I have been working like a rented mule these last few weeks and have barely had time to think, let alone read and write, but I’m glad to see public intellectuals making the first gestures toward a Thermidorian reaction. It’s a nice break from the incessant coverage of the Instagram riots and the Salem racist trials.
“I live in a society full of blemishes and deformities. But it is a society that gives every man elbow room to do the things near to his heart. In no other country is it so possible for a man of determination to go ahead, with whatever it is that he sets his heart on, without compromising his integrity. Of course, those who set their heart on acclaim and fortune must cater to other people’s demands. But for those who want to be left alone to realize their capacities and talents, this is an ideal country. It is incredible how easy it is in this country to cut oneself off from what one disapproves—from all vulgarity, mendacity, conformity, subservience, speciousness, and other corrupting influences and infections.”
— Eric Hoffer, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront
As millions of Americans escape home quarantine to the great outdoors this summer, they’ll venture into parks, campgrounds and forest lands that remain stubborn bastions of self-segregation.@devindwyer reports. https://t.co/Xzmouf4bwM pic.twitter.com/e8PckJcVqn
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) July 1, 2020
I don’t have any special prophetic powers, but I would suggest taking note of that term, “self-segregation.” It may sound like a weaponized strain of parody that escaped from a lab, but as the demand for racism continues to dramatically exceed the supply, I’d be willing to bet that we’ll soon be hearing a lot more of it in earnest. Anyway, I sure don’t want to be a racist hiker, so it sounds to me like the logical conclusion here is to round up some blacks, Hispanics and Asians, load them up with camping supplies, and march them off into the wilderness to decolonize the outdoors. Sorry, what? Well, no. Why would I ask them if they want to do it? Who cares what individuals want to do? The point is to make the demographics fit on this Procrustean bed of ours. Numbers! Numbers are what we care about, not subjective experience!
Speaking of which:
The great Thomas Sowell, whose books should be on every intelligent adult’s bedside table, just celebrated his 90th birthday on June 30th. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, and you’d like to hop on the bandwagon while he’s still around, and if you had to pick one book relevant to our current topic, I’d recommend Discrimination and Disparities, in which he labors heroically to dispel precisely this fallacy, that all disparities in outcome are the result of malicious discrimination. That thread, if tugged upon, really does unravel the whole progressive ball of yarn. We’ve all heard conservatives claim to be in favor of equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Progressives see this as a strawman, claiming that, if anything, they’re in favor of true equality of opportunity, which can’t exist as long as privilege, systemic discrimination, etc. exist. In practice, this amounts to being in favor of equality of outcome, because anything less is assumed to be illegitimate. Individual black people may claim to simply not be interested in hiking through national parks, but what if they’re only saying that because they’ve been imperfectly shaped by their history, both personal and collective? What would they choose if we could redo the past?
Is it fate?
Or is it just a cold heart?
Did I win the race?
Or was it just a false start?
— The Obsessed, “Touch of Everything“
Many of us can recall discussions of free will in philosophy class. We probably all discussed the possibility of what it means to “choose” under coercion. If a criminal holds a gun to your head and commands you to do something appalling and/or illegal in order to save your life, is it truly a choice? Can you reasonably be faulted or blamed for not choosing death?
For progressives, history is that gun held to our heads. The circumstances into which we were born, the limitations placed upon us by genetics and upbringing, the imperfect choices we make with limited information throughout our lives — all of these infringements upon our ability to truly, freely choose from all possible options are seen as coercion. Like all virtues, liberalism can be taken too far and turned into a vice. It’s not enough to remove as many overt obstacles as possible in order to allow individuals as many options as possible; we have to imagine what the world would look like had none of those obstacles ever existed, and then work to realize that utopian vision here and now. Until all past injustices have been negated through enlightened policies, no one can ever be truly said to be free to choose. Had transatlantic slavery never existed, then…black Americans would constitute 13% of outdoors enthusiasts, in keeping with their proportion of the general population. Something like that. I know, I know, there are so many fallacious assumptions and counterfactual fantasies at work here that it doesn’t even bear taking seriously. Crudden’s one tweet could spawn a thousand questions attempting in vain to clarify all its implications. But while you may not be interested in philosophical incoherence, this virulent strain of philosophical incoherence is very interested in you and the many ways you’re oppressing people simply by existing.
Speaking of Jordan Peterson, as Ms. “Hard Scientist” was earlier, he wondered about an interesting question some time ago: What is the limiting principle of the left? We all have a clear idea of what it looks like when the far-right goes too far, but why have their mirror images on the left failed to equally serve as cautionary tales? Why isn’t it a cliché on the right to say that “real fascism has never been tried,” the way it is among apologists for communism? With the events of the past month fresh in my mind, my provisional answer to his question would be “disaster.” Disaster is the limiting principle of the left. Nothing else ever stops them from pushing in the direction of what they imagine to be “progress.” No matter how many times their ideas lead to the same predictable blood-soaked cul-de-sacs, they will only rest, regroup, and try again. The best we can hope for is that most of those ideas die before reaching adulthood. I fear that “disparities=discrimination” has already become an obnoxious adolescent, though.
This is what happens when the only US history you’ve ever learned was a single PowerPoint slide repeated ad infinitum.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) June 24, 2020
To be more precise, this is what happens when mobs form, regardless of the supposed reason for their formation. “The joy of violent movement pulls you under,” as James Hetfield sang. Mobs, by their nature, are thoughtless, destructive beasts. Arguing about whether this is all in response to police brutality or systemic racism or three months of lockdown is like arguing about which flea on the elephant’s back is responsible for steering it. In one sense, a careful study of history could possibly inoculate people against the mob virus, by reminding us how little we know, by illustrating how little actually changes throughout history, and by instilling in us humility and gratitude for the past achievements of those wiser, better, and more courageous than we’ll ever be. On the other hand, one doesn’t have to look far to find many conventionally-intelligent people who have managed to study history without learning anything important, except for how to cherry-pick grievances to fuel their insatiable resentment. Anyone who looks into the face of the mob hoping to see a reflection of reason and idealism will only find the abyss of impulsive nihilism gazing back at them.
One of the most original and mind-opening studies of practical philosophy to have appeared for many years, Why We Drive spells out in vivid detail what is wrong with the prevailing idea of the human subject. Seemingly diverging from Kant’s idea of rational autonomy, a utilitarian account of human action has developed in which reason means the calculation of outcomes. In fact this is another version of the disembodied humanity Kant imagined. Most fully elaborated in economics but pervasive throughout much of today’s political discourse, it is a view in which human beings are preference-satisfying machines. These homunculi attach no intrinsic significance to how they live. The quality of their experience is relevant only insofar as it enables them to gratify their desires as efficiently as possible. It is as if their lives were simply means whereby they get from one satisfaction to another.
Rather than rehearsing philosophical arguments against this position, Crawford reveals its limitations through examples.
Somehow, Matthew Crawford has managed to sneak up on me with a new book that was already released earlier this month. I greatly enjoyed Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head, so I’m looking forward to this one. It should be especially interesting because of my conflicted feelings about driving. Many writers and philosophers claim that walking is good for stimulating thought, but for me, driving while listening to music is even better. I had various driving jobs for many years, and many of my scribblings here were actually done in my head while driving down interstates and lonely county roads. On the other hand, those same years spent maneuvering through traffic (or sitting motionless behind a pile-up) have instilled in me a boundless contempt for the careless stupidity with which many people operate their vehicles. I admit I am often tempted by the idea that people are too stupid to be trusted with the responsibility of driving, and that the machines should take over, but if anyone can make me appreciate driving as an arena for exercising freedom, a skill that must be practiced regularly to avoid atrophy, I suppose it would be Crawford.
I don’t believe there’s any problem in this country, no matter how tough it is, that Americans, when they roll up their sleeves, can’t completely ignore.
— George Carlin
More than a third of black students will drop out of high school in Milwaukee. But Forbes has announced a change in its in-house stylebook and will henceforth honor the woke convention of uppercase Black vs. lowercase white. And George Floyd is still dead. Jacob Frey is still mayor of Minneapolis. Medaria Arradondo is still the chief of police.
…Bennet was pushed out on behalf of marginalized black Americans, which necessitated that Bennet immediately be replaced by . . . a well-off white woman who went to Georgetown and Columbia and won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about that great loathsome theater of American middle-class anxiety: restaurants. (“The real price of inexpensive menu items,” the Pulitzer people summarized.) Well-off white women from elite colleges run the diversity-and-sensitivity racket like the 17th-century Dutch ran the tulip racket, like the De Beers cartel used to run diamonds. Big Caitlyn is getting paid. Affluent white women are the main E-Class beneficiaries of the current headhunting project to clear a little room at the top, just as they have historically been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative-action programs, contracting set-asides, and other programs to help out the poor disenfranchised Georgetown alumni out there in the cold and dark.
George Floyd is still dead. Jacob Frey is still mayor of Minneapolis. Medaria Arradondo is still the chief of police. But Kathleen Kingsbury — do I have to tell you she’s from Portland? she’s from Portland — has moved up a step at the New York Times, and promises not to publish any opinions someone might have an opinion about. And George Floyd is still dead. Jacob Frey is still mayor of Minneapolis. Medaria Arradondo is still the chief of police.
They always come for pop culture eventually. When I was an adolescent, the crusade du jour was about putting parental warning labels on records with “explicit content,” a worthless gesture intended to vaguely relieve the widespread anxiety caused by the complex problem of broken families and latchkey kids. I can’t help but recall that the effort was spearheaded by a well-off white woman, the wife of a soon-to-be Vice President. Today’s purgeoisie (credit to Neontaster for that coinage), confronted with intractable social ills, has risen to the challenge by disarming mass murderers like Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, decolonizing the breakfast table, and using national newspapers as a platform to publicly humiliate private citizens for once wearing blackface, even when it was done in the spirit of parody against the earnest wearing of blackface. When we roll up our sleeves, there is no ambiguously-symbolic representation tangentially associated with something which could conceivably be construed as “bad” that we can’t dispose of in short order.
You think I care about losing followers? Buddy in my day we wrote a 3 paragraph blog post to NOBODY and we freakin loved it
— Pigeon Fancier (@isabelzawtun) June 17, 2020
Nobody?!! We dreamed of writing to nobody. We lived on the abandoned planet of Usenet after people left in the great commercial internet exodus. 7 of us accessing the internet on a CD32 with an SX-1 expansion with 2 megs of Chip ram. And youngsters today talk about followers FFS! pic.twitter.com/1kJiOijf9a
— Angus (@000Angus000) June 17, 2020
Let us not forget the glorious href years of pre-rich-text editing! That little chain link icon is weak. 😉
— ProfD (@ProfD19) June 18, 2020
The imbeciles on Twitter are unserious people, but unserious people can produce serious problems. There is a word for the situation in which there is no room for disagreement. The word is not “justice.” It is “totalitarianism.” That is what cancel culture is, and we have seen it in highly developed form in such places as East Germany under Honecker and China under Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
A couple days later, Williamson linked to an interview with the high priestess of the state religion of anti-racism, Robin DiAngelo, in which she informed us:
Racism is the foundation of the society we are in. And to simply carry on with absolutely no active interruption of that system is to be complicit with it. And in that way, we can say that nice, white people who really aren’t doing anything other than being nice people are racist. We are complicit with that system. There is no neutral place.
Ah, yes, “Everything within the cause, nothing outside the cause, nothing against the cause,” as Mussolini might have said, had he been willing to interrogate his own whiteness. I’ll bet you that DiAngelo has one of those motivational office posters hanging up in her workspace emblazoned with O’Brien’s promise from 1984: “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” However, things aren’t as harsh as they seem. They’re at least willing to pay for our therapy and retraining:
Look at it this way: this might be the only way we’re allowed to go to summer camp anytime soon. If any of you get assigned to my cabin, let’s start a clandestine reading group.
I had managed to make it this far in life without ever hearing of this carpet-chewing lunatic, which I take to be a healthy sign for both me and society in general. I think it’s noteworthy, however, that he has 331,000 followers. It gives slight pause to consider that the population of a fair-sized city could encounter a Streicher-like screed like this and say, “Now, there’s a fellow making good sense. I’d like to be kept abreast of all his further thoughts, please.” Signal? Noise? Who can tell anymore? Is this feverish sentiment a meaningless outlier, or an ominous harbinger?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no such thing as a happy political junkie. I have never once encountered a person intimately familiar with everything from palace intrigue to policy minutiae who could be described as well-rounded, genial, or content. Political obsession invariably deforms its victims. They can’t change their minds and they won’t change the subject. A healthy person would be indulging in a hobby, or enjoying time spent with loved ones, not fantasizing about throwing political opponents in re-education camps, or preaching the good word of anti-racism to people who are inching the door closed in your face. The fanatic is convinced that his monomaniacal political awareness is the gravitational force keeping the world from falling apart. In reality, it’s more like a magnifying glass being used to burn a hole through the delicate bonds of “sympathy” as described by thinkers like Adam Smith, the fellow-feeling which makes life tolerable despite its countless imperfections.
Like Bartleby, I look at most of the activities that society offers me and offer a polite demurral. I would be happy to leave it at that, but apparently my attitude is increasingly unacceptable. I’m tired of being pursued by zealots who want to paw me with their dirty institutions and constrain me to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. I will vote for whoever promises to build a wall between me and fanatics like DiAngelo and Palmer, a wall topped with razor wire and machine-gun turrets. We used to be able to depend on the much-more aesthetically-pleasing bulwark of manners, mores, civil society, or whatever else you want to call it, but the religious vacuum in society has been filled by politics-as-religion, so here we are.