My essay here two weeks ago on the way that the industrial world’s elites are beginning to back away from environmentalism, using chatter about “ecofascism” as a convenient excuse, got the lively response I expected. To be fair, there was also a certain amount of noise, and a certain number of exasperated demands that I stop disagreeing with the corporate media’s narrative du jour; I’m thinking here especially of three comments, apparently by three different people, which denounced my lack of adulation for media darling Greta Thunberg not only in identical language but in the identical faux-friendly chiding tone. Those readers familiar with ShareBlue and its sister troll farms would have recognized the style instantly if the comments in question had gone anywhere but the trash.
Fortunately most of the responses came from people who weren’t rehashing somebody else’s canned talking points, and quite a few of them raised important issues. One that was especially good came from a regular commenter—tip of the hat to Mog—who noted that the reason why elites have embraced anthropogenic climate change, as a cause for which they’re ready to spend the last penny of everyone else’s money, may have quite a bit to do with the way that schemes for carbon reduction almost always involve setting up markets where carbon credits or the like can be traded, in exactly the same way that other speculative vehicles are traded today.
It’s a valid point. The global economy these days is dominated by a vast superstructure of what might best be called hallucinatory finance, in which investment vehicles that have no noticeable connection to actual goods or services are assigned arbitrary values and traded feverishly in worldwide markets. It so happens that in order to keep that superstructure propped up, a steady flow of actual wealth—modest in terms of the gargantuan notional values of the superstructure, but much less so in human terms—has to be added to the mix. Up until recently, most of that was extracted from the productive economies of the industrial nations by way of various gimmicks linked to the soi-disant “global economy,” with results you can see quite readily if you walk down Main Street in any American city or town outside a few wealthy coastal enclaves.
Successful as it was, that strategy has had serious downsides, among them the rise of populist movements—think Trump and Brexit—aimed at shutting down the extraction of money from Main Street for the benefit of godzillionaires and their hangers-on. (A recent video by economist Mohammed El-Erian let that particular cat out of the bag in a big way, noting that Trump administration policies have sharply decreased the “exfiltration” of wealth from the productive economy in the US and thus thrown the entire mechanism of globalization into reverse. Does this help explain the constant demonization of Trump by the corporate media? You tell me.)
Carbon taxes, and the resulting carbon credits, can thus be seen as an attempt to keep the game going a little longer, by extracting more blood from the well-squeezed stone of Main Street using a different set of excuses. The serene lack of elite interest in doing anything to decrease their own carbon footprints makes perfect sense in this context, since the whole point of the gimmick is to give the absurdly privileged the wherewithal to maintain their preferred lifestyles of obscene extravagance for at least a little longer. I suspect that Mog is quite correct in suggesting that this explains why the very rich parade a level of concern about anthropogenic global warming that they don’t display when it comes to any other environmental issue.
Some of the way that mainstream intellectuals have fallen into line behind the same banner, no doubt, has the same cause at second hand. For as long as there has been an intellectual class, a significant number of its members have figured out that parroting whatever the rich want to hear is one fairly reliable way to make a living. That sort of parrot song can also be enforced; I’ve heard from far too many scientists in far too many fields who’ve told me that for quite some years now, if you wanted to get grants for your research, you had to pitch your project to the granting agency by spinning it so that it would feed the global warming narrative. (Yes, anthropogenic climate change is a reality; yes, that reality is being used as an excuse for various manipulative political games. I’m not sure why so few people seem to be able to hold both these ideas in their minds at the same time.)
That said, I think there’s more going on here. I’m thinking here of the way that the Democratic Party in Washington State shot down a well-designed carbon tax initiative, as discussed in the post two weeks ago, because it was designed to be revenue-neutral instead of providing the state government with a huge slush fund for the purposes of social engineering. I’m thinking of the reports to the Club of Rome you never hear about these days, which we also discussed two weeks ago—you know, the ones that insisted that the limits to growth wouldn’t be a problem if only the global economy was handed over to a cadre of unelected experts. I’m thinking more generally about one of the pervasive themes of a certain kind of highbrow pop culture, the notion of global management, of the world as a passive object that humanity (or rather, as it always turns out, certain selected members of our species) should control.
And all of this circles back, of course, to an encounter on the road from the port city of Piraios to Athens, which begins with a slave boy running up to two men to ask them to wait.
That’s the opening scene of The Republic, Plato’s greatest philosophical dialogue. It’s a brilliant work, a masterpiece of literature as well as philosophy, and it’s also full of the freshness that comes at the beginning of any major tradition of thought or art, when a great mind is wrestling with a given set of questions for the first time in recorded history. Reading it is like standing by the anvil while a skilled blacksmith pounds white-hot metal into an enduring shape.
Plato lived on the cusp of the great shift of Greek philosophy, which changed the focus of the whole tradition from speculations about nature to explorations of what human beings are capable of knowing and what they ought to do about it. (Modern Western science has been frantically trying to stave off an equivalent shift for a little over a century, which is why Neil deGrasse Tyson and his fellow cheerleaders for institutional science denounce philosophy with such venom these days.) The Republic was an essential part of that shift, an exploration of the concept of justice that starts from crucial questions about the nature of human knowledge and goes on from there to sketch out what is apparently the first Utopia in human history.
One of the things that makes Plato so significant a figure in the history of thought is that his mistakes were even more useful to future thinkers than his successes. The Republic is a fine example of this, because it’s based on a series of assumptions that turned out to be hopelessly wrong. There’s a whole literature devoted to taking apart all the problematic features of The Republic, and readers who want to follow up on that could do much worse than start with The Open Society and its Enemies by Karl Popper, one of the classics in the field. Here, though, I want to draw a sharper focus, on one specific problem and its consequences.
Like a great many utopian authors, Plato built his imagined society on a particular view of human nature. It wasn’t a particularly rose-colored view—he managed to dodge that bullet—but it had a subtle but no less fatal flaw. Plato’s model divided up human nature into three basic parts. First was the collection of animal appetites, epithumia in Greek, the desires for food and sex and other creature comforts, which he associated with the belly. Second was a set of character elements for which there isn’t a good English collective term—the Greek word is thumos—which include pride, aggressiveness, and the sense of honor and self-esteem; these Plato associated with the chest. Finally there was the rational part, nous in Greek, the part that seeks to know and understand, which he associated with the head.
To Plato, as to plenty of other intellectuals then and later, there was a strict hierarchy among these parts, with epithumia on the lowest level, thumos above that, and nous above all. What he did in crafting the utopia of The Republic—and what plenty of other people have done since his time—was to turn this into a social hierarchy. The equivalent of epithumia was the working class; the equivalent of thumos was a class of guardians, armed warrior-policemen whose job it was to maintain social order and defend the Republic against all enemies internal and external; the equivalent of nous, of course, was an elite class of philosopher-kings who had received a thorough education to fit them for their roles as the governing caste.
It’s a very common notion, not least because Plato’s impact on the history of human thought is almost impossible to overstate—if you grew up in a Western or Muslim society, dear reader, you use categories and concepts Plato invented literally every time you think. It’s also a very common notion because a great many members of the intellectual class like to fancy themselves in the role of Plato’s philosopher-kings, handing down wise commandments to the guardian caste which are then obeyed without question by the masses. Popular as it is, it’s the biggest bellyflop of Plato’s many bad ideas. We know this because it’s been tried many times and it always fails.
The problem is quite simple. Let’s start by granting that every human being is composed, as Plato suggests, of epithumia, thumos, and nous. If that’s the case, then it won’t work to assign any one of these to a social class, because every member of that class has all three, just as they all have heads, chests, and bellies. The working classes aren’t just epithumia; they also have their thumos—their pride, their self-respect, and their capacity for violence—and their nous—their capacity to think, and in particular to wonder whether the laws proclaimed by the philosopher-kings are actually wise commandments or are simply another helping of self-serving cant.
The same thing is true, crucially, on the other end of Plato’s totem pole. The philosopher-kings aren’t simply bubbles of nous contemplating truth. Plato offered a scheme for getting them to behave as such—basically, giving them a philosophical education—and that was an interesting hypothesis when it was originally proposed. It’s hard to think of a hypothesis that’s been more thoroughly tested over the last 2300 years, though, and the verdict is in: it doesn’t work.
No matter what kind of education you give the prospective ruling classes of a society, its members will still have epithumia and thumos; they’ll still have the same animal cravings as other people, and they’ll still have pride and self-esteem and a tendency to overreact violently when their egos get stepped on. That means, in turn, that they won’t be able to fill the role Plato sets out for them. They won’t be a wise caste of enlightened leaders whose one thought is for the good of the whole society—though of course, under the influence of thumos, they’ll doubtless believe this about themselves. The decisions they make will always be at least a little twisted out of true by thumos and epithymia, the desire for honor and praise on the one hand and the desire for physical pleasures and comforts on the other.
So you have an elite class whose members insist that they’re wise and just and good, but whose actions are constantly shaped by self-interest even when this harms the rest of society; you have a managerial class—that’s what the guardians work out to be, of course—whose loyalty to the regime is at least tempered, and quite possibly undercut, by the fact that they have their own desires for physical pleasures and comforts, and their own ideas about how society should be run; and you have a working class that is supposed to be wholly interested in physical comforts , but actually has a well-developed sense of collective pride and a robust capacity for violence, and is perfectly capable of recognizing when a set of policies imposed by the elite class, supposedly for the public good, is actually just another opportunity for the elites to line their own pockets or bolster their own egos at the expense of everyone else. If this doesn’t sound familiar, dear reader, you need to get out more.
That’s one of the reasons Plato is worth reading; if you think through what he has to say, and challenge his dubious assumptions, you can figure out an enormous amount about today’s world. In this case, the implications of his logic sketch out neatly what you actually get any time you have an elite class, of course—and in a human society of any size, you’re going to have an elite class whether you admit it or not; human beings are social primates, and like other social primates, we sort ourselves out socially into an inner circle that makes most of the decisions and gets most of the goodies, and an outer circle that has much more limited input and gets many fewer benefits. (Societies that claim to be classless, like organizations that claim to run on strict consensus, simply have a covert elite rather than an overt one.)
What makes an elite of educated managerial specialists such a disaster for any society cursed with such a system, in turn, isn’t that the specialists are morally worse than other elites. It’s that the ideology of that particular kind of elite education makes it all but impossible for them to recognize when they’re wrong. Ordinary politicians who aren’t subject to the mystique of expertise recognize that their number one priority is to find out what their constituents want and give them some of it, so they’ll be reasonably happy with their leaders and keep providing the passive support without which any government falls from power. Expert specialists are by and large too busy listening to each other and to their preferred sources of data to notice when the data from those sources, and the consensus opinions based on them, have drifted out of touch with the real world.
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, ironically enough, provided an epic example of that kind of failure in action. All through the latter months of the campaign, as Trump flung prodigious resources into the critical northern Midwest states that ended up putting him in the White House, field staffers in the Clinton campaign in those states tried frantically to get the national campaign to notice what was happening and give them the help they needed to fight back. Their increasingly desperate pleas were dismissed by Clinton’s top staffers with the airy retort, “Our models disprove your anecdotes.” That turned out to be the epitaph for Clinton’s presidential ambitions, because models don’t prove or disprove anything: rather, they reflect the real, anecdotal world—or they don’t.
Does this mean that education is a bad idea for managers and politicians? Not necessarily—though if the education is too specialized, and/or focused on arbitrary ideological models that are never tested against experienced reality, it certainly can be. What it means is that if you’re going to have an educated managerial elite, you need some way for the rest of the population to yank hard on the leashes of the elite when the elite’s preferred policies inflict too much misery on everyone else. So far, at least, representative democracy with regular elections at which every adult citizen can vote is the best way to provide that corrective tug that anyone’s come up with. Yes, that means that the deplorables sometimes get to tell the self-proclaimed Good People what to do—and when this happens the self-proclaimed Good People need to shut up and listen for a change, because it might just be the case that their models are being disproved by reality.
You see, there’s a deeper problem with the dream of the managed society, and it’s one that Western philosophy—and indeed Western culture as a whole—still hasn’t come to grips with. We’ll get there in time, just as every other philosophically minded civilization has done, but it’s a rough road and we’ve still got a ways to go on it.
The problem can be stated quite simply in the language of modern science. The human brain is a lump of fatty meat about six inches long. It evolved on the African savannahs over a couple of million years for purposes such as finding food, attracting mates, and staying out of the jaws of hungry leopards—none of which are all that intellectually demanding, however important they doubtless seem at the time. It has certain hardwired processes for thinking built into it, which also evolved over that same period in the same environment for the same purposes. Now that we’ve figured out how to describe those processes explicitly, we call them “logic,” but they’re still the same habits that happened to win out in the struggle for survival because, all things considered, they kept our ancestors alive a little more often than competing habits did.
That’s the mental equipment we have for making sense of the immensities and intricacies of a cosmos billions of light years across: a lump of flesh the size of a meatloaf, a set of not very accurate sense organs, some habits of data processing that turned out to be useful for staying fed, getting laid, and dodging lions, and a certain amount of recorded experience we can use, if we’re minded to, as a source of guidance. Does that provide the kind of godlike omniscience that experts nearly always end up fantasizing they’ve achieved? Not a chance.
Thus the ultimate reason why the dream of a managed society always turns sour is that we social primates simply aren’t smart enough to manage the world. Our models, theories, and ideologies are inevitably too simplistic for the overwhelming complexity the world throws at us. Nor, by the way, will it solve the problem to hand the world over to what we quaintly call “artificial intelligence”—anything designed and built by humans, directly or indirectly, will share the flaws of the human mind. (The Clinton campaign, remember, generated its disastrously wrong models using top-notch computer technology.) And of course there’s also the same not so little problem with thumos and epithumia on the part of the people who own and run the computers, as Frank Herbert reminds us in Dune: “Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”
What seems to work a good deal better is to set things up so that the people on the spot can make most of their own choices, and make sure that when choices have to be made on a larger scale, there are ways for the people who are directly affected by those choices to make their voices heard even if what they say isn’t what the self-proclaimed Good People want to hear. That’s the great virtue of democracy—a word which means, by the way, government by the demos, the masses of ordinary deplorable citizens. Democratic societies make about as many mistakes as any other kind, but they have a somewhat easier time correcting their mistakes. Of course that also means abandoning the dream of a managed society and accepting a rather more modest role in the great scheme of things than Plato thought intellectuals should have. As an intellectual myself, I have to say, it strikes me as a fair exchange.
Reading Plato’s Republic was difficult for me since so many of Socrates’ assertions are so obviously fallacious. At some points I wished with great longing to be his conversation partner, and I certainly would have said something other than “Yes Socrates, I couldn’t agree more!”
As for the limitations of human thought, I was struck by a vision of my own thinking apparatus as something akin to the shades of the Underworld, forever circling without will. Perhaps the Spanish word “hojarasca” comes closest to capturing this mental image, which I believe means something akin to “leaf storm” and conjures images of dried leaves and debris blowing about the street. Seeing the apparatus of thought I understood that these ideas blow about, and I can grab one and pull on it and it pulls many associations of other leaves, but thoughts always operate at the level of thought. Thought can be novel, interesting, and extremely useful. But it is still thought.
Thought also is to my mind at a very much lower level of power than understanding. Thought blows about, but understanding has an oceanic quality and a sense of immense power. With understanding, with a sense of the emergent properties of people and situations, can, perhaps at times, come a measure of wisdom.
Can schooling teach understanding and wisdom? I tend to think it can’t, at best it can waken latent capacity or give someone the tools to slowly create it. Furthermore, I believe that understanding can only be paid for in suffering, making its apprehension rather obviously fraught.
Really, then, having political leaders care about the *interests* of real people rather than abstract categories of right and wrong seems to be the better model. It strikes me as a logical fallacy to conflate the most elite of the human primate troop with whatever lauded abstract virtues one may happen to value above others. To a certain extent, cynicism may be a virtue, at least when it comes to politics. Furthermore, if I’m correct that understanding requires suffering, organizing society around understanding and wisdom is a real challenge since most people avoid suffering at all costs, even intellectuals! and so we must make do with accepting where people are at rather than where we may wish to be and approaching politics with an eye towards the relative wiggle room available, rather than lofty ideals of how things ought to be.
Whoooooo-BOY! I can’t wait for the fireworks show THIS week!
“[E]very human being is composed…of epithumia, thumos, and nous” — or as Freud called them, id, ego, and superego, although the correspondence is not perfect. It also shows up in the Enneagram, where every person has a moving (gut or leg) center, heart center, and head center, and also in graphology, with the part of the letters below the line corresponding to the legs and gut, the body of the letters corresponding to the body centered on the heart, and the parts of the letters that rise above the body corresponding to the head. Wow, when you wrote that “if you grew up in a Western or Muslim society, dear reader, you use categories and concepts Plato invented literally every time you think,” you were not kidding! All three examples occurred to me right away.
“Our models disprove your anecdotes.” In addition to the Clinton campaign losing because its models were wrong, it lost because it was up against better models. In particular, I’m thinking of Cambridge Analytica, which not only modeled the electorate better, but was able to influence public opinion and exploit the ability of Facebook to propagate its influence. That turned out to be a good example of the Frank Herbert quote you used, “Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”
Violet, exactly. One of the many fallacies that unfolds from the dream of a managed society is the notion that politics is about manifesting ideals in the real world — a project that Plato himself, in his better moments, rejected out of hand as impossible. Politics is the art of the possible; when it works, it’s also a process whereby all three aspects of the human, including the grubby but necessary epithumos, can have their concerns heard and their needs met.
KevPilot, oh, I’ve got my troll-phasers set on “Humiliate”…
Vince, the contrast between the campaigns is a good one, because what made the difference wasn’t how much money got spent or how advanced the hardware and software was — it was the assumptions that went into the process, which were made by human beings. It’s like the old joke about driving: the defective auto part that causes most accidents is, of course, the nut behind the wheel.
Along the lines of my “Whoooo-BOY!” comment: your final paragraph makes a compelling argument for organizational “minuscule-ism” as opposed to gigantism – fair enough, well stated. But as you’re also arguing against managed societies, wouldn’t authoritarianism, that latest, greatest, sexiest most desirable new idea (straight from the 20th Century) qualify as decidedly managed too? Authoritarianism looks, to me at least, to be the flavor of the coming decade. Other than Italy, it seems to be heating up nicely. (Anyway, I kinda think Italian politics is best explained by the passage between the naive young American airman and the elderly Italian pimp in the novel “Catch 22”.)
Thanks again for the wild ride this week!
I always read Plato’s Republic as being a metaphor for the mind and a text best not taken literally. You might also say Sigmund Freud’s work was a derivative of Plato’s Republic with the Id and subconscious mind. (This might arguably be why Freud was so popular among elites.)
Would a wealth cap be something worth implementing? Like no individual member of society can have assets totaling more than 500 Million USD$$ in worth. That could buy a ticket on the space shuttle, a small stadium, A mall, etc. Aren’t once in a lifetime events supposed to be that once in a lifetime? Yet elites make their living on them. I realize there are 147 million dollar airplanes, but perhaps some assets should be beyond one person’s ability to control. Can’t a small private jet go anywhere a private 747 can?
Europe’s tried elites building dozens of mansions for themselves…. I think the jury is in on that as well. It doesn’t work. How many tax payer subsidized manor houses are left?
Random first thoughts:
It jumps right out at me that there is a potential parallel between epithumia,/thumos/nous and calas/gwyar/nwyfre and the pillars of form/force/consciousness. Yes, yes, I know…that would make a good theme for mediation 😉
It also occurred to me that it would be an interesting thought-experiment to write out a vision where the hierarchy is inverted. (Why is it that the intellect always gets top billing and the bodily appetites get short-shrift? Likely has something to do with who’s writing the narrative…)
Of course, as you point out, all people have all three aspects. The shuddering horror that springs to mind is the thought of someone attempting to compel the emphases and/or amputate the “improper” components: such as your Radiance or in Huxely’s Brave New World where, if I recall correctly, embryos were stunted to various degrees and the children subjected to rigorous programming to produce the various castes.
People shoving other people in to little boxes.
In terms of political implications, this would suggest to me that there is a hard upper limit on the size of a free society, as democracy declines in efficacy as the representatives become more distant from their constituents and power becomes more centralized to deal with larger numbers. And this, in turn, reinforces my notion that human freedom is best manifest in a multitude of small nation-states, rather than few larger ones. More or less the opposite of the “grand unification theory of humanity” that has been all the rage for some time now.
There are some situations where humans have gotten remarkably good at working around their inherent flaws in order to perform well. People are not naturally very good at flying planes, doing air traffic control or aircraft maintainance. The bloodbath that was the early history of flight bears that out. But research by the airlines and NASA in the 60s and 70s led to the development of human factors and crew resource management training. Air accidents dropped off steeply from the early 80s onward. Human factors and CRM have spread and been successfully used in the military, emergency services, health care, and high-risk hobbies like scuba diving. I think it’s got massive potential for preventing the most common kinds of mistakes and errors in a wide variety of organisations, including political ones.
I think Vince’s point is particularly well taken since both campaigns were selling a defective “product.”
Nice post! So you’re saying the senility of the elites can be somewhat mitigated by the democratic process?
The discussion of epithumia, thumos, nous and philosopher kinds reminds me of 2 ancient emporers and a contemporary spiritual teacher who is now in the position of many other contemporary Western spiritual teachers.
The first is Marcus Aurelius, in my mind the most famous philosopher king, one of the last great Roman emporers, who despite his learning and wisdom had his thumus and epithumia dominated son succeed him instead of picking a more worthy heir, leading to much trouble for the Empire. That fumble lead ultimately lead to our second figure ascending to the throne, Elegabulus, a genuine priest king. Also a teenager and dominated by much thumos, as many teenagers are. He didn’t last long, and more chaos ensued.
Lastly we have Culadasa, who has risen to prominence in the Western Buddhist world with the publication of The Mind Illuminated. He was considered a very wise and knowledgeable American master. A married layman who had achieved liberation through ancient techniques melded with science. A proponent of applying the full 8 Fold Path with special emphasis on the morality part, not just Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. I read yesterday that his wife and his closest students have just removed him from his post at the head of the Dharma Treasure Sangha due to misusing funds, hiring sex workers without the consent of his wife, and lying about it, thus violating several of his Upasaka (ordained layman) vows.
It seems like Eastern meditation, especially the Samatha-vipassana techniques employed by Culadasa, can actually work to suppress parts that don’t actually die, and come back with a vengance. Culadasa was supposed to have uprooted anger and lust, but the anger and lust, instead of being vented, fermented until the opportune time. The nous tries to suppress the epithumia and thumus and ends up blindsided. This is like what happened with Trump and Brexit.
So everybody has anger, lust, intelligence… desires and aversions, and some small bit of wiggle room. By the elite denying their thumos and epithumia, those motivations become covert like the elite do in a “classless” society. By denying that the working class has nous, they trick themselves.
This was a very enlightening post for me, helping to make sense of the blocks of thought developed by just being a part of Western culture and connecting those thought patterns with what we’ve developed as human beings. What really struck me was realizing how simply we humans think and then try to project those same thought patterns onto the rest of the world around us. Your explanation of the building blocks of human logic being so simple yet resilient for our individual needs make a great argument for why there is likely some logic further up the planes above us helping to care for its needs, and why we have less control over managing the world than we think. It’s always bewildered me why people think we can put some numbers into computer systems and accurately predict what will happen tomorrow much less years, and decades from now. Weather forecasts, while they’ve gotten more accurate for three days still routinely fail for anything further out, and often fail when just a day ahead.
Occasionally you might get a “philosopher king” who – by working within the grain of human nature – achieves something worth while. I’m thinking of the fictional dictator Olivero in Herbert Read’s “The Green Child”. It only works in special limited circumstances, as the book admits. In its fictional state of Roncador (reminiscent of Paraguay), the locals just want Olivero to get on with governance on their behalf while they live their own lives. Political participation is of no interest to them, so long as they’re not oppressed. Thus their happy simple state furnishes the exception that proves the rule – that the Managed Society is a pipe-dream.
My wife has been getting a very interesting insight in to this whole process of people rejecting the managed life arranged for them. She went to one of the two high schools on the Island of Maui and her high school reunion is coming up soon. As part of this process she has been looped in to the social media life of all her old classmates that stayed in the Islands. She moved to the mainland soon after graduation and has only been back for short visits. At the time she went to high school most of the students were the sons and daughters of sugar cane and pineapple workers. This was once proud work, and Hawaiians agricultural workers were the highest paid in the world. Now with the demise of these crops in Hawaii many of them have been left with jobs at the hotels, driving buses etc. But for the most part they are an exact sample of the local working class in Hawaii. What has been a surprise to her is the rise in a kind of Hawaiian nationalism. Much more use of the Hawaiian language then when she was a girl, no longer calling Hawaii a state but instead the Hawaiian Archipelago and widespread recognition of an actual person slated to be the new king. They are militant about stopping any new development that desecrates sacred, spiritual or unspoiled lands and increasingly attuned to traditional Hawaiian culture. These are local people of many races, not just native Hawaiians as some would believe. I find this most interesting because it shows this reaction to the managed society among a group that can not be dismissed with the boogie-man of white nationalism.
Here’s something which makes AI proponents heads explode: there’s a well known logical principle: garbage in, garbage out. It applies to computers as well, because they use logic, and so feed an AI garbage and the output will be garbage. So, how do we determine what is and is not garbage?
At this point they start spouting something about “machine learning”, but that doesn’t work, for a very simple reason: machine learning requires inputs. Thus, it too is subject to the garbage in, garbage out principle. Therefore, how do we determine what to feed our machine learning algorithms?
We have no choice but to rely on the human mind’s very limited, very flawed ability to detect garbage. This seems to imply that nearly every AI system we ever build we produce a great deal of garbage….
A weird thought just occurred to me here: it looks like the dream of AI’s ruling society is nothing more than a dream of creating “philosopher-kings”, since human beings can’t do it, and we have this dream of a perfect society, where everything is done by machines…
Hello JMG and all.
I can’t help but notice a certain confluence of your thinking on the mentality of elites, with Nassim Taleb’s take. He describes the IYI (Intellectual Yet Idiot), which seems totally dialed in. Do check out:
Re modeling, management, and the shoving of reality into boxes
As I reflect on it further, I realize that my use of mathematics as my “go to” frame of reference makes me just as guilty of this act. What is quantification and qualification but labeling and taxonomy? I suppose this circles back to the point I was told about “tools, not truths.”
Just the other day, my meditation restated that same thing a different way. I was pondering myself as the infinite intersection of a vast array of sets, those sets being the various descriptors one might use (male, European ancestry, educationally-credentialed, etc) as well as my past actions, thoughts, choices, experiences. All of this, all possible data about me, summed up together.
And yet, it would still not be “who” I am.
Useful in understanding me or engaging with me? Absolutely. But a metaphysical truth of the who-ness that happens to be wearing this particular mask at this particular place and time of the Dance? Not at all.
The illusion, I suppose, is that the latter is graspable by humans in any meaningful way at all.
So I am thinking….
The Internet giants like Google and Facebook are going to control the flow of information and MAKE reality (seem to) fit the elite’s models next time around.
I am increasingly concerned that the 2020 election will be decided by this kind of manipulation.
I love the Dune quote, wish I could paste it everywhere…
Been a follower of your blogs for a long time though never responded. Thought I’d jump in on this one as I am deep diving into the history of Political Philosophy and it’s application in history, and this post got my attention. Years ago I bought and read both of Popper’s books on The Open Society and It’s Enemies. I now know a lot more then I did then so, at your mention of those books, I pulled them off the shelf and am re-reading them. Other books are in the re-read Que as well, such as Hanna Arent’s The Promise of Politics and Sheldon Wolins’ Politics and Vision. It’s a lonely trek as most of the folks around these parts (the rural south) have little interest in learning, knowing or hearing anything that disturbs their safety zones of the mind.
Two other more resent books have also caught my attention on this subject: Yarom Hazony’s book The Virtue of Nationalism and Jonah Goldberg’s The suicide of the West.
Yarom’s book is getting a lot of negative press as the word “Nationalism” is a hot button word, and his use of it is very idiosyncratic and full of nuance. His book gets to the heart of what your blog post today is addressing. As I understand him and you, because humans, clans, tribes are prone to see things differently, unless cohesion is built on some kind of unifying element that holds us together even in the midst of our differences, a centrally managed world is a Utopian idea that history shows can only be maintained by coercion and force. The Green New Deal as an approach in adapting to the realities of the Climate Crises unfolding before us certainly has the potential to be a unifying approach to that crises, but your thoughts expressed in this post make me believe that it will be a forced top-down application that can only lead to greater conflict among nations and peoples. Have these books come across your path and if so what you think of their arguments.
On a more humors note. The thought Joe Biden might be the Democrats go to candidate in 2020 reminded me of the old movie Weekend at Bernie’s. If you know the film you will get the joke.
I’m struck by the elite’s contempt for the nous of the other classes. I see four strategies at work: 1) denial of creature comforts and social humiliation through totalitarian surveillance coupled with scoring systems on the theory of “grab ’em by their short hairs and their minds and hearts will follow.” China’s system is a premier example of this; the American version is less developed and more covert; 2) deliberate dumbing down of the non-elite (bad nutrition, bad schooling, etc.) with Brave New World’s eugenics (gammas and deltas being a classic example from literature; 3) the obverse of transhumaism, with its dreams of centuries-spanning lifetimes and IQ’s north of 250, making us ordinary humans seem less-than-human by comparison. And that leads to the fourth strategy: mass murder, whether slow or fast, covert or brutally overt. When group A begins to disparage and dehumanize group B, you can bet that A is preparing to enslave, otherwise oppress, or kill B and the invective is an attempt to assuage what little conscience they may have. Simply continuing with industrial civilization may do the trick, given its negative impacts on male fertility, until we’re all useless eaters with useless peters.
Reading science can easily disprove scientism, just as reading the bible can disprove all tenets of biblical literalists.
As an example, we can separate the brain into 3 layers (reptilian, mammalian and cortex) that correspond to Plato’s categories.
The problem is that study after study shows that things are not that simple. First of all, the instincts should be on top – that part of the brain is old and incredibly well adapted. What chance has reason to defeat the desire to breathe for example?
But more importantly, reason without emotion does not work (people with damage in the area that connects the cortex to the mammalian brain are incapable of making decisions, because reason cannot provide value judgments by itself). People that don’t feel emotion are not robots, they are psychopaths – and most of them do horrible things just trying to feel something.
I think most of the time we use the rational part of us to justify what we do (rationalizing).
To end on a positive note, I am pleasantly surprised every time I see someone/myself actually learn something and change their mind. It does happen!
Thanks for this, JMG. Yes, we need democracy.
I would like to make a supplementary remark in the spirit of the 1890s Leo XIII encyclical which defended workers in their struggle against capital. Democracy is most liable to flourish in communities where it is the workers, rather than outside capitalists, who own the firms. If Acme Widget is a publicly traded company with share capital, with any sufficiently wealthy person legally entitled to buy shares, the workers will see themselves as working for what in American street English is called “Da Man” (or, possibly, in three syllables rather than two, “Da Mah-yun” – what we here in Estonia we might write as “damääjõnn”). Such conditions encourage deference to élites, or alternatively a cynical repudiation of politics. (Ancient Estonian saying, reflecting folk memory of serfdom: “Mõisa köis, las lohiseb” – “That rope belongs to the manor house, so who cares if we let it drag on rough ground?”) If, on the other hand, Acme Widget is a cooperative in the manner of Mondragon in the Basque Countrry or Scott Bader in the UK, with share ownership the prerogative of the workers themselves (and with no worker bereft of a shareholding) then the workers see themselves as working for their own joint good. The joint good is different from the external määjõnn, in other words from the manorial élite. A co-op workplace fosters civic engagement – in part (a) because work in a coop confers workplace experience in running for office, addressing an assembly, interrrogating a candidate, and the like; and in part (b) because people who own their own factory are liable to take a specially strong interest in governing the matrix of streets, water pipes, power lines, courts, laws, hospitals, and schools that are needed for their factory to succeed. With external capital excluded, a nation may have a smallish GDP-per-capita, but it may also get good parliamentary institutions.
Admittedly, I do have to make this remark without personal experience of life in a nation of cooperatively owned firms. So I am for my own part a bit like Plato, preaching with head in clouds.
Perhaps you will in some future posting be examining some of the various possible structural questions regarding labour, capital, and the means of production, in their parliamentary-democracy context?
(signed) Toomas Karmo, lay Catholic in Nõo Rural Municipality, approx 200 km south of Tallinn
I’m a baseball fan, and I enjoy the writings of Bill James, the statistical guru who revolutionized the game. He once gave a talk for the statistics department of a college entitled “Battling Expertise with the Power of Ignorance,” about how admitting you don;t know something is better than making up something that you might be sure is right. He said,
“If the world was 10% more complicated than the human mind, or even if it was 40% more complicated or ten times as complicated, then the difference between an intelligent person’s ability to understand the world and a less intelligent person’s ability to understand the world would be very meaningful. But since the world is billions and billions of times more complicated than the human mind, individual intelligence is almost entirely irrelevant to the understanding of the world. What is critical to understanding is humility and co-operation. What is critical to gaining more understanding of the world is to learn to accept and appreciate the vastness of our ignorance, and to understand that one can only survive in a sea of ignorance by working with others to make our small lifeboat a little bit stronger. Only by embracing the fact of our limitless ignorance can one position oneself to increase the store of knowledge.”
I wonder if you watched the TV series Babylon 5 back in the ’90s. It took a rather more realistic view of human nature than Star Trek ever did. Anyway, one of the interesting alien races were the Minbari. They were ruled by a Gray Council of nine members, three members from each caste: worker, warrior, and priestly castes. I seem to recall that in the course of the show’s final season, their society slipped into civil war… They ended up reforming the council with the worker caste, who actually got things done, being represented by Five members, while the warrior caste and the priestly caste each were represented by Two members. Possibly they read this week’s blog entry, centuries from now.
I tried reading me some Julius Evola, and what really stuck with me (the only thing, really -what a slog it is…) was his insistence that society should be ruled by an anonymous, dedicated, skilled elite, all knights I suppose… and I kept wondering ‘okay, smart guy… where are we going to find these noble individuals?’ Because I’m fairly sure they don’t exist in the numbers we would need… Possibly we might find them in an episode of Star Trek… but not in any episode of Babylon 5… Some people just know better!
Thank your for illuminating the possibility of carbon credits being yet more game pieces in the never ending human saga of “mine is bigger than yours” and “I’ve got more than you.” This too can be linked to that lump of meatloaf mistaking them for a surplus of resources our survival depends on. Aka, “improving our chances for higher social standing and getting laid.”
(You can edit this out of the post as I don’t have your personal email) but NecronomiCon is this weekend in Providence. Not sure if you’re going, but one of my drawings is in the gallery, which opens tomorrow night from 6-8 at 9 Thomas St. on College Hill. Not sure if you’re have tickets to the actual NecronomiCon, but I think the gallery is open to the public, and the movies are all $5 and you don’t need ‘Con passes to go to them.
JMG, just googled Shareblue. Crikey! And this Susan Albright chancer STILL doesn’t realise why she did anything wrong. Ghouls.
Regarding the savannah brain, Arthur Koestler’s ‘Parable of the unsolicited gift’ from his books ‘Janus’ (1980) and ‘Ghost in the machine’ springs to mind:
“There was once an illiterate shopkeeper in an Arab bazaar, called Ali, who, not being very good at doing sums, was always cheated by his customers; instead of cheating them, as it should be. So he prayed every night to Allah for the present of an abacus; that venerable contraption for adding and subtracting by pushing beads along wires. But some malicious djin forwarded his prayers to the wrong branch of the heavenly Mail Order Department, and so one morning, arriving at the bazaar, Ali found his stall transformed into a multi-storey, steel framed building, housing the latest IBM computer with instrument panels covering all the walls, with thousands of fluorescent oscillators, dials, magic eyes, etc., and an instruction book of several hundred pages; which, being illiterate, he could not read.
However after days of useless fiddling with this or that dial, he flew into a rage and started kicking a shiny, delicate panel. The shocks disturbed one of the machine’s millions of electronic circuits, and after a while Ali discovered to his delight that if he kicked that panel, say, three times and afterwards five times, one of the dials showed the figure eight! He thanked Allah for having sent him such a pretty abacus, and continued to use the machine to add up two and three happily unaware that it was capable of deriving Einstein’s equations in a jiffy, or predicting the orbits of planets and stars thousands of years ahead.
Ali’s children, then his grandchildren, inherited the machine and the secret of kicking that same panel; but it took hundreds of generations until they learned to use it even for the purpose of simple multiplication. We ourselves are Ali’s descendants, and though we have discovered many other ways of putting the machine to work, we have still only learned to utilize a very small fraction of the potential of its estimated hundred thousand million circuits. For the unsolicited gift is of course the human brain. As for the instruction booklet, it is lost, if it ever existed. Plato maintains that it did once, but that is hearsay.”
Koestler goes on to say:
“It is entirely unprecedented that evolution should provide a species with an organ which it does not know how to use; a luxury organ, like Ali’s computer, far exceeding its owner’s immediate, primitive needs; an organ which will take the species millennia to learn to put to proper use, if it ever does.”
Koestler was arguing against the reductivist-materialist paradigm in favour of a form of holism / morphic resonance if memory serves.
Similar observations about the problems in a materialist-rationalist view of the universe were made (IIRC) by Alvin Plantinga (christian philosopher) in ‘Where the conflict really lies’ and by Thomas Nagel (atheist philosopher) in ‘Mind & Cosmos’. The idea of reason as an emergent property of blind random atomic processes is, in Plantinga’s phrase “without warrant”.
Along very much the same lines, I heartily recommend the book “Systemantics” (not system-atics, but system-ANTICS) by John Gall. It is a sarcastically insightful look at how systems fail. Imagine if Mad Magazine had written a systems engineering textbook and you will have about the right idea.
He points out the ways that people try to create systems to manage things, only to find that the systems: misperceive reality; have their own goals; fail to share information internally; fool the people working with the system into sharing the system’s biases and blindnesses; and so forth.
Charles Hugh Smith at Of Two Minds uses the phrase “Cui Bono” frequently, a legal Latin phrase meaning “who benefits?”. Elites always try to claim that whatever action they are pursuing is “for our own good”, directed at us proles of course. Unfortunately for the elites, the proles are starting to question a lot of elitist claims. In the immortal words of the character Fletcher, in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, “Senator, don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”
@ Violet “Thought also is to my mind at a very much lower level of power than understanding. Thought blows about, but understanding has an oceanic quality and a sense of immense power. With understanding, with a sense of the emergent properties of people and situations, can, perhaps at times, come a measure of wisdom.”
This comment is going to put a new depth under the part of the druid’s prayer which says… “and in strength, understanding…”
The whole “managed society” thing is something which is particularly characteristic for the Faustian culture. So what happens now with Brexit, Donald Trump and so on is the failure of just another of the special projects of Faustian culture, after the project of eternal progress is in increasing difficulties. An interesting side factor to this is that the Left has done a Devil’s bargain with the current elite, espousing internationalism, free trade, open borders and a penchant for micromanagement and large, centralized political units. As David by the Lake remarked, this centralization becomes increasingly unworkable, and that will probably have an important influence on the fate of the current Left.
Other civilizations have also seen increased centralization and more technocratical ways of managing their affairs; but Westen civilization is unusually extreme in this regard.
When Trump was elected president, A lot of political commentators were aghast, and were saying “Why would the American people vote against their own interests?” These people don’t know me, or anything about my interests. I took it to mean that Hillary and the Democrats were just planning on handing a few more dribs of welfare kibble out of the public purse, to placate the people who can no longer find decent jobs.
Dear Isaac Salamander Hill, These scandals are not new in American Buddhism. I wonder if it will not turn out to be the case that Buddhism cannot flourish in North America. Perhaps the land won’t accept it.
The conversation related in The Republic really did happen. Socrates was accosted by a group of young Athenians, including two of Plato’s brothers, and the conversation was later recorded, and likely enhanced, by Plato. The Symposium was also a real, and notorious, event attended by, among others, a young Aristophanes. It was also recorded by Xenophon.
John, et alia–
Re the nature of politics
As I now have a couple of years’ direct experience in politics (just under two and a half at this point), this post also brought up for me a struggle I’ve had between what politics *is* and what I have always believed it *ought to be*.
To take the second first, I’ve always thought leadership to be a noble calling and certainly one which a society would want to inspire its “best” members to seek out. (The question, of course, gets begged immediately: best by what measure? as determined by whom?) As one prone to idealizing the intellect myself, I imagine rational and reasoned debate, dispassionate consideration of alternatives, and selection of the wisest course of action based on the best information available, all working for the good of society and the people.
What political leadership actually turns out to be is a gaggle of individuals–each with his or her faults, passions, idees fixes, annoyances, and blind-spots–all tossed into a stewpot and brought to a rolling boil. It is messy, illogical, frustrating, inefficient, ineffective, and slow. And yet it is the best we’ve got.
I compare the list of things I’ve managed to get done with the list of things I wanted to accomplish in this (first and possibly only) term of office and can only shake my head. What was I even thinking? I’ve already decided not to seek a second term (immediately, at any rate). I’m not precluding a run for council down the road, but I’ve got other things I’d like to invest my time and energy in for a while–this whole writing thing, for example.
Perhaps I’m just ill-suited for governance. I’ve gotten more mellow, but the pace still frustrates. And I have limited patience for the nonsense that streams from the keyboard warriors of FacePlant world who somehow can find fault in everything but never have time to get off their hind ends and run for office themselves.
Is leadership just this way? Must management of society involve the sleight-of-hand, deception, lack of authenticity, and ignoble character that it seems to require? Not that I consider myself noble in any way (far from it), but that is why I could never get elected President. I’d lay it all out: this is what I’m going to do, why it needs to be done, and how I plan on doing it…and my opponents would cut me off at the knees.
Politics would be so much more effective if only it didn’t involve other people.
Back to the discussion of the elites abandoning environmentalism that started your article: prompted by links sent to us almost daily in outraged emails by the husband’s English family, we’ve been following the soap opera that is the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Harry and Meghan) whether we want to or not. The news is that these two environmentalists, who declare they’re only having two children in order to save the planet, have been taking frequent holiday trips via private jet, four in the last two weeks. The comments by ordinary Brits seem to be running about 99% “these people are total hypocrites”, but Surprise! the Rich Celebrity cohort has rushed to their defense. First, Elton John claimed he had made donations to offset the carbon footprint of the royal air travel. When a couple of environmental groups called BS on the whole buying-carbon-offsets-to-assuage-your-guilt scheme, right on cue other celebrities decided that criticism of the Sussexes was – wait for it – racism, because Meghan Markle’s mother is black.
Of course, this comes right on the heels of the Google global warming event at an exclusive resort in Italy that turned into a PR debacle when attendees showed up in private jets and gas-guzzling private yachts. Things are looking dicey for the Haves these days. What’s really curious is how the ‘deplorables’ have no trouble at all smelling the rank hypocrisy while the elites are really, totally, utterly clueless. It’s almost as if the ground is shifting under their feet and they’ve chosen not to notice; perhaps similar to the last generation of pagans in Rome as that annoying little sect of Christians gained power and in relatively short order turned the tables.
I’m hoping that this recent rush of media outlets to shine a light – gleefully – on the tone-deafness of our self-appointed elites and the willingness of ordinary folks to yell about it means that there’s some long-overdue shift afoot. As my mother often said, ‘From your lips to God’s ears.’
Raving from an encephalopath on too much caffeine:
The human stumbled a little left, a little right, then too much one way into a smaller and tighter vortex, then spinning in place, dizzy and lost.
We almost had it partially good in the USA. Many agencies had potential for justice, public health, infrastructure and welfare. Some of them actually worked for awhile but they lacked direct feedback, most couldn't listen or look and adjust according to actual need. Then they were captured by greed. The clean air was nice, maybe the left coast will have it for awhile except the pesky wildfire.
Competence has become irrelevant.
"Trump’s shambolic transition team" Guardian long read.
"There were hundreds of fantastically important success stories in the US government. They just never got told.
"Stier knew an astonishing number of them. He had detected a pattern: a surprising number of the people responsible for them were first-generation Americans who had come from places without well-functioning governments. People who had lived without government were more likely to find meaning in it. On the other hand, people who had never experienced a collapsed state were slow to appreciate a state that had not yet collapsed.
"That was maybe Stier’s biggest challenge: explaining the value of this enterprise at the centre of a democratic society to people who either took it for granted or imagined it as a pernicious force in their lives over which they had no control."
"Much of [the FDA's] work was complicated and technical – and yet for the months between the election and the inauguration, Trump people never turned up to learn about it. Only on inauguration day did they flood into the building, but the people who showed up had no idea why they were there or what they were meant to do. Trump sent, among others, a long-haul truck driver, a telephone company clerk, a gas company meter reader, a country club cabana attendant, a Republican National Committee intern and the owner of a scented candle company. One of the CVs listed the new appointee’s only skill as “a pleasant demeanor”.
So in a nutshell, western civilization to date: analysis paralysis, philosophy, parsing of data, hypothetical models, and intellectual ends of the road cannot outstrip our true dominant virtues- narcissism, vanity, greed, and avarice. We are a ‘hot mess’ aren’t we? Not bad for the first few thousand years. “Pass the peanuts and another round on me”!
One might act out of any of Plato’s centres, or all of them, or similarly act out of any of the chakras, all of which can be done unconsciously. But it is the raising of consciousness and then acting consciously which is liberating, both individually and collectively. The mind is the slayer of the real; slay the mind and set free the real.
Re “voting against one’s own interests”
I heard that (and still hear that) repeated as well. The follow-on sentiment is usually something along the lines of “deplorables are too stupid to know what their interests even are.” The sheer arrogance of this stance is self-evident and yet these commenters are blind to the obvious answer. This is one of the reasons the Dems have failed to learn the lessons they so desperately needed to have learned from their loss in 2016.
“What makes an elite of educated managerial specialists such a disaster for any society cursed with such a system, in turn, isn’t that the specialists are morally worse than other elites. It’s that the ideology of that particular kind of elite education makes it all but impossible for them to recognize when they’re wrong. ”
For the past few election cycles I’ve been concerned that we tend to choose Presidents who’ve graduated from the Ivy League. The country is a mess yet these graduates of “elite” institutions can’t recognize when they are wrong. Of course things are arranged so that they and their cohorts in the “elite” class get most of the benefits, and few if any of the costs. So it’s understandable that they can’t recognize they are wrong – they don’t suffer from their policies so nothing comes into focus for them. This seems to happen even when someone wasn’t born into the “elite” class but only joined it later (I’m thinking specifically about Bill Clinton and Obama, though there are certainly others) Somthing about graduating from and “elite” school seems to make it impossible (and undesireable from their perspective) to think outside the box. I’m inclined to think that we need a Pres. educated at “State”, or dare I say it,, with an Associates degree in Welding Technology from community college.
After reading this post I decided not to comment at all this week. Oh well. Markets are a neoliberal solution. Real liberals prefer regulation in the public interest, which assumes that the public interest exists and that it’s ascertainable. Not everyone agrees. So with the neoliberal solution you have an elite corps of economists designing markets, which despite pleas that markets are “value neutral,” everybody knows that the way the market is designed pretty much determines the outcome. Not everyone is willing to admit that they know this. Either way, with markets or regulations, you get an elite minority making the decisions.
This post is pretty timely for me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the trouble with managing an individual’s and a society’s needs (and wants). And I’ve been reading a good bit about Plato’s pitfalls in B. Russell’s “The History of Western Philosophy.”
One thing I’m curious about though is that you mention habits we’ve developed over time. Do you think there’s any benefit of looking at the habits we get ourselves into and the systems in our environment that enable them and how we might go about altering them?
My most recent example is plastic bags and other food packaging. How grocery stores willingly and freely hand out plastic bags. How you go to the meat counter and they instantly wrap your selection in plastic and/or paper. Because they do it, it becomes an expectation. What if they didn’t do it? Why do we make it easy to collect and throw away materials that take forever to break down? I know there’s an industry in there benefiting and we’ve become accustomed to the pattern, and that’s probably why it’s still a thing, but how could we change that? Personal choice and awareness? Laws? (I know there’s some waves working toward that at the moment for single-use plastics, and equally motions fighting it). Is the best way to look at your own habits and really just do your best to lessen your impact?
There’s something to be said for spreading messages too – as an author and blogger – do you agree in the value of bringing awareness to the changes people could be making? People are good imitators and some people are listening. What’s more powerful – words or actions? 😉
I called another grocery store chain yesterday to see if they allow people to bring their own containers, and they said yes, but they really only knew one woman who did it. Humans lean toward convenience. They lean toward what’s available. And what they’ve been shown. Sometimes they don’t know a different way is out there or the alternative just isn’t as easy as the current system in place – they have the opportunity to be lazy about it.
Should the changes we make recognize and try to work with those behaviors/habits to ensure more success?
Thank you, as always, for your guidance and thoughts.
Hi JMG. Leopold Kohr comes to a similar conclusion in “The Breakdown of Nations”, arguing that smaller political entities work better than larger ones. Cheers! Paul.
One thing you left out in your discussion of the Republic: the Noble Lie. The people would be told that they emerged from the soil of their country, but from different metals which imparted the different qualities to each class. The Guardians were to tell and retell the Noble Lie, knowing all the while that there were no differences between people to maintain order.
I’ve often wondered if, since we were only looking at a republic to examine what virtue might be in oneperson, Plato meant that we should lie to ourselves about our various impulses, to see some of them as base and some of them as noble to maintain order in ourselves the same way order is maintained in his model republic.
I don’t know that this has any implications for our politics. Our guardians seem to really believe there are differences between classes of people. If they knew that this was only a useful fiction, they might be more effective.
It seems like China is seeing just how far they can push the dream of a managed society. A rigid meritocracy ensures that the most highly educated end up in government, and a surveillance-based “social credit” system now explicitly rewards and punishes citizens based on how well they conform to the elites’ ideals. I wonder how long that can last…
@DarkestYorkshire I was also thinking of the airline industry as an example where increasing management and rules have had positive results. I think that can be traced to two causes: 1) the criteria for improved safety are clear and universally agreed upon (i.e. fewer crashes and emergency situations), and 2) nearly everyone involved – management, employees, and passengers – agrees that minimizing risk should take priority over competing interests (like increasing efficiency or reducing costs) where a conflict exists, and thus they are willing to abide by edicts passed down by “experts” at the FAA. Even so, I think we may have reached an asymptote beyond which safety cannot be reasonably improved, and attempts to do so by further increasing complexity are actually more likely to have the opposite effect (Boeing’s crash-triggering “Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System” comes to mind…)
Thinking back to our discussion two weeks ago, it occurs to me that – ecofascism aside – the left may be forced to choose between focusing on marginalized groups and focusing on the environment, as those two concerns are quite often in conflict. After all, keeping folks in poverty keeps their carbon emissions quite low, and removing protections from lands and species opens up agricultural and mining opportunities that are beneficial in the near term for the (usually marginalized) human communities in the area.
Once again, I agree with what you wrote. I was thinking about this pandering to the elites in reference to Europe and your response to me once that our elites love to pretend they are European. Looking back on our involvement in WW1 and WW2, I now wonder if our elites then, shipped our young men to fight Europe’s war so they could pander and show-off to Europe? Sure we were told we were saving democracy and obviously we saved innocent lives given the probable outcomes, but was it really that?
And absolutely carbon taxes are just another way to pull money out of the pockets of everyday people and put it in the accounts of the investing class. Then the Good People™ can exclaim that they don’t understand how a carbon tax isn’t working to impact climate change and even more money shifted to the 1% wealthiest people.
Did you see the meme of the Trump hotel in Greenland? So funny!
Like you, I have long suspected that representative government breaks down at large scales. In high school I read both Montesquieu, who argued that republican government is only the best type for a small state, and James Madison, who argued in the Federalist No. 10 that a larger republic would work better by ameliorating the problem of factional interests. Even back then, I made an exception for my usual adulation of the Founding Fathers to conclude that the Federalist 10 was nonsense.
I also think this is the reason why European countries today are better-run, by almost every measure, than the United States. If the United States still had a functioning federal system, with most of the power in the state houses or city hall like the founders intended, we Americans could have the same benefits. I’ve tried to get this idea into the heads of friends, but they won’t accept the premise that Europe is doing anything better because, as they say, ‘the founders gave us a good system.’
Well, they did, but it isn’t the system we have now. But they can’t seem to acknowledge that because they buy into one of the major myths of our time, the myth of the One Revolution – that a single past revolution set all things right, another event like it will never be necessary, and simply to consider the alternative is to disparage the heroes of the original revolution – heroes who, of course, did not themselves believe in the One Revolution.
I’m struck by how many visions of the future still revolve around all the world having a single global government, and I remember meeting people in environmental activist circles who were enthusiastic about such an idea. Even then I wondered why — why assume that a single government would be wiser than any other government has been with regard to the environment? Have the closest things to planned economies of vast areas of the planet – the empires of Stalin and Mao – been ecologically minded or good for the average person?
I’m guessing proponents of the idea always assumed they would be one of the ones in charge, in the same way that so many people who dream of a global apocalypse assume they will be one of the few survivors, or people who want to rebel against the rules always assume that only they will be the ones to benefit from rule-breaking.
The problems with “democracy” are also well known, as it too lets all the cognitive deficiencies of that piece of meat within our heads run wild.
And that happens to affect some of the most important problems society has to deal with, such as sustainability.
Nobody is ever going to vote for consuming less and not having kids so that the world does not get overpopulated.
If you let those decisions be made “democratically”, you get the world we live and the trajectory it is on in right now. Not a good outcome at all, but the only possible one because of how our behavior is hardwired.
The only way to prevent that is to have each and every individual be a “philosopher king” type, who is educated enough to understand it all sufficiently well. Which is a complete non-starter given that we have never had much success producing “philosopher kings” even in extremely limited quantities.
But still, it remains true that “democracy” essentially guarantees an eventual collapse of the system. So I’d rather have something else that at least has a tiny chance of working out.
JMG, a fair exchange indeed, for not having your body hanging off a lamppost!
thank you very much John, right on
At the very beginning of the carbon credits discussions back in the 1980s, I noticed that the basic idea of carbon credits and trading them via a bank (giving the bank profits from the trade) was raised and pushed by the Rothschilds. to their credit, the global bankers are eliminating war between countries in return for a tribute to them as we “fight” global change via continuing our feudal subservience to our lords via a different mechanism. In fact, the main meritorious argument of the pro-globalist is that their regime will prevent world wars. Our overlords must have their carbon taxes or they may go back to their game of funding both sides of inter-country wars.
Random thoughts that came to mind (eclectic as it is!) on reading your latest tome.
A comment attributed to Canada’s first Prime Minister (though not a true attribution): Governments should always protect minorities; and the rich are always a minority!
On thinking about the people who lived across the street in the public housing complex:
Being poor is not the same as being stupid.
I disliked Plato from the first, so I always considered the real Socrates as a foil for Plato, rather than his teacher.
The thinking Meat Loaf part reminds me of the stand up comedian Emo Philips – “I used to think the brain was the most amazing and wonderful organ in the body. But then I remembered what was telling me this!”
Thank you for this post! As always, you do a very thorough job of pointing out how the timeless human follies are still with us even after millennia. Suspicion of Philosopher Kings runs deep in the libertarian circles where I got a lot of my education, and even as I’ve become more suspicious, over the years, of some of the abstractions upon which modern libertarianism rests, I’ve never seen anything that caused me to question the teaching that trying to manage the world is a fool’s errand.
Since I was fourteen years old, I have worked off-and-on on a sci-fi novel which currently exists only in my head, since I’ve periodically discarded all my drafts after living a few more years and getting a better understanding of how the world works, and where the story is trying to go. After reading Plato’s Republic, and seeing the problems with separating the three parts of the soul into different people, I hit upon the idea of giving my story three villains, one dominated by epithymion, one by thymos, and one by nous (I figure you can guess which is the most sinister). Against these I pitted the hero, who moves freely between all three influences.
By now, I’m not sure how workable this concept really is, as I’ve never thought of anything use for the epithymion-villain except as comic relief. Still, keeping the other two around, displaying their contrasts, would make it a richer story, even if Plato’s influence influence is unrecognizable without the third.
I want to thank everyone who came to the Weird of Hali – Red Hook book release party held at Sunny’s Bar last Sunday on the waterfront of Red Hook, Brooklyn, near where Justin, Arthur and Rose docked the Keziah Mason. They weren’t able to show up, but JMG did and a good time was had by all. Also, a special shout out to Kim for finding the perfect location.
Did you see that the Obama’s first production through their multi-million Netflix partnership was the documentary “American Factory”. I copied and pasted parts of a write up from The New Yorker here that describe the film. It’s incredibly revealing to me that the Obama’s first film is a pro-China, anti-American working class film, making us look like fools who don’t understand how the world works now.
“Almost immediately, though, the differences between American and Chinese business practices become glaringly obvious. The cinematic result is both inadvertently comical and also upsetting, underscoring how many marks American workers have against them in the globalized economy, in which companies can easily shift jobs to places where wages and regulations are weaker than they are in the United States. Although the workers are happy to be employed again, they know that their circumstances are never going to be what they were. One worker explains that, under G.M., she made twenty-nine dollars an hour. Working for Fuyao, she is paid $12.84…Early in the movie, an executive explains that the Moraine plant will be staffed with three different shifts with one unpaid, half-hour lunch break. Upon hearing this, one of the American workers asks, “Is this a union shop?” The answer from management is a resounding no.
The Americans are not prepared for Fuyao’s way of doing things. The Chinese employees are accustomed to working six or seven days a week at the Fuyao plant in Fuqing. They typically live dormitory-style, several people to an apartment. Leaving work in time to get home for family dinner is not part of their routine. (One Chinese worker explains that she only gets to see her child once a year, when she travels from the factory to her home town.) The company attempts to bring some approximation of these labor standards to the U.S., but the Americans, many of whom had previously been members of the United Auto Workers union, begin to complain about their working conditions….Behind the scenes, the Chinese executives grumble about what they characterize as the Americans’ lack of productivity. “American workers are not efficient, and output is low,” Cho says. “When we try to manage them, they threaten to get help from a union.”…..The Chinese executives seem baffled by the Americans’ complaints and conclude that U.S.-born workers are lazy.”
“They’re on the rise,” Reichert (the filmmaker) added. “While we’re going from solid middle class to very borderline—lower middle class, really—for large numbers of working people. The feeling is, if you look back to your parents or grandparents, they did better than you’re going to do. We’re getting worse; our culture, our country, our society, are going down. There’s not this sense of this great future, while in China it’s just the opposite.”
The director’s view that China is on the rise and America is falling is obviously portrayed in the movie. The mainstream media, and most politicians, are all on-board with this view and share this disgust of everyday Americans. So now Americans are awful because we don’t want to work like the Chinese for $12.84 an hour? We fought for better working conditions for decades and got it passed into law, but now that is something to mock? Wow.
JMG, your essay this week touches on my greatest fear of the future – the path to totalitarianism. I pretty much agree with Greg Simay’s comments. I see the use of carbon credits for control, not to keep the game going. Avoiding death will be a main goal of the elites, and they’ll be more than happy to toss everyone else under the bus. I believe this is their main opposition to decentralization as well – the herd will be easier to control under globalization.
This scenario makes me ponder other forms of government, beside the totally corrupt form of democracy that passes as a representative republic here in the U.S. But I don’t see any option short of 1793 France that accomplishes a transition to a more righteous way of treating our fellow man during the decline. And of course that path, as probably most any other, has tremendous risk to make things worse.
A quick note on the limitations of the human mind: this can become abundantly clear with certain kinds of computer simulation, probably one of the best examples being computational fluid dynamics.
At the small scale the system is very simple: we have excellent mathematical models of how many fluids behave (and have had for a long time).
Much larger scale systems can be simulated in a computer with astonishing precision, reproducing every measurable detail from the real system.
But what you can end up with is a computer simulation that is just as complex as the real system you are trying to understand, both showing what are called “emergent phenomena” – complex large scale behaviours like turbulence that aren’t deducible from the microscopic models.
These show up very clearly that there are things that we just can’t understand, and not for lack of information. They’re just complex beyond the capacity of our mental equipment to deal with.
I agree with Violet that Socrates gets away with way too many facile assertions in the later dialogues! I haven’t read the Republic, but his arguments for the immortality of the soul in the Timaios made me cringe at times, even though I do also believe in an immortal soul. Speaking of the soul, I have heard the argument that the Republic is, in fact, about the well-ordered government of a human being and not of a human society, since the fallacity JMG has pointed out here is really very blatant when applied to a society. Of course, the Republic has often been imitated, consciously or not, in utopian prescriptions for society, so JMG’s argument about Plato’s influence stands.
In a treatise of the 1920, Keynes observed the demise of classic capitalist competition between countless small enterprises and the appearance of huge quasi-monopolistic trusts or state-owned monopolists. This observation is obviously correct, but what fascinated me is his dismissal of the possibility that such monopolists might harm society. After all, they would be directed by people educated at Oxford and Cambridge!
Hi John Kincaid,
That Trump-transition article reminded me of the Mash episodes where Frank Burns tried to run the 4077th. 😄
I have been reading a fascinating book this week: Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. Mark Manson’s first book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was relatively intriguing, so I gave this new one a trial with the thought that it might appeal to my young adult children.
It starts out well enough – examines some science about the brain and how it works and how we can use science and psychology to be better humans. Manson draws on ideas from Nietzsche and Kant and Plato about the basic truths of human nature, and how no matter how we try, our religions and our institutions will inevitably becomes corrupt as they becomes successful. Manson also points out the the drawbacks and also the positives of democracy, much as you have outlined them above in this post. He concludes the middle section of the book with the idea that giving up on utopian ideals is one of our most useful courses of action – we must not put false hopes in human institutions or ideologies because they will inevitably fail. Instead he advises living by Nietzsche’s recommendation of ‘amor fati’, loving one’s fate, starting where we are and using broadly Stoic principles for getting on with becoming more virtuous human beings, and benefiting each other by being generally good people. So far, so good. The man is obviously in the grip of the Myth of Progress, but i can look past that for otherwise good advice. I about to phone up my local bookshop and order some copies.. but then it got weird.
After exhorting his readers to not fall for any of those sneaky ideologies that humans have invented for promoting hope while busily enslaving each other, Manson then turns around and begins to shill for AI. Artificial Intelligence is so amazing that it will start teaching itself how to think, and then it will start to run the entire world. And it will do it better than any human, obviously, because it will not be contingent on that incompetent six inches of meatloaf, to quote an elegant phrase I read somewhere recently. One of Manson’s main issues with the brain is that it is driven by primitive emotion and that Reason has a hard time grabbing the steering wheel. AI will not be subject to the corrupting influence of emotion, and will therefore rule the world wisely and well, and will eventually resolve all our problems, detach our consciousness from our frail and nasty bodies, and we will all live forever in the AI cloud of virtual happiness. Seriously, that is almost a direct quote from the last page. He believes that AI will be the last and most perfect religion.
I don’t know how familiar this kind of paean to AI is, because I don’t get out a lot. It is the ultimate endgame of the Monofuture, I guess, as AI will apparently send us to the stars, but I was completely stunned that Manson got there via Nietzsche, Kant and the Stoics. It is clearer after reading your post though – if the pure intellectuality of the head via Plato, is more desirable than the messy emotions of the body and the primitive brain, then the purity of AI, completely divorced from humanity, is the logical direction for that train of thought to go in. The fact that the author took a complete 180 degree turn on his earlier exhortations not to be sucked in by false hopes, especially those ridiculous religions.. well, the fact that he is blind to his own arguments seems extraordinary. What concerns me is that his first book sold 5 million copies, and this one is likely to sell even more..
Thank you Mr. Greer for another interesting article. I came across one particular quote that got me thinking. It read,
“Nor, by the way, will it solve the problem to hand the world over to what we quaintly call “artificial intelligence”—anything designed and built by humans, directly or indirectly, will share the flaws of the human mind.”
I use to rank school websites when I worked as a writer for an education related website. I remember when my boss wanted to create a “scientific” ranking system. The idea was to use an algorithm to determine how much presence a particular school program had on the internet. We built a ranking of the top 100 philosophy programs in the world. At first I was super excited to see what an objective ranking of such programs might look like. Then I noticed that multiple schools listed not only lacked a philosophy program, but were also art schools specializing in music. Apparently the guy who wrote the algorithm did a poor job of selecting what did and did not get through the numbers filter. He fixed the problem, but it was the first time in my life when I realized that one can write an opinion with numbers just like one can write an opinion with words. This is particularly interesting in a global economy driven by artificial intelligence. Now, a bunch of “scientific” algorithms are basically driving the stock market, and most people seem to think this makes those markets less prone to human failure. It will be interesting to see what a collection of algorithms do to the markets if they all select the sell criteria at the same time and start selling everything they can as fast as they can. It will be even more interesting to see what today’s philosopher king economists say as they try to explain this.
The grumpy old English-American (naturalized) agnostic John Derbyshire has this much right:
“The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, social, and personal. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the approval of those around us; we want to get even with that s.o.b who insulted us at the last tribal council. For most people, wanting to know the cold truth about the world is way, way down the list.”
In response to your question in previous post, regarding strong empirical evidence… I don’t think it really works that way.
In Western occult tradition, everybody knows there are 4 elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Each piar is opposite to each other and… a bunch of stuff I am not aware of.
On the other hand, Chinese tradition says there are 5 elements, not 4: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. And the correlation is not straightforward. Chinese Fire has many of the qualities of Western Air, and the same can be said about Chinese Wood vs Western Earth. And there are no direct opposites either. Rather, you can say that Water controls Fire, and it is a normative relationship, but if Fire controls Water it is a patological counterflow of energy, and each of those two can have a number of normative or abnormal relationships to any and all of the other 3 elements, too.
The thing is that either of these arrangements are truer than the other; their value does not come from being literaly true. Instead, they are useful because each allows you to think in certain ways about the world. If you are thinking in terms of confrontation, opposites make sense; but if the problem at hand is framed in terms of flowing through temporary states, the last thing you need is to lock horns with the guy in front of you.
Speaking of incompetent managerial elites with overly inflated opinions of themselves, the European Union seems determined to outdo even the Clinton campaign. Not only has the EU refused to negotiate seriously with the UK on the Irish backstop (witness outgoing EU president Donald Tusk’s arrogant dismissal of BoJo’s recent letter), but they now have their own answer to Hillary Clinton as the incoming EU president.
That would be Ursula von der Leyen, whose track record as the German minister of defense since 2013 has been one of failure, incompetence and passing the buck. But hey, she’s the first EU president with a vagina rather than a Johnson, so she gets a free pass, especially from all those virtue signaling “privileged progressives”.. And it seems that her top priority is using EU regulations to create a comprehensive system of censorship, while doing nothing about the economic policies that have fueled the rise of populism, right wing and otherwise.
So it looks like UK is fortunate indeed to be leaving train wreck that is the European Union.
Democracy is the antithesis of the managed society. That is why the war waged against it by those who fancy themselves as it’s elite has so many fronts: purposeful realignment of education to vocational training, the consolidation of information to fewer outlets, the reframing of the second amendment as a hunting provision, the abandonment of respect for individual liberty. Strip the ability to access quality information, then take away choice while claiming that it’s necessary for the public good.
Democracy is an important tool for the longevity of a society, but the free flow of information and expression is critical.
There is a reason that the first amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and assembly and that the second guarantees the citizenry the means to violently oppose an oppressive government.
I have become convinced that the path forward is a restoration of the Civic institutions that were once strong in this country. Like tending to a garden in early spring, we don’t need to remake everything, we only need to clean up and tend to those parts too long neglected.
It almost seems like Plato simply borrowed the Hindu caste/varna schema and used it to illustrate his imaginary “ideal” social order, which in turn was based on the very age-old Indo-European social hierarchy of Priests, Warriors and Producers. Nous = Brahmins, Thumos = Kshatriyas, Epithumia = Vaishyas and Shudras. We see how that system panned out in India. And of course his threefold conception of human nature very clearly lines up with the energy center system we see in most esoteric anatomies. And then the Gnostics borrowed this and rewrote it as, Pneumatics, Psychics and Hylics. Those deplorable “hylics” are the hopeless materialist sensates who will never unbox their divine sparks, and thus never escape samsara, as the story goes.
I guess the big question here is that Plato, likely being an Adept or at least an Initiate, really believe that a material utopia was possible? Or was he using his imaginary social order merely as an allegory to illustrate timeless spiritual concepts to students? I’ve seen some pretty heated debates over what Plato’s true intentions were in penning The Republic.
Happy dog days of summer JMG.
The tide is indeed turning. So tired of all talk & no walk. We are not alone…
A few days ago I ran across aa rather interesting symbolic mess. The symbol the American medical establishment calls a caduceus (two snakes) belongs to Hermes. The one belonging to Asceplus has one snake. The rest of the world does it right.
Might this be one of the problems underlying the American debacle?
“Of course that also means abandoning the dream of a managed society and accepting a rather more modest role in the great scheme of things than Plato thought intellectuals should have. As an intellectual myself, I have to say, it strikes me as a fair exchange.”
Tell that to the UK managerial elite, who are as you’ve probably seen are going quite spectacularly crazy confronted with twin ‘unenglighted’ pincers of Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn… (actually quite a few of Corbyns followers are managerial types- though at least ones who recognise there’s something wrong with the status quo…)
closer to home (here in NZ) I ‘m unfortunately seeing quite a few of my managerial elite colleges (I am from a managerial elite family) being driven insane by the death of the dream of a managerial society. Any challenge to their pursuit of ‘objective truth’ and ‘enlightened institutions’ is met with a blank stare or dismissive fury.
As an intellectual myself, I am also trying to figure out my place in society. I think a better arrangement would be for intellectuals to form a sort of advisory council (as they have in other societies), rather than being the people who actually do things. (I will admit, my practical capacities are limited at best!).
You may be familiar with Nassim tales diction of societies that are greek (run by thinkers) or Roman (Run by doers?)
The Managerial elite here in NZ while they have not seriously challenged yet, are certainly on the way down. NZ is traditionally a society of ‘doers’ there than thinkers (whether ‘anglo saxon’ or maori), how I fit in here is a question that endlessly bothers me…
anyway, just a few ramblings from me…
Interestingly enough, Indian philosophy had similar discussions about social organization. The Varna’s and Jati’s, or castes as they are popularly known, used the body as a symbolic represenation of social division. What differentiates discussion on social organization in India is that they put considerable effort into explaining what each section of society must give up to earn that position. For example Brahmin’s were given the responsibility of being the learned class in society, given power over education, literacy, ritual, and etc…but were disallowed from owning land or accumulating wealth. A Brahmin’s wealth was supposed to be his knowledge. Each of the Varna’s had similar prescriptions, but of course these were rarely followed in reality.
The division between the ideal and the reality gave rise to some very interesting power exchanges, especially during the decline of a kingdom or empire occurred, because various members of the educated elite would gather power by becoming asthetics to live by the ideal. Their sacrifices would garner immediate support from the Varnas and Jatis that were suffering under an incompetent regime. Better a Raja who is a pauper than one who dresses himself in your wealth.
Interestingly I’ve noticed the interaction of the western and eastern mental models as I discuss political ideas with people raised only on one model. I recently got into a discussion with a friend who asserted that the college is a public good. My response, which caught him off guard, was that I refuse to support a class of people wholly invested in intellectual pursuit at a standard of living higher than mine. The statement threw him because the normal counter argument is that “it isn’t,” and then goes on to define good based on a different value, usually using the martial path as a social good higher than intellectual pursuit.
Ah…you come to the triadic caste issue. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and (of course), the Shudras (and the total outcasts below even them). I feel like opening some nice whiskey and savoring this essay a second time! Classically done. I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself, over the years. One of the possibilities we have going on is that, even if people are essentially more or less in one of the castes, in the modern world, still, it appears that things are in a “mixed up condition”: that is, due to mixing, everyone, as you say, has elements of each, and strong elements of each, and (due to history, one damn thing after the other, so to speak), it is rare that a person who is self-actualized occupies his or her “ordered” state. Death by exceptions, this makes what you say more or less accurate, although I hold open (as you know) the possibility of a kind of clarifying of this condition, although it is unclear (to me) what this would look like concretely: possibly a world in which everyone really is happy in their station, or at least, almost everyone with any kind of balance. It probably has a lot to do with the “last shall be first, and the first shall be last”, the whole servant-sacrifice ethos inherent in Christianity from its founder. Thank you for brining this again to the forefront of my consciousness this week. Calls for more thought. An unrelated note, I had a startling thought. France (Catholicism) had a revolution in 1789, Russia (Orthodoxy) had its revolution in 1917. I wonder if the Anglo (Protestant) world isn’t heading into its own perfect storm, since our Revolutions (abortive and conservative as they were, staid by even by the standards of the day) were not “total” enough to suit the tragic and self-destructive nature of our humanity? Just a random thought, but it caused me to sit up straight in my chair! Then I got to wondering if this would be a sub-Shudra Revolution, below the level even of the Proles. And that really made my hair stand up. Is the “deluge of fire” prophesied in Scripture possibly referring, not to physical events literally, but to spiritual events, such as the flips in consciousness whereby man struggles to achieve through Revolution and fleshly means what can only come through Spirit? Lots and lots to ponder, for me anyway. Lots of implications for the environment, also, and the future.
To a large extent, one can view the current political scene as an effort by the Brahmins to use the Shudras (speaking in general terms, not classifying people definitively) to punish and contain the two classes or castes (in a functional or economic sense) between them. I wonder if this has something to do with a worldview which exalts both the Intellect and the lowest of the passions in a kind of binary schizophrenia, while ignoring the connections between them concretely?
There was a discussion on the media in Canada https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/shaming-people-into-fighting-climate-change-won-t-work-says-scientist-1.5251832 on whether shaming people for flying is useful. I wish more of the context of ‘people being shamed’ being people in the movement had made it into the discussion. The interviewed environmentalists claimed they were trying to fly less, but didn’t seem very keen on the idea that major changes now in their lifestyles, as well as the policy changes they espoused being a necessary part of being visible minor leadership in the climate movement.
I wish I could have been part of that interview; they’d have gotten an earful on how self-defeating that is.
Then again, people in academia really do find it almost impossible to never fly. It’s scientific conferences and fieldwork that do it. Can’t do field research on the greenland ice sheet without going to greenland, unless you intend to rely completely on weather satellites. But most academic flying doesn’t fall in this category. It’s those conferences that do it.
Wow, loved your comment about the Obamas and their new documentary. Every word you wrote is so true! Obama is such a fraudster, all that hope and change, bla,bla,bla. I’m not Trump’s biggest supporter, but at least with him you know what you’re getting. Obama was all mouth, and talk about a clueless elite! I don’t think they come any more elite, and clueless than him. And I got so sick of people saying you were a racist if you disagreed with any of his policies. And look how much $$$ he’s making, now that he’s out of office. It’s all about money for him.
I’d better stop, I’m giving myself high blood pressure. But I sure enjoy watching Dems and other liberals get their panties all in a twist because of something Trump said or did. Makes my day! Thanks for your comment, Denys.
You’re very welcome! On my end, I’m delighted that my reflections prove helpful — thank you so much for sharing!
Re my last comment about Mark Manson’s book and AI taking over the world – I just ran it past my kids and they looked at me strangely. “It’s called The Singularity, Mum. Plot of every AI movie ever. Have you even seen The Matrix? (Answer: No) This guy thinks this is a new idea? How old is he, exactly? (Answer:35. In other words, so old)”
Clearly I have no idea about what is going on at the cutting edge of ideas that the younger generation is dealing with on a daily basis. My kids don’t feel that being controlled by AI is a good idea, but they seem to think it is a likely outcome. No wonder our young people seethe with anxiety..
@Violet: “Thought also is to my mind at a very much lower level of power than understanding. Thought blows about, but understanding has an oceanic quality and a sense of immense power. ”
This is exactly what I see in the news shows my parents watch – thought without understanding. And I suspect that holds true for the Ctrl-Left in general, so that they chase constantly after this fact and that fact, thinking and thinking incessantly… and yet understanding eludes them.
I also agree that suffering is one of the great teachers of wisdom. When a person or a movement starts spouting off about the elimination of suffering as the goal of life, that’s a red flag for me.
Another wonderfully incisive post, JMG. This one brings a few different things to mind. First one is, what ever happened to Bioregionalism? Definition: “Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, and ecological system or set of views based on naturally defined areas called bioregions, similar to ecoregions.” Bioregionalism always made perfect sense to me on the grounds of both democracy and sustainability. Bioregionally organized societies give us a fighting chance to, as you say, “set things up so that the people on the spot can make most of their own choices.”
Perhaps if we bring back the Bioregional idea and begin advocating for it, that would be helpful and might avoid the stigma of advocating for “nationalism.” On the other hand, the globalists would probably find a way to portray us as eco-facists. One comfort is the knowledge that Bioregionalism is of course, what existed before Empire, and what will exist again after it, hopefully with more democracy and fewer warlords and slaves.
Another thought about artificial intelligence – could you consider capitalist financial systems and the institution of fiat money to be a form of artificial intelligence? Markets are supposedly guided by an “invisible hand” that will automatically produce the greatest good. But they don’t work that way because humans make sure that certain “externalities,” like the environment, are not valued. Government is supposed to “level the playing field,” but it never does.
That is why carbon trading is a joke. I remember going to a big carbon trading conference in San Francisco in 2008. McCain and some other Republicans had got on board with the carbon trading idea, the Democrats were going to come back into power, and the financial industry was getting ready for this new show. I was talking with some other journalists there and a very seasoned fellow said to the rest of us: “This is just another derivative.” Just another instrument to trade and speculate on in the financial casino. It was a big surprise to me, actually, that nothing happened during Obama’s first term. He wanted to focus on health care instead and so we ended up with that debacle instead of a carbon trading debacle. At least I got a whole slew of fancy tote bags, pens, hats and mugs that they were giving away at the booths!
Finally – thanks to njguy73 for the wonderful quote from Bill James. That is something that should be read as an invocation before city council meetings and other legislative sessions to put the people’s representatives in the proper frame of mind.
I appreciate your work here, and think that you articulate legitimate concerns.
In Australia, we had a carbon tax. It was revenue neutral (overall), but it did redistribute wealth from high income earners to low income earners. A huge and well-funded campaign was waged against it, and it was repealed by a subsequent government. Similarly for a mining tax, which was supposed to collect more rents from mining companies during Australia’s (now finished) commodities boom. I think it is safe to say that low-income people are objectively worse-off (poorer) in the absence of these policies.
I suppose what I’m getting at is that there are many factors at play here. Yes, there is the problem of elites overestimating their own abilities and being insulated from the consequences of their decisions (listed by Jarad Diamond as one of the precursors to civilisational collapse), but there is also the rise of propaganda and misinformation campaigns which are increasingly affecting democratic processes.
I suppose what is happening is that some elites are using the “nuos” aspects of the other classes to persuade them to vote against their own self interest. Perhaps the “culture wars” are just two different groups of elites battling for influence.
JMG, you have written much about this, including utopian musings on how society could be reconfigured to best prepare itself for an energy-constrained and ecologically-damaged future. How do you think we should get from here to there?
ps. I recently read “Woman on the edge of time” — perhaps a little dated, but I still really enjoyed it!
Best wishes, Angus
I had a vigorous discussion with my dad today about more or less this exact topic. He was going off about Trump wanting to buy Greenland*, and Trump supporters being full of anger and wanting to live in the past and so on.
I tried explaining that these are people who’ve been left in the dust by the neoliberal regime. They’re decimated by opioids, they’ve had jobs yanked away from them, and the attitude from the coasts is that they’d better learn to code, more or less.
I didn’t get very far (and it’s tough for me to explain these things verbally, I have a much better time in writing). It’s tough to get through the carefully curated wall of facts (or fact-like product) that televised media generates. It doesn’t help that by saying “Hillary Clinton sucks,” I’m assumed to be saying, “Donald Trump is great.”
*Does anyone know what the Greenland business is about? I can’t make heads or tails of it.
I’m at the point in “Muddling Toward Frugality” where Johnson talks about democracy’s role as a great muddler so that extremes are avoided. To him, that’s to be preferred. Managed society would be a swing out of muddling and into a rapid slide, sudden scarcity, and trouble.
This section seemed quite pertinent, especially in regards to managed reality, carbon credits and “good people who know what’s best”:
“I suppose there is no harm in hiring a small army of planners to work on energy, economics, and so on. Assuming that planners will be as ineffective as they usually are – especially since they will be working on an impossible task [winning “the war against scarcity” through national planning, global governance, or a Green New Deal, etc.] – it should not cause too much harm. Since they will have to offer a fancy product in order to sell it to Congress, they may succeed in creating a degree of complacency for a while, and that would be unfortunate.”
Now, he’s much more optimistic than I am, as he continues:
“Then again, the absence of miraculous results would help to dispel the last of any wishful thinking about the ability of government to find an easy solution to this difficult problem. One possible danger connected with the planning effort is the situation in which a very aggressive planning effort would somehow lock us into plants that prevent the kind of individual adaptation to scarcity that is already beginning. But this is highly unlikely; it would be uncharacteristic of congress to go along with a strong planning operation since congress would have to give too much power to the planners…”
But other than that, I think he nails it. Even the planning is a type or aspect of muddling so long as democracy is functioning well and such planning operations can be reigned in or stalled or given only temporary life by voters. With wholesale AI/bot involvement in elections, we might not be so fortunate as we go along.
John Roth – the caduceus being used to represent medicine in the US might very well be a factor in creating a tainted egregor (of sorts) in which our medical system has gotten “mixed up” with commerce (that’s putting it nicely).
KevPilot, it depends a lot on what you mean by authoritarianism. An intelligent despot can dodge the downsides of the managerial mystique by remembering that he may be more powerful than the people he rules, but he’s not better informed than they are, and giving them some of what they want (a trick Mussolini was very good at, btw) will keep them happy with him. It’s when the authoritarians think they know better than anyone else that they guarantee themselves crisis after crisis.
Troll Farm, a wealth cap is a clumsy and artificial way to do it, and guarantees that people will work overtime figuring out ways around it. You get better results by figuring out what gimmicks the rich are using to unbalance the economy in their favor — for example, offshoring jobs, flooding the economy with indentured labor from other countries, and regulating small businesses out of existence — and shut those down.
David BTL, the frantic attempt to make people behave the way some ideology claims they naturally behave has been responsible for an enormous amount of misery and death down through the centuries, yeah. As for issues of scale, that’s a good question and would benefit from some close study of actual cases.
Yorkshire, and if those things could be applied to politics in an unbiased way, instead of being used to manipulate society for the benefit of an elite, I’d doubtless agree.
Your Kittenship, American politics has long been the art of dressing up a pig in a prom gown and trying to talk someone to take it to the dance!
Isaac, got it in one. I’m not at all surprised hearing about Yates aka Culadasa — American Buddhism has pervasive problems along those lines, as well as severe class-bigotry issues. The entire guru concept goes septic very quickly once it hits this side of the Pacific.
Prizm, exactly. Human reason is an art form, not a science, and it’s simply the process of trying to fit our hardwired patterns of data processing to things that more or less work that way.
Zendexor, actually, a good capable despot can avoid the entire trap by simply realizing that it’s not his job to manage society, just to handle those few tasks that ordinary citizens can’t handle for themselves, and to give the people a certain amount of entertaining spectacle — you know, parades, speeches, the occasional execution of somebody really unpopular, that sort of thing. Plenty of despots live out their lives in pomp and luxury by doing exactly that. It’s just that if you get one who’s incompetent or power-mad, removing him is hard.
Clay, I’m delighted to hear that! In a sane future, the US would grant Hawai’i its independence and negotiate a treaty giving it a big naval and air base in perpetuity, thus meeting its strategic needs while allowing Hawai’i to choose its own course otherwise.
Will J, every application of AI I’ve seen so far that functioned outside of some very simple context such as a chessboard produced world-class garbage, so I think you may be on to something.
LunarApprentice, the similarity isn’t accidental; I’ve read a fair amount of Taleb, and his IYI category is spot on.
David BTL, excellent.
DT, why not start by pasting it everywhere you can?
Anonymous, Hazoni’s book’s on my get-to list. Nationalism has gotten a bad rap from those whose sole loyalty is to their class rather than their country; in practice, it’s one of the ways that a group of people can take charge of their own lives — which is exactly why elites don’t like it.
Greg, the intellectual prostitutes who service the elites routinely have such fantasies. Then they and their masters end up dangling from lampposts, or simply find themselves shut out of power by someone the deplorables back instead. It’s all too easy to forget that political power depends on the acquiescence of the masses, and can go away overnight if the masses decide to transfer their loyalty to someone else.
NomadicBeer, an excellent point. The three levels don’t form a hierarchy — that’s exactly the point. They hang out together and work out a modus vivendi, and the neocortex can get its way from time to time if it learns how to satisfy the habits of the other two parts.
Toomas, it so happens that worker-owned corporations and cooperatives are fairly common in the US these days; I buy flour milled at one, and I don’t have to go to a little hippiep-run store to do it. Democratic syndicalism, the theory that having businesses owned by their workers (not by the state or by “the people,” which works out to the state) is a better way to run an economy, is certainly an option worth exploring. For reasons I’ll get to in a future post, I think it’ll become more common in the years ahead.
NJguy73, hmm! I’m not a sports fan at all, but James is dead right; I’ll have to read more of him.
Disposium, no, I haven’t owned a TV in my adult life, which goes back considerably before that. Evola’s political theory is strongly influenced by Plato, on the one hand, and by his own sense of entitlement on the other; he’s very nearly the archetype of the politically clueless intellectual.
Badger, I won’t be at NecronomiCon, but if circumstances permit I’ll see if I can hit the gallery. Congrats on getting into the show — do I recall correctly that it’s juried?
An article on this very subject appeared in the Telegraph yesterday
Having read the article Denys linked to about the Obama documentary,I see the beauty of Collapse Now and reduced consumption through another angle. I’ve long understood the need to decrease consumption as a way to alleviate environmental damage occurring through our resource extraction and pollution, but I see too that as soon as we can all stop buying items of such complexity that they must be made in automated and highly technical factories that are themselves overly complex, the sooner we can stop competing with China.
I’m gonna say that again. We need to stop competing with China. If we don’t want to become China, we have to stop buying the stuff China makes and the stuff they’re now coming to the US to hire Americans to make. Bringing jobs back to the US is one thing, but in the long run, as long as these jobs are feeding the China monster in some way, we’re caught on a hamster wheel that they control. Workers here will be required to be as efficient as Chinese workers, companies will have to be competitive in their streamlining toward some sort of ultimate efficiency where parents see their children once a year and we’re all numbed to the horror of efficient-treadmill-factory life by the big screen techno-gizmos we’ve been tricked into desiring and owning.
I’d like to see filmmaker Reichert’s notion turned on its head. She says: “We’re getting worse; our culture, our country, our society, are going down. There’s not this sense of this great future, while in China it’s just the opposite.”
Imagine if we could embrace, happily, a retrotopia – with human-scale and humane lives – with our livelihoods and expectations calibrated to our literal lives, not to bottom lines and stock prices and CEO portfolios… and thereby thumb our noses at the consumption machine. I mean I don’t want a life in which I’m required to work for a Chinese boss on a production line… does anybody really, unless they’re desperate?
So, in other words – LESS should be celebrated with panache wherever possible. It’s the antidote to the glorification of consumption and the way to turn aside the life-eating machinery.
Dermot, to my mind Koestler’s parable is a classic example of overestimating the power of the brain. I think Ali got an abacus. There’s actually quite a bit more you can do on an abacus than add 2 + 3; the manual that came with mine (yes, I own one) gives the necessary math to extract cube roots, for example, using just an abacus. In the same way, the brain can do more than most people do with it — but not all that much more, all things considered. The notion that Koestler is trying to push is exactly the delusion I’m trying to challenge — and I haven’t been able to take anything Alvin Plantinga wrote seriously since I read his embarrassing attempt to defend Anselm’s ontological argument.
Isaac, thanks for the reminder! It’s been too long since I’ve read Gall’s book.
Dana, excellent. Yes, that little phrase “cui bono” is increasingly present even in the minds of those who don’t know Latin these days.
Booklover, exactly. Faustian civilization is more extreme, period; it rose faster, did more, expanded further, and now, I suspect, will fall further. Oh well.
Dana, anytime anyone says “they’re voting against their best interests!” what that means is “they’re voting against what I want their interests to be, i.e., my interests.” I’ve found that anytime anybody says that, you can bet good money that they’ve gone out of their way not to pay attention to what the people voting that way actually want and care about.
David BTL, as far as I can tell, that’s what politics is. You now know that it’s not what you want, so you’ve learned something — and you also know something about the kind of people who want political office, and that’s also worth learning.
Beekeeper, yes, I heard about that! Of course the rich are flocking to defend Their Royal Hypocriticalnesses — they all share the same habit of engaging in environmental virtue signaling while maintaining lifestyles more damaging to the planet than your average pesticide factory. I’m delighted to hear that most people aren’t buying it any more.
John, well, of course the Guardian would say that!
Dave T, that is to say, human beings are human beings.
Nick1plum, if you slay the mind, you just end up acting mindlessly. It’s as deluded to think of the human mind as the slayer of the real as it is to think of the mind as the knower of the real.
Christopher, got it in one. The Ivy League universities are basically finishing schools for the rich and their flunkeys, and so they focus on making sure that everyone who comes through the mill thinks approved thoughts only — can’t have anyone rocking the boat! Yes, a president who came out of trade school would be a welcome change.
Phutatorius, which is why, instead of “markets,” you back off and just let people make up their own minds.
RMK, all those are excellent questions that have no single, certain answers. Try it and see!
Paul, thanks for this.
Salus, that’s one of the things that makes Plato’s intentions really difficult to fathom. Is he saying that we should lie to ourselves, knowing that it’s a lie and trying to convince ourselves to act according to it anyway? Certainly a lot of people have done that down through the centuries…
Mark, my guess is that China’s getting close to another change of dynasty, and this sort of over-the-top control is a symptom of that.
Denys, I did indeed. They’re chuckling in Kekistan!
Brian, I think it’s partly thinking that they’ll be the ones in charge, and partly the fantasy of the monofuture, which includes a one world government as part of its basic apparatus. That we’ll go right back through the ordinary process of systole and diastole, with empires owning chunks of land and the rest of the world in the hands of little states and state-free zones, violates the monofuture delusion and so can’t be considered.
GM, so? Nondemocratic societies are doing exactly the same thing, and the people in our societies who are pushing for nondemocratic means to do something about climate change are the same ones who are flying private jets around the world and thus showing that they don’t actually give a rip about climate change. So nondemocratic means have no more of a chance than working out than democracy does. My point stands: human beings are not smart enough to manage the world, and therefore we have to live with the familiar cycle of rise and fall.
Bruno, why, yes, that’s one of the things I have in mind.
Mots, they may do that anyway. The long peace following the Second World War is coming to its end as the US global hegemony fades, and war is on the horizon.
Bruce, two excellent points.
There is an apocryphal tale, starring Plato and Diogenes the Cynic, which ends with this exchange:
Plato: Poor Diogenes! If only he knew how to flatter the tyrant, then he wouldn’t have to wash cabbages!
Diogenes: Poor Plato! If only he knew how to wash cabbages, then he wouldn’t have to flatter the tyrant!
I would note that the Republic is explicitly an extreme idealised utopia. Plato actually has a line about chucking out all people older than ten, so they can be educated young – a suggestion he would have known would be impractical, and Plato’s apparent hostility to poets does not appear in, for example, the Phaedrus. In short, I’d suggest that the Republic is a thought experiment on what Plato considered the ideal, not a plan of action, though, yes, Plato did seem to believe that Philosophers Needed to Rule (as per the Seventh Letter, assuming you consider it genuine).
Approaching Plato’s later stuff, The Statesman is a good deal less utopian – it does envisage the perfect Statesman who knows the Good, but it prefers to deal with the “second best” option – a constitutional monarchy. The Laws – a truly miserable Platonic read if ever there was one – is even more concrete.
But of course everyone has the three aspects but in different proportions. To eliminate the injustice of inheritance the idea of Socrates was to remove children from their families after birth and for a long time to make the children believe that their mother was the earth. Once they reach a certain stage they are told if they have more gold, or silver or etc in their blood. And no it has never been tried before because the philosopher kings or the warriors do not touch money only the largest class, who has not mastered its instincts, who is ruled by its desires and takes pleasure and is motivated by material acquisitions do.
But what does it have to do with the way we have been ruled for most of recorded history? We only see and seem to remember leaders motivated by greed and lust. The third group. They are not the philosopher kings. They are the lustful who should have been allowed to acquire within their boundaries. Enough to motivate them so they work harder for the larger good. But, the philosopher kings are the ones most willing to sacrifice all of himself/herself for the all. If power of rulership did not suggest any personal gain, the idea is that the one after pleasure would not seek it anyway….. of course the most successfull philosopher king will be the one who is able to be most selfless. And the system needs to structured around him/her so as not to ever give the philosopher king the power to make decisions against the principals of mind.
Marks comment about Chine reminds me of the diverse, thorny problems with which China is confronted. There is the aging of the population in a country that doesn’t have a modern retirement system, there is the decline of resorce availability, there is the question which consequences the even more over-the-top control in Xinjiang will have, and then there is Hong Kong – the population there has had its own history for a while and they fear that they and their freedoms will be swallowed by China. And then there is Taiwan, which probably doesn’t like to abandon democracy, either. Since the decline and fall of a civilization can, among other things, be described as the process of a civilization turning into a failed state, it is quite clear that the top-down control mechanisms will fail, since they are energy-intensive. Even non-industrial methods of mass surveillance aren’t cheap.
And there is another factor: A long while ago I read that the Stasi, the secret service of the GDR, collected all sorts of data, for example, who parked when and where, but despite their data collections, had no clue of the imminent political unrest in the GDR and other Eastern Bloc countries and the end of both.
@ Phutatorius “So with the neoliberal solution you have an elite corps of economists designing markets, which despite pleas that markets are “value neutral,” everybody knows that the way the market is designed pretty much determines the outcome.”
Thank you for putting the case that “markets” are not a way to avoid central control and design by a core of elites acting in their own narrow interests. Markets are just controlled and designed elsewhere than in government circles – and present us with the further difficulty that their controlling systems are even less amenable, in my opinion, to the democratic process than politically controlled regulations.
Regarding AI philosopher kings, I always liked David Bowies’ take on The Man Who Sold the World:
What could go wrong when you build a Savior Machine?…
President Joe once had a dream
The world held his hand, gave their pledge
So he told them his scheme for a savior machine
They called it the Prayer, its answer was law
Its logic stopped war, gave them food
How they adored till it cried in its boredom
Please don’t believe in me, please disagree with me
Life is too easy, a plague seems quite feasible now
Or maybe a war, or I may kill you all
Don’t let me stay, don’t let me stay
My logic says burn so send me away
Your minds are too green, I despise all I’ve seen
You can’t stake your lives on a savior machine
I need you flying, and I’ll show that dying
Is living beyond reason, sacred dimension of time
I perceive every sign, I can steal every mind
Don’t let me stay, don’t let me stay
My logic says burn so send me away
Your minds are too green, I despise all I’ve seen
You can’t stake your lives on a savior machine
I think I agree with your main point. The model of society as an inert object of abstract top-down manipulations leads to failure.Thank you for providing the origin and detailed background of this model, we must learn to recognize it. On the other hand, I have doubts about the immediate jump to the endorsement of democracy.
Democracy is born when the masses and the elite make an explicit, formal agreement about the functioning of government. (As I understood Spengler, this step takes place when the implicit, informal agreement between the same parties breaks down for good.) Your essay asserts that the elite should embrace this deal and endure whatever it takes. But you do not mention that the other side is also needed to play its part.
Your omission is probably deliberate. It makes perfect sense if the pact is already made and democracy is already working. The masses are highly unlikely to take the initiative and create a bottom-up populist dictatorship without provocations. However, this state of affairs is relevant only for cultures that are in a specific period of their life cycle. In a younger culture, the little people have another way to sabotage any imported democratic system: they can simply refuse to participate. If they choose this option (because the certain type of democracy is inorganic, foreign or cold), their elite cannot possibly do it alone.
I just want to say that democracy in itself is not a general solution for the challenges in government. The balance of top-down and bottom-up effects is the critical issue to my mind, its best expression is is different in space and time.
I wondered about your term “philosophically minded civilization”. I would argue that every civilization has its more or less implicit philosophy. Do you think there are significant differences between civilizations on this scale, similar to religions on the orthodoxy/orthopraxy axis?
Seaweedy, thank you very much for bringing up this new term (to me) of Bioregionalism: “Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, and ecological system or set of views based on naturally defined areas called bioregions, similar to ecoregions.”
The solution to the big problem facing us (shift from exponential growth to stationary growth, with all the ramifications this has on oil/resource depletion and the inability to keep an exponential increase in money supply ) will come by self association from the bottom up as formation of resilient communities that practice bioregionalism. Archdruidry seems to be the best spiritual tool for excelling in bioregionalism because it focuses on learning of immediate environment and how to use it (as I interpret things). I would love to read some serious discussion on this topic, as it seems to provide a way out of the basic problem and to a bright future.
Plato’s scheme worked quite well in the middle ages, when (with some modifications) it was the basis of the social structure, the three estates. Christianity addresses your point about everyone having all three parts of the soul; for example, prayer is an example of nous for the common people…
“I’m thinking of the reports to the Club of Rome you never hear about these days, which we also discussed two weeks ago—you know, the ones that insisted that the limits to growth wouldn’t be a problem if only the global economy was handed over to a cadre of unelected experts. ”
Hummm the Club of Rome…
Some years ago, a very radical ecologist and I had a discussion about “limits of growth” . I agreed with him that we were in full way to collapse in historical terms (resources crisis, climatic change and blah blah blah), but he tried to convince me that the Club of Rome was a angelical scientific group with no hidden agenda…
When I answered him that there were capitalist technocrats like UE “wannabe” king-philosophers “a la Platonic” style, he (the anarchist) said me “conspiracy freak”. So, I hadn’t no more talk with such a moron.
Club of Rome “hidden agenda”, factually is not very hidden. They have sent a lot of propaganda addenda with original and later editions of “The Limits…”, and they are ballistic about how to “fix” the end of growth. So I think I’m not a conspiracionist,(in technical terms). You can read his “good wishes” in public libraries, at least I could read “Romanist” recipe for saving mankind in my Main Public Library. If there is such a propaganda in a second-level town in Spain, you bet will be around every EU country and western corner…even at some 3rd world between “elites” to be evangelizing.
I told it to this naive activist, but he was in irrational mode, in spite of my “evidences” in public library books. He was 100% refusing rationale argumentation!!
I guess if this activist nowadays has a Santa Greta poster in his bedroom; “hombre!”, if you peer Ugo Bardis blogs, you’ll find surely some Thunberg sanctification activism…And I remember that Mr. Bardi is loosely friend of Roman cabal…(not Catholic church, the othjer one).
OK, JMG and friends, good post, and I apologize for my broken English.
(I’m “Pantagruel”, but I’ve managed -somehow- to log my google name. Sorry!, I’ve repeated my last post)
Back in the 19th Century, globalisation didn’t work first time round for the British Empire (‘Free Trade’) even with global naval-military and trading-currency hegemony and 1/3rd of the annual output of a very large domestic fuel resource (coal) sold abroad. And Britain had a world-significant manufacturing sector to help balance trade which helped secure its vital external food sources (up to 75% of calories at times).
This time round? USA? Sure, it gets weird especially for the strongest boy on the block.
You have long made a strong point about the USA sucking in the world’s resources to fuel the astonishing extravagance of a mass society (averages get bent by the top 10% in terms of disposable income, but the per capita consumption is still astonishing and unsustainable). So it is very odd to read of ‘prosperity sucked out of ordinary America towns’ (I paraphrase). Both the huge sucking in from the world in favour of the USA, and the sucking out of prosperity are realities, of course.
I mention a few areas of inquiry I have come across:
Local ‘deflation’ areas within currency zones and failure to distribute purchasing power sufficiently to generate local ‘profit making’
The value, thereby, of ‘pork barrel politics’
Ditto mandatory distribution of ‘public goods’ such as welfare and health care
Access to lower-cost global resources and ‘markets’
Mechanisation during the take-up of new energy resources (this is arguably an historical approach that has less relevance as time goes on)
For example in the petroleum bonanza it was simply a matter of finding as many ways as possible to expand the use of the resource and expand the ‘market’ for the goods and services. Mobilising access to wide variety of work, and turning it in part into low cost entertainment, was one way to make the money go around in the ‘domestic market’. The more you used then the cheaper the unit cost. ‘America the envy of the world’ and so on …
Failure of the globalisation ‘work-around’ for the energy crisis
PS Re Europe, EU and Brexit: I acknowledge both the failures of ‘post-industrial’ Britain and the obvious EU deficiencies. I personally voted ‘leave’ in the first Brexit in 1975 because I vaguely foresaw corporate ‘technocratic’ dominance (a ‘rule-based’ attempt at ‘managed society’) and the dangers of a ‘EU Border’. I saw the Border as a potentially indefensible fence. I underestimated, however, the power of ‘globalisation’ as a temporary work-around for the climactic on-coming energy crisis. In 2016 I voted ‘remain’ on the ‘Burkean’ grounds that the dangers for Europe as a whole were too great in the short term. I favour I think a longer term British accommodation with Germany and Russia.
John, et al.
Re the nature of politics
I understand your points. Two questions come to mind:
First, to paraphrase one of my own characters, if the nobility of democracy is a lie, and so obviously a lie, why is it a lie we keep telling ourselves?
Second, is the shadiness and moral flexibility required for effective political operation an example of working with the shadow rather than trying to eliminate it?
And for everyone, just to clarify in case I gave the wrong impression, my experience in local politics has been frustrated mainly by pace and resistance, not underhandedness. The latter has been more from our interactions with the state. And with re to the federal government, of course, it goes without saying…
This is not directly on topic, but it has to do with a prediction of J. M. Greer about Brexit: https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2019/08/uk-wages-rocket-as-cheap-foreign-labour-exits-labour-market/
Robert McNarmara, for your younger readers, the secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson, wrote his reflections on his mistakes on Vietnam, In Retrospect. They were many. But chief among them was an unwillingness to accept an unsolvable problem.
The other disturbing part was his focus on body counts. In an effort to rationalize the war making process, he figured that if the enemy was dying faster than his own troops, he was winning. So word went down the line “body counts! Body counts! Gotta get those numbers up!” Next thing your know any corpse is a defeated enemy combatant: old women, dogs, a teenager caught at the wrong place, wring time, etc.
I mentioned this to JMG at the cookout. A lot of the reasons that working class people don’t trust analysis by experts is… we know where those numbers came from!
John Roth (commenting on the caduceus) , so you’re saying that instead of a symbol of healing, the American medical establishment is actually using a symbol of the god of commerce and thievery? That explains a lot!
Thanks for this, lots to consider. For the first 20 years of my working life I worked on various large computerization projects – corporate transformation through technology. These were massively ambitious projects that almost always failed, leaving more complexity and wreckage in their wake, born in Powerpoint and dying in reality. At one company I worked for the joke was that every attempt to transform the way they worked was really just an attempt to clear up the mess of the last transformation. Trouble was, there always seemed to be a new crop of senior managers who wanted to re-float the transformation angle. These people just kept circulating between companies and projects, usually leaving a trail of disasters behind and never really having to say they were sorry, or admit they failed. Perhaps that is part of the dynamic playing out here – the managerial elite seems to be able to move on and try again, and not learn from their experience: another company, another town, another project, another administration, etc. 100 years ago, if you messed up badly, you were more likely to have to stay and eat your own cooking, maybe even die in shame. Perhaps that’s part of the global government/monofuture aspiration – lots more places to run and hide.
It didn’t take a genius to learn the lesson of these failures: things are complicated, things work in detail and there are very real limits to what can be done in any situation. Life is messy, and you have to do the best you can. But, also, there is real satisfaction in getting something practical to work, and to work well, and to not have to run away and escape. Taking that approach was how I survived. But not many people reach the highest levels with a resume that essentially says “I worked on a series of modest projects, got a few things done, messed-up a fair amount and tried to leave things a little bit better than they were before”.
Re my question on the nobility of democracy
Upon further reflection (after hitting “submit,” of course), it occurred to me that my question comes back to that point I was given in meditation: “tools, not truths.” That is, there’s nothing special about the function of governance, or democracy as one system of governance. No noble truths. Democracy is just another screwdriver in a drawer full of tools. Sigh.
Clay, I’ve heard rumblings about Hawaiian nationalism on facebook. Given the US Civil War, I don’t see us letting any states go without some head bashing…. JMG could Hawaii go peacefully without a NRA style insurgency?
Couple comments regarding reading Plato’s dialogues, and something to consider specifically about the Republic. First, keep in mind when reading a dialogue that Plato more or less never says anything in his own voice. He writes dialogues that share more in common as a literary form with Shakespeare than a modern treatise by Popper. Does Shakespeare recommend Hamlet’s actions? Tough question! Does Plato support everything he has Socrates say? Again, tough question. Second, when you find an apparent mistake in a great writer, it is most prudent to assume that the author intends that discovery for some purpose, and in Plato this is common and often a consequence of context and who the interlocutor is. With these thoughts in mind consider this: the Republic intentionally excludes erotic love from the discussion. Yet in the Symposium (arguably Plato’s second greatest hit behind the Republic) Socrates makes it clear that philosophy is above all else an erotic pursuit. Is this contradiction a mistake? Or do they mean something more when considered together?
So glad to see all the interest on this discussion board in Plato. Hope the above comments prove useful to your reading if you hadn’t considered these issues before.
I’ve read Plato, but it’s been a long time and I was a poor student… thanks for the refresher.
It is interesting in this context, that the goal of Orthodox meditative practice is to draw the nous down into the “heart”– literally, physically, you want your thoughts to be emanating not from your head, but from your chest. In my pathetically limited experience, this does have the effect of quieting the million whirling “leaves” (thanks, Violet) of individual thoughts, and seems to be working toward… consolidation? One-ness of thought, feeling, and action? I don’t have a word for it, and have captured it poorly.
…following on my previous comment, I should note that Orthodox thought is very much an exponent of Greek thought– it arose in a very Greek milieu– but that St. Evagrios and pretty much everyone after him differentiates between logistikon (intellect) and nous (the part of you that perceives, observes).
@ Orthodox Spenglerian
I envy your Brits getting our of the fangs of the EU.
Germans will always stay till the bitter end.
De-globalization is the way to go, I think.
I liked Retrotopia, thanks JMG!
I come from epithumia stock but through the magic of computer science I slipped into the thumos caste. Ultimately though, I’m dependent on my wise nous overlords and they expect me to protect (and enlarge) their virtual kingdoms with all my powers.
OK, going overboard with the analogy here but I’m trying to fit your excellent analysis into my personal experience. I’ve had some brushing contact with the private sector elite (CEOs, venture capitalists, etc.) and by and large, they’re no different than the rest of us. Some are smart and some are not. Some are kind and some are not. All people have desires and flaws, etc.
There are a few traits that DO set them apart from your average slob though:
– They know how to couch their base desires in the language of empowerment. “This product will enable millions of people…” (and make us filthy rich.)
– Public speaking and persuasion. The natural environment of the managerial class is the meeting, the slide deck and the podium. Master these and you will earn your “direct reports.”
– Understanding political taboos, such as mentioning race, class or any other uncomfortable truths. Always stay positive, inclusive and on point! (insert stock photo of smiling multi-ethnic office folks here).
Notice how none of these skills (which are mostly acquired just by having rich parents modelling behavior) have anything to do with understanding the real world outside the office or real leadership, which entails a deep understanding of an issue, personal sacrifice and risk.
Of course, the final sin is the many of these out of touch leaders believe their own b.s., that flyover country can be saved by more college (hey worked out me!), that installing solar panels is gonna save the Earth, etc…
Someone commenting as Anonymous mentioned Yoram Hazony’s book The Virtue of Nationalism. There is an interview, with transcript, at Econtalk — https://www.econtalk.org/yoram-hazony-on-the-virtue-of-nationalism/#audio-highlights
One of the things I like about crew resource management is it was explicitly designed to counter authoritarian leadership and blind obedience. There were crashes that when investigators listened to the cockpit voice recorder, it becoame obvious that the copilot and flight engineer knew they were about to run out of fuel or fly into the side of a mountain. But because of the authority gradient they were either afraid to say anything or they were trying and the captain wasn’t listening. It became known as the ‘nonassertive copilot’. The point of the training was to make best use of the knowledge and abilites of every member of the team. One of the things it does is teach leaders to solicit opinions from subordinates, and subordinates to be more forceful with their opinions.
It works across cultures too. Korean Air had one of the most militaristic and hierarchical cultures, and the safety record to go with it. Once the figured out how to explain CRM to people from that cuture, they went from the worst safety record in the industry to one of th best in a few years. It has another benefit that it’s not dependent on cooperation of the powerful.
Any organisation could learn how to do it and reap the rewards. You advised anyone starting a political group to study Roberts Rules of Order, I’d add to that CRM and human factors, and the Vanguard Method (a similar thing, but for the organisational as well as human level). I could see a future where the ruling class regrets letting CRM get so well developed and starts thinking it would have been better just to let the planes crash. 🙂
While I can’t see how CRM could be turned to nefarious ends, broader human factors are already used that way. Cults have become very sophisticated at using hunger, stress and fatigue to control people. I’d read that the bureaucracy of the welfare and prison systems wasn’t just an accident or byproduct of other things, but a deliberate way to dehumanise and degrade people, and break their spirits. I was on the fence about that claim until I watched some of Chris Shelton’s videos about Scientology – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF326xyA0QHI7Z5xAwKQDJg/videos. That’s when it really sunk in that this can’t be accidental. At least in some circumstances, bureacracy and incompetence is an act of power. It’s a deliberate way to make people feel futile, hopeless, and make them easier to control. As well as providing pleasure to those for whom treating others with contempt is a way of life.
But knowing how such things are done lets you recognise it, and even more importantly, make sure you don’t start doing it yourself.
@JMG, et alia
Whenever you or your commentariat bring up the Donald Trump election as an example of the elites’ arrogance stirring up a strong pushback from the working classes, I get curious as to whether you are more inclined to see Mr. Trump as a real threat to their power, or just someone whose style makes him uniquely well-suited to the reality-show presidency, even as he brings little substantive change.
I simply cannot, for the life of me, take “Orange Julius” seriously as a harbinger of Caesarism. He may be trying to project that image (I happened to be reading the Lives of the Twelve Caesars while Trump was running in the primary, and I could see the stylistic similarities), but the plain fact is that, once in power, he hasn’t violated any constitutional norms. Like his predecessor, he is very much a figurehead, and the ‘driverless car’ to which you’ve compared the government in the past is still driverless – that is, power is divided among far too many people for anybody to steer the country in a meaningful direction, and even though this is the part of the cycle where Caesars are supposed to come to power and change that, Donald Trump isn’t doing so.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have sycophants who are blind to his ineffectiveness. For instance, Jon McNaughton (the painter whom you mocked in one of your ADR posts for painting Jesus handing America the Constitution) has now taken to painting Donald Trump: Trump guarding the border, Trump draining the swamp, not one but two paintings of Trump on a football field, daring the whole NFL to ‘respect the flag.’ Then he comes out with one where Trump is standing on the white house steps, holding the Constitution high, with his foot on the head of a snake.
Most internet commentators just made confused attempts to link it to the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag, but anyone who knows an inkling of biblical symbolism can see exactly what McNaughton is saying, namely, that Donald Trump is the Messiah. The sad thing, for me, is that McNaughton is one of my fellow Mormons and is quite popular in the part of the country I was educated in, and with many of my friends, who still take this guy seriously.
And yet policy-wise, their Messiah is a man who didn’t repeal Obamacare, didn’t defund Planned Parenthood, and didn’t build the Wall back when he controlled Congress. Also, even after all his blather about cracking down on illegal immigration and putting Americans first, he can’t even get something as basic as a census citizenship question through the courts.
In other words, it appears quite clear to me that Trump isn’t a Messiah, or a Caesar, or anything much more than a Zaphod Beeblebrox, i.e. ‘his purpose is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.’
I know full-well that neither you nor I believe Trump is doing anything about America’s existential threats, but I am curious as to just how much power to change the system he really has. Will Trump’s ineffectiveness lead to even more working-class pushback and a real Caesar one of these days, or will it just blow over in the end, like so many movements do?
I know that its not the point of this essay, but I want to reply to Nastarana, about her comment that the land of America may not be fertile soil for Buddhism to flourish in. I believe that middle eastern Abrahamic and Asian religions do not belong here in America, either. My sister in law is an Apocalyptic Christian, and believes that Donald Trump was made president to help Israel, and somehow bring on the Second Coming. I’m pretty much of a pagan. We have many interesting conversations over bottles of wine, I can tell you. Anyway, I’m saying that I don’t think the spirit of Jesus ever came to America. So what religion are the Christians practicing? JMG? Anyone?
Mark L, the 737 Max was at least as much a human factors failure as a technical one, for the simple reason Boeing never bothered telling pilots how the MCAS worked or what to do if it failed, despite responses to equipment failure being standard training for every other system.
The interests of the poor and the environment aren’t always in conflict. According to Mike Davis in Planet of Slums, a slum is an ecological disaster. They are a very inefficient use of land compared to planned urban development, and the land they use was often wilderness or farmland. They also produce huge quantities of raw sewage. In those cases, some expenditure of resources would benefit both the people and environment.
Dear Medievalist, Don’t forget that in the Middle Ages, intellectuals were not allowed to rule. Bernard of Clairvaux was highly influential, as also I gather was Hildegard von Bingen, but they lived in monasteries, were forbidden sex, expected to submit to an austere regimen, and while they might advise monarchs, they did not decide policy. Abbot Suger was Regent of France when the King went on Crusade, but he did so knowing that king when he returned could undo anything decided by Suger.
Hi @JMG This has been an interesting read, and of course, upon hearing of Plato’s way of dividing up the person, I am immediately visualising three Celtic inner cauldrons.
I suppose that my old way of categorising people (and their way of doing politics) – which is thoroughly based on my own experience – can be slightly amended, to be more in line with this post.
1) There are people who aspire to rule [manage].
This results in various political movements, systems and methods for managing people. [every political party aspiring to be in government falls into this category]
2) There are people who aspire not to be ruled [managed] by anybody.
This results in various political movements, and methods (rarely systems, for reasons that seem obvious), for setting limits on the scope of management systems, and for personally resisting being managed. [various forms of direct action, civil disobedience, certain types of single-issue campaigning, and of course amorphous movements like Yellow Vests, and/or the Hong Kong protests, plus individual acts of defiance, or non-compliance].
Theoretically, I suppose, there might be people who aspire to BE managed, but mostly, I find those are simply a different fact of the would-be manager type.
For my part, I would say most of the people I encounter, day to day, have little ambition to manage others, most are way outside of the elite circles in which people are used to ruling and managing, and almost all of their political ambition is simply to prevent, impede or reduce the power of rulers and managers to disrupt their lives.
I’m beginning to wonder if the reason that supposedly worker-led governments (socialist/communist) have taken the decidedly dark path that they do, is because, although a revolutionary moment might easily be something ordinary working people will participate in (to limit an over-reaching elite), once it is over, they will want to go back to getting on with their own lives, leaving the rulership/managership of the new regime to those who a) are among those who aspire to manage and b) are frustrated by being too long on the “outside” of the manager circle and c) suffer from “ideals”. Since very few ordinary working people meet these criteria, and most have simply been resisting BEING overmanaged, the aftermath of revolution turns bloody.
Great post, lead to some fascinating discussion with my partner. And thanks to whoever put in the link to Nassim Taleb – diving into his stuff and it’s great!
One question: How do you see the implication of Plato’s threefold societal division fitting with your own observation that our contemporary society breaks down into investment, salary, wage, and welfare classes? Are the elites along Plato’s lines more like today’s investment classes (i.e. the super-duper rich taking yachts and private jets to the conference in Sicily) or more like today’s salary class (i.e. most of the people who voted for Hillary Clinton)? Or is the salary class kind of split between the “head” and “chest” in Plato’s model?
I get that they’re different models, that Plato’s breakdown is not yours, and that they don’t necessarily fit together smoothly, but I’m curios as to your take on how they overlap if you overlay one on top of the other.
I’m also reminded of David Graeber’s excellent work on “bullshit jobs.” You and he may see many things differently politically and in some other ways (he’s an anarchist of one kind or another), but he’s another thinker I really respect: https://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/
On every post of yours I see people commenting about AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning). That is not surprising given that they are fashionable today – same that people talked about clocks 300 years ago and imagined robots and computers driven by clocks.
I work in the field and I understand it enough to laugh when I read the grandiose dreams connected to AI.
As it is done now, ML is just another statistical curve fitting. Given a set of inputs, what function will it fit best? It’s actually not that simple and there are a lot of manual steps in selecting types of functions, number of dimensions and restricting the data set. Basically there is a lot of human input required, because computing power and time are restricted and the pressure of releasing something! means that nothing is ever working properly.
What this leads to is funny. There is no transfer learning. The term itself is ridiculous – can you imagine learning how to count apples and then not being able to count oranges? But in computers that is exactly what happens. One example is the game Breakout (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakout_(video_game)).
A program was trained to play the game and it became quite good at it.
Then the paddle (similar to Pong) was moved 10 pixels – it immediately lost all “learning” and failed.
Another example is translation. Douglas Hostadter (author of “Godel, Escher, Bach”) has an article about it: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/the-shallowness-of-google-translate/551570/
I do think there is something to AI and it’s worth pursuing, but right now it is not a science.
I like this quote from “Good Omens”: “…fax machine with the intelligence of a computer and a computer with the intelligence of a retarded ant.”
Of course an ant is still far in the future – we don’t have yet an autonomous robot able to handle its environment like an ant (with its 300 neurons) can.
If I may:
I’m not a Christian, but I think it’s very clear that Christ came to this continent in a big way. First, I think of the deep spiritual nature of the conquest of Mesoamerica — with prophetic dreams on the part of the conquered and the militant Catholicism of the Spanish. The two seem fitted for each other in a deeply destined way, hence the strange, dreamlike, unfolding of the conquest and the institution of the Church.
Second, so many in the Americas have profound experiences of Christ including such things as miracles. I think it’s incorrect to write this off or to make the claim that other deities are pretending to be Christ or what have you. I’m certain that many pray to Christ and get an extremely robust response.
My thought is in an identical manner to the deities of the African Traditional Religions following their people, I think that the Christian god, The Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints followed their people. The formal institutions of the Church may be a more historically fleeting thing, but I predict that in 500 years there will still be folks calling on Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints and getting definite and robust responses.
In response to Paragraphs 3 and 4, John Naisbitt in Megatrends 2000 says there is no reason to talk about trade deficits, that encompass only those goods from the old industrial economy that pass through a US Ports of Entry (PoE) and get checked off a Customs checklist.
Naisbitt uses the example American Companies located in Japan (IBM, Texas Instruments, and Coca-Cola) produced 80 billion dollars of good that do not pass through a PoE and therefore are not counted at all in a trade deficit. Same for consulting, engineering, and architecture–high dollar value goods and servicesthat do not get counted via a US PoE. And yes, finance goods and services. He states we need new economic measures for the global economy, ones that do not trigger protectionism.
Wesley, GM, drhooves and Arkansas, on the subject of revolution. There are some anarchists who believe in a single revolution, but there’s also an anarchist theory that it will take three revolutions in fairly quick succession to get us where we want to go.
The first is spontaneous overthrow of the most hated symbols of the old regieme. It’s what hapened in Russia in Feburary 1917 and the Arab Spring. A lot of revolutions get to this point. The second revolution is much more planned and has to gut out the state and the structure of society to a much deeper level. It does all the ugly necessities, including winning the civil war. This is what October 1917 was meant to do. The third revolution has never happened, but is supposed to overthrow the leaders of the second revolution after they have stopped being a necessary evil and become just evil. The revolts in Tambov, in Ukraine, and at the Krondstadt naval base were supposed to develop into this.
So…a lot of work. 🙂 It’s theoretically possible that if you do the first two optimally you could avoid needing the third, but I wouldn’t count on it. At every stage there is potential for catastrophic failure – outright defeat, stalemate civil war, descent into authoritarianism, bureacracy and corruption – the sinisterly named ’embourgeoisement’ of revolutionary leaders. But even if none of the obvious failures happen and it seems to have gone off perfectly, there’s still plenty of scope for it to go wrong.
There is a condition where old bad habits start coming back a few years after the revolution. For example in Russia antisemitism came back with a vengeance. The Bolshevik term for it was ‘survivals’, I think of it as ‘persistance’ or the ‘Old Bad’. And there’s no way to know how long it can keep coming back. At least according to computer simulations using variations on the prisoner’s dilemma, there could be occasional flare ups for generations into the future, until cooperation becomes the norm.
That’s just the bad things we know now. Such a radical change in society may throw up completely new ways to be evil we’ve never even thought of. That would be the ‘New Bad’. Furthermore, even if the revolution ends up doing everything it’s supposed to, and ticks every box, people could still choose to take it off the rails. To give up and go out in a blaze of glory and decadence that would make Caligula go hide in the bathroom.
But despite all the potential risks, revolution is the only alternative to exactly the decline JMG describes. I’m no longer convinced that revolution can save us from going over the cliff. But if we’re going to go over it anyway, I’d rather do it in the wake of a revolution that made unity and cooperation the prominant values of society. Or I should say societies. Anybody who thinks socialism in Barranquilla will be the same thing as socialism in Barnsley is in for a shock. 🙂 Without competition (at least of the kind we’re used to) we could skip some of the scarcity industrialism and scavenger phases, and get a head start on the ecotechnic society. At the very least we’ll have tried to do one last good thing before the end.
Time to go hand out swords at the Gordian Knot. 🙂
About Greenland, I can only guess, but for what it might be worth,
There are legitimate strategic interests involved, not to mention sustainably maintaining what is left of North Atlantic fisheries. One might think that would necessitate close alliance and cooperation among the North Atlantic and Polar nations, Canada, Russia, USA, and the countries of Scandinavia.
However, we come to some of the more glaring weaknesses of Our Pres. and his following. Now, I do not dispute that his governance has benefitted Main Street; I can see the results around me. But diplomacy is hard work, doesn’t win elections, has no emotional appeal, takes a long time, and you have to use people who know what they are doing. A handful of cute ladies and sons of guys you did business with won’t cut it. I do think it fair to say that one of Trump’s biggest weaknesses, The Apprentice notwithstanding, is his hiring policies.
Then, he is somewhat in trouble politically, not over some Big Event, but a lot of folks are mad over a lot of issues. Women. I may have no special brief for The Squad, but I don’t appreciate seeing women members of Congress outrageously disrespected. Environmentalists. Good food advocates. It is no exaggeration to say that Sonny Perdue is the worst Ag Sec since Earl Butz of infamous memory. A thousand cuts can kill you just as dead as a head chop.
Don’t forget that a lot of Democrats and independents declined to vote in 2016, including in inner cities. If turnout wins, the Dems have a decent chance in 2020, if they have the sense to nominate an inspiring candidate, a big if, I know.
So, yes, I do think that Trump is offering imperialist swag to his following. Biggest Real Estate Deal in history! Free Land for Free Men! Included are promises of environmental set asides, ie, jobs for lefty scientists and hangers on. By this reading, MAGA does turn out to be yet more imperialist wealth pumping.
Booklover, nobody could have really seen the fall of the Berlin Wall coming as, as I understand it, it started when an official said something stupid on tv, and snowballed from there. But the Stasi did have a doomsday plan that involved the mass arrest of all known and suspected dissidents and taking them to camps. The plan had a phenomenal level of detail, including which way every door in every dissident’s house hinged open. In the last few days they were just waiting for the order to do it, an order that never came. According to Anna Funder in Stasiland, many former Stasi officers are convinced the plan would have worked perfectly and stopped the whole thing dead, and they are still angry they never received the order. There are similar stories about the Polish security forces during the Solidarity movement, although they did ramp up the repression later. Sometmes these things only go off because the state didn’t use all the means at its disposal to stop them.
JMG, I remember a few months back, you answered someone by saying something like “Hmmm, I guess it’s time I talked about the myth of race, isn’t it?”
I have been waiting for that post since then. I recently had some insights about the difference between ones genotype and one’s mental label by which they consider themselves belonging to this or that race.
It’s very interesting to see the social dynamics that come out from giving value to one of those labels over others on a collective level. A Twitter account called Whitexican Things did a good job at shedding some light at the dominating class of our covertly racist society, where the myth of the Mestizos makes the white elites feel part of the impoverished and disadvantaged masses.
I think one important effect of Trump’s rhetoric has been emboldening white nationalists through a fear of racial dissolution. The Proud Boys, the Alt Right, Richard Spencer, in my opinion could look over here if they want to know what a successful effort of dissolution looks like. The irony is that pointing out that white people sit on the throne of privilege makes them lash out and act as if they are now being subjected to “Reverse Racism”.
I mean, if you find an artisan giving you a higher price for his alebrijes at the local Tianguis because you’re Güero comparable to people considering you inherently subhuman in most aspects (which indigenous people experience constantly), perhaps you are not seeing that the playing field is not leveled in the least.
Racism (unlike racial discrimination, which can go either way) trickles down from the oppressor to the oppressed.
To tie this rant with the topic of the post, a picture of Mexican society expressed in platonic terms:
We have the Noic elites, consisting primarily of Whitexicans, the Thumic middle classes, conceived as Mestizos (but in reality playing a game of Whiter Than Thou, under the table, of course), and the Epithumic working class, conceived as Nacos (deplorable, uneducated dark skinned people). Indios (indigenous people) are outside of this pyramid. They are essentially cavemen in the collective imagination, who speak barbarous “dialects” (They don’t even get the category of Languages) and have to “shed” their retrograde manners in order to fit into society (of course, they can’t expect to be considered anything more than Nacos)
Mexican society is a literal Dystopia.
I suppose one might ask what the purpose of government to be. To quote Marcus Aurelius (by way of Hannibal Lecter) : “We ask of each thing, what is its nature?” Is the point of governance to provide order? To guarantee individual rights? To maximize economic output? To promote citizen well-being?
The issue with management, of course, is that different folks value different things differently. This is hardly a profound statement, but we often overlook it in our assessment of society. Before our last council meeting started, when some of us were chit-chatting, I had commented that each of us had our “one thing,” that bone we gnawed on much to everyone else’s dismay, and I offered up as an example my quixotic crusade for legalizing front-yard vegetable gardens. This led to a whole discussion of values, property rights versus property values, and differing assessments of priorities. Our vice-president, who is a lead in our city marketing-and-branding effort, commented that “we have to have standards.” And form his view, the good of the city requires the imposition of certain standards on properties. I flip the burden of proof and assert that the city has to demonstrate why a property owner’s rights should be violated–health and safety being examples of sufficient cause, but purely aesthetic reasons failing to meet that threshold. Yes, increasing property value is a good thing, but not at any cost. I am in a distinct minority, however, among the nine council-members.
To some extent the difference is similar to the dust-up re the community garden plots: directed management versus organic growth, imposed order versus a light touch. I would promote business development by making it easier for people to start businesses and removing unneeded barriers, rather than directing or promoting specific growth. I would alleviate hunger by making it easier for people to grow their own food on property to which they have access. Give people the tools to self-manage, rather than directing their lives.
But then, of course, the managers lose control. And that, I think, is the crux of the matter.
@Toomas : regarding your mention of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals -Rerum Novarum, I’m guessing?- one of the things I’ve been interested in studying in more depth is distributism. There is at least one person who frequents this blog also interested in it. Good to see it being mentioned here.
@JMG: I’m also interested in democratic syndicalism and look forward to future posts. Do you have any specific books our sources to recommend on the subject?
MichaelV, funny! Also true, of course.
Wesley, the epithumion villain is worth keeping. Don’t make him comic relief. Make him the kind of person who cares about absolutely nothing but his own desires, so that he’s willing to do absolutely anything to get what he wants, and then make him want something the protagonist needs to protect from him. That kind of villain, written well, can be absolutely terrifying.
John, I’m pretty sure I spotted Arthur downing a beer in front. 😉
Denys, of course. That’s the goal of the whole global-economy schtick: force down working class standards of living to Third World levels so the self-proclaimed Good People can wallow in even more absurd levels of wealth and privilege.
Drhooves, lthe difficulty the elites will have in imposing a totalitarian state is that the police and military don’t share the elite ideology, and many no longer feel any particular loyalty to the elite. Loyalties are becoming personal rather than institutional — a normal shift in a time of Caesarism — and so you see an enormous number of people, including a lot of police officers and military personnel, whose loyalty is directed toward our Orange Julius and not to their notional superiors. That’s not the kind of situation that makes elite authoritarianism work — quite the contrary, it’s a harbinger of a massive transfer of power away from the elite, by legal means or otherwise.
By the way, every form of democracy is totally corrupt. It’s inherent in democracy that people who have votes always have the choice of selling them, directly or indirectly, to the highest bidder. It’s still a better system than the alternatives.
Violet’s comment about deities and saints following their people makes me think of the traditional belief in Navarre, Spain, that wherever one happens to be in the world, if you call on the Virgin del Puy, the Virgin of the town of Estella – ‘Virgin of the Puy, help me!’ she will respond.
This Virgin was originally brought from France to Spain by French immigrants in the 10th century, something from home to keep them company.
The only time I have been in the presence of a Virgin and felt a spiritual presence, though, was at a place called Ujue, an ancient fortress church with a 12th century madonna statue; and curiously enough, the writer of a travel book on Spain noted the same sensation and asked if anyone else had felt it…… Regular pilgrimages still occur there.
The observation that wisdom and understanding can generally only come from pain and with great difficulty also prompts the reflection that we are for that very reason forever condemned, on this plane, to live among fools…A
And this is why those who dream of Utopias manifesting an ideal are both deeply misguided and highly dangerous.
To Violet, maybe it’s just my feeling, since I am not of the Christian persuasion, and have never in memory prayed to Jesus for anything, that the spirit of the great teacher is sorely lacking in modern American Christianity. Most people I know don’t even attend churches anymore, and the ones that do just seem to be attending because of old habits.
Excellent post as always.
A few data points for your interest:
You probably are not aware that William and Harry have fallen out (thanks to their respective wife’s) and it looks like Will Kate have moved to undercut the narrative that Harry and Meghan need to take private jet for safety reasons.
The whole sage is dominating the tabloid media and the Prince of Carbon (Harry) is now becoming very unpopular among the public. All highly enjoyable.
The more unpopular they get the more likely them and their celebrity friends might quietly ditch or move away from environmentalism.
This is a fascinating article on the forces behind Greta. I was unaware of how orchestrated her emergence was and am now inclined to share your skepticism about her intentions.
The aim is to green the economy, promote green growth, and it is driven by the Club of Rome.
Here is the document here.
Like you say, it offers the potential for huge government/central bank financed funding of green investments over the next decade. Some will hopefully do some good from a sustainability perspective but I suspect that most of the money will end up among the top 20 per cent.
I work in the higher echelons of offshore finance and I can assure that green investing is the Next Big Thing.
Green or sustainable growth (an oxymoron as we know) is the great goal and everybody is jumping on the bandwagon. That is wy I don’t think environmentalism will be ditched entirely, but re marketed in a corporate friendly way over the next decade.
I also think that the bulk of activists will go along with it given the wall of money coming their way.
Those green activists that dare to raise taboos like limits, immigration or the end of growth are likely to be dismissed as extremists along the lines you have already predicted.
Graeme, an excellent point. Stephen Wolfram in his fine book A New Kind of Science demonstrates that there are plenty of systems whose output cannot be simulated by anything simpler than the system — a point that was made a long time ago by the total failure of generations of physicists to solve the three-body problem.
Matthias, one of these days I should probably do a post about how the Republic is just as dysfunctional when applied to the individual, but that’s a theme for a different time.
Blueday Jo, how fascinating — but also how typical. Drive religion out the front door with a pitchfork and it climbs back in the kitchen window before you know it — only Jesus the savior is disguised as an AI this time.
Stephen, thanks for the story! Exactly — there’s always a little man behind the curtain.
Nemo, and the reason why “the cold truth” is so far down there is that in most things, including many of the things that matter most, we can’t know it, couldn’t be sure of it even if we stumbled across it by accident, and have better things to do than chase after the wholly inaccessible.
Spenglerian, that was utterly predictable. It’s normal for an elite in terminal crisis to put authority in the hands of incompetent zealots — they’re incompetent, so they won’t threaten any of the existing power centers, and they’re incapable of original thought, so they won’t upset the applecart. A comprehensive system of censorship will simply guarantee that people will use other means to get information out, the way disaffected Iranians under the Shah passed cassette tapes of Khomeini’s sermons from hand to hand, doing a perfect end run around the Shah’s goon squads.
Friday, that sounds like an excellent project. Do you have some specific strategies in mind?
Sage, I gather that a threefold social order was traditional in a lot of Indo-European culture — the fourth order was added in India to assign a place to the native, non-Aryan people after the Aryan conquest. Yeah, it’s got problems. As for Plato’s intentions, authorial intention is always the most difficult question for the critic, and it doesn’t help when, as in Plato’s case, the author had a playful streak and was pretty clearly working on many levels at once.
Jeff, yes, I saw that! Good to see some discussion of the emperor’s state of stark environmental undress…
John, good heavens. You’re right, of course, and that makes a great deal of difference. Hmm! I’ll want to brood over that a bit.
On a separate point, I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on the following story.
I can’t say the news surprises me in the least but the last few years there has been much talk of how shale gas would keep the lights on in the UK for decades to come if drilling was allowed.
Hey jmg, thought I’d let you know that in the latest Australian edition of New Scientist they had a column on ecofacism which the author, Graham Lawton, describes as simply a hijacking of environmentalism by white nationalists, though he admits that some might genuinely care about the environment in a somewhat corrupted way.
Also they had an article criticising the Big Bang theory, which I know you disagree with, and another about killer bees mysteriously becoming docile in Puerto Rico, which chimes with your belief that invasive species eventually get in balance with their new environment.
All in all the world seems to be thinking about the stuff you talk about more and more each month.
Pertinent to the retreat from the environment as a policy point. No “climate debate” for the Democratic primary circuit:
The tide is turning in the media against the elite hypocrites and this video takedown of Saint Greta has got nearly half a million views in a day which echoes a lot of your viewpoints.
The 6 man crew on her boat will all fly back from the US btw.
What is your take on gun control in the US? Does it make a dictatorship by the elite less likely if the plebs have the right to bear arms?
I also predict that the EU unelected elite will be under increasing pressure when the UK finally leaves taking 9% of the EU budget with it and (shock horror) the UK thrives.. No wonder they are still trying to sabotage Brexit. Imagine if 3 years after the election of Trump you were still waiting for him to be installed at the White House…
With regards to the current Chinese dynasty, one of the more interesting aspects is the way that so far the Chinese government has refrained from a major crackdown against the protesters in Hong Kong. They’ve dropped some hints and made some shows of force outside Hong Kong itself, but thus far we haven’t seen anything comparable to the brutal gloves-coming-off repression we’ve seen in Tienanmen Square, Tibet and Xinjiang Province.
In a recent interview with Breitbart, David P Goldman, who writes for the Asia Times under the pen name Spengler, said that a big part of the reason why they have exercised restraint so far is that the Chinese government doesn’t want to kill the golden goose, especially since Hong Kong has acted as an economic and legal bridge between mainland China and the outside world and has been a major factor in China’s economic growth. But I have to wonder if the Chinese authorities are also trying to handle the situation with kid gloves because they are afraid that if they crack down too hard, it could spark a wider revolt on the mainland.
I agree that social credit and the rest of the Orwellian surveillance system the PRC is creating is a sign of desperation by a regime that knows its in trouble and is trying to cling power by any means it can. It is very likely that Xi Jinping will be the last of the Red Emperors. One thing a lot of people forget about the sort of comprehensive police states we’ve seen in places like Nazi and East Germany, the USSR, North Korea and modern day China is that these systems are very expensive to operate and maintain and represent a huge and wasteful drain on the resources of the state. Not to mention the fact that by imposing a comprehensive system of surveillance, censorship, propaganda and social control, the elite is cutting itself off from information it needs to make course corrections while encouraging the sort of risk-adverse, initiative stifling, responsibility dodging behavior among its underlings which makes the regime less able to respond effectively to a crisis. It is entirely possible that the new comprehensive system of censorship that incoming EU president Ursula von der Leyen plans to implement will end up having a similar effect on the senile elites in Brussels.
@JMG, Thanks for that advice – I will probably end up keeping the third villain, then. Even before your comment, all the talk on this thread about the thinking class using the proletariat to crush the folks in the middle had the gears in my head spinning as to how I could make good use of him.
@Darkest Yorkshire, I don’t believe I was thinking along quite the same lines as you when I criticized the Myth of the One Revolution. One, two, three, or any other finite number, the notion that a certain chain of events will elevate the right ideals into power so that no revolution is ever necessary again is completely wrong. It seems to me that one of the worst fallacies to ever infect American political thought is the idea that the events of 1776 and 1787 set up a new and ideal government, so well-designed that all future problems could be resolved through strictly legal means until the end of time.
Truth is, while the Constitution may have dabbled in checks and balances, the Declaration of Independence (really, the threat of another declaration like it) is the Check of Checks. Government will never acknowledge any constitutional limits on its power unless there is genuine fear that not doing so could result in violence. Judicial review as a means of enforcing the constitution is a sham, because a constitution that means whatever a certain group of officials wants it to mean is worse than no constitution at all. Just think about the fact that, if Americans had been as deferential to the Supreme Court in the past as they are today, we would still have slavery in this country.
Another outstanding article Mr Greer. Thank you.
The similarity between Plato’s division of society in his utopia (well, it seems more like a distopia when applied in real life) and the current division of modern society reminds me of the distopic goals of the Synarchy movement. Can we claim that the Synarchy movement played a significant role in shaping the ideas of the ruling elite of today? Or, is it more likely that the current ruling elite reinvented the similar notions from scratch (like the convergent evolution in biology)?
I have to pass on that tip of the hat to the writers and thinkers who have explored recent developments in the realm of climate change ‘rebellion’. These would be people like Hiroyuki Hamada, Robiin Monotti Graziadei, and foremost, Cory Morningstar. If you search for Morningstar’s work on ‘The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg’ you’ll find a quite involved story of NGOs, big finance, public relations and a teenager who seems to be something of a manipulated mascot for the current movement. (Pippi Longstocking perhaps?).
This is more than about carbon credit trading. Behind the Green New Deal proposals is a whole new financial paradigm based upon ‘natural capital’ – that is, a new market in ‘ecosystem services’ – which itself is the attempt to put a monetary value on all of the natural world, ostensibly to ‘save it’ by giving it value. The idea is at least a decade in being formulated and now must be marketed to the public (by those who promote the Greta and XR phenomena). It envisions an automated and networked smart grid response to climate change. It is the high tech hyper capitalist ‘solution’.
It’s this or bust for the financial giants of the world. (Or, this and bust more likely).
Personally, I am hoping to get out into the garden more next year.
(Yes, anthropogenic climate change is a reality; yes, that reality is being used as an excuse for various manipulative political games. I’m not sure why so few people seem to be able to hold both these ideas in their minds at the same time.)
I regard this as the absolute crucial point to make, and why the reality of the situation is progressing largely unchallenged. Most people can only see things as binaries it seems.
I have read analyses to the effect that the reason China hasn’t cracked down hard and fast on HK is that it is not nearly as important to the Chinese economy as it used to be – Shanghai has been groomed as the ‘economic services’ successor, and the ShenZen is otherwise the commercial gateway to the world.
BB, no surprises there. They have their backs to the wall; the Brexit vote, not to mention the fact that a substantial majority supports a no-deal Brexit, and the rise of Jeremy Corbin, are straws in a rising wind. I wonder if Prince William is clever enough to align with the populists and dodge the bullet otherwise headed for the House of Windsor. As for New Zealand, again, no surprises there; you’re part of the Anglosphere and facing the same rising tide of populism as the rest of us.
Varun, there’s an American parody of that sort of thinking that imagines all the organs of the body bickering over which is the most important. Finally the rectum — well, a more colloquial term is usual, but you get the idea — having had its claims to importance derided by everyone else, simply shuts itself up tight, and within a few days all the other organs are ready to concede. This, the story concludes, is why the most powerful person in every organization is, well, you can fill in the blank as well as I can…
Arkansas, for what it’s worth, I consider the entire metaphor fatally flawed, because it simply isn’t true — despite lots of handwaving on the part of intellectuals — it simply isn’t true that intellectuals are more motivated by nous, and so on. I’ve met people in the most proletarian settings who were primarily motivated by a powerful but undeveloped nous — this usually takes the shape of religious faith or ideology — and the vast majority of intellectuals I’ve known, people with advanced degrees et al., were primarily motivated by thumos: it was all about ego and reputation, with nous functioning solely as an instrument for winning honor and exerting power. So the equation of caste with psychic focus just plain doesn’t work, and it’s past time to realize that social status does not equate to intelligence or moral goodness, just with unearned privilege.
Pygmycory, of course shaming doesn’t do it; leading by example does. As for the coast of Greenland, there’s this far more ecologically modest method of travel called a ship… 😉
Blueday Jo, that’s the thing about the monofuture. People keep on rehashing the same dreary ideas while claiming to be utterly original; the Singularity, which is simply the Second Coming in cybernetic drag, is a great example.
Seaweedy, I remember when the peak oil scene had its flirtation with localism; it got dropped like a hot rock when somebody realized that this meant that people in Little Rock and Omaha could decide how to live their lives, even if that offended people in Boston and San Francisco. Bioregionalism got shoved out of sight for the same reason. Me, I think it’s a good idea, but be aware that if you start promoting it, the left will accuse you of fascism and the populist right will pick up the idea and run with it.
Gus, have you talked to the people who voted against those policies, to find out whether their idea of their own best interests is the same as yours? In my repeated experience, when people in the middle and upper middle classes insist that the poor are voting “against their best interests,” what that means is that the policies in question theoretically benefit the poor, but work out in practice to penalize them in some way. We had a great example of that over here with Obamacare; in theory, it made health care available to lots of people; in practice, what that meant was that I was legally supposed to pay more than my monthly house payment, every month, for a health care policy that had a $6000 deductible and only paid 60% of my health care expenses above that. The same thing was true of tens of millions of other Americans. When those Americans rejected Obamacare, and cheered and partied when it was repealed, you guessed it, the media insisted that we were acting against our best interests…
Cliff, the Greenland business? Distraction. Trump’s brilliant at it. Whenever he’s trying to push through one of his policies, he starts talkiing about Greenland, or sends out a tweet with the word “covfefe” in it, or does something else that gets the media in a swivet. Since the US media has the attention span of a mayfly on espresso, they lose track of everything else, and by the time they finish yelling about whatever it is, he’s appointed forty new federal judges or what have you.
Temporaryreality, true enough. Maybe Trump wants to buy Greenland so that he can have all the planners spend their days trying to figure out how to convert it into upscale suburbs, and leave everyone and everything else alone!
The Republic sounds like a very cerebral explanation of the parable of the chariot – Perhaps the point of the story was that the Epithumia and Thumos type folks should look towards those whose Nous they most admired and seek their guidance, while the Nous type folk should recognise that guidance was all they could ever offer. It’s a timely theme for me to be sure, it reminds me of something I read about Daoist descriptions of swampy, foamy, and gaseous energy centres. Makes me wonder about the common ancestor of these ideas, as well as the origin of the Hindu caste system.
I’m particularly interested in how the discussion has turned towards the three major caste groups of India – I was thinking the other day that the three Abrahamic religions could be said to have analogues in these three castes. It’s interesting to imagine an Abrahamic society with the three branches as worker, warrior, and priest castes. I know in parts of Nigeria for example, there are already conversions of convenience between Muslim and Christian Abrahamites, depending on where someone is living. I’ve not heard of it for Judaic converts, but with a wave of new religiosity, who knows?..
If the Gretacrew is flying back it implies that the boat could be loaded on a ship to go somewhere like maybe Monaco.
They might still be fueling some ships with nasty bunker fuel which might also be high sulfur.
I gotta learn how to knit…
Its not just Saint Greta. There’s lots of anger out there in the British Commonwealth right now about the eco-hypocrisy, Privileged Progressive virtue signaling and other forms of hypocrisy coming from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as this report from Sky News Australia shows.
Since we all appreciate nature here, behold one of the great migrations, as the herd roams thousands of miles to return to its ancestral breeding grounds:
Darren, oh, it’s heating up. That’s why I expect the environment to be dropped like a hot rock by the privileged in the very near future.
Temporaryreality, of course we need to stop competing with China. We need the same kind of sensible trade barriers that built the US manufacturing economy back in the day, oriented toward having Americans provide the goods and services Americans need and want. I’d be happiest with Retrotopia — that’s why it’s my utopia! — but I’d take a turn away from imperial economics.
Paradoctor, thank you for that! Now let me go and wash some cabbage…
Strda221, I do indeed consider the Seventh Letter authentic. As for chucking out everyone over age 10, er, where did you think Pol Pot got the idea of killing everyone in Cambodia who was older than 10 at the time of the Khmer Rouge takeover? That was his plan, you know…
Thumo, no doubt. Plenty of states have tried that kind of meritocratic gimmick over the years, complete with boarding schools and the like, and somehow the people who are supposed to have a surplus of nous all turn out to have just as much thumos and epithumia as the rest of us. Thus I’ve come to reject the claim that people have different amounts of the three factors; it’s just that some people are better at using one or the other to pursue goals that, pretty consistently, mix all three in constantly varying amounts.
Booklover, yep. Since communication is only possible between equals, per Hagbard’s Law, the more totalitarian a society becomes, the less information reaches the decision makers, and the more certain collapse becomes.
Berserker, good. I hadn’t thought of that song of his, but you’re right, of course.
Sleiszadam, I’m in no way proposing democracy as a universal cure-all. I’m simply suggesting that here in the US, and in some other countries that share common elements of history, culture, and language with us, democracy is our traditional form of government and is better suited to the needs of the present than any of the alternatives.
Lievenm, every civilization has its implicit philosophical basis, but not all civilizations make that basis explicit and build a living tradition of philosophy on it. That’s the distinction I have in mind. Unphilosophically minded civilizations aren’t lesser, just different — but it’s a difference that matters to certain aspects of history.
Medievalist, I think you’re confusing post hoc with propter hoc. Medieval European civilization was awash in Platonic ideas, courtesy of Latin encyclopedias written by late classical encyclopedists heavily influenced by the Neoplatonic tradition, so that of course the intricacies of medieval class and power relationships were forced into the Procrustean bed of Plato’s trichotomy. Did it work well? Er, ask Thomas a Becket, or perhaps the 14th century popes who were basically puppets of the King of France…
GM, it’s a common fallacy that nondemocratic systems do better than democratic systems in response to ecological challenges. History suggests that the opposite is true — you might read Clive Ponting’s A Green History of the World for the evidence to back up that claim, and of course the disastrous mess the Soviet Union made of its environment is just one more example. Saying “Well, in theory, it might help” is hardly a valid reason to scrap hard-won democratic liberties…
Ojete Calor aka Pantagruel, I know. I remember a lot of very explicit talk in environmental and systems theory circles in the early 1980s about global management and the supposed need to replace democracy with “sapiential authority” — that was a common buzzword then. David Korten’s brutally antidemocratic screed The Great Turning is a somewhat later version of the same thing, which I discussed a dozen years ago here, here, and here.
Phil H, late stage imperial economics are intricate! Yes, the world gets drained for the benefit of the upper 20% here in the US, and so does the other 80% of the US itself. The jawdropping extravagance of the well-to-do requires a lot of inputs…
David, those are great questions for meditation… 😉
Booklover, yep. It’s simple supply and demand — and the whole point of bringing in vast amounts of cheap labor was to drive down wages, of course.
Nothing Special, exactly. Premature quantification is the graveyard of effective policy.
Mark D, thanks for this. I think you’re on to something about the lack of accountability; the entire culture of the business executive functions to shield the incompetent from the consequences of their failures, which are all loaded on people further down the ladder.
Red Oak, good. But of course there’s always a difference between the intention of the author and the reception of the work. I’m talking about the latter.
Methylethyl, interesting. Yes, that would follow.
Brian, exactly. Exactly.
Yorkshire, fair enough. Do you know of a guide to CRM that’s written for ordinary readers with no technical background?
Wesley, the first major figure in an era of Caesarism rarely succeeds in changing much; his goal is almost always to preserve as much of the status quo as possible by getting rid of a few extreme habits that are undermining it. In the process, though, he sets changes in motion that go far beyond what he intended. Julius Caesar had no intention of creating the imperial system his nephew established, but the changes Julius set in motion — modest as they were — made the Principate inevitable. In the same way, I don’t expect Trump to change that much in the broad picture, though some of his changes are having sweeping effects on the lives of ordinary Americans. It’s what will happen through him, and as a result of his actions, that matters.
Scotlyn, that seems reasonable enough. I’ve long thought that politics is susceptible to a supply and demand analysis. When the supply of laws and regulations exceeds the demand, you have tyranny; when the demand for laws and regulations exceeds the supply, you have anarchy.
Curtis, I consider Plato’s division to be radically false — intellectuals, managers, and working people all have roughly the same amounts of nous, thumos, and epithumia as people in the other categories. Thus you might as well ask whether hippogriffs correspond to the salary class! My division into investment, salary, wage, and welfare classes is purely a matter of the source of the majority of income of the members of each class, and there are also other classes or classlets, such as the royalty classlet, to which I belong.
NomadicBeer, what you’ve described corresponds exactly with what I’ve heard from people who work directly with AI, and it makes a fetching contrast with the rose-colored fantasies of those who just daydream about AI. Thank you.
Jenxyz, no doubt. Perhaps you can explain to me exactly why protectionism is a bad idea, if (say) you want to keep the income of working class Americans from plunging to Third World levels.
Juan Pablo, so noted! I’ll consider it. It’ll involve a fair amount of reading in human genetics, though, so it may be a bit.
David BTL, excellent. I’m just going to let you keep meditating like this!
Justin, I picked up what I knew about it a long time ago from James Webb’s strange but useful books The Occult Underground and The Occult Establishment, in which alternative economics played a modest role.
Regarding the limitations of the human brain:
It seems to me that christians are quite comfortable with accepting the fact that we will never understand the world. As opposed to followers of atheistic scientism. A fundamental tenet of their faith seems to be, that eventually (actually sometime in the next 20 years or so) we will understand all the secrets and mysteries of creation.
Now I think that if a brain, that is able to do that, had somehow evolved in the african savannah, it would be a pretty strong proof of the existence of an interventionist god and a fatal blow to darwinism.
Ah yes and thanks for another great post. Much food for thought here.
I have never been a great fan of Plato. I always thought that for somebody who is hailed to be the greatest philosopher of all times, he had a lot of really bad ideas. But i have to admit that i am not a philosopher. Not even by the most lenient standards.
Great article from The Spectator, a leading British weekly news magazine, on why carbon credits are a useless exercise in virtue signaling for wealthy Privileged Progressives.
Reviewing carbon offset projects around the globe, [environmental journalist Lisa] Song found that they hadn’t offset the emissions they were supposed to, or they had brought gains that were quickly reversed – or that couldn’t be accurately measured to begin with. ‘Ultimately, the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO₂, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last,’ Song concluded.
Ahead of the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil, Fifa bought carbon credits covering 331,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, ostensibly to offset the entire carbon footprint of the matches, to be deployed in a portfolio of projects in Brazil. One was a reforestation project in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. The project was suspended last year amid reports that loggers destroyed more trees than all the credits sold.
In a forestry project in Cambodia supported by the Clinton Foundation, 88 per cent of the area to be protected was forested at the project’s outset. Thanks to satellite imagery analysis, Song found that the forested area had almost halved to 46 per cent. One area that had started out 90 per cent forested now has none. ‘Offsets themselves are doing damage,’ Larry Lohmann, an academic and climate activist, told Song.
‘Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers,’ Martin Luther wrote in his Ninety Five Theses of 1517 that he nailed to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints Church, starting the Protestant Reformation. Rather like carbon offsets, the medieval papacy issued indulgences to rich sinners on the basis they would do fictitious good works. In practice, indulgences were a cynical cash-raising exercise purportedly absolving the wealthy of sin. As much or perhaps more than Luther’s theology, reaction against indulgences and the venality of the Vatican helped bring about the destruction of the medieval Catholic Church.
So too with today’s secular religion of climate change. Holes in the science are amenable to any number of fixes by the priesthood of climate scientists. What will bring about its downfall will be its stench of hypocrisy and its impact on people’s lives.
Here is an article that is good reminder of why insulting and despising people is not a good strategy for convincing them to consider a different political candidate. Don’t talk down to people and tell them they are stupid, racist and white supremacists and then expect them to thank you for it. What the linked article accurately calls the “insult-them-until-they-join-our-side strategy”….
The elite telling the common man what their interests really are / ought to be as is if they don’t know themselves. Those who consider themselves to have the “nous” and have assigned themselves the role of managers, the elite class in the managed society.
Pantagruel? I used to post as “Pantagruel” but I think that was back in the days of the ADR. I’m quite sure that Rabelais is in the public domain by now. So for this new “Pantagruel,” have at it! Be just as thirsty as you like! Isn’t one menippean satire as good as the next?
You’re royalty? What country? How far down the line of succession are you?
Forecasting, thanks for these! I was wondering if William had the brains to start positioning himself to appeal to the rising populist tide, and in the process save the House of Windsor from ending up with the same status as dozens of other former royal families; apparently he does. Taking a budget commercial airline for his vacation was whipsmart, under the circumstances. If he starts doing other things that make him look less pampered, Britain (or more likely England, once Scotland has its next independence vote) may remain a monarchy. As for the other things, exactly. Spread the word!
As for shale gas, it’s probably been inflated somewhat — that’s easy to do even if the company’s honest, as we found out here with several much-ballyhooed shale deposits. On the other hand, post-Brexit, Britain’s going to have to depend even more closely on its alliance with the US, and purchasing US natural gas may be part of the price tag.
J.L.Mc12, fascinating. Maybe common sense is beginning to seep through…
David BTL, of course! Get the current pack of candidates going about climate change, and if their earlier response to other hot button issues is any guide, they’ll zoom straight off toward extreme positions that maybe 15% of American voters support. One or two more debacles like the business about free health care for illegal immigrants, and the Dem’s hopes for 2020 are done for.
Bridge, good to see. As for gun control, it strikes me as a waste of time; Britain has very strict gun control, and the result? People are getting stabbed and splashed with acid right and left. Limiting the overprescription of antidepressants, many of which have rage episodes as a known side effect, would do a lot more to curb mass shootings and the like.
Spenglerian, my guess is that the current Chinese system stays solvent only because of a combination of predatory exporting and vast flows of dirty money laundered through Hong Kong. Trump’s trade barriers are an existential threat to China, but it’s not one they can do anything about; if they lose the Hong Kong money laundering income, they can no longer keep the bargain with the Chinese people that holds them in power — “keep us prosperous and proud and we don’t care what else you do”: — and down they go. One of the pervasive problems with command economies is that they inevitably become breathtakingly corrupt, to levels that threaten their survival; this is likely to turn out to be another case of the same effect.
Wesley, delighted to hear it. Good villains are a fine asset to a story, so long as they have their own reasons for pursuing their goals, and aren’t just there to give the good guys someone to defeat.
Stephen, you’re welcome and thank you.
Minervaphilos, it’s not quite either one. Intellectuals in the Western tradition have tried over and over again to find ways to fit society into the Procrustean bed of the Republic; Synarchy is one of many ideologies resulting from that quest, and so is the contemporary cult of management. Thus the similarity is genetic: they’re like cousins descended from the same great-grandfather, who both inherited Great-Grandpa’s weak chin, buck teeth, and crossed eyes. 😉
Mog, thanks for the clarification! I’d heard enough enthusiastic chatter about speculating in the carbon-credit market that that was the first thing that came to mind, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least that there’s plenty more in the same fetid bucket where that came from.
Christopher, of course it’s an amplification of the parable of the chariot — same thinker, same basic theory of human nature. I suspect the point was more to circle back to the notion of the nous as charioteer holding the restive horses of thumos and epithumia in check.
John, yep. And again, there are plenty of working sailing ships, with decent cabins and other useful facilities, crossing the Atlantic right now; I’m sure Greta could have gotten a berth on one of them. This whole business stinks.
Your Kittenship, oof. I knew Dreher was a good solid controversialist, but that last line is a gut punch of no little force….
Spenglerian, yep. It really is starting to sink in just how dishonest celebrity environmentalism has become — and as a result, hypocrites like their Royal Graces have probably destroyed the environmental movement for a generation or more.
Your Kittenship, I liked the version done to the theme of “Chariots of Fire.”
DropBear, you know, that may be the most ingenious disproof of atheism I’ve yet encountered. Thank you.
Spenglerian, I’m delighted that other people have noticed the parallel between carbon credits and indulgences — a point I’ve been trying to make for some time. Good to see the Spectator on it.
Otp, I hope that sinks in. If the left can pull its head out from between its nether cheeks and start listening to the people it claims to want to help, instead of telling them what they’re allowed to want and hope for, it could still accomplish a lot of good in the world.
Your Kittenship, funny. For what it’s worth, through my paternal line I’m descended from Kenneth Mac Alpin, High King of Scotland in the ninth century CE, and so I think I’m around 1.2 millionth in line for the Scottish throne.
JMG, maybe you could shoot for being the low king of Scotland. The waiting line might not be as long.
If you keep going down the thread on the Mattress Migration, you’ll hit one with “Yakety Sax.” I liked the “Chariots of Fire” one too.
John (and everyone) —
I stumbled upon this completely by accident a short while ago:
Aristocracy and Evolution by W. H. Mallock
I haven’t read it through yet, but from the highly-annotated table of contents, it appears to touch on topics relating to our discussions here, in particular on the role of class and the place of Great Men in society (versus your average Joe). It is assuredly a product of its time, published in 1898. I see much mention of socialism and its errors. The apparent argument against equality of education looks to be interesting, as well.
FWIW, I thought it might be of use, as the ideas and arguments of the past often get recycled…
About this AI hullaballoo, in the mid-1980’s the Japanese were developing 4th (or was it 5th?) generation computer & software technology centered around AI. There were new programming languages, LISP and Prolog among them, that made it “really easy” to program AI-type concepts, and all the business and technology wonks on this side of the Pacific were just shaking in their boots, because it was obvious the Japanese were just going to take over the world with it. (Digression: There was a book, The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals, by Shintaro Ishihara, that seemed really ominous…. “Already a huge bestseller in Japan, it triggered a storm of controversy when the Pentagon circulated a secret translation in Congress…”. Now, all used copies on Amazon are a buck, and there is not even ONE review.)
Anyway, that AI mountain didn’t even bring forth a mouse. Those AI languages turned out to be playpens for programmers, nothing significant was ever done with them. Japan went into its permanent recession, and their next generation technology program faded into oblivion. I thought AI was dead, buried and forgotten, if for no other reason than it had been superceded by the neural network craze, which itself sputtered and faded away.
Now everybody is talking about AI as if it were some Brand New Thing, that world just collectively dreamed of the Second Coming happening tomorrow. What is going on?
Re my meditations
Two steps forward, a step and a half back, and an awkward shuffle sideways…
Thank you so much for the twitter feed about the mattresses! I haven’t laughed like that in a while and it felt good.
Some of the military and national security related blogs I follow have been talking about the existential threat Trump’s tariffs pose to the present Chinese government and how those tariffs are really starting to bite. I have even read reports in the press that the trade war is beginning to have an impact on China’s naval buildup and that their next generation aircraft carrier program might have to be delayed because of budget cuts. Moreover, Trump shows no sign of backing off on the tariffs and has been ratcheting up the pressure on the Chinese economy.
Here’s a couple of blog posts I came across on this topic:
China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint, China’s foreign ministry said.
Speaking to Pompeo by telephone, Wang said the United States should not go “too far” in the current trade dispute between the two sides, adding that China was still willing to resolve differences through negotiations, but they should be on an equal footing
The blog authors response:
I don’t know all the players in this fight but its obvious (at least to me) that for the first time in decades we finally have the Chinese by their short hairs.
Will there be pain for certain sectors (farming) and for the US consumer? Possibly. But is that pain worth it? I believe it is.
First let’s talk about the actual tariffs. It boils down to this. It’s peanuts. A rounding error. Even if taken to their max, they’re still pennies on the dollar. The fact that every major liberal paper has taken to almost yelling about how it will hurt us while at the same time ignoring the pain that the Chinese will feel from this economic fight should be instructive.
Second is the fact that we MUST slow down their buildup. Any economic pain the populace feels must result in spending at home to keep the natives happy.
Additionally it will mean that we slow down their silk road initiative.
The reality is that we need to change the current trajectory. Either suffer a small bit now or suffer alot more later. There is no more room to kick this can down the road.
We must face the threat that is China now.
And another blog post from the same author, concerning talk of sending Chinese troops to Syria:
My personal theory?
I think that China is looking to gain leverage over the US in an asymmetric fashion.
Because they need some bullets in their gun to get Trump to back off the tariffs which are currently WRECKING the Chinese economy and stand as our best chance to strangle the Chinese military in it’s teenage years…especially since we missed the chance to do it in the crib because of the idiocy with regard to “opening a new market” that stretches back to the Nixon era.
So what will engaging in Syria bring them?
A bargaining chip. For some parts of our govt the Syrian war seems beyond personal. If I didn’t know better I’d think the fortunes of their families rests on certain outcomes being achieved. Militarily I still cannot understand the way the war is being fought and politically I can’t understand the desire to fight the war till the very end. Regardless this will give China an opening.
So what does this pronouncement from Diplomats mean?
A warning shot across the administration’s bow. This is a different way of saying back off the sanctions.
My hoped for outcome?
If we can stay the course with sanctions we can break China’s economic back. They built an entire economy based on exporting goods, taking advantage of a currency that they make artificially weak and have conspired with other govts to ship their good thru their nations to avoid illustrating the real trade deficit we have with them.
Syria isn’t important.
Winning the trade war is.
So yes, I think you are right on the money as usual. The impact that the tariffs are having plus the threat of losing all that dirty money being laundered through Hong Kong is no doubt causing a lot of ulcers and sleepless nights in the Zhongnanhai these days.
Yeah, that seems about right. Diogenes of Sinope was always one of my favorite Greek philosophers.
You know that’s probably another reason why experts are terrible rulers, they just take themselves too damn seriously.
The following is only my opinion. I think it’s more common than not for Christians to be praying to a motley crew of entities who aren’t remotely Christ-like, let alone Jesus himself. The Bible says “by their fruits, ye shall know them” and if we are to take the Bible as truth, theirs are the gods of chemical lawns, sixteen lane highways, and television addiction.
“The savage, like ourselves, feels the oppression of his impotence before the powers of Nature; but having in himself nothing that he respects more than Power, he is willing to prostrate himself before his gods, without inquiring whether they are worthy of his worship. Pathetic and very terrible is the long history of cruelty and torture, of degradation and human sacrifice, endured in the hope of placating the jealous gods: surely, the trembling believer thinks, when what is most precious has been freely given, their lust for blood must be appeased, and more will not be required. The religion of Moloch—as such creeds may be generically called— is in essence the cringing submission of the slave, who dare not, even in his heart, allow the thought that his master deserves no adulation. Since the independence of ideals is not yet acknowledged, Power may be freely worshipped, and receive an unlimited respect, despite its wanton infliction of pain.” -A Free Man’s Worship, Bertrand Russell
If Progress is a religion, Moloch may very well be its god.
Am I correct in seeing yet another cultural echo of Plato’s ideal society in Sheldon’s Somatotype theory from the 1940s? The basic classifications of body type, mesomorph (muscular), endomorph (chunky), and ectomorph (skinny) are still sometimes used today by athletic trainers, but Sheldon also infamously attempted to establish associations of each body type with temperament. Mesomorphs are assertive and confident (perfect for your guardian class, if properly trained to repress their aggressive and criminal tendencies); endomorphs are amiable and complacent (ideal workers, provided their selfishness is kept in check by good management); and ectomorphs are intellectual and calm (well suited for the roles of philosopher kings as long as their social awkwardness and emotional fragility are coddled).
I prefer Shakespeare’s breakdown: “And one man in his time plays many parts…” Sheldon’s supposed temperament types, like all such categorizations, fail because everyone is all of them at times. (Don’t get me started on the Sorting Hat!)
@Dropbear & JMG,
Sorry, but if evolution created our world, evolution is the best way to create a mind to understand it.
What you are attempting to argue sounds very close to Alvin Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism”. I’ll answer it if you are interested.
Your Kittenship, no doubt.
David BTL, interesting. I’ll have a look at it at some point.
LunarApprentice, do you remember my discussion of flying cars in a post a little while back — how the same failed gimmick gets done over and over again, and everyone involved pretends that nobody ever did it before and the latest rehash of the failed project is a stunningly new innovation that no one’s ever thought of? That’s what’s going on with AI. People have been pretending they could build a machine that thinks like a human being since the late 17th century. It never works, but it’s hardwired into the fantasy of Progress and so true believers keep rehashing it endlessly.
David, it’s a familiar dance, and with practice, becomes very elegant!
Spenglerian, thanks for these. That’s exactly what I’ve been expecting to see — and yeah, if the US just sticks to its guns, China’s going to have to regroup and spend a lot more time dealing with its internal issues before it can become a major player on the world stage.
Varun, I ain’t arguing.
Walt F, got it in one. As for the Sorting Hat, that’s fake magic imitating Plato’s philosopher-kings and assigning each child to the (supposedly) right caste. Freedom’s a lot more useful.
DT, I think you’re missing the point — mine, at least. As I understand DropBear’s claim, he’s suggesting that if the brain is what a great many scientific rationalists claims it is — an organ able to understand the unvarnished objective truth about the entire universe — then it doesn’t work to claim that it came into being by means of evolution, since there’s no reason why a social primate would evolve a brain for so bizarrely unnecessary a use. My response to that, as noted in the post, is to accept that evolution created the human brain and that the human brain is therefore not capable of understanding the unvarnished objective truth about the universe — it’s simply a useful device for the kind of data processing social primates need, and it’s absurd to assume without justification that those habits of data processing produce true answers about every other kind of question.
Oh, one other thing. A good deal of the trolling here this week, and two weeks ago, involved tone policing — lecturing me about how badly this or that or the other thing sounds, in the opinion of this or that self-deputized officer of the tone police. I gather some people have forgotten that I write what I want to write, the way I want to write about it, for those people who want to read it. Dislike my tone, my choice of subjects, or anything else about my blogging? There’s the door; don’t let it hit you on the way out. Thank you, and we now return you to your weekly Ecosophia post.
you did indeed miss my point. By a country mile I might add. Fortunately our gracious host explained that better than I possibly could in his reply to your post.
JMG, based on your comments about the trolls that attempt to post here, I imagine “Ecosophia – Uncensored!” would be quite entertaining, if you ever got a wild hair and decided to post some acidic retorts…:-)
As for the future, I’ll be the first to admit my predictions are pretty shaky – but the term “Managed Society” brings to mind the fact that SO MANY Americans are still, in spite of all evidence that suggests the foolhardiness of it all, looking to GOVERNMENT to solve their problems. As if .gov was looking out for their best interests. (/sarc) I guess we could debate about the definition of “elites”, but it in my mind the elites have a far much tighter grip on wealth and control than most people think. Therefore I don’t see personal loyalties coming into play at all, especially as the decline picks up speed. People at any level of power will trade security, or perceived security, to the organizations which seem to be in power. It’s easier to be a patriot or revolutionary on a full stomach.
My view is based partly on observations within my lifetime, but also a far speedier decline than what you describe, as I understand it. While within the flawed outlook of “it really is different this time”, I do think we have a significant percentage of the population, due to fossil fuels and the accompanying wealth and technology, that are so far displaced from reality they won’t be able to survive much of the rapid changes ahead. I think the irrational reaction of millions by HRC’s loss in the last presidential election demonstrate how far out of touch so many people really are….
Speaking of AI, https://aeon.co/ideas/the-body-is-the-missing-link-for-truly-intelligent-machines. Now, whether we want embodied AI is another matter entirely, but this says we can’t have truly intelligent machines without their having a body.
Some of you may have heard of our president, Rodrigo Duterte. Strongman, “Trump of the East”, etc. So there was this family dinner table conversation earlier this week:
Wife: “Well, I support [politician closely associated with Duterte], if they run for President.”
Relative 1: “Why? What do they know about national politics, they are only local officials.”
Relative 2: “They’re very regionalistic.”
Me: “Yeah, I know right. We on the other hand are very open minded and cosmopolitan. Also we are only concerned about the country and do not consider our own interests when we vote.”
awkward silence follows, and the conversation topic changes after a minute
(20 minutes later, in the car, on the way home)
Me: “Did you notice the dripping sarcasm earlier?”
Wife: “I think they noticed.”
Me: “Hah. I’d take them seriously, if not for failure of our foreign educated elite experts, and obstinate denial of said failure (more like the “experts” continued insistence on having special knowledge and competence). What I really wanted to say is you stupid idiots this is why we got Duterte in the first place!”
If you guys want an example of how technocrats screwed up in the Philippines, google “Dengvaxia controversy”. It would also illustrate why the anti-vaxxers are a thing in the first place.
Beekeeper in Vermont, you’re welcome! It cracked me up too. Not only was it funny in itself, it made me think of the Planet of the Mattresses in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
Amazing and ever-erudite Archdruid, I am amazed at the relatively sudden (to me at least) groundswell of opinion in much of the Anglosphere against Green Hypocrisy. Could we be about to witness a smallish Black Swan event where St. Greta departs Plymouth as the darling of Everything and Everyone Good, but arrives two weeks later in NYC to a chorus of boos and powerful disdain? A LOT of people seem suddenly to be Fed Up. I know I am… with Green Hypocrites, with Deceptive Media, and with the entire fetid “Green” mess.
thank you for the response! I hope that I am not too annoying with the repeated questions about local/general distinction. They help me to find the proper boundaries of your arguments some of which are much more general.
For instance, the description of de-globalization and the US economy in the linked video seems to be a prime example of “collapsing ahead of the rush”. It is amazing to see the principle on such a large scale.
You may be aware of this website already, it has a series of essays by Cory Morningstar about Gretha and the New Green Deal and other essays that I think may interest you. It is called ” The Wrong Kind of Green” I may be wrong, may be too ideological for you . Truly enjoy your writing, essays, books, please keep writing.
It’s worth noting a couple of things about the Republic.
First, Socrates is asked what justice is, and by extension what a just society would look like. This is an abstract question and he gives a decent abstract answer. That’s not the same as asking for a practical blueprint. If you want that instead, go read The Laws (which is, among other things, modelled on the idea of a sustainable community).
Second, people never read the whole book. Just read the last page of Book 9. If you can read it in Greek, so much the better, but most translations I’ve seen are pretty decent. It spells out quite unambiguously what the Republic is really about. Note the final sentence:
“But whether such a [city] one exists, or ever will exist in fact, is no matter; for he will live after the manner of that city, having nothing to do with any other.”
Well, of course supply and demand are fluid factors with both positive and negative feedback. Mostly us proles have no desire to BE managed, but we often appreciate good management of, say, beneficial public services, well managed companies to work for, and etc.
When we’re left alone to manage ourselves, invited to help manage our own local resources, clubs and organisations, or can enjoy the fruits of a well-managed entity we’re happy to let the never-ending supply of managerial types do their thing. Just let them try to manage US, and then we recognise it as an over-supply situation… and remove our demand.
I do want to muse a bit on equality. There have been discussions here before about how pernicious it is to aspire to equality… and yet, I have a basic, unquenchable desire for equality between myself and my fellow human… and here you put it in a way that tells me exactly why I do…
“communication is only possible between equals, per Hagbard’s Law”
Yes, exactly. It is not in my interest to be unable to communicate with anyone I’m sharing this time and place with. Neither to be unable to speak my truth without consequences, nor to be unable to hear another’s truth because of their fear for the consequences.
I wonder if too many discussions of equality get bogged down in visions of an imposed “sameness” – like the people of planet Camazotz.
Equality is not about sameness at all, but that that which permits any two people to communicate openly with one another, with neither fearing the consequences, sounds very much more like what I mean when I conceive of equality.
And THAT is what I have the ambition to create around me, inasmuch as I can, by my own actions.
Thanks for giving me words to formulate it in.
Darkest Yorkshire, thanks for the information! I knew about the plans for internment camps; still, the fall of the GDR happened in a way which made the knowledge of the Stasi irrelevant. Mere knowledge alone doesn’t solve problems, there are other factors involved with success or failure.
You’re often impressively accurate with your analysis of how the mainstream conversation around a topic will go, but I was still surprised to read this (https://theconversation.com/white-nationalists-extreme-solution-to-the-coming-environmental-apocalypse-121532) about how “the public needs to recognize ecofascism as a dangerous cloud gathering on the horizon”. It’s like the author read your previous post for inspiration…
Darkest Yorkshire, to make my comment more clear, the fact that the Stasi foresaw the possibility of a challenge to the power of the East German government didn’t change the fact that failure of an surveillance system can come in an unexpected way. in this case, the absence of orders from the East German government.
Nastarana: I think the ‘intellectuals’ (clerics) had plenty of power; for example the line of popes from Gregory VII to Innocent III, who launched crusades and forced kings to abandon their mistresses. In England bishops and abbots made up the majority of the House of Lords, the main legislative body.
John Michael Greer: I think the idea that it worked well is perfectly defensible. Of course it collapsed eventually, as Plato said it would, and in the 14th century the clergy became greedy. But the high medieval period (11th-13th centuries) was also the time of the foundation of the universities, the end of slavery in Europe, the importation of Arab/Greek learning, and the beginning of law and order (e.g. Magna Carta). Thomas Becket, as of course you know, became a cult figure, while Henry II submitted to 300 public blows as penance.
“Phil H, late stage imperial economics are intricate! Yes, the world gets drained for the benefit of the upper 20% here in the US, and so does the other 80% of the US itself. The jawdropping extravagance of the well-to-do requires a lot of inputs…”
I agree about ‘late stage imperial economics’.
Regarding your remark elsewhere about a ‘no deal’ Brexit UK needing the trade deal with the USA (this Brexit looking very much on the cards as you suggested way back) I wonder about the British Isles; England et al.
Not that M Macron is very reliable about very much but he has a point n’est ce pas? (h/t TAE)
“..a trade deal with the United States. “Even if it were a strategic choice it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of the British state,” Mr Macron said.”
Or maybe we are looking at confirming an old reality rather than a matter of choice? Looks a curious endgame though at this late stage.
I realise my comment above should have said
“…neither to speak my truth without [rational fear of the] consequences….”
A small change, but this formulation no longer suggests I’d be trying to rearrange the world and everyone else in it for my benefit.
ie – there are no acts that do not produce consequences… 🙂
Scotlyn, you’ve noticed one of the same problems with revolutions that I spotted – that of cognitive overload. When revolutions get going the mass and direct democracy of how they are organised gives everybody a say in everything. It’s liberating and exhilarating for people who’ve never had any real power in their lives before. They take it seriously too. In accounts of nearly every revolution you find scenes like a bus or tram full of people either reading advanced books on subjects like philosophy or engineering, or vigorously debating such things.
Once people realise they have the ability to change the world, the world gets a lot more interesting. It goes back in history as well. There were pirate ships where the crew would vote on every little thing. Because they were from such hierarchical societies, having freedom and democracy like that was intoxicating and addictive. It’s a necessary part of the individual and collective psycological transformation revolutions bring about. It also has some very practical benefits as every problem is examined from far more perspectives than it ever would have been before.
But it’s not sustainable. It’s exhausting and time consuming once the Hawthorne Effect of mass revolutionary enthusiasm has worn off. I noticed this when I was 14 and first becoming a socialist. I remember thinking I didn’t want to have to be responsible for some ball bearing factory in Southampton. 🙂 So at some point there has to be a handover from mass participation in everything, to letting a smaller number who want to do it, are suited to it, and can be trusted to do it, handle most things. If for no other reason than so everyone else can go home and get some sleep. 🙂
I don’t think there’s necessarily anything sinister about people who want leadership roles and have traits that would make them good at it. Just as there are ethical ways to satisfy your animal desires, there are ethical leaders and managers. There are a lot of times where we can say certain traits are suited to some occupations. What makes someone a good youth worker or a good nuclear physicist aren’t the same, neither those of a fighter pilot and submarine commander.
And when people find a good and compent leader, they’ll walk through fire for them. One theory for the spectacular performance of the Royal Navy at Trafalgar was that the sailors didn’t want to disappoint Nelson. Of course it also helped that French naval gunnery was a very aristocratic profession, and had been decimated by the guillotine. 🙂
The real challenge is managing the transition from mass participation to trusted leadership without anything nefarious happening. I recognised that this, and some other aspects of revolutionary organisation, were so important that I learned the management consultant’s trade just to learn if there were ways round the problems. I found out that there are. While any such situation is highly dependent on individual factors, the human factors, crew resourse management, and Vanguard Method I mentioned previously, are the core of making it work (knowledge of complexity theory also helps, but on a more abstract and theoretical level).
It’s an extremely difficult thing to pull off, but at least in theory, it’s possible.
There’s quite a bit available online about human factors and crew resource management, this is a representative sample –
https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/UserFiles/works/pdfs/ic9182.pdf (note p132 for a particularly egregious example of people voting against their own interests) 🙂
The best full book I’ve read on the subject is Under Pressure by Gareth Lock. It’s about scuba diving but is still easy to understand and has some hilarious diving stories. For those who like videos, he’s also done some good presentations –
All the above include a substantial component dedicated to operating equipment, but it’s easy to see how the same principles can apply when dealing with purely human systems and interactions as well.
@JMG. Thanks for the tip! Those sound like interesting books to read anyway, and the library has the first one you mentioned. Off to the stacks again!
JMG, that’s a reasonable and useful distinction between intention and reception. Plato clearly recommends the philosophical life to the political life, and certainly presents in Socrates an example of how to live philosophically in the face of politics. A quick thought to the many comments above that have noted the awkward analogy between an individual and a city in the Republic (369a (the little numbers alongside the text in some editions refer to the pages of an early Renaissance edition)). In context, it is used to help reveal the nature of justice — the analogy is a tool, not a theory — and Socrates quickly describes a utopia to serve the purpose. This city, Socrates’s city, is called the “healthy city.” It is small, peaceful, agrarian, egalitarian, and spiritual. Worth reading that section (369b-372c). His interlocutors, a bunch of spoiled wealthy kids including two of Plato’s brothers, are repulsed by this healthy city. They want a real city, with meat, war, social classes, etc. The so called “utopia” of the Republic is Socrates attempt to cure the “feverish city” so they can get back to looking for justice. The point of the Republic is not to blueprint a self evidently (and admittedly by Plato) impossible and miserable authoritarian state, but to show us through the conversation how a philosopher deals with an unjust elite: not by creating a dystopia, but by improving their kids. You know, Athens had her reasons for executing Socrates!
Hey Berserker! I’m a Bowie fan from way back in the day! I saw him in concert in Phoenix AZ back in the late ’70s. Check out one of the last vids he made, with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, “I’m afraid of Americans” on Youtube. It could be the anthem of our Elite American Class.
JMG and Wesley,
Regarding the epithumion villain, for a brilliant example see the Duke in Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto” – the title character is more than willing to assist the Duke’s despoliations until the duke aims for Rigoletto’s own daughter. See also Jeffrey Epstein…
I’ll point out at least that brain is evolving continuously. I don’t think mankind’s current mental abilities are solely due to an increase of knowledge. With the advent of agricultural societies and the rise of specialization, selection pressures have been in place for those who can understand the universe better, as making a living has increasingly relied on how much you know about the world, at least in a specialized sense. We’ve had 8-10,000 years of this now, and I don’t think it unlikely the brain, initially evolved to serve the hunter-gatherer, has now evolved in some way to benefit the scientist and knowledge worker. If it could do the latter, it can do the former. Oftentimes I wonder if the current rise in autism and ADHD is a byproduct of human brains, at least in advanced economies, attempting to evolve even further, but employing obviously failing strategies.
I’d like to touch on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism because it is seems the same or very close to what you are saying. He argues that a brain evolved for adaptability cannot be relied upon to ascertain the truth. The short response is that while false information can be adaptive, true information is more adaptive, and therefore the human brain would evolve in a direction of “truthiness” and not in some ambiguous direction unconcerned with truth.
Now of course there is the argument from imperfection; obviously humans don’t know the complete truth and we get things wrong – even our most cherished ideas change from time to time. But our commitment to falsehood as a species tends to evaporate in the face of 1) time and 2) differing opinion. Time and variation – here again we see a form of evolution at work.
Greenland business is actually part of a long history of offers of same from the US. Minerals and shipping routes. Not unique to Trump https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/greenland-trump-land-deals-explainer-1.5255027
To K. Steele -funny & so true. O’ lord, won’t ya buy me a Mercedes Benz?…
Personally I’m not so sure that the Scientific Rationalists are as confident in their ability to know everything as they used to be.
One of the concepts that they used to parrot endlessly a few years ago was “The God of The Gaps”. This was the idea that religion could only exist in the small, and ever-diminishing, spaces of absent knowledge that science would eventually fill. Once all the gaps had been closed, then religion would disappear due to its reduncancy.
However, “The God of The Gaps” seems to have quietly been shelved, as it’s been quite a long time since I’ve heard even the most fanatical scientific rationalists mention it.
If I may, a bit off topic but relevant to the development of the “ecofascism” narrative:
I found another publication on ecofascism here: https://www.alternet.org/2019/08/the-terrifying-rise-of-ecofascism-is-at-the-core-of-the-current-white-nationalist-movement/
What I find interesting is the boilerplate construction of these articles. There seems like there are about a dozen bullet points that are elaborated in various ways in each of these articles on ecofascism. There seems to be a bunch of copy and pasting that the editor fills in with his or her own unsubstantiated claims. I like this guy rabbiting on and on about “lebensraum” — it’s a nifty addition to the narrative, I wonder if in subsequent scare pieces other folks will pick it up and run with it.
@methylethyl , @JMG
According to Indian Tantric traditions the Heart Chakra (Anahata) of the Human body is the foundation chakra (Muladhara) of the Deva Body. The energies of the human body meet at Anahata. Anahata means “the unstruck sound” (quite a koan riddle to ponder on that one I suppose).
On further reflection on today’s essay topic.
I recall one of my teachers saying that one of the primary reasons for the Mahabharata War was that too many people in the warring factions didn’t want to do their own work for their goodies and benefits. Rather, they were all too happy to let things coast along because the coasting benefited them even though it was also causing a lot of misery for large numbers of society.
Krishna came to break the societal aversion for actually working fairly for what one wants. My teacher said the universe gives each person the bare minimum to exist (a body, mind, breath, etc). For all else – above and beyond the bare necessities of what the universe gives – one has to work for it fairly – no gaming of the system allowed. Doing so (gaming the system) creates negative Karma for the person(s) doing it. When societies begin to coast on their laurels by allowing gaming of work arrangements to persist, rot sets in, misery increases and the countdown to the Dharmic Law of Recompense begins…
I wouldn’t mind being ruled by a philosopher-king, so long as he was more like Aragorn son of Arathorn than the current crop of royals running about. Still, as previously discussed, would his line of successors also rule well? Our current system, for all its flaws, may be the best we can do.
I bought a copy of The Republic years ago, because I thought having it on my shelf made me look smart. Still need to read it one of these days.
A couple days ago, Bernie Sanders tweeted “If there is going to be class warfare in this country, it’s about time the working class won that war.” It seems Trump is trying for the same thing. I made a joking comment about Trump/Sanders 2020, but I don’t think I was far off. There are elements of both Sanders and Trump that could make a winning combination.
We live in interesting times.
Great essay and comments. When there is no accountability for the elite, then you find out what they think of mere mortals.
Of course the greatest mistake of all is forgetting we all are made of stardust; and the jewel web of Indra is strung together with the thread of Mind.
OMG … JMG
I was going to wait and provide this link at a later date, because I though it was too off topic for this week’s post (although it does fit in with the general themes of Ecosphia).
But sense DT and Drop Bear have brought up something similar, I think that many people might find this article very interesting.
here is a little taste
“Our senses do not present “a marvelously detailed and accurate view of the outside world” as Robert Trivers writes. They present payoffs. The very language of our senses — space, time, objects, shapes, colors, tastes, smells, and sounds — is simply the wrong language to describe reality; its vocabulary was not shaped to that end.”
“Our perceptions of spacetime and objects hide reality, whatever it is, and provide tools to interact with reality despite our ignorance of its nature. What we normally take to be reality is, in fact, a simplified virtual reality, shaped by natural selection to guide adaptive action; it keeps us alive long enough to raise offspring. We think that perception imitates an animal-
independent world. Instead it creates a virtual reality whose details depend crucially on the needs of the animal. This is the key idea of the “interface theory of perception,” or ITP.”
I hope some people here will enjoy this as much as I do. ( I will be getting the book The Case Against Reality)
On the elite hypocrisy front, the Obama’s just bought a $15 million seaside mansion on Martha’s Vinyard…Imagine the co2 created by the travel to, heating, maintenance, and servants for this vacation home. They also have a mansion in Hawaii…
Pffft. Everything the far Left doesn’t like is the second coming of Nazism. Here’s how it works: anything a non-Woke person does that offends the Left must somehow be directly linked to German fascism. If ‘white nationalists’ (as defined by the Left) decide that saving the environment is actually a good thing, the Left must find in Nazism some kind of environmental concern (or something they can shoehorn to fit the narrative) in order to reinforce the link between white nationalists and Nazis. And everybody knows that white nationalists aren’t the right kind of environmentalist anyway.
To my knowledge, Lebensraum was originally the policy to acquire enough arable land to grow sufficient food for the German people and provide them with important raw materials so as to avoid a repeat of the kind of shortages and widespread death by starvation that occurred in Germany after WWI. I don’t recall ever reading anything that would indicate it had environmental roots as we might understand it today, but, hey, Lebensraum is a German word and Nazis spoke German so that’s close enough.
@Darkest Yorkshire – you make some interesting points, and it seems to me that our host would simply point to Robert’s Rules as a tried and tested way to meet “the real challenge [of] managing the transition from mass participation to trusted leadership without anything nefarious happening.”
The thing I’ve personally noticed happening again and again in the small organisations in which I’ve taken part is the way people with a genuine interest in the subject matter the organisation formed around get sidelined by people who just want to manage. Good, energetic people, with a genuine interest in making a difference in the activity or domain of interest, often get more than sidelined, they get burnt and dispirited and become cynical. And, if they can, they eventually leave and get back to living their own lives, where they won’t have to be managed against their will.
But you are quite correct as well, that there is such a thing as good management. It is hard to describe and even harder to prescribe, but you know it when you see it in a company or an organisation – everyone just seems to work together in an uncanny robust harmony, and things just seem to go smoothly, and it is hard to pinpoint what is making all that happen without any apparent effort. But there is very often someone who unobtrusively walks around and talks to everyone, and takes an interest in everything, without doing anything so obvious as “manage”. What they seem to figure out is how to “entrust” rather than “manage”.
Unfortunately, the badly managed company or organisation is more the rule, and it has pernicious effects on the physical and mental health of all concerned.
Personally, I do not share your desire for a revolution. Nor do I believe one is possible. Not in the sense of one big, giant, transformation of society, after which everything is solved.
I do think that social transformations happen, what I doubt is their capacity to solve everything. Tolerably often they happen because those who dislike being ruled (and don’t aspire to rule either), get fed up of a surfeit (or over-supply, in JMG’s terms) of over-management and push back strongly enough to undermine/overthrow the current senile elite.
But most people really, really (in my humble opinion) do not desire, even in those circumstances, to manage others. And so they don’t… meaning that the overthrow they took part in, unintentionally created a vacuum into which opportunists will rush in. Sometimes the more idealistic the opportunist, the worse.
Thanks JMG. I enjoyed reading this very much.
I’m no expert at all, but I had a different interpretation of The Republic. If I remember correctly, Plato says that in practice the form of government evolves (devolves) in a predictable way. I didn’t think he actually believed that his utopia, if realized, would last.
He describes how a government that starts with the ideal philosopher kings inevitably degenerates into a totalitarian regime that enslaves its people going through five stages: aristocracy (ideal), timocracy (Sparta at his time), oligarchy, democracy, and finally tyranny.
I also remember the Ship of State metaphor, which pretty much argues that a good form of government is impossible because the worst among us will make it to the top through trickery most of the time. He says that true philosophers are rare and have no interest in power.
After reading it, I just got the feeling that he was a pessimist.
Agree entirely – William and Kate both live modest middle class lifestyles (or at least appear to!) and seem to have a better understanding of the populist mood than Harry. There is little appetite for a republic in the UK and I’m confident that the Windsor royal family will still be on the throne in a 100 years time!
Scotland does appear to be inching towards independence although the polling seems to be very tight.
Prime Minister Boris seems to be doing rather well so far, He’s enjoyed a bounce in the polls, his team are well organised, politically ruthless and strategic in their focus on Brexit, NHS and crime.
Certainly looks like a US-UK trade deal might be in the cards although we will see.
Hello Orthodox Spenglerian,
Quick reply to your social credit system. Unfortunately I do about a half dozen trips a year to China for work.
It’s much more complicated than I think you’re analysis speaks to. A lot of Chinese people don’t give a frack about rules. I’m not saying they don’t follow them; I’m saying they literally don’t pay enough attention to know that there are rules to even follow. Things like waiting until your plane stops before trying to exit the plane (Xi had to go on TV to stop that! Old ladies were opening the door while the plane was going down the tarmac). Other rules like not running red lights constantly, not standing literally in the middle of the street reading your phone. For a certain percentage of Chinese people driving the wrong way on the highway at night with your lights off is just a thing you do when your lights on your tuk-tuk don’t work and you can’t be bothered to go to the correct onramp.
Generally lying is only a problem if you get caught — try building a facility over there, you’ll be lied to about having done work that you literally just went and checked wasn’t done. Cheating in a business deal is par for the course (holdback payments are key!).
In China I’ve seen people yelling at cops right in their face and not being punished and last year during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Years) I saw at least half a dozen scenes at the Beijing Airport in a few hours which would’ve got the person arrested in the West but the employees and security just remained calm, appealed for calm and generally ignored the situation through judicious use of their phones.
Can the state come down on your hard? Sure but so can they here in the West.
Same situation with Hong Kong extradition brouhaha. Some guy brutally murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan about that there is no doubt. However he’s out in Hong Kong walking around scot-free because neither China nor Taiwan can extradite him to stand trial. That’s not something a civilized country can accept as normal. Also Hong Kong is not the golden goose anymore. 40 years ago when Hong Kong was 36% of China’s GDP sure, now at 3.6%? No! Ignore those boomers at Breitbart fighting the last (economic) war …
I am in no way a Sinophile but neither am I a Sinophobe. The Chinese people are who they are, somewhat flawed folk who’ve been through a lot over the past two hundred years. Generally they’re trying to get through today until tomorrow … just like your average westerner. I’d be happy to never go back again but that’s because it’s totally unappealing to me to be in a hot, crowded, and confusing place.
I read this fascinating interview/review in Nautilus, about a book by Nickolas Christolas, “The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society”.
Covers lots of ground to those of us trying to see our way into an uncertain future.
Excerpt: [The eight traits of the social suite]
I’m [Christlos] talking about evolutionarily shaped qualities or capacities that are inborn, shaped by natural selection, and expressed universally and collectively. There’s personal identity, love for partners and children, friendship, social networks, what I call mild hierarchy, in-group bias, cooperation, and social learning and teaching. Those are the eight traits of the social suite.
Excerpt: [Unworkable utopias]
[Interviewer] You quote a character from psychologist B.F. Skinner’s novel, Walden Two, talking about a planned community, who says, “The main thing is we encourage our people to view every habit and custom with an eye to possible improvement, a constantly experimental attitude toward everything. That’s all we need.” Do you agree with that sentiment?
[Christlos] Not directly, but I do agree with the idea that it’s good to be curious and try things out. I would like to encourage people to be adventurous. I’m not conservative in this regard at all. The kind of utopia described in that novel, when attempted in real life, was not very successful for a number of reasons, part of which had to do with the efforts to reject certain parts of the social suite.
[A look at tribes]
We have this capacity to surrender ourselves to the benefits of the whole group. Now, that can also lead us astray, right? We can so identify with our own group that we demonize other groups. This is one of the most depressing aspects that my 10 years of thinking about human nature has led me to: Why can’t we just love our own group without hating other groups? Some people believe that they go hand-in-hand, and it’s inescapable. Other scholars think that we could evolve in-group cooperation with out-group neutrality. But in-group affection and out-group hatred seem entangled.
This is getting too long -only sampled here bits of about half of the interview. Recommended!
Just a short note.
What came to my mind after reading this was the book Catch-22. Of course, this is because while I had read the book a long, long time ago, there is now a TV series adaptation out.
The thing is, I could not bear to watch the series for very long, at least in the early going it seemed to me that the adaptation was missing the point – like it emphasised the completely wrong things.
For me, thinking about the book in the context of this post, it does go after the absurdities and weaknesses of the ideal of a managed society (the US military, in this case), and that is what gives it what structure and sharpness it has.
What if the series had been able to really show the military cannon fodder as humans with all of Plato’s basic parts of humanity included? I would think that the various disjointed, subversive plots then hang together much better, and the actions start to make the kind of perverted sense of logic and inevitability that was a part of the book.
As it is, the series might as well be based on “Bored of the Rings”, something that may be funny as a send-up of something familiar but does not really have anything particular to say. (Personally, I would like to see an adaptation anyway!)
Now, the book always seemed like a very difficult one to convert to a movie or to TV. So perhaps a bad TV series is just a bad TV series, or my memory of the book is colored by nostalgia and missing the bad parts.
Or even worse, I fell prey to a bad first episode, did not give the series a fair chance, and have spent the past half hour writing an opinion that has only a vague connection to reality! It would not be the first time.
“Temporaryreality, of course we need to stop competing with China.”
I know it seems self evident, but perhaps the fact that the aspect i mentioned wasn’t obvious to me suggests another pernicious and unrecognized tendril of … Progressism? Or acceptance of the BAU narrative. I kinda thought I comprehended the extent to which so much needs to change, but this aspect– that it’s all well and good if jobs return and industry revives in the US — is also flawed so long as the industrial mechanism requires ever more competitive edge.
It’s more like seeing it from a different angle. Before, I recognized such competitiveness as a competition to use more resources faster to create more junk to throw away more quickly (and so I thought it was a bad idea on those merits alone). I now also see that reliance on such processes as also requiring the knife of efficiency and competitiveness to whittle even closer to the bone of people’s lives. And that we’re called lazy for wanting to retain humanity, community, solidarity, life…
Perhaps it’s a nice case of karmic repayment returned to the offspring of a people who mocked, degraded, and enslaved the “lazy savages” of the world who wanted nothing more than to live human-scale traditional lives.
It sheds light on the green washing of commerce and sustainable blah blah -that it’s just BAU. And here we are in this transitional time when the steps toward an envisioned future that isn’t driven by BAU can’t quite be taken (because they’re less “competitive”, mom&pop enterprises are still difficult rows to hoe) yet the option to engage in BAU economics is an unsavory if not eventually (but who knows how long from now) doomed thing too.
At some point I’d love to hear your case for thinking China’s regime is weak in some way and ripe for toppling. My sources suggest that the information spin that’s getting a lot of on the ground traction is America-bashing and that popular support for Xi and the Party is strong, all of it nesting quite snugly with the narrative that strongman politics are an ideal way for China to claim its rightful national pride and determination to ” one up” the west.
Since we are talking about the glorious future of AI and progress, I thought readers would enjoy this:
It is 2 years old, so I don’t know if things have changed
Thanks to JMG for this forum and also all the interesting commentary.
Editorial cartoon re climate crisis:
If I may. You seem to conflate evolution and progress here. These are very different concepts. Evolution has no direction.
while there is no doubt that we are evolving, there is no evidence that we are getting smarter.
evolution does not care if we end up as brainless slobs, as long as we manage to procreate.
There are plenty of species that gave up on the idea of having a brain altogether. Look up barnacles.
It seems to me like the rise in autism and ADHD is way too rapid a phenomenon to be explained by any sort of evolutionary process. It’s a result of changes in our society’s thought patterns that lead us to take a mechanistic view of other human beings and classify an increasingly large array of behaviours and personality variations as mental disorders.
The profit motive is also at play – the pharmaceutical industry has profited handsomely off of getting every tenth American child diagnosed with ADHD, and psychiatric diagnoses of all sorts enable schools to evade responsibility for the dismal failures of their teaching and socialization methods.
If I recall correctly, there is a scene in Retrotopia where the narrator is visiting an elementary school in the Lakeland Republic and is baffled that the kids get so much recess. When the teacher says something along the lines of ‘of course they need it, how do YOU get kids to sit still where you’re from?’ the narrator just stands there, knowing better than to give an honest answer.
The current scientific consensus around a lot of diagnoses is, I think, just a matter of “money talks and science listens.” Otherwise, things like the fact that children who are born in December – and who end up at the young end of their class – are more likely to get an ADHD diagnosis than kids born in January would bring the whole rotten structure crashing down.
This isn’t just an abstract issue for me; Icome from a family with multiple mentally peculiar children, myself included, and I’m acutely aware of the ways our lives could have gone disastrously wrong if our parents had handled our peculiarities in what is now the usual way. And one of my close childhood friends ended up living the nightmare that we escaped.
The goal of GND
“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all. Do you guys think of it as a climate thing? Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
” Inslee’s “climate plan is the most serious + comprehensive one to address our crisis in the 2020 field.” [Oh dear. He just dropped out and came home to do what he is paid to do. Can he push this through in Washington State? I doubt he would even try.]
AOC’s Chief of Change
Drhooves, you wouldn’t find the trolls interesting. They mostly just whine, bluster, and foam at the mouth because I’m not paying as much attention to them, or their pet issues, as they think I should. As for the shift to personal loyalties in a long slow ragged descent, well, we’ll see, won’t we?
Reader, that makes a great deal of sense; i suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that it took someone this long to notice!
Carlos, funny! And nicely handled. Swap out Duterte for Trump, and identical conversations are going on in the US this very evening…
Bryan, we’ll have to see. In the meantime, those who are actually walking the talk need to point out that not everyone who’s concerned with the environment is a hypocrite…
Sleizsadam, you’re welcome and thank you. It’s important to trace those boundaries, and to help make it clear that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
Paul, thanks for this. Er, could you post the URL?
L, yes, but as I noted to Red Oak earlier, the intent of the author is one thing and the history of reception is quite another. I’m primarily talking about the latter.
Scotlyn, that’s an excellent point. Equality is not sameness, much less enforced sameness. Would it work to suggest that equality is the absence of privilege, in the original sense of the word — privi-lege, private law, and thus institutionalized benefits or penalties that apply to some but not to all?
Freja, expect to see a lot more articles like that. The media has its canned talking points, and now it’ll do its job of rehashing them endlessly whether the facts support them or not.
Medievalist, nah, you missed my point. The medieval system worked tolerably well — feudal systems generally do, which is why they’re the default option in the aftermath of civilizational collapse. What I was saying is that the medieval system wasn’t actually that close to Plato’s scheme, even though rhetoric from Platonic sources was borrowed to provide it with an ideological foundation. The power of the Church to tell kings and feudal nobility what to do was distinctly limited; rather than the top-down hierarchy Plato described, it was a matter of constant negotiation from a position of restricted power. Yes, you can cite Gregory VII; shall I cite Clement V?
Phil, yes, I read Macron’s comment. Since the alternative is a continuation of Britain’s status as a vassal of the EU, I suspect Brexit and the American alliance is a step up; after all, the US isn’t going to prevent Britain from making its own laws or controlling its own borders.
Justin, just one of the services I offer. 😉
Red Oak, and that’s one of the reasons why, in context, the Republic is worth reading. Another is that the history of its reception and the absorption of its ideas into political ideologies tells us a lot about the political dysfunctions of our time.
RPC, thank you! A fine example.
DT, once again you’re missing the point. Yes, a case can be made that a brain that produces truthful information about the small number of data points actually useful to human beings is more evolutionarily adaptive than a brain that produces false information about those same points. That case is far from foolproof; Erasmus’ famous Praise of Folly is the beginning of a long tradition of making the opposing case, that folly and ignorance are essential to human survival — but let’s grant that for a moment. The fact that a human brain can more often than not come up with the right answers to a narrow range of questions directly impacting human survival does not justify the claim that the same wired-in habits of thought (e.g., logic) will invariably produce the right answers about questions about realms we didn’t interact with in the course of our evolution, such as cosmology, ontology, etc. That’s like assuming that a can opener must be capable of splitting atoms and galaxies — after all, the principle is the same, right?
Prince William’s gesture was brilliant.
By contrast, Duchess Meghan’s rich celebrity friends aren’t doing her and the Duke of Sussex any favors by trotting out the race card and claiming that anyone who criticizes their actions must be an evilly evil racist with an extra helping of Jim Crow sauce on top. Most people are sick and tired that sort of race-baiting (and often hypocritical) rhetoric coming from the Privileged Progressive crowd.
Phil K, good heavens. That’s a massive shift. I wonder if the religious people they’re arguing with have stopped trying to use the other side of the “God of the gaps” argument, the claim that this or that gap in scientific thought can only be filled by postulating divine intervention.
Violet, many thanks for this. Yes, I noticed the boilerplate quality of all the articles rabbiting on about ecofascism — I know that troll farms use boilerplate lists of talking points, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the media’s starting to follow suit.
Happypandatao, fascinating. One of my favorite books in late childhood was Elizabeth Seeger’s The Five Sons of King Pandu, a vivid retelling of the story, and I went on from that to read a number of English versions later on — and what your teacher said makes perfect sense. I think of the great gambling scene in the story, the one that ends up sending the Pandavas out into the forest; that kind of wild gambling match presupposes an aristocratic elite that has way too much wealth for its own good, and is used to throwing it around freely and not having to suffer consequences from that.
Christopher, Sanders is used to deploying standard socialist rhetoric about the working class, but look what happened when his campaign employees asked for a living wage! You’re right, though, that we’re moving into a time when the working classes are starting to push hard to get their needs met, and they don’t especially care whether their soi-disant betters approve…
Mark, granted, but I’d recommend a glance at the Bhagavad-Gita in that context. Mystical enlightenment is one thing, but we still all have our roles to play in the battle…
Skyrider, thanks for this! I’m glad to hear that scientists are finally catching up to what mystics have been saying for a good many thousand years now.
Pyrrhus, yeah, that about figures. Where did all that money come from, I wonder?
Jose, oh, granted! But the author’s intention is one thing, and the way that his work is received and used by later thinkers is quite another. The latter is what I’m talking about here.
Forecasting, one of my newsfeeds mentions that the UK has just signed a post-Brexit trade arrangement with South Korea, which is a good sign. More generally, BoJo seems to have hit the ground running, and he’s clearly not afraid to fight hard, and dirty. I plan on having some good English pub ale handy come October 30 to celebrate Britain’s newly won independence.
Olbab, interesting. Thanks for this.
Mr. M, this is one of the many reasons why I don’t bother with TV. The books are so much better!
Temporaryreality, both of those points are complex enough that they’d need a post each to analyze them. I’ll see about doing that in due time. Very briefly, though, the point is not that the Chinese don’t support the idea of a strong government with an aggressive foreign policy — the question is whether the current PRC system can keep providing them with that, and with the general prosperity that is the sine qua non of successful governance in China. If not, the mandate of heaven will very promptly move to a different leadership.
Stromer, yes, I recall that! Thanks for posting it.
PatriciaT, hah! Funny.
John, yep. The fact that environmental issues really are important doesn’t mean that everyone who talks about them has honest intentions.
Spenglerian, dear gods, yes. Within a few years, “That’s racist!” is going to be the same kind of constant punchline for jokes that “that’s not funny!” became in the 1970s heyday of angry feminism. (Example: Q: “How many radical feminists does it take to change a light bulb?” A: “One, and that’s not funny!”)
If I remember right, someone here was looking for another worshipper of the Greek gods. That person may want to consider writing Mr. Dreher to see if he’ll arrange an e-mail introduction. I know he’s done that before when both parties are willing and he’s scrupulous about guarding confidentiality. Good luck!
This is a little off-topic, but I have a question about the world of Retrotopia, which is a touchstone book for me and one that I read every few years to remind myself of what I’m working toward.
I wondered if you’ve given thought to how the print newspapers that provide in-depth, contextualized reporting in the Lakeland Republic are funded. Perhaps you mention it in the book but if so, I missed it.
I ask because advertising-funded print journalism is on its last legs, but the need for good information remains. For example, in the central Pennsylvania community where I live, there are a lot of growth pressures on our watershed, and our sourcewater is groundwater, not surface water, which is unusual for a population-dense area. Every few years, there’s some (minimal) momentum toward drafting a “watershed management plan” and we’re in such a cycle right now.
The result of the last 18-months of meetings is that the local governments will perhaps be asked to contribute toward a $500,000 pot of money to hire a consultant to write a management plan, the purpose of which would be to help the leaders in each municipality in the watershed be more knowledgeable about what the leaders in the other municipalities are doing that affects the whole watershed.
Which, since I’m a self-funded journalist who self-publishes a small, roughly biweekly independent newspaper, struck me as ridiculous. Public money would be better spent to endow a “watershed reporter” position at our local daily newspaper (the Centre Daily Times) and stipulate that he or she focus his/her investigations and writing on contextualizing watershed issues as they come up in each of the dozen or so municipalities in the watershed. So that the entire population would have ready access to the same set of information, at a fraction of the $500,000 consultant plan, with the side benefits of supporting our local daily newspaper and creating a job.
Anyway, because I do other things for pay and write and publish my newspaper for free, having tried a couple of other business models like soliciting subscriptions and donations, I wondered what your thoughts are, about future business models for local journalism, in the Retrotopia world and/or any other L.E.S.S. world we end up with.
Thanks as always, for everything. You’ve created an oasis of coherence in a crazy world, and its value is immeasurable.
I posted this last May Day. I see interest in the subjects IQ and autism so here it is again.
I should have also mentioned that she debunks the apparent increase in IQ and the problems caused by iodine deficiency and anti-thyroid toxics.
If you happen to care about research about autism, ADHD, IQ loss and other environmentally caused deficits read Toxic Cocktail: How Chemical Pollution Is Poisoning Our Brains by Barbara Demeneix [dem en eeks oo is my guess. I had to find a youtube interview in French]
She deplores the wasted efforts on genetic research that has produced no useful result.
There is no direct mention of Aspergers or Toxic Encephalopathy however it is rather obvious this is an appropriate read.
She includes the economic cost of IQ loss from toxic exposures.
“Barbara Demeneix holds a professorship in the Comparative Physiology Laboratory (UMR 7221 – Evolution of Endocrine Regulations), a CNRS mixed research unit within the Natural History Museum in Paris. Trained in the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Germany, she is an internationally recognised expert on thyroid function and endocrine disruption and is the author of more than 180 scientific publications.”
Well, I can only agree that these claims of Nazism are specious, ludicrous, ham-fisted, and absurd. The article I linked to has this claim:
“Deep ecology celebrates a quasi-spiritual connection to the land. As I show in my book, in its white nationalist version only men – white or European men – can truly commune with nature in a meaningful, transcendent way. This cosmic quest fuels their desire to preserve, by force if necessary, pure lands for white people.”
What?! Seriously, what?! this claim goes against the *entire history of racism and sexism!* Women and brown folks were considered closer to the land and more ‘natural,’ the White Man was, after all, the agent of Civilization — the supposed antithesis of nature! The author does not provide a lick of evidence for her very strong claim. And what do pure lands have to do with white people? If the blood that flows through my veins is half Jewish — which it is — and I care about “pure lands” which I do is that supposed to make me an ecofascist?
And pray tell, what does she mean by quasi-spiritual? that is such a bizarre turn of phrase. why can’t racists be spiritual? That is utterly illogical. Can’t a white supremacist or white nationalist or even a real dyed-in-the-wool member of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei be genuinely spiritual? What does spirituality have to do with having the right political opinions or even being a good person? Lots of warlords have, after all, been profoundly spiritual people.
But I guess this isn’t about citing sources or being careful with the facts or caring about details like logic or journalistic integrity. These hit pieces concern themselves entirely with discrediting ecological concerns and interests. It probably doesn’t matter that everything the author says is nonsense, when people want a witch bad enough to distract themselves from their own problems you can bet that they’ll find themselves a witch, even if they spell witch “ecofascist”.
I couldn’t get the search box to find anything when trying to repost. So I did the workaround that others might find useful here and elsewhere. It works on many websites, I just used it to find bolts that wouldn’t show up on a hardware website’s search.
go to google.com and enter
followed by the URL
then a space and the search term
in this case I had to use quotes or I would also get the singular
You seem to be saying evolution wouldn’t produce minds that are accurate regarding metaphysical understanding (the origin and nature of being) even if it is accurate concerning material processes and the facts of hard science.
One, it means that any understanding of metaphysical topics outside of divine revelation is suspect. We can’t be expected to accurately reason into such knowledge.
Two, if the origin and nature of our being are purely materialistic, your assertion leaves me no way to prove it. And yet I am obviously very capable of understanding and arguing it.
Effectively you are saying there is no way to know, it seems to me. (outside of revelation maybe).
Certainly the mandate of heaven is an ingrained pattern in China. The PRC dodged one juncture that could’ve led to regime change with the Deng Xiaoping-inspired era of opening up. Had China not done that, communism would likely have had a shorter lifespan there due to Maoist caused social chaos. In effect, the mandate just got rebranded as ‘”communism” with Chinese characteristics’ which is mostly just capitalism with authoritarian characteristics.
I’m not sure if they’ve got another rebranding idea to fall back on. Regardless, we shouldn’t disregard the Chinese people’s resilience and ability to tolerate “bitterness” – that alone could set them up to suffer longer than ‘needed’ before admitting (and losing face by admitting) communism and the CCP have failed.
I look forward to any of your thoughts on the things I brought up. Even if no posts are forthcoming, thanks for your replies here.
To JMG: Thank you once again for providing more education on Western philosophy and history in a single blog post than I was able to glean from my entire high school and college career. Your knowledge and generosity are nearly limitless.
To the commenters: You’ve proven there is intelligent life out there and you have also provided entire free post-graduate courses for me to study. Thank you.
To Dana: I was recently at a church-thing at one of my area’s popular modern Protestant churches. It was a musical singalong “Fellowship” gathering. I accepted the invitation to the musical fellowship night as a friendly gesture towards a family I knew who was moving away. The singing part was great — it was lovely to sing half-remembered tunes in improvised harmony led by creative musicians. There were a couple of original songs which were deep and heartfelt. I felt the presence of what was probably Jesus, Mary, both, or at least some well-meaning non-embodied intelligences during the musical part itself. I’m a former atheist turned Druid of about two years. The singing went on for about 30 minutes, and then a speaker gave a sermon. She was a thirty-something mother of three. When she began her half-comedic, Erma Bombeck-style sermon, I felt the gentle spirits of the musical part of the gathering slip away like the sweet cool of morning. The sermon was inane and dull, consisting of lame jokes about how rough posh suburban motherhood is (spoiler alert: it isn’t) with vague entreaties to trust God, to give ourselves intimately to Jesus (seriously, what?) and Bible quotes meant to convince randos like me that their particular McBox church was the gateway to immortal salvation. I was bored, irritated, and genuinely grossed out by the sermon. There was no god present at that sermon; Jesus definitely left the building, most likely out of embarrassment. How dare a bunch of wealthy, materialistic, greedy, upper middle class people with cars that cost more than my house tell me my soul is in danger and that their brand of Jesus is the only thing that can save it. They finished up with some more music — it’s as if they knew the sermon was the worst part and sandwiched it in the middle — but it wasn’t enough to bring the positive spirits back. Of course I said I enjoyed it. I’m from the Midwest, capiche? And I did enjoy the musical part, as stagey, glitzy, and excessive as it was. In my opinion, the sermon revealed the nails in the coffin of Christianity: directionless bloviating about irrelevant points in the Bible, the rich cajoling the poor to “be like Jesus” as if they knew what that entailed, and pure, raw desperation. They’ve chased their gods away.
I was an up-and-coming wannabe philosopher king-type up until I visited Cambodia in 2006. When you consistently place in the top percentile, score As on all your tests, get consistent praise from teachers and get all the accolades that come along with it, it feels natural that you should rule because you are used to being always right. It’s a problem with the education system that teaches that there is always an answer to every problem, and that human beings can solve any problem they’re presented with given enough brains and persistence.
People like myself also aren’t pushed hard enough in school, and it’s rare we are forced to try to solve problems that are too hard for us. Had I been forced into advanced calculus classes at a young age, I would’ve had more empathy for what life is like for people who struggle in school, because I would’ve been struggling too. We thus become very arrogant even as we don’t go out of our comfort zones, and this leads to the whole “we know better” mentality.
My a-ha moment came when I vacationed in Cambodia in 2006, talked to a lot of the locals, got to learn the history, and realized that the Khmer Rouge were led by people very much like myself. Smart, arrogant, educated and certain that they had the right answer to everything with a very strong leftward bent, and they unleashed nothing but horrors on that country and destroyed its culture and its people.
I’ve never seen a revolution I’ve liked. If people are struggling enough in their circumstances to even think about it they are sure going to find it tough mid- and post-revolution.
Thinking about how Plato (or at least the idealistic Plato of the Republic) would answer JMG…
Doing good comes from knowing the Good. Philosophers are the ones trained to know the Good (or at least access it), ergo they make the best rulers. Furthermore, according to Plato (and potentially Socrates) no-one does bad knowingly, because that would be tantamount to making a deliberate mistake – doing bad comes from not knowing the Good. Thus while Philosophers do have bodily needs and desires, a proper Philosopher will know not to give into their lesser temptations, and one who does, lacks the wisdom and training to be a Philosopher.
As for the ruled, they (if things go well) love and respect the Good, but do not know it because they are not Philosophers. Everyone can access the world of forms (the slave-boy from Meno), but knowing the highest form, that of the Good, requires someone specialised.
(Note that I myself do not subscribe to this. I am just putting myself in Plato’s sandals, and thinking how he would answer).
Bowie’s “I’m afraid of Americans” is epic-I’ve been posting that video to Faceplant where appropriate… Especially the closing line: “God is an American”…
I see. I partly agree with that and partly disagree; fundamentally Christian political thought is different from the system of the Republic, whether in the versions of Augustine or Aquinas. My contention is not that the medievals knew they were to-some-extent recreating the Republic, which wasn’t translated into Latin anyway, but simply that they ended up making a very similar system: a caste of unmarried intellectuals studying moral law and singing specially restricted songs, setting boundaries for a warrior nobility and a mass of peasants and workers.
A few years ago I got very involved in politics, going so far as to become a parliamentary candidate in a general election (I lost my deposit). Based on that involvement, I concluded that the only reason democracy works is because 95% of the population have no interest in government apart from grousing about it. The other 5% split into factions and have furious arguments, and that’s those in the same political party.
From running a nation to running an apartment block, the basic problem is the same — there’s never enough to do everything you want to do or satisfy everybody. So you set the level of taxation or levies at what you estimate people can pay, and do the best you can, which means a little for everybody, and more for those with more power or influence, and some for your own pet projects.
There is no right answer as to the allocation of resources. You have to feel your way, hopefully with a lot of consultation to avoid really bad mistakes.
Because there is no right answer, a really smart AI, if given the task of government, would churn for a bit then spit out, “I’m sorry, this is a task for a human.”
Ever-inquisitive Archdruid, you wondered, in response to a posting by poster Pyrrhus about the Obama’s new house in Martha’s Vineyard, where the $$$ for such extravagance (and it is almost grotesquely extravagant) might be coming from. Here’s a pretty detailed recent article from Business Insider on precisely that:
I must say I was flabbergasted and dismayed by several of the items, and their implications, mentioned in that article.
Spenglerian and JMG,
“That’s racist” already is a punchline among my friends. It’s frequently deployed in the context of innocuous comments:
Friend 1: “I know Brown rice is healthier, but I just can’t stand the texture and taste. I still prefer white rice.”
Friend 2: “You’re just being a racist!”
Not ecofascism, But I think the following article has its merit.
The fascism of the article does not differ much from Caesarism as a next phase to plutocratic democracies
China hasn’t been particularly aggressive on the world stage though. They haven’t been in a war for forty years now. The most recent “aggression” that war hawks like to refer to, China’s buildup of naval assets in the South China Sea, wasn’t begun until Obama’s aggressive “Pivot to Asia” strategy. From all the mainlanders I’ve been talking to, the obvious involvement of American intelligence agencies in Hong Kong and the attempt to sabotage the Chinese economy has actually hardened nationalist sentiment. In a way, I think Trump’s heavy handed, anti-China approach has actually strengthened Chinese unity and their determination to see the downfall of the American Empire. In any case, the fragility of the Chinese government has been greatly exaggerated by Western observers who are not familiar with just how contumacious the average Chinese person is compared to his Western counterpart. Remember, there were decades in Chinese history when the rate of recorded peasant uprisings was roughly 1.8 [i]per hour[/i]. The unrest you see in China today is nothing abnormal or even particularly intense when compared to China’s historical record. I don’t think China has too much to worry about. As long as they avoid making the same mistakes America has made, they have a relatively stable and prosperous short to midterm future to look forward to (compared to the Americans anyway).
@JMG Yes, very much so. I will think some more on the framing of equality as an absence of privilege – considered as institutionalised benefits AND institutionalised penalties (or, as I say, detriments) that apply to some, as arbitrarily specified by the institution concerned.
Firstly, I tend to think it is institutionalised detriments (not being hired, being paid less, being denied a vote or housing, etc) that gets people on the move – eg Civil Rights – much more than a perceived shortage of ibstitutionalised benefits. The privileged tend to put such movements down to “envy” but few people seem to get all that worried about what others have more of, so long as no one is stopping *them* getting hold of what *they* really need.
Secondly, this leads to nuanced thoughts on the matter of hierarchies. We know that we humans form hierarchies (I’m interested in the comment above that refers to “mild hierarchy” as being part of our socisl suite). We also know that the more structured and rigid a hierarchy is, the less that information will be able to flow freely up and down it (per Hagbard).
So, while it is unrealistic to try to create a society without hierarchy, it is equally unrealistic to think any specific arbitrarily structured hierarchy is stable and will last, because, just for example, the need for good information to flow will be just one of the countervailing forces that undermines it.
Finally, although I completely see how these words have been misused and altered in what you’ve described so well as the “rescue game” I always understood racism, and sexism, to describe the more unstable kind of hierarchy – the kind that can only continue to exist with the periodic application of violence.
Take racism, as originally practiced. It set “white” (an invented category to which more and more outsider ethnicities were added over time) arbitrarily above “black” (also an invented melange of ethnicities, which in this case, were systematically stripped from people as part of the process of their enslavement).
What made this hierarchy eternally unstable was the fact that, being encoded according to arbitrary characteristics (skin colour), a person could easily find themselves awarded a benefit or detriment with so little regard to their personal qualities, that very often a better person found themselves set unmoveably “below” a worse person.
Such a situation contains its own contradictions and its structures cannot be stable. This is why they require violence to be maintained, a violence that has poisoned a great deal of our interpersonal history.
So, a way to allow hierarchies naturally to fluidly form and fluidly dissolve, in response to personal qualities and social need, but never be codified or solidified, would be a useful thing.
@JMG – so what DID happens when Sanders campaign workers looked for a living wage? I hadn’t heard about this, so I went to find out.
It LOOKS like they asked, and, after negotiations, so they received.
Actually Spenglerian, I’m rather familiar with Chinese politics and I can confidently say that Hong Kong is irrelevant. There are many cities on the mainland proper that have a larger economy, including Shenzhen. Shanghai is rapidly replacing Hong Kong as the primary financial hub of China. The HK riots have done nothing to earn the sympathy of the mainlanders either. For decades now, the citizens of Hong Kong have treated the mainlanders like second class citizens, calling them cockroaches and looking down on them. Waving around British colonial era and American flags was the exact moment the protesters in Hong Kong lost the struggle, in fact. The ironic thing is that the Hong Kongers could have earned the sympathy of mainland Chinese, by protesting about what was really making them upset: the absurdly high cost of living due to their own vampiric rentier class. High cost of living is a problem that other cities on the mainland have to deal with. If the protesters had framed their arguments around that, they would have earned the sympathy of mainlanders and would have forced the government to make meaningful policy changes, as they have done so in the past in response to other protests based around land reform and real estate. Instead, the protesters decided to take the opportunity to sneer at mainlanders, while conspiring with American intelligence agencies.
Expecting mainlanders to have sympathy for Hong Kongers at this point would be like expecting Trump supporters in rural states to have sympathy for the wealthy, liberal coastal elites of California.
The reason Beijing has sat back and watched this unfold calmly is not because of fear or insecurity. The reason they have sat back is because Hong Kong just isn’t that important anymore and Hong Kongers can be allowed to have their little temper tantrum, especially because they aren’t the kind of violent Islamic terrorists you see in Xinjiang.
JMG – a great post, and many great responses.
re: “there are plenty of working sailing ships, with decent cabins and other useful facilities, crossing the Atlantic right now; I’m sure Greta could have gotten a berth on one of them.”
Ummm – who/where are they?
You mentioned https://fairtransport.eu
but their “current sailing routes” map shows the light blue route as “Future Clipper Route”.
One ship does cross the Atlantic, though from Europe to the Caribbean and South America.
tourist outfit has one cruise a year from Lisbon to Miami, next is Feb 28, 2020.
A bit lux for my taste, and maybe not so green – likely making use of their diesels a lot to make it in 15 days.
https://www.starclippers.com is Rome or Lisbon to Barbados.
https://www.anotherworldadventures.com/activity-type/sailing/ is about the same: Southern Europe to Caribbean.
https://www.sailingshipadventures.com is mostly week long trips: Maine to Maine, Athens to Athens, local stuff like that, no transatlantic that I saw.
https://classic-sailing.co.uk is doing Seville to Montevideo, not so helpful.
This very hopeful article from 2012 gave a few links, including to Fairtransport.
But the Sail Transport Network link is now a porn site – eek!
B9Energy.com domain seems up for sale (was planning a 100 meter, 3,000 ton 60% sail powered freighter).
https://sailingdog.org/sail-freight-projects-around-the-world/ last update was 4 years ago.
http://greenheartproject.org/en/ship/design/ last update is about 2015, no ship built AFAIK.
Otherwise local ships and Fair Transport on the list.
The New Dawn Traders blog is 404. They planned a test voyage on the Irene, but this ship is now local to the British Isles. http://www.ireness.com/2019-voyages/
The International Windship Association is active in conferences and research, but I don’t see any Europe to North America routes among their members.
Was so excited to think I could (maybe in a few years) take a trans-Atlantic sail voyage,
What am I missing here?
Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Natural Causes,” about the quest to prolong life (etc), has some funny points from her surrounding the necessity of the managerial class exhibiting this same influence over their bodies, in the form of dieting and exercise routines. That part of what displays that they are a deserving part of this elite is that they can “manage” their own bodies.
Also related to this, right now I am reading Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master & His Emissary” which is about new thinking (and also his theories) around the division of the hemispheres. The thesis he adheres to is that animals require two mental states that are of equal importance, one is that of focusing on a small part of reality so that it can be manipulated and interacted with with precision, the other is to be aware of our own bodies as part of a field of experience, because we are subject to dangers that can spring from that stream at a moments notice. These two mental tasks are so at odds with each other that we have almost two brains to facilitate it across all of it’s functions, this is why seemingly there is all this redundancy within these carefully segregated hemispheres. The section I am in now is talking about how language is derived from lived, bodily experience, but it moves into the symbolic and abstract. Language use leads to treating things as fixed because of it’s left brain tendencies, he talks about how it is highly related to the way we use tools, and how this is shown in expressions like “getting a handle on” to represent understanding. “Understanding” is the transfer from the Heraclitus style stream of endless change, through the inner experiences of the body, into abstracted fixed symbols that can be made use of. He has some overlap with Polanyi here (although he doesn’t seem aware of him) which is interesting, trying to express how it is that we come to learn things. His greater point seems to be though, something like yours, that we mistakenly believe that we can control things, control everything even, because of the increasing turn toward left hemisphere thinking in our society, which by it’s nature is “cut out” of reality, removed from the stream.
As a random final note, I read of at least one Heraclitus follower who refused to do anything because you can never know what it is you are really doing, since everything is always in a state of flux. Plato tackled this belief in one of his dialogues (Cratylus), pointing to the artistry of words, that they had been honed to perfect tools that had truth (and I think pointed to ideals “beyond experience”).
Scotlyn, your description of those who just want to manage made me think of Cad Spinner from Planes: Fire and Rescue – https://ohmy.disney.com/insider/2014/03/10/meet-the-characters-from-planes-fire-rescue/. 🙂 One of the things about the methods I recommend is they all push authority and descision making as far down the organisation as possible, mostly leaving managers in a suppoeting role, like you described (and if I wasn’t clear before, I support using those methods before and thoughout the process, not just in the later stages). They militate against those notorious personality types, giving bullies and bureacrats nowhere they can dig in and fester. To use words that actually appeared in a Vanguard article – “they will not be happy in the new world that follows” (they style themselves as management revolutionaries, but when you’re an actual revolutionary, you read that differently). 🙂
But that leaves the question of what to do with people like that. Someone who needs glory and adulation can be successful on stage. Is there anything useful someone who just wants to be in charge can do that’s helpful for society, apart from starting an exciting new career in the salt mining industry? 🙂
As some don’t want to manage others, there are some who don’t even want to manage their own affairs. Books like Workers Against Work and Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory are long and depressing conpendiums of people for whom it never sank in that workers’ control means the workers have to actually take control and run their own workplaces. They never got past their pre-revolutionary identity and spent the entire time sulking in the factories, making demands instead of doing things for themselves, and going on strike over every little thing. I wonder what the minimum level of involvement is we could ever expect from people who want so little, and whether things like CRM and Vanguard Method could coax them into getting more involved, or if it would just give them something else to push against.
I would really prefer it if revolution wasn’t necessary, but if you don’t rip out exploitation and oppression down to the root, it comes back. After the American Civil War it only took about ten years for Reconstruction (trying to make the South a decent place to live for everybody) to turn into Redemption (the re-establishment of white supremacy). Revolution will probably only look like a single event to historians. Even if everyone is trying to make it as quick and clean as possible, at the time it’ll feel more like a several-year long complex swirling vortex, that finally coheres into something. Even then it won’t have solved everything. It may remedy some things directly, but its main point is to pull the poisoned dagger out of the festering wound. Once that is done, without contradictory forces pulling in the other direction, it may become possible to solve everything, or at least enough things to make it worth the effort.
There’s something interesting in the theory of socialism that you don’t get from the propaganda, but only if you read the thick journals. According to dialectical materialism, revolution doesn’t end the cycle, it just moves things on to a new cycle. Even a socialist society will contain its own contradictions that will ultimately pull it apart and lead to something new again. So it doesn’t contradict that aspect of occult philosophy the way it initially appears to.
JMG wrote: “… after all, the US isn’t going to prevent [c.f. the EU] Britain from making its own laws or controlling its own borders.”
I don’t usually bang on and on … so forgive me this time. It is a bit cheap I know (on my part) to quote other people back to them, but you have commented correctly more than twice in the past that, (I paraphrase your theme): ‘Britain has done what it has been told since it got bailed out by the US in the early 1940s’.
That theme has of course has also run through US relations post-war with all the countries of the EU and has contributed to our mutual ‘late stage imperialist economics’.
I am not really defending the EU or the network of rules, though I remember many UK colleagues on behalf of UK government got to write a lot of the trade rules; ‘give & take’ as it were.
The ‘Ever Greater Union’ banner was always a nonsense in my view. This is OECD and NATO we are talking about after all.
“That’s the great virtue of democracy—a word which means, by the way, government by the demos, the masses of ordinary deplorable citizens. Democratic societies make about as many mistakes as any other kind, but they have a somewhat easier time correcting their mistakes.”
Unfortunately our current setup is that of the civil service actually being in charge and characteristically therefore is a managerial state.
Which has all the problems that is stated in the article.
Some companies have got around the problem of such an arrangement like Haier:
Who devolve the role of CEO as far down the chain of command as possible. Undoing bureaucratization that is typical of civil service and making even large companies like his function extraordinarily well.
By breaking them up into multiple parallel SMRs that work as a body yet as a small enough unit in order to adapt very well to the environment at hand due to immediate feedback.
Hi John Michael,
I feel that things may have been intellectually darker for Socrates. He observed what he observed, and then said to his mates: “Look over here, for I have a better way”. He didn’t achieve his stated utopian goal and that inspires the feelings in me of pathos for his circumstance.
Incidentally, I feel that our educational system, which teaches to the test, is a tool that is used to support the status quo. There are other ways to teach that don’t involve tests. Years ago I ran a graduate program for a large corporate and I allowed plenty of graduates to make some epic mistakes, especially if they showed a propensity to not listen. It was generally a good experience and I helped them pick themselves up after having made the mistake. Anyway, we can’t have people thinking independent thoughts, can we? But of course, they do just that.
I’ve been working hard of late around the property and for paid work. The many comments here are now calling me. I never mastered the gentle art of speed reading, but at least I can type very fast thanks to an unusual government experiment (true story!) back in the early 1990’s.
I live down under and have never seen a white swan. They’re all black swans down here, and from what I’ve observed, there seem to be plenty of them about. For all I know, it may well be you who are lying about these white swans! 😉
“those who are actually walking the talk need to point out that not everyone who’s concerned with the environment is a hypocrite…
I note our hosts response and wanted to add a thought of my own. There is a fallacy to your argument and I encounter it from time to time. It goes like this: There is a school of thought which suggests that if there is one error, then all of the data is suspect.
Not so, my friend. One act of green-washing, does not mean that all people who are concerned for the environment are also hypocrites. I implore you to reconsider your position, or perhaps discuss with me what benefits you obtain for believing what you have so forthrightly stated!
What makes an elite of educated managerial specialists such a disaster for any society cursed with such a system, in turn, isn’t that the specialists are morally worse than other elites. It’s that the ideology of that particular kind of elite education makes it all but impossible for them to recognize when they’re wrong. Ordinary politicians who aren’t subject to the mystique of expertise recognize that their number one priority is to find out what their constituents want and give them some of it, so they’ll be reasonably happy with their leaders and keep providing the passive support without which any government falls from power. Expert specialists are by and large too busy listening to each other and to their preferred sources of data to notice when the data from those sources, and the consensus opinions based on them, have drifted out of touch with the real world.
I was rereading your essay just now and when I reached the paragraph above, something struck me. Not terribly profound—rather obvious, really— but it seems to me the problem of the managerial specialist is he/she has abstracted this thing we call “society” into a system and is focused on that abstraction, rather than the actual thing. An external order, that is, to be imposed on the reality. A society is composed of people and their interactions with one another. They are the society, not the abstract principles. One is a model, and the other the data. The data cannot be “wrong,” but the model can be. The expert who deals primarily in abstractions has the relationship reversed. So the need is for empirical sciences here, not theoretical ones.
We do tend to use abstractions, though, to mask reality. And in particular to mask intent when that intent is at odds with our purported beliefs. Self-delusion? Malicious intent? Probably a mixture of both.
DT: I used to work at an Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. All of us at the Department of Genetics were hunting for genes expressed in the brain that had changed function over the last 500 000 years, and not a single find has really held up. It’s hard enough to find the changes that occurred since the last common ancestor with chimps. I am rather sure that no genetic change in brain function (if any have occurred) has had time to spread over the last 10 000 years.
@skyrider: Thanks a lot! That LA review text is one of the clearest texts on philosophy I have ever read.
Reflecting a bit on my previous comment, I suppose this is really just the same issue that haunts the end of the age of abstraction, only applied to the specific case of governance. Instead of the point, “tools, not truths,” the point is a reminder that “the map is not the territory.”
These two points sure do come up a lot!
It’s funny how after reading one of your weekly essays and then using it as a lens to observe your surroundings gives a totally different understanding of those surroundings, although I guess that does make sense. What really is funny is how caught up in our own lenses we can become and forget the use of the truly useful ones.
I’m specifically thinking of a few of the women I work with. One who I interact with daily, who suffers a severe postpartum depression. That’s a situation which is getting a lot of attention in the media over the years. Women who suffer because they no longer have their child within them. Why is that they suffer? Frankly, it’s because we as a society, have ignored the basic instinct of a great many women, and that is to allow them to be with their children, at least for the first couple of years! And how have we prevented women from being with their children? A lot of it has to do with the ideas that for females to be equal, they must work, they must be given work opportunities. Surrounding social pressures then leave a great many women feeling unable to make any other choice other than to work. There is also the fact that a great many women are single mothers. None of this is to say that women should not be treated equally, or that a woman’s proper spot is within the house. No, it’s the ideas and values inculcated into our society that in order to be free a woman must work. In some respects, that was quite a clever way to introduce a new group of people into the working sector to help lower wages. And all of this was done through preying on some of our basic human faculties, as outlined in Plato’s The Republic.
A lot of similar consequences are happening through the use of identity politics, whether it be racism, slavery, gender identity, immigration, etc.. politicians especially, and those who belong to the thumos and nous have stepped on the pedals for so long it is no wonder that so many are stepping on the brakes and saying “hey, I may not have all the education that you do and I may not be able to exactly explain what it is you’re doing, but you’re taking advantage of us and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
You’re very welcome! You’re theory regarding troll farms makes a good deal of sense. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but the idea of the media becoming, for all intents and purposes, identical to a well-funded troll farm is the opposite of comforting. All the more reason to read old books!
Back from a few hours in the garden with more thoughts about this. Perhaps this distinction between the abstracted idea vs the experience of the wholeness of nature is applicable to a point you’ve raised before, that we aren’t “materialistic” as a society in that we do not care about the sensual qualities of matter. Maybe what we are talking about are the reductions, the manageable reductions that we are able to extract from experience. These fragments and representations can be compared and manipulated as distinct items existing in isolation and so you can get the experience of a person eating a microwaved tv dinner out of the human tradition of sharing meals together. In some sense, if you compare abstractions in just the right light you can say that they are equivalent and possible even the tv dinner is better (maybe it has more calories or saves time or some such thing) but the inner experience is not comparable.
When most people talk about our society being materialistic, I believe that they are saying we care mainly for money and the accumulation of it. Money seems to be the ultimate abstraction, where all our fragments are converted to numbers that can be added and subtracted indifferently, completely separated from any sense that there is a whole to be reckoned with. If McGilchrist’s theory is correct about the hemispheres’ roles, travelling down this path has made us vulnerable to predators.
Looks like your readership is making inroads over at Dreher’s blog 🙂
If you’re going to talk about race as a myth, maybe you could address a few things. I’m deliberately conflating race and ethnicity because the same game is being played with both and because they have been and are used to mean the same things, often simply at different scales.
One is that this ‘myth’ is a politically motivated game, being applied only to those ethnicities subjected to globalization and mass immigration policies. It’s propaganda aimed at the conveniently unclassifiable ‘native’ populations. Because who can object when a mere mythological category becomes, as the ‘English’ now are, a minority in their own capital city. Or the ‘Irish’ become a minority in an electoral ward in the heart of Dublin. Or a rich ‘Chinese’ businessman buys himself membership of a ‘Nigerian’ tribe.
Second, the only supposed intellectual justification for the claim that race is a myth comes from leftists and postmodernist academics, whose goal is to blow up all categories which, in their demented universe, were invented to enable a ‘privileged’ group to exclude and therefore exploit a less ‘privileged’ group. There’s no good faith in that debate. The fact that colour is a spectrum doesn’t mean that red and yellow don’t exist (nor are all divisions between population groups clinal in nature anyway).
There are jati groups in India that we now know have been endogamous for thousands of years with no more than a 1% per annum outmarriage rate. They’ve even evolved different susceptibilities to adverse reactions to medications – all despite living side by side with other jatis throughout. Who cares if we call that a jati, a race, an ethnic group, a population group, a genetic cluster, an ancestral group, or whatever other euphemism we need to switch to next week? It’s a real, useful classification that matters.
Third is that the objection to the existence of race or ethnicity and their basis in biology is more biophobia. It’s no different to the current attempts to ‘deconstruct’ the sex binary. Not gender, sex itself. Like gender, the fact that race is partly a social construct is used to deny any basis for either in biology and the same logic is being applied to the concept of ethnicity.
Last, the myth that race is a myth seems to me to be a demented reaction to Nazism. Take David Reich for example. He knew he risked being burned for heresy for the first half of his book. So, he piously denounces those other knuckle-dragging racist Nazis over there for thinking that any race is pure. He whacks that strawman endlessly, going on and on about how all groups formed from mixture and migration. There’s no way he doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s still not enough to save him from the wrath of the New York Times’ latest useful idiot, Angela Saini, but he’s kept his job, for now.
The myth of the myth of race is the creation of the managerial class and their tame intellectuals.
Excellent comments this week, as always. Management is not a very interesting subject, really, and it doesn’t get a lot of attention outside of business management circles. But so many of our challenges flow from a basic management binary that got out of balance, courtesy of energy and technology. The sweet spot for good management is in the right balance between empowerment and alignment. Empowerment is important, obviously, because many/most people achieve their best when they are left to do good work without a lot of interference. But some degree of alignment and coordination is needed for people to work effectively together – common goals, an agreed method, appropriate standards, and some tracking of results. Of course, naturally bossy people are more likely to want to turn sensible alignment into top down control and rigid standardization, this has always been true in life. But technology, powered by plentiful energy, has enabled so much of everything to be hyper-standardized – control and reporting systems, manufactures, logistics, communications, culture/viewpoints and on and on. For a supposedly liberal and free society we are more enchained than ever. If it can be counted, tracked and controlled, it has been, or soon will be. It’s pathetic, really. Our societal love affair with efficiency and convenience has been a big enabler as well, but without the technology all this standardization couldn’t have taken hold as thoroughly.
I’ve know many good managers in my time, people who really understood how to get the balance right between empowerment and control, who were modest and saw their role as coaches not as bosses. But the prevalence of control systems and standardization in so many areas of life makes it much harder to find and maintain that balance. As things fall apart and the balance between empowerment and control shifts back to a more natural balance, the whole art of management will need be relearned.
Matt Levine writes a newsletter called Money Stuff at Bloomberg.com where he discuses various financial news topics. I find it informative as well as funny. The 2nd topic titled The Purpose of a Corporation gives an example of how faux environmentalism can be used as leverage.
@Darkest Yorkshire “the question.of what to do with people like that”… is, of course, a managerial question.
That is why I never ask it, as it seems self-evident to me, a prole, that every person has a use for themselves and will simply get on with it, if left to do so.
On the other hand, the question of what to do with “them” (the riffraff, misfits, ragtags, recalcitrants, unreformable folk who won’t “wake up and die right” or get “with” the programme) IS the perennial question every group of social reformers/managers has to answer, because if they can’t accommodate the riffraff in their new order, they’ll eventually have to kill them.
I really, really hope you find your own managerial niche somewhere both useful and harmless! 🙂 Be well!
JillN, I agree that no revolution has yet lived up to expectations. So far previous attempts at socialism has been equivalent to pre-Wright brothers attempts at powered flight. Film of them is usually accompanied by slapstick music. 🙂 It’s like JMG says in The Ecotechnic Future, every new human innovation starts as a disaster looking for an ‘X’ to land on. So it’s likely the first human attempt at magic = demons. First human attempt at socialism = Stalin. So the question in both cases becomes – does the potential reward make it worth another try? Just like the next generation of aspiring mages probably said after the demon incident – we’re pretty sure we know what we did wrong last time. 🙂
Your Kittenship, fascinating. I wonder how much rapprochement we’ll see in the future between trad polytheists and trad Christians; my take for a while now is that we have more in common than we have dividing us, and a little bit of forbearance on all sides might make a basis for some very promising mutual conversations.
Katherine, advertising-funded print journalism is on its last legs in today’s society for a complex set of reasons. The pervasive presence of other advertising media is one of them, but print journalism has also shot itself through both cheeks by aligning itself with the values of the privileged to such an extent that the masses simply don’t bother with it any more. Two straws in that particular wind: first, according to what I’ve read, not one newspaper in the US endorsed Trump for the presidency in 2016; second, how long has it been since you saw, in the recipe section of a paper, a recipe that wasn’t fashionably fussy yuppie chow? There’s a huge potential constituency for print journalism among the people who voted (or were likely to vote) for Trump and whose idea of a good meal includes the calories and protein you need to handle working with your hands and muscles for a living — and by the way, 2500 calories a day will not cut it if your workplace isn’t an office cubicle. I remain convinced that the first newspaper that embraces the rising populist tide will very quickly have a national circulation in the millions — but I don’t expect to see that any time soon, because the groupthink among the educated is so intense.
To answer your question a little more directly, newspapers in Retrotopia are funded by subscriptions and income from classified ads and other pay-to-post items. They cost more than newspapers elsewhere, but since newspapers and radio are the essential news media and display advertising in public places is prohibited by law, they do tolerably well. They also include recipes that make extensive use of bacon. 😉
John, thanks for this.
DT, I’m suggesting that there’s no justification for claiming that evolution would produce a mind capable of assessing metaphysical claims accurately. (Just in case there’s any misunderstanding here, the term “metaphysical claims” includes such things as laws of nature and materialist cosmologies; if it can’t be assessed by the physical senses, it’s metaphysical.) The conclusion I draw from that is not that some other factor enables us to assess such claims accurately, but rather that we have no way of doing so; even if we happened by accident to hit on a true metaphysical statement, we’d have no way of knowing for certain that it was true. Nor does divine revelation offer an out, since the various divine revelations out there make identical claims for the infallibility of their sources and contradict one another at every turn. What we can do is embrace an ethic of intellectual modesty, recognize that our theories about the world are by definition a projection of our own habitual mental processes on the inkblot patterns of the cosmos, do what we can to bring them in line with observed reality, and let it go at that. Knowing the objective truth about the cosmos is not our job; living creative, caring, and humane lives is.
Temporaryreality, I’m just far from sure the PRC government could handle a massive economic depression that shows no signs of ending after a few years. They’ve kept the Chinese economy afloat via a great deal of imported cash from the US and elsewhere, and if that drops off and they can no longer keep propping up the huge number of money-losing corporations they’ve got, it could get very rough there.
Kimberly, thank you, but my knowledge is far from limitless — it’s just that the things I know aren’t common knowledge these days — and my generosity is made possible by the corresponding generosity of people who put tips into my online tip jar — these days, that’s a significant fraction of my income. (Many thanks to all who’ve contributed!)
Dennis, yes, exactly. Intellectuals in power are responsible for most of the really hideous atrocities of modern political history. Look at the social background of the Nazi and Soviet elite sometime.
Strda, sure — but here again, I’m talking about the way the ideas of the Republic were received. Nor has anyone yet come up with an effective way to make sure that everyone who claims the title of Philosopher actually is one.
Medievalist, that is to say, both Plato and medieval European cultures were riffing off a standard Indo-European social order. The medieval version worked a lot better in practice, not least because there were means for keeping would-be philosopher kings from running amuck.
These last series of posts have brought up two related thoughts. In history a theme that repeats is over dependence on mercenary forces. A few tax revolts during a sustained military engagement you can’t pay them immediately and they flip sides routing your army. Are corporations the new mercenary armies? Who do you see playing this role.
The other thought was about knowing who your enemies are and are not. George Washington knew that a successful revolution wasn’t just about kicking the British out but then picking up the pieces and forming a functional govt for themselves. If he raided loyalist farms to feed his starving troops those people would be lost forever. Instead he let the British come in, quarter their soldiers in these farms, eventually creating sympathies for the revolutionist cause and the basis of a very successful espionage operation.
Katherine and JMG, I once wrote to the food editor of the local fish wrap complaining about the recipe-swap column, which was also nothing but yuppie chow with expensive, faddish ingredients. She said she got a lot of requests for normal recipes but all the submissions were yuppie-chow recipes, which argues that as far back as the early 2000’s, the wage class had already stopped reading the paper, or at least the cooking section thereof.
If anyone’s wondering, the cooking articles, as opposed to the recipe-swap column, came off feeds the paper subscribed to and reprinted, thus yuppie chow all the way.
Mike Royko could not get hired at a newspaper today, and this problem grows less and less likely to be corrected as the number of people who know there ever was a Mike Royko dwindles.
I see several different somewhat dis-related and conflicting discussions of race here.
I am going to request that those who post about race include a definition or meaning of what you mean by race.
I live minority “white” in Seattle. I don’t even notice skin color unless the color contrast part of my brain is working and then I think it is beautiful. My light ruddy skin is fragile, burns easily and is less aesthetic. Ages faster too. I am saying that as a mechanic and artist, it is a practical view. Some will now say I am a racist for one reason or another peculiar to them. Sorry, not a self put down, just a comparative observation.
It is attitude that matters to me.
“Race” as it is most often used is a social divide and control function as far as I am concerned.
“Who cares if we call that a jati, a race, an ethnic group, a population group, a genetic cluster, an ancestral group, or whatever other euphemism we need to switch to next week? ”
“There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label”
Prizm, postpartum depression occurs also in women who stay 24h with their children for the first years.
Postpartum depression isn’t limited to working women, alas. Though I don’t doubt it’s a contributing factor. Another important contributor is technology-related social isolation. Maintaining a household used to be an astonishing amount of physical labor. We’re all glad it’s easier now, but the unintended consequence of all our modern conveniences is that now (as never before!) we are expected to do it *alone*. We don’t meet our neighbors down at the creek on Mondays to beat laundry on the rocks and gossip. No canning parties or quilting bees.
In evolutionary and historical terms, a woman being alone at home with her baby/kids most of the day, every day, is a serious aberration, with serious costs.
I just found this article and this article which make the case for a new academic discipline: “Progress Studies”.
An extract from the latter:
“Progress itself is understudied. By “progress,” we mean the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past couple of centuries. For a number of reasons, there is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study. We suggest inaugurating the discipline of “Progress Studies.”
Before digging into what Progress Studies would entail, it’s worth noting that we still need a lot of progress.
From the former article, it notes that some other scientists aren’t too happy about the idea, because, they say, many existing scientific disciplines already address issues which would apparently fall in to the realm of Progress Studies. Which means that proponents of this new discipline in essence want to repurpose areas of scientific research towards the service of progress. It appears that devotees of the religion of progress are doubling down!
Annnnd! The good news is, Planned Parenthood has finally cut the umbilical cord and renounced the use of federal money. It was triggered by the administration’s ruling that nobody receiving it could as much as mention abortion to its patients; if that ruling were ever reversed I’m sure it would be back to pouring its donations into endless lobbying and having us spit into the find in our faces …. I mean, “demand of Trump!….”
But while it lasts, I just dropped of a decent donation check to PP of South, East, and North Florida to fund its real work … seeing patients.
I’ve been wanting them to do that for a long time.
P.S. Yes … Prince William and his wife have done some honest virtue signaling by putting their flying comfort where Harry & Meghan’s mouths are. Three cheers!
From the Rod Dreher article:
“Tradition, legacy, awe, and terror of Divine Mystery all stand starkly opposed to the Myth of Progress. That is to say, theistic religion and Progress are utterly incompatible. Indeed, looking over the
spiritual, ecological and ideological waste left by the Works of Progress I would posit that Progress is likely demonic in the literal sense. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Part of what informs my
strong opinion on this matter is that I’ve noticed a trend of ‘atheistic’ leftists actively engaging in demonolatory. To my mind, this is the last word in the idiocy of evil, but nonetheless I can’t help but be reminded of CS Lewis having Screwtape say that type of human demons prefer the most is “the materialist magician.”
Wow. Reading this was downright eerie. For the record, I am not the person who wrote the above. The writer is a Hellenic polytheist who occasionally posts as the avatar potentilla on Rod Dreher’s blog. Earlier on this thread, I wrote to Dana “by their fruits ye shall know them” without having ever read the links to Dreher’s blog. Also, I was the one who posted last Magic Monday about the middle-aged woman friend of mine experimenting with a curse doll. Remember that thread went into 70+ comments and mentioned C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters and deranged leftist atheists resorting to demonolatry in their quest for power. This potentilla person is on such a similar wavelength to me and other Ecosophia commenters, you have to wonder… Are there greater forces at work here than the casual observer can detect?
@ Katherine Watt, JMG – re: advertising-funded print journalism – As a “mom” in a small mom and pop business*, I have seen first hand how our local daily newspaper has caused many of its own problems by punishing small businesses with ever-increasing, excessive & disproportionale rates – not only with display advertising (big advertisers receiving HUGE discounts for much larger ads and better ad placement compared to small business that could only afford a small ad in a less desirable space), but also in classified ads where small business (potential repeat advertisers) were punished with being charged a lot more for the same space. The paper also killed off an insert (with affordable ad-space) that had worked well for many small businesses, including ours (and according to a contact at the paper the insert was working well for them. Go figure.). And the paper seems to have missed the boat with web-advertising. Killing the goose that laid the golden egg by driving away advertisers and customers.
*incidentally, a business that in many respects could be found within the Lakeland Republic. And thrive there.
I think your discussion with DT about our brains ability to hit upon metaphysical truths is extremely interesting and important.
Do you know about Godel’s incompleteness theorem – an incredibly important result that has a proof that almost anybody can understand and reproduce.
Roger Penrose has a good discussion of this theorem in his books (“Emperor’s new mind” is the most interesting I think).
Basically even a system as simple as arithmetic (with a couple of logic rules thrown in) is provable incomplete (mathematically, that simply means there are true statements that we can never prove).
I hope I am able to convey the enormity of this – this is not about far away galaxies but simple arithmetic statements that we cannot prove even in theory.
Now moving on to the philosophical consequences of this. One idea is that our brain basically accepts some things as true and acts correspondingly. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. If it works we keep building entire logical systems that we accept as true (like Euclidean geometry). Basically the judge of “truth” is again how helpful things are for our survival.
An alternate theory is that we use “beauty” instead of truth. Again we could have a long conversation about why it works etc.
Thanks for the great ideas I can always find in your blog!
JMG: When you said “how long has it been since you saw, in the recipe section of a paper, a recipe that wasn’t fashionably fussy yuppie chow?” I wanted to stand up and cheer. Amen! A lot of them are “how we tweaked your grandmother’s honest recipe so it would be *interesting!*
P.S. I was lucky enough to score a 1954 Betty Crocker Good and Easy cookbook from the retirement center’s library throwaway pile. Food my mother used to make! Omit some of the 1950s creative uses of “all those convenient modern packaged foods and wonderful modern appliances” and you actually have some down to earth basics. Corn meal mush being the first on the list, or as they probably call it sown here, “Yankee grits.”
One comment more on point to this week’s blog.
I think the desire to manage/simplify society and human behavior is stronger in the intellectuals than it is in other people. The concept of legibility – which you talked about is something that is appropriate here.
What is it that postmodernists, communist ideologues and american billionaires have in common? They consider themselves intellectuals but can only see the world in black and white.
Think about the constant need to explain that yes, climate change is real and yes some people are abusing it for political and personal gain. A kid can understand the concept but somehow most educated people prefer to see one or the other but not both.
Is it the desire to control related to the amount of abstractions we learn? After all many believe that if we know something we can also control it. It’s an incredibly wrong but very widespread idea.
I hope this isn’t off topic, as there’ve been discussions in the past regarding militant vegans. https://www.thedailybeast.com/vegan-professor-at-war-with-antioch-college-to-save-9-baby-lambs-from-slaughter
I’ve come to the same conclusion – large societies in the hundreds of millions of people are in really big trouble, because humans are not nearly good enough at top-down planning to manage them. (automated/algorithmic solutions like capitalism, which don’t require central planning, work great until they don’t – all it takes is a tiny shift in incentives and suddenly the system don’t serve human interests anymore & no one can reach the steering wheel because it’s all too big)
I figure we really have two choices
-some form of localism, to bring the complexity of coordination problems down to a scale that humans can manage (this is the default, to be achieved by choice or by collapse)
-some form of technological advance that allows humans to actually manage the complexity we’ve created. I’m not giving up on friendly AI riding in to save the day just yet 🙂
I’m adding my agreement to the positive reviews of Taleb’s work– especially “Skin in the Game,” in this context. At my previous job at the MegaChain Pharmacy, they were always cutting back staffing to the point at which every pharmacy in the MegaChain was endangering the public. Even in an industry where haste and employee fatigue can lead to fatal errors, it is possible to create a work environment where the employee has to work 12 hours without the possibility of a meal- or bathroom-break, and with computer-monitored hourly production quotas.
Notice what a great deal this is for the folks at the top– If the lowly bottom feeder manages to get thru the 12-hour day without making any mistakes, the owners get extra profit from the saved expenses of not staffing adequately. And if the bottom feeder screws up or even kills someone, the guys at the top can simply fire him or her. Taleb would say that they are unethically “antifragile” to risk.
It would be great to examine the role of this type of antifragility in medical errors in large corporations–But probably it would be hard to find funding for that! 😉
JMG: if I may say so, I think you’re overstating the “unknowablity” case to the point where it reminds me of Derrida and his deconstructionist buddies back in the 20th Century. Deciding that we shouldn’t be killing off all the bees or that we shouldn’t be burning the Amazon rainforest that provides a significant share of the planet’s oxygen doesn’t take any elite corps of specialists or deep philosophical reflections on what is knowable. Also, the discussion of what factors influenced our evolving brain seems to leave out what (of all people) Dion Fortune discusses in “The Mystical Qabalah,” for instance on page 60, paragraph 18. If I understand her correctly she’s saying that what happens in the physical world, Malkuth, is shaped by what happens in Yesod and above. All of this hovers uncomfortably close (in my estimation) to teleology and “intelligent design.”
Yes, yes, and even more yes! And now I will flog once again one of the best books on the subject, “More Work for Mother”, by Ruth Schwartz Cowan. The book details the innovations in home technology from the Colonial era to the 1980’s (when the book was written) that have made housework less onerous while concurrently increasing the overall amount of work. Excellent, excellent read.
Lady Cutecat and Patricia Matthews:
Glad I’m not the only person annoyed by recipes that require a teaspoon each of a bunch of exotic ingredients that I will never use again and which come in a too-large and too-expensive package. I check out Allrecipes.com for a selection of recipes for ‘normal’ food, I also somehow got on the email list of Taste of Home, some of which are adverts, but the rest are recipes for the kind of food your grandmother cooked using ingredients most people actually have at home.
Have you been following the Bronze Age Pervert phenomenon? He has created an entire mythos around the managed society, which he posits as being run by the “Bugmen”, who are analogous to Nietzsche’s Last Man.
His solution? Nude bodybuilding death squads:
Martin, yep. Politics is a craft, not a science.
Bryan, I don’t know why anyone was surprised; Obama was a machine politician from Illinois, which has some of the most corrupt politics in the country.
Carlos, okay, the social justice movement is doomed. I mean that. When your standard denunciation becomes a joke, what are you going to say? “Do what I tell you or I’m going to make all of you giggle uncontrollably” just doesn’t cut it…
Elduendeoscuro, thanks for this.
Scotlyn, that’s basically my analysis. As for Sanders’ staff, what I read was that the staff got their pay raised notionally to $15 an hour, but on condition that they work fewer hours and still get the same amount of work done…
Sunnnv, you’ve just answered your own question. With the money backing Thunberg, she could have chartered any one of those ships to take her across the Atlantic, with a lower carbon cost.
Johnny, I’ve had the Ehrenreich book on the get-to list for a while now.
Phil, I’m not arguing. It’s just that the US tends to be less interested in the internal affairs of its overseas satrapies than, say, the EU; our government certainly tells your government what to do — witness the involvement of British troops in the Iraq absurdity — but the US government isn’t interested in anything internal to Britain. You can even keep that silly metric system if you want it! 😉
Info, er, did you read the post at the top of this thread, which talks about the clashes between the managerial society and democracy?
Chris, I ain’t arguing. Any time you’re teaching to the test, you’re teaching obedience rather than understanding.
David BTL, an excellent point! “The economy” is another abstraction; I’m sure most of us recall a few years ago when the media insisted the economy was fine, even though tens of millions of Americans were out of work and all the other symptoms of hard times were present. Now “the economy’s in trouble” while everyone I know in flyover country is talking about all the HELP WANTED signs and other evidences of a boom.
Prizm, er, I know women who were stay-at-home moms and suffered from postpartum depression, so I’m far from sure your analysis works as well as you think it does.
Violet, no argument there. Well, as long as at least a few people read mine. 😉
Johnny, follow that out further. I think you’re on to something important.
Methylethyl, wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Dot, once you’ve conflated race and ethnicity, you’ve missed the entire point I’m trying to make. Of course ethnicities exist — genetically as well as culturally. The things that don’t exist in any but a fictive, culturally contrived sense are those arbitrary categories called “races” in modern terminology — “the white race,” “the black race,” etc. Those were manufactured in the early 18th century in North America in the process of inventing the particular form of slavery we had for a century and a half after that. (Here’s a good basic intro on that from our National Park Service), and they do not have any meaningful genetic or cultural reality. I’ve been arguing for quite a while now that ditching the misguided, misleading, and unscientific “race” categories, blunt instruments that they are, and paying attention to actual ethnicities instead is a crucial step toward making sense of the realities of human diversity. Is that a little clearer?
Mark, I’d add a third factor to empowerment and alignment, and that might best be called modesty — recognizing that there are things that management simply can’t do, no matter what mix of empowerment and alignment gets put to work.
Matt, thanks for the link — and for the comparison between corporations and mercenaries. I think it was Adam Smith himself who said that government by a chartered corporation of merchants is of all varieites of government the worst.
Your Kittenship, exactly.
Jbucks, I’m in favor of establishing the discipline of Progress Studies, and asking them to start by coming up with a meaningful, objective definition of what constitutes progress. My guess is that within three to five years the internecine quarrels over that issue will have made it brutally clear to everyone else that “Progress” is a verbal noise linked to strong emotions, not a meaningful concept at all.
Patricia M, I think it was a smart move. If PP gets out of the lobbying business and returns to its original purpose of providing women with low cost reproductive health care, everyone benefits.
KImberly, I’m quite sure there are greater forces at work. Spengler talks about the rise of the Second Religiosity as each civilization’s Age of Reason plunges into self-contradiction and absurdity — and I’d suggest that it’s not just human beings who are responsible for that recurrent pattern.
PatriciaT, that doesn’t surprise me a bit. The local newspapers I know that make a profit — the daily in the last town we lived in, and a weekly here in East Providence, are great examples — all focus their advertising sales on local businesses and community institutions, and don’t cater to national corporations at all.
NomadicBeer, I do indeed, and it’s important in this context. Are you familiar with Stephen Wolfram’s work on cellular automata, as documented (among other places) in his book A New Kind of Science? He demonstrates that there are a great many systems that produce outputs that cannot be modeled by any means less simple that the system that produces them — thus there’s no way to simplify them so they can be grasped by the human mind, or any artificial mind for that matter. All you can do is watch the output. That, to my mind, stands with Godel’s proof and Michael Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge as grave markers for the rationalist fantasy of a wholly knowable world.
Patricia M, thank you — and congrats on your find. We have several old Betty Crocker cookbooks and use them all the time.
NomadicBeer, dead on target. That’s why intellectuals are so bad at running things.
DJSpo, thanks for this. Sigh…
I should also point out that if anyone wants to end up crying with laughter, they should read the reviews of Bronze Age Pervert’s book on Amazon dot com.
Here’s a sample:
“I strongly suggest having one or several of your war brides rub your body with coconut oil (NON-HYDROGENATED ONLY!) prior to reading this book, as its intense energies may be too much for your unprotected skin to tolerate.”
Jon, you left out the third and most probable option, which is that our society will unravel according to the normal processes of decline and fall, thus taking care of the problem in the usual way. Always leave room in your analyses for what happens if nothing is done!
Emmanuel, that’s a great capsule summary of the state of the US economy these days. Thanks for this.
Phutatorius, I’m trying to figure out what your comment has to do with what I’ve said. You’re quite correct that it doesn’t take deep reflection on what’s knowable to figure out that some practical measure is a bad idea — it takes exactly the kind of mental activities that kept us alive on the African savannah, that of noticing consequences and assessing them. As for the influence of higher planes, those are reflected in the phenomena of the visible plane — “the visible is for us the measure of the invisible,” as Eliphas Levi wrote — and therefore it’s unjustifiable in terms of occult philosophy to assume that something that doesn’t have any reason to be present on the material plane must be present anyway, because our collective ego requires it to be there…
Phil K, no, I haven’t. I’ll check it out as time permits.
Hi Emmanuel Goldstein,
My pharmacist tells me a computer at Bigchain Central determines her staffing levels, which would be OK except the computer does not seem to be located on this planet, and people on Planet X seem to like to pick up their prescriptions from 0900-1500 weekdays, so during the busy times, in the evenings, she is woefully understaffed. And she and her staff also worry about fatal mistakes made in haste.
My mom subscribed to Taste of Home. I’m glad to see they’re still in business.
Dana–re your question of what the Christians are worshiping. A Pagan friend of mine maintains that the entity worshiped by some of the Christian Right would be regarded as a psychotic criminal if embodied as a human. He feels that they are literally demon worshipers.
As a practical example of garbage statistics I will describe my first job out of college. I worked for a major interstate bus company (long since gone). Fuel consumption was measured in two ways. The underground tank had gauges to measure how much was pumped out, but the amount in a tank was also regularly measured by inserting a calibrated rod into the tank. Interestingly, the measurements frequently do not agree. So part of my job was to sit down with the recorded measurements for the month and carefully ‘fudge’ them until the amounts matched. Another part of my job was to transcribe the mechanics’ reports into the maintenance logs for each bus. The reports were scrawled and greasy. Frequently I was unsure of what was written, but I was reluctant to walk downstairs to ask the mechanics since I was a somewhat shy young woman and they were mostly young men. So I guessed as best I could. No one seemed to check on any of this–you would think that maybe a supervisor would have shown up on occasion to explain that bus #X couldn’t have had its frobishes realigned because that model doesn’t have frobishes. But no. The telephone bill for long distance calls also had to be submitted to headquarters with a log explaining the reason for each call. In other words, when anyone in the office made a call they were supposed to note it on the log. No one did this, not even the manager. So, I sat with the blank log and the bill and filled in the log based on knowledge that the calls to the bus stations along the routes were for dispatch, the calls to the manager’s home number were personal and that no one would care if I made guesses as to the purpose of other calls, so long as it seemed reasonable. Whatever managerial purpose these collected ‘facts’ were supposed to guide were completely frustrated by the reality.
When my daughter was in the USAF she worked in a division that had rotating 12 hour shifts. They worked 5am to 5 pm or 5pm to 5am and changed shifts every two weeks with three sequential days off to ease into new hours. Needless to say this is probably the worst possible arrangement for alertness, physical or mental health or family structure. What struck me as especially strange is that I know that the US Department of Defense has funded many studied of circadian cycles and certainly should know better. My son-in-law, who was US Army had similar complaints about the physical training methods, which actually broke down bodies, especially knees. He felt very justified when a US Marine reacted to his description of his PT schedule with “that’s crazy!”–knowing marines, the response was probably more profanely worded than that.
So we have possibly good research not being used to shape practice for reasons unknown. We have erroneous data collected, presumably for some useful managerial purpose that is actually useless because no one really cares that it is accurate. And this isn’t even getting into the possibility of actual fraud or theft–although now I think about it, why didn’t those fuel measurements match up? bad gauges? or midnight requisitions?
Yet we are supposed to trust the managers.
On a completely different topic–met an English couple in Albuquerque hotel pool. Asked about Brexit. The woman expressed the opinion that the delay and talk of redoing the vote was nonsense and that ‘they’ should have just got on with it. The woman was born in Manchester but they currently lived in Norwich.
“He demonstrates that there are a great many systems that produce outputs that cannot be modeled by any means less simple that the system that produces them ”
I have said that very same thing here many times over the years (starting with the ADR). I can’t remember the name of the person I first saw quoted on this – it was from the 50’s or 60’s. I want to say ‘Gold-(something)’. He was a geophysicist, I believe – memory is hazy. I adopted it as sort of a battle cry, or maybe more of a cri de coeur, when I was in grad school in the 80’s trying to mathematically model something that really didn’t seem to want to be modeled 😉
Anyway, that notion goes back well before Wolfram. Not to take anything away from SW – a great and original thinker.
Hi Dennis Sawyers,
[Thinking they are] “smart,” plus “arrogant and educated,” seems to describe leftists at least as far back as Robespierre.
Hi Patricia T.,
I despise web-based advertising, as well as web-based newspapers. I have tried numerous times, with no success, to take out a 7-day subscription to the local fish wrap. They’d happily take my money, but only deliver the paper 2-4 days a week. When I assaulted the first line of Customer Care Specialists, I’d get “We’ll extend your subscription another day.” Extending the subscription doesn’t do much good if they don’t deliver in the first place! I fought my way to their rear emplacements, where I was told “You have full access to read the paper on line.” I told you when I subscribed I didn’t want to read it on line, I already stare at a computer 10 hours a day! Blah blah blah all the benefits I get on line. Forget it! Just do what you contracted to do and deliver an actual newspaper!
(By now you have probably figured out why I describe this mess with combat metaphors. It began to feel like a combat, and I began to think General Corporate Stupidity was undefeatable.)
Finally I got all the way to where the upper echelons sit around treating themselves to hookers and blow, and a nice lady called me back and gave me 4 days a week (the best they could seem to manage) for 6 months free. I asked her why delivery was so erratic. It wasn’t like they couldn’t find my house. They knew darn well where my house was. They’d deliver one day, skip two, deliver one, skip one, deliver three, and so forth. The nice lady couldn’t figure it out either.
Hi John Michael,
Your comment about food and the sort of calories required to do a hard days manual work was not lost on me. Friday, I spent most of the day working in the surrounding forest ‘cleaning up’, as it used to be known, so as to reduce the fire risk.Then Saturday I dug and moved clay and soil in a project that is creating new garden beds – all day. I use hand tools to assist with the work, but far out you use an extraordinary amount of your own energy – and that requires a huge amount of food. Plus the body requires additional energy with which to recover.
The funny thing about food is that I feel that as a society we’ve sort of lost track that it is a balancing act between the amount of energy that a person takes into their bodies, versus the amount of energy used by the body. Diets on one hand, and gyms on the other, are a sign that the mid point between intake and outputs are out of whack.
As a funny side story, a long time ago I knew a lady who used to drive to a gym so that she could use a walking machine. A truly strange circumstance.
Incidentally, I feel that the evolution discussion is the sort of ‘number of angels on a pin head’ rabbit hole. 😉
@ Phil and JMG:.
Historically, the British tended to take a much more hands off approach to governing it’s colonies than other European colonial empires of the time, a tendency reinforced by the lessons London learned from the debacle of 1776.
The epitome of this was the colonial government in British India, which had it’s own army, navy and foreign policy, a foreign policy that frequently clashed not only with the French, Russians, Germans and Ottoman Turks, but sometimes with Whitehall as well.
JMG, Matthias, and methylethyl
Concerning postpartum depression, I wasn’t trying to say it wasn’t common before. I wasn’t even saying it is more common now. I have noticed quite a few women at my work who have suffered from it, one in particular, since I sit next to her and see her on a daily basis. It’s a part of being human to suffer from such experiences, and the lack of many of the management group of people to acknowledge that demanding women to work during such a time could make the situation more common, or worse, is certainly an overlooked factor, one which combined with the ignoring of other biological needs that we are being deprived, is resulting in some backlash from the deplorables.
David by the lake,
I appreciated your comment about econimic abstraction. One point it brought to mind for me was how many people i hear say “I built my house.” The reality is they paid people to build it for them who paid other people to harvest and manufacture the materials. The aforementioned folks who said they built it did so in the most abstract sense of the word. The irony is how many of these same people who claim they built their house feel everyone should work as hard as they did to get where they are, and that if a person isn’t able to achieve that success that it is somehow a fault of their own.
Sgage, of course it goes back a long time before Wolfram — a strong case could be made that that’s one of the things that Lao Tsu was talking about. The thing I admire about Wolfram’s work with cellular automata is that he provided irrefutable proof of that point, in a form straightforward enough that most people can grasp it fairly readily.
Chris, that’s an important part of the issue — but it’s more complex than that, of course.
Spenglerian, exactly — and the US borrowed its imperial strategy from the British, of course.
Prizm, fair enough.
“a strong case could be made that that’s one of the things that Lao Tsu was talking about.”
Lao Tsu is my man! And yes, I do believe that was part of his point.
“The thing I admire about Wolfram’s work with cellular automata is that he provided irrefutable proof of that point, in a form straightforward enough that most people can grasp it fairly readily.”
You have inspired me to dust off my copy of ‘A New Kind of Science’. A fairly hefty tome, and I haven’t really perused it since its publication. OK, I have just found it on one of my bookshelves… holy moly, a mighty tome I should say!
Some good news:
Again just wanted to draw your attention to something from a website I think you may find of interest. This article about a British environmentalist activist, it’s uncanny how much this gentleman’s views sound like your main arguments in The Retro Future and on this blog. Here is the link http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/06/30/watch-the-battle-against-climate-change-by-paul-kingsnorth/ I apologize if you don’t check out this type of thing in your comments section, or if this is an annoying practice. Also you can probably guess from the apology that I am writing to you from Canada. Again, thank you for all your work and insight, it has been a great benefit to me in these rather confusing times.
Thanks for the link! Reminds me of theory that we all live in a big simulation.
Of course it brings up the question, what is progress? Of course as humans, we will define it in terms of our development.
My son has ADHD and autism. I continue to search for answers! I know it’s not a spurious diagnosis in our case because of our time homeschooling him, and it’s comorbidity with his other condition, epilepsy.
Thanks for the data points (or lack thereof)!
I get it, thanks! I am going to have to look up Praise of Folly.
I am doing some reading on neuroscience lately, have been working through “Touching A Nerve” by Patricia Churchland. So far I can recommend it.
@Lady Cutekitten of Lolcat:
I used to deliver papers back in 2000. I was also mystified at the number of customers who didn’t get their paper despite me delivering it. I can only assume I launched it into a remote corner of the yard, it got stolen, maybe a different family member got it, maybe I skipped their house accidentally? Kept getting talked to by supervisors and quit after I think 9 months.
My sister and I used to do a paper route. It included townhouses and apartment buildings, so people living very close together. Poaching a neighbor’s paper was easy for anyone who got up early, and at least two of our apartment buildings had a resident paper thief. You could tell it wasn’t the subscriber lying about it, too, because they didn’t always steal the same person’s paper. Maybe you should see if any of your neighbors aren’t getting their newspapers on the days when you are?
I think postpartum depression may actually BE more common now, for both working and non-working mothers, and for similar reasons. Depression, more often than not, is the natural, logical result of your life becoming an inescapable trainwreck, and your physical/social/emotional needs not being met. That’s modern industrial motherhood, in a nutshell, and it’s true for women who work, and for women who forgo paid employment to care for the children. We’re all expected to do far too much, too soon, on too little sleep, with too little help.
@DT, dropBear, JMG, and NomadicBeer, re: Mysteries of Creation
Compleat understanding of the Mysteries of Creation IS possible– The Dolphins, who long ago gave up their technology and civilization for a life of contemplation (and a diet of fish) have this compleat understanding, and they have all been telling humans about it in detail for centuries. The only actual problem–the human brain lacks the complexity to understand what the Dolphins are saying.
You can read more about it in the works of the philosopher, Douglas Adams. 😉
Scotlyn, the solution just came to me in a flash of light. It’s reasonable to assume that the majority of people would embrace the possibilities of liberation and having more power both in their own lives and to affect society. But there would still remain some managers who would continue to be self-interested bullies and bureaucrats, and workers for whom ‘intransigent lump’ may be a charitable description. 🙂 The obvious solution is put them together. They deserve each other, they belong together, they may even need each other. They can be each other’s problem. Consolidate them in a few industries we don’t really need, so it won’t be a problem that their production rate is terrible, and where they can’t cause an environmental disaster or blow up the surrounding town no matter how badly they mess up. Then they can just carry on doing their thing as a kind of living fossil, while eveyone else gets on with it around them. Like how some Japanese companies give inept employees ‘a seat by the window’. Simple, efficient, humane.
@ Emmanuel Goldstein –
Out of curiosity, may I ask whether MegaChain Pharmacy used a snake-based symbol in its logo, and if so, was it more like the single snake asclepius style logo associated with healing arts and temples, or the two snake mercury style one associated with commerce, thieves and alchemy?
If I was to lsy a bet on it being the latter, would I be pocketing my winnings?
“Info, er, did you read the post at the top of this thread, which talks about the clashes between the managerial society and democracy? ”
Indeed. Should have worded my comment better.
Agreeing with the post above. I put forward an example of an arrangement by a business that may provide a model for governance that is quite democratic in nature due to its radically decentralized nature.
Hope you understand.
on the ecofascism front, there’s an old guardian piece by timothy snyder (author of “bloodlands”) which has a certain resonance: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/16/hitlers-world-may-not-be-so-far-away
admittedly, he does say “We also know that governments can stimulate the development of appropriate energy technologies. Solar and wind energy are ever cheaper. Fusion, advanced fission, tidal stream power and non-crop-based biofuels offer real hope for a new energy economy.” so he’s been at the koolaid to a certain extent
@JMG I did try hard to find the actual wording of the UFCW / Sanders agreement, which has not been made public, so I’m posting a link to the next closest source – the trade union’s report on it. In any case, thanks for piquing my curiosity and prompting me to read up on a fascinating case study.
Considering that the starting baseline for the campaign workers who joined the union to negotiate for better pay and conditions, was a workweek which frequently exceeded 60 actual working hours, while being on call 24/7, I can’t take seriously the idea that the workers would have asked the union to negotiate for even MORE working hours for them. I mean they are already, obviously, putting their home lives completely on hold. Who believes they want to be at work MORE than 60 hours a week, and be on call MORE than 24/7? Only someone committed to the notion that a worker’s only possible joy is to put themselves, their time, their efforts, and their lives even MORE at the disposal of a boss.
Here are some highlights of what happened, if the horse’s mouth (the trade union) is to be believed…
1) the Sanders campaign recognised campaign workers right to negotiate for their interests through a union in March.
2) the deal reached included recognition of a worker’s need to “switch off” with “black out” (off call) days, which belong only to themselves, twice as many paid holidays (10 to 20) and recognised break times during the working day. (All of these being concessions to the basic humanity of workers that trade unions are used to fighting for).
2a) there is no mention of an “amount” of work which must be accomplished in a given time. In any case, how could such a thing be measured? The test of both quantity and quality of work done will be the result at the ballot box.
3) a very interesting part of the deal is the upper end pay cap – ie no campaign manager may be paid more than 3x the pay of the lowest worker – this nicely lines up the interests of all the layers of campaigners together.
All in all it is an interesting experiment, in an industry in which the unspoken expectation is that campaign workers should be happy working themselves into grey shadows for “love” (belief in the cause) instead of for money, although no one can stock their larders on love alone.
As to the question of “walking” the campaign’s $15/hour “talk” I’d have to conclude that the Sanders campaign cannot be faulted in this regard.
Obviously, as an employer wanting the best “bang for buck” which every employer wants, Sanders had conflicting interests to the campaign’s workers. But rather than stonewall, he sat down at the negotiating table and negotiated, which is what conflicting interests can, most effectively, do.
I’ll unpack the influences in case it’s useful to you (or maybe to me!).
Part of this was coming from a comment Dmitry Orlov made about how money allows you to compare things that should not be compared, his great example was the price of a bag of turnips compared to your grandmother’s grave stone. This is not something we should be able to weigh against each other, in any sense, but our culture has this tool that almost begs you to do so, because numbers are all relative to each other. He actually wrote a recent article about the worship of money that I quite liked by didn’t stick with me, so I might want to re-read (possibly I am just unconsciously regurgitating it)
Another part of it came from Mark Fisher, who many years ago ran a blog called K-Punk. He was discussing mp3s from a Marxist influenced perspective and he argued that capitalism isn’t just a system of economics, it’s a belief system where everything is evaluated according to it’s monetary value, and so with mp3s, the ritual of exchanging money was highly connected to the value we thought music had. That if you reduced that price to zero you don’t just, “get a lot of music for free,” you actually lose the sense that music itself has any value. Watching as culture shifted over the subsequent decades towards fetishizing the “un-downloadable” with things like foodie culture and video games. For a while I have noticed younger people I talk to just cannot relate to the way somebody my age places the role of music in their lives, that it operated as a major cultural influence as teenagers and divided people into groups that we held as being important, for them it’s just something that exists and maybe they engage with some times (I don’t think this attitude is right or wrong, just that it is markedly different). I think a big part of that is because information was far more rare prior to the internet and had to be passed along by individual people who acted more or less as cultural guardians, so knowledge of a band or genre told you something about the person, where nowadays that knowledge is easily obtained and sort of irrelevant.
That brings me to the third thing influencing where the thought strand was coming from, which is the book “Money And The Meaning Of Life” by Jacob Needleman. He talks in it about how there is a material side of things and a spiritual side of things, and that they are not the same, but they co-exist. So music (my example) would be something that stems from a shared participation in the living culture of your community, but it can also be seen as a sequence of notes, or pushed further, as a series of pieces of information. For him, the spiritual is the world of meaning, so for us, human meaning. His main argument in the book, I think, is that money is a tool for causing change and that we should attempt to engage with it to do good, in the same way that we should attempt to live in such a way that we can do good through our lives. He is against the idea of people refusing to use it, because that is an attempt to step outside of experience, being good “by default” because they have removed all exposure to evil. He is critical of monks and others who pull out of society in this way. I don’t know if I share his criticism, but something that has influenced my thinking in several ways was learning that the quote from Jesus, “It is easier for a camel to thread the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” is making reference to a tight passage in Jerusalem. Basically it wasn’t impossible (the way it sounds without understanding the reference), but it would require getting off your camel and carefully tending to it, and it would be very difficult and probably not the route you would take with a camel, but with a lot of work it was achievable. This explains why he seemed indifferent to people’s wealth that he encountered, he saw it as their own personal challenge and not his problem to solve.
The last bit was from Don Juan in the first Castaneda book. I tried to read it when I was a teenager and didn’t like the part where Castaneda mentions the poverty of some people living near Don Juan who says something like “What are the things you value most in life? Are these people denied any of these?” I eventually put the book down, but this scene just irritated me for a long time and I think trying to work it out made me pay attention. Any time I bring this up based on personal interactions with people or experiences I’ve had (moving from a third world country to a first world one), other people echo my initial irritation, they get quite upset about how I’m “glorifying” or “romanticising” poverty. Recently I had a couple friends quite energetically denouncing me for it. Perhaps they are correct, but the way it touches a nerve in them, and the way it touched a nerve in me, makes me think that it violates a strong belief we have. That money, and what money can bring about in our lives is of real (maybe utmost) importance, even if we might also believe that it is sinful or disavow it’s central position in our culture. That living without it is more miserable than living with it, and that “bringing people out of poverty” is an unquestionable good, and that their lives are obviously better for it.
For us poverty is an enemy because our system of belief has this mathematical element, and therefore something getting close to zero is obviously of lesser value than some number higher than that. We hold mathematics in incredibly high regard (if i think about how many rather advanced, largely irrelevant to my life, concepts I had to try to learn in high school in math, compared to other fields like geography that would arguably have been much more useful to me, or many things that nobody bothered to teach at all…) Mathematics is presented as sort of being “outside” human knowledge, something we discovered and did not invent. It is always assured in SF novels and films (etc) that mathematics is universal and can act as a bridge between alien cultures that could not mitigate their differences otherwise. Perhaps we like it because it is the ultimate move away from meaning, from an engagement in the world that is personal, because that takes a lot of time and judgment to evaluate and can’t be made universal at all. Without the clean certainty of math you might ask: What are we counting, and in what sense is more of it better? Why is it better for a person to have traveled to 35 countries rather than one, for instance. Or to have had hundreds of sexual partners? Why am I supposed to care about the resale value of my house? Why not the resale value of my bodily organs, or of my friendships? Would it be better if my lungs were worth more in ten years than they are today?
Maybe another thing that contributed to this is the common (and relatively NEW) saying, “I’ll try anything once,” which I always thought was funny, but thinking about it made me realize there is an assumed logic there, one that says experiencing something is an “anything” but “not experiencing something” is NOT an anything. A person who hasn’t tried heroin, hasn’t had the experience of a person who hasn’t had heroin, they have just not had an experience, and what could be the value in that? It’s just a zero (and I’m trying to get my experiences to at least 534634!). All this relates highly, I think, with internet culture that is all about tracking apps and seeing life as a series of points acquired. Finally you can see how many friends your friends have and rank them accordingly! And how many micrograms of various food fragments you have ingested towards your daily score.
Anyway, thanks for the encouragement – I’ll write back if I get anywhere further with it. Since this is already so long I’ll add another on topic thought that occured to me in the garden this morning. War & Peace is a great novel about the idea of a managed society. The whole thing is basically an examination of that, in individuals, in families, and in countries, and it is often quite funny about it. Plus there are so many pages and words! No book offers such high numbers, BUT, it’s only 1 book, and in the same time you could probably read 5 others.
Re: the Obamas buy a house
It looks like the Obamas have bought a monumentally expensive house on Martha’s Vineyard with only ten years! (or twelve years! or eighteen months!, take your pick) left before the climate apocalypse. Maybe they aren’t quite that worried about global warming after all.
I think it’s part and parcel with a certain type of education system. At school, I am really smart and nearly always right, even without putting in much effort.
In reality, I am really smart and maybe more right about things than most people, but still wrong more often than I am right. However, it’s really hard to admit when I’m wrong or even notice when I’m wrong, and it’s really easy to blame other people for when I am wrong.
Or at least it was difficult until I had my little awakening, but I still have to catch myself and if I don’t meditate enough to watch my thoughts it’s easy to fall back into old patterns.
I think that’s why leftists consistently fall into the pattern of smart, arrogant and educated, because they spend their formative years learning that they are always right and therefore can’t be wrong. Charles Murray has a great suggestion in his book, Real Education, that the smartest students should be encouraged to keep studying at a faster rate until they hit the intellectual wall that all humans eventually hit where they can no long easily obtain the right answer.
I actually think that type of education would’ve solved the arrogance problem, at least for me, because I never had the realization that there were problems that I couldn’t solve until I was past my mid twenties, and for a lot of people like me, that realization doesn’t come at all.
@mbison: I have also been watching the protests in Hong Kong with great interest and emotional investment in this city that was my home for 17 years. I agree with your assessments of this situation. And would add as my husband keeps saying – Remember – the CCP and Xi Jinping are not elected officials, they don’t need to appease their public or make sure the economy is on track right before an election. Their public is far more easily appeased than the US public. They’re not so used to the ‘extravagant middle class lifestyles’ as JMG has put it in the past, as Americans are. As an expat, I can attest – even their wealthy do not live with as much creature comfort and waste as American middle class. So, they will just sit tight and wait Trump out.
I would also add – it’s worthwhile to remember that part of their strategies are emotionally, not logically or strategically motivated. There is a tremendous nationalistic pride and love of homeland there as well. They have always seen HK, like Macau,Taiwan & Tibet as PARTS of China that had been taken from them nefariously from the Western powers. They are less likely to give them up regardless of their strategic or financial ‘worth’ to the whole. There is also still lingering animosity below the surface towards the West for that imperialism in the first place.
In the same way, Putin was said to have been (partially) motivated by annexing Crimea – He has a personal desire to see the reunification of the Soviet ‘Union’ or Empire, not as merely a political power but as a cultural people,
And I fully agree – I think the protesters, mostly college students have been hijacked by pro-democracy organisers, supported by the western expats and are, in fact funded by an outside NGO, which in turn is funded by the CIA. I agree – the housing problem is by far the biggest thing they should have been addressing, and although I am an American and prefer a democratic system of governance – during the 2013 Occupy protests – several news outlets took polls of the general HK populace and consistently 86% did not want full on Western style democracy or separation from China. They preferred to keep the Basic Law and one country two systems format. I applaud them for getting off the couch and protesting and I really applaud the way most of the rallies and protests have been handled, but they have been hijacked and are on the wrong track. Also – it’s autumn, school will be starting up again soon so their numbers will likely go down quite a bit.
And lastly – about those Rentiers, the 5 families that own 95% of HK property and public works businesses – I do think they are connected to the global money laundering – brining in billions? trillions? There has got to be some reason neither the HK local Govt. nor Beijing is interested in doing anything about them. I just don’t know what.
Hi JMG: Thank You for another pice of the puzzle, and another thought provoking post and conversation.
My husband is a ‘Manager’ professionally and intrinsically. He’s a fantastic manager of people and yes – he’s actually much more of a coach/ cheerleader/tutor/dad than a top-down dictator. It just doesn’t work. (Growing up, his brothers nick-named him “Boss”, & still call him that).
From what I see, the challenge or problem in business as I assume as well in Govt. is that it is a soft-skill, hard to tabulate, or even recognise. You can only tell he’s done a good job of it by the fruits – the accomplishments, retention and satisfaction of his employees. In business this means a hiring CEO needs to have the same traits to recognise them in him, and he’s encountered a few who simply cannot. Not seeing quantifiable ROI on hiring him or investing in his salary means a few of his previous employers (and possibly his current one) think he’s easily replaceable and that the job should be able to to be filled with a much lower salaried or inexperienced person. “Anyone can boss people around right?” It’s taken me a long tome observing him to see that is not at ALL the case.
And again – I think this goes for Govt. organisations as well.
Much of the discussion also keeps reminding me of a silly anecdote, but to me it was helpful. In an interview, the actress, Rene Zellweger was asked, “Are there any downsides, what are the downsides to being so successful?” She answered “Everyone seems to say ‘Yes’ to me these days, so it’s harder for me to know how I’m doing…as a human being. You know? Am I going over the top?, being unreasonable? Or OK? We get our cues on how to act from each other and I can’t find those cues in the people surrounding me now if they always say “yes””.
(Lucky for my husband, he has e to give him those necessary ‘cues’, LOL.)
Or as that current UC Berkeley social research asks “Does being rich make you a jerk?” https://slate.janrainsso.com//static/server.html?origin=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.slate.com%2Farticles%2Fnews_and_politics%2Fuc%2F2014%2F05%2F_why_being_rich_might_make_you_a_jerk.html
from their studies – “Yes”. It does change people’s perceptions of their own self worth and accomplishments, shockingly frequently and rapidly.
Another outstanding post and commentary! I particularly wanted to express thanks to @elduendeoscuro for the link to the excellent article by Rhyd Wildermuth, who describes himself as a druid and a writer. Sound familiar? The entire website abeautifulresistance.org seems very worth checking out and I encourage everyone here to read the essay originally recommended by @elduendeoscuro at https://abeautifulresistance.org/site/2019/2/28/jthe-future-is-fascist Deep gratitude for all the amazing ideas and perspectives shared here!
You describe a case of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Snafu Principle”, which states that communication cannot cross a power gap. The underlings might _want_ to tell the bosses what they _need_ to hear, but the underlings _need_ to tell the bosses what they _want_ to hear. Therefore the underlings bear the burden of false nescience; they ought to know nothing but they know everything. Meanwhile the bosses bear the burden of false omniscience; they ought to know everything but they know nothing.
Lastly – I just wanted to throw out 2 points kind of embedded in several of the comments/conversations.
1) Just my 2 cent theory: Socialism is an economic system of wealth distribution, not a political system like democracy or authoritarianism. ALL functioning systems In Real Life, are mixed systems of Capitalism, Socialism and Communism. None have functioned for any measurable length of time without the others, or in it’s ‘pure form’. In the USA, our system is primarily Capitalist, but we do have elements of Socialism, mostly in Roosevelt’s New Deal accomplishments, (or set-backs if one sees them that way). Social Security, public roads, bridges dams, police, fire, schools, etc…) In overwhelmingly Socialist or Communist countries, Capitalism usually takes the form of a thriving black market, without which the people would not get what they needed or wanted, would revolt or sneak away and the system would collapse. Maoist China and Stalinist Soviet Union, even N. Korea today turn a blind eye to allow their black markets to thrive so long as they don’t get too powerful to upset the apple cart. In the general nuclear family unit – most if not all people practice a sort of financial ‘communism’. The people who can, (mom or dad or both) earn the money it is distributed as needed, not as earned, so if little Susie need the doctor, she doesn’t have to work for it to get it. If that most wiley of emotional manipulators, (Ayn Rand warned us about this!) the family dog wants a play toy – he doesn’t have to contribute financially to get it. This form of distribution happens in charities and churches as well. Without it the system would collapse.
2) Has anyone seen a new documentary called ‘The Great Hack’? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX8GxLP1FHo
I would like to discuss this on the next open post, it is kind of off topic today, but relevant.
3) As some folks have said upthread – It’s mind boggling how the majority of people, including, perhaps even mostly, educated intellectuals see the world in black and white and have such a hard time seeing shades of grey, or gasp! shades, (values) of colour! I see this even here, commonly in “Left/Liberal = bad, clueless elite, educated in all the wrong ways, destined to fail”. Maybe seeing in black and white or categorising, putting people and things into tidy little boxes, even if they don’t fit is simply a #stupidhumans thing? If we all do it and although it no doubt worked on the African savannah and still works for some things – it doesn’t work for this kind of thought, maybe we all need to consider the old ‘Mote vs. plank in the eye’ parable?
4) “Race” and “Racism”: Yes to what JMG and a few other commenters said about the origin of our current social construct / concept of ‘race’. The problem again in discussing this is that the words have been warped to mean other things and used so frequently – one cannot have a conversation about current institutional inequalities or personal perceptions originating from and based on skin colour without using these commonly agreed upon (although) misused words. AAAARGH! I know, right? As a side note: I personally think this is the curse that will end us as a country and it doesn’t matter if ‘We didn’t start the fire’. We inherited it, it’s here, we own it. Too-bad-so-sad/ sucks-to-be-us but it-is-what-it-is. So I do think some discussion on it would be fruitful and we’re prolly gonna hafta use those words just because they are what is commonly accepted and understood.
I believe you’ve left two critical items out of your analysis: the rights of non-humans, and the rights of humans yet to appear. Democracy offers support for neither, and we’ve all been given a show in recent decades of how easily it can be hijacked.
I have no solution; the coyote in me would suggest that voting rights in a democracy should be restricted to mothers, at least for a generation or two.
I understand, but its not true. Whatever its roots, race in the sense most use it today is just a way of classifying individual ethnicities into larger groups by degrees of relatedness. Yes, where the boundaries should be drawn is debatable but as David Reich says in the article below ‘…differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.’
As someone in the field said when asked why his public pronouncements differed from his known private beliefs: ‘you have to read between the lines’. Here that’s hardly even needed. They dont just ‘happen’ to correlate by some kind of cosmic fluke. And that’s coming from a guy who engages in the obligatory denunciations of heretics and strawman whacking contained in this article. He knows his stuff, he knows what the genetic clusters look like and he’s trying to get reality past the censors before it bites them.
Caryn, until people get beyond the mantra of equating race or ethnicity with skin colour shades, there’s no sane discussion to be had about it.
Inohuri, again you’re doing the skin colour thing. And articles by National Geographic are exactly the pro-mass immigration propaganda I was talking about you know. That’s the same publication that used a Syrian migrant family on the cover for an article about: ‘The New Europeans’. Science, and above all the ‘scientific’ media, has sufficiently lost public trust to the extent that proclaiming The Scientific View as if that might end the debate just doesn’t cut it anymore.
I know it’s been the standard leftist view for decades now that race is merely a social construct used by the elite to divide and rule the glorious global working class. But then they claim the same about everything else that just coincidentally tends to get in the way of uniting the global proletariat in order to bring down capitalism: gender, nationality, religion, etc, etc. Like climate change, just because something has been used for such political purposes (as race clearly has been) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Bambi can’t vote. People vote. Some like Bambi for some reasons (adorable) some for others (food). Both groups want Bambi cute or tasty so they vote for conservation.
“I have no solution; the coyote in me would suggest that voting rights in a democracy should be restricted to mothers”
Have you ever known any mothers? This might skew results a little the way you want but not by very much. Who voted Trump?
I should have been more clear for the readers who do not live in the US and aren’t familiar with our playgrounds for the rich and famous: Martha’s Vineyard is a beautiful ISLAND off the coast of Massachusetts where our elites congregate in the summer. As an ISLAND, it is presumably at greater risk for rising sea levels than, let’s say, Chicago, Obama’s hometown. I understand that the house the Obama family is buying comes with many acres of beachfront property, just the kind of place that will bear the brunt of climate change in the nearest future. Unless you’ve got buckets of money to burn it doesn’t sound like the most sensible place to live, especially if you’re convinced of the inevitability of a climate catastrophe within your own lifetime. Maybe they’re not?
No the nice lady admitted it hadn’t been delivered on those days. After thinking it over, I wonder if we were on the end of the route so the “carrier” had to skip us to get to her second or third job.
Sgage, A New Kind of Science is one of my eldritch tomes — it ranks along with Bucky Fuller’s Synergetics and Israel Regardie’s The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic as a Great Big Doorstop of a book, well worth the time needed for thorough study.
Your Kittenship, good news indeed.
Paul, there’s good reason why Paul and I sound similar — we have very similar views, and cite each other’s work fairly often! His stuff is well worth reading.
In the United States, we voluntarily bound our democracy by a Constitution, to prevent majorities from trampling what was perceived as the rights of minorities. In other words, the framers of our society decided that certain things (“inalienable rights”) could not be taken from people just because a majority of the electorate wanted to do so. They recognized the limits of rule by majority vote, and put themselves and their opinions in a privileged position over all who followed.
By our species’ growth and learning over the past two centuries, we now know that it is well within our capabilities to drastically change the conditions for life on our planet. I suspect the authors of the Constitution, had they known then what we know now, would have recognized many additional “inalienable rights,” realizing that the particular beings which make up a nations’ electorate don’t have the right to privilege themselves over everything else that is.
There are many good arguments for democracy over other systems. But there is also an argument from cowardice, and I rarely see that admitted. Humility is a good thing, but when we are witness to arson, perhaps humility is not the critical virtue to apply.
Re: newspaper theft. My sister would regularly get her Sunday paper stolen from her front lawn. One weekend I was house-sitting for her and got up the moment I heard the paper thrown onto the property, around 5:00 am. It was winter so it came in a plastic bag. I removed the paper from the plastic bag, and inserted the previous week’s paper, together with a very rude note stating my opinion of paper thieves, and left the bag lying in the exact same spot on the lawn.
Sure enough, on checking later I found the doctored newspaper missing, but that was the last one that ever got stolen.
I’m glad we had such good topics this week; Son gave me his summer cold and these sites distracted me from my misery. Been hacking since Friday. 😷. Darn kid. Yesterday I was so befogged and doped up on cold medicine I didn’t even type, even though General Nuisance was on stage. (General Nuisance is the most fun to type because he likes to do stuff I wasn’t expecting.)
Son is on a Star Trek next Generation binge. Yuck. I don’t like Worf (Weapons Officer, Real Friendly). So I hope everyone else’s day is going Worflessly and well, and please carry on!
Oh, yeah—we’re also on the unpack side of a move. 😵
Now THERE’S something that ought to daunt the stoutest of heroes. Never mind Harry Potter vs. the Death Eaters—I want to see a puissant fellow (or grrrl, for that matter) defeat the Paperwork Losers and Furniture Scratchers!
E. Goldstein, no doubt.
Info, fair enough — thanks for the clarification.
Adrian, thanks for this. Yeah, the koolaid pitcher’s looking kind of empty once he gets finished with it.
Scotlyn, fair enough. Unsurprisingly, this differs from what I was able to find out about it on those few media outlets that covered the story at all.
Johnny, fascinating. Thanks for this.
Beekeeper, yeah, that’s pretty much par for the course at this point. “Do what we say, not what we do…”
(For what it’s worth, I’m currently trying to follow up on a climate change story that has me somewhat shaken. If the breaking news is correct, climate scientist Michael Mann — he of the well-publicized “hockey stick” graph — just had his libel suit against Tim Ball dismissed with prejudice, and was ordered to pay Ball’s legal costs. Ball claimed the graph was deliberate fraud, Mann sued him, all Mann had to do to win the suit was to prove that the underlying data supported the graph — and Mann refused to provide the data to the court even when the judge ordered that as part of the discovery phase. I’m trying to think of a good reason why Mann wouldn’t present data that would exonerate him of a charge of serious scientific fraud, and can’t think of one. If you or anyone else have sources on this case that aren’t partisan — on either side — I’d like to know of them.)
Caryn, that makes perfect sense. For management to function, it has to be an art, not a science, and it has to involve more information flowing to the manager than from him, not the other way around! It’s precisely the fantasy of being able to tell the world what to do on the basis of a preconceived ideology that I’m critiquing here.
Jim, Rhyd and I have had our disagreements down through the years, and I’m not a great fan of the site you mention; I learned enough about electronics to know that resistance is usually just a way to turn productive energy into wasted heat. Still, your mileage may vary, of course.
Caryn, a lot depends on what you mean by socialism, of course. Marxian socialism is emphatically a system of political economy, not just an economic system, and of course any system of socialism that involves transferring ownership of the means of production to the state (or “the people,” which usually amounts to the same thing) has massive political implications. Still, you may have something else in mind.
Mitch, the difficulty with talking about rights for nonhuman living things and for the unborn is that neither class can exercise those rights here and no, and so those “rights” inevitably end up becoming tools by which pressure grouips who claim to speak for them attempt to claim unearned power and privilege. As for democracy having plenty of problems, of course it does; as Winston Churchill famously pointed out, it’s the worst system of government, except for all of the others. The fact remains that it does a less bad job than other systems of government in practice.
Dot, I’ll be addressing those misconceptions when I get to my post on race. In the meantime, may I remind you that this whole discussion is way off topic for the current post?
@Lady Cutekitten of Lolcat – We used to have the paper delivered when we lived in a house & the lady delivering the paper was very reliable; she always made sure there was a substitute when she wasn’t available. There were very few slip-ups. And we lived in a bit out of the way. Now, living in an apartment, it’s not possible to subscribe, so have to buy it day-to-day. I also prefer print.
I don’t like web based advertising either. Or other forms (radio, TV, print), for that matter). While a basic form of advertising (i.e., letting people know about the existence of a business/ contact information/ types of goods or services offered) is okay. The problems with advertising (beyond basic) include psychological manipulation and unfair expense for small* businesses (it’s just not possible to get the word out for a reasonable cost anymore). Also, big business has long been able to slant news coverage (or lack of it) through advertising (or threatening not to) – it would be great separate the two. (Retrotopia sounds better and better…)
Kind of OT…
The three biggest books I own (might be something in storage that I don’t recall):
1. L’Art Du Menuisier – The Book of Plates – Andre Roubo – Lost Art Press
2. A New kind of Science – Stephen Wolfram
3. The Golden Dawn – Israel Regardie – ed. JMG
The first is reprints of all the engravings in Roubo’s masterpiece on French woodworking. You don’t read it you stare. Roubo did much of his own engraving for it. The original three volumes ca 1765 weigh about 40+lbs I’ve read.
The second I read once fully and will again. Tempted at times to try reproducing some of his work.
The third I’ve read some of it….
I’m not sure which has the highest information density. I wonder how they compare to some Jenny and the rest work with:-)
If it isn’t too far afield, I’d like to explore this notion of managing the actual versus the abstract a bit more.
With respect to governance, and specifically democratic systems, and specifically again the federal charter of the United States as embodied by the Constitution, we often run into this issue. We’ve all talked before on previous posts about Democracy(TM) and how it corresponds (or doesn’t correspond) to actual democratic practices, but rather tends to mean “what I want.” Likewise, what is the Constitution? So often, it gets held up as a symbol, as some kind of holy writ, rather than the negotiated set of compromises hashed out by a bunch of guys in a room in Philadelphia back in 1787. Nothing sacred about them. We’ve made twenty-seven changes to the original document (and in one case, changing it and changing it back again). And we could make more, if we’d have the gumption to call that convention of the states and yank on Congress’ leash hard as needs to be done.
As a people, we seem to get caught up in the abstractions and symbols, and lose sight of what makes democratic self-governance work—namely, each of us taking responsibility for ourselves, having the necessary conversations and making the necessary compromises so that a disparate collection of people can live together in a reasonable manner, and generally minding our own business. It’s when we get fired up about This Or That Symbolic Thing (flags, wars, bibles, beliefs around race or gender, forms of marriage, etc) that we lose perspective.
The problem is, of course, is that abstractions are nice bright, shiny objects, and gritty reality not so much. How can one help to bring a wayward populace back to ground? Does it all truly have to crash and burn before we’ll understand where we went off the rails?
I am sorry to say that (knowing nothing else about the case) the most likely reason Mann refuses to produce the evidence is he knows it’s as phony as a $3 bill. That doesn’t even necessarily imply deliberate fraud. He could have made an honest mistake that he failed to notice until the other guy pointed it out, at which time he slapped himself on the head, yelled, “Oh, sh[undruidly word]!” and decided to cut his losses.
Honored Archdruid, not sure this article meets your criteria of “…sources on this case that aren’t partisan…” but it DOES have quite a few links and references to the case and to the Canadian court rulings:
Interesting times. Hope we all have enough popcorn!
I saw that too but since the writer had such faith in the defendant he hocked his house to help with the legal bills, I figured it wasn’t necessarily non-partisan. I don’t know if you can even find non-partisan national news these days. The only exceptions seem to be the deaths of public figures and natural disasters.
I’m going to agree with Dot here about the existence of race. The nonexistence of race seems like an academic fad. Who should I believe, my college professor or my lying eyes?
The problem perhaps is that people are so afraid of racism that they prefer to shut shut their eyes and say la, la, la! So they think if there is a useful category called race, that it means something severe, like that we aren’t completely the same species. It doesn’t. It just is what it is – that you can go to certain parts of the world and see very consistent physical characteristics. And other parts of the world, especially around the Mediterranean area, there has been a lot of mixing and much less consistent characteristics.
I understand that there are many measures of genetic variation that do not coincide with race and some that do. Humans apparently have less genetic variation than other species, even which look more alike. How we got our distinct races is an interesting question. I don’t necessarily buy the evolutionary narrative. My best guess is that we are a domesticated species, and the races were bred, much like dog breeds are, for the pleasure or amusement of our owners/benefactors.
@ Darkest Yorkshire…
In proposing “solutions” to the simple existence of recalcitrant individuals, you are thinking managerial thoughts that, in my very humble opinion, are not appropriate to the scale at which you are thinking them – society.
Such individuals are not the problem, the only problem arises when a proposal to turn society into a Procrustean bed suddenly “discovers” that certain people don’t fit. If there was no Procrustean bed, there would be no one whose existence is unfit. No solution is needed to a problem you don’t create in the first place.
That is to say, it seems to me you are allowing yourself to court the very temptation we are discussing here – of “the dream of a managed society” – which, in a view I share with our host, is a pipe dream.
I believe that, given the preparations you say you’ve put in place for this managerial role, it is possible that you, in common with Caryn’s husband, and maybe a handful of other people I’ve met over the years, may have some skill at the art of managing. If you can find an outlet at the right scale – a bounded entity in which the players are voluntarily self-selected – a workplace, a club, a service, etc, you may do some good while doing little harm.
If you continue to dream of managing the whole of society itself, I fear this may not be the case.
Another commenter way upthread mentioned the modest accolade of (I paraphrase) “I applied my skills honestly and made a bit of difference for the better in all I touched” (apologies for forgetting your name).
That is not a bad ambition at all. At least it is human sized.
I wish you well.
I am frazzled and nearly forgot to mention—this is the 75th anniversary of Allied troops taking Paris back from the Axis, and many 90+ gentlemen made it to France for the ceremonies. The oldest one mentioned in the story I saw was 99. A round of applause for them all! 👏
Hi John Michael,
A big thanks for mentioning Paul Kingsnorth! 🙂 Never heard of the bloke before.
Yes, an eminently sensible response from the bloke.
Like Paul, I too wonder about the huge wind farms. Your mention of electrical resistance converting energy to heat also applies to wind farms. They’re an interesting technology which I experimented with for a while. It wasn’t lost on me during those experiments that if ever such a device had the electrical resistance provided by the grid somehow disconnected (batteries in my case), and the blades couldn’t be turned out the wind in time – then the interesting technology will go pop! And rather unfortunately rapidly too. Very alarming.
People make an assumption that just because technology got us into this predicament, then surely technology will remove all future impediments to progress (whatever that word means). The assumption is a falsehood.
Jim, Rhyd and I have had our disagreements down through the years, and I’m not a great fan of the site you mention; I learned enough about electronics to know that resistance is usually just a way to turn productive energy into wasted heat. Still, your mileage may vary, of course.
John Michael, Thanks for the ‘approach with caution’ reminder. I had never read the Well of Galabes post you linked to and am glad I did before proceeding with any further perusal of the “beautiful resistance” site. Rhyd is certainly a smart fellow and writes reasonably well and I thought the piece entitled The Future is Fascist was quite decent. Nevertheless I am in fundamental agreement with you about the futility of much resistance.
Wunceuponatime I wandered into a back room at the Metro Transit Base across from Seattle Center (now deleted into B. Gates Jr’s evil charity palace). Someone from admin had got stuck with doing something with transfer chits. We started talking. We were both a bit shocked about how little he knew about the problems of being a driver. He should have stayed in contact but….
[JMG I may have taken you for a ride. I drove the 48 route a lot (23rd Ave and Empire Way) in 1976-77 and the trackless trolley routes around 1977 before they got rebuilt.
I think gays made the best drivers. They really cared. Me? I couldn’t remember the wires or routes very well and often had to put the poles back on the wires. It was years later that I found out about the encephalopathy by it getting bad enough for even me to notice. I had just coped and ignored my problems.]
Example of bad management:
Imagine in 1977 partially wood electric buses so old the steering wheels were sometimes worn to the steel core. Made in 1946 and 1948, the later ones were OK if you could wake up a mechanic to fix the horizontal windshield wipers. Just never quite stop unless you had to, they would jerk when the slack came out of the gear train. The earlier were originally designed as rail trolleys and the ergonomics were really bad for little drivers.
Seattle Transit got killed because it was excessively corrupt and became the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle and inherited the worn system. The newest buses were from a Federal subsidy for the 1962 World Fair until about 1977. Metro Transit became a huge bureaucracy with good maintenance and excessive spare parts. Metro Transit died when citizens (one guy?) went to court to say that there was no voter control. King County Transit was then born and maintenance and spare parts became minimal or less.
They also operate the Monorail (1962) which they have crashed I believe 3 times. Two brake failures and a problem with the rails relocated so close the opposing trains could crash so a new building could be pretty. One driver forgot and was waving at the other… Hello, if it can happen it will. They could have done an interlock to prevent a train leaving the station when the other was arriving.
In some ways I make a good manager because I am hierarchy incapable and not afraid of the boss. I communicate with anyone and just get things done. At many temp jobs I became the one in charge. Small shop bosses didn’t want me on the day shift and the night shift I was unpopular because I would point out out of spec components that they really wanted to ship. Also I was “slow” because I did the work to spec.
Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution by Tom Peters
August 2, 1991
is my fav and maybe even only management book.
Especially "Involve everyone in everything" (starts p342).
"The power of involvement-even if inadvertent" (p346) gives some moving (to me anyway) examples.
JMG – Thank you for a thought provoking essay.
You said: “What makes an elite of educated managerial specialists such a disaster for any society cursed with such a system, in turn, isn’t that the specialists are morally worse than other elites. It’s that the ideology of that particular kind of elite education makes it all but impossible for them to recognize when they’re wrong.”
Amen to that! I recall, ages ago when I worked as a numbers nerd for a state agency when the Feds came, with that very holier-than-thou attitude. They wanted us to use a different classification system for a reporting a particular set of data; never mind that our system worked well in reflecting characteristics of our unique population. We even offered to tweak our reporting to satisfy both the state’s data needs and those that made more sense at the federal level. Even if the agency managers had decided to forgo federal funding (which was not that great), pressure would have brought to bear elsewhere. The feds got their way and we ended up with a classification system that wasn’t even useful as compost (for starters, it made historical comparisons impossible).
Regarding the worse political campaign in history (or at least a close runner-up): the slogan (worst ever), “I’m with her”, brings to mind the t-shirt with an arrow and the words “I’m with stupid”. eesh.
What the bleep was their message to the masses?!?
…those “rights” inevitably end up becoming tools by which pressure groups who claim to speak for them attempt to claim unearned power and privilege…
I am new to your site and so I apologize in advance if I am cluttering it. Yes, there’s no doubt that it is problematic for anyone to speak on behalf of anyone or anything that is not present. But our era is the first in history in which our species has the ability to destroy much of itself and its surroundings. I do not disagree that we must be cautious about claiming unearned power and privilege. I merely add that we must also be cautious about refusing the unique responsibility which is upon us but was never upon any prior group of humans.
Humans are selfish. That, in fact, might be a concise defense of democracy — it ensures that the selfishness of any group of humans is limited by the selfishness of other groups. But democracy may not be able to handle the situation with which we are now presented, where the selfishness of the entire population presents a new hazard to human welfare and more.
At least when I was growing up in New York, subway trains had emergency brakes with which any passenger could override the engineer. They were installed because we trusted passengers to use them only when necessary, and because we realized that an emergency might be invisible to the engineer. It is only as human impact has reached current levels that we might now have a need for something similar operating on a societal level. So I would ask you: is pulling an emergency brake necessarily an attempt to claim unearned power and privilege? Or is it a last resort to limit damage.
@David, by the lake
Are you daring to talk about personal responsibility?
Every time I mention it I get in big trouble.
When I do searches I find it really truly means conforming to a standard, especially a religious standard.
It seems a forbidden or perverted subject.
I thought the line about snowflakes ❄️ angrily demanding that people stop comparing them to college students was pretty funny, so here’s the whole article:
Re the abstraction of house-building
Agreed. And we do tend to gloss over the distinction between “I built my house” and “I had my house built.” And the abstractions extend into design and “what a neighborhood should look like.”
My wife and I live on the Southside of my smaller city. Or, as I often put it, the working-class side of a working-class town. The Northside is where the more modern suburbia was built in the sixties and seventies, And that is also where the covenant developments are going in that I’ve mentioned on occasion. Our side of town, on the other hand, has houses sitting on top of each other, since zoning wasn’t a thing in 1929 when my house was built. My wife and I were out for a walk the other day and I commented to her that the Southside has personality, with its crazy, haphazard parcels and mismatched houses. Let the people in the covenant neighborhoods have their perfectly mowed grass and coordinated facades. Why would we want to live somewhere so dull?
JMG, not sure if you saw this column in The Atlantic, but I think it relates to your ideas getting more mainstream attention. The author is a Yale law professor and he talks about how our “meritocracy” hurts everyone, even the elites. He also talks about what can be done to increase economic equality and provide middle class jobs to a broader range of people. For example, he states: “the health-care system should emphasize public health, preventive care, and other measures that can be overseen primarily by nurse practitioners, rather than high-tech treatments that require specialist doctors. The legal system should deploy ‘legal technicians’—not all of whom would need to have a J.D.—to manage routine matters, such as real-estate transactions, simple wills, and even uncontested divorces. In finance, regulations that limit exotic financial engineering and favor small local and regional banks can shift jobs to mid-skilled workers.” Those all look like positive steps to me.
Like you’ve done several times before, he also compares what needs to be done to reduce inequality to the changes that came out of the New Deal. He even shares your sentiment about the potential for violence (“hanging from the lamppost” as you put it earlier in the comment thread) in the final paragraph. He states: “Rebuilding a democratic economic order will be difficult. But the benefits that economic democracy brings—to everyone—justify the effort. And the violent collapse that will likely follow from doing nothing leaves us with no good alternative but to try.”
I was struck by the parallels between his ideas and what you’ve been saying for a long time. I wish the Democratic presidential candidates would take a look.
Thank you for another interesting essay.
Janitor, my take on the eldritch tomes in The Weird of Hali is very closely modeled on the eldritch tomes I’ve translated and edited, so the resemblance is not accidental!
David BTL, I certainly hope not, but history isn’t exactly comforting in that regard.
Your Kittenship, unfortunately for Mann, the issue at the heart of the libel suit is that Ball claimed that Mann engaged in deliberate fraud, and Mann sued him for that statement. If Mann simply made an honest mistake, he could demonstrate that easily from the data, win the case, and send Ball to the poorhouse. The only thing that can stop him from winning, since Ball is pursuing what’s called a “truth defense” — it’s not libel because it’s true — is if the data shows Ball is right…and the fact that Mann won’t show the data, even if that means he loses the case and gets saddled with legal costs for six years of litigation, suggests very strongly that Ball is right and the mistakes were deliberate.
Bryan, that’s one of the ones I saw. I understand that this was the verbal decision and the written decision will follow in due time; if the written decision says the same thing — hoo boy.
Onething, as previously noted, I’ll be discussing this in detail when I do a post on the subject.
Your Kittenship, an excellent point! Huzzah to the Allies.
Chris, windpower fascinates me, and it’s something I’ve worked with directly, but like solar power it’s a way to get a modest trickle of electricity intermittently, Paul is dead on target about the drawbacks of wind farms, and they do have their problems…
Your insightful comments in this thread seem applicable to an essay I wrote last week for my print APA, about bucket lists. To briefly summarize: I’ve always been a bit repelled by the concept of a bucket list, and for a long time I thought that was because of the kinds of consumerist things that are usually on them, such as quick thrills and phony purchased “accomplishments.” Then I wondered if the real problem was I just wasn’t as courageous in contemplating my own death as I thought I was. But I finally figured out that the real problem with them is all the far more important things that aren’t on them.
Between “climb Mt. Fuji” and “compliment your wife again today,” one looks like it might belong on a bucket list, and the other is actually important. Also, though there’s nothing wrong with striving for things, all of the best achievements and outcomes in my life started as unexpected opportunities that I started striving for because I saw a possibility and I wasn’t too tied down by other plans to pursue them. Meanwhile almost everything that was “in the plan” for how my life should go and what it should include (created mostly by my parents’ and others’ expectations) either failed, or I never even attempted.
That seems to fit with, and perhaps provides an additional case for, your thesis about (as I’ll paraphrase) good things in life that are not readily enumerable or quantifiable being vastly under-valued.
@ John Kincaid
Re personal responsibility as verboten
I tended to get into trouble back when I was active on PoliticalWire using that term. “You sound like a Republican” the usual response. I suppose what I mean by it is taking responsibility our own lives, our own decisions, and our own mistakes. And not looking for someone else, particularly some shiny government program, to simply give us stuff. My particular peeve these days is how everything has become a “right” but nothing is a responsibility. That’s not how self-governance works. One has to get off one’s hind end and actively participate, both in governance and in one’s own life. And that engagement generally brings one head-to-head with someone else with other ideas, which is how the gritty (and very unsexy) aspect of negotiation and compromise gets started.
Jim, no problem — Rhyd’s worth watching, if only to figure out where one smallish end of the left is headed next.
John, very possibly; I was in junior high and high school during that part of the 1970s, but I fled Burien for more interesting pastures in Seattle proper whenever I could. If they gave frequent rider miles for Metro passengers I’d have had enough to get to Boise.
PatriciaT, you know, I never thought of “I’m with Stupid,” but you’re right, of course. No question, it was one of the worst slogans in the history of politics…
Mitch, the reason nobody pulls on emergency brakes except when there’s an emergency is that there are hefty fines for doing so. Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, there are no fines for claiming to speak for this or that voiceless group, and plenty of political hay to be made thereby. Even more unfortunately, issues such as anthropogenic climate change have become excuses for political-economic resource grabs such as the soi-disant “Green New Deal,” to such an extent that a great many people these days no longer take the issues seriously at all. The old story of the boy who cried “Wolf!” is relevant here…
Your Kittenship, I’m reminded again of Giambattista Vico’s comment about the way that history begins with necessity and ends in madness.
Ryan, hmm! Fascinating. Maybe common sense is breaking through after all.
I figured like you figured—Mann is lying through his teeth, especially after the case has run 8 years—but since it’s a cause that’s important to you I wanted to ease into it. You are, after all, my Druidal-Feudal lord, he who granted me the highly honored title of Lady Cutekitten, with attendant cute privileges, and did not even demand a yearly tribute of 14 serfs + 380 cans of cat food. So I figured the least I could do was try to be gentle about this Mann bum.
By the way, I agree w/you about the feudal system. It’s already coming back, except our “lords” are mostly corporations at this point.
August 25, 2019 at 6:03 pm
“I’m going to agree with Dot here about the existence of race. The nonexistence of race seems like an academic fad. Who should I believe, my college professor or my lying eyes?”
OK. So we can find out if we agree or disagree could you please give us your definition of race?
From what you said I would guess I am immersed in “race” and don’t really notice it. The kids voices I hear outside are Somali, Kosovar, Mexican – all speaking English.
@Chris at Fernglade
For further drama go to youtube and search “wind turbine fire”.
Between that and the ground vibrations that drive some people out of their homes wind turbines make me go all NIMBY.
Hi thanks JMG,
I had an extra thought on this: Is progress just addition? Is decline the wrong kind of sum?
And hi Walt F, thanks!
That is interesting. I have had similar experiences, all of my attempts to “do something” with my life have generally not worked out, but the areas in which I have just been open to things that crossed my path have done far better. I sort of gave up worrying about this a while back, I accepted I just don’t know how to make the things I want to happen happen, but I know how to want the things that are already happening, and that seems to be enough. A lot of this became easier for me when the realities of peak oil finally set into my dumb brain and it changed my focus, and having kids has also made me see my role in a simple sense seem more important. I’m not sure if you are doing the Cosmic Doctrine reading, but I think my problem, with regards to my failed plans, was that I was expecting to be able to create far more movement, personally, than was possible in the time frame I was allowing myself. In the cases where it’s just a matter of saying yes to chance, well since that is manifest already, it only required a very small movement to make it happen, basically just “going with the flow” was enough. When I thought seriously about what mattered, though, the direction I needed to work was much more personal, and therefore much easier to make changes that were successful.
That said, yes, I agree with what you are saying, we place far too much importance on doing grand things, and being important people. I feel it’s some sort of bi-product of our “global world”, this sort of realm outside experience that we are all connected to and supposed to contribute to. What is the point of making something that only you and your friends see and care about, it either contributes to the project of Mankind (TM) or it is a waste: “Get famous or get out”. It seems like another misplaced tendency from the Savannah: we are primates that learned how to think like ants, which gave us great power, then we learned how to just create incredibly vast interconnected nests but the role for each worker ant becomes increasingly less relevant to their own life, and it becomes harder to exert your power towards making changes that matter (somebody else in the system is supposed to take care of your direct needs, you focus on problems that ideally have nothing to do with you at all). The move does seem to be away from it though, towards smaller nests and more personal, localized problems.
Specifically on bucket lists, I saw some novelty shirt the other day that made me smile: “Bucket list: 1)Beer 2)Ice”.
“American politics has long been the art of dressing up a pig in a prom gown and trying to talk someone to take it to the dance!”
I’m going to remember that one.
Scotlyn, thanks for your faith that I might know what I’m doing. 🙂 You’re right that by doing things locally you can often avoid having to do something more drastic on a wider scale. And But the problem with the kind of people we’re discussing is they’re not just innocents doing their best and bumbling through life. You pointed out how much organisational and psychological damage they do. In fact I’ll raise you that they kill people. The 1978 Bentley Colliery disaster started when the guard for one of the underground manriding trains didn’t show up for work. There was another trained guard, but he had a similar name to another miner, and the foreman selected the untrained man to do it. The foreman was known as a difficult individual who would make trouble for anyone who contradicted him, so nobody pointed out the mistake. A lot of other things went wrong as well, but fairly soon after, people were dead. If you say something like “what should we do about serial sex offenders?”, very few people disagree with that kind of ‘othering’ and ‘us and them’. Just understand that I regard the bullies and bureaucrats as a similar threat, and so deserving of similar consideration.
Mitch, that’s an interesting thought about emergency brakes. I was had a similar idea, but using the metaphor of the emergency shutdown systems they have in high-risk industries like chemicals and oil. They don’t turn everything off, as things like electricity and compressed air may be necessary to keep things safe and operate emergency equipment. But they are literal big red buttons that can shut off non-essential systems, reduce heat and pressure, and inert dangerous chemicals if necessary. I was considering what the equivalent of that would be for both an individual and for society. Another thing to consider from the same industries is the concept of ‘inherant safety’ which was introduced to the world in an article called ‘What you don’t have, can’t leak’. 🙂 Though such systems don’t always help. Fukushima wouldn’t have melted down if it had just kept going through the earthquake, and a load of people died on a South Korean metro because the emergency system stopped a full train right next to a burning train. Sometimes it’s like what they tell you in canoeing – no matter what’s going wrong, just keep paddling, that way you’ll still have some control.
@ Bryan Allen
Principia Scientific is a denier site, full of pseudo-scientific garbage, like claiming there is no radiative greenhouse effect, and CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas, then contradicting themselves by claiming that the diatomic gases in the air (O2, N2) are infrared absorbers responsible for the greenhouse effect – which is clearly non-sense, as anyone familiar with infrared (IR) spectroscopy knows.
It would be interesting to me to know what percentage of people have heard of IR spectroscopy, or know what it’s about, or would even read a bit of the Wikipedia about it, or know that thousands of IR spectrometers are in daily use around the world by scientists, quality assurance technicians (drug, food, chemical industries), air and water pollution agencies, etc.
I think a large part of societal collapse is not just the economic/environmental costs of complexity (per Joseph Tainter, et. al.), but also the difficulty people have mentally/emotionally dealing with complexity. So special interest groups (read: oil and coal companies and dogmatic free marketeers “free market solves all problems” (so it cannot create any)) can exploit people’s overwhelm by sowing doubt and blatant lies.
The Michael Mann thing is truly weird.
The data from the (in)famous hockey stick paper has been publicly posted for years.
Mann does strike me as a bit irascible, and I do wish his hockey stick curve line changed to dots or something when he stops with the paleo-temperature reconstructions and went to the instrument record.
But in any case, Mann et. al.’s general conclusions have held up in light of dozens of subsequent reconstructions by different groups.
“Your Kittenship, fascinating. I wonder how much rapprochement we’ll see in the future between trad polytheists and trad Christians; my take for a while now is that we have more in common than we have dividing us, and a little bit of forbearance on all sides might make a basis for some very promising mutual conversations”
Karl Lowith in Meaning and History actually argues that this is true: classical man and Christian man have more in common than either do with modern man, not least because modern man can’t make up his mind which one he is (they are neither!). This is an insightful book, and eye opening. Lowith also claims that Burckhardt’s skepticism is more “Christian” than any thinker subscribing to “the religion of progress”, for the simple reason that primitive Christianity had no and assigned no meaning to history as such: it was under judgement as part of the “world” and as “death” and “sin”, in that it was relative to the higher dimensions of meaning revealed from above. Paganism shared a vertical or transcendent orientation, albeit in a very different way, but neither the classical period nor the following Christian period was so naïve as to think that the fractured and partical dimension of historical time had inherent meaning in and of itself: this was a heresy of the religion of progress.
“My take” so far.
Darkest Yorkshire, I know how you feel about revolution, I feel it myself some times, however, they don’t fix anything at all. In fact, all the evidence says they make things much worse. Saying we need more of it sounds yeomanly or piratical, or whatever, but I perceive it would just make it that much more worse. Probably ensure that it ended in a draw, actually. I’d be more inclined to quote de Maistre: “What we need is the opposite of a revolution”. That said there are “revolutions” which occur from long forbearance on one side, and wise, opportune acting at crucial moments. I don’t consider them in the same category.
I don’t have time to go back through all the posts to give proper attribution, but thank you whoever posted the link about Paul Kingsnorth.
Re governance, the twilight of abstraction, et cetera
I realize, of course, that I’m committing my usual error of trying to “save the system,” or rather, of believing that the system requires “saving” to begin with. Winter is just as much a part of the cycle as spring and summer. Eventually, that will stick. I expect mid-fourth-century Western Romans felt much the same way.
My goodness, JMG, you certainly burned the midnight oil last night!
I perused the liberal blogs (quickly) this a.m. They’re mostly quiet on the climate lawsuit, which doesn’t look good for Mann. Sorry to report but at least you heard it from a loyal fan.
Still working my way through the commentary and came upon this gem in one of your responses:
“What we can do is embrace an ethic of intellectual modesty, recognize that our theories about the world are by definition a projection of our own habitual mental processes on the inkblot patterns of the cosmos, do what we can to bring them in line with observed reality, and let it go at that. Knowing the objective truth about the cosmos is not our job; living creative, caring, and humane lives is.”
Shakespeare suggested that there’s “much virtue in IF” but I suspect there’s a good deal of vice in it as well. The daily barrage of ‘IF only WE…” fantasies for fixing the future leaves one’s gut wrenched, head spinning. WE will not act in unison! Many thanks for this elegant prescription for what WE, most fundamentally (and realistically), can all aspire to.
Arkansas, now I’m really intrigued what your definition of ‘yeomanry’ is. Because I think of them as farm owners, small to medium size business owners, maybe some professionals. The kind of people who, if you give them guns, can break the back of a revolution. Like the B-Specials in Northern Ireland.
On the possibility of stalemate and making it worse, thank you Syria and Venezuela for showing us yet more ways this enterprise can go horribly wrong. 🙂 But we only have to get it right once.
What would you consider to be situations where playing the long game and acting with good timing paid off? We’re kind of on a clock here and can’t wait as long as the shoggoths did. 🙂
I’d never heard of de Maistre before and I’m going to look into him some more. But I looked up the full version of that quote and it includes the words “The king will bind up the wounds of state with a gentle and paternal hand”. The first thing I thought of was the animated film of Animal Farm where the birds fly off to spread the news of the revolution. One of the animals they tell is a little lamb that totally freaks out and jumps into the shepard’s lap to be comforted. Yeah, I bet that’s what they wish would happen. Remember that’s one of two scenes the CIA paymasters required be added to the film. 🙂 Going back to one of the themes of this post, it just looks like how an earlier generation of The Good People saw themselves.
Nothing to do with Plato….
The anarchist in Covington (Anarchist in the sense of Roodsford, Lady Moody and see ‘Native American Anarchism’ by Eunice Schuster) put out a rather interesting blog post today.
@ Darkest Yorkshire you and I are on different wavelengths, and yet the differences are subtle, though the implications may be wide. How can I explain this?
Let me tell you about what I’ve learned while practicing martial arts.
1) that there is a third path that lies between being an aggressor and being a victim
2) that, if attacked, if I turn that attack aside (not ending it, nor forbidfing it, just redirecting it where it can do no harm) I give myself time to leave the scene safely, but also (in the more philosophic sense) I present my attacker with an opportunity to reevaluate their new situation, rethink their strategy, and provide them with a frwsh opportunith to freely decide not to attack again. They may avail of it, they may not, but at no stage have I undermined their autonomy, nor removed their personal responsibility, moment by moment, for their own actions.
3) in defending myself from attack, I respect myself, and my autonomy, and take responsibility for my own actions. In restricting myself to defense while deliberately foregoing aggressive attack, I respect the other person, as I respect myself. I stake my claim for their autonomy, alongside my claim for my own, and I expect them to continue to be esponsible for their actions.
Ways to enact necessary defense strategies that limit the scope of a person’s destructive potential in the greater society, include things like transparent governance, whistleblower protections, and building in effective negative feedbacks, especially for those whose layer of insulation from personal accountability (acquired via wealth, power or bureaucracy) is grown too thick. Very often it is the failure of information to flow properly up and down a hierarchy that creates the situations of most harm and danger.
Yes, doing a bad or harmful thing that hurts or even kills, is a thing every one of us is capable of. There’s no particular kind of person that is worse or better at this, you know. So we all put each other at risk, and we all have right to defend ourselves and each other from the self same risks.
But stepping across from a defensive set of actions, designed to minimise potential harm, while leaving the other’s personal autonomy and personal responsibility intact, to an action in which I try to take control of that person, “find a solution to their existence” that will restrict their autonomy, and thereby make me responsible for their actions, is, to me, a step too far.
No one can ever manage a persons better than they can msmage themselves. Which is about the right scale for most of us, anyway.
Argh, why is it always easier to proofread a comment once it is irrevocably posted? Spelling mistakes galore!
WRT to ‘real home cooking’ and ‘yuppie chow’.
Sometimes, it’s the name.
That is, if you describe cornmeal mush as ‘polenta’, it instantly becomes trendy.
Things can also become ‘ordinary home cooking’ when they stop being elite and trendy.
Kiwis are a terrific example. When they were scarce and expensive, back in the 70’s and early 80’s, they were on the cover of every food magazine. Once normal people like me could buy kiwis (hairy brown rocks with gorgeous green interiors) by the pound down at the Bi-Lo, they stopped being magazine cover fodder.
Loved this blogpost.
Teresa From Hershey
RE: the hockey stick…
With regard to Greta’s sea voyage :
Casiraghi is the skipper of Team Malizia, the crew which sails a hydrofoil sailboat (also called a foiling catamaran) in the annual GC32 Racing Tour. Team Malizia takes its name from Il Malizia, which means the Cunning, and which was the nickname assigned to Casiraghi’s medieval ancestor François Grimaldi. Together with Boris Hermann from Team Malizia he accompanies Greta Thunberg and her father Svante Thunberg on a climate-neutral passage across the Atlantic to enable her participation in annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks. 
Casiraghi is son of Caroline, Princess of Hanover.
Greta has hitched a ride with nobility it would seem.
For Job Protectionism, Naisbitt in the 1980s says the only employment or unemployment percentages that make sense to calculate are state by state, because at any given time, one or several states could be in a depression while other states could be thriving. Naisbitt makes the point of not mistaking data points, information, and mathematical calculations for knowledge or wisdom. You could add and then average the heights of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger and come out with a mathematical average, but you wouldn’t use that for clothes shopping.
As for jobs protectionism in the US or rest of the world, you’re going to have to ask the Private Central Banks, the IMF, the BIS, and etcetera. My thought is their mandate is exploiting slave labor, present in the world since the time of Plato.
An excellent essay published on Truthdig, albeit a bit odd coming from Chris “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Hedges.
Another article on Mann and Ball—not non-partisan (you probably won’t find such a thing these days) but it explains the issues in a way I understood.
@JMG: For once, I agree with just about everything you said. Of course, rejecting Platonism is nothing new; Aristotle masterfully dismantled Plato’s arguments only a few years after Plato espoused them. Personally, I always preferred the Aristotelian notion that society works best when different people and groups are left to their own devices. I’m an academic myself, but I certainly wouldn’t go around telling construction workers how to do their jobs; I trust they know a lot more about the subject than I do!
This post also reminded me of a few other things I’ve read lately. One was a recent psychological study which apparently demonstrated that, contrary to all logic, exposure to facts don’t actually change people’s minds all that much. In some cases, people with strongly-held views will simply double down on their pre-existing notions when exposed to evidence that contradicts it. Worse, this effect wasn’t found to be any weaker in more intelligent or more educated subjects; if anything, they were better at coming up with rationalization about why the facts weren’t really true, making them even *less* likely to change their minds.
I also read an essay a few weeks ago which hypothesized that humans actually evolved to be deliberately irrational in certain ways. The idea was that in a chaotic, uncontrollable, largely unknowable environment, trying to use reason alone would’ve been ineffective. One of the examples they gave was caribou hunting; caribou would naturally learn to avoid areas that humans frequented too much, so the best hunting strategy involved choosing areas at random. However, humans actively trying to be random often end up subconsciously falling into a pattern that can be predicted, so the cultural practice of divination may have evolved as a way to truly randomize their actions, despite how irrational it seems to people today. A lot of other seemingly irrational habits and rituals and traditions may have similar origins, and it also partially explains why humans are so prone to magical thinking and fuzzy logic in general. (It also makes me take the concept of Chesterton’s Fence a little more seriously than I did back when I first learned of it.)
Needless to say, I found these theories about human nature to be incredibly worrying. If they’re true, then it may not ever be possible to make humans think more rationally, which has unfortunate implications for anyone who believes that society should be centered around truth, logic, and reason. It’s depressing to think that this might be as good as things can get for us!
Dear Patricia Matthews, I learned to bake from Betty Crocker. I have made sure my daughters each have a copy of the big early version from mid 20thC. General Mills used to print attributions in the early editions of BC, such as this cookie was shared with us by Mrs. John Jones of Somewhere, USA; the early BCs are documents in social history.
Might someone be able to recommend an English translation of the Mahabharata? I remember feeling wildly jealous of the princess who got to have all five hero brothers for her spouses.
Trade deal with UK. I might be able to buy Scottish textiles? Does Johnson imagine that such a deal will prevent the Scots from leaving the UK?
About favorable treatment for large advertisers in local newspapers. The papers might not have much choice. The big fish in small ponds wield a lot of political and social influence.
Dear Caryn Banker, ‘Authoritarianism’ is a “political system”? I understood the word ‘authoritarian’ to refer to a personality type. Do you mean to refer to rule by one man, as per Aristotle’s Politics. Monarchy or Tyranny?
The weakness of monarchy is it’s hereditary nature, insane kings (Henry VI of England), long regencies, disputed successions, and the like. The Holy Roman Empire dealt with that difficulty by having their emperor an elected monarch, which was very lucrative for the electors.
I agree that the Obama’s new purchase seems on the face of it to be rather ill-judged, but perhaps someone might like to explain why Senator Romney or former Senator Kerry need to own, I believe it is, 5 houses each. Maybe, in the interests of conservation of dwindling resources and saving tax payer money, presidents should be required not to live in private residences during their terms of office. How much are we spending on those flights to Mar a Lago, or the Texas ranch which was sold just as soon as Bush Jr. was out of office.
I realized when writing my last post that I didn’t have a definition. So I am going to say that my definition is the outwardly visible physical characteristics that people in different parts of the world exhibit.
That’s really all. The mind likes to categorize things and label them. If there is an obvious visible variation in any kind of thing at all, we see it and label it. Telling people to unsee it will never work.
Although I am interested in the arguments and no doubt there are some good ones, it really cannot be that something visible does not exist.
Again, I can only repeat that what people read emotionally into it seems to be the problem. Probably it is another facet of elite white guilt.
The real problem with Plato is that people read an esoteric model of the mind as the blueprint for a society and keep falling in the traps you wrote above, mr. Greer. And that happens because he chose to use the language that the Greeks understood: politics, war, cities, to explain his esoteric teachings, just like the Hebrews used the language of nomads and later, farmers and kings, to explain their esoteric ideas.
The republic was never about a book about utopia but about how should the mind of a follower of the Egyptian/pytagoric mysteries should be organized so that he can use the next book, the Timaeus. The rational, intellective parts, thoughts, must control both the prideful, acting parts, and the biological, pleasure seeking thoughts because if the mage don’t do that the demons near the matter will screw him, like they did with dr. Liesesky or with so many thelemites or with so many afro-Brazilian mages I know, in the so-called Brazilian Macumba.
Late in the cycle, but lots to ponder. The main question I’ve been turning over is the argument that the brain is too small to understand the universe. Which seems obvious… at least from a materialist perspective.
Here’s my question:
So what if we break the assumption that the extent of mind can be equated with the physical size of the brain?
In previous posts you have opened the idea that the material world is but one plane of many in the world’s of experience (and actually the smallest of them). Somehow there are touch-points between these planes, and if I follow, then the brain in its material sense is one of those.
As such ‘mind’ could be much more extensive in other planes where physical limits do not apply (I’m sure others might).
Thus if mind is something that may extend across many planes it may be able to comprehend much more than the physical brain can handle.
So is it true to assert that the limits of understanding are constrained by the physical size of the material object of the brain?
As an aside, Frances Yates makes the point that the use of the word ‘Nous’ in Hermeticism and much Neoplatonic work is not adequately translated as ‘intellect’ in English, it has much wider meaning in these contexts.
Dear John Michael,
Thank you for another enlightening article.
I recall some lines from the Tao Te Ching which would wholeheartedly agree with you.
Indeed, a managed sociedy is doomed to fail.
The more prohibitions and rules,
The poorer people become.
The sharper people’s weapons,
The more they riot.
The more skilled their techiques ,
The more grotesque their works.
The more elaborate the laws,
The more they commit crimes.
Therefore the Sage says:
I do nothing
And people transform themselves
I enjoy serenity
And people govern themselves.
I cultivate emptiness
And people become prosperous.
I have no desires
And people simplify themselves.
Do you know any particular leaders in history who listened and followed this advice ?
The so-called “extinction rebellion” and their poster child in the form of Greta Thunberg popping up out of literally thin air has got to be the most rapidly embraced “movement” by the ruling class, that has ever been seen. So, immediately, my b********meter starts pinging furiously.
What this is really about is the inevitable decline of all industrial civilizations across the world over the course of this century. The only variable being that some declines will occur sooner and proceed faster than others.
The reasons, depending on where you wish to focus your lens, are various, but can be boiled down to:
a) Climate change. Some of it is man made. Some of it is part of natural cycles. The earth will no doubt recover from it, whatever the cause. But, “recover”, might not be particularly relevant in human timescales or even human civlisational timescales.
b) The biggest mass extinction event since the end of the Permian. Indeed, the speed of the current mass extinction is happening faster than any of the previous five major extinctions that have occurred in the history of life on Earth. It is absolutely 100% down to humans. And it will bite us in the ass at some point because we are a part of the same web of life as everything else. When that web collapses, as it already is in certain part of the world, it will take us down with it.
c) The limits to human economic growth on a finite planet due to the one time draw down of the stored solar energy of eons in the form of hydrocarbons and there is literally nothing to replace them other than, in the short term, methane clathrates which, in the medium to longer term, only serve to exacerbate (a) and (b).
d) Underneath all of the above – because it is the driver of all of it – a massive global overshoot of the human population. A die-off is coming and there is absolutely nothing that can now be done to avert it.
e) Everything outlined above leading to ever more conflicts in the world as humans scrabble and squabble over diminishing resources in a desperate bid to keep their respective industrial civilizations afloat.
There will be winners and losers along the way. But, all will fail eventually.
Having said all of that;
Those at the very top of our industrial civilization here in the West know that a storm is coming. They know our people are going to start getting rebellious as hard times begin to really, properly bite. Indeed, that rebellion is already gathering a head of steam on both sides of the Atlantic in a variety of forms. And they know there is little that can be done other than manage the decline. Part of that management is to begin to foster a growing panic in the population about things like climate change. Hence, the sudden rise, as I said, as if out of nowhere, of “movements” like “Extinction Rebellion” and totemic figures like Thunberg.
Not as part of fixing anything, I hasten to add. It’s way too late for that. But, as a political and cultural mechanism by which the people can be herded into accepting ever more draconian limits on their freedoms and ever more privations in life as we accelerate down the slope towards de-industrialization. Meanwhile, those at the top intend, so far as they are concerned, to continue living their 20th century industrial lifestyle in the background. Or, at least, until the pitchforks come out.
All of it is bullshit and all of it ends badly, one way or another.
But, I reckon America will be one of the early causalities and is at risk of descending into fascism a decade or two down the line. And I don’t mean as a consequence of Trump in the way that infantile liberals would have it. I mean the real deal. And it will probably be driven, irony of ironies, by what the liberals will have become by then.
But, then, you already know all of this Mr Greer.
I just noticed that the last “hockey-stick” link I tried to post didn’t go through, sorry.
Dear Mr. Greer and Fellow Readers,
That Plato is still such a revered and influential philosopher might not be only due to his brilliance,but because of the kind of society he had supported. No disrespect to the great thinker and I am certainly not qualified to judge him and I do not know much about other Greek philosophers. Yet, is it really wild to speculate that there must have been other, competing philosophers that didn’t respect rulers as much? And that they now lie in obscurity because their ideas were rejected by the early Greek rulers? After all, Plato’s teacher Socrates was condemned since he offended the elites of his time and very likely would have been forgotten if it were not for Plato who kept him in his writings.
As for other cultures, China after its unification, centuries before Mao, had a cultural revolution of sorts and wiped many schools of thought. The one that China elevated, not surprisingly,asks the individual to obey its betters, from parents all the way to the emperor. Ensuring that all supports the existing hierarchy seems universal.
Nowadays, we have fancier names for these efforts: Propaganda, public relations, economic theory. By and large, people buy into the rhetoric and accept their place in the hierarchy and would endure a lot misery before something snaps. The government actually rules the consent and maintains its legitimacy as long as it delivers some of its promises. For instance, Chine rulers promised to reduce poverty and high growth rates and they delivered. It would take a lot of disappointments before people act against their government there. Western governments, in particular American one, promised all around wealth and riches through globalization and in contrast to China, they failed. Hence, their legitimacy is now in question.
The reduction of poverty and rise of middle class in China has come at the expense of developed world middle class. It is almost like a physical law: a larger number poor people vs a small number of middle class in a closed, finite planet. If the poor gets richer, it has to be at the expense of the other. Trump promised to undo at least some of the globalization and bring wealth back to US working class. To his credit, his policies are in line with what he claimed he would do as a president and I have to admit that he is the only president who actually is not reneging on his main campaign promises. This brings legitimacy to his presidency and buys a ton of goodwill.
Even decoupling US and China is done right and successfully, it will hurt a lot and take a long time. And even if it succeeds, there will still be a large, competing Chinese middle class and US will have to share the planet with them and I doubt Chinese will give up their gains willingly.
Thank you for reading my random thoughts and speculations, MC
@Onething. I knew two sisters, full sisters, both born of the same two parents. Visibly, one was always categorised by everyone who met her outside her family context as “white* the other, outside family context, as ” black”. I’m not sure what “visible appearance” can teach about “race” if two sisters of same parents can turn out to occupy different ones.
@JMG: I only meant the simplest definition of Socialism, the root, the bare bones: Socialism definition: a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
Marxist Socialism: a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.
I understand and agree that economic systems chosen and practiced by any society are integral to the political systems chosen and practiced by that society. For the most part, (all part?) we have seen the economic system of socialism/Communism go hand in hand with authoritarian leaderships, resulting in deadly grave results, (Stalin’s purges, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, N. Korea, Cuba etc ….)
I am also aware that because these are the examples we know, in discussing these political/economies the two are thought to always always go together. Maybe you’re right, maybe it’s impossible for them not to, but I do get a feeling sometimes that when discussing this it’s the same conundrum we are having with the word “race” or ‘Racism’. We have accepted one incorrect definition for so long, it has become the default ‘correct’ definition. It becomes difficult to address the issues surrounding it without succumbing to suing this incorrect definition. I guess – language is a fluid, ever changing thing, so maybe the old or simple – text book definitions can become obsolete and incorrect then.
Do you think that is the case? Or am I still off with the faeries? LOL
@Nastarana: Authoritarianism – definition: the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.
lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others. I THINK the ‘system’ or set-up came before the person to be described, but – chicken/egg – who knows? Can’t have one without the other, right?
Also @Nastarana: – years ago, I was very fortunate to get to see Peter Brook’s 8+ hour stage production of The Mahabharata at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Amazing and transformative!! They have since made books, videos and video’d discussion of the making of the stage production and of the text. With a quick google English translations of the text, some related and some unrelated to the BAM production came up – too many to link, really, but also this shortened (5 hour) free video on Youtube:
It may be a place to start. 🙂
Excellent commentary and discussion this week Y’all! Many many thanks! 🙂
Seems a related convo: podcast “The Portal” Episode 1 – Eric Weinstein & Peter Thiel on “An Era of Stagnation & Universal Institutional Failure”.
Darkest Yorkshire: I haven’t thought all this out comprehensively. On the one hand, there is definitely a “natural aristoi” that is real, and yeomanry would be that component manifested in the lower classes. I would tend to say that there are other components involved too, like the principle of respect for nominal, established authority, which E Burke alludes to when he says “never without strongest necessity disturb what is at rest”, or tradition/custom (the de Maistre quote). The most successful revolutions and the least problematic ones (as evidence) would be 1688 and 1776, as examples, along with others. I tend to think a lawful revolution (if such a thing is possible) would function more like a restoration. And the yeomanry’s job would be to steer between the temptations to either do nothing, or “do what comes natural” for the passions. They might have to “play above their natural level” if you will. I know this is an incomplete response.
Much too late now for any discussion, but I could not let this pass uncommented. During all of Plato’s productive period, Athens was a democracry, and officials were chosen by chance, not by election, expressly so that the better educated or better spoken citizens would not gain advantages. Plato was just as unpopular as Socrates had been. Decades later, the Greek-speaking world came to be ruled by monarchs, but they had no desire to live as frugal, humble philosopher-kings – many aimed for popularity through wars, monumental building programs and homage as divine rulers. Again, Plato’s writings were not particularly popular among the powerful. A few of the Roman emperors aspired to being philosophers, but I think only Julian considered himself a platonist.
I’d be interested in seeing how the Chinese handle their demos over the long term. The way I understand it the government allows people to complain about just about anything on social media, (although they will shut down any calls for protest), allowing them to deal with discontent. Who knows if this will be a better feed back loop than democracy. Yes, lots of other factors, but I’m wondering technology is going to change things.
Hi JMG, great post!
This ran long so here’s the TLDR summary:
– “Core” (i.e. automation) is high-volume, low margin, focuses on “global” averages, and provides mass-produced “tools” for the periphery.
– “Periphery” (i.e. human labor) and is low-volume, high-margin, adapts to local conditions, and provides creative or custom solutions using the tools from the core.
– The core and periphery are reciprocal and depend on each other.
– There are many ways increase one’s power vis a vis the core (see below).
– To have a functioning government, we need to flatten the distribution of power. This is often sought by tearing down the rich, but it might be more fruitful (in both the short and long run) to lift up the poor by connecting them with paths that make their labor more valuable.
Your post here really evokes Friedrich Hayek, talking about decentralizing power toward the local level. But automation and “society managers” illustrate the tradeoff between high volume and high margins.
“Automation vs. Human Labor” is analogous to “Core vs. Periphery” or “Big Firms vs. Small Firms”.
Automation / Core / Big Firms:
– Adapts to “global” averages
– Large upfront investments.
– Durable, Semi-permanent structures (physically, hierarchically, organizationally, etc.)
– Highly complex systems (more moving parts and dependencies)
– Exports mass produced “finished goods” to the periphery
– Focuses on High Volume, Low-Margin tasks. OR on tasks that depend on pooling huge amounts of resources or finding patterns in data “in aggregate” (e.g. Finance, Insurance, Accounting, Medicine, etc.).
Periphery / Humans / Small Firms:
– Adapt to local conditions
– Low upfront investments
– More “nimble” and “agile” – they can experiment more
– Flexible, fluid structures (cultural alignment over rules and policies)
– Less complex (less moving parts and dependencies)
– Employs the “finished goods” from the core in more creative, locally appropriate ways
– Focuses on Low Volume, High Margin
The periphery and core definitely depend and consume from each other in a reciprocal relationship. Without the periphery we would be in a USSR style, centrally managed system. Without the core/automation, we would be closer peasant farmers, bent-backed, working dusk til dawn for the local protection racket (feudal lords) at constant risk of invasion by more powerful, organized neighbors.
The REAL issue everyone wants to solve is how to distribute power more equitably so it cannot be abused by those with power over you. At a systemic level, [decentralizing power] -> [egalitarianism] -> [functioning democracy] -> [better “Whole System” choices get made].
Social power can be defined as:
Power_AB = (A’s dependence on B) – (B’s dependence on A)
“Dependence” includes both what each party gets from the other, and who else is around to provide that service. So,
Power_AB = [(What B gives to A) / (B’s competition)] – [(What A gives to B) / (A’s competition)]
If someone in the periphery feels the core is too powerful, they can focus on tweaking any of the above variables:
(1) Consume less from the core. Reduce dependence with DIY, or doing without.
(2) Provide more value. Find low-volume high-margin areas to specialize in that’s not worth the up-front cost of automating.
(3) Increase competition among service providers in the core. Find alternative sources for what you consume, to decrease dependence on any one company.
(4) Decrease competition among your peers. Unionize with whoever does what you do to decrease B’s bargaining power over you. This is also analogous to “Democracy” – “give us what we want or we riot.” It is also analogous to protectionism – “jobs for me, not for you”
There is also a 5th option:
(5) Quit your job, and join B, perhaps changing B’s character as you do so.
How do the different paths correspond to social groups?
(1) Rural, Religious, or Survivalist: Opt-out. Go off the grid. Don’t be materialistic.
(2) Conservatives: Provide more value individually. Look for small business opportunities. Or seek to become indispensable in the firm/industry you work in.
(3) Startups, Merchants, and Hackers: “Disintermediate” the gate keepers. Find (questionable) alternative sources and cobble things together yourself.
(4) Leftists & Nationalists: Unionization & Closed borders. Act collectively, limit competition, and force the hands of the rich.
(5) Professionals, Salaried Class, & Immigrants: Leave your home, move to a place with jobs, learn to code, join the “core”.
Each person will focus on whatever path seems to have the best ROI for them, as well as what their social group is “in to”, and what fits with their personality.
Personally, I hope that people prioritize up-skilling, entrepreneurship, and providing more value as a way to decentralize power. On the other hand, it requires more agility, less familial stability, and the “curse of freedom” (i.e. constantly scanning for opportunities, never enough evidence / certainty of outcomes, and accountability for wrong choices), so it might not be a popular choice.
Option (1) (reducing dependence on others, off-the-grid, and DIY) is certainly more in tune with the ethos of this community. I wonder how much it leads to an “opting out” of society vs. using the safe vantage to exercise a degree of power and influence within the society.
Option (4), getting in large groups and making demands is certainly the most “fun and social” of the options, and seems to release a certain catharsis in our monkey brains. And, like renegotiating your salary, it feels great when it works. But it is very zero-sum, out of one’s individual control, and can run into a lot of “rah rah” enthusiasm without achieving much results.
My favorite response to carbon credits and their many flavors is the short video Cheat Neutral. It used to be hosted on its own website, but the sponsors apparently abandoned the domain. It is still on youtube and very funny. In summary, it purports to be a scheme where people who are cheating on their monogamous relationships can pay to offset the heartbreak by giving money to those who are still monogamous or celibate, thus offsetting the amount of angst in the atmosphere. The funniest thing about the video is some USA unreality show thought this was a serious proposal and not sarcasm.
Republicans generally deny climate change while privately trying to manipulate it. (The Pentagon and CIA has studied the social impacts for decades, a motive for Homeland InSecurity.). Democrats generally endorse climate change but push green nukes, carbon offsets and other mythical beings. Those of us who suggest climate change is a symptom of overshoot are unpopular almost everywhere …
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