Archive for October, 2007

Austria felix

October 30, 2007

By the way, I must again apologize for my apparent inattention to UR’s comments section. It certainly does not mean I am indifferent to the discussion. It’s more that I don’t feel I have anything significant to contribute to it.

One commenter earlier asked for more on economics. (And others have asked for more computer science. But no one, so far, has asked for more verse. Hm.) In any case, earlier in the week I spent a little too much time over at Brad Setser’s blog, trying to explain Austrian economics to a bunch of finance and banking geeks.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the history, this is sort of like trying to sell your piano teacher on the virtues of Norse death metal. Or maybe like persuading Annie Sprinkle to join Opus Dei. Or like lecturing your prenatal yoga class on the game theory of nuclear war. In any case, if anyone has any interest in the subject, the thread is here – scroll down or grep for “moldbug.”

Professor Dawkins, Dr. Watson, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

October 30, 2007

Professor Dawkins has redeemed himself.

Well, no, that’s not quite true. But he has certainly taken the first step. And as Malcolm X put it, if you take one step toward Allah, Allah takes two steps toward you. (For many years after I first read Haley’s so-called ‘autobiography,’ which I discovered at a shockingly tender age, I was a little worried that I might accidentally take my one step.)

Because Professor Dawkins has defended Dr. Watson. His people released this quote:

‘What is ethically wrong is the hounding, by what can only be described
as an illiberal and intolerant “thought police”, of one of the most
distinguished scientists of our time, out of the Science Museum, and
maybe out of the laboratory that he has devoted much of his life to,
building up a world-class reputation.”

No one can defend Professor Dawkins’ grammar. But otherwise, this is really unimprovable. It does the man great credit.

It doesn’t mean he’s not still pwned, though. Because dear God! That shifting moral Zeitgeist! I guess it’s not so mysterious anymore! I guess we know how it shifts, now, don’t we, Professor Dawkins? Who knew? An illiberal and intolerant “thought police”? My word. Why, I never should have guessed.

Someone needs to run, not walk, to the nearest copy of Richard Ellis’s The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America. This can be chased with George McKenna’s new, and really really excellent, Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. And if any doubts remain the whole regimen can be topped off with a good solid dose of Arthur Lipow’s Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement. (If you are not a Plainlander and you wonder about the excessive appearance of the A-word in these titles, this is a normal attitude for residents of Washcorp’s outer territories.)

Note that none of the above monographs is published by Regnery or Crown Forum. They are scholarly volumes by respectable historians, who would probably no more consider voting for a Republican than you or I would consider sodomizing a mongoose. Their print is a normal size and they use tasteful fonts. And they can be read by normal, intelligent, educated people.

As for Dr. Watson, he has not come out so badly at all. First, he who laughs last, etc. Second, if you read his book, you realize that he is (a) still sharp as a tack and (b) no less the ruthless, Napoleonic scientific bureaucrat than any of his critics. I can’t believe he didn’t at least to some extent know what he was doing. I find Larry Auster’s criticism of Dr. Watson very cogent, and I’m sure he regretted a few tactical missteps. But if you assume that the man believes what he said he believed in the first place, I can’t think of a more stylish way to retire.

What does Dr. Watson believe, anyway? As he put it in his eloquent, and widely-misquoted, non-recantation:

We do not yet adequately understand the way in which the different environments in the world have selected over time the genes which determine our capacity to do different things. The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science.

Or, originally:

There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically.

That’s twenty-four words by my count. Here at UR we are certainly familiar with this argument. But have we seen it so briefly and precisely put? Ha.

If Watson’s formula is too brief for you, Larry Moran, who I don’t believe has won any Nobel Prizes but is at least a professor of biochemistry, drags it out here:

We have a situation where there are distinct differences in intelligence between individuals within a deme. These within-deme differences have to be due to a number of alleles that are segregating within a population.

But somehow there’s a special buffering system that prevents allele differences between demes, right?

How, exactly does this work? When one of the alleles in a given deme drops in frequency—say by random genetic drift—is there some kind of signal sent to the other deme to make an adjustment? 🙂

Do you see the problem? As long as there are differences between individuals then it follows that these difference are due to differences in allele frequencies. (Assuming a genetic component.)

This means that there are a finite number of alleles segregating within the population. As long as that’s the case then it’s practically impossible for any two demes to have exactly the same frequency of alleles.

Hence, if there’s a genetic component to intelligence then different demes will almost certainly differ in the distribution of the phenotype manifest by the intelligence alleles.

The only way to avoid this unpleasant conclusion is to advocate that there is no genetic component to intelligence and everyone has exactly the same potential to be as smart as Albert Einstein or as stupid as Paris Hilton.

Actually, Professor Moran – no. You’re quite wrong. There’s another explanation.

And its name is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is the FSM, whose limp, starchy tentacles needless to say reach into all earthly affairs, which conveys the signal from deme to deme, which juggles the alleles as if they were oranges. (And the Flying Spaghetti Monster can juggle a lot of oranges.)

Thus, Professor Dawkins and his honor are restored. Not that there is any scientific evidence that the FSM exists, or that it manipulates our DNA in this sly, gelatinous manner. But there is certainly no scientific evidence that it doesn’t.

(What of Professor Rushton? What of him. The man is openly in the pay of the Elders of Albion. How he ever made his way onto NPR is quite beyond me. But perhaps the dark strength of the Elders has begun to grow again.)

We are all Pastafarians now. The continued existence of civilized society in 2007 depends utterly on the prophecy of Pas Tafari, and the Bland One Himself – sauce be upon him. RAmen. So watch it with those “hurtful comments,” kids.

How Dawkins got pwned (part 5)

October 25, 2007

So, in the course of parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, we’ve established that Professor Dawkins is pwned.

He is pwned because he is serving the interests of a tradition called Universalism, a nontheistic sect of Christianity which is currently the planet’s dominant religion. And Professor Dawkins has not done his homework on Universalism. As we’ve seen, he’s accepted orthodox Universalist interpretations of major aspects of reality – if anthropology and history count as “major” – in exactly the same way that his favorite strawmen accept theistic metaphysics: by declaring it true until proven false. He appears to be quite unaware of how creepy this is.

Or at least he was unaware. If he is reading these messages, Professor Dawkins is now sunk, I’m sure, in misery and despair. He is questioning his own sanity. Is there any path back to reality? Is anything left but sickness, confusion, lies? Can anything now be real and good and true? Or has the worm but lunched too long?

The answer, actually, is yes. The worm has lunched too long. There is no escape. Not for Professor Dawkins, not for me, not for you, not for anyone. We’ll simply have to deal.

If the infection was fresh, we could escape just by asking and answering two simple questions. One: is Universalism good, or evil? Two: if the latter, what should I, personally, do about it?

If Universalism was Scientology – or the cult of Kim Jong Il – or even Communism – this might be an effective initial state from which to consider its merits or demerits. But Universalism is to these pissant little knockoffs as the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is to Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power. As Rutger Hauer put it in Split Second, “Bigger guns! We’ve got to have bigger guns!”

In fact, if you just translate the word “Catholicism” into 21st-century English, it comes out… you guessed it. I was recently disappointed to learn that, contrary to the assertion of my 10th-grade English teacher, “Darth Vader” does not actually mean “Dark Father” in Dutch. That would be Donker Vader, which somehow doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi. But you get the idea. The point is that this thing, whatever you care to call it, is at least two hundred years old and probably more like five. It’s basically the Reformation itself. It’s certainly the most up-to-date revision of Jouvenel’s Minotaur. And just walking up to it and denouncing it as evil is about as likely to work as suing Shub-Niggurath in small-claims court.

So, if there’s any way to even contemplate this history-devouring horror, it can only be by thinking around Universalism. We cannot hope to assault the Elder Ones. We cannot even offend them. Our only hope is to amuse them for a little while.

In other words: it may be a fun parlor game to answer every political question by asking how the Duke of Wellington would handle it. But we lack anything like the shared cultural capital we’d need to simply evaluate the proposition that Universalism is just evil, and needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. We can’t even imagine how to think these thoughts. And Universalism at every turn would be telling us we were evil for even starting to think them.

On the bright side, however, by accepting the possibility that Universalism exists, that it is not simply “ethics” or “justice” or “science” or “history,” you have already taken the first step toward thinking around it. Let’s take a few more steps and see where we end up.

First, remember that Universalism is a mystery cult of political power. As John Gray puts it, “Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion.” This is not to excuse Professor Gray, whose incredible legerdemain in skipping directly from the French Revolution to George W. Bush does much more to conceal than to explain. But, as Hunter S. Thompson used to put it, even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while.

To engage the neohominid instinct for worship, you need a grand mystery: some question of transcendental importance to which no meaningful answer can be constructed. It is even better if inside the mystery is some high agency, some power which works in mysterious ways. Christopher Moltisanti decided that the higher power for his 12-step program was his Mafia oath. Sometimes I suspect that if you go to an AA meeting in Berkeley, their higher power is the United Nations, or maybe the State Department, or even just NPR.

Anyway. In this post, we’re going to try to raise the tone, and avoid taking these cheap little digs at Universalism or Universalists. The point is: the spiritual antennae of the Universalist are aimed almost exclusively in the direction of the State. When a Universalist thinks about good or evil, she thinks about the good State and the evil State.

Our goal, in learning to think around Universalism, is to construct a way to think about the State that is morally neutral, and that does not depend at all on Universalist concepts. The end product should be a complete, drop-in replacement for Universalism which does not challenge or threaten it in any way.

Our first step is a full linguistic reconstruction of politics and history. I’ll outline this reconstruction for the State I live in, which I think is reasonable, because this particular polity happens to more or less dominate the world. (As Thom Yorke put it, “Radiohead works like the United Nations. I’m the US.”) If you live in Greenland or Poland or Uzbekistan or wherever, the transformation should not be too difficult.

Just as we saw in the Universalist concept of humanity, there is an enormous inherent confusion in Universalist political linguistics. When I talk about America or the US, I may mean one of the following concepts: a political organization, a geographical region, or a population of neohominids. For the first or the third, I may mean this concept solely in the present, or I may be referring to some period of historical continuity. A more preposterous hodgepodge could scarcely be contemplated.

Frankly, this is ridiculous. It has to go. The Empsonian ambiguity – a programmer might call it overloading – may be poetically touching, that is, if you’re a political shill-poet like Lowell, Whitman, MacLeish or Dove. Finish your ode to Stalin and get outta here. The rest of us would like a way to clearly refer to clear, specific concepts.

One way to do this is to imagine we’re thinking about an alternate reality. In Reality #2, there is a clone of Planet 3, Planet 3.01, which is exactly identical and follows the same orbit around the Sun, 180 degrees out of phase so that neither can see the other.

On Planet 3.01, the temperate and subtropical latitudes of the northern continent in the western hemisphere are a region called Plainland. (An English translation of Vinland.) The inhabitants of Plainland are the Plainlanders.

Culturally, our Plainlanders fall into five major castes: the Brahmins, Dalits, Helots, Optimates and Vaisyas. They can also be divided by descent: European, African, Asian or Beringian. And their political conflicts identify them as either Coaster (blue) or Middler (red). Of course, none of these categories is precise or complete. All sorts of overlaps and subcategories exist. Nonetheless, these very rough high-level abstractions are quite useful.

Plainland is owned by a sovereign corporation, or sovcorp. Its name is Washcorp: the Washington Corporation. (I like this slightly better than one I tried earlier, Fedco. It sounds even more neutral and enormous. Of course, Planet 3.0 has plenty of actual companies named both Washcorp and Fedco, but none is particularly significant.)

A corporation is just a set of people working together with a common purpose – basically, any organization. I should probably replace this word as well, but it is such an effective offensive weapon that it would be a pity to just throw it out, and the English meaning is extremely clear.

A corporation is sovereign – and thus a sovcorp – if there is no controlling legal authority to which it can appeal, and it is responsible for enforcing and defending its own law. Again, the English meaning of this word is extremely clear and historically accurate.

Aside from the fact that it is sovereign, Washcorp owns Plainland in the same sense that any person or organization owns any piece of property. It exercises absolute and total domination and control. Plainlanders exist at Washcorp’s sufferance. It can expel them, kill them, or order them to obey arbitrary commands. There is no other power to which they can appeal, and no Plainlander or combination of Plainlanders has, or could conceivably have, even a thousandth of the military force needed to defeat Washcorp. Nor does any such force exist anywhere else on the planet.

Note that Planet 3.01 remains identical to Planet 3.0 in all substantive details. Let me add, however, the stipulation that on Planet 3.01, and within the boundaries of Plainland, Washcorp is absolutely invincible. It is not even worth thinking about thinking about a military strategy which could wrest Plainland from the eternal iron grip of Washcorp. Also, the flag of Washcorp is a red W inscribed in a white circle on a black field, and this sigil is honored with the Roman salute. Everything else is the same, though.

I should also describe the history of Washcorp. It was founded by an aristocrat and military leader, General Washington (hence the name), a prominent sympathizer of a paramilitary gang called the Sons of Liberty. The Sons evolved into the first identifiable ancestor of Washcorp as we know it today, the Continental Congress, with its Continental Army under Washington, who swiftly established himself as princeps.

This version of Washcorp is the First Corporation or the Continental Corporation. The period of its formal existence, 1776 to 1789, is the Continental Period. The First Corporation’s goal was to use violent force to seize Plainland from its original European owner, the sovcorp British Crown. Assisted by political divisions within British Crown, it succeeded in this task and assumed ownership of Plainland through adverse possession, winning the War of Atlantic Separation.

The original First Corporation was very weak and had limited power over its subsidiaries, the provinces of Plainland, which retained much of their original sovereignty as recognized in both its primary contract, the Articles of Confederation, and its deed of cession as conceded by British Crown, the Treaty of Paris. In 1789, a group of prominent managers wrested power from the First Corporation and replaced it with the Second or Constitutional Corporation (1789-1861), which left the relationship between Washcorp and its provinces informal.

The primary contract of the Second Corporation, the Constitution, was designed by its primary architect Alexander Hamilton, one of Washington’s cronies, to shift sovereign power gradually, subtly and irreversibly away from the provinces and toward Washcorp itself. (Compare to the similar approach of present-day Eurocorp.) Interprovincial tensions always undermined this strategy, and in 1861 a group of provinces joined forces and attempted to seize the southern half of Plainland in the War of Southern Separation.

Under the messianic dictator Abraham Lincoln, Washcorp won this war and subjugated the rebellious provinces. No more was heard about provincial sovereignty. The War of Southern Separation effectively revoked the Constitution, and converted Washcorp’s management process to an informal system with no strict textual basis, opening the Third or Nationalist Period (1861-1933). It is also notable for its introduction of military slavery – ie, the draft – to Washcorp’s playbook. All major Washcorp wars through the 1970s were fought with Plainlander slave soldiers.

The Third Corporation retained many elements of the old Constitutional system, notably the theory that Washcorp’s sovereign discretion was constrained by a list of enumerated powers. However, it also developed a state religion of transcendental power worship, or Nationalism. The quintessential Nationalist tract was the science-fiction novel Looking Backward by the Social Gospel fanatic Edward Bellamy, which predicted with remarkable prescience that by the year 2000, Washcorp would exercise complete and detailed control over the lives and occupations of all Plainlanders.

The essential idea of Nationalism was that Washcorp was deeply and fundamentally good, and could bring this spirit of righteousness to everything it touched or did. If this seems hard to understand, it is best explained as a continuation of the Protestant postmillennial tradition, with its emphasis on achieving the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of Christ on earth.

Nationalism can only be understood with respect to the system known as democracy, in which Plainlanders reconsecrate their obeisance to Washcorp regularly and indirectly, pledging their submission to one of several (typically two, but rarely one or three) political gangs, or parties. The parties alternate in power according to headcount of registered supporters. In the late Constitutional and early Nationalist periods, Washcorp operated under the spoils system, in which the parties distributed Washcorp’s revenue to their supporters by disguising these dividends as the salaries for so-called jobs.

Democracy, which had deep roots in the English Dissenter sects to which early Euro-Plainlanders subscribed, is best seen in terms of the system of ritual legitimacy it replaced, divine-right monarchy. The older divine-right sovcorps legitimized their ownership – that is, persuaded their subjects not to rebel – by attributing it to divine intervention. Democracy arrived with the advent of new religious systems which stressed the divine nature of humanity. This inner light, of which all adult males (and later females) had exactly one, could be counted and summed. If Washcorp was directed by this arithmetic, its actions could not fail to be righteous.

As the 20th century opened, Nationalism evolved into its more sophisticated successor Progressivism, a label still used today. Progressivism, which is essentially the political projection of Universalism, was a check to the abuses of democracy, reducing the power of corrupt elected officials in favor of permanent Washcorp employees, or civil servants. (Perhaps the word “master” would be more apropos.) Progressives consider these employees “professional,” “nonpartisan,” “objective,” etc, but they still operate under the moral umbrella of democracy, whose righteousness is undiminished however symbolic or passive its elected officials may become. Note that this is not unlike the modern fate of constitutional monarchy.

In extreme progressivism, as practiced today by Eurocorp, meaningful politics can be eliminated entirely, but the sovcorp still considers itself perfectly democratic. Needless to say, so do its subjects. The defunct “people’s democracies” of Russia and Central Europe, though dominated by security forces rather than educational organs, followed a similar pattern.

Washcorp was also a leader in developing a comprehensive official education system. Like many techniques of 20th-century sovcorps, official education – which includes official primary, secondary and tertiary instruction, official scientific research, official journalism and broadcasting, etc – is essential to prevent democracy from degenerating into civil war or rebellion. Otherwise, political conflicts are simply too real, and parties become attracted by the creative opportunities of escalating violence. Either the sovcorp’s security organs become its first line of defense, or it succumbs to the mayhem. There are no modern examples of a stable democratic sovcorp without an effective system of official education.

Needless to say, coordinating the opinions of the population is one way to make them loyal workers and soldiers in wartime, and reliable taxpayers in peacetime. 20th-century sovcorps can be classed broadly by their choice between two models of domestic security: educracy, in which the sovcorp manages the opinions of its subjects with an official education system and confirms that this system is working by subjecting itself to democratic elections, and securocracy, in which the sovcorp forgets democracy and simply trusts its security forces as the ultimate guardians of order.

This is a continuous spectrum: all securocratic sovcorps also maintain official education systems, and all educratic sovcorps have effective, trustworthy security forces. But there is generally a consistent pattern of dominance in conflicts between educational and security agencies – for example, between journalists and policemen – which favors one or the other.

Official education was an essential step in Washcorp’s new goal for the 20th century, the conquest of Europe. By intervening in the First Great War, Europe’s first total civil war since 1815, at a point when the Central and Entente Powers had nearly defeated each other, Washcorp smashed the remnants of the Concert of Europe, destroyed the House of Romanov and conveyed its possessions to the new, ultraprogressive and ultraviolent sovcorp Sovetskiy Soyuz, and began the process of remodeling Europe as a cluster of Washcorp client states. By forming an alliance with Sovetskiy Soyuz, the notorious Popular Front, and by using diplomatic ultimatums to intimidate the Japanese sovcorp Dai Nippon into a hopeless preemptive attack, Washcorp inserted itself into the Second Great War, completed the destruction of Europe and Japan with merciless, indiscriminate bombing campaigns that killed more than a million civilians, and graduated to the task of dividing global power between itself and Sovetskiy Soyuz. When you’re feelin’ it, as they say, you’re feelin’ it.

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Period ended in 1933 with the rise of the Voldemort system, or New Deal. Washcorp had destroyed its financial system by adopting the British model of central banking, in which Washcorp itself guaranteed the value of private loans. During the 1920s this created a pyramid of debt substantially exceeding the quantity of gold available to pay it, and when the pyramid collapsed Plainland – along with most other countries – was devastated. This set the stage for the rise of an unscrupulous aristocrat, Lord Franklin Voldemort, often known simply as That Man, whose rule inaugurated the current Fourth or Universalist Corporation.

Lord Voldemort, elected on a platform of scaling back Washcorp, instead seized absolute power, eliminating the last formal limits to Washcorp’s domestic power. His staff of extreme Progressives dedicated themselves to implementing Bellamy’s vision of an Industrial Army, an ideal planned society in which Washcorp employees coordinated all productive activity in Plainland. (Voldemort even put his name on a book called Looking Forward.) Nationalist holdouts prevented this vision from being realized before Washcorp’s intervention in the Second Great War, but after 1941 the last anti-Voldemort forces were politically isolated and destroyed. The postwar period saw an enormous expansion of official education in the Progressive tradition, completing and cementing the Fourth Corporation, which rules Plainland to this day.

All official education in Plainland today instructs Plainlanders to revere Lord Voldemort and his movement. All orthodox political factions claim pure Voldemortian descent. And all private businesses operate as quasiautonomous subsidiaries of Washcorp, which has settled on the elegant design of allowing their managers full entrepreneurial freedom, while maintaining total regulatory control over their operational policies and procedures.

However, all is not utterly copacetic in Plainland. The 1920s saw the first outbreaks of genuine anti-Washcorp murmuring since the War of Southern Separation, as some Plainlanders started to realize that their interests and Washcorp’s were not always identical. After the proto-Voldemortian era of Progressive fanatic Woodrow Wilson, the Return to Normalcy – ie, sanity – of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge actually reduced the size and importance of Washcorp. The same feat was achieved by Ronald Reagan, and attempted unsuccessfully by a variety of failed political rebellions, such as those of Strom Thurmond, Joseph McCarthy, Barry Goldwater, and George Wallace. While none of these movements actually aimed at the destruction of Washcorp, and none had any chance of permanently checking its expansion, they can only be described as worrisome.

One fascinating response to the development of discontent is the rise of pro-Washcorp ultraloyal pseudo-opposition movements, comparable to Catholic ultramontanism. After the Second Great War, the size, efficiency and ideological consistency of Washcorp’s system of official education considerably increased. The 1960s saw the harvest of this program, with the rise of extremist ultra movements such as the SDS. The SDS’s manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, is worth reading in full – as a Universalist confession, as an expression of faith in the absolute righteousness of Washcorp (if led, of course, by the enlightened), and an action plan for seizing the universities and redoubling the ideological intensity of official education. Needless to say, the plan succeeded, and the ideas of the SDS are now mainstream.

With Washcorp becoming the default employer and financial guardian of all Plainlanders, political conflict in Plainland increasingly transitioned to a highly stable phase in which all significant conflict was not between pro-Washcorp and anti-Washcorp Plainlanders, but between different factions within Washcorp itself.

These battles tended to play out in Washcorp’s so-called “foreign policy.” In the 1940s, the high Voldemortian plan of creating a single global sovcorp, by converting the victorious alliance of the Second Great War, the United Nations, into a permanent sovcorp cartel which could cohere gradually in the usual manner, suffered a major setback when a schism appeared between Washcorp and its primary progressive client, Sovetskiy Soyuz. This Anglo-Soviet split was due to the paranoid, militaristic management style of the securocratic progressive “people’s democracies,” as was demonstrated by further mafia-style catfights, such as the Titoist and Maoist splits with Moscow.

However, the Anglo-Soviet split also divided Washcorpers into one faction whose primary goal was opposing Soviet power, and another faction whose primary goal was healing the split and restoring unity in the global progressive movement. These factions faced off in three Asian proxy wars, two of which actually involved Plainlander slave soldiers: the Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese civil wars.

In the Chinese civil war, different departments of Washcorp backed opposing armies, with the State Department supporting Mao and the Pentagon Chiang. State succeeded with the aid of the New Deal political general George Marshall, imposing an arms embargo on Chiang, who was reactionary and corrupt, and ensuring his defeat at the hands of Mao, who was a murderous megalomaniac. Not only did Mao murder 30 million Chinese, but only three years later his slave armies were fighting directly against the Pentagon’s own.

It was slightly difficult to explain to Plainlanders that, while Hitler’s Nazi myrmidons were so evil that it was necessary to level Germany and accept no terms but unconditional surrender, Mao’s progressive volunteers could not even be frowned at until they had actually crossed the Korean border – and preferably not even the 38th parallel. Progress, however, can explain anything, and by the 1950s Washcorp had had a lot of practice.

The even more bizarre gladiatorial bloodbath of Vietnam, in which it was almost impossible to recognize anything resembling a military strategy or objective, was so hard for Plainlanders to understand that it actually wound up as a political victory for the ultra-loyalist radicals, now recognizable as our modern-day “blue-state” Coasters. Vietnam was so confusing that after the Pentagon had won a complete military victory over the South Vietnamese insurgents, State prevailed by simply capturing Congress and imposing a surprise arms embargo on the corrupt, reactionary leaders of South Vietnam, treating them much as it had treated Chiang. The resulting North Vietnamese invasion surely reminded a few diplomatic silverbacks of the good old Popular Front days, when the Red Army rode into Poland on Plainland-made Jeeps.

The pattern repeated itself across most of the planet. Any ally was a good ally for State, so long as it was not reactionary and corrupt, ie, an ally of the Pentagon. The more nationalist, socialist, and violent, however, the better. For some reason it was important for Washcorp to have more allies in more places than Sovetskiy Soyuz, and these three factions – Pentagon, State, and Soviet – competed for the privilege of funneling money and weapons to the murderous and criminally mismanaged Third World sovcorps that emerged from the postwar destruction of European law and order in most of Africa and Asia. Tens of millions of people were killed and billions left destitute in this new imperial scramble, which is still described today as the “liberation” and “independence” of the Third World. Apparently “liberation” requires the rule of sovcorps whose managers have the right skin color, and “independence” involves receiving billions of dollars a year in “aid.”

The so-called “conservative” strategy, in which confused, half-brainwashed Middlers attempted to revolt against the Coaster departments of Washcorp through aggressive military provocations overseas, which if victorious would strengthen Middler politicians and the Middler-dominated armed forces (now mercifully relieved of slave troops), after a few minor successes in the 1980s and 1990s found its tragic, yet blackly comical, Waterloo in Iraq.

After a spectacular attack by neo-Islamic progressive terrorists on New York, Plainlanders became vehemently, if temporarily, done with the systematic adoration of any Third World thug whose only saving grace was to be an enemy of the Pentagon. Coasters found it impossible to prevent the Pentagon’s invasion of Iraq, whose ruling sovcorp, Baathco, had done an exceptionally poor job of maintaining its membership as a State Department client. Instead Baathco had cultivated the Europeans, leaving two degrees of separation between itself and State. Two turned out to be one too many.

The invasion of Iraq was a smashing military success. But it was a tactical success and a strategic defeat, because the tremendous political power of 21st-century progressivism left the Pentagon with no viable options. It could not rule Iraq as a possession, as Arthur MacArthur had in the Philippines. It could not govern Iraq as a subjugated enemy, like his son in Japan. It could not restore a monarchy, as Kermit Roosevelt had in Iran. It could not even install one of its patented reactionary, corrupt dictators, like Chiang or Diem or Syngman Rhee.

No, the same military force that subjugated the South of Plainland itself and ruled it under the Lieber Code, which let it shoot any uniformless combatant, without a trial – that, under the same code, invaded the Philippines and turned it into one of the most famously pro-Washcorp regions outside Plainland itself – that obliterated Germany and Japan from the air, killing a million civilians, and reconstructed them as pacifist communes under the notorious JCS 1067 – could only execute a politically and militarily absurd plan which installed a democratic sovcorp, using proportional representation of all systems, promised to leave as soon as the ballots were dry, and bound itself to obey rules of engagement probably insufficient to impose order in Newark, New Jersey.

It might as well have issued every Iraqi with an AK-47, an RPG and three IEDs, and ordered everyone to join a paramilitary gang as soon as possible, winners to be selected by whatever prowess they could demonstrate in killing Plainlanders.

While this strategy was certainly well-designed for Coaster factions to prevent a military and hence Middler victory, it was not exactly designed to make Washcorp popular among Middlers. As if it they didn’t love it already! And with its security forces essentially in the hands of its enemies, Washcorp faces a difficult political struggle. As its educational system becomes increasingly stagnant and moribund, inculcating at least as much apathy as loyalty, its natural evolution would be to transition from educracy to securocracy. But its own military caste despises it profoundly.

The only way to keep them in check is more democracy. Which means extending the franchise. Which, since the entire framework of nationalism depends on the identity between geography, sovcorp and population, and the ideal solution of letting actual Europeans vote in Washcorp elections is simply beyond reach, means importing more and more Beringian voters from Mexico, while reducing the power of the White House (no Democrat has won the Euro-Plainlander presidential vote since Lyndon Johnson), in favor of that of Congress, which through seniority and gerrymandering has achieved the ideal Universalist combination of democratic legitimacy and civil-service stability. As demonstrated by its approval ratings, which seem to hover barely in the double digits without any degradation of power. Whereas if a President has an 11% rating, not even his hairdresser will do his combover the way he asks.

Now that the last strategy which seemed to offer some hope to Middlers, invading the world and restoring Western civilization to places from which it has spent the last hundred years evaporating, is off the table, the evolutionary path of Washcorp seems obvious. Until such time as its creditors tire of loaning it another trillion dollars every year, it will join Eurocorp in its gradual progress toward becoming a bureaucratic, Brezhnevian Beamtenstaat. As in Europe, the distinction between working as a direct employee of Washcorp and working for a “private” company will become increasingly irrelevant, as companies become branded, financially independent arms of the State in which the entire process of production is dictated by regulation, a la ISO 9000 or Sarbox.

So: this is Washcorp. I hope I have covered the major points. Hopefully for any missing details, it should be reasonably easy to translate the official story to fit with the above. The official story is almost never wrong as a matter of fact. It is usually just interpretation.

Of course, even if this jaundiced and decidedly unofficial biography of Washcorp is an accurate perspective, Hume’s ought does not entitle us to claim that Washcorp is evil. Still less are we left with any idea of what to do about it, if it is.

However, there are still some interesting observations we can make.

The first observation is that the employees of Washcorp are overwhelmingly Universalist – except for the disgruntled military.

The second is that Washcorpers think of their employer as a fundamentally charitable – ie, eleemosynary – institution. It’s not just that Washcorp has Google’s motto, “do no evil.” The point is so obvious that to state it is to sully it. The meaning of Washcorp is that Washcorp does good.

Not just for Plainland, of course, but for the whole world. Because Universalists do not, of course, value Plainlanders over any other neohominids. And Washcorpers are Universalists, so good to Washcorp is Universalist good. The archaic legacy policies and procedures that force Washcorp to discriminate in favor of Plainlanders are distasteful and detestable, and should be discarded as fast as possible. Ideally, Washcorp itself would become only an unimportant unit of a single global sovcorp.

The third is that, even though the source of Washcorp’s fundamental goodness is its connection to public opinion, which can never be misguided or evil, there is still a way to evaluate Washcorp without reference to the cult of democracy. Democracy, like the principle of divine right, legitimizes Washcorp’s ownership of Plainland. To a good Universalist, the only way in which Washcorp can become evil is if it abandons democracy, in which case it is no longer legitimate and should be treated as a tyrannical dictatorship. Until then, it is good. Etc.

A formalist, however, can duck this entire trap. A formalist has no interest at all in Washcorp’s political formula. She does not care whether Washcorp’s democracy is good democracy, bad democracy, or no democracy at all. To her, Washcorp simply owns Plainland. There is no why. Ownership is demonstrated by unchallenged control. Washcorp has it. Perhaps some debate is possible over what other parts of the world Washcorp owns. As far as Plainland goes, it’s a no-brainer.

The formalist, therefore, judges Washcorp only by its actions. She can say: why does Washcorp do X or Y? Why do the people involved with Washcorp act in ways that lead it to do X or Y? Would it be better, in her opinion, if it did Z instead? And – granted that Washcorp is invincible and cannot be destroyed – how, if at all, can she act to help change it into something whose actions are more desirable?

We’ll cover this next week. But essentially, my view is that people who oppose Washcorp are simply barking up the wrong tree. It’s not just that Washcorp can’t be defeated. It’s that even trying to weaken it is a mistake. Weaken a sovcorp, make it less efficient, and it compensates by getting larger and more complex.

Rather, I think only the way to fix Washcorp is to improve it out of existence. It needs to become so much more powerful and so much more efficient that it no longer exists as such. And this effort must not contradict Universalism in any way, shape or form. If this doesn’t make any sense or strike you as possible, please be patient and stay tuned.

How Dawkins got pwned (part 4)

October 18, 2007

(See part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

To review, I’ve argued that Professor Dawkins is pwned because he’s chosen quite unthinkingly to lend his literary talents to a received tradition I call Universalism, which is a nontheistic Christian sect. Some other current labels for this same tradition, more or less synonymous, are progressivism, multiculturalism, liberalism, humanism, leftism, political correctness, and the like. My only excuse for minting my own term is that these other labels, since they are in common use, imply various associations which may confuse the reader.

In my humble but convinced opinion, Universalism is far more important, far more dangerous, and far more antirational than its theistic Christian competitors, which Professor Dawkins attacks with such fury. He thinks he’s a Galileo, Vavilov or Darwin. But if my perspective is accurate, Professor Dawkins is more a Caccini, Lysenko or Wilberforce. He is pwned in every sense of the word, and history will treat him in its usual harsh manner. A few librarians may remember him as a curiosity of the era.

Of course, I am just a humble blogger and I have no control at all over history. Sometimes I write out my screeds in tiny, cramped longhand, and staple them to telephone poles. You, dear reader, should treat them as if you found them that way. After all, anyone can start a blog.

In my opinion, however, Universalism is the dominant modern branch of Christianity on the Calvinist line, evolving from the English Dissenter or Puritan tradition through the Unitarian, Transcendentalist, and Progressive movements. Its ancestral briar patch also includes a few sideways sprigs that are important enough to name but whose Christian ancestry is slightly better concealed, such as Rousseauvian laicism, Benthamite utilitarianism, Reformed Judaism, Comtean positivism, German Idealism, Marxist scientific socialism, Sartrean existentialism, Heideggerian postmodernism, etc, etc, etc. All but the first can be traced back to the first, and Rousseau himself was a Genevan and acknowledged his political debt to Calvin’s republic. So Universalism traces almost all of its memetic DNA to this hateful little phony, this pissant, heretic-roasting tyrant on the lake, Jehan Cauvin – so well-sketched by Stefan Zweig.

Which is no reason to automatically condemn it. After all, Scarlett Johansson traces all of her actual DNA to chimps. Evolution can change anything. Universalism as we know it today, a la Port Huron Statement, would be quite unrecognizable to any of its 16th-century or 17th-century ancestors. It would shock the living daylights out of most of its 18th-century or 19th-century ones. It is what it is. It is not something else.

Most of my previous discussions of Universalism have been devoted simply to the task of demonstrating that the label is apt, that the tradition is real, and that its pedigree is accurate. I don’t regard this as audacious at all, since most religions and other traditions in history have been named by their enemies. Labels such as Unitarian, Methodist, Whig, Tory, and many others originated as hostile slurs and were subsequently accepted as accurate.

But again, the thing can only be judged as itself. I’ve described a few ways in which I think Universalism should be considered harmful – for example, in part 3. But I don’t think I’ve really presented a high-level overview of the thing as it is today, abjuring any and all snide references to the Jukes and Kallikaks in its stud book.

Universalism, in my opinion, is best described as a mystery cult of power.

It’s a cult of power because one critical stage in its replicative lifecycle is a little critter called the State. When we look at the big U’s surface proteins, we notice that most of them can be explained by its need to capture, retain, and maintain the State, and direct its powers toward the creation of conditions that favor the continued replication of Universalism. It’s as hard to imagine Universalism without the State as malaria without the mosquito.

It’s a mystery cult because it displaces theistic traditions by replacing metaphysical superstitions with philosophical mysteries, such as humanity, progress, equality, democracy, justice, environment, community, peace, etc.

None of these concepts, as defined in orthodox Universalist doctrine, is even slightly coherent. All can absorb arbitrary mental energy without producing any rational thought. In this they are best compared to Plotinian, Talmudic, or Scholastic nonsense. (I link to this David Stove piece often, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to do so. No, this does not constitute an endorsement of everything that Professor Stove ever wrote.)

The Universalist mysteries are best regarded as mechanisms. When we apply our neohominid intuitions to a successful adaptive system such as Universalism, we should think of its goal as replicative success. Of course, a tradition is not a person, just as a meme is not a gene, and it no more has goals than a meme has Mendelian inheritance. It’s especially important not to confuse the personal goals of Universalists with the adaptive goals of Universalism. But with these caveats, we can use this analogy to deploy our mirror neurons in our own defense.

For Universalism as for any other tradition, the adaptive purpose of a mystery is to confuse its host. Lacking a clear perception of reality, the infected host behaves in ways that an uninfected host would not. We can call this confusion camouflage.

As compared to the behavior of the uninfected, sometimes these actions are beneficial to the host, or to a group which includes the host, but their actual effect is contrary to the host’s ethical standards. We can call this positive camouflage. Sometimes these actions are harmful to the host or a group which includes the host. We can call this negative camouflage.

If we can deploy the e-word, positive camouflage contributes to evil by convincing those who do evil that they are actually doing good. For example, if we believe Himmler’s Posen speech, those who perpetrated the Holocaust believed that they were carrying out a difficult but necessary duty. Negative camouflage contributes to evil by preventing its victims from resisting it. While we’re on Nazis, the great example is the Oxford Union peace resolution.

Of course, if we are to deploy the e-word, we have to tackle the thorny problem of defining good and evil. We have two approaches to this.

One, we can define our moral axis with respect to Universalism itself. For example, if we apply this test to Nazism, we see that Nazism was evil even with respect to itself. Nazi ethics defined good as the power and prosperity of the Deutsche Volk and its guide Adolf Hitler. The result of Nazi policies was the physical destruction of Germany, the conversion of the German people to Universalism, the total suppression of Volkisch thought, and the death of Adolf Hitler – not exactly as advertised. This approach gives us reflexive evil or reflexive good.

Two, we can define our moral axis with respect to the personal or reproductive interests of you yourself, dear reader. If this criterion makes sense only with respect to a group, we can speak of the group of UR readers – which includes me, because I sometimes do try to slog through my own long posts. If Universalism harms or advances your or our personal interests, we say it exhibits Misesian evil or good. If it harms or advances your or our reproductive interests, it exhibits Darwinian evil or good.

Darwinian morality is an especially good reality check, because the neohominid brain is of course designed to advance its own Darwinian interests. Any tradition that can persuade it to do otherwise has to be some pretty heavy crack. As we’ll see, Universalism more than fits the bill. However, to generate a really strong moral conclusion, we’d like to see agreement among all three criteria: reflexive, Misesian and Darwinian.

One easy way to do this is to examine some scenarios in which Universalism could lead to either the extinction of the neohominid species, or the destruction of Western civilization. Clearly, any such result represents the triumph of reflexive, Misesian and Darwinian evil. And if such results are plausible, worrying about anything smaller is a waste of time.

Let’s unravel this problem by starting with the Universalist mystery of progress, which Professor Dawkins calls the Zeitgeist or Spirit of Time.

First, it’s worth noting that chapter 7 of The God Delusion, in which Professor Dawkins introduces this concept, opens with a quote by one Sean O’Casey:

Politics has slain its thousands, but religion
has slain its tens of thousands.

La Wik describes O’Casey as a “nationalist and socialist.” Frankly, he sounds like an evil little fucker. The evil little fucker was born in 1880, and presumably he uttered his little ort of shite at some point before nationalist, socialist politics – not to mention National Socialism proper – managed to slay its tens of millions. The fact that Professor Dawkins could, in 2007, quote this Stalinist flack and his fatuous, thoroughly-obsolete line – and his legion of acolytes swallow it without a hiccup – may be a sufficient demonstration of Universalist pwnage.

But if it’s worth continuing, it’s worth repeating Professor Dawkins’ definition of the Zeitgeist: a mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades. For some reason, these changes over the decades almost always favor Universalism itself. This is of course progress, and our Spirit of Time bears a suspicious resemblance to the MO of Divine Providence, minus of course the Divine bit.

Since Professor Dawkins does not have Providence to lean on, he is forced to find a rational explanation for this historical curiosity. His struggles are wonderful reading:

Where, then, have these concerted and steady changes in social consciousness come from? The onus is not on me to answer. For my purposes it is sufficient that they certainly have not come from religion.

Exeter Hall would beg to differ. So would Henry Ward Beecher, Walter Rauschenbusch, William Sloane Coffin, etc, etc.

We need to explain why the changing moral Zeitgeist is so widely synchronized across large numbers of people and we need to explain its relatively consistent direction.

Indeed.

First, how is it synchronized across so many people? It spreads itself from mind to mind through conversations in bars and at dinner parties, through books and book reviews, through newspapers and broadcasting, and nowadays through the Internet.

Not to mention the State and its entire educational system, from kindergarten to grad school. Obviously this is less important than “bars and dinner parties.” But I’m just saying.

Changes in the moral climate are signalled in editorials, on radio talk shows, in political speeches, in the pattern of stand-up comedians and the scripts of soap operas, in the votes of parliaments making laws and the decisions of judges interpreting them.

That’s an interesting word – “signalled.”

One way to put it would be in terms of changing meme frequencies in the meme pool, but I shall not pursue that.

Fortunately, Professor Dawkins, you don’t have to.

What impels it in its consistent direction? We mustn’t neglect the driving role of individual leaders who, ahead of their time, stand up and persuade the rest of us to move on with them.

Curiously enough, leaders come in all kinds of flavors. We mustn’t neglect the fascinating question of why the Universalist ones always win, and the others always lose. Oh, wait, we must neglect it. Obviously these aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

In America, the ideals of racial equality were fostered by political leaders of the calibre of Martin Luther King,

I know it’s cheap, but I simply can’t resist the temptation to attach a little innuendo to the word “calibre.” As Dr. King himself put it, “I’m not a Negro tonight!”

and entertainers, sportsmen and other public figures such as Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson.

Isn’t it interesting how the Zeitgeist seems to correlate with dermal pigmentation?

The emancipations of slaves and of women owed much to charismatic leaders. Some of these leaders were religious; some were not. Some who were religious did their good deeds because of they were religious. In other cases their religion was incidental.

Presumably if Professor Dawkins discovered a fossil which looked a little like a chimpanzee and a little like a neohominid, he might regard it as an indication of a link between the two. Sadly, in the memetic department, this lobe of his brain seems to be in the off position.

Although Martin Luther King was a Christian, he derived his philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience directly from Gandhi, who was not.

The number of historical solecisms in this sentence is astounding. The modern idea of civil disobedience – that is, breaking the actual legal law, in favor of some mysterious higher law, an obvious case of positive camouflage – dates to neither King nor Gandhi, but to Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, who were of course direct ancestors of Universalism.

As for Gandhi, this Richard Grenier essay is simply essential. But what it fails to point out is that Gandhi’s weird communist pseudo-Hinduism was a invention, a sort of Ossianism or Kwanzaa, an Indian equivalent of the phony Gaelic revival associated with the Fenian movement. Like Nehru, Gandhi was a British lawyer with brown skin. Their movement – like its Irish counterpart – succeeded entirely through its alliance with British political forces, and in specific the Nonconformist and proto-Universalist Labour Party. For example, in Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown, one character is a Nonconformist missionary nun, and it’s taken for granted that she has a picture of Gandhi on her wall and despises the Raj.

Anyway, to finish with this sport:

It is beyond my amateur psychology and sociology to go any further in explaining why the moral Zeitgeist moves in its broadly concerted way.

Professor Dawkins, if you were to go any less further, you’d need a rear-view mirror.

For my purposes it is enough that, as a matter of observed fact, it does move, and it is not driven by religion – and certainly not by scripture.

Which obviously makes it a product of pure reason.

It is probably not a single force like gravity, but a complex interplay of disparate forces like the one that propels Moore’s Law, describing the exponential increase in computer power.

Boys and girls, can you say “epicycle?”

The epicycle in Professor Dawkins’ theory of history is needed to explain why, when we look at history, good always prevails over evil. Or almost always:

Even when he was railing against Christianity, Hitler never ceased using the language of Providence: a mysterious agency which, he believed, had singled him out for a divine mission to lead Germany.

This second “mysterious agency” appears just six pages from Professor Dawkins’ own Zeitgeist. One really wonders whether this man has read his own book.

Of course, a theism-independent perspective of memetic evolution eliminates our need for the epicycle. What Professor Dawkins is observing is simply the selective success of Universalism. Universalism succeeded, by definition, because it was better-adapted than its competitors. Since Professor Dawkins is a Universalist, of course he views this as the triumph of good over evil. But his Zeitgeist is no more than the well-known fallacy of survivor bias. And Hitler’s Providence, which doubtless made itself scarce around 1942, is exactly the same animal.

So the question remains: why does good so consistently triumph over evil?

If we exclude supernatural forces which cause the good side to win elections, battles and wars, we are left with no explanation at all of this strange phenomenon, so reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. “Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads…”

It’s true that people want to be good. Perhaps we should expect them to flock to the good side, outnumbering the evil. On the other hand, when we remember the phenomenon of positive camouflage, and see that most who do evil think of themselves as doing good, it’s hard to take this seriously. And moreover, actual good has to be actually good, whereas evil by definition is capable of anything. If the military advantage is anywhere, it would seem to lie with the latter.

Essentially, what we’ve found behind this particular Universalist mystery is the assertion that Universalism has triumphed because Universalism is good and good triumphs. Good triumphs because Universalism is successful and Universalism is good. Spot the unsubstantiated assertion!

Just as we have no reason at all to assume that neohominid populations are geographically uniform, we have no reason at all to assume that Universalism is good – in either the reflexive, Darwinian, or Misesian sense. Of course we learned in school that Universalism is good, in at least the first and third senses. But who did we learn this from? Universalist teachers. Again, all we know is that Universalism is successful. And we can say the same of Universalism’s ancestors. The winners write history. If Nazism had won its war, citizens of the Nazi 2007 would see history as an inevitable progress toward the National Socialist present.

Thus, Universalist historicism is effective camouflage both negative and positive. The circular reasoning behind the mystery of progress, Zeitgeist or Providence dissuades those who might be harmed by Universalism from considering the possibility that Universalism is not, in fact, good, and needs to be fought against. And it persuades those whose interests Universalism advances that they are serving good, not evil.

We are now in a position to strip off this camouflage and have a look at what’s behind it.

If progress is simply the victory of Universalism, and Universalism need not be entirely good, we need to construct an interpretation of history which recognizes both progress and decay. Where Universalism is good, its victory is by definition progress. Where Universalism is bad, its victory must be decay. Without mysterious or supernatural pro-good forces, we would expect to see some mix of the former and the latter.

Let’s cap this exercise at about 250 years, ie, at 1757. Some Universalist distortions may go back farther, but they dwindle rapidly. Before this period it is usually hard, when reading a typical Universalist history, to tell which side is supposed to be righteous and which wrongtious. Once we get to the American and French Revolutions, we are left in no doubt.

It is very difficult for a modern American to construct the history of the last 250 years as a history of decay. Decay is especially concealed by the obvious history of technical and scientific progress. While this has no reason at all to correlate with political or cultural progress, the two are certainly not hard to confuse.

However, one way to look at the question is to look at the traditional opposite of the word progressive: that is, reactionary.

Howard Zinn, for example, has given us an progressive interpretation of history. What is a comparable reactionary narrative? Professor Zinn, of course, would like us to believe that any narrative less progressive than his is reactionary. But perhaps it is only reactionary compared to Professor Zinn.

What we really need is an interpretation of history so reactionary that it contains no Universalism or proto-Universalism at all. Instead, it should start with the mainstream perspective of 1757, and interpret all evidence of impending Universalism as the story of decline, disaster and decay.

Then, we can compare the progressive and reactionary narratives on a level playing field, evaluating the relative credibility of both, and decide on what points to accept which – thus allocating Universalist history, and implicitly Universalism itself, between progress and decay.

For this we need our pure reactionary theory of history. Needless to say, this is a very specialized product. It is not sold in any stores. It is not even found in a single volume. Nonetheless, the Internet is of great assistance in assembling the product.

If I had to pick ten books from which to construct a reactionary theory of modern history, I would pick – in order of composition, which makes a good reading order:

I’ve included links to online editions where available. All of these are, in my opinion, absolute classics and should be read by anyone even remotely interested in history.

(A question for readers: can anyone recommend a good reactionary history of the American Revolution? Or should I say, Rebellion? For some reason, I haven’t bumped into any Tory treatments which live up to the above standard.)

Let me also mention James Stephen‘s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, a wonderful book which is a little too close to the Maine to make this list, and also suffers from the disability that I have not yet read all of it. However, just to show that there is nothing new under the sun, here is how Stephen’s classic opens:

The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms, of which Positivism is the one best known to our generation, but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology. It deeply influences politics and legislation. It has its solemn festivals, its sober adherents, its enthusiasts, its Anabaptists and Antinomians. The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it, if the expression is used in a wider sense than the narrow and technical one associated with it by Comte. It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.

Such, stated of course in the most general terms, is the religion of which I take ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ to be the creed. I do not believe it.

I am not the advocate of Slavery, Caste, and Hatred, nor do I deny that a sense may be given to the words, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, in which they may be regarded as good. I wish to assert with respect to them two propositions.

First, that in the present day even those who use those words most rationally—that is to say, as the names of elements of social life which, like others, have their advantages and disadvantages according to time, place, and circumstance—have a great disposition to exaggerate their advantages and to deny the existence, or at any rate to underrate the importance, of their disadvantages.

Next, that whatever signification be attached to them, these words are ill-adapted to be the creed of a religion, that the things which they denote are not ends in themselves, and that when used collectively the words do not typify, however vaguely, any state of society which a reasonable man ought to regard with enthusiasm or self-devotion.

Compare to Maine’s brilliant reactionary blast:

It has always been my desire and hope to apply the Historical Method to the political institutions of men. But, here again, the inquiry into the history of these institutions, and the attempt to estimate their true value by the results of such an inquiry, are seriously embarrassed by a mass of ideas and beliefs which have grown up in our day on the subject of one particular form of government, that extreme form of popular government which is called Democracy. A portion of the notions which prevail in Europe concerning Popular Government are derived (and these are worthy of all respect) from observation of its practical working; a larger portion merely reproduce technical rules of the British or American constitutions in an altered or disguised form; but a multitude of ideas on this subject, ideas which are steadily absorbing or displacing all others, appear to me, like the theories of jurisprudence of which I have spoken, to have been conceived a priori. They are, in fact, another set of deductions from the assumption of a State of Nature. Their true source has never been forgotten on the Continent of Europe, where they are well known to have sprung from the teaching of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that men emerged from the primitive natural condition by a process which made every form of government, except Democracy, illegitimate. In this country they are not often explicitly, or even consciously, referred to their real origin, which is, nevertheless, constantly betrayed by the language in which they are expressed. Democracy is commonly described as having an inherent superiority over every other form of government. It is supposed to advance with an irresistible and preordained movement. It is thought to be full of the promise of blessings to mankind; yet if it fails to bring with it these blessings, or even proves to be prolific of the heaviest calamities, it is not held to deserve condemnation. These are the familiar marks of a theory which claims to be independent of experience and observation on the plea that it bears the credentials of a golden age, non-historical and unverifiable.

Let me quickly explain my reactionary theory of history, which comes from reading weird old forgotten books such as the above. Note that this theory is quite simple. Depending on your inclinations, you may regard this as a good thing or a bad thing.

In order to get to the reactionary theory of history, we need a reactionary theory of government. History, again, is interpretation, and interpretation requires theory. I’ve described this theory before under the name of neocameralism, but on a blog it never hurts to be a little repetitive.

First: government is not a mystical or mysterious institution. A government is simply a group of people working together for a common aim, ie, a corporation. Whether a government is good or bad is not determined by who its employees are or how they are selected. It is determined by whether the actions of the government are good or bad.

Second: the only difference between a government and a “private corporation” is that the former is sovereign: it has no higher authority to which it can appeal to protect its property. A sovereign corporation owns its territory, and maintains that ownership by demonstrating unchallenged control. It is stable if no other party, internal or external, has any incentive to attack it. Especially in the nuclear age, it is not difficult to deter prospective attackers.

Third: a good government is a well-managed sovereign corporation. Good government is efficient management. Efficient management is profitable management. A profitable government has no incentive to break its promises, abuse its citizens (who are its capital), or attack its neighbors.

Fourth: efficient management can be implemented by the same techniques in sovereign corporations as in nonsovereign ones. The company’s profit is distributed equally to holders of negotiable shares. The shareholders elect a board, which selects a CEO.

Fifth: although the full neocameralist approach has never been tried, its closest historical equivalents to this approach are the 18th-century tradition of enlightened absolutism as represented by Frederick the Great, and the 21st-century nondemocratic tradition as seen in lost fragments of the British Empire such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai. These states appear to provide a very high quality of service to their citizens, with no meaningful democracy at all. They have minimal crime and high levels of personal and economic freedom. They tend to be quite prosperous. They are weak only in political freedom, and political freedom is unimportant by definition when government is stable and effective.

Sixth: the comparative success of the American and European postwar systems appears to be due to their abandonment of democratic politics as a practical mechanism of government, in favor of a civil-service Beamtenstaat in which democratic politicians are increasingly symbolic. The post-communist civil-service states, China and Russia, appear to be converging on the same system, although their stability is ensured primarily by direct military authority, rather than by a system of managed public opinion.

Seventh: the post-democratic civil-service state, while not utterly disastrous, is not the end of history. It has two problems. One, the size and complexity of its regulatory system tends to increase without bound, resulting in economic stagnation and general apathy. Two, more critically, it can neither abolish democratic politics formally, nor defend itself against changes in information flow that may destabilize public opinion. Notably, the rise of the Internet disrupts the feedback loop between public education and political power, allowing noncanonical ideas to flourish. If these ideas are both rationally compelling and politically delegitimating, the state is threatened.

Eighth: therefore, productive political efforts should focus on peacefully terminating, restructuring and decentralizing the 20th-century civil-service state along neocameralist lines. The ideal result is a planet of thousands, even tens of thousands, of independent city-states, each managed for profit by its shareholders.

Note that this perspective has nothing at all in common with the Universalist theory of government. Note also the simplicity of the transition that it suggests should have happened, from monarchy as a family business to a modern corporate structure with separate board and CEO, eliminating the vagaries of the hereditary principle.

Now let’s look – from this reactionary perspective – at what actually did happen.

First, in America and Europe from the late 18th through the middle of the 19th century, we see a series of violent changes in power, in which states were overthrown and territories captured by disorganized mobs of their own residents, sometimes in cahoots with the army. These were called revolutions. They were almost entirely destructive phenomena, with no major point to recommend them. There is no revolution in this period which had benign results. The French revolutions of 1789 and 1830, for example, can be blamed entirely on irresolute monarchs without the courage, dexterity or both to use the military against the mob.

Moreover, even when states did not capitulate totally to revolutionary mobs, they often surrendered partially, as for example in the Reform Bill of 1832. This led to a progressive acceleration of democracy, and its inevitable accomplice, paramilitary violence. The US, for example, in the height of its democratic period from 1828 to 1932, was almost never without violent elections or political gangs. Democratic government before the civil-service era was also corrupt on an almost indescribable scale.

Democracy, and democratic ideologies and religions, had become power cults which attracted and selected for the ambitious and unscrupulous. Numerous corrupt systems which could command voting blocs sprung up, from urban ward-heeler machines to yellow-journalist newspapers. Deceiving the voting population was job one for these political engineers, and public opinion on all political subjects – government, law, economics, and war – began to diverge significantly from reality.

This situation culminated in the first great total war of the democratic era, the War of Secession between Union and Confederacy. The proximate cause of the War of Secession was the anti-slavery campaign, a political-religious nationalist movement in the North that harangued the South with apocalyptic rhetoric, supported paramilitary terrorist attacks on it, extracted vast quantities of tax through an almost punitive tariff, unilaterally and informally rewrote the Constitution to strengthen its own power and hold the South captive, and in general did everything it could to stoke Southern paranoia. But the latter was hardly lacking, as the South had developed its own bizarre nationalist movement, a romantic cult which glorified a hereditary caste system and threatened to invade the entire Western hemisphere, Yankeeland excluded – and only because it was bad land for sugarcane, tobacco or cotton. Neither of these competing nationalisms was conceivable in the 19th century, and both are most parsimoniously ascribed to the effect of 80 years of democracy on the mass mind.

The War of Secession was a war of mass destruction in which all previously known laws of war were violated, generally by the North with its revived Puritan cult of righteousness. It killed half a million men and brought happiness to none but the killers – not even the slaves, whose liberation was a sham but whose destitution was certainly not. As such it prefigured the even more destructive wars of the following century. It also destroyed the American tradition of limited government, setting the scene for the megastate to come.

Probably the most destructive result of the 19th-century democratic movement was the rise of militant nationalism, which beleaguered aristocratic elites found all too effective in deflecting the sympathies of the increasingly violent mob. Contrary to the promises of democrats, the first tastes of socialist plunder only whetted the mob’s appetite for more. Democratic factions divided according to their preferred food for this great beast: money or blood.

This jingoist tendency, also inconceivable in the 18th century, eventually culminated in the war which destroyed European civilization, the Great War. The first outbreak of the Great War, which lasted from 1914 to 1918 killed millions of young men and left Russia in the hands of a barbaric neo-Jacobin military death cult. The same cult later devastated Spain, where order was fortunately restored under a nationalist movement that was at least neither socialist nor expansionist. Finally, the ultimate synthesis of nationalism and socialism, fascism, restarted the Great War, which became a worldwide conflict between the militarist and socialist traditions. At the end of the Great War in 1945, memory of the belle epoque had dwindled to near extinction, and there was no significant political force which supported the restoration of the classical liberal era.

The US had succumbed to a socialist revolution under false electoral premises in 1932. This was primarily the result of a financial panic, which was caused by unscrupulous dilution of the currency in the boom of the 1920s, through the new Federal Reserve System. After the first phase of the Great War, the gold standard, which was never entirely stable under the Anglo-American fractional-reserve system, had been restored in a broken form (the “gold-exchange standard”) which was more tolerant of dilution through state-guaranteed maturity-mismatched lending, but not tolerant enough. The collapse of this system allowed inflationist economists to claim that capitalism itself had failed, not unlike the famous orphan who requested clemency for the murder of his parents. This brought on a socialist revolution, the New Deal, in which the Federal government and the Progressive civil-service machine claimed unlimited legislative power to deal with the emergency it had created for itself.

It has never relinquished this power, nor can it ever be expected to. It has never restored a metallic currency, nor can it ever be expected to. Its civil service and judiciary are entirely insulated from democracy. Its legislative body, which remains bicameral for reasons now only historical, has an incumbent reelection rate in the high 90s. Its two political parties, which are no longer meaningful organizations and are now mere labels, are identical on all substantive domestic policy issues. Most of their efforts are put into fighting proxy wars against each other, often involving American soldiers, on distant parts of the globe which have no relevance at all to domestic security. The Federal government consumes 30% of GNP, and the US borrows 6% of GNP from abroad every year just to stay afloat. Crime is rampant, with many parts of many major cities effectively uninhabitable by any civilized person, and a substantial criminal class. Some cities, such as Detroit, have been entirely cleansed of their white population and in some places are even reverting to prairie (but very dangerous prairie). Former residents of the cities, whose old Irish, Italian and Jewish quarters no longer exist, have fled to more defensible quarters in hideous strip-mall suburbs. Encouraged by both parties, which jockey for their votes, uneducated peasants from Latin America are flooding in unknown numbers across its uncontrolled borders. Fortunately, so far this new generation of immigrants has seen little of the joys of the criminal lifestyle, but this seems to change quickly for their children. In short, the US is rapidly becoming a Third World country, not unlike present-day Brazil. The only mercy is that its respite from democracy has lasted.

After the Great War, the socialist powers fell out, as gangs often do. The first split was the US-Soviet split, in which the latter turned out to be more interested in territory and power than in a position as a US satellite. In the resulting Cold War, these two powers dismembered the remnants of European law and order in the Third World, in the worst scramble for colonial supremacy the world had yet seen. Any pretext of bringing good government to uncivilized peoples was forgotten, and any nationalist thug, preferably as socialist as possible, was a satisfactory client for either side. Most of the non-European world, including even formerly civilized countries such as China, reverted to the rule of national-socialist warlords who competed for American and Soviet favor. Some, such as Yugoslavia and China, split from both factions and courted the aid of both. Perhaps a hundred million people around the world were murdered in this “liberation,” which is still revered as such worldwide. The supposedly “independent” countries of the Third World are still dependent on aid from the US and its European satellites. There is one independent Third World country in the world – Somaliland.

Meanwhile, competing branches of the US government still engage in Third World proxy wars, in which the Defense Department and its political allies and satellites (the Republican Party, the arms and energy industry, Israel) face off against the State Department and its allies and satellites (the Democratic Party, the NGOs and universities, Europe, Palestine). The true nature of these conflicts, which would end instantly if the US was under unitary leadership, or even if both American factions could agree to cut off all “aid” to all their foreign satellites, is admitted by no one. It is considered entirely normal that the US often arms, and always talks with, both sides of these bizarre, incurable pseudo-wars.

Lately, the old Third World national-socialist movement has managed to refit itself with an Islamic facade, and destroyed a couple of very large buildings in New York, killing thousands of people. No effective effort against the perpetrators has been mounted, probably because any successful American military effort brings political prestige to the American right and threatens to reignite the old era of nationalist jingoism, a threat which terrifies the American left – and for good reason. So many individuals involved with the attack live and continue their efforts in a country which is not at war with the US, nor vice versa. Most Americans consider this entirely normal. The concept of war itself has been under attack for the last fifty years, in favor of an entirely new legal model which is derived from domestic criminal justice, and which seems designed to make it as difficult as possible for civilized forces to defeat uncivilized ones, a theory which certainly fits the short-term political needs of its proponents. The resulting concept of “asymmetric warfare” is also generally accepted, with only a little grumbling, as a necessary burden that must be shouldered by our great and moral nation.

Other than this, everything is fine. Technology is moving along pretty well. Moore’s Law continues to zoom along. We have fast computers and fancy mobile phones and other things that no one in the 18th century could dream of. If they could see our political system, however, I’m afraid they’d understand it all too well.

Frankly, any system of thought that can convincingly present this history as a case of progress is capable of anything. Readers may, of course, differ with my interpretation of events. But hopefully at this point they at least understand why I see Universalism as a parasitic tradition.

Next week, I’ll talk about how Universalism could destroy the world, the species, or at least just civilization. As always, please feel free to anticipate me in the comments.

Some quick meta-comments

October 16, 2007

As always I’m happy to see the active and fascinating discussion on Dawkins part 3, but I would like to remind commenters to keep it civil.

A good rule of thumb is that there are no evil people reading UR. Evil does exist, but the evil have better things to do with their evil-hours. So if you disagree with someone, either she is sincere but misguided, or you are. Since it is almost never possible to convince someone that she is sincere but misguided, in general the only parties to impress with this wisdom are third. I find that if I keep a rubber band around my wrist and snap it every time I start to forget this, it helps restrain some of my more appalling rhetorical excesses.

While its signal-to-noise ratio was not perhaps the highest, the whole thread was quite interesting. I expected much more Universalist fundamentalism. I didn’t expect some of the criticisms I did get.

Perhaps the most unexpected response was summed up by Victor’s reaction:

Perhaps it’s just the social circles I move in. I majored in computer science and math, I am an officer at a technology corporation, and never had much to do with the PoMos and the social studies/litcrit crowds. Or perhaps it’s just our personal disagreements about what constitutes an extreme self-caricaturing ‘liberal’. However, I am very serious here — this guy I spoke of was the first such type I had met in my entire life. Until I met him, I was vaguely theoretically aware that such people might possibly exist, but it was the same way we are aware of cannibalism — sure, it happens, but it’s not something you ever expect to run across.

I have a fairly similar background to Victor’s – with the major exception that I didn’t grow up in the Soviet Union – and I see no reason at all to think he’s being disingenuous.

Until my faith in democracy started to waver, I didn’t have a sense of how weird it is that ordinary people (or even very smart ones, such as Victor) are expected to construct, in their copious spare time, an accurate perspective of what the world’s great problems are, and how best to fix them. Of course hardly anyone does any such thing. Instead there are sundry official organs which present us with these problems – global warming, or terrorism, or poverty, or whatever – and we then use our inner lights to compute optimal solutions.

So Victor is probably aware, in a distant sort of way, that anyone in the US in 2007 can be expelled from any educational institution, or fired from any job, for saying what Professor Huxley said in 1871. Or that in many countries in Europe, one could even be prosecuted for it. Especially if one refuses to recant.

And perhaps he has even read Vaclav Havel on the post-totalitarian system, and he knows (how could he not know?) that this is exactly how late Communism managed dissent:

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. . . .

The bill is not long in coming. He will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse. His pay will be reduced. His hopes for a holiday in Bulgaria will evaporate. His children’s access to higher education will be threatened. His superiors will harass him and his fellow workers will wonder about him. Most of those who apply these sanctions, however, will not do so from any authentic inner conviction but simply under pressure from conditions, the same conditions that once pressured the greengrocer to display the official slogans. They will persecute the greengrocer either because it is expected of them, or to demonstrate their loyalty, or simply as part of the general panorama, to which belongs an awareness that this is how situations of this sort are dealt with, that this, in fact, is how things are always done, particularly if one is not to become suspect oneself.

But to Victor, who actually experienced late Communism personally, I suspect the differences are more obvious than the similarities. The pattern is not obvious. Why would it be obvious? There is no newspaper shouting it from the mountaintops. There is no TV station broadcasting it. All you have is a few fringe, wacko blogs – such as UR.

And perhaps it is not even a pattern at all, just a false analogy. There is no “scientific” way to interpret history. We neohominids and/or our “inner lights” are all on our own.

Also, a couple of points about Huxley’s quote.

First: in our Universalist era, it’s a little difficult for us to understand what anyone might mean by “the highest places in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins.”

Huxley was not talking about individuals here (note his qualification of the “average negro”). He was expressing Social Darwinist views about the conflict between racial nations. (Universalists interpret the word nation as an entirely political or at most geographic term, but its root is the Latin natus, meaning of course birth.) If we could pull Huxley into 2007, a list of successful individuals with some sub-Saharan African descent would not convince him of anything. He would want to see national success stories from the “dusky peoples.” Of which there are – for whatever reason – none at all.

(I should also point out that, in 2007, there is no good non-ironic use for the English word “dusky” – except perhaps to rhyme with other archaisms, such as “bosky.” We have at least made progress in some departments.)

Second: fraternism versus afraternism is a continuum in many ways. The most logically consistent fraternist interpretation – I myself believed this for many years – is the “strong blank slate” theory, that there is no neurological heritability at all, and a neohominid brain is just a lump of programmable neurons. Unfortunately, while this is nice in theory, it seems quite inconsistent with reality.

Once you acknowledge that – as JewishAtheist puts it – Britney Spears and Mozart were not interchangeable as babies – you have a logical problem, because either you believe that this structure of variation is identical across all neohominid subpopulations, or you believe that neohominid subpopulations vary in their genetic potential for economically significant tasks. The former belief is implausible to the point of miraculousness, and is certainly not supported by any credible body of evidence. The latter belief, at least by most people’s definition of the word, makes you a “racist,” and expressing it will get you expelled, fired, prosecuted, etc.

So when JA points out that:

The lower black SAT average acceptance rates mean that a larger fraction of the lower scoring white/jewish/asian applicants get rejected from the same school. There’s certainly a case to be made that this is unfair and possibly unconstitutional. There is NOT a case to be made that this causes very significant harm to whites/jews/asians, especially when pretty much everybody who should go to college can go to a decent college somewhere these days.

I totally agree. That some jewish kid has to go to Haverford instead of Harvard may be an injustice – for some values of the word “justice” – but, on a historical scale, it barely tips the needle. In theory this is nontrivial morbidity (it is certainly an injustice by Universalist standards). But it ain’t much to write home about.

For example, much more serious disabilities were applied to Jews in the US before World War II. And while most of us wouldn’t regard this as good, American anti-Semitism is not exactly up there with the sack of Samarkand as one of history’s great atrocities.

Again: history is not a set of facts but an interpretation of patterns. If you don’t see the pattern, you won’t see the problem. I’ll talk more about this on Thursday.

How Dawkins got pwned (part 3)

October 11, 2007

(See part 1 and part 2, and perhaps 2.5. Chomei at Toyama also may help put you in the right mood for this big downer of a post.)

This week I’d like to discuss some morbidity issues around Universalism.

To review: having made a case that there is such a thing as Universalism, that it is a nontheistic Christian tradition, and that the distinction between theistic and nontheistic traditions is not terribly significant (see also Eric Hoffer, who said much the same thing in The True Believer), it seems reasonable to take a fresh look at the effect of Universalism on present-day society, and to decide in which ways its effects can be described as positive or negative.

We should certainly expect to find positive effects of Universalism. If nothing else, any decent memetic parasite has the trivial positive effect of interfering with, undercutting, and generally destroying any potential competitors. For example, one cannot simultaneously be an Aztec and a Catholic. (Or at least not a good Aztec and a good Catholic.)

G.K. Chesterton had a handle on the trivial positive effect when he noted that when people try to believe in nothing, they often wind up believing in anything. Universalists think they believe in nothing. In reality they believe in Universalism. And this has the trivial positive effect of keeping them from worshiping anything else, such as Baal, Hitler, or Manchester United. Like clean water, fresh air, or a good selection of ethnic restaurants, the trivial positive effect is easy to forget until you find yourself without it.

There are probably other positive effects of Universalism. And we should probably note them when we stumble over them. If only to be fair. However, hiding its light under a bushel is not exactly Universalism’s style. Why would it be? So let’s accentuate the negative.

In describing the negative effects of Universalism, we’re looking for three basic criteria. First, we want to show that the theme is arational, that is, alien to reason. Second, we want to show that it is adaptive, ie, that it helps Universalism (and itself) propagate. Third, we want to show that it is morbid, ie, that it makes bad stuff happen.

“Morbidity” just means “badness.” Badness is always in the eye of the beholder. However, an easy way to escape this problem of Hume’s ought is to use the standards of Universalism itself. This gets a little tricky when Universalism contradicts itself, but we’ll deal. Recall also that, by the standards of Universalism itself, any arationality is trivially morbid. But I’m afraid we may turn up some less trivial morbidities.

If we find no arational, adaptive morbid themes, we can conclude that Universalism is not a parasitic tradition at all. It is actually a symbiotic tradition. I don’t think there are any historical examples of a perfectly symbiotic tradition, but perhaps Universalism is simply the first. (It certainly claims to be the first.)

We’d also like to understand the ancestry of these themes. As several commenters pointed out, explaining (for example) that some theme originated in 17th-century England, among some group of people now generally acknowledged as major wackjobs, does not show that it’s arational or morbid. But it may help us understand why the theme is so successful. And it often helps to start with ancestry, because it creates a nice narrative flow.

Let’s start with what might well be Universalism’s central belief, the principle of fraternism. Fraternism is the belief that all men men and women are created born equal.

As my jocular overstrikes indicate, the ancestry of fraternism ain’t exactly no Voynich manuscript. Universalism is a generally pietist strain of Protestant Christianity. Pietism deemphasizes ritual, authority, and God, in favor of devotion, equality, and Man. Universalism could be summarized easily as the worship of humanity, and indeed the New Testament is positively strewn with fraternist doxology. I’ll go with Occam on this one.

From a theological perspective, there’s an easy way to see why all men and women are born equal. It’s because they all have souls, and a soul is a soul. There is no such thing as a big soul, a little soul, a yellow soul, a green soul, or a white soul. In fact, to a modern Universalist, there is not even such a thing as a bad soul. All dogs go to Heaven, and all souls are good. (If there’s anyone we have to thank for this one, it’s Emerson.) If a person does bad things, it is not that his or her soul is bad but that it is in some way wounded, untaught or misguided.

Of course Universalism does not use the word soul. Instead it deploys the word human.

This word human, in Universalism, is what I call a cult word. Its emotional associations are so strong that it’s simply impossible to reason around. God is of course a cult word to a theist (and, in its own way, to an atheist – which is why I prefer “nontheist”).

If I was writing Professor Dawkins’ book, and I actually wanted to convince believers rather than just whipping the choir into a mouth-foaming orgy of hate, I might start by changing the word. One might say: assuming that God is the same thing as Manitou, does Manitou exist? If your reader is unwilling to accept a mere change of labels, he or she is beyond reason. Otherwise, the discussion has freed itself from unproductive emotional reflexes.

Similarly, we can avoid the word human by deploying the precise Linnean term hominid. Or it should be precise, anyway. The paleontologists seem to change its meaning every five minutes. As per La Wik, the current proper term for “bipedal ape” is hominan – which gets less than 1000 Google hits. People! Are you trying to confuse us? Until you get your story straight, I’ll stick with hominid as anything in genus Homo.

If the fossil record is to be believed (who knows – maybe all those bones date to 4004 BC, when Manitou instantiated the universe), the past contained quite a few types of hominid whose like is no longer to be found. Which I have to say is a pity. Perhaps they would have made good pets. However, we can refer to the set of hominids now living on Planet Three as neohominids.

A human is a neohominid with a soul. But since all neohominids have souls, the qualification is redundant. So we can restate Universalist fraternism: all neohominids are born equal.

Now, let’s evaluate this proposition. First, we need to describe whether it is factual, ethical, or metaphysical. Is it a description of reality? Does it ascribe moral valence to some action? Or is it just a sticky lump of linguistic ambergris?

I think most Universalists consider fraternism factual. Some might say it’s also ethical, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Universalists consider it unethical to act on or propagate afraternism (disbelief in fraternism). If fraternism is true, afraternism is false, and since it is unethical to act on or propagate a lie, the factual case covers this.

So fraternism is a factual claim. Next we need to consider what this sentence is actually saying. We get neohominids, we get born, but what about this word equal?

An alien might well assume it meant identical. So for example, all black 2007 Honda Civic DXes are created equal. There may be some minor assembly differences, but we would not expect these differences to matter, at least to whoever is buying the vehicle, and we would not expect to see any detectable patterns of difference, except of course for option package, etc. And neohominids don’t have option packages – though it would certainly be cool if they did.

However, we notice various differences between newborn neohominids, such as the shape of the nose, the texture of the hair, the color of the poop, etc, etc. So identical is not an option. We are left with the conclusion that congenital differences between neohominids are in some sense unimportant.

For example, perhaps these differences do not affect the neohominid’s ability to succeed at various tasks of economic significance. While this was not true in the past, in the world of 2007 most of a neohominid’s economic productivity is the result of its central nervous system. Of course, the CNS of a newborn neohominid is not only unproductive, but downright annoying. What we mean is obviously its potential for development. And we can also disregard diseased or otherwise malformed individuals.

So, without I think much loss of information, we can state fraternism as the proposition that all healthy neohominids are born with equal potential for neurological development. Is this proposition rational, or arational?

Whichever it is, Professor Dawkins certainly buys it. He writes (p. 266, TGD):

Thomas Henry Huxley, by the standards of his times, was an enlightened and liberal progressive. But his times were not ours, and in 1871 he wrote the following:

No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man. And if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favor, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried out by thoughts and not by bites. The highest places in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins.

It is a commonplace that good historians don’t judge statements from past times by the standards of their own… Had Huxley… been born and educated in our time, [he] would have been the first to cringe with us at [his] Victorian sentiments and unctuous tone. I quote them only to illustrate how the Zeitgeist moves on.

What, exactly, is this Zeitgeist thing? Is it anything like Manitou? We’ll return to this fascinating question.

In any case, had Professor Huxley been born and educated in North Korea, he would have been the first to praise the Dear Leader. Had he been born and educated in 4th-century Byzantium, he would have been the first to perform the proskynesis before the Emperor Constantine. Had my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

And had Professor Huxley himself been extracted from 1871 – perhaps the Zeitgeist has some kind of supplemental time-travel feature – he might want to know why Professor Dawkins disagrees so confidently – so, dare I say, unctuously – with him. This arrogant, bewhiskered troglodyte, still damp with the ichor of the twelfth dimension, might even dare to demand some actual evidence.

Obviously, it would be easy for us to satisfy Professor Huxley. Once he saw that one out of five Americans drives a Haitian car, that the last two winners of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry hailed from Papua New Guinea, and that Japan has trouble exporting anything it can trade for Mozambican semiconductors, I’m sure he’d sing a different tune. As Thomas Friedman once put it, back when he had something to say, “a Swiss soldier stole my Syrian watch.”

In all seriousness, what is the evidence for fraternism? Why, exactly, does Professor Dawkins believe that all neohominids are born with identical potential for neurological development? He doesn’t say. Perhaps he thinks it’s obvious.

Perhaps, if he’s anything like Cosma Shalizi (and Professor Shalizi is, if anything, even smarter than Professor Dawkins), he believes that there is no convincing evidence that all neohominids are not born with identical potential for neurological development. Similarly, another very smart person, Aaron Swartz, sees no convincing evidence that neohominid males and females are not neurologically identical.

Of course, Professor Dawkins has no convincing evidence that Manitou does not exist. Now isn’t this fascinating? Don’t you just love these double negatives?

What we have here is a factual proposition which has swept to dominance not through the presentation of any evidence, but by the simple trick of reassigning the burden of proof to rest solely on those who doubt it. It is not the fraternists who have to demonstrate that fraternism is true. It is the afraternists who have to demonstrate that it’s false. D’oh!

If I were to claim that the neohominid male liver is functionally indistinguishable from the neohominid female liver – that there is no sexual dimorphism in the neohominid liver – I’d expect someone to ask me why I was justified in making this claim. I would not expect them to accept the response that I see no convincing evidence that my claim is untrue. And this is despite the fact that the liver is not directly involved in the neohominid reproductive cycle. When we replace liver with brain, we have a considerably longer row to hoe. Yet somehow, the Zeitgeist shows up and hoes it overnight. If only it would do the same for my laundry.

If you’re actually interested in a positive empirical case for afraternism, let me recommend Thompson & Gray 2004. Bob Williams has also put together a good summary. And it’s worth noting that afraternism is Steven Pinker’s dangerous idea. Michael Hart’s Understanding Human History has to be the worst job of book design in human history, and my general reaction is that Hart understands neohominids a heck of a lot better than he understands history. However, all the cool kids are reading it.

But my concern is not empirical. It is philosophical and historical. What I’m interested in is how and why it came to be the case that fraternism is assumed true until proven false, and afraternism is assumed false until proven true.

One simple answer is that, since we are assuming Universalist ethics, fraternism is the ideal state of the world. My ethics are basically Universalist, and if I had a blue button I could push to institute fraternism – regardless of the actual present state of reality – I’d push it, and I’d feel good about pushing it. If I had an opposite red button, I wouldn’t push it, and if I accidentally pushed it anyway I would feel really, really bad.

Thus we can say that fraternism is optimistic and afraternism is pessimistic. But is it rational to assert that optimistic propositions should be assumed true until proven false, and pessimistic propositions should be assumed false until proven true? Not in the slightest. We are back at square one.

One could also suggest a technical explanation, which might go like this: since there is no reproductive isolation between any two neohominid populations, we should expect these populations to be genetically homogeneous. Anyone who wants to make a case for any kind of genetic inhomogeneity, therefore, should have to make it. Perhaps Lewontin’s fallacy could be drug into the picture as well, just for color.

However, as we can see by outwardly visible traits such as nose shape, hair texture, etc, the antecedent is false. It’s possible that the disparities in visible traits are the result of genetic drift. It’s also possible that they’re the result of natural selection. But it doesn’t matter which, because any evolutionary process that can vary a visible feature can vary an invisible one. (We’ve recently learned that neohominid populations show substantial evidence of recent selection – much more recent than the divergence of continental gene pools. But even before we knew this, we had no biological reason to assign fraternism the benefit of the doubt.)

Clearly, fraternism did not get the benefit of the doubt in 1871. So at some point it must have changed, n’est ce pas? How, when, and why?

Perhaps Charles Francis Adams Jr. can enlighten us on the subject. As the great-grandson and grandson of Federalist and Whig Presidents, son of and aide to one of the North’s leading abolitionist statesmen, and a Union general himself, one might expect he had some opinions on the matter. And one would be right. From a 1913 speech:

Beyond all this, and coming still under the head of individual theories, was the doctrine enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence,–the doctrine that all men were created equal,–meaning, of course, equal before the law. But the theorist and humanitarian of the North, accepting the fundamental principle laid down in the Declaration, gave to it a far wider application than had been intended by its authors,–a breadth of application it would not bear. Such science as he had being of scriptural origin, he interpreted the word “equal” as signifying equal in the possibilities of their attributes,–physical, moral, intellectual; and in so doing, he of course ignored the first principles of ethnology. It was, I now realize, a somewhat wild-eyed school of philosophy, that of which I myself was a youthful disciple.
[…]
So far, then, as the institution of slavery is concerned, in its relations to ownership and property in those of the human species,–I have seen no reason whatever to revise or in any way to alter the theories and principles I entertained in 1853, and in the maintenance of which I subsequently bore arms between 1861 and 1865. Economically, socially, and from the point of view of abstract political justice, I hold that the institution of slavery, as it existed in this country prior to the year 1865, was in no respect either desirable or justifiable. That it had its good and even its elevating side, so far at least as the African is concerned, I am not here to deny. On the contrary, I see and recognize those features of the institution far more clearly now than I should have said would have been possible in 1853. That the institution in itself, under conditions then existing, tended to the elevation of the less advanced race, I frankly admit I did not then think. On the other hand, that it exercised a most pernicious influence upon those of the more advanced race, and especially upon that large majority of the more advanced race who were not themselves owners of slaves,–of that I have become with time ever more and more satisfied. The noticeable feature, however, so far as I individually am concerned, has been the entire change of view as respects certain of the fundamental propositions at the base of our whole American political and social edifice brought about by a more careful and intelligent ethnological study. I refer to the political equality of man, and to that race absorption to which I have alluded,–that belief that any foreign element introduced into the American social system and body politic would speedily be absorbed therein, and in a brief space thoroughly assimilated. In this all-important respect I do not hesitate to say we theorists and abstractionists of the North, throughout that long anti-slavery discussion which ended with the 1861 clash of arms, were thoroughly wrong. In utter disregard of fundamental, scientific facts, we theoretically believed that all men–no matter what might be the color of their skin, or the texture of their hair–were, if placed under exactly similar conditions, in essentials the same. In other words, we indulged in the curious and, as is now admitted, utterly erroneous theory that the African was, so to speak, an Anglo-Saxon, or, if you will, a Yankee “who had never had a chance,”–a fellow-man who was guilty, as we chose to express it, of a skin not colored like our own. In other words, though carved in ebony, he also was in the image of God.

Apparently the Zeitgeist doesn’t just work in one direction. What is this Zeitgeist, anyway? Here is Professor Dawkins’ definition:

In any society there exists a somewhat mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades, and for which it is not pretentious to use the German loan-word Zeitgeist (spirit of the times).

If we adopt a slightly more literal translation, we could call our mysterious phenomenon the Spirit of Time. And if we ignore the even more mysterious backward lurch from 1871 to 1913, and simply accept Professor Dawkins’ interpretation of our Spirit‘s actions, we see that the Zeitgeist is a basically optimistic force. Its goal appears to be that history turns out for the better (again, defining better in terms of Universalist ethics). Pretty nice to have around the house, wouldn’t you say?

In fact, Professor Dawkins’ Zeitgeist is so nice that it’s indistinguishable from a concept that would have been quite familiar to any member of the Adams family – the old Anglo-Calvinist or Puritan concept of Providence. Perhaps this is a false match. But it’s quite a close one.

Another word for Zeitgeist is Progress. It’s unsurprising that Universalists tend to believe in Progress – in fact, in a political context, they often call themselves progressives. Universalism has indeed made quite a bit of progress since 1913. But this hardly refutes the proposition that Universalism is a parasitic tradition. Progress for the tick is not progress for the dog.

Whether we call it Providence, Zeitgeist or Progress, the idea of a mysterious force that causes history to flow in some direction – which generally happens to be the right one – is called historicism. Karl Popper is your man on this one.

Needless to say, historicism is profoundly arational. It is also rampant in the West today. You can’t open a newspaper without reading some sentence that makes no sense at all unless the Zeitgeist is behind the curtain. Historicism also informs the consensus understanding of the recent past among even the best-educated Westerners today. You have to go back about 250 years – ie, to the predemocratic era – before ahistoricist explanations start to predominate.

(Recently I ran into the most astounding little book, this ahistoricist history of the French Revolution, written by an obscure Canadian historian who appears to be a specialist. Very calm and highly recommended. Imagine that all your life you’d been drinking what you thought was water but was in fact corn syrup, and then someone gave you a glass of actual water. The taste of a good revisionist history is simply unmistakable.)

In any case, I digress. The point is that we’ve found two thoroughly arational themes in the Universalism complex: fraternism and historicism. Moreover, these are arational in exactly the same sense as the Manitou delusion. They are not demonstrably false. They are just (a) believed by billions of people, and (b) essentially unsubstantiated.

We can extend this list with the two arational Universalist themes I’ve discussed before, Rawlsianism (also discussed here) and pacifism. And there is a fifth which I haven’t yet given its due, communalism (the error of ascribing individual identity to neohominid groups).

I think I’ve done a fair job of demonstrating arationality for at least the first four. Arationality implies at least trivial morbidity. I think I’ll leave the task of showing nontrivial morbidity for fraternism and historicism to the reader’s imagination, on which I don’t think it makes any particularly onerous demands. If you have any interesting thoughts on the subject, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

However, I haven’t really discussed adaptiveness. And, if we want to demonstrate pwnage, we have to show adaptiveness, because arational themes could be in some way accidental or transient, a result of thematic drift as it were. If these arationalities do not contribute to the reproductive success of Universalism, they will probably go away on their own, and they are much less worrisome. Thus describing Professor Dawkins as pwned may be a stretch.

In part 4, due next Thursday, I’ll try to tie some of these ends together, and talk about adaptive arationality. Of course hopefully the commenters will have covered the subject completely by then, and I won’t have to write anything at all.

Interstitial comments on Dawkins

October 11, 2007

Like part 1, part 2 received a lot of interesting, and generally quite cogent, comments. A few raised doubts about the whole effort, so I will break my promise and address them briefly before returning to the coalface.

George Weinberg shared his objections to the whole Dawkinsian “meme” metaphor. Of course I agree with these objections. George is right. (George is pretty much always right.) And I think the thing to remember is that the metaphor is only a metaphor. Genes are digital and “memes” are not. This is quite sufficient to shatter any logical abstraction.

Nonetheless, once we accept that traditions exist and have names, we have accepted the problem of taxonomy. Humans have a remarkable bit of mental machinery devoted to classifying the world around us. When we apply this machinery to history, it seems to want to show us patterns of cultural continuity and evolution. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to think both precisely and intuitively about history. This is where the cladistic metaphor is helpful, because we can borrow its rigorous logic for intuitive purposes only, even though there is no comparable underlying rigor in the “memetic” context.

There was some interesting discussion about the specifics of Universalism. Baduin suggested that we really have two distinct traditions, M.42 or classical Enlightenment “Old Left” liberalism, and M.43 or hippie postmodernist “New Left” Universalism. It’s certainly true that the two differ in some ways, and the latter is distinctly scarier. For example, it includes many mystical and romantic themes.

I think this is cutting the pie too finely. The liberal Western tradition over the last 250 or so years is a huge stew of themes which resists this level of classification. There is no exact “memetic” equivalent of reproductive isolation, but patterns of political conflict come close. To me, Universalism is best defined as the orthodox belief system that emerged in the West after World War II, and while its themes have definitely mutated over time, the whole thing strikes me as having a general aesthetic unity.

Perhaps we can use modifiers to distinguish between various Universalist tropes. Let’s call paleo-Universalism the original beast, a la Atlantic Charter; neo-Universalism, its 1960s mutation, a la Port Huron Statement; and retro-Universalism, the neoconservative resurrection of paleo-Universalism.

Let me also second Michael S’s response to Eliezer Yudkowsky – and try to broaden it slightly.

My original point about Eliezer’s reasoning was that he classifies traditions primarily as “theistic” or “nontheistic,” which is like classifying animals as “flying” or “non-flying.” Or maybe even as bad as classifying mammals as “long-haired” or “short-haired.”

Au contraire, Eliezer responds. He is classifying them as “evidence-based” or “non-evidence-based.” Everything else is just a matter of “literary style.”

The fons origo of bias in the Yudkowskian school, I think, is the fact that Eliezer Yudkowsky is an AI researcher. He sees an easily-defined, trivially correct algorithm for reasoning – Bayes’ Theorem – and latches onto it like a dog on a sausage. As anyone would, if they had a problem to solve and saw an obvious answer to it. And indeed I have no reason at all to believe that Bayesian inference will not be part of the first working AI, which someone – perhaps even Eliezer himself – will manage to build at some point.

But at some point in this process, Eliezer fell into a very deep trap. Because he decided to define all rational thought as Bayesian inference. Either you are applying Bayesian reasoning, or you are drifting in flights of whimsy. Hence “literary style.”

Excluding for a moment the generally accepted frequentist interpretation of probability, which informs us quite cogently that the concept of quantitative probability is meaningless except in the context of a defined sample space, and that therefore so is Bayes’ Theorem (I thank this QJAE paper for pointing me toward the frequentist school, whose insights I was groping painfully toward in this anti-Bayesian screed), there is an even more obvious problem here, which is that neither Eliezer, nor I, nor you, dear reader, is an AI. Rather, we are two-legged apes and we think with a big lump of fat.

The properties of this big lump of fat are well-known. It can reason deductively, inductively, or intuitively. It can also go off the rails in quite a few well-known ways.

It is certainly possible to argue that any two of these forms of reason are a special case of the other. For example, you can go here and watch Eliezer argue that deduction is really just a case of induction, because we learn inductively that deduction works. Und so weiter. Frankly, I’m afraid Neoplatonism lost a great mind when Eliezer decided he didn’t believe in the One.

We use terms like deduction, induction and intuition because they describe phenomena in the real world – the strategies of reason that a real human brain uses. They are concepts on which we can agree. If we are to think about thinking, surely it makes sense to think about thinking in the ways that people actually think – as opposed to the ways that AIs would think, that is, if we had AIs.

The irony of it all is that Eliezer is a really good philosopher. You can watch him reasoning deductively and intuitively all day long. His “literary style” is excellent. The problem is that he devotes so much of his deductive and intuitive firepower to the rather fruitless task of explaining that all reason is a special case of Bayesian induction. Perhaps this is true for his AI, but it certainly doesn’t strike me as the most cogent description of Eliezer’s lump of fat.

Worse, this rather Plotinian transformation seems to apply entirely to deduction. Which is fortunate because it allows Eliezer to believe that 2+2 = 4, and perhaps even to accept the Rev. Bayes’ proof of his famous theorem. I’m afraid intuition is mere “literary style,” however.

The problem is that intuition is the form of reason that the lump of fat uses to understand history. History is not a science. Its purpose is to parse the past, to present it as a set of coherent patterns. If you can’t think intuitively, you may be able to verify specific factual claims, but you certainly can’t think about history.

Classifying traditions by their cladistic ancestry is a fine example. The statement that Universalism exists, that it is a descendant of Christianity, and that it is not a descendant of Confucianism, can only be interpreted intuitively. It is not a logical proposition in any sense. It has no objective truth-value. It is a pattern that strikes me as, given certain facts, self-evident. In order to convince you of this proposition, I repeat these facts and arrange them in the pattern I see in my head. Either you see the same pattern, or another pattern, or no pattern at all.

When you get all Mr. Spock and you refuse to believe in intuition, you are essentially turning off a very substantial lobe of your brain. Worse, there is no actual off switch on this lobe. You will continue to think intuitively whether you like it or not. But you will think intuitively in an unexamined way. As both Yudkowsky and Dawkins do – when they regurgitate the anticlerical themes of Universalism without asking where anticlericalism comes from, how it got into their lumps of fat, or whether it belongs there.

Finally, there is a very practical reason why it’s imprudent to categorize traditions – or even individual themes – as either “evidence-based” or “non-evidence-based.” The trap is that the God delusion is not just non-evidence-based. It is blatantly non-evidence-based. As such, it seems very sensible to single it out for special ridicule.

But it is profoundly imprudent to do so. If your goal is to overcome bias, the God delusion is the least of your concerns. It has actually tagged itself as non-rational. There is no reason to waste any time in attaching further antibodies. If someone believes in God, why on God’s green earth would you think reason would be an effective way to convince him otherwise?

The real danger is the set of received themes which purport to be rational, but in fact are not. And in the next post we’ll look at some of these.

And TGGP: note the frequent use of the word “nonconformist” in that article. With a small n. If you capitalize the N, I think you learn more than the survey tells you.

Bunting: Chomei at Toyama

October 10, 2007

This is a long one and will probably attract the attention of the Copyright Police – even though poetry is meant to be free, man. So it lives quickly on the spinning platter. Seize it now, or buy it later.

The source is Basil Bunting‘s Complete Poems. Just by the fact that, as Amazon records, Bunting’s Complete is 0.7 inches thick – we can tell we’re dealing with a heavy hitter. And Bunting’s own selection is only 150 pages or so. The rest being juvenilia, drafts, etc. Pow.

Of Chomei at Toyama, Bunting explains in the endnotes:

Kamo-no-Chomei flourished somewhat over a hundred years before Dante. He belonged to the minor nobility of Japan and held various offices in the civil service. He applied for a fat job in a Shinto temple, was turned down, and next day announced his conversion to Buddhism. He wrote critical essays, tales and poems; collected an anthology of poems composed at the moment of conversion by Buddhist proselytes (one suspects irony); and was for a while secretary to the editors of the Imperial Anthology.

He retired from public life to a kind of mixture of hermitage and country cottage at Toyama on Mount Hino and there, when he was getting old, he wrote the Ho-Jo-Ki in prose, of which my poem is in the main a condensation. The careful proportion and balance he keeps, the recurrent motif of the house and some other indications suggest to me that he intended a poem more or less elegiac but had not the time or possibly energy at his age to invent what would have been for Japan, an entirely new form, nor to condense his material sufficiently. I have taken advantage of Professor Muccioli’s Italian version, together with his learned notes, to try to complete Chomei’s work for him. I cannot take his Buddhism solemnly considering the manner of his conversion, the nature of his anthology, and his whole urbane, skeptical and ironical temperament. If this annoys anyone I cannot help it.

The earth quaked in the second year of Genryaku, 1185.

I should add that Bunting’s quirks of orthography and punctuation are his own. I’m not quite sure what he had against apostrophes. It might have something to do with the fact that Bunting was Northumbrian and very attached to his native dialect. But then it might not.

Note also the date of the poem: 1932.

Chomei at Toyama

(Kamo-no-Chomei, born at Kamo 1154, died at Toyama on Mount Hino, 24th June 1216)

Swirl sleeping in the waterfall!
On motionless pools scum appearing
            disappearing!

Eaves formal on the zenith,
lofty city Kyoto,
wealthy, without antiquities!

Housebreakers clamber about,
builders raising floor upon floor
at the corner sites, replacing
gardens by bungalows.

In the town where I was known
the young men stare at me.
A few faces I know remain.

Whence comes man at his birth? or where
does death lead him? Whom do you mourn?
Whose steps wake your delight?
Dewy hibiscus dries: though dew
outlast the petals.

I have been noting events forty years.

On the twentyseventh May eleven hundred
and seventyseven, eight p.m., fire broke out
at the corner of Tomi and Higuchi streets.
In a night
palace, ministries, university, parliament
were destroyed. As the wind veered
flames spread out in the shape of an open fan.
Tongues torn by gusts stretched and leapt.
In the sky clouds of cinders lit red with the blaze.
Some choked, some burned, some barely escaped.
Sixteen great officials lost houses and
very many poor. A third of the city burned;
several thousands died; and of beasts,
limitless numbers.

Men are fools to invest in real estate.

Three years less three days later a wind
starting near the outer boulevard
broke a path a quarter mile across
to Sixth Avenue.
Not a house stood. Some were felled whole,
some in splinters; some had left
great beams upright in the ground
and round about
lay rooves scattered where the wind flung them.
Flocks of furniture in the air,
everything flat fluttered like dead leaves.
A dust like fog or smoke,
you could hear nothing for the roar,
          bufera infernal!
Lamed some, wounded some.
This cyclone turned southwest.

Massacre without cause.

Portent?

The same year thunderbolted change of capital,
fixed here, Kyoto, for ages.
Nothing compelled the change nor was it an easy matter
but the grumbling was disproportionate.
We moved, those with jobs
or wanting jobs or hangers on of the rest,
in haste haste fretting to be the first.
Rooftrees overhanging empty rooms,
dismounted: floating down the river.
The soil returned to heath.

I visited the new site: narrow and too uneven,
cliffs and marshes, deafening shores, perpetual strong winds;
the palace a logcabin dumped amongst the hills
(yet not altogether inelegant).
There was no flat place for houses, many vacant lots,
the former capital wrecked, the new a camp,
and thoughts like clouds changing, frayed by a breath:
peasants bewailing lost land, newcomers aghast at prices.
No one in uniform: the crowds
resembled demobilized conscripts.

There were murmurs. Time defined them.
In the winter the decree was rescinded,
we returned to Kyoto;
but the houses were gone and none
could afford to rebuild them.

I have heard of a time when kings beneath bark rooves
watched chimneys.
When smoke was scarce, taxes were remitted.

To appreciate present conditions
collate them with those of antiquity.

Drought, floods, and a dearth. Two fruitless autumns.
Empty markets, swarms of beggars. Jewels
sold for a handful of rice. Dead stank
on the curb, lay so thick on
Riverside Drive a car couldnt pass.
The pest bred.
That winter my fuel was the walls of my own house.

Fathers fed their children and died,
babies died sucking the dead.
The priest Hoshi went about marking their foreheads
A, Amida, their requiem;
he counted them in the East End in the last two months,
fortythree thousand A’s.

Crack, rush, ye mountains, bury your rills!
Spread your green glass, oceans, over the meadows!
Scream, avalanche, boulders amok, strangle the dale!
O ships in the sea’s power, O horses
on shifting roads, in the earth’s power, without hoofhold!

This is the earthquake, this was
The great earthquake of Genryaku!

The chapel fell, the abbey, the minster and the small shrines
fell, their dust rose and a thunder of houses falling.
O to be birds and fly or dragons and ride on a cloud!
The earthquake, the great earthquake of Genryaku!

A child building a mud house against a high wall:
I saw him crushed suddenly, his eyes hung
from their orbits like two tassels.
His father howled shamelessly – an officer.
I was not abashed at his crying.

Such shocks continued three weeks; then lessening,
but still a score daily as big as an average earthquake;
then fewer, alternate days, a tertian ague of tremors.
There is no record of any greater.
It caused a religious revival.
Months . . .
Years . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Nobody mentions it now.

This is the unstable world and
we in it unstable and our houses.

A poor man living amongst the rich
gives no rowdy parties, doesnt sing.
Dare he keep his child at home, keep a dog?
He dare not pity himself above a whimper.

But he visits, he flatters, he is put in his place,
he remembers the patch on his trousers.
His wife and sons despise him for being poor.
He has no peace.

If he lives in an alley of rotting frame houses
he dreads a fire.
If he commutes he loses his time
and leaves his house daily to be plundered by gunmen.
The bureaucrats are avaricious.
He who has no relatives in the Inland Revenue,
poor devil!

Whoever helps him enslaves him
and follows him crying out: Gratitude!
If he wants success he is wretched.
If he doesnt he passes for mad.

Where shall I settle, what trade choose
that the mind may practise, the body rest?

My grandmother left me a house
but I was always away
for my health and because I was alone there.
When I was thirty I couldnt stand it any longer,
I built a house to suit myself:
one bamboo room, you would have thought it a cartshed,
poor shelter from snow or wind.
It stood on the flood plain. And that quarter
is also flooded with gangsters.

One generation
I saddened myself with idealistic philosophies,
but before I was fifty
I perceived there was no time to lose,
left home and conversation.
Among the cloudy mountains of Ohara
spring and autumn, spring and autumn, spring and autumn,
emptier than ever.

The dew evaporates from my sixty years,
I have built my last house, or hovel,
a hunter’s bivouac, an old
silkworm’s cocoon:
ten feet by ten, seven high: and I,
reckoning it a lodging not a dwelling,
omitted the usual foundation ceremony.

I have filled the frames with clay,
set hinges at the corners;
easy to take it down and carry it away
when I get bored with this place.
Two barrowloads of junk
and the cost of a man to shove the barrow,
no trouble at all.

Since I have trodden Hino mountain
noon has beaten through the awning
over my bamboo balcony, evening
shone on Amida.
I have shelved my books above the window,
lute and mandolin near at hand,
piled bracken and a little straw for bedding,
a smooth desk where the light falls, stove for bramblewood.
I have gathered stones, fitted
stones for a cistern, laid bamboo
pipes. No woodstack,
wood enough in the thicket.

Toyama, smug in the creepers!
Toyama, deep in the dense gully, open
westward whence the dead ride out of Eden
squatting on blue clouds of wistaria.
(Its scent drifts west to Amida.)

Summer? Cuckoo’s Follow, follow – to
harvest Purgatory hill!
Fall? The nightgrasshopper will
shrill Fickle life!
Snow will thicken on the doorstep,
melt like a drift of sins.
No friend to break silence,
no one will be shocked if I neglect the rite.
There’s a Lent of commandments kept
when there’s no way to break them.

A ripple of white water after a boat,
shining water after the boats Mansami saw
at Okinoya.
Between the maple leaf and the caneflower
murmurs the afternoon – Po Lo-tien
saying goodbye on the verge of Jinyo river.
(I am playing scales on my mandolin.)
Be limber, my fingers, I am going to play Autumn Wind
to the pines, I am going to play Hastening Brook
to the water. I am no player
but there’s nobody listening,
I do it for my own amusement.

Sixteen and sixty, I and the gamekeeper’s boy,
one zest and equal, chewing tsubana buds,
one zest and equal, persimmon, pricklypear,
ears of sweetcorn pilfered from Valley Farm.

The view from the summit: sky bent over Kyoto,
picnic villages, Fushimi and Toba:
a very economical way of enjoying yourself.
Thought runs along the crest, climbs Sumiyama,
beyond Kasatori it visits the great church,
goes on pilgrimage to Ishiyama (no need to foot it!)
or the graves of poets, of Semimaru who said

Somehow or other
we scuttle through a lifetime.
Somehow or other
neither palace nor straw-hat
is quite satisfactory.

Not emptyhanded, with cherryblossom, with red maple
as the season gives it to decorate my Buddha
or offer a sprig at a time to chancecomers, home!

A fine moonlit night,
I sit at the window with a handful of old verses.

Whenever a monkey howls there are tears on my cuff.

Those are fireflies that seem the fishermen’s lights off Maki island.
A shower at dawn
sings
like the hillbreeze in the leaves.

At the pheasant’s chirr I recall
my father and mother uncertainly.
I rake my ashes.

          Chattering fire,
soon kindled, soon burned out,
fit wife for an old man!

Neither closed in one landscape
nor in one season
the mind moving in illimitable
recollection.

I came here for a month
five years ago.
There’s moss on the roof.

And I hear Soanso’s dead
back in Kyoto.
I have as much room as I need.

I know myself and mankind.
. . . . . . . . . .
I dont want to be bothered.

(You will make me editor
of the Imperial Anthology?
I dont want to be bothered.)

You build for your wife, children,
cousins and cousins’ cousins.
You want a house to entertain in.

A man like me can have neither servants nor friends
in the present state of society.
If I did not build for myself
for whom should I build?

Friends fancy a rich man’s riches,
friends suck up to a man in high office.
If you keep straight you will have no friends
but catgut and blossom in season.

Servants weigh out their devotion
in proportion to their perquisites.
What do they care for peace and quiet?
There are more pickings in town.

I sweep my own floor
– less fuss.
I walk; I get tired
but do not have to worry about a horse.

My hands and feet will not loiter
when I am not looking.
I will not overwork them.
Besides, it’s good for my health.

My jacket’s wistaria flax,
my blanket hemp,
berries and young greens
my food.

(Let it be quite understood,
all this is merely personal.
I am not preaching the simple life
to those who enjoy being rich.)

I am shifting rivermist, not to be trusted.
I do not ask anything extraordinary of myself.
I like a nap after dinner
and to see the seasons come around in good order.

Hankering, vexation and apathy,
that’s the run of the world.
Hankering, vexation and apathy,
Keeping a carriage wont cure it.

Keeping a man in livery
wont cure it. Keeping a private fortress
wont cure it. These things satisfy no craving.
Hankering, vexation, and apathy…

I am out of place in the capital,
people take me for a beggar,
as you would be out of place in this sort of life,
you are so – I regret it – so welded to your vulgarity.

The moonshadow merges with darkness
on the cliffpath,
a tricky turn near ahead.

Oh! There’s nothing to complain about.
Buddha says: ‘None of the world is good.’
I am fond of my hut…

I have renounced the world;
have a saintly
appearance.

I do not enjoy being poor,
I’ve a passionate nature.
My tongue
clacked a few prayers.

I’m not sure this is quite on a par with Bunting’s best-known work of this length, Briggflatts, which is simply a masterpiece. But Chomei at Toyama is considerably simpler and more readable than Briggflatts. And I still think it’s one of the best medium-length sequences from the 20th century. Compare, for instance, to Brodsky’s The New Jules Verne, or Hecht’s See Naples And Die – similar in both length and general tone, but quite different in form.

Some other (non-pirated) poems on the Web that I’ve enjoyed are these by Gerard van der Leun, and these at Things Move Around.

Duelnode: another free startup idea

October 8, 2007

Of course, most free things aren’t worth crap. And “free software” is certainly no exception. However, since I already spend most of my day working on free software, when I think of stuff that there is no possible way I will actually do, I feel the need to share it with the world, as if I was some kind of deranged homeless person.

This is not actually my most shameful confession. It is not even my second most shameful confession. My second most shameful confession is that not only am I working on free software, I’m working on my own programming language. This is so shameful that what I tell most people what I’m doing, I don’t even bother. I just say I’m writing a novel.

But my most shameful confession is that I once applied to business school. Fortunately, they had the good sense to reject me. Probably because of that essay I wrote about my summer in Orania with the Boeremag. I guess that’s not what they mean by a threatened minority group.

I do know a little of the black arts of capitalism, however, and from that perspective, my previous startup idea – Uberfact – leaves a lot to be desired. The problem is that it’s not actually a service, it’s just an idea. A “technology,” as I would say if I were working the room. “With our patented technology, you can…”

(Of course it is not patented either. I am a full-on Richard Stallman free-software communist. I hoist the red and bloody flag of the no-intellectual-property-anywhere liberation front. Everywhere else I am as black a black reactionary as they come, I make Pio Nono look like Barack Obama, but I say free the code, man. Because information wants to be free.)

Duelnode is actually a website that, with the extremely rough marketing description I’m about to present – do they call it a “PRD?” Are they still calling it that these days? I’ve been out of this crap for a while – you could actually go out and build. In fact, I have registered the DNS name, and if you have a plausible plan to build Duelnode I will give you the domain free. Email me.

And if you think it’s a good idea but you think I’m a total asshole and you don’t want to deal with me at all, you can call the product by its generic name, a dueldrome. Duelnode is just another dueldrome. There should be only one, there can be only one, if Duelnode is built properly there only needs to be one. But there need not be only one.

Of course, there are many dueldromes and many duels. But a true duel is a contest of two. And one alone may claim triumph. Our aim at Duelnode is to crown a new generation of young heroes, the iron, eagle-crowned champions of Web 2.0, the strong and silent gods of the late-night Dew-and-Domino’s dorm-room bull session.

As in Uberfact, the purpose of the Duelnode is to discover the truth. But by sharpening this process of discovery to a pure conflict of two wills, we reduce the struggle of ideas to its essence: the fight for power.

A duel is not a debate. It is not a discussion. It is not a conversation. It is certainly not a collaboration, except perhaps in the French sense of the word. It is a battle of enemies. There are only two outcomes: vindication and humiliation. Granted, every man has an inner ass, and every woman too, and in any clash of arms both sides may enfool themselves. But in no contest may two emerge triumphant. One alone may walk unscathed and undefeated from the Duelgon, axe moist with the ichor of his broken foe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Duels at the Duelnode are not fought, of course, with axes. They are fought by typing. We are not building the monomachial equivalent of Internet hunting. A duel is simply a contest of words, an argument, a flamewar, such as has infested the electrons since Usenet was a little boy.

What’s new about the Duelnode is that it, or any other dueldrome, is a place where people can hold structured arguments. They don’t just rant past each other for pages and pages, like we do at UR. They actually have to construct a logically sound rhetorical structure, however stupid each of its points may be.

A Duelnode duel always has two participants: a challenger and a defender. Typically the defender is older, wiser and more respected, and the challenger is younger, smarter and more annoying. This may be inverted, of course, but under any circumstance the challenger is the party who demands satisfaction, and the defender the party who accepts.

Together, challenger and defender enter the Duelagon – the ancient chamber of honor, whose name evokes the Greek words for “two” and “pain.” They shake hands (virtually, of course), bow to the north and south, salute the east and west winds, and then begin the duel. Typically there is no time limit. Battle is simply to the finish. However, arbitrary rules may be devised and mutually accepted, ideally by the combatants’ seconds – it is ungentlemanly for the duelers themselves to bandy words over the terms of honor.

The challenger begins the duel by asserting a proposition. A proposition is a clear and unambiguous statement of fact, morality, aesthetics, or any mix of the three. “George W. Bush is a tyrant” is a proposition. “Eric Clapton is a better guitarist than Yngwie J. Malmsteen” is a proposition. “The Maine was blown up by a secret team of al-Qaeda frogmen sent back in time by Nikola Tesla’s three-way time machine” is a proposition.

A proposition must be supported by an argument. An argument is a combinatoric statement that depends on a number of subpropositions, using the familiar AND and OR operators. So, for example, we might argue that Eric Clapton is a better guitarist than Yngwie J. Malmsteen, because either (a) Clapton is God, OR (b.1) Clapton has actual soul, AND (b.2) Yngwie’s frantic shredding sounds like a rabid weasel with its claws stuck in an autoharp. (Of course there should be an actual graphical UI on this, so that it’s not utterly and completely geek-o-rama.)

The defender then responds to the challenger’s argument, for each proposition either (a) conceding it; (b) dismissing it contemptuously, as unworthy of serious consideration; (c) equating it to some other proposition stated by the defender, or negation of some proposition stated by the challenger (ie, putting a symbolic link in the argument tree); or (d) responding with a counterargument.

Arguments may depend on supporting documentation. All supporting references must be in publicly available and freely redistributable form. No reference to any information that is either behind a subscriber firewall, or available only on paper, is honorable. Ideally, supporting documents should be uploaded to Duelnode itself, but if copyright permissions prohibit this they must be hosted on a site with a stable archive policy. Furthermore, Duelnode does not attempt to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy sources.

The process of argument construction continues until the tree is fully populated. In other words, until each dueler has given the other complete and final satisfaction. The resulting duel is saved permanently – disk space being cheap. After the duel is closed, it cannot be edited, and anyone can browse it during combat or after. Dueling in private, while presumably an optional feature for our fat-walleted corporate customers, is simply pathetic. As Hunter S. Thompson put it, it’s like hunting wild boar from the back of a pickup truck with a can of spraypaint. The whole point of the duel is to humiliate your enemy in public, to ride him, to make him your pwny.

To maximize the quality of the duel, and ensure that as many arguments as possible are aired and expressed, our duelers may be assisted by the public at large, acting as kibitzers. Kibitzers are just commenters. While their comments are not in any way official and need not be responded to, they may weigh in on either side of any proposition, offering friendly and helpful advice to our sweating, roaring gladiators.

Kibitzers are not recapitulating the duel at some lame, peanut-gallery level. They are improving it. A duel does not have a single message board, to which all and sundry may post their little orts of wit and wisdom. It has two. To comment on a duel, you must select a dueler to support. Therefore, a duel’s kibitz thread consists of people who basically agree with each other and are on the same side, and therefore it tends to consist of signal, rather than noise. Typically the aim of kibitzing is to suggest lines of thought the supported dueler should explore, references that may be fatal to his enemy, and so on.

But how does Duelnode decide who wins? Well, obviously, either side can concede defeat at any point. If they intended to lose, they would have never entered the Duelagon. But sometimes accepting their sad and abject pwnage, especially at the hands of a master dueler, is one way to salvage a little grace from the bitter experience of defeat.

However, normally this is not the case. While at least in any question of fact, one side must be right and the other wrong, people who are wrong don’t, in my experience, tend to admit it. They get all petty and whiny, they sneer and brag and bluster. If you just asked the duelers themselves, what you’d hear is that both sides are both vindicated and humiliated. Which is obviously quite impossible.

This is where Duelnode ties in with Uberfact. Kibitzers (and duelers themselves) can organize themselves in Uberfact-style factions. A duel of factional champions is an excellent way to explore any disagreement between any two groups of people, whether they are wingnuts and moonbats, Sunnis and Shia, Catholics and Jews, etc, etc. Remember, the Internet routes packets – not punches, bullets or dirty bombs.

Moreover, Duelnode’s uberfactions may not dedicate themselves to some specific cause, but to Truth itself – or at least the truth as they see it. Of course, everyone has his or her own truth. And often, they are stupid and suck. Nonetheless, when we have a completed duel and we have a variety of well-organized factions each of which has picked a winner and a loser, we have as much information about the conflict as we could possibly compose.

A good example of where Duelnode is needed is this How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic page. Of course, the title of this page really should be How to Condescend Pompously and Officially to a Climate Skeptic. But it isn’t. And each “talking point” should include a complete rebuttal, constructed by actual climate skeptics, and then rebut that rebuttal with another argument by the author, Dr. Einstein, or “Coby Beck” as he so modestly dubs himself. But it doesn’t. (Let’s just say that anyone who’s willing to disagree with Alexander Cockburn, Freeman Dyson, and Luboš Motl is a braver man than I.)

What I’d really like to see in the global-warming “debate” – which is not actually a debate, of course, but a battle – is a Duelnode duel between two men who really have a reason to despise each other, such as Michael Mann and Steve McIntyre. Frankly, in a decent century, these two would have already settled their disagreement with pistols. Certainly each thinks of the other as a small and dishonest man, little better than a criminal. Why can’t the world have a place where they can have it out, where they can give each other the satisfaction honor demands?

Certainly it would be great sport. Or, in other words, great entertainment. To be very crude, great entertainment means many eyeballs, and many eyeballs means lots of ads for penis enlargement, Coffee Fool (“See what the coffee companies don’t want you to know!”) and sleazy subprime mortgages. Hey, Google employs half the smart people in the Western Hemisphere, and it has to pay them somehow.

But this is not to say the “technology” is actually worth anything. It’s just a matter of building the website, something anyone who knows Ruby on Rails can do in a few days. After that it’s all graphic design. Which means that someone should be willing to do it for free. I’d like to think that someone can put together a Duelnode with no ads, like Wikipedia or Craigslist, which like all the rest of this communist free-software crap just exists for the purpose of pathetic, egotistical self-aggrandizement by people who were obviously picked on in high school. However, I have registered both duelnode.com and duelnode.org, so would-be Duelmasters can take their pick. Whatever, dude. I’m a free-software hippie!

One way to think of a dueldrome is as the adversarial equivalent of a wiki. It turns out that “wiki” just means “fast,” but I always think of it as having some kind of Kumbaya we-all-love-each-other bogus-Hawaiian love-and-peace connotation. Maybe it’s something you chant on Kill Haole Day. Run fast, haole! Wiki wiki!

But anyway, there is no reason at all why you can’t add a simple dueldrome module to any wiki in the world. The dueldrome: for when we can’t just get along. I get the impression that most wikis are seething masses of pent-up tension and general chimpanzee behavior. Certainly La Wik herself would be much improved by a weekly duel.

How Dawkins got pwned (part 2)

October 4, 2007

After a brief period of vagrancy and reflection, mostly in a disconnected state, I got back the other day and actually hesitated for a couple of days to look at the thread on part 1 of this essay, which I had dispatched, with more than my usual rambling and carelessness, from Powell’s in Portland. (Mrs. Moldbug and I got on the R1100R and took a motorcycle pilgrimage to Chris McCandless’s bus, where we stayed up three nights in a row, just thinking, then did a bunch of acid and emptied our pistols maniacally into the woods. “Smoke dat moose!”, we were chanting. “Git dem maggots! Smoke dat moose!”)

Anyway. I didn’t expect many comments on part 1. It’s really only the first third of the essay, and it would be charitable to call it a first draft. (Fortunately the practice known, in what calls itself the real world, as “editing,” is considered unethical on a blog – and rightly so.) So I was delighted to see the conversation that ensued. It strikes me as one of the best UR threads so far, and hopefully I don’t need to repeat my appreciation for the quality of discussion here.

But I’ve decided not to respond to these comments individually, at least not yet. There are far too many of them and they are far too perspicacious. Many are answered in part 2, and more will be answered in part 3 (the last). After part 3 I will try and respond to any unanswered comments in a sort of vermiform appendix. For now, I’ll confine myself to declaring that, at least here at UR, pwned alliterates with posse and rhymes with loaned.

The commenters on part 1 have certainly done an fine job of figuring out where I’m going with this. If I started with any suspense, it is gone. But please indulge me when I restate the argument in my own words – if only for clarity of further discussion.

My hypothesis is that Professor Dawkins is not just an atheist. He is a Christian atheist. Or as I prefer to put it, a nontheistic Christian. His “Einsteinian religion” is no more or less than the dominant present-day current of Christianity itself – “M.42,” as faré so concisely put it.

If we accept this hypothesis, the conclusion that Professor Dawkins has been pwned strikes me as quite incontrovertible. He thinks he is attacking superstition on behalf of the armies of reason. In fact he is attacking M.41 on behalf of the armies of M.42. D’oh!

Of course, I’m sure Professor Dawkins is quite sincere in his beliefs. Hosts always are. However, he has devoted a remarkable level of ratiocinative attention to one phenotypically insignificant meme – the God delusion – in which M.42 conflicts with M.41. My view is that this behavior is best explained by memetic infection, ie, pwnage.

I share Professor Dawkins’ preference for the derived M.42 meme, at least at this one spot on the chromosome. But I can’t help observing that (a) M.42 and M.41 are both large and intricate memeplexes; (b) it strikes me as by no means obvious that when M.42 and M.41 are compared in toto, M.42 is more reasonable or less morbid than M.41; (c) M.42 (like M.41) includes many other memes which replicate via the same arational indoctrination paths as the God delusion; and (d) while some of the M.42 (and M.41) memes are quite reasonable, others strike me as inadequately examined at best, transparently preposterous at worst.

Ergo, pwning Professor Dawkins is quite adaptive for M.42. It focuses potential hosts on the question of whether M.42 is superior to M.41 on this particular point – as it clearly is. This distracts them from considering the more general and interesting question of whether or not M.42, considered by itself, is stark raving bonkers, and if so constructing a reasonable perspective which is reassembled from scratch and which can correct both M.42 and M.41.

I would love to see Professor Dawkins rotate his impressive intellectual artillery to this angle. But if I’m right that his neocortex has been devoured and replaced by a foam of M.42 cysts, I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath. Megaloponera foetens to the white courtesy phone.

My interpretation makes sense if and only if the following claims are sensible:

  1. The concept of “nontheistic Christianity” is coherent.
  2. “Einsteinian religion” is best classified as a sect of nontheistic Christianity.
  3. This sect is the most successful version of Christianity today.
  4. It includes propositions which are inconsistent with reason.
  5. These propositions are associated with significant morbidity.

Before considering these claims, let’s adjust our terms a little. Precise thinking requires clear, emotionally neutral, and aesthetically elegant terminology. While in general I buy the Dawkinsian model of “memetics,” I think it falls short on all these counts.

Let’s call a memeplex stable enough to propagate across generations a tradition. Not only is this an actual word in the actual English language, it also has the virtue of being ajudgmental. Surely anyone who is not a complete, foaming-at-the-mouth fanatic, of whatever persuasion, can admit that the world contains both good traditions and bad traditions.

An individual infected by such a memeplex is a host who subscribes to the tradition. If the subject and object must be reversed, the tradition directs the host. An institution which propagates some tradition is a repeater of that tradition. The name of a tradition is its label.

Specific features of traditions can be called themes. For example, the God theme is a trait of many traditions. The Trinity theme is a trait of many Christian traditions. Traditions can be taxonomically grouped and classified, along the lines of Professor Dawkins’ biological analogy, and we can follow the analogy in calling a group of related traditions a clade.

Different versions of a single related theme are variants. A set of themes transmitted as a unit can be called a haplotheme (the analogy is to a haplotype). Any two themes which cannot simultaneously direct one individual conflict. We can also follow biology in referring to ancestral and derived variants, and borrow other terminology from cladistics. And the set of themes an individual subscribes to is that individual’s kernel.

Like many simple bacteria, traditions have no reproductive barriers. They can exchange themes across clade lines, or introgress. Thus their taxonomy is strictly speaking not a tree, but a lattice, dag, bush, etc. As in biology, however, introgression is often insignificant at the 30,000-foot level, and we can usually get away with ignoring it.

If a theme makes a substantive claim about reality (Hume’s “is”), we can call it mundane. If it makes a moral statement about right and wrong (Hume’s “ought”), we can call it ethical. If it makes neither, we can call it metaphysical.

If a theme is not justified by reason, we can call it arational. Metaphysical themes are arational by definition. Mundane themes are arational if they depend on logical fallacies or violate Ockham’s razor. No single ethical theme can be arational, but a set of ethical themes is arational if it ascribes mutually inconsistent ethical values to a single action. While any action can be either right or wrong, no action can be both right and wrong.

If a tradition causes its hosts to make miscalculations that compromise their personal goals, it exhibits Misesian morbidity. If it causes its hosts to act in ways that compromise their genes’ reproductive interests, it exhibits Darwinian morbidity. If subscribing to the tradition is individually advantageous or neutral (defectors are rewarded, or at least unpunished) but collectively harmful, the tradition is parasitic. If subscribing is individually disadvantageous but collectively beneficial, the tradition is altruistic. If it is both individually and collectively benign, it is symbiotic. If it is both individually and collectively harmful, it is malignant. Each of these labels can be applied to either Misesian or Darwinian morbidity. A theme that is arational, but does not exhibit either Misesian or Darwinian morbidity, is trivially morbid.

Thus, one might translate the part of Professor Dawkins’ argument I agree with as the claim that the God theme is arational, because the variant in which “God” interacts with earthly affairs is mundane and fallacious (being unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable), and the variant in which “God” does not interact with earthly affairs is metaphysical. At least in the latter form, I see the God theme as trivially morbid. Professor Dawkins disagrees – he associates various Misesian and Darwinian morbidities, parasitic and malignant, with various historical variants of the God theme. I see this as the result of confusing theme and haplotheme.

My counterargument is that Professor Dawkins’ “Einsteinian religion” is the most successful modern-day tradition in the Christian clade, that it includes many arational themes, and that this tradition, evaluated as a whole, exhibits Misesian parasitic morbidity and Darwinian malignant morbidity. Therefore I believe it needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. I am relatively unconcerned about other Christian traditions, as I consider them of negligible present-day political power and therefore negligible collective morbidity – though, of course, this situation could always change.

Fortified by this doxology, let’s get back to demonstrating pwnage.

Our first essential claim is that the concept of nontheistic Christianity is not, as most readers would probably assume at first glance, self-contradictory or meaningless.

This is very easy to see. In the biological analogy, nontheistic Christianity is a phrase in the same class as flightless bird or bipedal tetrapod. The adjective in this phrase is morphological, the noun is taxonomic. There is no contradiction at all.

Professor Dawkins is hoist by his own petard here. Since the biological analogy is his own invention, he cannot possibly object to the application of the modern cladistic method. If we classify traditions according to a single morphological feature, the God theme, we might as well classify both birds and bats as “flying, warm-blooded animals.” Perhaps this was good enough for Aristotle, but it’s certainly not good enough for Professor Dawkins.

We can watch Eliezer Yudkowsky, who for all his faults is certainly an intelligent young man, falling into this trap here. He implicitly classifies a wide variety of historical traditions as either theistic or nontheistic, just as a naive taxonomist might classify animals as flying or non-flying, bipedal or quadrupedal, etc. In Yudkowsky’s defense, this confusion – which is inherent in the usual modern usage of the word religion – is so common as to be conventional. But that doesn’t make it cogent. Overcome that bias, Eliezer! You can do it!

In my opinion, the only sensible way to classify traditions – as with species – is by ancestral structure. While the existence of introgression and the absence of reproductive isolation makes it technically impossible to construct a precise cladogram of human traditional history, we can certainly produce sensible approximations. Note that perhaps an even better analogy is to languages and linguistic history, in which cladistic classification is commonplace.

So: Professor Dawkins is an atheist. But – as his writing makes plain – atheism is not the only theme in his personal kernel. Professor Dawkins believes in many other things. He labels the tradition to which he subscribes as Einsteinian religion. Since no one else has used this label, he is entitled to define Einsteinian religion – perhaps we can just call it Einsteinism – as whatever he wants. And he has.

My observation is that Einsteinism exhibits many synapomorphies with Christianity. For example, it appears that Professor Dawkins believes in the fair distribution of goods, the futility of violence, the universal brotherhood of man, and the reification of community. These might be labeled as the themes of Rawlsianism, pacifism, fraternism and communalism.

Following the first two links above will take you to UR discussions of these themes, in which I outline their evolutionary history in the Christian clade and make a case for their morbidity. I have not yet discussed fraternism and communalism, but I’ll say a little about them later. If nothing else, they are certainly very easy to find in the Bible.

If Professor Dawkins was not a Christian atheist, but rather a Confucian or Buddhist atheist, or even an Islamic atheist (some clades of Sufism come daringly close to this rara avis), we would not expect to see these obvious synapomorphies with Christianity. Instead, we would expect to see synapomorphies with Confucianism, Buddhism or Islam, and we would have to construct a historical explanation of how these faiths made it to Cambridge. Fortunately we are spared this onerous task.

Nontheistic Christianity, therefore, can describe any tradition in the Christian clade in which the ancestral God theme has been replaced by the derived theme of atheism or agnosticism.

This is no more surprising than the replacement of the ancestral Trinitarian theme, which was part of all significant Christian traditions for a thousand years, with the derived Unitarian theme. Every variant of Christianity, by definition, considers itself orthodox. And as such it must question the legitimacy of any other Christian tradition which contains conflicting themes. To a good Trinitarian circa 1807, a Unitarian was simply not a Christian. Today, while most Christian traditions still officially conform to Trinitarianism, few spend a huge amount of time worrying about the Holy Ghost. If more examples are needed, denying the divinity of Jesus is another obvious intermediate form between Christian theism and Christian atheism.

We can also ignore the fact that Professor Dawkins does not classify Einsteinism as a form of Christianity, and nor do any non-Einsteinian Christian traditions. Clearly, accepting a tradition’s classification of itself, or of its competitors, is foolish in the extreme. These minor thematic features are best explained adaptively.

For example, it would be maladaptive for Einsteinism to self-classify as Christian. One of the most adaptive features of M.42 is that nontheistic or secular Christianity can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor and competitor, M.41 or theistic Christianity. Considering as this set includes the most influential repeater network in the world, the US educational system, it’s hard to see what could justify abandoning such a replicative advantage.

It would also be maladaptive for theistic Christianity to classify nontheistic Christianity as Christian. M.41 deploys the unchristian nature of its enemy, the dreaded “secular humanism,” as a rallying point for its dwindling band of followers. If Einsteinian religion was Christian, M.41 would have to define its (increasingly ineffective) counterattack not as a defense of faith, but as a mere theological spat. Once this may have had some resonance, but in a world where God Himself is under fire, it’s hard to excite anyone over such sectarian minutiae.

Therefore, I conclude that claim 1 is satisfied: nontheistic Christianity is a sensible concept.

As for claim 2, I’ve already described some of the links between Einsteinism and Christianity. Let’s sharpen this claim, however, by proposing a hypothetical chain of events that outlines the exact historical connection.

My belief is that Professor Dawkins is not just a Christian atheist. He is a Protestant atheist. And he is not just a Protestant atheist. He is a Calvinist atheist. And he is not just a Calvinist atheist. He is an Anglo-Calvinist atheist. In other words, he can be also be described as a Puritan atheist, a Dissenter atheist, a Nonconformist atheist, an Evangelical atheist, etc, etc.

This cladistic taxonomy traces Professor Dawkins’ intellectual ancestry back about 400 years, to the era of the English Civil War. Except of course for the atheism theme, Professor Dawkins’ kernel is a remarkable match for the Ranter, Leveller, Digger, Quaker, Fifth Monarchist, or any of the more extreme English Dissenter traditions that flourished during the Cromwellian interregnum.

Frankly, these dudes were freaks. Maniacal fanatics. Any mainstream English thinker of the 17th, 18th or 19th century, informed that this tradition (or its modern descendant) is now the planet’s dominant Christian denomination, would regard this as a sign of imminent apocalypse. If you’re sure they’re wrong, you’re more sure than me.

Fortunately, Cromwell himself was comparatively moderate. The extreme ultra-Puritan sects never got a solid lock on power under the Protectorate. Even more fortunately, Cromwell got old and died, and Cromwellism died with him. Lawful government was restored to Great Britain, as was the Church of England, and Dissenters became a marginal fringe again. And frankly, a damned good riddance it was.

However, you can’t keep a good parasite down. A community of Puritans fled to America and founded the theocratic colonies of New England. After its military victories in the American Rebellion and the War of Secession, American Puritanism was well on the way to world domination. Its victories in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War confirmed its global hegemony. All legitimate mainstream thought on Earth today is descended from the American Puritans, and through them the English Dissenters.

Of course, the tradition evolved over time. Its theology took significant steps toward modern secularism in the form of Unitarianism, which deleted the Trinity and other points of Calvinist doctrine, and especially under Transcendentalism, which elided the nasty idea of hell and declared that God loves everyone. Many of Professor Dawkins’ reveries about Einsteinian pantheistic natural grandeur are reminiscent of Emerson, who was trained as a Unitarian minister. During and after the War of Secession, New England Christianity established a cozy relationship with the Federal government, which it has continued to the present day, under labels such as liberalism and progressivism.

Two new histories of this process, though they are written by “conservatives” and thus become hopelessly confused after World War II, are David Gelernter’s Americanism and George McKenna’s The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. (I’ve only just started the latter, but so far I find it far superior, and I say this though I love Gelernter to death.) The same phenomenon was ably defined by Murray Rothbard as postmillennial pietism. For a snapshot of this terrifying militarist theocracy in action around WWI, try Richard Gamble’s The War for Righteousness. (Most people probably don’t know that the original noun which adjoined the adjective progressive was “Christianity.”) For an especially unusual M.41-flavored look at American Puritanism replicating in its favorite niche – government schools – check out R.J. Rushdoony‘s Messianic Character of American Education. And for a primary-source view of this tradition at the last point in history at which it had the humility to classify itself as mere religion, rather than absolute righteousness and truth, see one of my favorite examples, this Time Magazine article from 1942 – written in the lifetime, as they used to say, of those now living. Professor Dawkins would certainly qualify as a “super-protestant” by its definition.

Of course, Professor Dawkins is not American, but English. Sharing a language and culture, however, American Puritanism (and the broader clade of American mainline Protestantism) and the English Dissenters evolved largely as a single community. For example, in the War of Secession, Britain’s Anglican aristocracy tended to support the Confederates, and its Evangelical churchmen the Union. As American Puritanism won military victories and grew in political power, its British counterparts advanced as well. Everyone loves a strong horse.

After World War II, American influence ensured that the entire country was more or less surrendered to the Labour Party – the political organ of the Nonconformist tradition. The result is well described in Peter Hitchens’ uber-reactionary, but quite cogent, Abolition of Britain, or somewhat more apolitically in Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom. New Labour is more or less a Cromwellian restoration, and one can only hope that its long-awaited comeuppance will be enlivened by the hanging of a corpse or two.

Professor Dawkins himself was raised as a high-church Anglican, an animal now essentially extinct on Planet Three. The present Archbishop of Canterbury is so low-church, it’s surprising he can preach anywhere but an underground parking garage. If he were any lower-church, he’d be in either Hell or China. And as of late, the so-called Tories have undergone the same degrading humiliation. In the UK, any significant resistance to “super-protestantism” is now a footnote of history. The country’s descent into sheer ecstatic barbarism, as long foretold by critics of the Nonconformist ascendancy, is now at hand.

(It’s worth noting that before 1945, anti-Americanism in Europe was essentially a right-wing tradition, primarily opposed to Yankee millennialist democratism. As I have written, postwar anti-Americanism is an entirely different animal, which might be more accurately described as “ultra-Americanism.” It is a consequence of the projection of American power, specifically of the New Deal, which represented the culminating triumph of the American progressive tradition, into a conquered Europe. These days, Europe has almost the same relationship to the US as the US, in the days when it was the refuge of Dissenter mania, bore to the UK.)

Moving briefly to the Continent, we encounter the strange phenomenon of the so-called “Enlightenment.” Of course, everyone is enlightened by their own lights, so this word tells us nothing. In my view, the “Enlightenment” and the similarly self-congratulatory “Reformation” are best understood as a continuum. But the former is notable because it may constitute the basal synapomorphy of nontheistic Christianity. Briefly, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a niche in France where it was more adaptive to be an unbeliever than a Protestant. The result was the rise of the philosophes, and eventually the terrifying Rousseauvian cult of Reason, which should have been enough to make everyone swear off atheism forever.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t. And there is no better demonstration of the ties between the English Dissenters and the French Jacobins, and thus of the connection between Puritanism and atheism, than figures such as Rev. Richard Price, whose pro-Jacobin sermon, Discourse on the Love of our Country, was so memorably ass-raped by Burke in his Reflections.

If we compare Rev. Price’s sentiments with those of the Rev. Harvey Cox, a modern exponent of secular theology – see this essay, written exactly two centuries after the Discourse – the family resemblance is unmistakable. I can’t think of a single point on which either of these reverends could raise their voice to the other. Puritanism and secularism are simply the same thing. The existence of such modern sects as Unitarian Universalism demonstrates that there are zero thematic conflicts between the two. In UUism, the God theme is reduced to such irrelevance that congregants in the same church can simply agree to disagree on it. But you certainly won’t find them disagreeing on the proposition that, say, all men are brothers.

Of course I’ve discussed this phenomenon before on UR. The label I prefer for the modern version of the Puritan tradition – Professor Dawkins’ Einsteinism – is Universalism. I hope I’m not boring people by continually harping on the subject, but I’d like to take a few paragraphs to once again justify this terminology.

One criticism of “Universalism” is that this label is not used by any present-day Christian denomination to identify itself. I regard this as a virtue, not a vice. First, one of the main themes of Universalism is that it does not self-classify as a Christian sect. Second, one notes that most Christian sects in the past have wound up attached to labels which were originally composed by their enemies. This stands to reason. After all, if these traditions are parasitic, one can expect them to be a little bit deceptive.

Another criticism of the label “Universalism” is that the word is derived from – and easily confused with – the simple English word universalism. Earlier, I tested some artificial labels which did not have this limitation, but after a while they struck me as dorky. (However, they mean the same thing and you can use them if you like – if you don’t mind sounding dorky.) Suffice it to say that although Methodists are indeed often methodical, the Jurassic strata are indeed exposed in the Jura, etc, etc, the fact that most Universalists can indeed be described as universalist does not render these labels in any way, shape, or form equivalent or synonymous.

As a term of technical theology, universalism also has a specific, although now much-disused, meaning: the belief that everyone is saved, and no one will go to Hell. Fortunately, Universalists in my sense of the word are certainly universalists in this sense – ie, they don’t believe in Hell, and they do believe that every human is essentially good. Michael S. wrote very eloquently about this correspondence here.

Of course, if what you really mean is universalist in either English sense above, rather than Universalist as in a believer in Universalism the post-Puritan tradition, I can’t ask you to mean something else. But here at UR the former is a confusing term, and if you feel the need to use it, please at least consider searching for a synonym. Above all, if you mean Universalism with a capital U, please say Universalism with a capital U. You can deploy inverted commas, as in “Universalism,” if you have any residual skepticism.

How do we relate Einsteinism to Universalism? One easy approach is to look at Einstein himself. Einstein was an assimilated, non-observant Jew with a Reform background, Reform Judaism being essentially a Jewish version of Protestantism. (In Israel, Reform is not really considered Jewish at all.) A good summary of Einstein’s beliefs is here. Note his affection for Quakerism, the Cromwellian uber-Puritan sect par excellence. I have no qualms at all about describing Einstein as a Universalist.

It’s also amusing to read Einstein’s 1939 time-capsule message to 6939, whose entire text is:

Our time is rich in inventive minds, the inventions of which could facilitate our lives considerably. We are crossing the seas by power and utilize power also in order to relieve humanity from all tiring muscular work. We have learned to fly and we are able to send messages and news without any difficulty over the entire world through electric waves.

However, the production and distribution of commodities is entirely unorganized so that everybody must live in fear of being eliminated from the economic cycle, in this way suffering for the want of everything.

Furthermore, people living in different countries kill each other at irregular time intervals, so that also for this reason anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror. This is due to the fact that the intelligence and character of the masses are incomparably lower than the intelligence and character of the few who produce something valuable for the community.

I trust that posterity will read these statements with a feeling of proud and justified superiority.

Note the confession of faith in economic central planning, a common Progressive Era belief. I feel quite confident that the residents of 6959, whomever they may be, will read that one with a feeling of proud and justified superiority. If not quite in the way Einstein intended.

If you are a Universalist (I was certainly raised as a Universalist, so I sympathize), and you are having trouble believing in the existence of this tradition, its Christian heritage, or its involvement with the American political system, please allow me to recommend some books. Try George Packer’s Blood of the Liberals, Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground, Richard Ellis’s Dark Side of the Left, Arthur Lipow’s Authoritarian Socialism in America, Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, and Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution. What all these works have in common is that they were written by orthodox Universalists, not “conservatives,” and as such they will not set off the massively hypertrophied M.41 alarm that comes with your M.42 infection. The result will be a rather weird and eclectic picture of American Universalist history, with many gigantic lacunae, but it ought to at least get you started.

Let me step back and take one last look at this entire phenomenon. Again, I am arguing that the Enlightenment is not orthogonal to the Reformation, that secularism is best considered as a form of Protestantism. Moreover – though this is a separate discussion – the modern battle between “left” and “right” displays clear continuity with the Protestant-Catholic conflict. As an extremely rough approximation, when we factor out the God theme, what we see is that leftism is Protestantism and rightism is Catholicism.

One of the reasons this generalization is so rough – it’s easy to find counterexamples, such as modern Northern Ireland, in which Catholics are clearly “left” and Protestants are “right” – is that Catholicism and Protestantism are themselves extremely vague terms. Ultramontanism and liberation theology are both nominally Catholic, although I would certainly describe the latter as a Protestantizing “low-church” intrusion. Jansenism is another historical example of Protestantized Catholicism, which competed with the philosophes for the niche left open by the expulsion of the Huguenots. And the adaptive radiation of the Protestant clade needs no comment. Homoplasies and introgressions are legion in this gigantic bag of worms.

One way to produce a better generalization is to see this same conflict as not a competition between two clades, but between two adaptive niches. We can describe these niches very abstractly as pietist and liturgist. Pietist traditions in Christianity are abstract, ascetic, monastic, philosophical, and democratic. Liturgist traditions are ritualist, charismatic, materialistic, doctrinal, and hierarchical. Strains of Christianity going back well before the Reformation can be described as occupying the pietist or liturgist niche, often shifting between them.

With this adaptive taxonomy, atheism, secularism, laicism, etc, appear as extreme variants of pietism. The urge to tear down all ritual, to worship Reason and Man rather than Church and God, to whitewash the frescoes and melt down the candlesticks, is everpresent in pietism. Professor Dawkins’ entire shtick is perfectly consistent with the pietist niche. No wonder it’s so successful.

Whereas the “fundamentalist” American born-again Christians, whom Professor Dawkins so loathes and so longs to outlaw – as if they weren’t already quite thoroughly expelled from the official educational system, not to mention utterly eradicated in Europe – have developed a faith that, though its cladistic origins are thoroughly Protestant, is clearly settling in to the liturgist niche.

Indeed, Professor Dawkins seems to feel exactly the same way about these awful people (I prefer to call them salvationists, because their core belief is in salvation through faith) that his Dissenter forebears felt about those scheming Papists. For literally centuries, fear of the Romish menace animated Protestant faithful on both sides of the pond. The fact that any serious possibility of an Anglo-Catholic restoration ended in 1746 was hardly a check on this rich, ever-flowing wellspring of demagogic paranoia.

The Kulturkampf in Germany and the Dreyfus affair in France (note that just because the anti-Dreyfusards were wrong about Dreyfus, doesn’t mean they were wrong about everything) are other, more recent outbreaks of the liturgist-pietist war – which Professor Dawkins seems so eager to resurrect. Essentially, Professor Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have planted the seed of a political movement which might well be described as neo-anticlericalism. I’d like to think that if they took a closer look at the past fruits of this particular vegetable, they might think twice and decide to backpedal with a quick dose of Roundup.

I believe that at this point I have adequately demonstrated claim 2. If you are not convinced, I really have no idea what I could say to convince you further.

As for claim 3 – the claim that Universalism is the most successful Christian tradition today – this strikes me as simply obvious.

Some confusion may be afforded by the definition of success, by which I mean of course Darwinian, that is, reproductive success. The fact that the most influential repeaters of the Western world, the universities, state schools and the official press, are by any standards Universalist organs, is quite sufficient to demonstrate claim 3. It’s also worth nothing that Universalism is far, far more fashionable – that is, simply cooler – than any of its competitors. To find social situations in which it’s a faux pas to express Universalist sentiments, you have to dig very deep on the fashion scale, certainly well into Wal-Mart or yobbo territory (in the US and Britain respectively). The converse is not exactly the case.

Explaining that George W. Bush, who is at least nominally a salvationist (though the veneer is pretty thin and pretty transparent, I have to say), is president of the most powerful country on Earth, is not going to convince me that your anti-salvationist fears are justified. First, you might want to take a look at the actual power of the US President, and the achievements of a far more dedicated, powerful and popular salvationist – Ronald Reagan – in rolling back Universalism or promoting salvationism. Does the word “nada” mean anything to you?

Second, the reason the US has a president who is at least nominally salvationist is simply that the number of diehard salvationists and the number of fanatical Universalists in the US is roughly equal. Considering the fact that the latter control essentially all institutions by which traditions are installed in the young – not to mention the fact that Universalists are importing new voters like it was going out of style – we can expect the balance of power to shift toward Universalism. Which is pretty much what it’s been doing for about the last 150 years.

Where, for instance, is Anita Bryant today? What mainstream Republican even dares to oppose “affirmative action”? Where are even the pro-lifers, for God’s sake? You couldn’t get 5% of the vote in the US now for the bedrock shibboleths of the 1970s’ salvationist reaction.

I am certainly not a salvationist. Au contraire – I am a hardcore, deep-fried atheist. And my connection with Middle-American culture is not much stronger than that of Pauline Kael, who famously didn’t know anyone who voted for Nixon. I would certainly not enjoy living in an America which was dominated by salvationists, if we define dominance as the sort of power Universalism enjoys today.

But this possibility strikes me as remote to the point of absurdity. And quite frankly, I refuse to let myself be led around by the nose by kneejerk reactions of fear and hate. Selah. If you are not convinced on claim 3, again, there is little more I can say. Perhaps you should try washing your eyes out with a little soapy water.

This is already way too long, and it’s 5 in the morning. I will discuss claims 4 and 5 in part 3, due out next Thursday. I will also try to integrate parts 1 and 2, whose connection seems to have grown a little loose. Again, please feel free to post any comments you have below, but be warned that I will continue my pattern of shameful commentary procrastination until part 3 is out and the essay is complete. However, I have not yet written part 3, and the comments will surely help me do so – as the comments on part 1 helped with part 2. A maze of twisty little numbers, all alike…

(Update: I corrected an embarrassing error in the above. Of course, the anti-Dreyfusards were wrong about Dreyfus, not right. Thanks to the commenter who pointed this out.)