Archdruid, when you mentioned “Steppenwolf” I rushed to my bookshelves for my copy, but with moves over the years it has gone the way of many a paperback, whether loaned out or worn out or donated to the library. But I still have my copies (in English) of “Das Glasperlenspiel”, “Siddhartha”, and “My Belief.” In the latter, Hesse notes in an essay that of his books Steppenwolf is “…the one that has been more often and more seriously misunderstood than any other.” He finishes his short essay by saying “…it would please me very much if [my readers] were to realize that the story of the Steppenwolf, though it describes an illness and a crisis, does not describe one that leads to death or decline but rather the opposite — to recovery.”
Argh, as if I didn’t have enough books in the “In” basket already… 🙂
I’ve been guilty of using group specific codewords and a lack of critical thinking skills online too. I wonder now if social media is particularly prone to this? Like Corydalidae, I’ve had much more productive in-person political conversations and my conversations online are much more civil, even if we heartily disagree, if I have a previous “real-world” relationship with a person.
In addition to the Babbitt fallacy, I hear an incredible amount of rage, both online and off, circling like a hurricane system or a funnel cloud. Apparently lab rats placed in stressful conditions will bite one another and the rat doing the biting will feel better afterwards. My kids did the same thing to each other as toddlers. Perhaps one reason people “bite” online is because it decreases the stress that comes with life now. People are angry, so they lash out.
Oof. The baseline issue here is one I’ve been thinking about for at least a decade, and it still hasn’t jelled – the sensation I get after a while thinking about it is like my mental gears are askew and I haven’t aligned them correctly so that they slot into place. (Not an unfamiliar sensation, that – it happens tolerably often during creative work, and I’m pretty sure it’s separate from the Watcher. It’s something related to the mental plane, if I had to guess.)
Part of the fallacy is just that not all people have realized that other people can have different base mental architecture/narratives/preferences/values (though “axioms” might fit here better than “values”, or I could grab a piece of terminology from the rationalists and call them “priors”). That took me the better part of eighteen years, and that was with the massive advantages of both what now gets called autism spectrum making it very clear that my thought processes were unusual and growing up Yankee liberal in the South with the cultural difference that implies. Graves/Spiral Dynamics framing seems useful to me here – as I understand it that system places the recognition that other people can have different worldviews as dawning in the ER-GF area, not all people get to that stage, and even for those that do it takes a while.
Another part of it is probably the legacy of Christian narratives. It’s occurred to me more than once since reading a certain essay about the Rescue Game that “victim, persecutor, rescuer” rephrases exactly as “unsaved, damned, elect”… or possibly “elect, damned, Armageddon Jesus” depending on which branch of Christianity is involved. The emphasis on “you will be persecuted for being righteous” comes from there too; I’m not sure how much of that is general Christian and how much is denominational, but by all accounts the Evangelicals got a heavy dose either way. RPC’s link to Calvinism probably has some merit; the two sectors of American society that seem particularly prone to this (the coastal left and the Religious Right) have more Calvinist roots than usual and IIRC the Calvinists are prone to the “elect, damned, Armageddon Jesus” version of the Rescue Game.
There’s more to it, though, and I think that more is more of an effect than a cause. Part of it, I think, comes down to exactly what both you and Steve were talking about: people who don’t want to win and/or don’t believe they can win, especially if they think losing means they have to alter their core axioms/narrative. I think that just bounces the question up a level, though: why don’t they think they can convince other people? Why don’t they want to win? I’d guess you’re right on the curse part, but that doesn’t explain why it’s gotten worse the last five years or so. The double-down response to core narratives not explaining reality is probably also in play, especially given the “have to alter their core axioms/narrative” part. Part of it’s probably just people losing faith that they can convince other people after repeated failures at doing so coupled the trenches of the flame wars.
And my brain just threw up an extremely unpleasant possibility: it’s possible that people don’t want to convince other people because what’s *actually* driving them is the subconscious conclusion that the only way they can keep up their standard of living is to take resources from other Americans, and the arguments are rationalizations of the bog-standard dehumanization kind.
(When I was younger I was rather into a game that variously goes as Mafia and/or Werewolf. I still find it an interesting game, one that taught me a fair amount about human interaction. And yet… as I get older the more I wonder about the fact that a game that is fundamentally about a traitor hunt got really popular starting in 2008.)
As an aside, I’m not sure I can be all that hard on schlock fantasy; it’s hard for me to consider “too stupid to tie their own shoes, and so never think of the obvious flaws in their own strategy” unrealistic when American foreign policy has spent at least the last twenty years proving otherwise…
On a completely unrelated note, I spotted something while I was checking my radar sites in the ratsphere and promptly broke out laughing: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/7y8klr/tulpas_and_other_applications_of_voluntary/
(Why yes, that’s a thread about tulpas on one of the major rat subreddits. I was expecting this sort of thing in a few years. I was not expecting it *now*.)
As my mother used to tell me, “Of course you like pea soup. You just think you don’t.”
And here’s another overused term — sheeple. Used to be a right-wing thing, but now it’s spreading leftward.
A major post again, excellent and contemporaneity relevant essay! I especially liked the
“amounts to blind commitment to business as usual at a time when business as usual has definitively passed its pull date”
part of your conclusion statement. Clearly this is what the majority of people are clinging to.
If you notice that you can’t go into a restaurant to have a quiet meal with friends in a peaceful atmosphere anymore, because there are wall to wall TV screens in all major and minor restaurant chains, something has clearly changed. People can’t stand being pulled away from a centrist business as usual narrative into relevant issues, and they need non-stop, constant reassuring propaganda to reinforce their internal narrative that ‘everything is okay’ and ‘everything is proceeding as normal’.
In my work place recently, they installed Sirius radio on all of the internal paging loudspeakers, which blasts away on the radio hits of the 80’s and 90’s all day long, despite massive complaints from people, myself included, that it is unnecessary and disruptive in the workplace. I found it notable, that they are playing the music and programming from an earlier era, and I feel that it was introduced to reassure people that ‘Everything is as it was’ and it is used to drown out peoples own thoughts and doubts that decline is in progress.
People are living in a bubble social narrative, and are desperately trying to find and hold center. While those of us who prefer truth at all expense, who exist outside of the socially engineered and reinforced narratives, are trying without luck to pop the bubble, and to get everyone engaged in the very real social and economic problems that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. I look forward to your next series of posts on how to accomplish this.
@ Other Tom ” perhaps the best thing we can do is talk more about our experiences, and not so much about our opinions.”
When I go work out, everyone looks angry. When I walk into the running shoe store, everyone looks scared. When I eat at the buffet, everyone looks bloated and gluttonous. Some activities create a common mood.
When I go to Nerds for Hire, everyone looks frustrated. Arguing politics on the internet, everyone sounds frustrated. Something about using a computer frustrates people. If you are already frustrated when you start to argue, it gets worse fast.
If people were able to see how they themselves in a crisis can be completely evil this would help. This is why a terrible crisis war/civil war generally ends such childish behaviour, but not before. The two groups finally start shedding blood, losingfamily and friends over their ideology, world view and when their whole world is destroyed they realize it was all just a talking point, like children in a playground arguing over a ballgame. One takes food for granted or throws away things generally. My parents saved old nail, made old clothes into rags, bought 2ndhand clothes, rarely traveled, were miserly. This came of bitter experience. The modern society gets everything from the store, open 24/7 imported exotic, ijnstant, prepackaged, cheap from china. News and info same way per internet, music, friends, contacts, everyone has a car, books a cheap flight, telephoone is cheap across glob, not like writing a letter. Hunger, sensory deprivation( no media for a week, a month), excessive loneliness, general deprivation and reliance on others. All real world deep long term suffering would quickly heal the Babbitt syndome. Take Gatsby. In the movie scene where he had that huge party. American life is like that. Take away all of that money and fun and nobody will care anymore about those issues. I am sure that at the start of a real crisis ideological sides will be taken but after massive bloodletting on all sides people will see that ideas are an epiphenomenon, a mirage in the mind, like a dream, not worth killing or dying for.
Dear JMG, Australia was founded with political criminals as well! But they were mostly Irish so we ended up with a rum rebellion and now an obsession with “owning property”. 😉
Oh jeeze now I feel I need to value-signal about respect for our first nation peoples. Please just take it as read that I’m not an arse, just was throwing a joke out there.
@SteveT and @Scotlyn (and others but I can’t remember all the handles) thank you very much for sharing from your experience. Your stories reached me. Steve’s story about the hometown news was heartbreaking. Scotyln pointing out that we still need to be able to be families ‘afterwards’ is heroic. Thanks everyone.
P.S. I love Hesse too! I agree that last part is a bit weird but I just assumed that, like ‘sex magic’ he wanted a ‘taboo’ type theme for that section. Something to shock (remember when we could be shocked? Nah me neither but Hesse could).
Dear John Michael Greer,
It was a pleasure to read this post, and many of the comments as well.
1. In my view, to truly see, one has to able to see with the heart. For many people, apparently, this is an altogether terrifyingly impossible proposition. This is not to say they do not have a heart, necessarily; rather, it seems to lack defenses, hence, better to keep it small and hard.
2. Seeing 360 degrees with the heart– such is the difference between most formulaic fiction (the Harry Potters, thrillers, romance novels, et al) and the best literary fiction.
Let me underline that adjective “best,” for alas, in my view, most literary fiction is also formulaic; Babbitty, shall we say (!!); or else in eleven ways from Sunday plain junk (I would invite the curious, if they have not already, to attend an annual Associated Writing Programs conference and sample random selections of contemporary literary fiction from leading small presses and the dozens upon dozens of “litmags” in that bookfair… and draw one’s own conclusions…). Nontheless, as compared to most successful commercial fiction, the best of literary fiction– and I concur in your views about Herman Hesse’s work– does rise to communicating a wondrously higher level of understanding about what it means to be human. I would include in this category Chekhov, Tolstoy, Willa Cather, and Flannery O’Connor, just to mention a sprinkling of names in the great and ever-expanding pantheon of writers we are so fortunate to have available to us.
Although as a work of art it is flawed in many respects, in my view the masterwork on seeing with the heart in literary fiction is Tolstoy’s epic novel WAR AND PEACE. (That said, although I am a voracious reader, there are more novels in this world than time; moreover, one of the challenges in discussing novels, even among the very well-read, is that we so rarely will have read the same ones!)
For further thoughts on seeing with the heart in writing fiction, for readers interested enough to Google it up: “On Seeing as an Artist or, Five Techniques for a Journey to Einfuhling.”
I shall be especially interested to read what you have to say about rhetoric.
I did not mean to turn this into a comment about gun control. I am European and I do not want to get involved in this specifically American quibble, which is largely incomprehensible for most Europeans.
Perhaps you are right and the Babbitt fallacy exists. Still, I changed my political preference fairly often in the past, from extreme left to laissez-faire, social democracy, to a more nationalistic, right-wing sort of mercantilism.
I did not start anew every time: my values have stayed fairly coherent in the process. So at every step I agreed, to some extent and maybe only on some issues, with people with a different ideology, and disagreed with people of my own ideology. I could always think of people I respected who held opposite views, and who might have been more right than I was.
I believe everybody thinks like this to some extent: regardless of how passionate someone’s opinion is about something, some part of you will secretly disagree.
But the fact that I say this maybe only means that the Babbitt fallacy does exist.
@Christopher L Hope – I totally get that. And I understand that TKAM was written after GSAW. Idk I like the insight GSAW gives into how Atticus came into being. It kinda ties into the civil rights movement imo. After the 1960s I feel like there was a consensus on the progressive side of the fence that Jim Crow laws, segregation and all that was a settled matter. (In history’s dumpster) Atticus Finch became a poster child for equality and fairness…. I remember him being revered by my high school English teachers. I wonder what they’re saying about him now as he then turns out to have been a more ambiguous character. The new Atticus was kinda written off by everyone ik. and why can’t the two Atticus’ be the same character?
The one thing I like about it is, it makes Atticus far more complex than Snape in Harry Potter.
JMG wrote: “…we’re venturing out into unknown territory in pitch darkness with a blinding downpour crashing down over our heads, and the only map we’ve got was written five hundred years ago and probably refers to a different area.”
This is going to be fabulous! Count me in. 🙂
Hi John Michael,
Hesse was clearly writing about the need to address ones own internal issues. That could certainly help those afflicted with a solid case of: Jerkness 4,000 overdrive. That is the technical name for an awful condition which a lot of people appear to be suffering from and I’ve met a few of them in my time. Fortunately it has a cure, but that may involve a bit of solid self reflection, honesty, and willingness to address ones self.
Mate, the last time I believed that the world was black and white, right and wrong etc. was when I was a little kid. That worldview did not stand up for long when pitted against my reality. The world is a far more complex and layered place than that narrow view, and I often wonder whether people are frightened by that? I sometimes feel that people get comfort in familiar stories? Dunno.
Speaking of surreal news. I looked at the government broadcasting news website down here this morning and saw many articles of doom and gloom and then mixed in all of that – Chinese authorities crack down on funeral strippers. Now, I’m just saying that it seems pretty obvious to me that we possibly would do well to consider using a bit of diplomacy in our media, because it is not as if it is not viewed overseas and being judged…
Harry Potter never did it for me and Death eaters sound pretty sissy to me. It is a very uninspiring name. My cattle dog would probably bite them and they’d run off screaming. Incidentally, I have never read the books or watched the films. And Left Behind sounds likewise appalling. No thanks for either of them. Life is too short.
A rough outline of many of my PoliticalWire discussions re the lessons from the 2016 election:
Me: “So what the Dems need to do is talk to the people who voted for Trump, find out what motivated that decision, and then see if they can alter the party platform to accommodate those issues.”
Other person: “Trump voters are all sexist and racist. We don’t need their votes. We just have to get our people to the polls. We won the popular vote. Trump only won because of Russia and stupid people.”
Me: “The popular vote doesn’t decide who wins the election. The electoral college does. That’s how the Constitution works.”
Other person: “The electoral college was made to empower slave states and is therefore racist.”
Me: keeping my response to myself–so the Constitution is racist? Come again?
I did promise not to use the G******o term again on your blog.
After making that promise I asked you (seriously and non-rhetorically), “Did you know that Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close down?” Your answering comment was that, in your view, “what consenting adults do in their bedrooms is nobody’s business but their own” – as though I had been advocating an invasion of privacy. I found this thought-stopper, from you of all people, so disheartening that I had just about given up on your blog – but now it’s clear you were just teaching me a lesson. The point is taken: that if I get too uppish and resort to mockery of illiberal liberals, any substantial arguments I put forward will be ignored.
The penalty, I trust, is of finite duration. Next time you focus on the issue of Freedom, perhaps we can have a serious discussion about the use of state power to enforce ideological conformity.
Um… I remember back in the days of the Archdruid Report, you referred to journalist George Monbiot as a “pseudo-environmentalist” for his view that nuclear power could be a solution to climate change. He tried to defend himself in the comments section, and I think you repeated the charge. I remember thinking that was sad, because from what I’ve read of his work, his views are always thoughtfully expressed, he tries to understand the opposing point of view (eg. his interview with Welsh sheep farmers in his book “Feral”), and does sometimes change his mind about things (eg. the veganism debate).
On the nuclear issue, there was an opportunity to have a constructive debate with him – you might even have convinced him to your view. I can’t help but feel that by insulting him, that conversation was shut down. In the light of this week’s blog post, do you regret that now?
In America, a tipping point occurred when Ronald Reagan turned mental health patients out into the streets. Although the move had many reasons, it seemed to downplay the fragile nature of the human psyche, and belittle the very real need to maintain a constant vigil on the human soul.
Now, decades later, the entire society resembles an insane asylum where the inmates blabber on incoherently at one another. Human empathy and connection are replaced with various forms of neurosis. There is no give and take, just a false sense of moral certainty emanating form all points on the political and cultural spectrum.
The main question of our time revolves around sanity- are our thoughts and actions based on reasonable and rational behavior.
I would argue that actions are reasonable and rational if it leads to more diversity and sustainable complexity. All the rest is a mask for conquest and domination which doesn’t last in the long term.
Insane extremists are a real threat, but only calm, informed dialog has a chance of reducing their influence on world events. Also, some self reflection is also needed.
People can work to bring balance into the world, or it will surely come of its own accord- eventually.
What a wild ride, indeed.
Digging deep it seems.
Politically, USA (seen from over here) has long appeared divided roughly fifty-fifty (binary choice) without actually there being much to choose between the parties. BAU seems to have worked that way, tearing down and putting up stuff and getting nodded through. However, it might be possible that a real divide has opened up this time, and the fracture could be reinforced rather than built over. Those Barack Obama voters who switched sides, though probably a small enough demographic in total, were sufficiently concentrated in locations to have meaningful constitutional effect. So perhaps America has tilted about a fulcrum of real social distress.
Across the ‘Western World’, BAU could seem until recently like a nice festive party. In Europe, for example, we can look back just a few year years to when post-dictatorship Portugal and Spain, (and a little differently, Greece), joined the EU and took to modernisation as if somebody had fired the festival rocket. Hmmm …
My guess is that despite the tilt about the fulcrum, we ‘Western’ types all are going to see some version of BAU continuing, and that we will not see collapse. The electrical grids are not going to go down suddenly never to come back up again. Or, for another example, over here the Russians are not going to cut-off our natural gas supplies so we all freeze.
Nevertheless, you have previously picked ‘choke-points’ for America; I think of US foreign policy and war aims failing to deliver the goods, loading too much stress back-home on the human geography of BAU. Well, could be … But you do not have a ‘Ukraine’ already sitting in the middle of the polity, or two NATO members on an already stressed border ready to tear chunks off one another.
It will be interesting to see how the rhetoric changes in your country in the circumstances. And my country has picked up the habit of following yours. Smile!
Many of the comments have been terrific. One of course can have civil war ‘in the family’. Scotlyn gave a memorable account of avoiding this, digging deep with honesty in Ireland, on a grave issue of real choice where ‘BAU’ is not a lot of use.
Another great post. It is a noble and important effort trying to bring civility and reason back into the political discourse. I’ve given up trying to have discourse with people on the right side of the political spectrum. I’ve followed the rise of AM political talk radio and Fox News from the mid 1990s and have come to the conclusion that about 1/3 of the population now fully inhabits an alternative reality. Nonetheless, I continue to listen to AM radio, Fox News and read right wing novels and try to put myself in their place and understand their point of view. Unfortunately, I cannot.
It just dawned on me that you, gracious host, are the living embodiment of some good advice Frank Zappa rattled off decades ago in the patter on one of his albums, to wit (and I paraphrase) … if you [his listeners] had any balls you would leave school, go to the library, and get yourself an education.
Hope that wasn’t too lowbrow or crude. Just made me laugh to think of it.
Slightly off-topic, but as it has come up (and without detracting from sales of JMG’s hardback editions!) it might be acceptable to observe that paperbacks of all kinds (there are good and bad quality forms of paperback binding) can usually be turned into durable hard-backs, in cloth or leather, with only simple tools and no specialized equipment as required for craft binding.
Just sign up for a class and learn very basic binding, no pretentious arty stuff.
Craft binderies and restoration workshops like mine are doomed to disappear over the coming decade due to changes in the antiquarian book markets (drastic shrinking of margins for the dealers), but basic binding courses are still fairly wide-spread and there are some good online tutorials and CD’s on the subject. It is, literally, kitchen-table stuff, and – if you stick to buckram cloth – very inexpensive.
A book hard-bound in cloth will easily last 100 years, as will a ‘limp’ leather binding, and the addition of a solid slip-case (not the very flimsy publisher-kind) will add further protection. Use PVA glue rather than flour paste, and then there is nothing for insects to nibble on, (although rats do love paper!) Pigskin is the most durable leather next to vellum, but good vellum is now rare and prohibitively expensive.
Even the kind of cheap paperback which suffers from pages falling out can be saved by ‘sawing-in’ the spine and inserting thin glued cords.
I hope that is useful.
JMG, you have an eery knack for choosing to write about the very thing I happen to have been mulling over and discussing with my wife and close friends over the previous couple days (this has happened something like a dozen times over the past two or three years). In this particular case, I’ve been thinking about the subject you propose a series on—”the place of education…in an age of decline”—with regards to the recently rehashed-for-the-Godzillionth-time white-hot debate surrounding gun control.
As usual, the positions being proposed are Ban All The Things (And If You Don’t Think That’s Reasonable You Obviously Want Children To Die In Droves) on the leftward side of things, and America Needs To Convert To (Our Version Of) Christianity At Gunpoint (And Also Mass Murderers Obviously Weren’t Spanked Enough) on the right. Neither side has any interest in coming to terms with the facts that there doesn’t, in this country at least, appear to be any meaningful correlation between gun control and mass shootings, or that other, far more liberal (and presumably more godless) nations don’t seem to possess our pandemic of gun violence. All either side seems able to do is scream insults past one another, and meanwhile kids keep dying while nobody proposes any solutions that are actually workable or have any realistic hope of convincing the other side to agree to.
(Actually, what I have been seeing is that the kids themselves have decided to take matters into their own hands and engage in some fairly daring civil disobedience, although I worry that their demands are insufficiently thought-through and specific.)
What I’ve been thinking about since the Parkland school shooting is that a conceivable answer to this, and well, several problems is to—for a moment, at least—stop shrieking about guns altogether and address a nominally unrelated problem: our (to use a word so liberally it might constitute abuse) education system. Both political parties are vocally aware that the schools are in dire want of reform, though neither is all that interested in doing so or has the least idea where to begin. But though there’s no consensus as to How, at the very least here we have a bipartisan issue that can still be talked about without faces turning scarlet and steam billowing out of every ear in the room. I’ve by no means worked out a full ‘system’ of reform (and I’ll be very interested indeed to see if you were planning on touching on any of this), but I do think that some good starting points would be to stop pouring buckets of money into computers, reallocating those funds for actual books, supplies, and teacher pay, put a much higher emphasis on home economics (instead of it being a highly marginalised and gendered elective), and make schools-as-we-understand-them non-mandatory, while many other options (trade schools, apprenticeships, etc.) are made available and accessible for the kinds of people who simply aren’t suited to a full liberal arts education. That to me seems an excellent substitute for the torturous boring hellholes, the attendance of which is required by law, in which fellow students and teachers bully you alike and the obtaining of a diploma is the absolute requirement to participation as an adult member of society. If we made those sorts of changes I think it would go a long way towards diffusing the sort of nihilism that we’ve seen building over the last four or five decades of America’s downslope, especially among young white men who assume a greater inheritance of privilege and therefore are noticing the crumbling of that privilege all the more keenly and expressing that resentment in horribly destructive ways. Schools that are actually educating and engaging the interest of students, instead drilling despair into their brains, are a lot more likely to produce young adults that aren’t riddled with bitterness and anger at the world, and (if it’s not too much to wish from these hypothetically improved schools), might actually be somewhat prepared to engage with the world they’re getting in a dynamic way, instead of crashing repeatedly into it while being force-fed the delusions dreamed up during the 1980s. I have a strong suspicion that if we managed a substantial overhaul of our educative process, we’d see a marked decrease in people wanting to shoot up their schools—and probably a notable drop in the national stress level, suicide rate, and bushel of other problems. At that point, once the gun debate has cooled considerably, we might revisit whether stricter legislation is in fact necessary at all.
I have no idea if any of that at all overlaps with anything you’ve been planning on saying in your posts on education, but I’ve been thinking about this particular hotbed issue in a sea of them in which people are just screaming insults past each other, of circumventing that argument entirely by working on solving a completely different problem (education specifically) and the former by way of the latter, and those thoughts snagged quite sharply on the themes of this post and the promise of the upcoming series.
Addendum: I wrote the above before reading through the comments. Evidently I’m not the only one thinking about recent tragedies in the context of this post…
Interesting…… I’ve been thinking about DACA, and how the left has hung their hats on this as a moral issue, but at its core about people who are by definition not citizens, which makes it easy for conservatives to oppose. Instead of making it a moral issue, it could be presented as “these people have taken advantage of everything our country has to offer their entire young lives, we have fed and educated them, they have used our infrastructure, and now, when they are just at the point where they can start working as adults and paying back their debt to the US, we want to ship these people back and have their home country reap the benefits of our investment in them”. I suspect an argument like that could hold sway with some conservatives. Also liberals tend to throw around accusations of hypocrisy a lot, but ignore the religious right’s belief in redemption and forgiveness. It makes liberals feel superior but doesn’t seem to weigh at all in the minds of conservatives. Remember when Jim Bakker turned on the waterworks on the TV and all was forgiven.
For some unknowable reason, when I read about the steppenwolf part, the Luke and Rey part from SW 8 movie flickered before my eyes. Thenit was Logan and Laura parts from the Logan movie …
I have no reason to offer to explain why my mind made these associations, so I give them to you all: maybe you are able to recover a decent one (barring I’m a little too tired to think clearly and I should rest) :-/
@Peter Wilson Re liberalism’s inconsistency with physics, I’d really love to hear a wee bit more of your thinking on this… (unless you’ve only been saying it for the reaction, in which case, please continue to enjoy!)
@Other Tom: Agreed — I remember one of the things that pushed me toward my current dubiousness re: unfettered capitalism, for example, was not only having a horrible post-college job myself but also hearing the experiences of friends and others.
As a general note, I do think there’s a place for people who have no interest in persuasion, and who do want to mainly preach to the choir. There are a number of subjects where I’ll post some facts on occasion, but won’t really engage otherwise–I’ll just distance myself from people who hold certain opinions, because those are not folks I want or need in my life, even if I thought I did. (There are seven billion people in the world, after all, my life is short, and there are a lot of books I can read instead.) *But* I also know this about myself, and don’t try to come off as a diplomat/politician/…I am blanking on the term for non-political persuasion-y person, there.
I think it comes down to knowing yourself and knowing your goal*. Are you trying to get the other side to leave you alone? (There’s a place for that, as anyone who’s dealt with door-to-door missionaries knows.) Are you trying to let bystanders on your side know that you have their back? And on the more diplomatic side, are you actually trying to change the other person’s mind, or just reach some kind of material compromise you can both live with? Because those are different things, too.
*Which is actually something I’m very bad at otherwise, I discover, as I’m doing self-evaluations for the day job.
“What are your long-term career goals?”
“Retirement, followed by death. Ideally twenty years of menthols, pastry, and trashy novels in the interim.”
Concerning Trump, he will be re-elected, write down this, just to check later in due time…
His opponets don’t realize that all their efforts are only convincing for people that already didn’t vote hime, while they are producing an “attack fatigue” in the other people. They are tantalizing them, to numbness.
Same thing happened in Italy with Silvio Berlusconi. He was attacked constantly, it became as usual to read some form of offense or accusation (true or not) agaist him as would be reading the weather forecasts.
This was not nearly effective as hoped, considering that he got re-elected three times (and a fourth seems in store). More, I suppose that all these attacks where one of the reasons behind his political longevity…
It defies me how some people is unable to think right, especially politics and politic thinkers… They should look at Italy, just to understand what NOT to do against Trump, but they will never do.
@ JMG, thank you for clarifying!
If I may explore some of these ideas with the tools of Transactional Analysis, let’s say “Politics,” as you described it in this essay, is a game that people play. What is the payoff to it?
Clearly it isn’t about making political change. Instead it is played with likeminded people who reward and punish certain behaviors. It isn’t about getting laws on or off the books or electing officials. It is hard, frankly, to see what is going really going on, so it is useful then to look at behaviors.
What behaviors are rewarded with strokes? It appears that using inflammatory language to name-call gets big rewards. Mockery and snide remarks about the opposition gets a lot of strokes as well. As does painting the other side as pure evil, and, on your side, hurling accusations of wrong-think. Taken together it seems that the goal of the game is to be the biggest caller outer; the person who slings the most insults. Coming up with constructive ideas is emphatically not a part of the game.
What behaviors are punished? Subtlety, perspective switching, examining the weaknesses in one’s own position. That runs the risk of someone screaming “you’re with them!” and getting a few strokes for a timely ‘wrong-think’ play.
“Politics” is then a game played for a self-righteous buzz, as I think Phil Harris pointed out some weeks ago. It could also be called “Us Against The World,” or perhaps even “The Biggest Caller Outer.” Winning or losing on the political arena is more or less irrelevant. Sure, when there are big elections “Politics” is “in season,” but it is emphatically hardly played at the ballot box, it is played with your peers for strokes.
A question this raises is “what do we call The Biggest Caller Outer at the point of highest development and power?” I believe the answer to this is “a demagogue.” This game then is probably being played as part of the rise of Caeserism, as we enter the stage where, instead of any pretense of fighting for ideas, people simply fight following the dictates of a charismatic leader.
@JMG “Spice, yep. It’s so much easier to yell about guns than it is to think about the actual causes of school shootings; there are, after all, plenty of countries where guns are just as available as they are in the US — if I understand correctly, most of Latin America falls into that category — and yet the same things don’t happen there. But nobody wants to talk about that…”
Not really, Latin America has very strict gun control for the most part. At least in Argentina you need to pass psychological and long background checks that take weeks to months to be allowed to purchase a handgun, long weapons are completely forbidden. And there is a limit on how many bullets yoy can purchase. It is illegal to carry weapons in the street cowboy-style, they need to be secured for transport.
Given that this is a banana republic (which makes crime easier due to corruption and incompetence), and our police force can be unfaborably compared to Chief Wiggum, one would think nobody would follow the rules but almost nobody has weapons in their homes here, and rural areas have less need than urban (a reversal of the USA).
I believe another term for the phenomena you describe is narcissism, or the inability to recognize other as distinct from the self. An atrophied subject-object relationship.
btw, nice to see you writing again, I lost my bookmarks when the other projects folded and just rediscovered – hat tip to naked capitalism for posting the link.
@Everyone: Trump might be a newly experienced phenomena for the usually politically stable USA (at least compared to my country). As somebody who has lived in Argentina he is not particularly impressive. Every generation here gets its own Trump with far more political savvy than him. I’ve lived more than a third of my life (and nearly all my adult life except the past two years) under a populist government.
The result has been a complete disaster, anual inflation soared over 40%, we were really close to become another Venezuela. Our former president was an ally of Chavez and Maduro, and they were desperate to control our economy and institutions in the exact same way. They got there halfway before enough people figured out their promises to Make Argentina Great Again was nothing more than a cover for their crimes. The previous government held power in the three branches of government and was internaly disciplined, and even with that they still crashed and burned.
With the authority that comes from having personally lived under a more effective Trump, and having heard the same stories from my parents and grandparents who have suffered their own Trumps, I urge you to get rid of him as soon as possible. We compare Trump with our previous government here, and his lies and impossible promises are so transparent we consider him an amateur. As much as I dislike our previous president I have no problem acknowledging that she would dance circles around his incompetence.
Not to get too far in the weeds, what has been lost is simply the basic tenets of Christianity: That we’re all sinners prone to bad behavior and it takes a lot of effort to change that in ourselves.
That is to say, “we ain’t all that,” which to me is the pivot of the whole thing: we think we’re awesome and perfect, and everyone else is stupid, useless, and wrong: the definition of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Instead, knowing we’re fallen leads to humility, but also that the OTHER guy is in the same pickle, and like you, would like to be better, but is lost for direction and strength as well.
Because of THAT, we have and practice radical forgiveness and forbearance, knowing how hard it really is and how often we fall short. This has nothing to do with religion or salvation, but merely having the attitude internalized every Sunday might be a help.
Guns, for example have ALWAYS been available, and in far greater sense than today. The Founders promoted owning cannons and other hard-core gear, you could own dynamite with no problem, or even tommy guns until modern times (1920?). America by geography is essentially rural: there has been a gun over every mantle from 1600-1900 yet no real shootings, ever. The “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” was the mob-shooting of 7 people: less than one weekend in Chicago yet it shocked a nation for decades. 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, every truck in the school lot had a deer gun in the window, yet no shootings. Although coincidence is not cause, it wasn’t until Christianity was fully purged that the total lack of charity and humanity, a coldness to the situation of others, that we started seeing such behavior.
P.S. the SSRIs have written right on the bottle that a side effect is disassociation and sudden violence among people under 25. A major study in Sweden (I think) recorded that although they did not help much, use of SSRI’s increase the felony rate of under-25 by 50%. That is, even if you survive the useless prescription, you are likely to be a felon for life because of it. This is written on the bottle, and would at the very least suggest being prescribed only while under secure observation. Perhaps 100% of the recent shooters have been so medicated. No one cares: doctors, patients, families, politics, and no attempt at discovery has been made. Discuss?
Extremely entertaining and thoughtful post…I’m definitely going to read Steppenwolf. One thought:
Could it be that someone in the grip of Babbitism could succeed anyway because they become the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease?” Here comes someone, flinging insults, endearing themselves to nobody, but gosh, there seem to be a lot of them out there, and so maybe we should mollify them. Consider recent revelations that Facebook failed to act more aggressively on Russian Troll Farms because they’d just finished apologizing to various poo-bahs of the right wing for applying human judgment to articles in their feed. Or larger, the way the mass media has often been intimidated for fear of appearing too liberal. Idiocy often gets it’s way, even though it fails to convince anyone.
It was about the time that you wrote the post about technologies you’d like to see pass through the decline of our current civilization that I realized the similarity between what you are wanting to see accomplished and a book I read twenty years ago called “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. Your endeavor is admirable and I’d like to assist in any way possible.
I just recently realized with the recent shootings that the situation in the USA has reached a point of no return. The powder keg fuse keeps attempting to be lit. The situation will explode I think when one of the left rallying points manages to hurt one of the right. Once a martyr has been summoned and sacrificed, the right will have their justification for physically fighting back. Then the war begins. I’ll still be wondering the whole time though, what exactly are they fighting for?
JMG, I have seen just the same reactions that you have noticed. The verbal attacks tend to end in one party leaving the discussion, because it doesn’t go anywhere but down into a dark hole. The person spitting venom tends to continue to stew in their own anger and attempt to drag others in like a drug addict would.
I really look forward to hearing your views on education. This is something that is near and dear to my heart. I have been homeschooling my children for 12 years and longer than that I have been working to reeducate myself. My school days, including college were largely a waste of time. I really looked forward to college, to finally learn something of value, to give me a challenge. I ended up spending a great deal of time with “busy” work, spinning my wheels so to speak.
Very good column, and I agree with your conclusion that rhetoric would be a way out of the dialogical impasses in our culture. Another would be courtesy, which has been in short supply since the internet became a big thing.
I grew up in the Washington D.C. area in the 60s and 70s (I was born in ’56), and back then people of different political parties and faiths socialized with each other. That included members of the House and Senate, who didn’t travel home every weekend, but had their families living in Washington, so that weekends were spent hanging out with people within and across party lines. Both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were measures passed with solid and congenial support from both sides of the aisle.
I remember overhearing adults discuss the Vietnam War, economics, and Watergate; these discussions often became heated but never crossed the boundary into invective. People were particular about manners, the lack of which has a great deal to do with our current inability to communicate in an adult fashion.
As advised, I’m picking up terms, and glancing at them from various angles.
“Pravda on the Potomac.”
(No coincidence that both those terms derive their rhetorical punch from their respective association with the genocidal Eurasian upheavals of the 20th century, that were still fresh in the minds of the parents of us neo-fogeys. I suspect that the present gun control issue in the U.S. is largely rooted in that history also, despite all the talk about the Founding Fathers. Now we’re seeing a generational shift. To the kids in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the menace of NKVD or Gestapo agents with uniforms and pistols pounding on every front door on your block in the middle of the night is nearly as historically remote as the menace of Napoleon’s armies marching in formation across your farms with muskets and cavalry would have been to our parents’ generation. Understandably, they see instead the risks and costs of an armed citizenry, that have played out right before their eyes. Sooner or later it will be their choice to make. All we can do is help make sure they have the historical knowledge to make that choice an informed one.)
Hi John Michael. Greetings from the Big Mango (Bkk). Thanks for another thought-provoking post. You asked about information connecting antidepressants to shootings, here’s a link.
Hannity of Fox news cuts off reporter asking about link to antidepressants, Big Pharma is the probem, link here.
All the drug companies making selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have to come up with different chemicals. So each chemical is an SSRI plus some other activity that is not documented and different for each one. Hmmm, mabe induce rage, paranoia, suicide, or ??
A couple of years ago after one of the school shootings there was an article that said from 2005 to 2015 China had an approximate equal number of school violence incidents. They involved an individual who was not on medication but mentally not normal who took a large butcher knife or Cleaver and killed or injured 10 to 15 students at a school. To me this problem with school mass killings is clearly a mental health problem.
Those who disagree probably skipped their meds today, heh. /sarc
Sandy, Minister of Future
and speculative fiction at
In Poland, where I was born, we now have in power a proper populist party, with a proper populist leader who also happens to be wary of further integration with the EU, does not like the idea of forcing the mostly Germany- or France-bound refugees to settle in Poland, has general support of the Catholic Church, and dislikes Russia. So of course he is regularly compared to Hitler on an online discussion forum which I frequent.
I too would try to explain that this is not a justified comparison for a number of reasons, to no avail. But I might have stumbled upon two useful phrases, which seem to break the spell at least for this slice of online population:
“If he is like Hitler, then Hitler is like him: just another unremarkable populist.”
“If he actually were like Hitler, you will not be able to criticise him in public and get away with it.”
which take the comparison to its logical conclusion – not in a direction of concentration camps and war, but still to something that even the critics could agree with. After all, even Hitler had more than one dimension.
Great essay as always! Seeing you mention Kek the frog god, though, I was wondering if you might shed some light on this entity?
His appearance had a considerable number of formerly bone-headed materialists change their minds and look into occultism, and his part in the 2016 presidential race certainly seemed to have a magical dimension, with all the synchronicity, and the seemingly hightened perception and expanded awareness of his cultists. People and events were changed by the frog.
A few months back you wrote an article about Yahweh possibly having been there and responsive before he left some time ago. Might Kek be a similar being that decided or was summoned to make use of the vacancy?
Are the stars right for a Great Old One to come around again?
I would love to see an ecosophia article on Kek and meme magic, and maybe that would be interesting for other readers as well. It doesn’t happen often that the occult seeps into the world of a failing empire’s politics so visibly and (one might argue) spectacularly.
Thanks for your time (in writing for, aswell as corresponding with, your readers),
Eike, long-time reader from Germany
“[L]leave the herd to its fate, cultivate sources of information that are as far from the mass media as possible, and enjoy being alive.”
Thanks so much for that advice, John. I need to be reminded of that on a daily basis. My bodhisattva vow makes it a bit hard to “leave the herd to its fate,” but I also realize that, unless I’m operating out of wisdom and compassion in regard to said fate of said herd, I’m not really living up to that vow but simply using it to justify my being pissed-off. Post-election, I’m meditating more, reading more, gardening more, being kinder to my family and friends, and it seems to be working better than engaging in endless (and pointless) political feuds.
The term “Manicheanism” — for a dualistic view that simplistically reduces the world to a struggle between good and evil seems to have fallen out of use. According to wikipedia, “The attitudes and foreign policies of the present-day United States and its leaders have been described as reflecting a Manichaean worldview, though this is a criticism easily applied to any country or culture that propagandizes their own intrinsic good and their enemy’s intrinsic evil.”
It has always seemed to me that in this view, each side reinforces and supports the other — in other words, they are two sides of the same unimaginative coin.
@someofparts It *is* a synchronicity kinda day. I too was thinking of FZ’s comments on self-education after having listening to him for several days straight as a way of enduring my job in the illiberal wilds of higher ed.
As a fairly recent high school graduate (2013) from North America (Canada, but I think in this case we’re close enough to the US that I can discuss it) I’d like to add my two cents into the school shootings issue: it’s a symptom of at least three things. First, the drugs children are given. At my school, there was a number of people who seemed numbed to everything. All of them were on some “medication” or other. Most of the time they also had the usual teenage desire for extreme sensations: this played out in a number of (almost always unhealthy) ways, but I could easily see some of them having done a school shooting, so they could actually feel something.
Second: zero tolerance policies. At my school someone got suspended for being beaten up. He did not fight back, he had witnesses to say that, and he was still suspended because he was “involved in a fight” and the rules meant he needed to be suspended. I’ve heard of people being expelled from school in the US for similar. So you have people who are angry, in pain, who hold it all in because acting on it will ruin their life, until they snap, and at which point they take it to extremes because it’ll be treated the same anyway,
Third: The “education” system sucks. Most of the time the teachers don’t want to be there, the admin staff is underpayed and overworked, it looks and feels like a prison (even more so in the US with the cops partnering with schools, metal detectors, and so on), and lots of kids are miserable. Lock enough people up like this and someone or other will snap. Add in social media (with policies against bullying that are enforced in such bizare ways that, as again I saw first hand, sometimes the bully is fine but the kids responding get punished), and the fact that very few adults take complaints from kids seriously, and the result is not going to be pretty.
As for why it doesn’t happen in Canada: as I understand it all three problems are worse in the US. I’m sure there’s something more to it, but I’m not sure what it is just yet.
Dear ck, (If I may interject here), about excellent children’s literature: there were fine books for young readers published in the mid-20th C. A list of Newberry Awards from that time is a good place to start. I have the fondest memories of Adam of the Road, The Trumpeter of Krakow, King of the Wind (Marguerite Henry), Johnny Tremain (in the book. young Johnny is Paul Revere’s apprentice). Alas, that was back in the days when public schools had libraries as in a Whole Separate Room devoted to books with plenty of tables and chairs for readers. (sigh) You might want to haunt library discard piles, and even church rummage sales. Call ahead and let the organizers know what you are looking for and that you are willing to pay. Even better, get up a group of home schoolers and buy as a group. No need to be shy, book dealers do it all the time. In fields like history and geography, what was published before about 1970 is far better than what came after. I can’t comment about science. I love to buy up mid20C college and HS history texts because they had wonderful maps.
Dear Mr. Greer, I think it is worth noting that self-identified liberals, by and large, don’t work for NRA or any gun manufacturer, though some might enjoy hunting and fishing, while many of such persons do make very good livings in health care. You will have noticed liberal and governing class antipathy to any form of herbalism.
Dear Michael Stanton, My sentiments exactly. I think what we are seeing in the exchange of ever more virulent insults is an intimidation game, with each faction attempting to stake out as much ground as possible for itself and fellow believers and clients. I have encountered what I call an alarming number of people, online and in person, who believe that just as soon as The Apocalypse arrives, OUR SIDE gets to be in charge.
Thank you for another interesting post. This one took me in a few different directions. One thing I was reminded of was a thought from Gurdjieff, the occult philosopher with whom I seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship at the moment. He said something along the lines that we are living in the land of the ‘confusion of tongues.’ This seems to be similar to what you described – everyone is talking, but no-one really understands one another, and no-one is capable of taking on anyone else’s point of view but their own. To me, that signifies a problem not with thinking, but with Being. In order to communicate well, one needs to first think well and perceive the world well, which requires a different kind of consciousness or Being. By and large, people don’t really have access to their real Beings, in that they are stuck in an everyday level of consciousness. As a result, they are living in something of a deathly dream world in which their real Being has been hidden away, for a variety of reasons. Their words don’t have real meaning, and thus can’t convey any meaning or power to anyone else. So attempt at conversation just becomes meaningless noise.
I’m ‘still’ on the Tree of Life with my reading (it may take a while…), and I was also reminded of the Qlippothic force, if I may try to articulate what I think this is all about. When the Sephiroth are first created (or, by virtue of the microcosm/macrocosm phenomenon, an individual human), there is a tendency for it to manifest as unchecked force extending out in all directions. It is undifferentiated force, which ultimately means it has no being, as it is only possible to have being once there is differentiation. It is not until it meets another will that stops or limits it, that it starts to have being. The second force essentially acts as a mirror for the first force and brings it into being, so to speak. I think that unchecked force is what we would consider to be evil – unconscious, unbalanced force operating in one direction only, with nothing to balance it out.
If was to say that our society, (and the individuals which make it up,) have Qlippothic tendencies, I could say it is very unbalanced, can only see its own side of the story, and can’t take on any other perspective beyond its own. It does not yet have being in that it is all undifferentiated self-ness, so in that case nobody else actually has being either. It can’t recognize that there is a problem, as it takes self-reflection to do that, which by definition seems impossible without true being. That sounds like what you’ve described in the post, although I’m just grasping to understand it all, I must say.
So something needs to happen which triggers some kind of self-reflection. In terms of the Tree of Life, it would be encountering another will, another Being, which acts as a kind of mirror for the first will. At that point the individual human can start the process of recognizing his or her self. To realize that they don’t actually yet have Being and need to start the process of entering into Being. By and large, I don’t think most people would admit this about themselves, or be able to make that initial realization. I’m reminded of the word ‘repent’ here, which definitely has some pretty loaded and challenging connotations these days, but in its origins I believe is non-judgmental and just means to have a change of mind. If one takes that to mean a change of consciousness, I think we start to get into interesting territory. For a change in consciousness is surely also a change in Being.
And about Steppenwolf…I read Demian a while back and was quite captivated, so when you mentioned Steppenwolf I admit to being intrigued. I had meant to have just a quick look at it, but I got utterly drawn in and wound up reading almost the whole book last night – kind of inhaled it actually. I fell asleep thinking about it and woke up thinking about it – I may even have dreamed about it. When I got to the end I realized it was one of those books that had to be read line by line and every word savored. I was reading online, which is always a bit of an elusive experience, so I’m going to have to seek out the real book to hold in my hands, as real books always seem to somehow be able to communicate more of their meaning. Anyhow, that last scene where Haller kills Hermine made me think that he wasn’t actually killing her, but just killing off her false self, or the aspects of herself which were no longer useful or necessary that were preventing her from having real Being and happiness, which is what she needed him to do for her. So in the end, despite its surreal nature, it seemed to be a book about healing and love. I’ll definitely need to read it again properly and have a real think about it all.
I agree about the drama-seeking and the issue-avoiding that Phil Knight mentioned, but in some ways it seems to go even further than that. (Note that my post is going to be on the liberal side of things, as that the side with which I have more experience.)
Although I do know quite a few Trump voters (and even a few Trump supporters, which is not the same thing), I spend a lot of time around the type of people who have been termed the “cultural elite” or the “coastal bubble-dwellers”. And what I see seems to go beyond just drama seeking – it’s some sort of self-righteous fervor that’s almost religious in nature, and which seems to have a great deal of pure hate and a lot of identity invested in it. And I believe it has gotten much worse in my lifetime.
In my experience, liberal elites have always harbored a bit of Bobbit fallacy, i.e., that the opposition is just benighted (“uneducated”) and if only they were educated, they would see things more clearly and agree with the liberal elite. The thing is, there is (or maybe once was) a grain of truth to that Bobbit- thought, insofar that one, formal educational credentials are historically correlated with more-liberal views, and two, living in a more-cosmopolitan environment (e.g., more heterogeneous in terms of religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.) does tend to expose one to a wider range of viewpoints and experiences than a homogeneous environment. I think that traditionally, people who were raised in a homogeneous environment where they were exposed to only one culture and one set of ideas often did tend to broaden their perspective a bit if they went off somewhere and got more formal education and/or lived in a heterogeneous community and maybe had their first chance to discover that hey, there is a particular social and historical context for where many of my ideas and beliefs came from and they weren’t just dropped from the sky, and hey, what do you know, other people think and believe and live differently from the way I was raised, and that other way actually seems to work for them so maybe there is more than one way to see and do things. But times have changed – one, most people no longer live in insular communities without access to many outside ideas (if they look for them at all), and two, I’m not sure that formal education still works well enough to help people better-understand the origins of their own assumptions, prejudices, and perspectives. But I think maybe there was once a grain of truth to the liberal Bobbit-view about more education and more-varied life experience having the ability to engender broader and more-nuanced perspectives on issues, including current events.
But that’s not what the current liberal-elite Bobbit fallacy is about. This is no longer about formally-educated cultural elites with exposure to different perspectives complaining that some people are insular and lack access to varied perspectives, sufficient information, and training in certain logical thought patterns, and have therefore reached suspect conclusions, and so trying to address the suspect conclusions by sharing their information, perspectives, and thought process to try to convince others to see things differently. Heck, I know in some ways I am a liberal elite myself and that I do try that sort of thing all the time – I’m forever offering up my own perspective on how current events fit into historical and social contexts that I learned about (both in college and since), and how things are not as simple as our mass media narratives would make them out to be, and did you know about this other relevant information, and so on and so forth. But if that was ever a liberal elite behavior, it no longer is one; it’s now a behavior that gets me attacked by the self-same liberal elite. In my experience, the liberal elite most emphatically don’t want to hear about any sort of context or nuance or alternative perspectives. Honestly, I don’t remember it always being this bad; I feel like there was a time when rational discussion was possible, but not any more.
This is about something else, and that’s what I’ve been struggling with.
It’s now the supposedly cosmopolitan, supposedly well-educated and well-informed liberals who are losing their freaking minds when their insular world-views and assumptions are challenged in any way – where by “challenged” I just mean when people try to say things like “maybe it’s not that simple?” or “maybe there is a good reason why others see things differently than you?” or “have you considered this other information?” Everyone – where by “everyone” I mean the liberal elites I associate with – seems to be utterly convinced that they are Good and Righteous and the others are Bad and Evil and must be vilified, shunned, and shamed not simply to change their dumb minds, but because they deserve abuse, period.
And there does seem to be not only drama-seeking, but some deep, seething hate under it. It’s not “those people don’t get it, let’s try and explain it to them” (I suspect we’re all a bit guilty of that), nor is it, in my experience, even “those people know they’re wrong, let’s shame them into admitting that they secretly know we’re right!”, but rather “those people are just disgusting and irredeemable, let’s you and me bond over hating and insulting them together.” I find myself increasingly uncomfortable engaging in any sort of current-even discussion with a lot of the people I know, not because I disagree with their “side” (yes, I agree Trump is a lousy president and his tweet was dumb and his latest proposal is a bad idea), but rather because I’m not comfortable engaging in a two-minute hate about the president’s haircut or the revolting vileness of the people who voted for him. (On the flip side, neither am I interested in engaging in worshipful hagiography of Barack Obama, which seems to be another popular topic.)
I’m not sure that there is any effort at convincing – not even screaming, bullying, shaming convincing that you secretly know I’m right – going on here. It seems to be more about ego and identity and tribal bonding and an outlet for some festering anger the origins of which I can’t figure out.
Or maybe this gets back to the “Hate is the New Sex” post….
@Voiceoftaredas – I am fascinated by your references to the never elsewhere encountered phenomenon you call the “ratsphere”. I did try to google the term and while it wanted to respell it as “eratosphere” it resolutely refused to provide any hints whatsoever.
So I remain as ignorant, and as curious, as I was when first I heard you refer to the term. I wonder if you would elaborate for us 57 year olds who know so little of current [sub]culture?
@ JMG – “why don’t they want to win” (paraphrased)
I’ve been thinking a bit about the meaning of “to win”. In the first instance, I think by “win” you mean something equivalent to “persuade” and/or “to win hearts and minds” or perhaps even to effectively advance an interest that is dear to you by recruiting more favourable support for it.
On the other hand to “win” can also mean to “vanquish” -ie to “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!” *
And obviously, if you “win” in that way, then you do not “lose” and “loser” was one of the worst epithets of all in the American parlance of my youth.
There is a narrow “win” (which is focussed on ensuring if anyone is to “lose” it had better be the other guy) or a wide “win” (which is focussed on positives that might *even* benefit the other guy too) – eg better understanding, more common ground, mutual support, etc.
As to the first, in the Biblical terms of my childhood, I am tempted to say, “those who would be first shall come last” – because even if you win, you lose. You will definitely lose any possibility of ever gaining understanding, support, respect or even just tolerable sociability from the person you *made* to lose.
*The movie version of Conan channelling Ghengis Khan, I believe.
Hi there, Mr. Greer-
I don’t comment here much but follow your work closely. I also follow Ian Welsh. Recently, Ian has taken to moderating comments because the threads were getting out of control due to what you have dubbed the Babbitt fallacy. In a post titled “How To Comment Productively,” Ian stated what I believe was a truism pre-internet: “The basic rule is ‘would I say this to the face of a guy I know could wup my ass in real life.’ If the answer is no, don’t say it.”
Now, I realize you gave examples of the Babbitt fallacy existing long before the age of the internet. However, I can’t help but think that it’s been exacerbated both in and outside of the internet by the fact that we no longer seriously consider “a guy I know could wup my ass in real life.”
We’re living dual lives in and outside the internet.
Thank you for the reality check.
One good example of this is an ex-employee at my husband’s work who, in a discussion about guns, pompously said, “Well, since we as a country have decided that we don’t care if children are killed…” The rest of the employees hated him, and some were actively lobbying to get him fired. I couldn’t really blame them because he was fond of saying things that essentially accused them all of being evil, murderous haters if they disagreed with his political opinions.
My husband is a liberal-leaning independent, and one of his other coworkers is a somewhat liberal woman. The ex-employee, before he was fired for other issues, pushed both of them in a more conservative direction. I should send him a thank you note. I’m a conservative-leaning independent, and my husband agrees with more of my political opinions now. 😀
Samuel, if I may.
I’ve been news-fasting since 2006, so I feel like I might be able to speak with a reasonable amount of experience in the matter. And honestly, I haven’t missed being “plugged in” one iota. In fact, you allude to the feeling of being in BETTER contact with your surroundings without constant news reports in your post. I think you’re onto something.
And quite frankly, following this comment section keeps me at just the right level of plugged in. Breaking news usually hits here fast, if it’s worth following, and if I come across something I want to investigate further, why, then that’s what I do!
It goes against all your encultured values I know, but flow with it. I doubt you’ll end up disappointed.
Has anyone else ever heard of a connection between Babbitt and Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit?
I have a Tolkien-loving friend who told me that Bilbo was partly based on Babbitt, which I find incredibly interesting if true.
I liked Lord of the Rings, but always found it the ultimate example of demonizing EVIL with its bad races doing bad things for no reason other than they’re bad. The orcs et al just never worked for me.
But I’ve always loved The Hobbit and thought (secretly) that it was a better book than LOTR, at least a book with fewer flaws. So its interesting that Tolkien took this Babbitt character (if indeed he did) and treated him in a sympathetic way, fleshed his story out, mythologized it, and showed a better way of using that character than Sinclair Lewis did.
And then forgot all of those lessons. Or maybe his devout Catholicism got the better of him.
Maybe this is discussed in the latter half of the comments (I only read the first half page), but perhaps the rise of intolerance/disrespect of other views is due to a widespread environmental response to stress rather than a suddenly changed mental set of behaviors but rather
For example: the livelihoods and well being of the average American is far more precarious today than it was 20 years ago, and the trend for that entire time has been negative. This type of dynamic has to have an impact on behavior much as plague is the best recruiter of religion ever invented.
On the other side of the coin, the “elites” who have benefited – even the majority of the 1% are heavily indebted and economically precarious – just on a different scale. How many of these are knowing, direct beneficiaries of the globalist, liberal status quo that has reigned in the US for decades? And how many are thus threatened by the very real possibility of a sea change in the way the US government has been treating a range of causes from environmentalism to trade to minority rights?
Thus while I fully agree with your diagnosis of the dynamic, I wonder if the range of potential causes has been adequately explored.
HI El, I too have noticed that liberal elite-ism, for lack of a better term, has become a religion, and they have made Hillary their demi-goddess. I believe that is why they became so hysterical when she was defeated by the demon Trump, and I believe they will never, ever stop trying to exorcise him.
I too would like to see more research into the prescription histories of mass shooters. We do know that the British government restricted the use of the anti-depressant Paxil, a widely used Prozac clone, after it turned out that one of the possible side effects is violent psychotic outbursts. Apparently, there were several such incidents in the UK before the British government banned its use in patients under the age of 19. Since Paxil is closely related to Prozac and several other commonly prescribed anti-depressants, I would not be in the least bit surprised if at least some of the mass shooters were on these drugs before they went on a rampage. After the use of Paxil was restricted in the UK, there were independent experts who expressed concerns about problems with similar drugs, including Prozac and called for more research, but Big Pharma brought a lot of pressure to bear on government regulators and the mainstream news media to drop the issue. We know the pharmaceutical industry has a long history of marketing dangerous products and covering up serious problems with the complicity of the FDA, as numerous cases from Thalidomide to Phen-Fen have shown. My guess as to the reason why the medication history of mass shooters hasn’t been released is that it has more to do with the reputation of Big Pharma and concerns about possible product-liability lawsuits than concerns about patient privacy.
Beyond that, it’s been estimated something like 15 to 20 percent of the US population is on prescription anti-depressants. That’s an extraordinary number of people and doesn’t count the tens of millions more who self-medicate with a wide variety of licit and illicit recreational drugs ranging from alcohol and tobacco to heroin and methamphetamines. What does it say about a society when so many people can’t even make it through the day without drugging themselves? It’s beyond obvious to those of us who have been paying attention that we live in a sick society, literally and figuratively. I once read an account by an anthropologist who pointed out that one of the surest signs that an indigenous culture is disintegrating is when substance abuse rates spike, like we saw with so many Native American cultures after the White Man arrived. Now, it appears the White Man’s culture is going through that same process. How’s that for irony?
@Austin of Ozmerst
I agree, Atticus became the poster boy for fairness. I think it’s somewhat undeserved, or overblown. You’re the first person I’ve had this discussion with who is willing to consider that in both books we have the same Atticus.
I believe bullying is a serious issue in many countries, not only in the USA. In my opinion, some harsh measures should be taken, real zero tolerance and mandate to enforce that. School is supposed to be a place of studying, but how one can do it in an enviroment that is close to full blown anarchy. There is no room for concentration for many. What do you suggest, JMG and others?
Another issue I want to bring up is themeager state of school lunches in the US. In many casesthe food offered is dismal by European standards, crappy fast food type. Could that have something to do with behavioral issues as well? Bullying happens everywhere, of course, even if the food served was gourmet level.
Another Blue Oyster Cult song that seems rather appropriate these days…
The Horsemen Arrive – Blue Öyster Cult
Forgive me if my laughter sounds cracked
Forgive me if I smile badly
It’s only that I’ve run off the track
Derailed by the irony
Forgive me if my laughter sounds cracked
Forgive me if I smile badly
It’s only that I’ve run off the track
Derailed by the irony
Can you hear the hooves, can you hear the riders coming
On presidential roofs listen to the sinister drumming
Can you hear the hooves, can you hear the riders coming
On presidential roofs hear the sinister drumming
They warn of Armageddon, they warn us of apocalypse
The future’s as a fool’s invention
Of choking skies and computer chips
(There’s a nightmare) civilization
(There’s a monster) industry
Four horsemen have already arrived
I see them above us, already here
Four horsemen with hooves like knives
I say again, already here
(There’s a nightmare) civilization
(There’s a monster) industry
(There’s a devil) human corruption
(There’s a vampire) human greed
Can you hear the hooves, can you hear the riders coming
On presidential roofs listen to the sinister drumming
Can you hear the hooves, can you hear the riders coming
On presidential roofs hear the sinister drumming
(There’s a nightmare) civilization
(There’s a monster) industry
(There’s a devil) human corruption
(There’s a vampire) human greed
(There’s a nightmare) civilization
(There’s a monster) industry
(There’s a devil) human corruption
(There’s a vampire) human greed
Joe, you’re quite wrong. To begin with, Gandhi (why is it that nobody on the Left can spell his name right these days?) and King focused specifically, and brilliantly, on changing people’s minds — please go back and read King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” sometime, for example, and do some research to find out the extraordinary impact that and others of King’s writings had on public opinion in the US and elsewhere. More broadly, focusing on changing circumstances without changing minds wins battles but loses wars. It’s precisely because the Left lost track of the need to convince anybody else of the validity of its beliefs that the Trump backlash happened, you know, and the more you keep trying to control circumstances rather than persuading minds, the worse that backlash is going to get.
Armata, I know. What I gather from those people I know who are so unfortunate as to have children interned in public schools at present is that bullies are actively enabled by school administrations. It’s not just political bullies, either — by and large, bullies of all kinds suffer no significant consequences for their behavior, while if any of their victims protests, the victims come in for punitive treatment. I remember vividly how bad things were in my own school days, when bullying was at least discountenanced by school administrations; what it must be like today hardly bears thinking about.
Mister N., long before the labels “black magic” and “white magic” started being tossed around, mages had a straightforward word for the kind of corrupt magic that’s aimed at making people more stupid than they otherwise would be: cacomagic (in medieval and Renaissance Latin, that’s cacomagia). Clearly I need to do a post on that, and sooner rather than later.
Sue, glad to hear it. Some time ago, in the other blog, I did a post on the Rescue Game as it functions in contemporary American politics. The way that online liberals and faux-liberals have turned into a circular firing squad is a clear sign, to me, that we’ve passed into the endgame phase of that particular interpersonal game, and the game itself may be nearing its end. (Ageai dum, to quote a favorite book of my late teens; “the Game is over.” That the game in question was the tearing of flesh with teeth just adds to the parallels.)
Armata, heh heh heh…
Bonnie, I was wondering what happened with that comment of yours! Exactly; it’s often forgotten that anger is usually a secondary emotion — that is, people turn to it because it’s easier than feeling the primary emotion underneath it, which is usually fear or shame — and fear and shame alike are very often rooted in childhood experiences of helplessness. If you can give people tools so that they no longer feel helpless, the fear and shame go away, and the anger vanishes in turn. Sometimes it really is that simple.
You just wrote: ““Politics” is then a game played for a self-righteous buzz, as I think Phil Harris pointed out some weeks ago.”
Well, I don’t think/remember it was me, but I can agree pretty much about ‘opinions’, political or other.
I remember during a very challenging time a long time ago, I dug deep and sometimes over did it. I decided that ‘opinions’ were more than weird, especially mine, and decided to have none. It could not last forever of course, but in the meanwhile I got pestered on occasion by a relative on ‘political’ matters. He got more and more enraged as he could not draw me out either for or against his provocation. Much later in quieter times I guessed that there had been an undisclosed ‘civil war’ going on, probably also involving other people in the frame, as well I suppose as the conversational symbols. Your thesis about personal contexts for our opinions rings a bell for me. ‘Belonging’ and ‘not belonging’ can be quite a deal.
The cultural stories that the US tells itself are all stories about the underdog fighting back against the evilest evil. They’re full of montages and other hackneyed plot devices to ready the hero to beat the villain. It really seems like our culture absorbed these stories to their very cores, and everyone pictures themselves as the underdog waiting for the montage, after which they’re suddenly able to defeat the villain.
I don’t understand why everyone wants to be the underdog, the underdog has literally never won a fight, because the underdog was the dog that wasn’t ready for the fight. The ones that win the fight are always the ones who are prepared for it and hid their preparations, at least according to the maxims of Sun Tzu and the other Masters of War.
Last year there was a fellow on one of your ecosophia posts who presented us with his Internet Rhetorical Style. I can’t remember his name or the post, but he pointed out that after considerable practice he’d actually managed to create a rhetorical style that allowed him to discuss contentious affairs on the Internet. Reading his comments, the first thought that occurred to me was “dang, that fellow SOUNDS calm in text, that’s bloody impressive.” If I could learn that skill, and how to sound calm in person it would go a long way toward allowing me to accomplishing my goals.
So, once again lead on into the darkness.
That this fallacy prevails in modern thinking is no surprise to me; I saw it coming decades ago in the Saturday morning cartoons. The older cartoons we watched as kids (think Elmer Fudd, et al.) were not just hilarious: this comedy was teaching children that careless and thoughtless behaviors have undesirable consequences. The brothers’-keepers of this world, however, took exception to the slapstick nature of that genre of entertainment on the grounds that it was “too violent for children”. The broadcast media seem to have eventually caved in to the pressure from these characters, and that “senseless violence” is now off the air, having been replaced with cartoons that have a “moral basis” for the action (think G.I. Joe, et al.) – that “moral basis” being that violence is a socially acceptable response to anyone that disagrees with you. The trouble here runs far deeper than just the education system.
I remember the public school system was pretty bad back in the 1980’s, but its gotten far worse to the point where its actively harmful to the inmates. The public “education” system has deteriorated to the point where sending a child into that system could be considered an act of child abuse.
One thing that I have occasionally used to derail a discussion that is degenerating into a hate-fest of virtue-signaling is to say,
“You know, I really don’t know how to follow you where we’re going now. I’m just not hard-wired to feel outrage, no matter what the provocation. It’s an emotion that Im not really capable of. Shall we shift gears, or shall I just walk away from this conversation we’re having?”
For me that’s not quite the whole truth, but it’s close enough that it’s also not an downright lie. I have been deliberately conditioning myself for most of the my 75 years (since I was about 7) to have as even and tranquil an emotional life as I can manage. It has made it far easier on me to be me.
But the important thing is that the trick generally works.
In many of his essays, Teddy Roosevelt argued that while bullying should not be tolerated, he also believed that both boys and girls need to learn how to stand up for themselves and not be passive victims. I couldn’t agree more.
The prevalence of bullying in the public school system has as its corollary the ideology of victimism, in which people are taught that one is virtuous to the extent that one can claim to be a victim, as well as the attitude of “learned helplessness” that so many young people are brought up with as a result of helicopter parenting and other bad child rearing practices.
@JMG and Armata on bullying in school.
Many decades ago (1980s), when our younger son entered our neighborhood public junior high school, he got bullied a lot. I went to see the vice-principal in charge of discipline about the problem. That man was totally unsympathetic. He said, roughly, “Look, there are bullies and there are victims; that’s the fundamental basis of every human society. Your boy is a natural victim. He’ll just have to get used to being a victim.” That vice-principal was himself a heavily-muscled, short, shaven-headed man, and he carried himself like a street tough. To me it seemed likely that he had been one of the bullies himself in his own school days, and that he still sympathized with them, not with the victims. Within a few weeks, too, we went to a routine parent-teacher conference, and were told to discourage our son’s reading at home: “You don’t want him to grown up smart, do you?” — We had him out of that school within weeks. We also got him karate lessons. Those two things fixed the problem within a year.
That was in the 1980s. It’s gotten much, much worse in much of the local public school system now (though not in every single school), according to our friends with children of about the same age as our son was, and our other friends who are teachers in the public schools, or were teachers there and now are on disability with PTSD from the abusive work environment in the schools where they taught.
Twin Ruler, good. Communism is unquestionably a Christian heresy; there’s a precise one-to-one mapping of the sacred history of Communism to that of Christianity — primitive communism is Eden, the invention of private property is the Fall, straight on through to the millennium of socialism and the descent of the New Jerusalem of communism from the skies. Nazism, though, is Enlightenment rationalism run haywire. As Laurence Birken points out in his book Hitler as Philosophe, there’s very little in Mein Kampf that you can’t find in embryonic form in Rousseau et al…
Laurel, thanks for this. It’s precisely when people pay attention to the points on which they agree, as well as those on which they disagree, that debates like this have a constructive resolution.
Bryan, nya ha ha. My work here is done… 😉
Stacy, I think that’s an important part of it.
Taredas, your unpleasant possibility has occurred to me more than once, too, and I’m afraid you may be right. As for the ratsphere, the pace of social change generally has heated up; I’ll look forward to a torrent of rationalists showing up over the next couple of weeks when my Dreamwidth journal hosts a Magic Monday.
Per, no argument there. In my experience, people who use the word “sheeple” are inevitably just as stuck in herd mentality as the people they’re criticizing…
Workdove, a crucial point! Yes, exactly — the only thing that explains the way that big screen televisions have spread across the walls of bars and restaurants, like buboes on the flesh of a plague victim, is that the people who patronize such places are frantically trying to stop themselves from thinking, because their thoughts inevitably head in directions they can’t bear to face.
Engleberg, well put.
Gandalfwhite, unfortunately, I suspect you’re right.
Janine, so noted! I suspect another part of the difference is that Oz left the British Empire on more or less amicable terms, while we had two bitter wars with Britain in the course of securing our independence. Half the reason people cling to guns here is that when we think of “government,” the image of George III and the Redcoats inevitably hovers somewhere in the background.
C.M., yes, and one of the gifts of literature is that in some situations it can teach that.
Matt, welcome aboard. You can stow your gear in the fo’c’sle and lend a hand as the anchor comes up!
Chris, your cattle dog would have made short work of both sides of the Harry Potter franchise, and then chased off Nicolae Carpathia and the Tribulation Force into the bargain! Thank you for that image. 😉
David, yep. You have to remember that to a white liberal, the words “racist” and “Nazi” mean exactly what the words “liberal” and “Communist” mean to a modern (pseudo)conservative: “I hate you.”
Robert, not at all; I acknowledged in this post, as you’ll see if you reread it, that current policies among British officialdom have cost some people their jobs (another point you made) and inconvenienced a great many more. I didn’t happen to address the fact that it’s also caused the shuttering of religious adoption agencies that are unwilling to obey your country’s civil law, as that would take us into very complex territory indeed — the Catholic church has very often tended to act as though its right to religious liberty includes the right to infringe on other people’s religious and political liberties, after all.
I also noted that you could very likely have made a convincing case for your point of view, had you not shot yourself in the foot. The specific term you used isn’t the point at issue, at least from my side; it’s the mentality that underlies it — a mentality, please note, that is anything but unique to you, or to your side of the current round of culture wars. That’s the mentality that I wanted to discuss in this post, and the phrase you used was too perfect an example to let pass — though here again, it was far from the only example I cited.
Sara, no, I referred to Monbiot as an erstwhile environmentalist, with reference to his embrace of nuclear power — notice that this implies that he had in fact been one in the past. He came onto the blog and growled at me for the use of that term — that was the first interaction we’d ever had, by the way, and not one I was expecting — and I explained my reasoning: if the basic principle of environmentalism is to avoid harming the planet, the notion that it’s okay to burden the biosphere with wastes that will remain lethal for a quarter of a million years in order to prop up our current rates of energy use is about as far from an environmentalist attitude as I can think of. He never responded. Given the way that he’s dismissed similar critiques of his stance in the past, I didn’t see any point in pursuing the issue. If you want to characterize that as me shutting down a potential conversation, well, you’re welcome to do so…
Scott, I’d agree with you that the Reagan era was a crucial turning point in modern history, though I’d tend to see other actions of that era as being of greater importance. You’re right, though, that balance returns one way or another. I just hope that the cost of getting there won’t be too high.
Phil, I agree that we’re not looking at collapse in the simplistic sense of the word. What I’d ask you, though, is this: if you were alive in England in 1913, let’s say, would it be reasonable to say that for you, business as usual continued straight through the next forty years to 1953? That’s the kind of collective transformation we’re facing, in my view…
Ace, from my perspective, you’re going about it the wrong way, just as a conservative who wanted to understand the Left would be making a serious mistake to try to do so by listening to NPR and reading left-wing fiction. Reading the other side’s propaganda is only useful for strategic intelligence! If you want to know what the people are thinking, you need to talk to individuals. There’s a great passage in one of Owen Barfield’s books where he points out that if you read Nazi propaganda, and got from it the notion that all Germans were naturally warlike and merciless, you’d be making an elementary mistake: the whole reason why the propaganda had to hammer constantly on the ideas that Germans ought to be warlike and merciless was because they weren’t, and had to be pressured into acting that way. In the same way, you can assume that whatever Fox News et al. are trying to push hardest on their viewers is something with which the viewers don’t actually agree, and the political and commercial interests behind the media are trying to browbeat them into falling into step behind it anyway.
Nicolas, you’re seriously mistaken about guns in Argentina.
The “long background checks that take weeks to months” is just the same standard background checks that are required to get a pro driver license, register your signature in a bank for a commercial account and lots of other bureaucratic procedures. The psychological and physical aptitude tests have been just modified to be very expensive (ironically, by the “right left government” of Macri and the monopoly of the tests given to a corporation owned by Moyano, his political rival) but they are not hard to pass (the usual “draw a tree” test and things like that)
Long weapons are not forbidden, semiautomatic long weapons are allowed by the law but under an arbitrary regime, and since previous gov that means that very few people can acquire them now. Same with concealed carry. Automatic weapons are forbidden (but allowed on special cases, under “secret law” conditions)
And, while nobody goes open carry on cities (but they do on some rural places, like northeast Salta), many people follows the rules, and many don’t. Legal weapons users are near 3% of adults (almost 1M in 2016), most of them on cities. On rural places there is almost no unarmed household and almost no legal users (it’s too expensive being a legal user and there is almost no risk for being an illegal one)
And that’s only talking about non-criminal gun owners.
On SSRIs, I have complex feelings. On the one hand, I’m on one myself for anxiety–my brain is legitimately ridiculously wired*; my dad’s side doesn’t have two serotonin receptors to rub together between them, and previous generations mostly dealt with this by getting blackout drunk and waking up in strange airports–as are a bunch of my friends for other reasons, and, keeping in mind that anecdotes aren’t data, they’ve not thrown any homicidal tendencies as side effects *as far as I know*. For me, a low dose keeps me able to manage the rest of the disorder via meditation, exercise, and regular check-ins with sympathetic friends, and not be a neurotic mess that nobody wants to hang out with, so I’m glad they’re around.
Thaaaat said, doses and prescriptions are idiosyncratic enough that I could see decreased inhibition and/or impulse control, excessive anger, and so forth as potential issues, especially given teenage brain development wackiness, and I have zero difficulty believing that the pharma companies wouldn’t bother either testing or warning about the results. (*Suicidal* thoughts are a known side effect, now, of antidepressant use in people under 24, and they only started warning for that in 2006, even though the antidepressants in question had been out since ’92.) Plus, you get the possibility of interaction with other prescription drugs, or with alcohol** and…it’s just no good.
I think the shooters are still criminally and morally accountable for their actions, regardless. But I think it’d do everyone good if doctors started drugs at way lower doses, drug interactions were studied much more rigorously, and side effects were far more public: “If you find yourself getting this type of thought, it’s not necessarily you. Call your doctor and work on your dosage,” might help a lot. (God knows it does for my friends who are on hormonal birth control, for instance.)
* It first manifested as a persistent and unshakeable fear of tornadoes.
We lived in Southern California at the time.
** Neither of which drug companies are great about studying/warning about, for that matter–and there’s a bit of the DARE effect here, wherein many drugs say “don’t take with alcohol,” but some mean “you will perform selections from Billy Joel and pass out on a discount couch (Benadryl)” some mean “this medication will actively stop working (one of the SSRIs)” and some mean “there’s a possibility of a really painful, lingering death, unless you get a liver transplant fast (acetomenophen).” And if the consumer is used to the first meaning alone…
@ Matthias and John Michael:
Oswald Spengler noted that all late civilizations see the rise of a cosmopolitan elite like the one described in the article by the Atlantic Monthly, an arrogant overclass which views itself as being above everything else, is rootless by nature, is disconnected from life outside the affluent urban elite circles in which it exists and tries to tear down everything it doesn’t find agreeable, including the tearing down of boundaries left and right. It never lasts very long before being shoved out of the way with the rise of Caesarism, in part because that process of tearing things down and erasing all boundaries in the name of “freedom”, “liberation” or whatever creates an atmosphere of social chaos and sets the stage for the rise of force politics and barbarism. It is in fact the “barbarism of reflection” that Vico was talking about. If history is any guide, the triumphalist propaganda of Shadi Hamid and his fellow members of the affluent urban liberal overclass is an exercise in whistling past the graveyard and a sign it is already past its sell-by date.
It seems to me there has been a relentless effort by the cosmopolitan liberal elites to tear things down, discredit longstanding institutions and traditions and break all boundaries in the pursuit of a utopian, revolutionary fantasy. So we see attacks on traditional institutions, revisionist fiction portraying heroic characters as racist scumbags or otherwise evil people, etc, etc. Its not only destructive but history shows it always ends up backfiring on the elite class that perpetuates it by promoting and accelerating a return to barbarism, first in the form of social disintegration and what Toynbee called “the failure of mimesis”, followed by civil wars and other forms of out-of-control violence, followed in turn by Caesarism in which politics becomes a zoological struggle for power among the surviving members of the elite and finally by the return of full-blown barbarism. In other words, the elites who are indulging in this kind of fashionable nihilism and spreading it far and wide might want to remember that old adage “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”.
@JMG: “the whole reason why the propaganda had to hammer constantly on the ideas that Germans ought to be warlike and merciless was because they weren’t, and had to be pressured into acting that way. ”
This resonates amusingly with one of the principles I encountered when researching the romance novels: medieval people weren’t the sexist prudes that one might think from reading penances or sermons, nor were the Victorians the sexist prudes that one might think from reading etiquette manuals. If people weren’t out doing all sorts of improper, unGodly things, after all, neither the priests nor the social guardians would have had any reason to write about it.
Someofparts, well, I didn’t work out the guts to walk out of school — given that my dad and stepmom were schoolteachers, that wasn’t an option while I was living under their roof! — but yes, nearly all my actual education took place in an assortment of libraries, along with regular helpings of that venerable institution, the school of hard knocks. Still, thank you for what I consider a high compliment!
Xabier, thanks for this. I wasn’t aware that you could do that with a perfectbound book (i.e., one made of sheets of paper glued together on one end with cheap glue, the usual binding method for paperbacks).
Cu Meala, and of course that’s a crucial part of the problem, but it’s also something nobody in the political sphere wants to address: the collapse of the US public school system, once one of the best in the world, into the educational equivalent of failed-state conditions. That collapse has been fed enthusiastically by both sides of the current political stalemate, and I’m not sure there’s any easy fix. I would earnestly advise all of my readers in the US who have school-age children to homeschool them, or get them into a nonpublic school, if you possibly can; the conditions in most US public schools these days make a mockery of the entire notion of learning, and inflict enormous emotional and intellectual costs on the children interned in them.
Glenn, good. And of course that’s just it: liberals are talking at (rather than to) conservatives, using arguments that only appeal to liberals, and conservatives are returning the favor with interest. Persuading someone, to anticipate a point I’ll be discussing in more detail later, starts with finding out what they value — not what you think they ought to value, or what you angrily insist they must value, but what they actually value — and anchor your appeals to that. If you refuse to find out what the other side actually cares about, you’re guaranteed to fail!
Phitio, since I have no clear idea who these people are that you’re talking about, I’ll have to leave it to someone else! As for Trump — yes, I’ve said the same thing and will repeat it: unless the Democrats pull their heads out of a certain orifice and realize that they have to give voters actual reasons to vote for their candidate (something that Hillary Clinton’s campaign never grasped, and so never did), Trump will win reelection with a substantial majority in 2020. He could be beaten easily by a competent challenger who addressed the concerns of the people who voted for him, but the Democrats seem dead set on refusing to learn from their mistakes, and until they do so, they’re doomed.
Violet, excellent! I don’t think I’d disagree with any of your analysis.
Nicolas, thanks for the details about Argentina. I gather from comments from my Brazilian readers, though, that the same thing isn’t true at all in Brazil: another reminder, which as a US citizen I doubtless need, that Latin America is a very diverse continent-and-a-third!
Covergirl, welcome back! That’s an interesting suggestion, and the question that arises next is why collective narcissism should have spun so completely out of control of late.
Nicolas, the difficulty we face with Trump is that the previous round of governments (Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama) pursued essentially identical policies, which had disastrous consequences for the majority of Americans. People voted for Trump because Clinton II was promising more of the same, and they were willing to support just about anyone who would offer them something else. I’m not sure how many people outside of the US realize just how extreme the economic collapse of the “flyover states” has been over the last thirty years; I didn’t realize it until I lived there for eight years. Unless the political mainstream deals with the fact that its pet policies have plunged millions of people into destitution and misery here in the US, Trump is just the beginning.
@ Austin, I tend to agree; there is something decidedly arrogant about an imperial arrangement.
@ Phil, Hmmm, well, my apologies for the misattribution! It is rather nonsensical and frightening when people get angry for the mere affront of not immediately agreeing with them, one of my least favorite types of conversation come to think of it!
I’m utterly lost. I haven’t been to America in more than five years. It seems the situation has changed there drastically, especially during the past year. Recently, I feel like an intruder in any conversation among Americans. I just don’t get where they are coming from, and none of what I say seems to connect with them. I have only the vaguest idea what “mansplain” might mean. Could you be a darling and mansplain it to me please?
In defense of the Harry Potter books – Lord Voldemort is a one-dimensional and cartoonishly evil villain… dreamed up by Tom Riddle, who is a much more complex figure. His central motivation is writ plain in the pseudolatin of his pseudonym, and readers who find a personification of suicidal ideation too on the nose should note that both characters in the series not taken in by the Voldemort Fallacy defeat him rather easily.
The Death Eaters are a bit harder to argue, but I’ll try anyway. That they would have done better with bright-faced idealism does actually strike me as wrong. Today’s revolutionaries might try to project a clean-cut air of optimism, but today’s establishment had its revolutionary phase in part against an image of unconvincing wholesomeness. The Death Eaters were established decades before the events of the book, and revolutionary aesthetics would have evolved. Saying “we’re doing very eeeevil stuff for reasons we don’t care to explain, so we’re sure you won’t want to be involved at all. Except maybe a little, around the edges, if we blackmail or ensorcel you. But that’s just because you’re very special and have something vital to our eeeevil plans, not because we don’t have enough members!”…. actually strikes me as a perfectly plausible recruitment strategy, especially if it succeeds in goading the establishment into a Mcartheyite overreaction.
As for what Utopia the Death Eaters were chasing, there is at least one clue – that when they took power near the end of the series, they immediately started large-scale experimentation on muggle-born witches and wizards. It’s worth noting that Slytherin, the house most death eaters hailed from, values long-term planning – so they were likely working on some problem that did not seem sufficiently pressing to the rest of their community. I can easily imagine, if I was a wizard in this setting, that I’d resent or fear the encroachment of muggles and wish for a world with only my own kind, which would in turn raise questions about where aptitude for magic comes from. To be sure, that part is left up to the reader. None of the main characters ever get the death eater pitch, and just as well – the story is, after all, about the return of an ideology that had already led to bad places. Rather than set in an alternative universe, I think the story you suggested would be best as a prequel – likely told from the point of view of the werewolf, whose life could have only gotten better under a death eater regime. But then the complaint would be that the main character is too perfect.
I can certainly imagine how the setting’s pseudolatin and pseudohermeticism would grate on your senses the way bad wuxia grates on mine. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I hope you don’t mind if I call what you identified the Voldemort Fallacy for orthogonal reasons – because I consider Lord Voldemort a complex, richly imagined and beautifully tragic villain… ‘s way of causing the Voldemort Fallacy.
After reading this article, I have to wonder if Stephen Pinker also suffers from the Babbitt fallacy:
He’s attracted the likes of Bill Gates and Bezos without apparently knowing what the Enlightenment was. How is it that a guy could write a book called “Enlightenment 2.0” and end up sounding like Candide’s tutor? I suppose a chief way to do it would be by assuming that everyone who you like was paving the way for you, and that everyone who you dislike secretly knows you are right but reacts “irrationally” and pretends to oppose you. By that logic, the million little tragedies of flyover country can all be proven to be less painful than 50 years ago using quantitative analysis, but they simply refuse to accept that their life is better now.
I suppose this is what comes from circulating in the “nice” society of today’s ultra-wealthy elites, where TED talks replace church and nobody ever says anything rude. One good thing about my three years at Japanese universities is that I have learned the hard way that not every intellectual whose ideas you respect likes you back. Japanese academics have not yet cottoned on to the idea of being nice to everyone and turning “hate into the new sex” as you put it last year. It hasn’t been a pleasant three years but I have come out with a hardened, experiential impulse to take the ideas of others much more seriously.
@Armata – As someone who was in high school not so long ago I can say that yes bullying is quiet bad today, class of 2010. I look at the bullies I encountered and I want to call them 2D characters but I found bullies in high school had more depth to them… Middle school bullies just seem to be about wanting to make animal noises, with some kind of rhythm. The nicknames they had for me were Duckman and &^%%^ – In high school bullies are concerned with courtship like everyone else and this complicates matters; bullies are also less consequential to those who have lives beyond high school.
In that – I think – is the most abusive part of modern high school. To be dependent on it for a social life and everything else that will follow seems like a classic abusive relationship. Fail now, you won’t go to college, fail at life etc.
Far as I can tell there are two keys to avoiding bullies. 1. It’s random who they target. 2. The bullies control the tone of the social life in a school – Kind of how Melkor set the tone of Eru Ilúvatar’s song of creation in LOTR. My cousins are about the same age as me and they were at South Hadley High School when the whole Phoebe Prince case happened. (Google it if anyone’s curious) One of the things about South Hadley high school is you have a lot of wealthy kids who have parents who work for the 5 colleges Amherst, UMass etc. and then a lot of poorer kids who come from say Chicopee or Holyoke. It’s like the wage class meets the salary class, only kids have not the wisdom to explain it. Bullying had been a huge problem in SH high school and it wasn’t until there was a suicide from it that people payed attention to the problem. And my Uncle’s take on it was if her parents weren’t well to do, no one would have payed any attention to it. The bullies kept bullying her facebook wall after she was dead which I thought was the most disturbing part of the incident.
My cousins did everything possible to avoid school – I can’t say I blame them. I just look at the much worse horror stories out there and I feel like there’s something seriously off/wrong with youth culture today…. Each generation since the 1950s seems to reinvent itself every ten years and I wonder if that has anything to do with it. Idk I don’t want to be to quick to judge.
It wasn’t my intention to debate the issue. My experience with discussing this with Europeans is that we’re almost incapable of understanding each other– which is okay, since we each have different countries to live in. I don’t particularly care whether guns can be legally owned in France or Estonia– for that matter I’m happy to see American states work out the issue on their own. (Birmingham, Alabama is not Berkeley, California, and I don’t see any reason to impose either’s values on the other.)
My point was only to demonstrate to you that despite being a conservative I am not, as you put it, “desperate about gun violence” but “unable to admit it.” I simply don’t think about the issue in those terms at all, but you assumed I must… which happens to be an example the Babbit Fallacy, as JMG described it.
Like you, I’ve had the experience of my political alignment shifting while many, though not all, of my values remained consistent. I can also think of people with whom I disagree whose opinions I respect. (Actually, I can’t think of anyone whose views I share in their entirety.) The point is that the Babbit Fallacy exists, not that everyone is committing it at all times.
More evidence the US is running into the wall called reality. As we’ve discussed before, the F-35 Lardbucket has been under development for more than a quarter century, more than 200 have been produced and none of them are ready for frontline service. Indeed, the US military has rather conspicuously kept the Lardbucket far away from operational war zones like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Gee, I wonder why?
Well, wouldn’t you know it, but the Russians just deployed two of their Su-57 stealth fighters to Syria for “battle testing” as one Russian source put it, even though these are prototypes and the first production models won’t arrive for squadron service until next year. To me that speaks volumes. The US military still isn’t willing to risk its F-35’s in combat even after all these decades and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, while the Russian Aerospace Force has enough confidence in its new stealth fighters it is willing to send two prototypes to see how they perform in battle.
Interesting, I have been calling this The Liberal Fallacy for years: the idea that anyone with differing ideas was simply mistaken and if you only explained their mistake to them patiently, they’d come around. I like The Babbitt Fallacy, it’s a much better name
Also, my favorite novel is my favorite novel precisely because it avoids the clear-good, clear-evil narrative. Every character is convince they’re doing the right thing, which puts them at odds with the other characters. In fact, the main protagonist is probably the most loathsome character in the book, if you step back and think about it objectively. However, you get a sense of where he’s coming from so you can’t really hate him either. I love it! This is probably the reason why it’s never been a huge runaway best-seller. Such is life.
El: You said that people raised in a homogeneous culture have their horizons broadened by going to college with a diverse population There used to be another widespread mechanism for that among young men – the draft. My ex-husband, born 1937, was raised in an affluent-but-conservative bubble, and it was as a tech stationed on the other side of the country that he met, worked with, and often was commanded by, the sort of people his parents had nothing but derogatory opinions about. It surprised – and delighted him!
Likewise the sons of the coastal elites, while they had a million and one ways to avoid actually serving, or serving as mere grunts, could have their horizons broadened by serving with and being commanded by just plain folks.
Regarding wall-to-wall tele-buboes in restaurants, I’m thinking that the law that says that the cheaper/more efficient a product is, the more of it will be used, is in effect, same as what we discussed w/LED lighting. You noticed a lot fewer tele-buboes in public spaces back when they were hulking, inefficient cathode ray tubes.
A word of wisdom from the this week’s Speak Up section of the Albuquerque Journal: “If I walk part the barn and hear the jackass bray, I don’t feel any need to answer him.” A pity people don’t apply that to the jacks and jennies of their own factions as well.
And I do feel an apology is owed to every four-legged burro in the country.
Great post, thanks. And thanks for reminding me of Steppenwolf, it’s a great book and I need to dig up a copy and give it another whirl.
Here is a link to a step-by-step how-to site for turning a paperback into a hardback.
He has other neato things to do also:
Oh my goodness, I typed Bobbit not Babbit in my whole post and didn’t even notice!! How embarrassing!
I do know the difference – it’s just been a long day and someone upthread said Bobbit and I was writing fast and – okay, I need to go to bed!
Excellent post as usual. One interesting facet of the insult-and-scream rhetoric I’ve noticed is calling the other side things that the other side actually finds complementary. For instance, I have known right-wing rank and file people to call a debate opponent a ‘liberal’ in a manner clearly intended to be an insult. Obviously, if that person actually thinks of themselves as a liberal, such an insult is nothing short of a genuine compliment. A term like ‘Gaystapo’ is excellent shorthand when speaking to like-minded people, but I agree that to use it in a debate or general context with people who aren’t already in that group is self-defeating.
On the other hand, I have extreme difficulty not clamming up myself. I don’t self-describe as a conservative, though I am a traditionalist. It’s just that I’m conservative regarding modern western culture the way an environmentalist would want to conserve a functioning open-pit gold mine. For my entire lifetime, at least, everything I might have tried to save is long gone, and it’s as much as I can do to try to scrape together a semblance of it for my family in the spiritual equivalent of a radioactive wasteland. Add to that the fact that a sizable portion of the country, including many people in authority and most of my neighbors, have done a really solid job of convincing me that what they really want to do is kill me, institutionalize my wife and make my kids drug-addled wards of the state. I don’t doubt that they believe in the rightness of their cause and so forth, but my difficulty is in making any sort of honest communication when I have been censored or ostracized for simply not being enthusiastically supportive enough of a statement (Just imagine if I actually let slip that I disagree!). In such an environment, I can feel myself becoming less and less open to new ideas, even over a short few years.
So I suppose the question I have is how do we identify and help the Hallers without exposing ourselves? How do we make the train of thought jump the rails without inviting retribution? And how do we jump our own trains and avoid becoming deaf ourselves?
Jasper, and yet societies where Christianity has never taken root, and where the local religion denies the Christian claim that all human beings are wretched sinners rightly damned to hell, don’t have this sort of trouble. I think you’re confusing correlation with causation here. On the other hand, many thanks for the info on SSRIs.
Michael, your argument would apply, I think, only if the Babbitts are on only one side. As far as I can see, both sides are well stocked with them…
Prizm, I’m pretty sure both sides are fighting to avoid taking a good look at their own reflections in the mirror come morning.
Aubrey, glad to hear it. As I see it, education is a lifelong process — when you stop learning, you start to die from the neck up — and best done in a self-directed fashion. More on this as we proceed!
Ruth, excellent! Courtesy is among the tools of thoughtful rhetoric — again, it’s a lot easier to persuade people if you don’t act like a jerk. 😉
Walt, also excellent! The reason I use the comparison to Pravda, though, doesn’t have to do with genocide; it has to do with the absurdly paralogical nature of Soviet regime propaganda, especially in the Stalin years, when uttering preposterous statements with a straight face was standard practice for Soviet news media. These days the WaPo and other US regime — er, mainstream news media seem, at least to my crotchety ears, to be doing the same thing. Mind you, you may be right that too few people these days remember Pravda at its, er, finest…
Sandy, thanks for this.
MigrantWorker, nicely handled! I hope others try the same tacks.
Eike, I’ll consider it. I’ve been watching the Kek phenomenon since well before it got into the mass media — there were a couple of highly articulate Alt-Right commenters on The Archdruid Report who talked about it, and I followed up — and memetic magic is an interesting but, to my mind, unsophisticated application of principles Giordano Bruno wrote about at length (and with much more subtlety) back in the Renaissance. It would take at least one post to really set all that out in order, but it might be worth doing.
Jason, one of the lessons I picked up from my Japanese stepfamily’s Shingon Buddhist faith is that different bodhisattvas have different jobs, and that seems to apply to those who are aspiring to the bodhisattva ideal as well. It may be that your efforts to save all sentient beings might be better directed away from the political sphere…
Harold, yes, exactly. Thank you for pointing this out!
Will, thanks for the data points. That corresponds to what I hear from elsewhere.
Nastarana, yep — and it’s remarkable how often the political ideals of both sides mesh precisely with their personal financial advantage.
Stefania, excellent. Yes, precisely — most people are in the process of becoming fully conscious, rather than being there already, and you’re right that it makes sense to think of that process as having its Qlippothic dimension. As for Steppenwolf, I’m delighted that you enjoyed it! Hermine is in one crucial sense Harry’s own feminine side, and — as Mozart in the final scene points out — Harry doesn’t kill her, he kills a reflection of her with the reflection of a knife, all in the dazzling hallucination of the Magic Theater. It definitely bears repeated readings.
El, I’ve seen the same things you have, and I’m not at all sure what to make of it either.
Scotlyn, that’s a good point. Perhaps it could be framed by saying that there’s a difference between wanting to win and wanting to make the other person lose.
Tread, oh, I’m sure the internet has helped amplify it. One of the lethal downsides of the internet is that you never experience other people on it except as disembodied words and images, so it’s easier to pretend that there isn’t actually anyone home on the other end of the conversation.
Housewife, thank you! That’s a great story, and I suspect most of us can compare it to things we’ve experienced, too.
JoelJones, I’ve heard the claim, though I don’t know what the evidence is behind it. Certainly it would make a great deal of sense, especially of The Hobbit! (And my mind immediately dishes up the image of a mashup of Tolkien and Lewis, The Babbitt, in which George Babbitt leaves the town of Zenith on a quest…)
C1ue, of course you’re right — there’s a galaxy of causal factors, and the soaring stress of living in a society in rapid decline is surely one of them. Since this is a blog post rather than a 300-page book, though, a certain narrowness of focus is hard to escape.
Armata, thanks for this. Many years ago in The Archdruid Report I posted an essay titled Culture Death, talking about the way that our experience here in modern America parallels in important ways the experiences of other societies that have had their culture taken from them. I’ve seen nothing that leads me to disagree with that since I wrote it. Thank you for another blast from the past!
Simo, when I was in the public schools in the US, bullying was ignored and tacitly tolerated. At this point, based on what I’ve heard from people who have children in the belly of the beast, it’s actively fostered. It’s not actually hard to stop — as with most behaviors, all you have to do is to reward the behaviors you want and load the ones you don’t want with costs that nobody wants to pay — but the education industry has to care, and it basically doesn’t.
Varun, that’s a good point. Maybe part of what’s driving the craziness is the cognitive dissonance experienced by people who’ve been taught that the good underdog always wins, and then have to confront the reality that they’re not actually good and their self-appointed underdog status makes them lose.
Steve, no argument there; I’m just starting to untangle the thread with the end that’s closest.
Robert, that’s brilliant. Seriously. I may just adapt that for my own less genial affect, and see how it works; thank you. As for bullying — yes, that fits precisely with what I’ve heard over and over again. I’m beginning to wonder if education departments at US universities actually teach that to future school counselors and administrators.
Isabel, I’m quite prepared to believe that SSRIs in carefully monitored doses can do a lot of good for people with certain specific problems. I’m also quite prepared to believe that MDs these days massively overprescribe them to people who don’t need them, and pay no attention to the potential downsides, such as outbursts of homicidal rage in under-25s.
Armata, good. I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to you that I’ve been thinking of that part of Spengler’s argument over and over again as this whole process has unfolded.
Isabel, very much so. Of course sexually active women in Victorian England had to deal with the social consequences if word ever got out — men had a free pass, by and large — but that simply adds to the available complexities of the story. 😉
Christopher, if you enjoy them and want to put that kind of gloss on them, by all means! I don’t mean to tell anybody what not to read; I simply found the books dreary and hamfistedly tendentious.
Avery, I’m not sure what Pinker suffers from, but I gather he lives on a different planet or something.
Armata, yes, I saw that. With this, both China and Russia have fielded fifth-generation fighters (the J-20 and the Su-53 respectively), both of which have far longer range, heavier weapons-carrying capacity, and superior airworthiness compared to the F-35 Lardbucket. That Russia would put a brand-new plane into combat conditions is daring, but then the whole Syrian operation has shown a willingness to gamble not always that common in the Russian military. The question is what the next move will be…
Jim, remind me of what your favorite novel is! It sounds worth reading.
Shane, that may be part of it, but I don’t think that it’s the whole story.
Patricia, excellent advice!
Michael, you’re welcome. Enjoy!
Gkb, thank you.
El, in some ways it’s an inspired typo…
John, we’ll get to that as this sequence of posts continues. As you’ve probably already guessed, it begins within the individual…
On the topic of meme magic, its not that different than the creative visualization craze of the New Age.
What is unusual is a lot of people are openly and knowingly participating in group magic . more than I’ve seen before and I don’t mean cultural ceremonies but outright magic outside the culture. These are regular folk too which is quite fascinating to me.
It reminds me a quote from of the fictional character John Constantine (who Alan Moore claims to have met IRL!) I’ll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any **** could do it. Still its a sign of the times
FWIW him meeting Constantine seems plausible to me as certain works of art have power of their own if you create them. Its happened to me and its very unnerving
Now as for the culture as a whole, culture death is right. This doesn’t lead anywhere good
RE: state of the art. Its gotten such that I could hear the cold warriors like John Ringo extol who great it was when we managed to blow up a mixed bag of mercs using 40-60 year old vehicles (T54 and T72 tanks) . I thought it was pathetic. There was no reasonable way we coudl lose such a fight
As for schools, homeschool or die. Literally it seems.
if someone were to ask me about public schools I’d describe them this way , There are three grades of prison most peopel know about minimum, medium and maximum security . There is also Supermax which is basically an oubliette used for torture,
There is also another grade call it ultra-minimum. We call that a public school.
Apologies for dropping another post so soon but I wanted to mention Left/Right in the US and the potential for violence
That ship has already sailed, we’ve had multiple attacks on Republican Congressmen and I’d argue the Las Vegas massacre was a targeted killing . There has also been lots of sporadic violence, stalking by media and more.
The street fights too have been interesting but they aren’t special, mainly showing todays Communist kind suck more than anything else . The various Right Wing Groups ranging from pretty doctrinal Reagan Republican to Fascist seem, to get along really well , organize well and hit well above weight which if the Left was sane would tell them something rather important.
When those people start chanting “You can’t run, you can’t hide, you get helicopter ride.” and start unironically sporting Pinochet shirts time to consider your life options.
Thus far the Right has been very calm in the bigger picture but my estimation is its the “learn how to get organized” stage and after that that there are basically three things holding them back at that point
#1 They have political power and wisely would rather try and use it first
#2 They are basically moral people who don’t want mass death if they can possibly find a way around it
#3 They really aren’t sure what they want instead of what they have . If you won’t take power, you can’t rule.
Heck that might as well be the Republican motto. They have control of nearly everything, very near enough to force a Con Con and to build whatever they want. Too busy looting, to lazy and too cowardly to lead
Regular Conservatives are rather attached to the US as configured and most , some part other Deus Volt .Alt Right aside want to go back to some earlier simpler time which is understandable, it will slow a catabolic collapse but aren’t sure where or how to get there, This is slowly shifting and the new alliances I’m seeing , Alt Right with Militia Right are interesting too.
I guess interesting in the Chinese curse sense is the watch word
My best comments don’t get posted because of an invalid code.
Is it perhaps a reverse Babbitt fallacy then, that your evil is worse than the evil I see in the mirror and thus your evil must be the source of my evil? All evily evilness must come from the same place
Xaber (and others), in the context of making hardbacks out of paperbacks, I can recommend two books about book repair: “Book Repair: A How-To-Do-It Manual”, Second Edition Revised (How To Do It Manuals for Librarians, Band 178) by Artemis Bonadea and Kenneth Lavender, and “The Repairing of Books”, London, Sheppard Press, 1960. Bookbinding as such can be done relatively cheaply, and for gluing together printed-out materials there are special glues which are more durable than the hot-melt binding method sometimes used.
“Each generation since the 1950s seems to reinvent itself every ten years and I wonder if that has anything to do with it. “
I know women joined the workforce in the 50s and since then each generation of children has bonded more strongly to their peers than to their families. Remember the flower children? “Never trust anyone over 30”? I think that’s when it all changed. Both parents work 8 hour days and kids spend more time with teachers and students than with their families. The teacher changes every year, but the kids don’t, they move up to the next grade together. They used to be latchkey kids, but now they get carted from school to daycare to soccer/ballet to home for dinner and bed time (oh and don’t forget those 3-4 hours of homework every night).
So the kids formed primary attachments to eachother, the only people they see all the time. They identify more strongly as members of a peer group than as members of a family.
That’s about the time that youth stopped trusting society’s institutions and started questioning authority, and as far as I can tell, they generally continue to question authority until they have kids of their own and become authorities themselves.
Each decadal group remade itself because they had to create their own group identity from scratch, loosely inspired by what those other kids did last year.
The family as a fundamental institution has been assaulted by the demands of modern culture, and it will continue to get worse as parents have to work longer hours to pay for food, clothes, and a roof. If we get lucky, the multi-generational household will come back into fashion and restore some normalcy.
Meanwhile, modern consumer culture is there to sell identity to your children, for The price of a small and colorful piece of plastic, your kid can be part of the “in crowd.” Have you watched any kids’ TV shows lately? They model the worst behavior. Sass, nagging, being demanding and spoiled. I would pretty much instantly punish every one of those kids on TV.
I can’t say for certain this is the cause of bullying specifically, but I know it doesn’t promote mental or emotional health.
The SSRIs and Ritalin/Adderal aren’t good, either. In many cases (but not always) they are used to medicate away behavior that should be addressed other ways, for example, diagnosing a kid as ADHD when he’s actually just acting out because his parents are getting a divorce.
Isabel’s comment about what people really got up to in the Middle Ages is spot on: in history seminars we took it as a rule of thumb in looking at medieval legislation that if laws had to be repeatedly passed and penances prescribed, people were doing whatever it was like crazy.
There’s a medieval Spanish song, very popular, to the effect that let your wife out to get water from the well or fill a flagon of ale, and she’s bound to get up to something.
On the whole, I have concluded that the 12th century was not too bad a time to live at least one very brief life……
JMG, by all means use my G******o term to illustrate an unfortunate mentality – I should be honoured, like I am honoured by the fact that villains in films are given British accents (it shows we still count for something).
On a positive note, you have inspired me to delve further into badology and the uses of satire.
Quantitative badology is not easy, but here are some preliminary results.
For the sake of argument let us assign a Badness Quotient of sixteen billion trillion to the Third Reich. That’s not the end of it, though, because even under that regime some organizations stood out for extra awfulness. Let’s therefore assign a BQ of 32 billion trillion to the Gestapo.
As against those figures, I’d assign to modern Britain a BQ of just two. That makes the Third Reich eight billion trillion times badder than we are. No comparison really. And to our Cheerful State Police, which by the way includes media and social pressure as well as officialdom, I would assign a BQ of just 8. That makes it four billion trillion times less bad than the Gestapo. Which tends to suggest that you were right to scoff at my satirical efforts.
However, just hang on a moment. We mustn’t forget that there is also the Relative Internal Badness Quotient (RIBQ), a measure of how far an organization stands out for awfulness in the context of its political environment. Put another way, it’s a measure of how unexpected the organization is, how far one ought to be shocked or surprised at it, given its context.
You get the RIBQ by dividing the BQ of the organization by the BQ of the regime in which it exists.
On that basis, the Gestapo have a BQ of 32 billion trillion divided by 16 billion trillioin, i.e. 2.
The Cheerful State Police on the other hand turn out to have a RIBQ of 8 divided by 2, equals 4.
The Cheerstapo are therefore more shocking in their context of supposedly liberal Britain, than the Gestapo were in their context of the evil Third Reich.
After all, who but a fool would be surprised to learn that the Nazis had a brutal Secret State Police? Whereas one might be pardoned for being shocked and dismayed at totalitarian doings in a supposedly free society. What are we doing having statist ideological coercion at all?
Hence the point of satire. Satire deals in absurd exaggeration but with a point to it. The point is to do with incongruity, with a parallelism which is not intended as quantitative comparison, still less as identity. When you mock a “little hitler” at the office, you’re not suggesting he murdered six million Jews or caused a world war. You’re just poking fun at the way he struts and barks out orders.
Even Homer nods, as they say. Even John Greer can miss the point. Nevertheless I continue to love your blog.
@Steve T “I really believe that many, possibly most of us in this country love feeling persecuted. We find it deeply comforting.” – I agree with this 100%. I clearly recall post college in the early 1990’s CHOOSING to play the victim in situations because it was socially more acceptable. We spend a lot of time glorifying on TV victims who can’t function in the present because of their past. I think of the Oprah and Donahue talks shows that were day after day of people who were victims.
@Stacey “In addition to the Babbitt fallacy, I hear an incredible amount of rage, both online and off, circling like a hurricane system or a funnel cloud. Apparently lab rats placed in stressful conditions will bite one another and the rat doing the biting will feel better afterwards.”
Children do the same thing in public schools. Eight hours a day of no privacy, noise, shoving, having to be “on stage” giving right answers and behaving. When I taught, I often joked that children’s parents couldn’t make it a whole day in 2nd grade and be in a good mood, and yet we expected 7 year olds to do it.
I left teaching after a few months. Couldn’t live with the emotional violence doing done to children. Sent my kids to school for two years thinking it was different now. Ha-ha no. Been homeschooling 10 years.
You write: “What I’d ask you, though, is this: if you were alive in England in 1913, let’s say, would it be reasonable to say that for you, business as usual continued straight through the next forty years to 1953?”
I like the question! I was asking for some alternative perspectives, and that is one of them.
I am tempted to try to see if I can read the Manchester Guardian of 1913, and review what bothered CP Scott. I know there was a serious threat of armed insurrection in Ulster backed by the mainland British Tory Party. Quote from Wikipedia:”The Ulster Unionists [loyalists] enjoyed the wholehearted support of the British Conservative Party, even when threatening rebellion against the British government.” Then there was the female vote, and the progress of social insurance. Scott would have been concerned by rival naval power, but military prowess probably was not at the forefront of attention. I would need though to read the actual papers.
But I read further down this week in comments you have written the following to ‘C1ue’: “… there’s a galaxy of causal factors, and the soaring stress of living in a society in rapid decline is surely one of them.”
This does not seem to describe Britain in 1913. Things were getting better. And we had yet to see electrification, let alone enter the Oil Age. The horrors of earlier industrialisation, population doubling and doubling again, and continuing social harshness were in part mending. This was not just a conclusion of the comfortable suburbs and upper class education. The trend was up! Justifiably, one could say. Across Europe the Ottomans were on their way out, but the imminent collapse of civilised European order including Russia, pretty much was unforeseeable. The results of the systemic stress of industrialisation and headlong growth and modernisation, and competition for global resources, were partly understood, but badly underestimated.
Fast forward to the morphing of the British Empire, and it becoming subordinate in a bigger world hegemony, 1946 onwards, has taken a bit of getting used to. Rather importantly, most of a lifetime later, this late phase of industrial modernisation is staring at its fundamental limitations.
But as in the USA today, even now few in Britain can see existential crises. The majority seem willing to take their chance with the USA rather than Europe. It does look from here that increasing stresses in your USA seem to have a momentum of their own. These may be overpowering, or as I guess, more likely will call out enough remedial adaptive ‘patch-ups’ for ongoing national and international life, even if it is a diminished version. I worry, however, for the EU and wider Europe. Life ‘after Putin’ could get very tricky.
BTW what is this about bullying in your schools? We have seen concerted campaigns across our education system this last 20 years to reduce bullying. Our kids’ schools in the 1990s had an ‘anti-bullying policy’ and increasing ‘no tolerance’. Patchy results I’m sure but some ongoing attempt is made.
What everyone here is mentioning are issues with public schools – bullying, teacher, dullness, prison-atmosphere – are not problems, but features. Schools are designed intentionally to have people behave through coercion. Coercion is bullying without physical violence. The whole system is “do this or else”. This trains children to as adults to just do what is asked of them in jobs without asking questions. People also work very hard to not “stand out” in behavior. They work a little harder or a little less than others, but nothing extreme.
The dullness and prison atmosphere are similar. If people weren’t trained to be be bored out of their minds 8 hours a day their whole life, they would never do it as adults. Adults willingly walk into large ugly buildings every single day and just stay there doing whatever is asked of them. This is why the US shot ahead of many countries in capitalism: we have the best educated workforce. You used to hear that as school subjects, now you can see it is behavior training.
I haven’t been here reading the comments for a couple of months. I’ve been following Scott Adams Periscopes on Twitter and he dissects Trump’s persuasion skills. He’s like a Trump translator. I couldn’t figure out how Trump jumped to the front of the Republican pack leaving 19 opponents in the dust, and then completely stomped on Clinton and ground her to dust. JMG’s analysis of Trump speaking like most of working-class America was a huge part of it and he talks the way people talk and wish they could talk to politicians and their bosses.
Adams points out that Trump is good at showing how he got all these things for himself and showing how Americans could get all these things for themselves too. Trump makes sure to make something just a little wrong in his tweets because most people are attacked online for not speaking perfectly. Trump stays positive and comes back day after day, attack after attack. As was pointed out, he is the underdog and we love underdogs. Go Eagles!
Adams also point to the news is reporting mind-reading now vs. facts. I started paying attention to this online with everyone because I think the news media is now just reflecting how people are generally. People claim to know the inner thoughts of others based on words they say. Thus racist! is shouted when I mention “maybe we don’t have jobs for so many immigrants”. That is trying to mind-read me vs. look at facts. Trump never gets Trumped on this. Its amazing to watch.
“I wasn’t aware that you could do that with a perfectbound book (i.e., one made of sheets of paper glued together on one end with cheap glue, the usual binding method for paperbacks).”
JMG (if I may), I actually got a number of your books from the Berlin Staatsbibliothek library and noticed that they were re-bound (if that’s the term), with very solid hard covers probably meant to last for centuries. Come to think of it, I have never seen a book there that was not, to the extent that I sometimes get, say, a 1960s ex-paperback slowly turning to dust inside still-perfect covers. So I can confirm that turning “perfectbound” books into properly bound hardcovers is something that can be done and is being done, albeit with somewhat ironic results over the longer term.
Long time reader, never (I guess this makes it “rarely” now) commenter here. Instead of using Harry Potter alternative universe, you could of used the Lord of the Rings as your allegory of choice. Someone has written this alternate version book, called the Last Ringbearer, written from the perspective of the orcs (“Orc” being a slur used by the West against foreign men, not the beings of pure evil purported by Tolkien). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Ringbearer
Here is the first paragraph from wikipedia to whet your whistle:
The novel is based on the premise that the Tolkien account is a “history written by the victors”. In Eskov’s version of the story, Mordor is described as a peaceful country on the verge of an industrial revolution, that is a threat to the war-mongering and imperialistic faction represented by Gandalf (whose attitude has been described by Saruman as “crafting the Final Solution to the Mordorian problem”) and the elves.
If you can track down a version you can read, it is definitely worthwhile to do so. As a fan since childhood, it was very illuminating and forced me to grow in unexpected ways. While I have understood the principle of “history written by the victors”, seeing “both” sides of the conflict really made me internalize the lesson, and made me much less likely to judge and willing to listen to the “other” side. It really did make me disbelieve a one singular “truth”, that could be glimpsed, so long as you could just somehow convince the disbelievers to open their eyes for once in their small-minded life…
The author’s explanation (who denies even being a writer, despite evidence to the contrary) in Salon magazine was worthwhile as well, if you want to know more before devoting yourself to yet another book: https://www.salon.com/2011/02/23/last_ringbearer_explanation/
“Mansplaining” means that whatever a man says is automatically going to be discounted as “well, that’s just a man’s opinion, and men just don’t get it.”
Now, as JMG points out, there are some very real issues behind the term involving characteristic arguments and behaviors that men have in ”explaining” to women what’s “really” going on.
But then, that’s true of pretty much any of the words that have been discussed, and using the term does not engender in me any desire to find out what those issues are, and come to a rational conclusion about whether or not my behavior actually needs to be changed. On the contrary, it tells me that the person using it isn’t interested in hearing anything from me, and I’m quite willing to return the favor.
Hi, JMG, et al. I’m enjoying this discussion tremendously.
On the subject of SSRIs and other psych meds, I’d like to add two things: withdrawal syndrome (applies to a number of psych meds), and another class of drugs: the atypical anti-psychotics, such as Risperdal and Abilify.
Atypical anti-psychotics are being prescribed off-label for conditions that are not psychosis; for example to reduce rage behaviors in kids with autism. The thing the docs don’t tell you is that these meds cause metabolic problems with attendant extreme hunger, among other side effects such as tardive dyskinesia (look it up; it’s awful).
The extreme hunger, in addition to causing kids to get fat, also causes meltdowns, which can often turn violent. So the very drug that is supposed to help control rage actually can provoke it.
Then there’s withdrawal syndrome, which is what happens when you discontinue a psych med abruptly (as in, you decide to go cold turkey, or you taper off too quickly, or you run out of your meds and can’t get a new prescription in time). All kinds of unpleasant “side effects” surface from many of these drugs if you stop taking them, and for some of them these effects show up within a couple of days of stopping.
In the case of SSRIs, one can experience a lovely combination of return of low mood (you get depressed again), anxiety, insomnia, nausea and other digestive disturbances, and widespread flu-like body aches.
In the case of anti-psychotics, you get a return of the psychosis. If there was one. If there wasn’t any psychosis, for example if you’re taking it for autism, you get psychosis anyway.
I am not kidding. If you stop taking Risperdal abruptly, you can psychotic, even if you were not psychotic before taking the drug.
This happened to a young relative of mine. He experienced sensory hallucinations after reducing his Risperdal dose. Specifically, he felt as if there were a large bug, such as a cockroach, in his mouth. He believed the bug was there and could not be consoled. Apparently, the dose wasn’t tapered gently enough. He had to go back on the meds for a while.
It scares me to think of what might have happened to him if the drug had been unavailable and he’d been stuck in that delusional state.
I have no idea if any of the school shooters were on Risperdal or Abilify, but I do believe these drugs are dangerous. And if they were combined with an SSRI (my young relative was on such a combo for a short while), then it seems to me that it’s a recipe for disaster. My relative had to be taken off the SSRI because it his agitation, instead of relieving it.
Additionally, his parents tried repeatedly to get a doctor’s help to get him off the Risperdal, and the doctors refused to help. In fact, they responded with offers to the dose, and/or to switch him to a different anti-psychotic.
I recommend that parents think very deeply and carefully before they put a kid on any kind of psych medicine. I agree that sometimes they can be useful. But think long and hard about whether the potential help is worth the inevitable downside.
Oh, p.s.: the drug industry doesn’t like the term “anti-depressant withdrawal syndrome.” They claim that these drugs aren’t addictive because people cannot get high by taking them, so somehow the symptoms don’t count as withdrawal. The drug industry prefers the term “discontinuation syndrome.” Make of that what you will.
JMG: re “if the Babbitts are on only one side. As far as I can see, both sides are well stocked with them…” — Ouch! Today, doing the Druid Animal Oracle deck, which I relate to very easily, I drew The Sow, Reversed. Greed and pig-ignorance? Moi? Canny enough to reject the cheap assumption that this is a slap at That Other Party, but …. Moi? OM-fracking-Goddess! Oops.
Time to let that stew for a while under Miller’s Law: “Assume it is true. Then try to imagine what it can be true of.” [Besides the never-forgotten caveat from that radical pamphlet ca. 1967 … “everybody does what they do for a reason. First seek the reason, instead of saying “she’s a [evillest evil with a double helping of evil sauce and please pass the cat food…]”
@Jessie – In 1978 when I was 9 years old, my 7 year old brother and carried a house key, walked from the bus stop to our house, let ourselves in, fed the pets, ourselves and did homework. My parents worked and there was hell to pay if we didn’t take care of ourselves. If I did that to my children, a neighbor would call social services or the police, and I live in a very rural conservation area near the Amish.
When my grandfather was 14, in 1934, he and his brother used to go shoot rabbit for dinner or else there would be no meat on the table. This used to horrify us as children in the 1970’s. If I said this during an online “conversation” on gun control, people would accuse my grandfather of being a psychotic killer.
@JMG: Agreed entirely–on both counts!
Really, I think most drugs should be a last resort, should start at the lowest practical dose, and should come with a lot of warnings, even if they’re “this is really rare, but it does happen, so talk to your doctor if you get these symptoms”. Even those not aimed at mental health can mess with it as a side effect: the aforementioned birth control is the one everyone knows, and I recall one of the more widely-prescribed acne medications having depression and behavioral changes as a side effect. Even if people decide to take the meds anyhow, they should know what the risks are so that they’re more prepared to counter or manage them. And that doesn’t happen a lot.
Drug companies, medicine and/or the FDA also *really* fail at diversity in trial demographics–which I can sort of understand, because you take the people who volunteer, but which can also have pretty horrible consequences. (For instance, there’s a blood pressure medicine that’s far less effective for African Americans than for white people, the signs of a heart attack are often different in women than in men, and so forth.) But if your main trial group is white men between twenty-five and forty, then often there are a whole lot of people who should be wary of the product/treatment/etc when considering their own options.
@Victoria Minard: Yep. Withdrawal is *nasty*. I’m fortunate that I haven’t had any of the really bad symptoms when switching/discontinuing medication (and nothing like your relative’s–oof! Ew! Poor kid!) but I know Effexor, for example, is infamous for “brain zaps”–weird and random sensations like mild electric shocks.
@Xabier: Pretty much, yeah. 🙂 I admit I look at the menus sometimes when I’m researching and I really like what I see–granted, that would likely require me to be fairly upper-class, but still. (Or I could be an outlaw. I like rabbit, and I don’t need to live that long.)
@Patricia Mathews: You may be right about the draft. While there was compulsory military OR community service in Germany (until about the end of the nineties), both had this effect. For me community service was certainly a way out of a certain intellectual bubble, since I entirely lacked bullies at school 🙂
It is so sad to hear that the situation is that bad on American Publc-School System, and fear for my grandchildren. After all, our politicians have a tendency to pick the worst of US ideas and implement them with a 30 year lag. We are currently suffering from the Clinton’s No Child Left Behind fashion (a.k.a. No Underarchiever Shall Ever Be Flunked Regardless of Their Non-Conformance to Minimum Standards).
Back in the late 80’s I was a bullied kid, though what I went through was pretty mild compared to the horrors I have heard about, both online and offline, One of my biggest realizations in life was that Authorities Cannot Be So Clueless as to Not Notice, Therefore They Just Don’t Care About Me. I think this is an extremely valuable and adaptive lesson that every kid in Latin America learns sooner or later, and it has been a source of wry amusement from my part to see gringos naively believing that the government should do anything for them.
However, this was back at a more reasonable time when bullying was ignored and tolerated. To think that it is now encouraged by American Schools is just too sad. When did you began to import Mexican politicians to begin with? I do not know what would have been of me in that environment, since the defense I end up evolving was to retaliate in the most visible way….
Please pardon my ignorance, but could someone tell me what the term “ratsphere” means? Looked it up on Google and came up blank. Never even heard of the that term before last week’s discussion thread.
That’s not at all what “mansplaining” means when the women I know use the word. They use it to refer to a very common male behavior pattern of assuming that a woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about, even in her field of recognized expertise, so that he (as a man) has to enlighten her and those around her with his own sentences. Sometimes it even involves talking over her while she’s still speaking.
There’s a somewhat related cartoon that I’ve seen over and over, showing a corporate boardroom with only one woman member of the board, and she has just finished speaking. The Chairman says (in the caption). “That’s a very good suggestion. Ms. Smith. Would one of the men at the table care to make it, so that the Board can act on it?” This isn’t precisely “mansplaining,” but a close cousin of it.
Thank you for the link to your earlier essay, “Culture Death”. Re-reading it brought to mind an excellent book I recently read, “Cræft”, by Alexander Langlands, a British archaeologist and medieval historian. The book is a fascinating tour of traditional British crafts, from weaving and beekeeping to making hay to constructing a coracle. However, it’s not so much a ‘how-to’ book as it is a ‘here’s what was necessary for everyday life’ and ‘here’s how those needs were answered with the skills, knowledge, and raw materials available locally’ – skills, knowledge, and a way of seeing and being in the world that he believes are disappearing at great loss to us. A much recommended read.
On a totally different topic, I am interested in learning about Tarot reading, but I’ve been put off by a lot of the guides I’ve seen which center on love, fortune, and future predictions – basically party games. I’d be much more interested in the cards as something introspective; any suggestion?
A comment intended for Robert Gibson on the accents of the bad guys: In American TV commercials, the animated bad guys, such as an animated toenail fungus or a glob of nasal mucus tend to have New York City accents. I have yet to hear a toenail fungus or nasal mucus sound like he was from The South.
Dear Jessi Thompson:
” Have you watched any kids’ TV shows lately? They model the worst behavior. Sass, nagging, being demanding and spoiled.”
I haven’t watched any children’s programs in a long time, but I have occasionally seen portions of newer movies intended for children; they are utterly unlike the Disney movies of my early childhood. Many of the recent films have characters, both human and animal, who speak as if they come from the so-called ‘hood and live in a place of chaos and bedlam without rules or adult oversight. Am I completely clueless about contemporary culture or is this now the new behavioral model for American youth? Is it any wonder schools have trouble keeping order?
@Jessi Thompson – I remember when I was in high school, school was everything to me. The first four years I spent out of it I found myself simply reconnecting with my family, cousins, etc.
Like I remember going to Christmas parties December 25th dragging my back pack and homework along with me…. there’s something wrong with that. Going through my mind was “Have to be the best, have to be the best” I’m sure JMG would have something to say about that.
As I look back on my life in retrospect, what made 10th grade my hardest obstacle was that I had a spiritual/existential crisis and didn’t know I was having one. Rather than develop relationships I developed brain; going the extra academic mile is to subject to diminishing returns. My college career would have been much shorter if my soul had been in better condition by the time I graduated high school.
Christopher – “Voldemort” is not pseudo-Latin; it is perfectly good French, with two possibly relevant though inconsistent meanings. Rowling has said that the name was supposed to be pronounced with a silent T, but she had given up hope that people would.
@JMG: “You have to remember that to a white liberal, the words “racist” and “Nazi” mean exactly what the words “liberal” and “Communist” mean to a modern (pseudo)conservative: “I hate you.””
Sometimes that’s true, certainly. But of course, there are real Communists, though few in the West these days and their numbers are dwindling. And there are real racists (and a much smaller number of Nazis), who seem to be gaining in either numbers or boldness. In my view, that makes them a bigger problem than Communists. I don’t have much ability to empathize with those people who say that if I denounce the racism of people who march bellowing “Jews will not replace ‘us'”, the real bad behavior is my name-calling of the marchers.
@JMG, Perhaps loosely coupled, perhaps not, but I just ordered a limited edition copy of your translation of Giordano Bruno’s “De Umbris Idearum” … _On the Shadows of the Ideas_. It didn’t seem so compelling a buy until I went to wikipedia and learned how the author was burned at the stake for his “heresy” of saying things like the Earth went around the sun and stars were just other suns. Plus it made be feel good to support your work while also getting an early book on applied memory from a source I otherwise wouldn’t have ever encountered. As an aside, I’m intending to teach a course on mnemonics to schoolchildren this year.
Personally, I DO feel a strong coupling to this week’s theme.
My other comment is for @Steve T: Thanks for your expose of how you came to vote for Trump. Personally it became very clear that Hillary was as close to Voldemort as I ever wanted to encounter and nobody I wanted persecuting me from the White House. Did you see her hilarious attempt to disclaim during a nationally televised debate that when she advocated “open borders” she only meant “open borders” for the US electrical grid? She was transparently evilly evil in the real and I — true story — got down on my knees the night of the election, quite sure she would be elected by a landslide, and BEGGED Universe that … if there WAS such a reality as alternate realities in physics … I would wake up any place but on an Earth where Voldemort had won. It wasn’t that I LIKED Trump but it was quite apparent the US Deep State did not…. And now, here I am. Somehow I transitioned to an implausible alternate reality which reads more and more like a dystopian comic book.
@patriciaormsby: You might understand the term ‘mansplaining’ better if you compare it with another term spawned by the free discussion of power politics: namely ‘momsplaining’.
It is when someone assumes that they and they alone know all there is to know about a subject so that you, the listeners, need only attend reverently and meekly accept his (man) or her (mom) ‘splanation about the Way Things Are or Are Done.
Gracious condescension towards those who are so ignorant as to need the ‘splainer’s help is implied by his or her manner of speaking.
The corollary term ‘hepeated’ is from the same thought area. It describes group behavior that blithely ignores a woman’s contribution to a discussion until a man repeats (or steals) her idea; only then is the thought accepted and seriously considered by the whole group. Hepeating is often but not necessarily gendered; it also shows up where power imbalances are based on ethnic physical markers, social status, or wealth discrepancies.
Both terms are based on real life examples in research originally conducted on different communication styles of people in mixed-sex groups. The ‘genderedness’ of such power tactics is probably accidental, though widespread, and can be observed even in same-sex groups, as between beta and alpha males. P.G. Wodehouse mocked it, for example, with his notion of a junior yes-man outranking a mere nodder.
This is relevant to the issues of persuasive rhetoric being discussed here. Feminist analysis of intimate social speech and public / business world speech regularly shines a cold and brilliant light on hidden powerplays. This tends to anger and discomfit the powerful, whatever the origins of their power. Generally speaking, to get the best value from feminist-driven dissection of power dynamics and avoid the Babbitt fallacy, one should try not to assume that all feminist-originated ideas stem from the Bobbitt phallacy. Or lead to it. Cherche l’homme!
Something that may be pertinent to this discussion is an observation that I made a few months ago; politics seems like it has devolved into various Revitalization movements. Look at the social justice left with their rituals of the Workshop, the ritual punishment of the privileged and the forgiveness granted by the marginalized, the baptism into alliance, the book studies, the protests without grassroots organizing, and of course the tent revival, passionate acts of confession and contrition.
None of these things are done for changing laws, they are done indeed for the rituals themselves. For this, I consider much or most of the social justice movement to be done only ostensibly for making change, instead it is a revitalization movement aimed at finding someone to blame and bring back the good times. If the right people give up their unearned privilege than there will be abundance for all. Perhaps this is happening as well with the edgelord traditionalists. As culture continues to implode I imagine that we’ll see a lot more of this.
One more comment on education – we have cutting-edge employers who have bean bag chairs, games, nap spaces, and allow pets at work. Adults at these companies are encouraged to collaborate, be creative, and think outside-the-box,
Meanwhile children are locked into buildings with no fresh air, soon to be under armed guard, sitting at desks all day memorizing out-of-date information they could google on their cell phones. They are required to work alone, not talk, and all arrive at one answer an expert has deemed correct.
Am I the only one who sees the wrongness here?
I agree that crazily over-the-top comparisons like “gaystapo” are not going to convince anyone not already convinced (not to mention that it hideously trivializes what the Gestapo actually were, and did). I don’t know that such absurdities are necessarily self-defeating, unfortunately.
For instance, if your goal is to rally the already-converted, and draw them closer together into a mindless frothing fury, then hyperbole and rhythmic rhymes-for-rhyming’s-sake can have eerie hypnotic power. Totalitarians left and right understand this very well I think.
“Feminazi”, for example, as your own referring to it partly demonstrates, has shown a curious amount of staying power—even among those who think it’s stupid. It simply doesn’t matter how completely nuts it is on the face of it to equate some grouchy feminists with a party that killed say 30 million people.
It’s a kind of thoughtstopper, actually: “it sounds catchy, so I’ll believe/repeat it!” This is already a kind of victory.
Once these things take hold in language, it doesn’t take long for reality and proportion—never humanity’s strongest suit—to slip away, which ironically I think is just what leads to things like the NSDAP.
I’m just waiting for “the only solution to a bad kid with a gun is a good kid with a gun” to enter the collective conversation…
Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking read as usual. As a former instructor at the community college level and a long-time reader of yours, I’ve been looking forward FOREVER to your series on adult education in the collapse era, so I can hardly wait for the weeks ahead.
Speaking of learning to react with grace when people who usually agree with you unexpectedly don’t, I have had a lot of practice with this lately. Specifically, I am finding it harder and harder (mostly online but in the real world too) to find people who agree with me that both:
1) Clinton was a terrible candidate who lost to Trump because, as you say, she didn’t give voters a reason to support her and she doubled down on all of terrible decisions of “new Democrats,” specifically their capitulation to a pro-Wall Street, pro-war, free-trade, neoliberal consensus.
2) Russia conducted an “information operation” in the 2016 election similar to those they have conducted in Western European nations and those the U.S. has conducted around the world.
To me it does not seem remarkable to hold these two beliefs, and I find nothing contradictory in them. That does not seem to be the case with most people, including yourself it appears. I admit that this causing me some stress, since most of the time I enjoy a blissful sense of opinion-alignment bordering on “he is voicing my internal thoughts” with you. However, I will use this opportunity to practice a salutary tolerance for disagreement!
I’d like to explore this particular disagreement with you a bit more, with your permission. I have certainly noticed that many people who agree with #2 want to use it as an excuse for ignoring #1, which I agree is an absurdly self-defeating strategy for the Democrats. That bad strategy doesn’t in and of itself make #2 untrue, however. Indeed, it appears to me that #2 is supported by a great deal of evidence. The danger comes in assigning it a causal role in the results of election. What leads you to disagree with #2, aside from the questionable use people make of it? I’m asking you in particular because, ironically, it was your repeated prediction that in the coming years other nations would try to foment “color revolutions” here in the U.S. (just as the U.S. has done in so many places) which caused me to lend credence to #2 as evidence for it began to emerge.
On the subject of Harry Potter:
I’d call Harry Potter a mediocre series of the sort that is generally My Sort of Thing (plot, characters, worldbuilding, pick two; Rowling sacrificed characters and did an above-average job of foreshadowing); the comparison that comes to mind for me is Japanese shonen manga. It wasn’t great, but I found it enjoyable, and there’s one line from late in book seven (“Of course this is all in your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it isn’t real?”) that was a mind-opener to my materialist younger self. As usual, your mileage may vary.
A few specific thoughts:
1) While Voldemort pattern-matches the “want to be wrong” motivation, along with a couple of other characters (Bellatrix Lestrange, anyone?), I don’t think that’s a good description of most of the Death Eaters. They’re a different archetype, the old elite who’s losing status and privileges and makes a deal with the devil in an effort to try to keep them, the kind of character who in another context gets called the protagonist of a tragedy. (Of course, what Rowling was actually doing was playing the mythic Nazi Rise to Power in a fantasy setting – I’ve forgotten whether that’s the traditional meaning of allegory or just what the term has mutated to nowadays – including Riddle’s Halfbloodedness and shame thereof as a parallel to the “ashamed of being part-Jewish” theory of Hitler’s motivation and the Death Eaters in the role of the Junkers and German industrial magnates. The actual historical Nazi rise to power, of course, has only so much in common with the mythic one…)
2) For all the incompetence of the Death Eaters, it’s worth keeping in mind that they *do* manage to take down the Ministry of Magic, at least until Our Heroes(tm) manage to intervene, because the Ministry manages the feat of being *even more incompetent*. That’s a recurring theme in a bunch of modern popular fiction – the Star Wars prequels come immediately to mind. It’s also one I tend to identify fairly strongly with; the “why?” on that is probably something I should meditate on and/or send over to the back of my mind to mull over, especially since I’ve seen versions of it from both the left and right. Sometimes extrapolating from my own thought processes onto other peoples’ thought processes actually gives useful results, and this might be one of those times.
3) One of my weirder realizations of the last couple of years: when we write the history books about this era, we’re going to have to include at least a mention of J.K. Rowling, and not just in the popular culture section. There’s precedent. I can think of another author – another woman author, at that – who got in the history books because she wrote a novel that got so popular that its fandom was referred to as [main character]-mania, and while I’ve never read said novel myself to my understanding it’s tonally rather similar to Harry Potter.
That other author, of course, was Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Scotlyn: The ratsphere is the term I use for the rationalist community and its adjacents; to my mind’s eye it implies the spherical cows of physicist jokes, the (Silicon Valley) rat race, and lab rat experiments – plus of course the absurd mental image of a ball of live rats.
@ Victoria Minard – A big problem in the health industry today is that the law is worded in such a way that only a manmade “drug” can cure an ailment. So when my cousin ended up in the ER for dehydration they wanted to give her dehydration pills….
It’s crazy because like the cure for scurvy isn’t pills, but rather an orange. Yet if you go to get treated for scurvy you’ll get a prescription in place of an orange. Funny how health insurance will pay for $40 pills but not $1 for fruit. It’s like purposefully trying to make life uncomfortable – Fruit is tasty; pills you just swallow. Can’t have an easy cure – It must be complicated so only the mages of pharmacy can understand it.
What is it with this invalid code? It just happened again!
@Simon Peacecraft: Have you read Grant Morrison’s book “Supergods”? He’s a comic book writer, and in that book he describes the process where he created an alter-ego character named King Mob, dreamed of him and wrote a comic book series about him. It was named “The Invisibles” and it’s a very good read. Unfortunately, Morrison’s narrative required him to have his character kidnapped and tortured, with horrifying personal results.
“Supergods” is an excellent discussion of narrative magic – magic in the true sense of altering consciousness according to will. There’s a story in there about how he was writing a Superman comic while on the convention circuit and a man in a Superman outfit wandered past. Morrison treated this as a visitation, sat the man down and interviewed him as Superman for an hour, and obtained some significant insights into the character.
As an update to my previous post, another pair of Su-57’s has been spotted in Syria, so the Russian Aerospace Force has at least four deployed there. There are fewer than a dozen prototypes known to be in service and the first frontline squadron isn’t scheduled to enter service until next year, so this is a very bold move on Russia’s part. It also suggests Russia’s fifth generation fighter program may be a lot further along then the US expected. One wonders what other capabilities the Russians and Chinese have developed that the West is not yet aware of or has seriously underestimated. Since the US military has relied heavily on airpower and technological superiority as a key edge, this is very bad news for the American military-industrial complex.
Oh, and we just got word Su-57’s have already seen combat in Syria, only a day after the first pair arrived. Again, the contrast with the F-35 could not be greater.
It’s been entertaining in the extreme watching the reactions of the F-35 fanboys and apologists for the American military establishment on the military forums I frequent. I really do get the impression there are huge numbers of people who are either in deep denial or completely out of touch with reality and nowhere is that more true than in the MIC. Certainly it is humiliating in the extreme for the US military that its new Wunderwaffe still isn’t ready for action after a quarter century of development and hundreds of billions spent, while Russia’s first fifth generation fighter is already participating in combat operations over Syria. Both the Su-57 and J-20 took a lot less time and far less money to develop then the F-35 and both are already in frontline service, much sooner than American analysts believed possible.
I agree with you the Su-57 and J-20 are extremely impressive airplanes, far superior to the F-35 Lardbucket. What’s more, the Chinese have several other stealth aircraft projects under development, including the J-31 Gyrfalcon stealth fighter and the H-20 stealth bomber. The J-31 is particularly interesting, since it was specifically intended to be China’s answer to the F-35 but has much better aerodynamics and Shenyang appears to have avoided the mistakes that were made with the F-35 program.
Finally, here is some recent video footage of a group of J-20 Mighty Dragon’s.
Simon Peacecraft said
When those people start chanting “You can’t run, you can’t hide, you get helicopter ride.” and start unironically sporting Pinochet shirts time to consider your life options.
So true. “Free helicopter rides” has become a hugely popular meme among the Alt Right and Pinochet has become a folk hero for many. There is a tremendous amount of anger building on the right over the excesses of the extreme left and when that pent up rage gets released, its gonna get really, really ugly. Of course, if it gets to the point that you describe, it will be much too late for many of those on the leftward end of the spectrum to reconsider their life options.
I am not a fan of either the far right or the radical left, but there are an awful lot of people who are fed up with both the establishment and the antics of the social justice crowd and if they keep pushing, we might well see a genuinely Fascist political movement gaining power in the US and several European countries. The American philosopher Leonard Peikoff pointed out in his book The Ominous Parallels that one of the things that brought the National Socialists to power in Germany was the fact that the radical left had thoroughly alienated most of the German public by the early 1930’s and pushed millions of ordinary people into the arms of the Nazis. I would not be too terribly surprised if we saw something similar happen again, especially considering the cluelessness of both the establishment and the SJW’s.
Speaking of which, check out this video I came across. There are a surprisingly large number of people out there who sympathize with the sentiments expressed here. which is pretty scary when you think about it.
@Robert Matheson, etc.
I can see your point. As such, it’s a pure and simple power play. I avoid that by the simple expedient of not offering explanations unless such is explicitly asked for, if someone is complaining in my vicinity, asking cim if ce’s venting or wants to discuss it, and trying to remember what the person already knows.
One of those old sayings this conversation reminds me of: “a closed mouth gathers no feet.”
I thoroughly agree. Not only can both be true, but #2, applied well, could have contributed to the perception of #1.
Simon, the spread of memetic magic reads to me like one of the standard symptoms of the end of an age of reason — as I’m sure you’re aware, every civilization has its own age of reason. Ours is winding up right on schedule in the usual way, as the rationalists discover the hard way (again, as usual) that something can be perfectly reasonable and also dead wrong. (Reason, after all, is simply a codification of the default habits of our nervous systems, and the universe is serenely unconcerned with obeying those.) As an age of reason ends, magic spreads like wildfire, because it tends to be very good at solving the problems that rationalism leaves untouched.
As for public schools, my understanding is that minimum-security prisons generally offer more amenities; the only advantage schools have is that the inmates get to go home every afternoon. As for the left-right divide, I see things morphing in very interesting ways as we go on from here, not least because a lot of young people are disillusioned by all sides and are looking for other options. Interesting is the right word!
Jill, are you typing the comments straight into the comments screen, or are you writing them in a word processing program and then trying to paste them? That latter doesn’t always work (though a notepad program or .txt editor is usually pretty safe.
Prizm, I like that. Yes, I think you’re on to something.
Robert, I’m quite entranced by “quantitative badology”! I encourage you to print up some business cards and get a website; you quite literally can’t be less accurate than the current crop of social psychologists. 😉 I certainly grant that satire has its place, but here again, did you notice the reaction you got when you posted the satiric epithet in question? That’s partly because Adolf & Co. have been overused so relentlessly in rhetoric by all sides, to the extent that I’ve been tempted from time to time to propose a Law of Universal Nazidom — that is, we’re all Nazis according to someone, so let’s everyone please just shut up about it. If you want to change minds rather than simply cement barriers in place, satire needs to be used as a skewer, not a bludgeon…
As for baddies using English accents, why, that habit dates back to the little disagreement that blew up in 1775. An astonishing number of people have forgotten that well into the 20th century, Britain was America’s national enemy by definition…
Phil, of course conditions were very different in England in 1913 — that’s why, among other things, there weren’t any noticeable number of school shootings there and then, even though guns were widely available. Still, the thought of reading newspapers from that era and comparing what people expected with what they were about to face strikes me as a very useful one.
Fred, if that’s the case, then why have things gotten so much worse in recent years? In your view, what’s the motivation behind that? As for Scott Adams, I don’t read him much, but I have to respect the man — he and I were among the few (semi)public figures who predicted the rise of Trump, and though we used different logic, our explanations are in no way incompatible with each other.
DrQwerty, thank you! Among other things, I’m delighted to hear that some of my books are in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek.
Andrew, thanks for this, and I may well chase it down — not least because I’ve toyed from time to time about writing a fantasy novel from the so-called Dark Lord’s point of view. It would be very different from the Tolkien-rewrite you’ve described, as it happens, partly because I don’t want to risk hassles from the Tolkien estate, and partly because I’d be making different points, but I may want to include that in the research.
I tend to give Tolkien a break because he’s the guy who invented the Dark Lord gimmick, and it really was new and fresh in 1954 — also because the trilogy was hugely important to me in my childhood and youth. At the same time, his fictive vision has massive flaws when applied to anything outside its own borders, and it’s also inspired an entire industry of vacuous fantasy mush that endlessly rehashes his least praiseworthy ideas and quietly buries the points he himself tried to make with them.
Victoria, thanks for this. It sounds as though what’s behind the school shooting phenomenon is at least in part yet another consequence of the way the medical industry in the US too often puts profits ahead of lives.
Patricia, thank you. I think I can leave it at that!
Isabel, I don’t use pharmaceuticals for precisely that reason: I can’t trust physicians to be honest about the side effects, or even the necessity of a given drug — it’s been widely documented that pharmaceutical companies give kickbacks to physicians who prescribe a drug they’re trying to market. I may shorten my life by that refusal, but then — given the appalling number of deaths every year from drug side effects and interactions — I may just lengthen it…
CR, no question, we tend to be clueless here in Gringostan. Privilege has that effect!
Beekeeper, thanks for the recommendation! As for Tarot reading, I’ll post something on that on my Dreamwidth journal in the near future. It requires more space than I want to take up here, in a comment stream on another subject, but it’s a valid question and I think I can offer you some useful answers.
Dewey, I’ll grant that — but do you limit your use of the word to people engaged in such marches, and their equivalents? If so, you’re in something of a minority — and if so, you’ve earned the right to use the word and have it taken seriously. It’s precisely the habit so many people on the left have of using words such as “racist” and “fascist” against anybody who disagrees with them on whatever grounds that has me dismissing the terms en bloc.
Gnat, I’m delighted to hear about your mnemonics course! What methods will you be teaching the children? Anything that teaches anyone to rely on their own memories, rather than being dependent on what the media and the internet tells them this week (“Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia”), makes a huge contribution to future sanity.
Violet, thank you. You’re dead right, of course.
Fred, again, it’s a feature, not a bug. The kids who go to public schools aren’t supposed to grow up to work in that kind of setting. They’re supposed to grow up and work flipping burgers and bagging groceries. The kids who are supposed to grow up and go to work for Apple et al. — well, to begin with, they’re mostly growing up in India right now…
Sevensec, granted. The question is what you want to use them for, and if you want to find a shibboleth that allows you to alienate those not already on your side, while providing a rallying cry for those who are, that’s always an option.
Shane, all in good time.
Kuanyin, I’m perfectly willing to accept the possibility that other nations, probably quite a few of them, had irons in the electoral fire in 2016 — and very likely in every other presidential election in my lifetime, for that matter. The evidence presented thus far, though, amounts to the same kind of trial by innuendo that made Joe McCarthy famous back in the day. Until that changes, if it ever does, I’m going to treat the whole thing as yet another product of the political establishment’s collective tantrum about the outcome of the election. In a situation where the truth can’t be known for sure, it usually is wisest to assume that what looks like a witch hunt probably is a witch hunt.
As for my comments about color revolutions, why, yes — but do you think that if Russia or China decided to go ahead and mess with us, they’d settle for something that feeble? In the powder keg that is today’s America, a major insurgency would be child’s play to start, given outside funding and a competently drawn up plan of action. Thus I don’t think we’ve seen that yet.
Taredas, hmm! I admit I wouldn’t have thought of that comparison, but you may have a point.
Armata, the Russians are up to something. You don’t deploy four top-of-the-line fifth generation fighters into a combat zone where the other side doesn’t have planes at all unless you’ve got serious plans. Hmm… As for the J-31, yes, I’ve been following that. The Chinese are frankly better at this game than we are; the J-20 has the range and the payload for long-range missions, the J-31 is nimble and fast for short-range combat — they’re for what used to be classified as “pursuit” and “interceptor” missions respectively. As usual, Beijing is playing a long game.
I too would highly recommend The Last Ringbearer. It’s not that hard to find an ebook version online with a little web searching.
The notion anyone who disagrees with you is being intentionally difficult is actually perfectly logical if you make three, very common assumptions:
1: There is only one story to make sense of the universe.
2: Human beings are perfectly capable of identifying it using our capacity for logic.
3: We live in an age where all the information we can possibly need is available.
I’m going to have to think about the implications of this some more, but it seems to me that within that worldview it would be entirely reasonable to think everyone agrees with you, unless they are being deliberately contrarian or intentionally mis/uninformed.
Here’s more from SNAFU. Whatever it is the Russians are up to in Syria with the deployment of their new stealth fighters, that and the recent progress they and the Chinese have made have made with their fifth generation fighter programs has got the US military establishment seriously rattled, as this news story demonstrates.
Solomon concludes by writing
You laugh at the SU-57 going to Syria?
That was a shot across the bow.
The Russians are telling us the same thing that the Chinese have.
They’ve closed the gap. The advantage is gone. If they meet us on the field of battle there will be no advantage for US forces.
I am very much looking forward to the coming discussion of education- especially since I am considering returning to higher education now that I am winding down my career as a ballet dancer. I understand the drawbacks of debt, certainly. And yet, while it isn’t as easy as it once was to get a job with a degree, it’s impossible without. No “middle-class” job will look at your application if you don’t have a degree. Most of my fellow millennials that I know personally who graduated from college did ultimately end up with decent paying salary class jobs. They had to jump through hoops for years to get them in a way that the boomers never did, but they did eventually make it. I’m not necessarily interested in proving myself through my career, but I will say salary class jobs provide a security nothing else does. You get to have healthcare. Banks will lend you money. If you aren’t fool enough to run your life on debt, you can make enough money to save and spend. That said, I’m also planning on getting some kind of practical skill on the side. My great grandfather was quoted as saying everyone should have “a vocation, an avocation, and a trade.” The trade is to get you through if your vocational field isn’t hiring.
I will also be interested to hear your take on self education. I confess I am skeptical. In my own personal life experience, I have found that accomplishing almost anything is done best in a small group of committed peers- which college can provide a framework for, but is hard to set up otherwise. It’s one thing to read The Republic. It’s another thing to read it and discuss it with a small group of peers and a professor who has had substantial intellectual training. Done well, discussion is almost a form of meditation, allowing the concepts discussed to seep more deeply into one’s consciousness. Having to face perspectives different from your own and learning to present your own perspective are also worthwhile in their own right. I don’t think this is impossible to do outside of college, but college is (when done well) set up to facilitate exactly this.
I find the Pinochet/Helicopter Ride business particularly funny, since I see Trump as America’s Salvador Allende– an economic nationalist that the CIA is working hard to undermine…
This conversation is so good and so wide-ranging it’s hard to jump back in.
On schools… I was bullied, and bullied others in turn. Like most of us, I think. And it wasn’t all bad, by any means. But I’ve found that to this day it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable to be near a public school. I find that my breath grows shallow, my heart rate quickens– all the signs of the parasympathetic nervous system activating. The other day I found that this happened after I spotted a school on a google map! And I’ve been out of high school for 17 years.
I’ve known this about myself for some time, but it only just occurred to me that this is a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder.
And someone mentioned teaching mnemonics.
This, more than anything else, makes me feel like I’m going insane. It seems to me that it was just the other day that leftists were rioting in the street to protest globalization, and mocking Mitt Romney for being concerned about Russia. Now, as JMG says, the Democrats are doing their best impression of Joe McCarthy with the Russia hysteria while condemning opponents to globalization– we call it “globalism” now, for some reason– as racists!
Of course it isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. I recall Sean Hannity on Fox News in 1999 condemning Bill Clinton’s war of aggression against Serbia in the same terms as Noam Chomsky. Three years later George Bush was in office, merrily attacking countries around the world, and Hannity was one of those telling us that it was treasonous to criticize the president during wartime. I didn’t happen to catch his broadcasts when Obama expanded the number of countries the US was concurrently bombing from 5 to 8, but somehow I imagine that criticizing the president during wartime suddenly became acceptable again sometime around January, 2009. And now? Well, if he has any fans here, maybe one of them can let me know.
On another note related to memory, I spent part of the afternoon reading this archive: http://www.dnipogo.org/lind/lind_archive.htm of William Lind’s “On War” column from the years 2002 to 2009– that is, the duration of the Iraq War. Reading old newspapers is funny, because there are so many things you didn’t realize you forgot.
For example, from Lind’s column on February 25, 2003:
“In what increasingly appears to be Washington’s war against everyone, everywhere, 3,000 American troops are now in the Philippines where they are to fight a small Islamic rebel group called Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf is supposed to have about 200 fighters; an American victory would seem to be assured.”
After reading that, I went and checked the Wikipedia article on Abu Sayyaf. It seems that, almost 15 years later to the day, Abbu Sayyaf still has around 200 fighters. Furthermore, Wikipedia lists the result of American combat operations in the Philippines as a “Successful operation – Substantial reduction in capabilities of domestic and transnational terrorist groups operating out of the Philippines.”
Many years ago I volunteered for a rape crisis line in Vallejo CA. Vallejo is on the very edge of the greater Bay Area and was becoming bedroom community, although it still retained the Naval submarine base and some other military facilities. One of the things I learned by attending community events to help publicize our organization was that the citizens were in denial about rape. They clearly regarded it as something that happened in Oakland and San Francisco, not their town. This seemed so irrational to me that I analyzed it. I came to suspect that most conventional attitudes about rape: big cities, strangers, bad part of town, wearing the wrong clothing, etc. were protective. If I stay out of the bad part of town, dress properly, etc. etc, I can escape. Admitting that people you know, in the town where you live can be attacked while wearing baggy sweat pants and ski jacket means you could be a victim too.
Now, I see part of the rhetoric about gun rights the same way. Those who are not gun owners, or who are gun owners with some experience of actual emergency situations realize that the good guy with a gun is unlikely to help against a prepared and determined killer, especially one with a large magazine, semi-automatic weapon. But the myth is comforting–like the myth that only bad women doing risky things will be raped. Facts and logical arguments are not going to change anyone’s mind if their fantasy of self defense is all that makes them feel safer in an uncertain world. I don’t know whether they still do this, but the NRA magazine used to have a regular column of self-defense reports: incidents in which an armed civilian stopped an attack with a personal firearm. Yes, it does happen, and one stirring tale of a single mom holding off or killing a criminal threatening her family will outweigh a page of cold statistics. People think in stories.
Armata, so noted.
Will, of course! And those assumptions can be maintained for a very long time so long as you do your best not to notice how poorly they work.
Armata, if we’re lucky, the Su-53s are there as a shot across the bow combined with an opportunity — one that the Russians have made very good use of with their other services — to get in some invaluable combat training with live ammo and live targets. If we’re not lucky, we could be moving into Twilight’s Last Gleaming territory fairly soon.
Karl, if you’re looking for job training, why, by all means make the choice that works for you. I won’t be saying much about that. It’s a common mistake these days to equate job training with education, and sorting that out will be an early task in the upcoming series of posts. As for self-education, a discussion group is one way to go about it, but it’s not the only option — and if’s not necessarily a good option if you have to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt for the privilege. We’ll be exploring less pricey options.
Steve, I was one of the people who was bullied and didn’t have the option of bullying. There were a fair number of us, and from my perspective, being in the public schools remains the most miserable experience of my life: thirteen years of part-time incarceration composed of equal parts being bullied and being bored. That said, of course, your mileage may vary.
On schools, I originally wrote a much longer comment but deleted it owing to not wanting to take up too much space with my personal stuff. That longer comment included a description of the time I was assaulted by 10 fellow students, all children of the local aristocracy, at a football game and went to the principal the next Monday, only to be too that I really ought to be nicer to the popular kids. (“I find you very arrogant and condescending, and I’m sure you’re ‘smart’ enough to know what those words mean,” I recall him saying.) And also the time when two kids followed me home through the woods and attacked me. And the year I made the terrible mistake of joining the marching band, and endured the worst hazing I’ve ever experienced (significantly worse than the year on the wrestling team, which was a nightmare).
I was part of a tiny group of students who were placed in the “gifted” program. They may as well have painted targets on our backs. All of us endured serious abuse; one, who was one of my closest friends in the world, later committed suicide. I specifically noted that I have what appear to be PTSD symptoms 17 years later, and I wrote elsewhere in this thread that I have no intention of ever letting any children I might have attend a public school.
No, my mileage does not vary.
On the topic of drugs, I noticed recently some differences between American and Mexican drug commercials. There is a certain style of commercial there which simply doesn’t exist over here. Any Americans here who have watched television recently should know what I’m talking about: These commercials always start out with someone talking really sadly about how they have some condition which makes them absolutely miserable and only [insert prescription drug here] make life worth living. This is then followed by a list of possible side effects which seem to indicate that whatever drug they’re advertising is clearly not fit for human consumption and a call for you to “ask your doctor about [drug] today!”
After some googling, I found out that the reason why these types of commercials simply don’t exist in Mexico is because America is one of two countries in the world where direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements are legal.
I typed into the Leave a Reply section at the bottom and did the same for my real comments and my whinges. like this one.
In regards to the Harry Potter rewrite, there’s another possibility I can see here that could be rather fun: imagine that the Campaign for a New Wizarding Future also recruits heavily from non-humans, because they embrace causes like house elf liberation, equal rights for goblins, giants, centaurs, etc. Essentially, the ideology is something like “magical beings need to stick together. Not just wizards, but all of us”
Imagine that then: you have an organization pushing for a mix of ideas that would greatly improve quality of life for intelligent beings, and some that risk shifting into very dangerous territory, in a political system in terminal crisis, and the main characters are trying to stop a full blown collapse that puts Riddle (or his equivalent) in power. Meanwhile, the muggle-born supporters are increasingly turning their backs on their traditional support of equality for everyone in favor of a humans only approach, and there’s a great many people in the middle who just want to avoid a civil war. I would love to read this book.
Food is absolutely a problem! I won’t pick on school lunches though, since food in general in North America is pretty bad. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the problems we have are related to malnutrition (I know JMG thinks humans are capable of surviving on a wide range of diets, and I won’t argue, but I’m pretty sure a standard North American diet is pushing it)
As for zero tolerance policies, I think if enforced, it might be okay, but in practice it means “anyone who stands up to a bully will be punished to the full extent possible” while the actual bullies get off. This is not a one time occurrence, but nearly everyone I talk to feels that is the case. I also want to add something else on it, which is that the kid who got suspended for being in a fight decided next time to break the bully’s ribs. He even tried to crack open his skull, but it didn’t work. As he put it: “I’m gonna get the same harsh punishment, might as well make it worth while.”
I’m glad it’s not just me! I have to go out of my way sometimes to avoid walking past my old high school, since it triggers something rather like PTSD, and I consider myself lucky: I don’t have too many crazy stories about what happened at my school, especially compared to Americans I know. So I wonder what sort of issues other people have around schools….
I have a friend who developed a Ritalin problem. She was able to quit, but the withdrawal symptoms were quite nasty, and to my mind, also looked an awful lot like ADHD. Make of that what you will.
JMG, are you familiar with the work of Peter Turchin? I have no doubt you would find his ideas (though probably not his writing style) interesting.
So about that self directed adult education thing… couldn’t write about my experience until now because it’s been too heavy for the past couple weeks. At first there’s the rush of exhilaration of “wow this stuff really works” and then the realization that there’s a giant gap between breaking old habits and forming new ones which can lead to a sort of malaise. I wonder if the curry-stealing anarchist dog had an extended contemplation of doubt and uncertainty before his instincts finally kicked in.
Also the other thing I noticed is that when I’m reading something that’s too unpleasant (or close to home) some part of my mind hits the daydream/distraction switch and I end up having to re-read that section several times until the words finally make sense. At first it was really annoying but then I realized the subject matter requires slowing down and taking reflection breaks, which is a much different approach than my normal way of consuming books like day-old cold pizza in the fridge.
@ voiceoftaredas Thank you for the explanation – that and for a graphic picture I will forever recall when interacting with a rationalist. It strikes me as an apt and useful coinage which may well begin spreading from here… 😉
@ Rita – I think you are quite right that the standard type of rape myth (only happens to bad women doing risky things) persists in part because of the comfort it can give to ordinary women navigating daily life – just be good and stay out of risk and it simply (magically) cannot happen to YOU. Unforrunately for those who are raped during quite ordinary everyday activities and in every day settings, juries primed by the same myth, reinforced by their own comfort needs if they are women, may be less likely to convict, which leads to loss of legitimacy for the justice system in relation to effective prosecution of rape. Cue a lengthy build up of bad cases, throwing justice’s ability to effectively prosecute rape into disrepute and, well… suddenly a #MeToo erupts – seemingly from nowhere.
I am fascinated by your extension of the same mythic comfort dynamic to the issue of guns in the US. Much to ponder… Thank you.
Hi John Michael,
My pleasure! Fatso the wombat would also give Nicolae Carpathia and the stupid world government concept a good and proper toothing too just for good measure – that is after they were chased off by the previously mentioned cattle dog of course!
Hi John Michael,
I’m reading through the comments and a curious thought bubble popped into my head. Oh, before I get there, I have to say that I rather enjoyed your historical insights into the founding of this country. ;-)!
Anyway, the thought bubble was that many people I know get, what a friend once described as being: “lost in the detail”. It is quite an astute observation, because as far as I can tell if the fundamentals of a business (or country) don’t make sense, then no matter how many arguments get chucked around in favour of the business (or country) it just doesn’t matter, because the fundamentals just aren’t there and it won’t work. A lot of people use those sorts of arguments as a rhetorical trick to try to avoid the awful and unpleasant discussions about the fundamentals. I hear that used quite a bit. What do you reckon about that rhetorical trick?
Thank you for the insightful response. I would have agreed fully a couple years back. I spent 20 years in dialog about politics with people who watch Fox News and have recently come to the conclusion that most people like the GOP propaganda machine. It taps into and provides justifications for their deeply held agrievements and prejudices. I thought they would have learned their lesson from the disaster of the Bush II administration and the 2nd Iraq war. They have not admitted anything and are becoming more extreme and it is going to a very dark place. My views have hardened and there will unlikely be some person or experience to enrich my life and open my eyes at this point. I support causes that counter the scourge of right wing media on the country and don’t even bother wasting time talking with right wingers anymore. I am much like the character in Hesse’ s novel, but am hoping for an ending in my life closer to Siddhartha, where I can find peace baking bread or something.
Regarding children and weapons, I often encountered in the woods a boy from the neighbouring village who was always armed with gun and hunting knife (both quite illegal, he was 12 when I first met him).
One didn’t feel the slightest disquiet, as he had been brought up to the Golden Rules of country life: guns are never to be pointed at another person,and knives are for skinning and gutting. Weapons are tools for getting your dinner,and responsible handling is a part of being mature.
My only fear was that some trespassing urban fool would turn him in to the police. He was part of a sane culture, not a gun-culture. And such a polite boy.
JMG you asked why it is so much worse. If we take the start of things getting worse as starting with Columbine in April 1999, and got to now I can share what I see since I have two homeschool teenagers and we interact with public school families who complain to us regularly.
In 2006-2008 when our kids went to the local public school, I spent a lot of time with the Assistant Superintendent, Principal, and Director of Special Education trying to get course work appropriate for my kids. They were two years ago in math and language arts according to every standardized test they gave them, and their teachers did some accommodating but classroom were 22-25 kids so it was difficult. Our middle school and high school had regular bomb threat calls each week causing the school to be evacuated. They couldn’t figure out who was doing it. I suspected a staff member myself. The administrators and local police would bring in groups of students to question them without parents present. They couldn’t get anything out of the kids. They purchase social media monitoring software, they set up tip-lines, and they asked parents for help. It went on until 2014.
The administration complained that kids are loners this days. They trust no one. They don’t confide in adults or each other. They look like they have friends so they look normal, but they don’t really have friends the way we think of friends.
Our school district does 43 days of standardized testing a year according to the public calendar for elementary school. They have series of tests that predict how students will do on the actual state test and those are administered quarterly. They have two weeks of the state test at the end of March, then the other 33 days are prior to March. There are 180 days to a school year.
Our middle school teaches all 7th graders about suicide awareness by showing graphically the results of the various methods – gun, hanging, carbon monoxide and pills – how long it takes to die and pain level felt. Its basically a how-to course.
The swim coach sexually abused members of the girls swim teams in the locker room for a decade and no one reported it, until they finally did. This was three years ago and to the police’s credit they contacted every member going back to when this guy started.
Cameras are now everywhere including classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, closets and buses. There is a school safety director who monitors all students. They track behavior changes and family changes so they can take action. We have a local juvenile detention facility that is like a jail, and then another corporate run school that takes “troubled” kids. They remove kids and put them in those facilities for treatment. Its very Orwellian. They are trying to prevent to the next school shooting here. They know its just a matter of time.
When we’ve watched kids get off the buses, no one talks to anyone. No one waves good-bye or says ‘see you tomorrow’. Its very sad to us.
As I said before, I don’t think adults can last all day in this environment. Even teachers only teach half the day, get ten sick days, and several vacation days each school year.
Unlike Karl, I’ve never been able to learn anything very well in “a small group of committed peers,” or indeed to get much of anything done as part of any group. When I was younger, I learned a lot from one-on-one conversation with someone more knowledgeable, but that, too, has become less effective as I have aged. I have always done my best learning in deep isolation, far away from any other people: just me and a few comprehensive reference books, followed by self-devised solitary projects that test what I’ve learned.
I think it’s partly a difference of temperament. I’m an introvert, at times almost a hermit, and I’ve become more so as I age.
But partly it’s likely to be a difference in neurological “hard-wiring,” and that’s probably more basic than temperament. On a very deep “gut” level I don’t “get” teamwork at all, unless the “team” is just a very few people and the “work” is done slowly
The few times when I’ve been exposed to team sports on TV (in a restaurant, for example), I’ve been completely unable to perceive how the members of the same team are working together to get anything done. Even when the teams wear sharply distinctive uniforms and I happen to have some abstract knowledge of how the sport is played, what I see on the screen comes across as a sort of Brownian motion of human bodies: random, purposeless, chaotic.
So … in self-education, as is almost every human activity, what works best for one person can be wholly unworkable for some other person, for reasons apart from different levels of “intelligence.”
My kids and I recently re-read the HP series since they had not read it since they were 8-10 years old. They were shocked in how the adults never collaborated with Harry. They try to protect him by hiding information that would useful to him to save his life. Harry has no adult really help him. The school teaches useless subjects poorly. Harry calls Ron his friend, because Ron stays with him through every “brave” act he does. Harry and Ron don’t share any feelings with each other or coordinate really anything together. My kids find the Gryffindors like to be the center of attention and can’t stand it when others get the spotlight. HP is popular not for the magic like people insist on saying, but because it is achingly familiar to anyone who went through schools in the 90’s and 2000’s.
@John Roth and others, thank you for the ‘splanation! My goodness, I’ve been missing out on quite a bit more than I imagined! But I am also reminded of my younger years in the U.S., when I eschewed any participation in conversations in mixed company, listening intently, but not contributing. Similarly, in Japan, I’ve held my hand aloft for as long as 15 minutes before my male relatives realized I was sort of hoping to say something. (A rhythm problem in breaking in on a passionate yaggle.) ‘Splaining stuff seems to be considered bad manners here, though, and where I join conversations, people treat me politely. I try not to abuse the privilege.
Re: the new Russian fighters in Syria, there had been numerous signs in the preceding couple of weeks that Uncle Sugar and the Axis of Kindness may have been plotting a major attack against Syria (bolder forays, brassier psy-ops, louder media attacks), so I think this is their way of stepping up the ante on the other side. I also take it to mean Ukraine is hesitant to tackle its eastern provinces again, another big concern recently because they were being armed and egged on. We keep pushing, and Russia basically has its back up against a wall.
the person using it isn’t interested in hearing anything from me, and I’m quite willing to return the favor.
Dear John Roth, that is kind of the way I feel about grown men who seem to believe that they hadn’t ought to have to pick up after themselves. Lets just say I ain’t about to be volunteering.
I do very much agree with you about the necessity and wisdom of not explaining oneself, with the exception that if one is requesting favors, the person being inconvenienced ought to be told the whole story of what’s up.
Dear Jessi Thompson, if we get lucky, housing prices will decline to at least half their present level, so that one parent can maintain a home, a full time job if it is done right, and one which contributes to the wealth of both the family and the community through home production and community involvement of the partner who is not employed outside the home. Maybe this time around, the partner at home might actually receive their due in terms of respect and prestige. I know of three ways by this could be accomplished. 1. Restrict immigration 2. Ban absentee, including foreign, ownership of real estate 3. rent and maybe also price controls. Needless to say, both major political parties and associated factions won’t hear of any of the above.
JMG said: “That may explain why so many people melted down when Trump won; they couldn’t process the idea that maybe he had enough brains to figure out what Clinton was doing wrong and capitalize on it, as indeed he did, because that’s not how bad guys are supposed to behave!”
Heaven forbid that evil people act smart!
BTW, I’m sure you remember the
“101 Rules for the Invincible Overlord”
I don’t think Trump has read them, but I suspect the next politician in his foot steps will.
Others have mentioned their experiences with non-traditional learning, I’ll add mine.
My ninth grade History class was rather unusual for then (1970s). On Monday the teacher would give a lecture about a certain time period, going over the what was happening then. Tuesday thru Thursday we would spend the class in the Library. Our assignment was to research something from that time period that interested us, and then write up a 3-5 page paper about it to be turned in before Friday. On Friday the teacher would select a few students to give oral presentation on their papers.
I can remember that class was one of my favorites.
Hello John – I like this series of essays! I got a Pentium 486 PC in 1998, about 3 yrs after I stopped watching commercial TV. Twenty years ago then, I began relying on the www for news, though I’ve always been an omnivorous reader of books and magazines too. Never too comfortable in school, I decided to live on the margins of society, on the periphery where there is more diversity – from thoughts, to actual biological diversity. Should be fun to compare notes on autodidacticism vs. US public primary middle and high schools, vocational schools, and colleges. I hope some commentators also weigh in on military schools, training, and colleges.
Another comparison of interest to me is rural schools vs. urban vs. suburban schools.
As a child I had a view of farm folks, and suburbanites, as my parents had left the farm, but went back to help their parents on the weekends, and since many of their age cohort also left the farm and moved to the city, or where ever, I got to see the death by attrition of a rural community. Now I live in a rural community in Vermont. I had lost interest in politics when Reagan was elected, but Sanders primary bid success surprised me. His success as an Independent in Vermont was largely due to his position on guns: that rural culture and urban culture are different, and since Vermont is pretty rural, guns are not a problem in Vermont. On the national level, most people live in citys, and there guns are a problem. Since rural communities and cities depend on each other, and benefit each other, there needs to be compromise, which is the business of politics, and by the way, there are some policies he had and has which could help reduce violence in America. Reducing economic inequality summed them up well.
“The link between inequality and homicide rates has been shown in as many as 40 studies, and the differences are large: there are five-fold differences in murder rates between different countries related to inequality. The most important reason why violence is more common in more unequal societies is that it is often triggered by people feeling looked down, disrespected and loss of face.” (equalitytrust)
“Homicide rates are lower and children experience less violence in more equal societies.”(eq)
Then a Hurri-tsunado-flood-quake of irresponsible childishness swept the nation, and it continues to this day. The consolidation of the media and it’s profit at any cost methods, have been, and are the catalyst for the dissolution of civic discourse – such as it once was. Policies generating more inequality, the trend of the two party system continue as well. Common sense has recommend for decades some guidelines for reporting mass killings by media:
Six simple steps every media outlet could follow to prevent copycat mass murders. This footage was aired after an incident in Germany in 2009. The speaker is Dr. Park Deitz, Forensic Psychologist of the Treat Assessment Group. http://www.taginc.com/workplace-viole… What he does for workplaces can directly be applied to schools.
1) Don’t start the report with sirens blaring 2)Don’t have photographs of the killer 3)Don’t make it 24-7 coverage 4)Don’t make the bodycount the lead story 5)Don’t make the killer into an anti-hero 6)Do limit the report to the local area affected; make the report as boring as possible
Ironically enough, it is the legacy media accusing the NRA of being cold hearted. Well, worse than that, they accuse them of being driven by the profit motive, aka, greed – though the word greed is not itself used frequently anymore.
I went to a large suburban high school, which felt like a pretty cold hearted institution compared to the farmers around Ninemile IN, who were about ready to retire and scatter. Many students thrived, loved it, but I suspect they are the ones who are two party believers. Smaller schools would make more sense to me …. or maybe home schools would be even better. Then kids could be socialized by adult citizens, instead of other kids. Of course Vermont has a history of kids growing up here, then leaving to do great things elsewhere so I guess I come back to my pet idea that oil is the greatest single factor in disrupting cultural continuity on this planet.
Apologies for rambling. Carry on.
Replying to Phutatorius re the accents of the bad guys; you commented:
“In American TV commercials, the animated bad guys, such as an animated toenail fungus or a glob of nasal mucus tend to have New York City accents. I have yet to hear a toenail fungus or nasal mucus sound like he was from The South.”
This has deepened my understanding of the Zeitgeist – thanks. In return I shall subject you to conceptual breakthrough by bringing to your attention that profound satire on the South, the cartoon series Deputy Dawg.
Not so much Babbitt Fallacy as Dag Nabbit Fallacy.
@El, @JMG: Long-time reader, first-time poster here. After reading about your description of the deep-down hatred that today’s liberal elites have for Trump supporters, I wonder if part of it could be self-hatred. Many of today’s liberals, especially among the Silent generation and Baby Boomers, come from rural, small-town, or working class origins. Upward mobility was possible back then. They were often among the first of their families to go to college. When they came home from college on break, and tried to discuss with their parents and other people the great new ideas they learned in college, their parents often ridiculed these ideas. This often led to an increasing estrangement from their families and communities of origin. Many of them realized that if they wanted to get ahead, they had to turn their backs on their places of origin. This led to them sneering at “small-town hicks.” If you look into the backgrounds of many of these liberals, I wonder if part of this anger and hatred is an attempt to put distance between themselves and their origins.
I guess I’m an outlier around here, because I mostly enjoyed public school. I was really fortunate to have had a number of exceptional teachers who loved teaching, and I loved learning. I also came from a family stocked with advanced degrees (back when they represented a level of experience and knowledge) who were also dedicated self-learners. I was not one of the popular students, did not spend time with – nor did I desire to spend time with – the popular students and so I managed to avoid attention for the most part. That said, my early elementary years at a Catholic school were terrifying, especially my first-grade nun whose name I have forgotten, but who was at least 105 years old and did not have the temperament to deal with younger children. That was the year I got measles, German measles, and the chicken pox and so spent a good deal of time not in school. Maybe there’s a connection.
With the exception of first and second grade for our oldest son, none of our children went to school. They’re adults now, reasonably well adjusted, reasonably successful, and not living in our basement. We consider that a win.
Re: Writing a fantasy novel from the Dark Lord’s perspective.
Ari Marmell did that pretty well with “The Conqueror’s Shadow”. Being a fellow fan of cheap fantasy novels, I’d heartily recommend it.
> Consider the notion, equally popular across the entire political landscape these days, that the best way to convince people to do what you want is to scream insults at them (…) and the mere fact that this sort of screaming has never changed anyone’s mind, not once in the history of forever, never occurs to those who haven’t grasped that changing minds is what’s necessary.
One problem I see with the above, is that it assumes that society changes by some process of open discussion, where minds are changed after people hear reasonable arguments, and so on.
This might work in the small (for some certain kinds of people, drawn to nice arguments and dialectical exchanges), but has it ever worked at large?
What does in fact works, I think, and is compatible with modern people that “scream insults at [each other]”, is that a vocal and active minority can change what’s publicly considered acceptable (society’s norms), and thus change the minds of people as a second order effect (not because they were someway rationally convinced, but because they go with the flow, with the “new normal”).
In that’s the case, screaming insults and intimidating your opponents serves (when you gain critical mass) to de-legitimize them, and thus let’s you dictate this “new normal”. In that sense it’s a good (not in the sense of decency, but in the sense of effective) strategy.
Your example of the British commenter who “succeeded in making everyone not already committed to his point of view roll their eyes. How? By the simple but admirably effective expedient of referring to the officials in question as ‘the Gaystapo'”, I believe helps prove my point instead.
In the sense that the opposing side of that British guy in the public dialog, constantly and without an issue call people who disagree with them “fascists” and few “roll their eyes”. To the point that they can even do that from newspaper articles and prime time television (see for example the debates around Jordan Peterson).
So, they employed the exact same technique you say does not work, and they have managed to win using it. It doesn’t work for the British commenter not because what he said is too much, but because he already is on the losing side.
Rita, unquestionably people think in stories, but there are stories on both sides; there’s a story about the good guy with the gun saving the day, and then there’s another story about how nothing can be done. I’m suspicious of both of them.
Steve, many thanks for clarifying.
Valenzuela, yep. This is one of the reasons I consider ditching your television an essential revolutionary act, and getting an ad-blocker for your internet browser (and boycotting those websites that won’t let you on if you block ads) in the same category.
Jill, that’s fascinating. I haven’t heard from anyone else who’s had that problem. What browser are you using?
Will, that would be a story worth reading, no question.
Mike, yes, though I find more meat in other writers on the same subject.
Analyst, that curry-stealing formerly vegan dog has been on my mind, too. A stream-of-consciousness story about his thought processes over the fifteen minutes before the curry theft and the two or three minutes afterwards would be winsome. As for slow reading — good. Very good. We’re actually going to talk about that as things proceed, because the art of close reading has been seriously neglected of late, with a corresponding loss, on the part of too many people, of the ability to think their way out of a wet paper bag even when provided with scissors…
Chris, huzzah for Fatso the Wombat! I nominate him for the position of Bane of Dark Lords Everywhere. As for getting lost (or, more to the point, hiding) in the details, yes, that’s a very common dodge. It probably deserves to be added to the list of thoughtstoppers, in fact.
Ace, if that’s your considered call, then by all means bake bread. My experiences talking with people in small-town Appalachia have led me to a very different conclusion, but your mileage may vary, of course.
Xabier, I knew a lot of guys like that in Cumberland. Most of the families I knew had gun collections that could outfit an infantry platoon or two, the kids grew up knowing how to shoot and hunt, and when there was a murder it made the front page of the local paper, because they were so rare. (There was about one murder a year in the entire county.) This is one of the reasons why I tend to distrust the insistence that guns are the problem.
Fred, thanks for this. That’s about what I was expecting, but it’s helpful to have it confirmed. As for the Potter books, fascinating — that explains part of why I found them so dreary!
Patricia, that seems quite possible.
David, I do indeed. I actually used the 101 rules now and again during my tenure as Grand Archdruid of AODA — a lot of Celtic Reconstructionists regarded me as an evil overlord, or so I gathered from the furious tirades I fielded from them early on, so it seemed apropos. They helped me avoid some major mistakes. I wish Trump would read them; for that matter, if the Democratic Party paid attention to them, they might up their game a bit, too!
Thank you also for your experience with nontraditional learning. That sounds like a great class.
Mark, thanks for this. I’m also a believer in small schools, homeschooling, and any other arrangement that takes education out of the hands of unaccountable bureaucracies and puts it into the hands of people who have to be responsible for their choices.
Robert (if I may), I had no idea that Deputy Dawg found its way across the pond! Now I’m wondering what other products of, er, American ingenuity you’re saddled with…
Norma, that makes a great deal of sense. Thank you.
Beekeeper, that’s why I tend to say “your mileage may vary” a lot in such situations. I know other people who enjoyed public school — though most of them are older than I am.
Sven, thank you! I’ll put that on the get-to list. My as-yet-unwritten novel, Lord of the Crimson Land, has been on my mind of late; one of the complexities is that it’s an epistolary novel. Imagine a series of letters between Frodo Baggins and Sauron, written well after the War of the Ring, in which the real story comes out at last…
Pmys, to my mind you’re making the mistake of assuming that the swing of a pendulum is a one-way process. What’s happened in Britain, to my way of thinking, is that a minority has been able to push its agenda into effect by way of a combination of political and social pressure, but they’ve done it in the clumsy and self-defeating way you’ve described, thus guaranteeing a backlash and a swing in the other direction. The outcome of the Brexit vote is the first serious sign that the backlash is picking up momentum; it won’t be the last. The time is not too far off when the anguished liberal screaming “fascist!” at anyone who doesn’t let him have his way will be a stock figure in British comedy.
I’m not at all saying, by the way, that society changes through a process of reasoned discussion. I’m saying that if you want to change society, you’re going to get better results if you focus on changing people’s minds than if you merely fixate on changing their behavior. Of course change happens one way or the other, and it also happens for causes unrelated to groups trying to change it. The issue, as I’ve tried to explain rather more than once, is whether you want to win or not; and if you do want to win, rhetoric — the art of persuasive communication, if you want to be formal — is an essential tool. We’ll get to that in upcoming posts.
On the subject of the death of rationalism, I see that John Gray has been giving Steven Pinker another kicking:
Hello, just thinking some more on the changing of minds.
I know that minds can change – especially as my own mind has changed on some quite critical elements of worldview through the years, partly because of arguments made to me by others, but mostly because during the course of such efforts by others I would discover that my own arguments had ceased to persuade me. Also, I recall that my most vigourous arguments have often been just at the point prior to changing my mind about that thing (whatever it was) that I was arguing for. (Which probably confirms your suspicion about evangelical fervour, JMG). Shortly after that I’d let go and start thinking through the whole business in a fresh way, sometimes mentally reviewing and testing the other person’s arguments.
Nowadays I often say that I enjoy an argument for its use in revealing to me what I myself am thinking.
As to the lesser accomplishment of achieving a change of behaviour without a corresponding change of mind, there is this ditty I picked up somewhere:
“A mind changed against its will, is of the same opinion still.”
Deputy Dawg apparently left his mark on me early on. When I drop and break something, for example, I’ll burst out with “Dangnabbit!”
In regards to your response to Armata’s comment – “Twilight’s Last Gleaming Territory fairly soon.” The Chinese lowered US credit levels to junk bond status in January. I feel like that move by the Chinese was like a tell in a poker game. You said the biggest story of 2018 will be something no one is talking about right now. I feel like the pieces are aligning elsewhere in the world for something…..
The rising stock market is like a giant bluff in Poker. Chris Martenson and Howard Kunstler smoke their shorts all the time calling that bluff because the bluffing stocks can always deal themselves the cards they need. As long as Kunstler and Martenson are “wrong” they smoke their own shorts.
Nations like China however, can probably see the cheating hands under the table. Our military props everything up – If we can’t afford that – we can’t afford the empire. China’s lowering of the US credit rating is akin to putting the US in check…. It doesn’t have to checkmate us yet; it just has to begin pushing the US across the board. Why would you push the US across the board? Simply to show the emperor has no clothes.
@JMG – indeed. It’s one I contemplate frequently. I’ve come to see the scale of human motion through a lens made from webs of symbiosis, relationship, and the mostly invisible ties among us. Not that I know what that means really, but I’m cognizant there is more to us than we can be cognizant of, and look for clues anyway.
On the same lines as Fred, my “Oh, duh” moment of the day:
Harry is the student, Voldemort and the other Death Eaters are the bullies, and the Ministry of Magic is the school administration. Dumbledore is the parent who tries to help, the sympathetic Hogwarts teachers are self-explanatory, and neither are actually helpful courtesy of a combination of their own flaws and decrees from higher up.
No wonder the series was a hit.
Where I live, we have tons of guns, in almost every home. There’s almost no gun violence. When there is a rare instance of gun violence, it’s almost always committed by someone on drugs. There’s never been an instance of gun violence with an AR-15, even though some of the men use them for deer hunting.
I think the presence of so many guns keeps a lid on the violence, even though we have so many druggies now. Everybody knows that everybody has guns. My dad was in a local business a while back when the conversation turned to concealed carry laws. It turned out that everyone there at the time was carrying. Everyone! Even the harmless-looking older lady had a pistol in her purse. You can bet that gossip about that show-and-tell episode was all over the county by nightfall. Even drug addicts looking to steal to get money for their addiction don’t want to get shot for it.
Plus I think even druggies remember that you are never, ever supposed to point a gun at a person unless it’s for self-defense. Even if you think the gun is unloaded, you NEVER point it at a person. We were all taught that from youngest childhood, including those who grew up to become druggies. Only someone who is the lowest of scum would break that rule.
I haven’t read the comments yet, but just wanted to say that when you started your essay and dove into Babbit, I was already thinking Steppenwolf. That was a formative reading experience for me, and the book that allowed me to understand my parents in the midst of psychedelic times.
I would recommend it as a very good read. Now, to the comments…
Mark, JMG, and all,
Maybe we could collect personal remembrances of our school experiences from some of the commentators here? It could prove useful in the coming posts about education to combine with personal stories.
One of the things that’s striking about the new McCarthyism is that the mainstream seems to have focused most of its ire not on any real malfeasance, but on the fact that RT and other Russian-funded news sites have the temerity to exist at all. Our powers seem to have been blindsided by the fact that eventually Russia would decide to take the tactics of e.g. Radio Free Europe and simply turn them back on our population. How dare the Russians have any media influence whatsoever in the US – don’t they know that propaganda is only supposed to flow one way?
Of course RT is actually an interesting site because it amplifies some of the dissenting voices on both the real right and the real left, making it far superior to any garbage from Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc. Literally anything from outside the US media bubble is a breath of fresh air at this point. You don’t have to believe what RT says about Russia or Putin, or what Al Jazeera says about Qatar, or TeleSur about Venezuela, PressTV about Iran, Xinhua about China, etc. to find them worthwhile sources of information. I’d be surprised if anything that isn’t just US garbage is available on the clear net in five years though, at the rate we’re going.
My 2 cents…
Changing a mind requires the ability to at least acknowledge that people have differences, that people need differences and that this is a healthy thing. Clone-world is not somewhere I would survive, and likely why I am and have always been considered independent, maverick and ‘difficult’ per my bosses and teachers. Put me in a box and I am actively seeking a door, window, mail slot or chain saw to get out.
That being said, I have discovered that the best way to change a mind is not to. You will not succeed by use of mental or emotional battering ram. You are unlikely to seduce someone into a new POV either – people are usually complex enough to sense that game. Facts do not work on people in echo chambers – they never hear them due to the echoes.
I have had success with two things; questions and silences. Silences are required to listen and hear what the other person is fixated on; they also allow one to compose their thoughts. Questions, if not asked aggressively, can introduce some introspection of position – especially if the silence is applied after the response to the question.
Changing a mind is, as someone said, not something done in a day. Often it takes months or even years. And in many cases, as in sales, you had best be prepared not to change every mind or close every deal. And similarly, you should be open to surrendering your own current position – it happens when you are honest with yourself.
What can happen, and what should be the goal of ANY effort, is to arrive at a place where discussion of the basic or fundamental issue truly is possible, and not just token – because then a solution that is equally distasteful to both ends of the spectrum can be arrived at – and that is often the best fix possible. Restatement also helps focus and signals you are actively listening, as you should be. Coupled with questions, a dialog can often produce positive understanding
That unloading of loaded dialog and phraseology can often bring in that third option or POV. But if neither side is listening, for whatever reason, and both sides are talking over one another and uttering thought stoppers and slurs and echoing slogans vigorously and virtue signalling so hard they are doing mental twerks – there is nothing for it but to exit and try in another venue.
Silence and pausing, in this world of instant gratification and ever increasing volume, well, it is something that the majority of people have little experience with anymore. Combined with eye contact, you can often find yourself amazed with the outcome of a short silence or a simple pause.
My Dad called it the Charlton Heston method… LOL He was a salesman, a damned good one, and taught me from a young age that active listening was the most important thing in dealing with people.
@Xavier, Booklover, and… I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody. Sorry!
Thanks for the information on restoring and preserving books. Is there anything that can be done about “slow fire”, the deterioration of paper due to its acid content?
Whenever possible, I let my tap water sit in an open wide-mouth container for at least a day before watering plants with it. This allows the (alkaline) chlorine to evaporate and not damage my soil biomes. What if chlorine were to allowed to evaporate below spread-out sheets of acidic paper? Acid +base =H2O+a salt. Based on that, I’d expect the paper to crinkle a bit due to moisture and be impregnated with salt crystals of some sort, which might pose a physical hazard to the paper fibers.
Do y’all know if anyone has tried this and evaluated the result for longevity?
JMG, I realize this is wildly off-topic. I anticipate and appreciate your tolerance. 🙂
Phil K, good for John Gray. Pinker is the most embarrassing example of cherrypicking in the service of an agenda I’ve seen since the heyday of Bjorn Lomborg.
Scotlyn, excellent! You’ve already gone in the direction I plan on taking this discussion — the use of rhetoric as a way of achieving knowledge. More on this as we proceed!
Patricia M., funny.
Austin, that’s also part of it — as are the accelerating moves to replace the dollar in international trade. We’re definitely moving toward crunch time.
Covergirl, a sensible strategy. All any of us can do is look for clues, and try to assemble them into patterns that make sense.
Taredas, I think that was part of it. Another part, though, is that it feeds the fantasy that the other side in today’s culture wars really is composed of Bad People who know they’re bad, and that we can defeat them without recognizing our own reflections in their faces…
Housewife, that was more or less the case in Cumberland, too. There’s a bad opiate problem there, but not much drug-related violence.
Oilman2, delighted to hear it.
Prizm, hmm. I’m not going to be talking much about schools — the education that’s needed now, to my mind, will be taking place in homes and libraries. Still, if you or someone else wants to put together such a collection, by all means.
Grebulocities, yep. The nerve of the Russians — don’t they know that we’re the only ones who get to interfere in elections?
Oilman2, definitely stay tuned. Most people who try to change minds these days aim at pushing some specific set of ideologies on other people, and most people are fairly resistant to that, not least because it’s so often done with the intent of picking their pockets in one way or another. It’s a much subtler and more interesting task to open minds, and that starts by creating spaces in which conversation can take place. More on this as we proceed!
Hi John Michael,
Fatso the wombat would be more than happy to take on that title and job with aplomb! Not much can stop a determined wombat. Wombats are very sensible creatures after all, and it is not lost on me that once they were mega-fauna. Imagine facing down a three tonne wombat… Run for your life!
Speaking of crunch time, it does not surprise me that in addition to not accepting our recycling waste, the Chinese also appear to be balking at further intakes of US treasury bonds. Not that anyone appears to be concerned about that err, perhaps, minor detail…
Hey, I went to a budding / summer grafting course today run by some folks that I know who run a commercial organic orchard north of here. I learned an awful lot, but it was also such a pleasure to be able to converse with the old bloke who took the course and had been in the orchard business all his life and he was telling me stories about how things used to be done when his dad ran the orchard and he was a kid. It put my mind at rest about allowing the fruit trees to get big – which is what they seem to want to do.
@JMG and @Sara
I hope it’s ok if I comment briefly on your Monbiot exchange. I do recall that conversation, and whilst I don’t agree with Sara that what JMG said is equivalent to the thoughtstoppers discussed in the past here, or to the “G******” type of comment analysed here, I do distinctly remember John Michael that you did say “pseudo-environmentalist”, and this is what Monbiot objected to. As said, I think you ably defended your use of the term in the ways you have recalled above, but that was the term used.
Enjoying the conversation very much; I hope this doesn’t come across as pot-stirring, it’s not. I just happen to remember as I was myself an occasional reader of Monbiot and had searched on the ADR to see if he ever got mentioned.
JMG – we on this side of the pond are not deprived, I can assure you. Not only Deputy Dawg but Quick-Draw McGraw, Secret Squirrel, Hector Heathcote… the list goes on. I think also there was an octupus called Squiddly Diddly, but sadly inaccurate, with only six tentacles. And of course the Flintstones and the Jetsons. BTW, Cyril Kornbluth wrote a superb dark tale, “The Advent on Channel Twelve”, about a cartoon character called Poopy Panda, which becomes horribly real. A glorious example of sf paranoia about sinister forces latent in popular culture.
Great post JMG and WOW! what a lot of great comments!
“You are NOT your opinions” would be a great T-shirt, maybe with “They are NOT their opinions” on the other side, and a suitable picture. Not sure which would be on front or back though…
Babbitt Fallacy vs. Bobbitt Fallacy– They have a lot in common actually. What happens to a person when he (in this case) does whatever he wants and assumes that the other party will come around to his point of view? :-0
JMG, I would like to know, what is your conception of evil? How would you know it if you saw it? To me, an example is the scene from the movie, “Brazil,” where Jack’s secretary transcribes the screams of the torture victims through headphones, smiling a pleasant smile with a coffee mug and photos on her desk. Indifference to suffering is, to me, a large part of it, and something into which we all can fall from time to time.
I don’t know why someone would join Death Eaters, but I do know why people make moonshine with toxic wood alcohol (methanol), and why people sell crack cocaine…
School violence– It might help if all violent video games had one and only one life to a character. If your character dies, the game stops working and has to be reinstalled–and once reinstalled, it is a different game. The former character never can appear again.
Or better, stop playing video games and throw out the TV…
It would also help if young people had hope for the future. In High School, we looked forward to a future better than the present in which we lived. Today I know too many young people who are terrified of the future or feel resigned.
Izzy Re: medications– We have many well-established ways to put people on meds, but few ways to evaluate use and take them off again. Some depression is seasonal, ie., Winter blues. Have you (or anyone else) ever tried a SAD Light? (SAD=Seasonal Affective Disorder–Read reviews on Amazon) Works for me…
Phutatorius, studying medication histories of shooters is a GREAT idea– I would also see what video games and/or TV shows they watched.
I remember a radio talk-show host, Les Kinsolving, from Baltimore. He likes to argue his mostly right-wing views, but I DID like his closing phrase, “Perhaps we will have to agree to disagree, agreeably.” Maybe we can find a way to do that again. Looking forward to your rhetoric post(s)!
Hi JMG, looking forward to your post(s) on rhetoric and self-directed education, though I must admit I’m cynical to the point that it’s my belief we’re past the point of talking – or, for many, even thinking about meaningful changes.
As a side note, I just happen to be reading Sinclair Lewis’ book FREE AIR, which I downloaded a year or more ago from Project Gutenberg. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I did that, but it finally made it to the top of the list, and I’m enjoying it immensely. So much so, I added his novel MAIN STREET (for which he almost received the Pulitzer) and will now have to add BABBITT as well. He refused the Pulitzer for ARROWSMITH (still PO’ed about MAIN STREET), so I might need to get a few more titles too. He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1930. And I agree, that guy could write!
This is a really interesting take on what is driving fragmenting political narratives in Western countries:
JMG & Phil Knight
Thanks Phil for the link to John Gray on Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress ” It’s a long time since I was a reader of the the New Statesman. I had to look up Pinker, whom I seemed to have missed until now.
According to Gray, Pinker barely mentions David Hume. Maybe we should all take another look at Hume these days: the limits of human reason and so on. And some of evolutionary and economic theory – still extant – dates back to Hume and friends.
Writing about historical Enlightenment thinking not discussed by Pinker, Gray includes reference to Comte’s “anti-liberalism” and produces his own line. “The more hostile the Enlightenment has been to monotheism, the more illiberal it has been.” Gray goes on to quote some of the more dire developments in later times he thinks have traces back to Comte.
I had a few queries about Gray’s own thinking and argumentative style.
On the subject of changing people’s minds:
Changing someone’s mind is easy if you really listen and let your mind be changed too. The softer you are in the conversation, the more you agree and suggest your own thoughts in synthesis rather than replacement, the more people are likely to agree.
People aren’t open to someone trying to amputate their opinions, but are often open to learning and teaching and when people are approached in this way there is a lot of possibility. People want to be listened to closely. If you listen and then repeat back what they say and explain yourself in their terms they prick up their ears and deeply consider what you are saying. I do the same, of course. Also stories and experiences are much more persuasive, and comprehensible, than abstract, mathematical concepts.
Of course, this means I can’t adopt the preposterous notion that I have all the answer and someone needs all of the ideas I don’t happen to agree with scoured out of their brain with the sharp edge of my tongue. Instead, I believe deeply truly in the equality of everyone on the level of our souls and approach the conversation from that level. I always learn and my mind is always changed, at least a little, but then likewise the same happens.
This gets me thinking on Herr Oswald Spengler’s dichotomy of Systematic and Physiognomic. When people try to change each other’s minds most often there is a Systematic approach where things are divided into good and evil, and a mathematical metric is applied to someone’s inner world. Much more effective in my experience is the Physiognomic approach where things are not good or evil, but instead good or bad, that is, in good or bad taste. With the physiognomic tact one can feel the cosmic pulse of the conversation and the other participants, and feel the Totems and Taboos, not as right or wrong, but as appropriate or inappropriate to discuss at that time. The playing field is though always changing, and sometimes quite rapidly. In a certain sense, Physiognomic tact is wholly political since it is wholly concerned with the art of the possible.
Physiognomic tact allows for one to feel the playing field available within the other that is in good taste to discuss. Within that field immense changes can happen, but only in there in that field. To discuss anything beyond this purview is to put a rat in the punch bowl. It ruins the ball or conversation as it were.
Part of the reason I emphasize Physiognomic tact now, is that it is a very powerful way of listening. Not only to words and concepts, but the play of the pace, the movements of the eyes and around the corners of the lips, and changes in posture. The most important part of conversations is listening, not ranting. Every word spoken is best spoken with the other person in mind, and in the field of vision even. A conversation is a collaboration, like making music, and it is more important in many ways that it is in key rather than concerned with any particular subject matter.
Good morning Mr Greer,
It appears to me that the role model in the west is that violence is the solution to all problems. Roy Rogers knew that and so does Bond, James Bond. It’s also been the MO of US presidents for as long as I can remember and certainly long before. For the cause of justice and freedom as we all know.
Though I tossed my TV close to 35 years ago I am aware that in most TV shows (well to be fair, in movies too, though there is more time to blow things up) the dilemma is solved with the hero violently taking down the bad guy after 20 minutes (or 40) of ineffective effort. We learn that violence and only violence is what works. Any surprise that young people turn to violence to fix things?
As far as stopping school violence, I think that handwaving is the way to go. It costs less that other solutions and will be as successful as anything else. Less sarcastically, the choice to home school and otherwise turn away from an imploding system seems wise. It appears that the school shooting situation is one of those things that you would call a predicament. It won’t be solved as it is a symptom of some far deeper illness in the first world.
Thank you for a very stimulating post.
“Valenzuela, yep. This is one of the reasons I consider ditching your television an essential revolutionary act, and getting an ad-blocker for your internet browser (and boycotting those websites that won’t let you on if you block ads) in the same category. ”
On the adblocker advice, there’s also a nifty feature on Firefox called “Reader View.” Plenty of sites with adblock detectors and frames and autoplay videos bog down older computers like mine. On the address bar of the newer versions of Firefox there’s an icon that looks vaguely like a tablet with lines of text on it. If I click that and refresh the page, the clutter and adblock teaser cut-off text are replaced by just the title and text of the article I was trying to read. It doesn’t work every time, but most of the time it gets me to a version of the internet that makes it tolerable, both for my slowish computer and my sanity.
Just a tip to avoid some of the thaumaturgy out there, and as the acronym goes, ymmv.
Hi, JMG: Great conversation is happening here.
But my question is about your just-published translation of Giordano Bruno. What you and your publisher say about it is all about a system of mnemonics, which I am foolhardy enough to say I probably won’t use, as my own memory palace is pretty well built on the foundations of art history and astrology.
But I would be eager to make the purchase if the book expands at all on Bruno’s ideas about the magician state as discussed in Ioan Culianu. Does this book get into that realm at all?
In any case, I am heartened to see that you are putting such wonderful material back into circulation.
@JMG, I’m intending to travel through the basics of association and importance of a proper reinforcement schedule in order to get things through to long term memory. I hope to cover a number of things, including the memory palace. But I want to emphasize the major system — both for remembering numbers and, maybe even more importantly, as a random-access, fixed number of slots, “filing cabinet”.
I was considered slow academically until a teacher introduced me to mnemonics and the major system in 7th grade; at which point I took off like a rocket. It’s kind of hard to compete with someone who carries “flashcards” in their head, can practice during idle moments, and can – with certain fidelity – recover material either randomly, forward, or backward!
I’m not an experienced teacher and I’m a little nervous I will either go to far too fast or, just as scary a thought, fail to entertain and motivate. This may be either a week-long summer project or, perhaps, in an after school tutorial format. The former has the additional challenge of giving properly targeted help to everyone in a group of, I am thinking, sixth through 12th graders without leaving anyone behind. That may be too ambitious a goal — but I’m thinking to do this in a small, rural community and it will be voluntary, so I want enough kids to show up and get value.
I’m especially interested in linking together meta skills of various sorts with the idea that the combination is potentially much greater than the parts. So, to give a specific, (C+a)(C+b) = C[C+a+b] + a*b. What use is that? Well, first of all it is basic algebra — and a practical USE of basic algebra. Practical? Yes… 7 * 8 = (10-3)*(10-2), right? So 7 * 8 = 10[10-3-2] + (-3)(-2) = 10 + 6 = 56. Now, this approach works similarly with ANY “C”, “a”, and “b” (and we just proved it algebraically). We can use it for, say, 135 * 57 — although in that case it really helps if you can hold on to intermediate numbers in your head; figure that 135=45*3; and use C=50. The major system allows you to do that. Answers can be checked by functionally casting out nines in a few seconds. As with any skill, abilities get stronger as we can decompose and practice what, at first, is daunting.
Innumeracy can be as big a problem as lack of memory and lack of logic. And there are other skills which are in our heritage but generally neglected. All these are meta skills and they combine and reinforce lots of other things — including self confidence, visualization, imagination, and what futures are even possible.
These are examples of meta skills which are available to pretty much all humans but, of course, aren’t TAUGHT in our schools. Our schools seem, on the whole, mainly designed to train people to be cogs in the wheel. In the future — if there is to be a future — humans need to get a lot wiser, on the whole, than has sufficed thus far. “We have become the tools of our tools”. And our tools are generally dull and incomprehensible. That needs to change.
Thanks for encouraging me to get up on my little soapbox for a few minutes. I’ll fit the course to the time and the student interest, I hope. You’ve encouraged me to work more on the curriculum today! 🙂
Hello JMG, and all.
So now I’m now reading Steppenwolf, for the second time. The first time, I found it extremely I found it extremely difficult to penetrate, and I’m afraid I did not really get much out of it, except for 3 things: First, I really took on board the reminder to not take one’s self too seriously, second the notion of the multiplicity of self (which reminds me, inappropriately perhaps, of the opening line of the Odyssey “Tell me muse, of the man of many ways [Odsysseus], who was driven on far journeys…”) and third, what you contemplate, you imitate, referring to what he did to Hermine after cavorting in the Magic Theater, shooting imagined evil capitalists.
Notwithstanding these incidental nuggets, Steppenwolf went over my head. So I’m trying again, and at least find that I am noticing more: “…his whole life was an example that love of one’s neighbor is not possible without love of oneself, and that self-hate is really the same thing as sheer egoism, and in the long run, breeds the same cruel isolation and despair.” I next notice, after he sees the flickering sign by the gateway: “…a fragment of my former thoughts came suddenly to mind; the similarity to the track of shining gold which suddenly vanishes and cannot be found.” Man, would I like to find MY golden track…
Also the sign had flickered “For madmen only”; I wonder if that could be an allusion to Nikolai Gogol’s story, The Diary of a Madman”. Do you know if that is so, JMG, anyone?
And Harry Haller is a middle-aged, Asperger-ish type guy, not doing well in life…how many helpful stories can you find out there about someone like that?
Anyway, Steppenwolf feels like hard-rock mining with a trowel. Any thoughts on making it easier?
Chris, “Three Tonne Wombat” would be a great name for a rock band. Just sayin’… 😉
Bogmuck, fair enough; it was a while back and I may be confusing the discussion with one of the other potshots I’ve sent Monbiot’s way from time to time.
Robert, I don’t know if “deprived” is the word I’d use…
E. Goldstein, I don’t consider “evil” a useful concept. As far as I can see, it’s simply a way of saying “I really, really disapprove of that” in a way that pretends that the disapproval is an objective property of the thing of which one disapproves. Mind you, it’s entirely sensible to disapprove of some of the things that tend to get labeled “evil,” and to take that disapproval to the extent of passing laws, enforcing them, and hanging the people who break them — but it’s neither necessary nor useful to insist that all such things share some objective quality of evilness in common. They’re simply things that a human society decides, on reasonable grounds, it can’t permit.
Drhooves, I’m not suggesting that self-directed adult education can prevent this country from slamming face first into the consequences of its own mistakes. I’m suggesting that those who survive to pick up the pieces afterwards might be better able to do so if they’ve learned certain things about learning in the interval.
Phil K., thanks for this!
Phil H., oh, granted, Gray has his own kneejerk reactions and his own hobby horses, and I disagree strongly with some of his ideas, but he’s not retailing the sort of utterly unoriginal pseudointellectual drivel that Pinker dispenses with a bucket.
Violet, excellent. Yes, we’ll be talking about Spengler’s distinction as things proceed, though we’ll be framing it in a somewhat different way.
Spirit, well, certainly handwaving seems to be the most popular option just now!
KKA, no, Bruno kept that material for his later essays on magic. I’m not sure he’d developed his analysis yet when he wrote On the Shadow of the Ideas — it was, after all, his first published book.
Gnat, excellent. The major system ought to do very well in that setting. I hope the students gobble it up with enthusiasm!
LunarApprentice, I’m probably not the guy to ask; I find Steppenwolf an easy read — though admittedly I have no problem making sense of Renaissance alchemical allegories and would probably find Remembrance of Things Past pleasant light reading. (I plan on starting it on my sixtieth birthday.) The one piece of advice I can offer is to take it slowly, and read a little at a time.
It finally hit my why I keep re-reading ‘Retrotopia’. Almost every thing in it reminds me of something from my childhood.
Just re-reading the chapter about the Hicksville exercise. I flashed on my free flight model of a B70 hitting the fence on my uncle’s farm in NW Oklahoma. Same results as the Covington guys got!
The over all book reminds me of summer trips from southern California to visit relatives in Oklahoma. Not quite the 5 tiers but close. The schools seem similar to a number I went to – including to a point the ones in the Atlantic Republic. Toledo reminds me of Oklahoma City in the late fifties early sixties. (less the horses!)
The period from ’50 to about ’70 was far from perfect (golden?) but for a kid it was a lot better than now.
The bulling in school was there and I was a target. But it seems to me to be more like that depicted in ‘A Christmas Story’. There were outlets available for the anti-social behavior – think shop class among other things. Then the shock of very in you face racism from teachers when changing schools from Sacramento, CA to Biloxi, MS.
Overall, more good memories than bad.
Time to go start preparing the garage for raising some chicks. Need to raise a few more than planned – the new community garden wants me to set up a flock there this spring.
Also on changing minds,
I would propose that it’s not actually desirable to change anyone else’s mind. But it is entirely desirable to change one’s own mind.
If I may quote JMG from the post on Stoicism, “We become free, Zeno proposed, if we recognize the difference between the things we control and the things we don’t. What do we control? Our actions in our outer lives—our words and deeds—and our actions in our inner lives—our thoughts, beliefs, and values. What don’t we control? Everything else.”
So maybe my own behavior or mind can only create the space wherein someone else may choose to change their own mind of their own free will. Trying to change someone’s mind for them strikes me as a kind of dark magic – trying to control someone else’s will with one’s own will. I think the only mind I need to be concerned about changing is my own.
This is purely my own opinion, of course…
In discussing the potential for useful change with my carpool mate, he claimed that the Civil Rights Movement (end of segregation) was an example of civil disobedience (public protest) bringing good results. I suggested that the country was ready to recognize racial equality after years of integrated military service had proven that all races could work together. Now, I don’t think that he was “wrong”, but just oversimplifying. And I won’t claim that my position is any less oversimplified. And I don’t think any of us would sign on to the proposition that racial discrimination is of only historical interest. But if we can agree that something significant happened in the 50s and 60s to increase minority participation in civic life, what factors made it happen? Was it protest? Was it integration of the music industry/market? Was it shared military sacrifices? Was it just enjoying the “slack” that cheap fossil fuel energy provided?
What else am I missing?
If we can understand what “worked” then, maybe we can apply the effective means to modern challenges, too.
If, on the other hand, we became more “healthy, peaceful, and prosperous” (as Pinker says) only because we’ve been having a party on our energy inheritance (which Pinker doesn’t say), then we may understand why the old forms of activism just aren’t paying off any more.
Great post and conversation going on here John, really enjoying it.
I thought you and other readers might like to read my latest post on my blog which explores one of your recent comments on the future mass migration of Muslims from the north Africa and Middle East as climate change hots up.
One thing I would like to know is whether you think a commodities/oil spike is looming within the next 1/2 years. The guys at Peak Prosperity certainly seem to think so…
I’m late to the party, as seems to be the norm these days. Let’s not forget that a great new insult for one’s opponents is a powerful tool. Compare Rush Limbaugh’s idiotic “feminazis” insult to the much more accurate and much funnier “crybullies”. I’m not sure what the “crybullies” is to the “gaystapo”, and I’m not so sure to what extent that “gaystapos” really exist – and whether they are distinct from crybullies in any meaningful way.
I think I had a good education. I finished high school in the early 60s. At that time not everyone went onto high school but did go on to other studies and work. I suspect this made a big difference. There was very little bullying and none by girls.
@ JMG & E. Goldstein…evil…
My son and I were actually discussing this while planting apple trees and blueberries this past week. It took a lot of twists and turns, but we arrived at evil being composed of immediate and eventual types.
Immediate is something that is inimical to ongoing processes regarding life. There are ways to be inimical that are rapid and minimal (an arrow), and ways evil is broad and maximal (neutron bomb, asteroid strike) and grades in between. These are immediate, and of course there are myriad shades of gray that we dwell in today.
Eventual evils are things that we also dwell in; things like environmental contamination, gene editing craziness, social madness. These take time to become evil to the extent they threaten things continuing. NOT continuing expressly for humans, but continuing in a workable fashion for life in general.
We decided that we swim in a big sea with evil things all around, but as most here know, the reverse of evil is live. So in general, this is the soup of life – evil and good of many magnitudes and varieties – sliding past one another, colliding, trying to make a go of it in groups or by retreating to the edges and all points and places in between.
It has to be this way. But it does not have to be as ugly as it has gotten for humans, perhaps. But as my son argued, the population dictates that we will encounter and create more, whether advertently or not, just due to numbers. There is also the argument that instant communication serves to make people more aware of the eternal conflict. Because it is a conflict that every organism struggles in, their evils sometimes shared and other times unique.
We settled on life as the diviner, because without it there is only a rock in space at this location. We liked this definition because as we have never banished evil, and as evil has never banished live, then they simply exist as part of the way of things.
I am sure that there are myriad arguments against this, and that many holes exist within it, but it did seem to fit. And it does put to bed trying to banish evil, as without it there is nothing to strive against or for. Life without challenge is static anyway, isn’t it? I do wish some people would understand that more fully.
Just some ruminations from sweating and running fence.
about the SU 57 and the J 20, what are the odds of this going full-on Sputnik, w/the Dems responding w/loud cries for a Reaganesque military buildup to counter the Ruskies in the ’20 election?
@ JMG and KKA:
Bruno’s several treatises on magic were all written in Latin, and never published by him, but kept in a single manuscript. After passing through the hands of various Russian noblemen (Freemasons and occultists), that unique manuscript is now preserved in the library of the State Historical Museum at Moscow. They were pubished for the first time in 1891, in the third and last volume of the best 19th-century edition of Bruno’s Latin writings. I’ve read into them just a little, and they strike me as very interesting and original works.
You can download that volume as a PDF here:
Gee, gnat, I don’t suppose you’d be interested in extending your curricular space to us? Sounds fabulous and though I learn many things happily by myself, mnemonics hasn’t sunk in in that way. I imagine a group setting would help me. Those kids, if they recognize value and seize the chance, are lucky!
Here is a less klunky link to another PDF of the same best edition Bruno’s Latin works on magic, in case the one through google books doesn’t work out:
Do not apply water to any modern books.
If they are made with computer printers (very common if Printed on Demand) the water will smear the ink. You must always test with a drop of water in a part of the book you can afford to damage.
Most modern books, if not all, are made with safe alcaline paper. The materials used in binding are normally the problem.
There are chemicals that can be applied to books to fix the acidity using dry methods. Look for information with a professional book restorer.
Regarding mass shooters and their medication histories in a previous comment to this week’s post. I miss-typed “HIPPA” when I should have typed “HIPAA” which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. My concern is that it probably prevents any disclosure of a mass shooter’s medication history and that I might have emphasized that a little more, and that I would advocate passage of a HIPAA privacy exception in the case of mass shooters so that such an inquiry could be undertaken at all. If you aren’t in the USA, you’re probably not familiar with HIPAA, but here in the US, just about every time I see my physician I am given a HIPAA form informing me of my HIPAA rights.
Regarding reading Steppenwolf and Proust’s magnum opus, “In Search of Lost Time” aka “Remembrance of Things Past” I’ve read them. Reading Proust is a major investment in time, running to about 5,000 pages all told. Some of it is luminous writing, and some of it is pure drek! Now for a really challenging read, I’d recommend “JR” by William Gaddis, or perhaps Gaddis’ first novel, “The Recognitions” which happens to be more in line with our host’s taste for Renaissance magic.
Dear John Michael Greer,
Thank you for another fascinating post. Again I commend you on the comments; I enjoyed and found something intriguing and/or useful in so many of them.
Thank you for your comment on the power of questions and silences.
One of the things I am grateful for the time I spent in ultraorthodox AA was that I got off the psych meds (one of the controversial beliefs of folk in that group was that you weren’t truly sober while you were on psych meds)
“Unfortunately, there is much cause for pessimism with regard to what tactics WOULD work to change people’s minds. Recent psychological research shows that people with strong views on a polarizing issue — specifically, the question of the efficacy and safety of vaccines — actually double down on their anti-vaccine beliefs when presented with evidence contradicting their beliefs. Denial and tribalism are strong forces in the human mind — much stronger than reason, I’m afraid.”
I found this to be a perfect example of the point of this post. You are so sure that you must be correct, that you see lack of immediate capitulation on the part of those idiots who disagree with you as tribalism and denial. It can’t be that they actually hold the opinion because they’ve looked into it and and reached a different conclusion.
I’d like to see a real debate on the issues that the antivaxers bring up. Maybe it exists somewhere.
Violet, you make some good points about how to change a person’s mind. There have been times when my husband and I were arguing (friendly arguing!) different viewpoints on whatever topic and managed to convince each other. So we both switched sides and argued from the opposite direction. 😀 It’s been a while since we’ve done that. With three kids, we get interrupted too much to keep a friendly argument going that long.
The secret though was that we really listened to each other. If we had each been trying to force the other to agree or trying to score points off each other, we never could have convinced each other.
@jmg Perhaps a bit off topic, but can you recommend a single book which will give me a good overview of western occultism? This came out of reading up on Bruno. One thing led to another and I was reading an article on Hermeticism. On Amazon I see one book in particular which seems to span the whole field and has 4.5 stars. https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Teachings-All-Ages-Encyclopedic/dp/1461013135/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1519606018&sr=8-15&keywords=Corpus+Hermeticum This is by a guy named Manly. I see that you co-authored a book on Hermeticism but I’m really only interested in a panoramic view at this time (I’m bursting at the seams with unread books). What is bothering me is that so much of what I have personally practiced for decades seems, increasingly now, to be derived from things dating back hundreds of years. That is to be expected, I guess; but I didn’t expect it. I’d kind of like to get to the bottom of things a little more directly.
An interesting and useful addition to my mental toolkit.
Could not help but notice a few things in the ensuing discussions:
It is a danger to get a bit overeager to use a newly discovered tool. While the Babbit fallacy is certainly real and common, not every case of disagreement or cognitive dissonance can be traced back to it.
A bit the old “if i have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” thing.
There’s probably a name for this fallacy too.
Once or twice there seemed to be a tendency to use it as a thought stopper. Along the lines of: “my believes are very different from yours, so we just have to agree to disagree”.
I think the phenomenon you describe is not only about thinking, but also about behavioral biology. It is about some old programs deep inside the parts of the brains that are much older than our modern ability think rationally. Even the most primitive animals can only survive because they assume a world full of enemies, full of bad guys who try to eat them. For their survival is it not essential to understand the motives of the predator. It is enough to know that he is just bad and will kill them.
When humans evolved, this program did of course not disappear, because it still was very helpful. The world was still full of dangerous animals and also of other tribes. In his book “The world until yesterday” Jared Diamond describes how the people in new guinea have lived in the constant fear of being killed by other tribes before a central government enforced peace. Also Steven Pinker describes in “the better angels of our nature” how much violent the stone age was, in which mankind did spent most of its history.
In an anarchic stone age world there is only one way to security, and that is to stick to your tribe. Your tribe is the only thing you can rely on. To survive alone is almost impossible. To be collectivly protected by your tribe, you also have to be part of the protection so you have to attack anything that endangers your kind. This also is very old behavior we can see in other species with less complex brains.
So behind the facade of modern civilized man there still runs ancient software that tells them to stick to their tribe, to assume danger by anything that is not part of their tribe and to attack anything that is dangerous. This program does not care if the enemy has any motives. It sees the enemy and attacks him to protect his tribe. We know from observed tribal wars in new guinea that insulting each other is the first stage of battle. This can also be observed in gang conflicts in modern urban neighborhoods.
Of course we can train the younger rational part of the brain to override these old programs. But these old programs are optimized code that runs on hardware specialized for this purpose, so these old programs are cheap to execute. Rational thinking is very expensive to execute. It has no specialized hardware, so we can think rationally about everything, but it takes a lot off effort to do it.
So if you confront any person with an idea that shows that you are not of his tribe and that idea also challenges his worldview, by default the old program will set him up into battle mode and he will defend his tribe instead off trying to understand you. Only when he is trained to override this routine and also willing to put the effort needed into it, he will not go into battlemode but try to understand you.
A perfect example of a discussion between a battlemode person and somebody who as an experienced psychologist is trained to override his battlemode is the recent interview between Jordan Peterson and Cathy Newman.
So rather than as a mode of thinking I would characterized the phenomenon you describe as part of the human operating system, that can only be overridden by actively installing additional software.
This may have came up (I’m sorry to say I could not keep up with all the comments) but there is a fairly well-known reaction to SSRIs in depressed humans, especially in teens, that could explain the observed link between shootings and antidepressant use. Depression does not only plummet mood– it also effects executive function. That is, the ability to make and execute decisions. There are many people who lived through bouts of severe depression because, though they sat daily wishing for death, they were psychologically incapable of deciding to perform the act of suicide, (or to carry out the decision, if made). This may, in fact, be a sort of defence mechanism the brain has evolved. Similarly, a student severely depressed by bullying may have a recurring fantasy of murdering everyone who wronged him, sincerely desire to do so… but not have the executive function, thanks to the depression, to carry it out such a fantasy.
Now here come the SSRIs. See the poor kid? Ignore the bullying; that’s not your problem. But he’s sad, so medicate him. SSRIs are the gold standard of care. Well, in a certain percentage of cases, the SSRI works to elevate executive function before it effects mood or anything else. So: now our depressed teen gets off the couch, grab a gun, and end it all or head for the school, because he still feels pretty well as he did before he was medicated, but now his decision-making capability is restored. It’s a prescription for disaster.
We know this happens more often to teenagers than adults, but there’s no way to tell in advance who will be effected in this manner and how long it will last. Everyone put on these medications needs to be monitored carefully — and when those monitoring, be they friends or family, see a problem, it needs to be taken seriously.
Hello JMG and Robert Mathiesen:
Thanks so much! I read the books by Frances Yates and Culianu that discuss Bruno, and somehow never imagined that his books had been translated into a language I can read. Boy, am I going to have good stuff to chew on for the next month or so!
“I am sure Republicans are as desperate about gun violence as Democrats are, but since they cannot admit it, they double down on the “people kill people” nonsense.”
I don’t identify as an R or a D, but why is no one asking about the psyche meds that are so often part of the picture? Why is no one asking why these bizarre mass shooting have become part of our reality? They never were before.
I am coming to think that it is an undeclared war orchestrated by certain elites and they will continue to shoot us until we capitulate. It will take very strong medicine to disarm Americans.
Thank you for another thought provoking essay, it reminded me of this quote “Your dislike of your opponent and their bad deeds neither gives you right to act foolishly, nor prevent you from acting foolishly”
But, the middle of essay is weak due to neither Harry Potter nor Left Behind fitting the pattern.
“That alternate Harry Potter series would have been a far richer tale, much less weighed down with cheap moral caricature, far more effective at speaking to the ethical crises of our own time. If Rowling had written it that way, though, she wouldn’t be the richest woman in Britain today, and the Harry Potter novels wouldn’t have made anything like the splash they did. They won the hearts of the mass media and the leftward end of the reading public precisely because they embraced the same fantasy Sinclair Lewis wove into Babbitt: the fantasy that the people that today’s liberals like to hate really do know they’re wrong, but just won’t admit it.”
To be fair and harsh to Rowling the reason she didn’t give us such richer tale is not because of what you suggested, but because Rowling is simply not good at world building at all, with a side serving of her desire to have her cake and eat it (a bad flaw in anyone, but worse in authors because they are least affected from consequences).
@Austin of Ozmerst
” (I stopped being into Harry Potter when I asked the question, why would any of Voldermort’s followers follow him? He gives them no good reason; they already have all these magical powers. What more could they want?)”
Because wizards are humans despite their magic, and thus they are social animals. Plus Voldemort was a very charismatic manipulator (at least before defeated by a baby fiasco). And lets face it; people followed Hitler, Stalin, Mao Pol Pot many less famous yet equally horrible in our timeline.
I suggest reading fanfictions “The Prince of Dark Kingdom” and “The Golden Age” (just google title with Harry Potter).
I’ve heard of that system, and I think it’s still around, but for the life of me I can’t find a reference to it on the internet. Do you have any idea where I might look?
The school I went to was called the Deep River charter school, it has been disfunct for years, folding quickly after parents voted to switch to a fashionable system in replacement of it’s ‘self-directed’ model. If I recall right the programs it was based on were called the ‘main street school’ and ‘school without walls’.
“I think the phenomenon you describe is not only about thinking, but also about behavioral biology. It is about some old programs deep inside the parts of the brains that are much older than our modern ability [to] think rationally. …..
“Of course we can train the younger rational part of the brain to override these old programs. But these old programs are optimized code that runs on hardware specialized for this purpose, so these old programs are cheap to execute. Rational thinking is very expensive to execute. It has no specialized hardware, so we can think rationally about everything, but it takes a lot off effort to do it.”
There’s considerable merit to what deedl wrote, especially about the relatively high cost and the relatively low effectiveness of rational thinking as a means of overriding one’s old programming.
But there’s another option available to us all for overriding our deep old programming. We do not need to override programs if we can rewrite them instead.
People can rewrite the deep old programs in themselves without any use of rational thinking whatever. There are several means that have always been available to either a person or a society for rewriting the inherited deep programming of the human nervous and hormonal systems.
Two of the most powerful means are (1) well-designed rituals that deploy both patterning and signs to maximum effect, and (2) well-designed oral story-telling that depolys those same two things to maximum effect. One can do this for oneself if one is knowledgeable enough to create the necessary rituals and stories, though mostly these things have evolved over long centuries and millenia within one’s society, and it is a society that does it to its individual members to serve its own best interests.
The best times for a society to rewrite this deep old biological programming in an individual member of that society seem to fall at major life-passages, notably (1) at puberty, (2) at marriage & childbirth, (3) on occasions of nearly fatal illness, and (4) on occasions of death (whether of one’s peers or one’s elders),
Of these four, perhaps the most basic is at puberty, which almost everyone will undergo at roughly the same age. And this is just when very many tribal societies put their young peole through rituals lasting many days.
These rituals start by removing a cohort of young people from of their families and social structures, and from the immediate landscape in which they have spent most of their lives so far, and putting them into the hands of elders whom they hardly know. During those rituals, typically, the young people are made to violate the internalized ethical and moral norms of their childhood. Their bodies are constantly stressed by insufficent food, sleep deprivation and other means of exhaustion. They are exposed to consciousness-altering substances, and caused to have experiences of the sort that we usually term either “supernatural” or “hallucinatory” (depending on our own worldview). They are stuffed full of old tribal lore (and old stories!!!) that children are not allowed to know. They are put to considerable risks, and some few members of the cohort usually do not come through these risks unscathed, but die in the presence of the whole cohort, or are seriously and permanently disabled.
But eventually these rituals end and the survivors return to their villages — no longer children, but now adults. And they have been reprogrammed in some fundamental ways by what they have undergone during those rituals, with consequences that everyone in their society can see.
One of the things that people coming from such traditional societies notice, and coment on (among themselves), is the lack of a common shared body of powerful rituals and stories in our modern “Western” or “First-World” societies. If they are particularly perceptive and brave, they sometimes also mention to us that this lack seems to have had (and continues to have) dire effects on us “Westerners,” comparable to the dire effects of life-long malnutrition in other lands under other circumstances.
So the somewhat dismal state of affairs described by deedl is not, I think, unchangeably “baked in the cake” of the human species, but rather it is a defect of certain individual societies, including our own modern “Western” society.
* * *
By the way, if one looks for something of this sort in our own American culture at present, the closest wide-spread analogue is our customary “ritual” of going to college for four years and getting a bachelor’s degree. But that “ritual” is scheduled far too long after puberty, takes way too many months to complete, suffers wretchedly from bad ritual design (or complete lack of any effective ritual design), fails to leave the new adults with a powerful body of useful cutural lore shared throughout their society, and hardly offers much close supervision by the culture’s elders over the extremely tricky transition from childhood to adulthood. It does still offer young people the physical and emotional stresses, the consciousness-altering substaces, and the risks of death or permanent damage, but only in a chaotic, unsupervised and pointless manner. One might almost think that college had somehow devolved into mere credentialing and job-training, to save future employers the expense of providing the same on their own dime– mightn’t one?
I wonder about an alternate version of Star Trek. Captain Kirk and his crew, and more so Captain Jean-Luc Picard et al. embody the utopian vision that the future is supposed to be.
There was however an episode where they visit a failed Federation colony world where society and government broke down. memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Turkana_IV I found this a strange episode – I didn’t think the Federation would have left a colony world for decades in a state of social collapse.
Maybe the 24th century isn’t quite what its supposed to be, humanity having transcended its current problems, abandoned materialism and greed and war etc. and living fulfilled lives in the new model economy without even money in the post-scarcity era.
Perhaps there are entire worlds where almost all people are addicted to holodeck programs or brain-computer interfaces. People who just get addicted to replicating a load of “stuff” which fills their lives.
The Federation is a late-Soviet-like bureaucratic state fudging and patching up the “New Model Economy” to ensure the replicators stay powered up despite fundamental flaws in the way the economy is supposed to operate, and make sure that idealistic peaceful attitude doesn’t get in the way of the needs of defence against the Romulans and Cardassians which is hidden under “exploration”. Propaganda from the Federation News Service ensures that failed colony worlds are quietly forgotten about since it is too embarassing for the Federation’s cultural elite. Any criticism of economy and society is quickly seized upon by the ruling elite as evidence of Ferengi or Romulan interventions. Section 31 (the Federation secret police in Star Trek: Deep Space 9) keeps watch on dissident activity.
Like our current European Union, it has been assumed that Federation integration is a one-way street. The Vulcans would if they showed any emotion, have laughed at the Leave campaign that has been active on Earth.
Yes. The one remnant of the old puberty rituals left is the ones offered in Judaism (the bar/bat mitzvah) and in some churches – confirmation, mostly. Girls in some places still have the equivalents of the coming-out ceremony, whether a debutante ball or a quincineara, but that, too is rare in the larger society.
The Secret Teachings of All Ages is online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/sta/
“This site is a freely available archive of electronic texts about religion, mythology, legends and folklore, and occult and esoteric topics. Texts are presented in English translation and, where possible, in the original language.” (from sacred texts,com)
Hope this is of some use.
Hi, JMG & commentariat – this is not directly pertaining to the current post but is relevant to the theme of “newer tech ain’t necessarily better tech”. Amazingly, the New York Times has published an article that makes this point: a small victory for the “retrotopians” perhaps, but it is good to see that there are at least a few people who have been able to break the powerful “smart tech” spell cast by the advertisers. Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/technology/personaltech/smart-things-dumb-stuff.html
Revisiting one of my favorite old books, I found this passage, which seems relevant here:
“I shall take it that you are in the first flush of ambition, and just beginning to make yourself disagreeable. You think (do you not?) that you have only to state a reasonable case, and people must listen to reason and act upon it at once. It is just this conviction that makes you so unpleasant. There is little hope of dissuading you; but has it occurred to you that nothing is ever done until every one is convinced that it ought to be done, and has been convinced for so long that it is now time to do something else? And are you not aware that conviction has never yet been produced by an appeal to reason, which only makes people uncomfortable? If you want to move them, you must address your arguments to prejudice and to the political motive, which I will presently describe. I should hesitate to write down so elementary a principle, if I were not sure you need to be told it. And you will not believe me, because you think your cases are so much more reasonable than mine can have been, and you are ashamed to study men’s weaknesses and prejudices. You would rather batter away at the Shield of Faith than spy out the joints in the harness.
“I like you the better for your illusions ; but it cannot be denied that they prevent you from being effective, and if you do not become effective before you cease to want anything to be done why, what will be the good of you?”
The book is by the the Classics scholar and translator of Plao, Francis M. Cornford, and its title is _Microcosmographia academica_ (1908). The whole booklet is only 44 pages long, and all of it is a realist’s joy to read. You can find it on line at archive.org.
Elsewhere Cornoford has defined ‘Propaganda” as “that branch of the art of lying which consists in very nearly deceiving your friends without quite deceiving your enemies.”
@Robert Mathiesen et al. There is a new book by George Mason Economics Professor, Bryan Caplan, called The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. I did not read the book since its a pricey $30, but watched a CATO cast of him walk through the premise of the book. His conclusion – college is all about signaling, and unless you go to the best schools not worth it. JMG concluded that years ago on ADR.
My conclusion? He wrote the book to get attention and doesn’t mean a word of it. It’s Al Gore talking about climate change all over again..
Parents of Caplan’s students at George Mason are writing him a little angry that they are spending big bucks and their child’s professor thinks college is a waste of time. His own children plan on getting doctorates and being professors, so college is for “me” and not for “thee” then?
And my biggest gripe is listening to his whiny voice coming out of his skinny 120 pound frame, he looks like a person who doesn’t garner any respect unless people are forced to respect him.
JMG, they are actually quite well-stocked with your books on civilizational decline, including even the otherwise rather hard to find Blood of the Earth; not so much with the strictly occult ones though, except for your New Encyclopedia of the Occult, which has come in very handy a couple of times already (thank you very much, by the way!).
I think that the source and cause of the deep partisanship and the tone behind it is largely systemic. The status quo incentivizes it. There certainly are new aspects to it now, but if you realize that it only took until George Washington’s second term for an opponent to call him a traitor to the country, you will see that the nice bipartisanship of the mid-1900s that some people are so wistful for was really the exception and not the rule.
Nor do I think many readers will be very happy to see that that bipartisanship was the result of the Democratic dominance during the 20 years of Roosevelt/Truman when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress without a break. They broke the Republican obstruction that had initially greeted FDR and what resulted was bipartisanship.
The back and forth elections the US has been having the last decade or so due to neither party being able to really convince people that they have the solution, has only inflamed things worse. And maybe that is a core part of the problem: when there are only two parties, new thinking is much harder to bring out. Then again, many countries with multiple parties may be doing better in the short term, but are still on the same general path.
Good one this week. I has exhausted me among both my Conservative and Liberal extended circles that both sides seem to feel the most appropriate argument is insulting and screaming at the other side. The Clinton Campaign was essentially done the moment the word “deplorable” left her mouth.
I was also surprised to be fairly thoroughly attacked for insisting that the “other side” were human beings deserving of respect and had actual legitimate issues, grievances and real miseries. I once had the dubious honor of being called a ‘libtard” and a “fascist” on the same day.
Achievement unlocked, apparently.
Thanks for that insightful essay. I knew it was going to be particularly good when I read: “Has anyone else noticed that most of our Democrats seem to be channeling McCarthy-era Republicans, babbling about sinister Russian agents hiding under every bed, while Republicans insist with a straight face that Jesus really does want them to punish the poor for being poor?” We live in surreal times where the advocates of multiculturalism seem to think that everyone should give trigger warnings for anything they might do that would upset a multiculturalist and advocates of traditional morality seem to think that moral constraints on public behavior are impractical and old-fashioned. The question of how to act in our surreal times is the hard one. I sometimes despair of finding a thoughtful public community to become embedded in. Essentially all the options for thoughtful communities have abandoned reason because it doesn’t achieve their political objectives. I am looking forward to your recommendations for paths forward.
Re Ganv’s comment “The question of how to act in our surreal times is the hard one”: it would be helpful if somehow we could institute a protocol, concerning changes of mind-set and shifts in ideological fashion, that the burden of proof must rest upon the innovator. Without that, it’s no wonder that times are “surreal” – if changes can be accepted just because they happen!
I admit that sounds like a “conservative” remark, but the burden-of-proof-resting-upon-the-innovator principle might benefit progressives too, because if they learned to win by argument, instead of relying on force and fashion, they’d earn more respect.
And by “argument” I don’t just mean argument based on their assumptions. You can justify any ideology from its own assumptions; that sort of “argument” is no more than a statement of those assumptions.
What’s needed is an over-arching argument that justifies the transition, the leap across the void from one set of assumptions to another.
I’m in my sixties and have lived through the cultural revolution of the past half-century with my ears open, and yet I haven’t heard any such over-arching argument to induce me to jump from there to here. All I’ve noted is a massive shift in public opinion, entirely unaccompanied by any refutation of previous views.
Walking away from a position is not the same as refuting it.
JMG, the novel is Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover. The best praise I can give it is that I’ve read it more than once and gotten more out of it in subsequent readings. I realize my favorite book might not end up being your favorite book, but give it a shot and let me know what you think.
Thank you for the great topic and great analysis. I can add that the growing divide between people may be an increase in self-absorption/narcissism driven in part by social media. One spinoff is “identity politics” – liberal vs conservative, fly-overs versus rust-belters, etc.
My peeve with the world today (yes ,the world) is runaway self-absorption fostered (as mentioned) by social media as well as an onslaught of media messages promoting “me, me, me” as the preferred state of awareness. No one else matters, just me, myself and I.
Self-absorption makes us stupid and easily manipulated. And that is exactly what “they” want.
Thanks for the article post.Really thank you! Great.
Dear God, John, please stop making me think, it hurts!
P.s. Thanks for the pain, you sadist…..
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