Archives for category: Social Psychology


Virginia author James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) wrote comic romances (a term perhaps less confusing than “romantic comedies”) on a set of themes. One of these themes is expressed in the idea that there exist women too beautiful for many men safely to look at.

In The High Place: A Comedy of Disenchantment, young Florian espies the sleeping Melior (ensorcelled in a castle ensconced upon a High Place) and it unsettled his life, sending him into a flagrantly immoral life of lust, murder, and (in the end) world-shaking cataclysm.

In Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, the title character — having been given a temporary visage of youth — finds himself with the opportunity to remove a sleeping Helen of Troy’s blanket, but cautiously refrains. This restraint allowed him to return to his normal life as a pawnbroker, and bargain with Koschei the Deathless for the retrieval of his wife from distant realms, to take up her former position as his nagging partner.

Mere fantasy? The peculiar obsession of a perverse mind?

I doubt it.

Sexual selection is powered, in great part, by enticement based on beauty. Flowers are beautiful, the peacock’s feathers are beautiful, and so can be women (to varying degrees). The more beautiful the more likely to attract the bee or the mate, and thus the greater the beauty the more likely they are to procreate, thus spreading the world with more beautiful beings. In some species it is the male that displays the more elaborate enticements to mate, the peacock and peahen being a prime example. In Homo sapiens, it is the woman who attracts chiefly by physical beauty — and the men more moved by that beauty. But, admittedly, among humans the variety of sexual attractions and sexual strategies makes everything vastly more complicated than a themed story.*

But this is a major force in life and its evolution, not a mere technical display, an acquired habit of culture, as so many of today’s trendy people pretend to believe. Lust for — and enchantment with —  sexual beauty is built into our psyches, well, most male psyches, anyway, as amply demonstrated in science and literature. And it rules, often with the whip hand. Beauty suffuses nature, and the lust for beauty spurs life to continue. Further, because it runs so deep, it can be as (or more) powerful than the drive for mysticism, for the numinous.

Carl Gustav Jung suggested that organized religion exists to curb the unsettling power of mystical experiences. By formalizing the Divine, and limiting it to certain rites, places, times, it allows for mundane life to continue.

Traditional marriage and family life did something similar. The mundane curbs the sheer transcendent power of Beauty. To prevent destruction.

Nowadays, the most beautiful of women are plucked from obscurity, farded to perfection, and paraded about for all to see. This alone — with instantiations from modeling, to acting, to pornography (which some would say and was once widely believed were all allied arts) — may be a major factor in modern culture . . . to the unsettling nature of family and community life.

If Cabell were right, this modern development leads to disaster for some men, and perhaps a problem for many men as well as most women. The disaster might be a bit more humdrum than the one perpetrated by Florian.

Behind all the romance, irony, symbols, and elegant prose, Cabell’s philosophic argument was that the natural curb for this aspect of sexual bedazzlement is marriage: one woman to one man, quickly followed by motherhood and fatherhood, thereby speeding up the process known to all: nature’s universal answer to all enchantments, including life itself. Decline and Death. Mother Sereda bleaching all. That suffices to dull the beauty in life.

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* Of course there are anomalies, outliers to life’s main story. Gay men and lesbian women look on the world of beauty and sexuality rather differently, each. And certainly confirmed bachelors like me have a different perspective on the story than do married men and, of course, women. But the central story will always be the one that directly carries on the regeneration of life. We outliers must recognize our place. And when society bends to the outlier, to make their stories central, as it seems to be doing now, we can expect cataclysms. Brave New World was not Utopia.

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The first rule of politics, one would think, must be: Do not turn your opponents more set against you; do not make them your diabolical opposite, your nemesis.

Democrats are doing that with Donald Trump: making him their enemy. Making him more extreme.

They would have found him at least somewhat pliable, I bet, had they not roundly condemned him as Hitler — before and especially after his election. Trump was, after all, a Democrat himself until a few years ago.

I do not think I have ever witnessed such massive stupidity … at least since the united government under Bush pushed massive spending.

But let me take a step back from my utter incredulity: It is not as if Democrats had not made similar miscalculations before, in dropping their anti-war activism, anathematizing the Tea Party, idolizing Obama and granting him one Get Out of Jail FREE card after another.

Indeed, the style obsession that became paramount under Obama — “isn’t he just the coolest, the dreamiest?” — is part of the reason for the current over-reaction against Trump. Superficiality, bewitched passion, trumps . . . reason.

Democratic partisans as well as leftists at large are now forcing Trump’s hand, mobbing him to move further away from their side. And if he succeeds, they could lose big.

Astounding, the stupidity of it. But it cannot be just their superficiality, their tribal othering, their commitment to symbolic action and the rhetoric of intention over follow-through.

Perhaps, thinking themselves outsiders, their “rules for radicals” approach did not prepare them for what the reality of their position was: defense of their status as insiders. They needed a more Machiavellian text.

Sorry, post-Alinskians! Now, the only true radicals left are the La Boéttiens!

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The amusing thing about having a fabulist as President is that it gives us all something to talk about while he pushes through as much of his promised agenda as he can.

Fake out!

imageYeah, I’ve been tricked by Trump’s Twitter feed, too. But, to repeat something I said last month, there is a method to his madness. He is spinning the media. I do believe this is according to a plan. He is a magician. Or, maybe, Iago + troll.

I was just watching the Egregious Hack, George Stephanopoulis, go into high moral dudgeon about the utter implausibility that the White House was spouting in defense of the Trump Tower Wiretap Tweet. The Hack seemed to think he was on to something. It was as if he thought that by exposing this one lie, the whole Trump movement would crumble.

Fool!

Yes, he should know better. It was he, after all, who was present at the creation of the Post-Truth society. His beloved Clintons mastered stonewalling and sheer cussed persistence long after after a lie had been found out.

The Clintons had learned that being caught in a lie is very much like Death — for everybody else. The lied-to go through stages: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance. As long as the caught liar refuses to deal with the truth and the meaning of is and whatnot, those he has lied to deal with the awful fact as best they can. If the liar is resolute, in the end the lied-to merely accepts that something happened not to their liking, and carry on as if truth were not a thing.

And, in politics, it needn’t be. And has not been for a long time.

Trump is merely playing the game by his standards, now, not the media’s.

We could be witnessing the End Times ushered in the side door, or the greatest political rescue mission negotiated out the back. I don’t know.

But it is hysterically funny.

It is great fun, anyway, watching the Egregious Hack and his cohorts twist in the wind, as Trump plays them.

Just remember to laugh. (Sometimes one forgets to breathe.) We are witnessing the complete erosion of the establishment’s patina, a wiping away of all surface luster. We shall soon be witnessing nothing other than naked power.

Yes. You can then call it the Apocalypse. For much will then be revealed.

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Folks with government pensions and major institutional jobs are, deep down, frightened of those who do not have their perks. On some level, they know they are “the privileged.” Which is why they talk about “privilege” so much, and appear self-abnegating . . . on matters of race and “gender.”

As psychological repression. Deflection. Ritual cleansing.

They overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton.

They pretend not to know why anyone would vote for Trump.

But they know. They are sitting in gilded mansions erected upon a house of cards. And they know that most folks, not connected to government or finance or insider contracts, hold the lowest cards in the deck.

They know. The fervor of their growing hysterical Progressivism is a sign of the times. They instinctively double down on the institutions — political and governmental — that have granted them their privileges. But they have corrupted that Progressivism away from anything like a populism into a bizarre ritual victim cult, with all the trappings designed to appease the most chthonian demons, the ugliest gods. They offer permanent victim status to anyone who takes on their statist religion as a cargo cult, and absolve themselves and those poor schmo acolytes with the victims’ relief card: no one is responsible for their ills but the . . .  evil One Percenters.

Whose ranks they, themselves, largely fill.

Fear dominates modern politics. It is not the fear most people think, though. It is not on just one side, the fear of foreign competition, elitist exploitation, Islamic conquest. There is plenty of fear to go around.

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The Major Media, Desperate, Will Now Apparently Stoop to Anything in Its Social War Against Outside-the-Beltway Americans

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This could be the most important video you will watch this week:

Why would the Wall Street Journal send three journalists to do a hit piece on a popular YouTube comedian, basically tearing out of context his jokes so that he looks (to gullible Journal readers) like an “anti-semite.”

pewdiepieOn the face of it, doing a “scoop” on “PewDiePie” is an absurd bit of overkill. But Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) explains how this relates to the great issue of our time: the decline of major-media journalism, the rise of decentralized Internet alternatives, and, with it, the rise of populist politics.

One of the reasons I have not freaked out over the election of Donald Trump has been that I have had some inkling of his social and historical function. To excoriate Trump over and over is to side with the establishment and its social war with the majority of Americans. Mainstream media journalism has become worse than a joke. It has become the broad institutional equivalent of a lying tyrant.

The establishment — consisting of the media, the institutions of “higher learning,” and the permanently employed bureaucracies of the federal and state governments (the latter employed with cushier salaries, benefits and pensions than the average American worker) — has effectively marginalized those parts of the population that it has not bought off (with government subsidies), rewarded directly (by feeding them into the academic-bureaucratic and military-industrial complexes), or duped (with propaganda designed to feed self-righteous tribalism).

Thus it has been that a liar was chosen by the marginalized to play tyrant in the overthrowing of the establishment. It is an historical pattern: you ape your enemy to defeat the enemy. (I do not condone this; I merely note this.) And I, for one, will be glad to see the media establishment finally fall. The extent of their pernicious grip on American institutions can hardly be over-stated. The benefit for us could be enormous. The possibility of a freer future may open up.

Certainly, with the major media as hegemon, no real hope for social transformation can come.

The major media outlets are largely (in America, Fox excepting) insider-progressive. And, to unbuild the corporatist tyrannies that Progressivism and its allied movements (socialism, social democracy, Fabianism, fascism) have placed upon the West, the major media must first be put in their place.

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I blogged heavily against the Iraq Conquest in 2002 – 2004. Along with many, many leftists . . . who abandoned the cause with the election of Obama. That is one reason I do not take the left seriously at all. I am still against bombing innocents in the mid-East. They defend their man, a mass murderer.

elephant-and-ass-upsidedownBut that is Obama. What of his precursor?

I never trusted George W. Bush. On a personal level. He gave me the creeps. I loathed his idiotic “compassionate conservatism.” What a crock. He seemed an ignoramus, as well as gauche, a stumbler. And I could see his schemers’ wheels spinning regarding Iraq. I guessed precisely how he got the disinformation he wanted — Ron Susskind’s Price of Loyalty later confirmed my intuition.

DonaldTrumpDonald Trump gives off similar vibes, though worse, in a way. If possible, he seems even less aware than Bush of the intricacies of American governance. At least, as an ex-drunk and a believing Christian, Bush had some honesty within him. But Trump? I don’t buy his “act.” I don’t think his persona is earnest in the least, and I see him as worse than an egoist. He is an egotist. He preens, he plays to an audience, he is always concerned about how he looks and is judged as he peers into that dark mirror, the modern vidscreen. There is a deep and fragile narcissism there.

He is not magnanimous; he is a megalomaniac.

I think people mistake Trump’s bravado and rudeness as a “tell it like it is” signal, a sign of honesty. I do not see it that way. I see him as playing the American population, a people so often manipulated by the elites in power and prestige that they have given up even on manners.

IMG_1975I don’t hate their revolt, their alt-right-ridden Trumpmania. I sympathize. I just think they are setting themselves up for the biggest betrayal yet. Trump is not the real deal. And, though I think it idiotic in the extreme to call him Hitlerian, his use of out-group hate does strike me as demagogic in the Nazi vein. (If elected, though, it is not his extreme hates that will prove out — he will reveal his inner Mediocrity, instead.)

Hillary Clinton Takes Part In Ceremonial Swearing-In As Secretary Of State

But, amidst all of these horrors, Hillary Clinton is, personally as well as persona-wise, far, far worse. She is more repellent a figure than Bush, and, I think, even than the Donald. And she rubs her leftish supporters’ noses in their own servility: she is the biggest warmonger in the race by far, the most militant-sounding president since Nixon.

stumpyslugI think it will be interesting to see America self-destruct.

With the next administration, if either Trump or Clinton get elected, the last grace of moral high ground will have been ceded — to the cruel wind of fate, by the voters.

Choose the name of your Destroyer, Americans!

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Hours ago I surveyed the current field of major party candidates in the context of two challengers, both of whom hope (almost certainly in vain) for contested conventions.

And in my hurry to marshal a dozen thoughts into as few words as possible, I forgot to mention one important thing: the realignment of the Republican Party could happen contested convention or no. If Trump breezes through the rest of the primary season, and into a successful crowning ceremony in Cleveland next July, he may very well change the nature of the GOP. In fact, it is more likely to occur under a Trump sweep.

Why? Because, unless Trump wins the presidency and governs in a manner more-or-less acceptable to libertarians, social conservatives, Main Streeters and neoconservatives — surely an impossible task — his win will signal the breakdown of the Republican Fantasy.

What is that fantasy? It is the Reaganite vision, wherein social conservatives, business people, free-marketers and neocon warriors all get what they want, and that getting is compatible . . . that these four groups are four great groups that group best together.

What could happen is that Trump brings in moderate Democrats and independents into the Republican fold, sending others hither to the winds.

I suspect that, if Trump is true to his rhetoric, it will be the libertarians, and possibly the neocons, who will make for the exits. That will leave the Republican Party a more nationalist and protectionist — but perhaps less imperialistic — force in modern politics.

You are familiar with the quadrant view of political ideologies, between Authoritarians, right-wingers (pseudo-conservatives), left-wingers (pseudo-progressives) and Libertarians. Right now the authoritarians are partially on the outs. If Trump succeeds, the shift  in the complexion of the GOP would almost certainly move more authoritarian. Here is a good example of the chart, with my perception of the current complexion of Republican constituency, and then with a possible future, more Trumpian:

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Of course, one of the things about Trump is: he is unpredictable. He is The Mule.

And as such, who knows, really, how he would govern?

On the other hand, if Trump wins the nomination but loses the presidency, would the more authoritarian voters he pulled in change the permanent complexion of the Party of Lincoln? It seems doubtful, but considering how unsuccessful the coalition has been, despite its obvious persistence, its unraveling sure seems inevitable.

Another thing I neglected to mention concerns the punishing vote.

We spend a lot of time in politics talking about what people are for: for this, for that.

But Obama got in office in part out of a reaction against Bush in particular and Republicans in general. Voters — especially the marginal, independent voter — voted Democrat to punish Republicans. Who truly did need punishing.

Will marginal voters reverse themselves, and punish the Democrats, who really should be punished?

By talking to Democrats, I’d guess no. But the logic of the marginal voter suggests that punishing Democrats may indeed be a factor, and may lead to a lot of Trump votes in November. Remember: democracy’s chief success and function is not the expression of any general will, but the peaceful removal of individuals and groups from power.

Trouble is, it won’t be a simple two-party field in November, and there is almost as much Hillary Hate as Trump Hate. This suggests to me not only that many current Bernie Sanders voters will vote Trump, but a not-insignificant number will protest and vote Libertarian. As in the Libertarian Party and its presumptive nominee Gary Johnson, on the ballot, I am told, in every state in the union. And Johnson may finally take those quasi-libertarians who usually vote Republican. The question then becomes, of the punishment-prone voters, how many will vote Trump and how many will vote Johnson? Could Johnson help Hillary get the election?

Or could the eventual Electoral College make-up send the election to the House of Representatives?

We live in interesting times.

 

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An “Inclusionist” contra Liberty


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In 2011*, Psychology Today presented us with a screed against libertarianism, an absurd array of cliché and error. All this from a man who — to judge by his credentials — should know better. He is an academic who specializes in complexity theory. Yet he seems entirely unaware of the importance that complexity has played in the development of ideological individualism.

It becomes painfully obvious that the author of this sad screed did not do much research. Indeed, the author appears not to understand that his central case against libertarianism was the case for liberty in the classic writings of Adam Smith and Herbert Spencer.

Here is the most relevant passage:

We evolved as intensely interdependent social animals, and our sense of empathy toward others, our sensitivity to reciprocity, our desire for inclusion and our loyalty to the groups we bond with, the intrinsic satisfaction we derive from cooperative activities, and our concern for having the respect and approval of others all evolved in humankind to temper and constrain our individualistic, selfish impulses (as Darwin himself pointed out in The Descent of Man).

Well, yes. As Adam Smith “himself” pointed out in The Theory of Moral Sentiments over a hundred years earlier, and as Herbert Spencer elaborated in many of his books, most especially the Principles of Ethics. Darwin was not advancing a wholly new thesis. He was developing a theme already well-established among his contemporaries. It was, in fact, “settled science.”

Yes, I know, of course: the word “empathy” hadn’t been coined yet. Eighteenth and 19th century writers used “sympathy.” Smith and Spencer were the leading theorists of sympathy in their respective centuries. Their work was well known, and, if a modern sociologist or psychologist appears oblivious, it is usually the result of never having read Smith and Spencer. Few modern sociologists have bothered with Spencer, for instance, since Talcott Parsons pronounced his reputation “dead” in the first pages of The Structure of Social Action. (Later in his career Parsons revived many of Spencer’s ideas, but without citation, without any recognition of what he was doing.)

Herbert Spencer was the first evolutionary psychologist — though this is rarely acknowledged by today’s EP crowd. They do not need to burden themselves with a reputation declared toxic. But Spencer advanced a very complex theory of complexity. And it encompassed ideas his critics pretend are theirs — but usually Spencer’s treatment is more sophisticated.

Consider the obsession with inclusion, which is now the official focus of campus radical ideology, a watchword of the cult of “social justice.” (Spencer wrote merely of justice, and Hayek later followed in his footsteps to criticize social justice as a “mirage.”) Spencer called the inclusionary and loyalty aspects of human cooperation “the ethics of amity,” in the first chapters of The Inductions of Ethics. What our critic misses is what all modern progressives shield from their eyes: in parallel to this in-group allegiance exists a chthonian out-group antagonism, which is just as much a part of our evolutionary heritage empathy and the general sense of cooperativeness.

Spencer called this contrasting set of historically demonstrated imperatives “the ethics of enmity.”

Throughout the history of human civilization, the ethics of enmity has had a huge part in the foundation and structure of social systems. It is inevitable in eras of vast social conflict. And it has always uneasily existed in parallel to loftier, more charitable-sounding pronouncements of amity. And what the liberal tradition — modern libertarianism, especially, which in a sense grew out of Spencer’s work —always tried to do was solve the problems of human discord by rationalizing the terms for peace, making the standards of justice public and limited to a few tasks, mainly regulating when force can be used in society. And the key contribution of this form of individualism, not addressed anywhere in our critic’s analysis, has become the bedrock position of the modern libertarian position: the same standards that apply to individuals must apply to groups of individuals, including people working in the State.

For it is not just selfishness that morality and law must contend with as criminal, but group frenzy and tribalistic suppression of individuals, as well as group-to-group antagonism.

Liberalism, like libertarianism, is an attempt to minimize and control the impulse to go to war, in part by limiting the number of issues over which force may legitimately be used.

Liberty, in the libertarian system — as, more loosely in the classical liberal order of an extended civilization — serves as the moderating middle-point, a marker of equilibrium, among competing interests. It is a constraint not only on the excesses of egoistic self-serving at the expense of one or all others, it also serves as the rational regulator (in rule-of-law terms, in Weber-speak, it possesses rational-legal authority) of in-group/out-group antagonisms. It constrains communal misbehavior as well as individual misbehavior.

From our critic, no peep about this possibility. He appears to be a utopian, hinting that group action is pristine, placing human sin entirely in the “selfishness” category. Blink after reading, and see: the man has a limited view of human nature, apparently thinking that only selfishness is an evil.

To believe this is to be a fool. And a tyrant, perhaps, at heart.

There is one excuse the man could marshal, to explain his witless and inaccurate take-down: Ayn Rand. She muddied things up with “egoism” and “the virtue of selfishness.”

Combined with the author’s Econ 101ish misunderstanding of the place of Homo economicus in market theory, his calumny makes sense . . . in terms of the filiation of his ideas.

But this set of intellectual errors does not justify — cannot be justified— for Liberty is all about constraining both selfish criminality in the individual and the “altruistic” horrors perpetrated by mass man and his obsession with hierarchies.

And the author’s closing gambit is droll, in the context of debate about liberty:

A more serious concern is that the libertarian fixation with individual freedom distracts us from the underlying biological purpose of a society.  The basic, continuing, inescapable problem for humankind, as for all other living organisms, is biological survival and reproduction.

When Herbert Spencer is acknowledged for his extended analysis in this vein (that our critic suggests), he is derided, declared a Social Darwinist.

The level of cluelessness here is astounding.


This particular hit piece popped into my consciousness as a Facebook posting, a blast from the past. Belatedly, I bite. It is a good example of barely intellectual nonsense that academic folks periodically bring out, to  beat back, if they can, skepticism about the nature and functions of the State. They really dislike skepticism about the State, and basically freak out when confronted with an ideology that encourages resistance to allegiance to the modern state, in part by frankly discussing the perils as well as difficulties associated with collective action. The modish progressive, today, looks at “inclusion” as a solution, not as a problem also meant to be solved by the institutions of a free society.

The original draft of this essay appeared on the Herbert Spencer’s Shade Facebook page.

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I like the music of Steve Reich — and not just because Music for 18 Musicians is the best make-out music ever composed. His list of masterpieces is long, and includes Drumming, Music for a Large Ensemble, Octet, Different Trains, Sextet, The Desert Music, and many other works.

I even enjoy some of his earliest minimalist experiments, such as Piano Phase.

Here we learn that this early classic has been adapted for harpsichord:

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Apparently Harpsichord Phase is a riot.

What we have here is a bit of a reversal.

After The Rite of Spring ballet elicited a riot at its 1913 Paris premiere, the story got related to Rite fans in the late 20th century as a case of snobby, stodgy oldsters who didn’t really appreciate music. They were no better than culture snobs who wanted their ears blessed with the merely pretty (and perhaps by the merely Parisian). But the folks objecting to harpsichord minimalism at this recent boo-out no doubt love music. They love their music, not others’. And by going to a harpsichord recital, they thought themselves insulated from alien sounds. This cannot be construed as simple snobbery, can it?

Fortunately, my tastes are broad enough that I wouldn’t even object to some painful rendition of a dodecaphonic monstrosity.

But then, my manners and respect for others’ property and contracts preclude me from interrupting even dreck.

I would not cry fire in a crowded theater, either.

Unless there was a fire.

We can be certain: there was no fire in Harpsichord Phase. That music is saved from the heat and rufosity of that most volatile element.

Schumpeter-Imperialism“Driven out everywhere else, the irrational seeks refuge in nationalism — the irrational that consists of belligerence, the need to hate, a goodly quota of inchoate idealism, the most naive (and hence also the most unrestrained) egotism. This is precisely what constitutes the impact of nationalism.”

Joseph A. Schumpeter, The Sociology of Imperialisms, 1919 (Laissez Faire Books: August 19, 2015)