Archives for category: Social Psychology

wiseman

A timeline of me changing my attitude on iconoclasm:

  1. When Russians pulled down Lenin statues, at the end of the Soviet era, I cheered.
  2. When folks in Seattle’s Fremont District put up a Lenin statue, I snickered.
  3. When American forces, during the Conquest of Iraq, hit some major sites of ancient Mesopotamian civilization I was deeply irked.
  4. When ISIS began dismantling, destroying and selling off ancient statues from Assyria as “idols,” I was aghast that any modern would wish to treat as objects for either current reverence or irreverence millennia-old statuary.
  5. When SJWs turned against the statuary of the Civil War dead, I was somewhat disturbed that anyone would treat centuries-old and even decades-old memorials as objects for current reverence or irreverance — other than a reverance for history.

My attitude about recent iconoclasm is not unlike my attitude regarding speech: just as the proper response to speech one does not like is more speech, the proper response to statuary one doesn’t like is not iconoclasm but more statuary. It is easy to destroy, not so easy to put up new monuments — they cost money, at the very least. Destroying statuary amounts to destroying history. And destruction, even the destruction of ugly history, seems more like childishness than maturity. Adults should be able to look at a statue and not get sucked into its implied ideology.

And, surely, the postmoderns are right: any given artifact possesses more than one meaning. We Hyperboreans are authorized to pick and choose the meanings we prefer, surely.

I prefer knowledge to ignorance, truth over myth, and seeing even the most vile of monuments as examples of history.

Yes, I am one of those people fascinated by ancient monuments. I have been since very young. You know: the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, Göbekli Tepe, all that.  My interest has engendered quite a bit of reverence for these monuments’ historicity, not allegiance to their original functionality. I am quite certain I would not support the bulk of the policies of the ancient monument-builders were someone foolish enough to attempt to revive those policies.

I made peace with Lenin being in Seattle. Still . . . perhaps I should fear the statue’s influence on Seattle politics. Could it have given succor to socialism on the current Seattle City Council?

Which brings up an important point: republican governments should probably forgo the making of monuments. They are inherently propagandistic, and though celebrating the heroes of the republic seems a fine thing, it is worth doing this privately, with private funds on private land. If republics have any legitimacy, it is in defending individual rights. Adding propagandistic and eulogizing monuments to the mix of political duties is part of the ancien régime where much effort had to be made to pretend that leaders were gods, or,  at the very least, God’s servants upon the Midgard.

All this notwithstanding, were it up to me, a motto emblazoned upon every legislative house with the words Mundus vult decipi would be more apt than any other maxim, like E pluribus unum or Novus ordo seclorum.

But in politics, truth is not what you lead with.

twv

Advertisements

Sometimes we should take a step back and remember: we don’t know much, and much of what we “know” isn’t so.

IMG_2025This is especially the case in foreign affairs. Many important events and agendas are kept from the public. Whole organizations operate (and even exist) sub rosa. We are fed misinformation and lies on a regular basis. We are easily manipulated.

I have tried to hedge, or even seem Delphic, in the recent past, regarding Russia and North Korea, for instance. I know I know little, and more-than-merely-suspect that many who say they know important truths often only parrot half-truths, at best.

There has been way too much partisan nonsense about Russia in the past few years, and much of what is important about the “negotiations” between North Korea and the U.S., South Korea, et al., is kept far from public view.

IMG_2027We should try to keep in mind that manipulation of focus is the modus operandi of all major parties and organizations, and with it the clumsy and deceptive uses of statistics.

Arguably, one of the main jobs of the corporate media is to encourage people to think they are informed, while ensuring that they remain misinformed. News is not history or social science. It is entertainment. And the unfortunate unreliability and sheer perversity of the major media outlets does not need to be seen as a conspiracy (much of it being quite open). Ideological fantasy, partisan coup-stick conflict, and the profitability of hype and hysteria might explain most of it.

twv

C101AD62-2830-4978-8F58-AF94D3EF73A6

Three decades ago, I was briefly involved in a campaign in Jefferson County, Washington State, to prevent nuclear warheads from being stored within its borders. I knew it was a hopeless endeavor — there seemed zero chance for local government, spurred by idealistic citizens, to prevent the U.S. Navy from using nearby Indian Island as a maximum security repository for missiles and warheads taken from submarines scheduled for maintenance at Bangor Trident Base — but it did introduce me to the leftist activists in the northern parts of the Olympic Peninsula.

The fit was not always comfortable. Among many interesting moments with these people, I remember most clearly my first encounter with an angry feminist. And with clueless feminists.

FD110687-98A7-4289-95AC-B972EE0200C6But the biggest difference may have regarded our different ethical approaches. I was not prone to the same sort of moralism that they were, for one thing. Or Utopianism. I also had become convinced that MAD was a successful policy, on the whole, and that the traitorous Rosenbergs may have inadvertently served as the saviors not only of America but also of humanity. So I occasionally said things more than a tad out of place amongst the activists.

One of the odder moments of mutual incomprehension concerned the reasons to oppose the bomb storage. I offered a NIMBY argument, and mention the threat of terrorism. “Indian Island is a target.” The activists looked at me blankly. They were uninterested in terrorism. Terrorism was not on their radar, except, I suppose, as a tactic that they could imagine themselves using, push come to shove.

I remember Bob the bookseller looking at me, puzzled, having caught the implication of my logic. “Where do you want the bombs stored?” he asked. “And how many do you think we need?”

“How many nuclear bombs would you like?” That last question was rather pointed.

I had no idea, of course, so I shrugged. I am generally not good at prescribing for an institution I am not in any way responsible for.

C431E517-A2BF-4990-A419-D3BF9FF48CFCHonestly, I thought terrorism was the wave of the future. A few years later, after Bush’s invasions of Panama and Iraq, I was more confident yet. Sure enough, my suspicion proved increasingly savvy over the years, constituting one of two sets of prophecies that showed me not a complete nutball. I felt satisfied, I confess: I understood some things about the way the world worked that most people did not seem to. At all.

Yup, terrorism and the price of gold. I was right, way back then.

Now, I have no idea what is going to happen next. My hunches are all over the place, between financial Armageddon and the Singularity!

twv

N.B. Pictured are three Google maps of the area in Jefferson County where I lived at the time. Circled in red are where the offices of Liberty magazine were listed with the Post Office (the Polk Street apartment building I lived in) and (at bottom) they were actually located, on top of the hill. One of my first jobs for Bill Bradford, Liberty’s publisher, in my first year or two working for him, was Community Plenipotentiary. That is, I would get involved in community activism so he would not have to! Yes, he paid me to do this sort of thing. Thankfully, it did not take up much of my time, and arguably I did it on my own time. I was not being paid by the hour.

A Conjecture

Maybe because my aesthetic tastes are so resolutely minority (or ultra-minority), I have never been inclined — even before I developed any political opinions to speak of — to seek to prohibit the publication, exhibition or performance of any work of art on “community standards” or even moral grounds. Could it be that those people with more standard, popular tastes, are precisely those most likely to leap to censorship or even boycott pressure to squelch art or ideas they do not like, simply because the commonality of their tastes suggests to them the power of majority opinion, and thus the likelihood of success?

IMG_2025And could we be witnessing the loudest crowing for abridgements of free speech (“hate speech is not free speech!”) from college campuses and media enclaves for reasons of this very principle? Universities and Hollywood and major media are de facto intellectual bubbles, self-selected (as well as pressure-driven by intranigent minorities) to enforce ideological ideologial uniformity . . . and thus the perception of majority taste. Leading, in turn, to the current anti-free speech mania.

Well, it’s a theory. A conjecture.

I advance it, in part, to explain why illiberal ideas take form and grow. Perhaps they crystallize when there is too much cultural homogeneity.

Which, if true, would be the cream of the jest, since the current batch of illiberals are those progressives who yammer the most about “diversity.”

But, as is now widely known, they are not really interested in value diversity. They are interested in racial and sexual (OK: “gender”) diversity only. By sharing a value-dependent moral vision — not a transaction-based principled vision — they have developed a surprisingly strong sense of community, and use their commonality to enforce strong pressure to out-groups to conform to their in-group.

Even while, yes, preaching the doctrine of “inclusion.”

There is nothing about progressivism which does not give cause for sardonic laughter.

In this context, it has been a hoot to watch major media figures fall from grace over the issue of sexual harassment . . . and graver sexual misconduct. Call it Schadenfreude on my part. It is truly rich. Mainly, what we are seeing here is the purging from the Sanctimonious Classes eminent figures who, it turns out (and to only feigned surprise), had no good reason for self-righteousness, or any standing for righteousness at all.

I may be disturbed by the witch-huntery of mass boycott and social censure that sends the Weinsteins and Lauers and the like into the Outer Darkness — without trial or rules of evidence or much nuance about the acts actually mentioned — but to witness the celerity of the “punishment,” and its apparent extremity (no livelihood left for any of these? Really?), directed at people who have been so smugly censorious of others on these very grounds? Priceless.

When Patrick J. Buchanan declared a culture war, decades ago, I confess: I was not impressed. But he was right. (I know: “far right”! Ha ha.) We are now in full-out culture war on largely political grounds, and I have been thrown in with conservatives whose general approach to life (“there is no kill like overkill”) I have some basic difficulties with. But, though the conservative temper may be fear-based about cultural cohesion, and far too prone to the vices of rage and vindictiveness, progressive vices now seem more dangerous. I can live peacefully among conservatives. But would I be given any peace from progressives? I think not. They would love to tax and regulate me and those I know into conformity with their values. They would never cease to hector me for my disagreements with their dogmas. And their vices? Envy alone could destroy civilization, if it be entirely unleashed. Rage leads to warfare; envy to totalitarianism.

But of course, as I’ve said many times before, progressives in politics are the new conservatives in temper. It is they who rage against differences of opinion. It is they who scream at their ideological opponents and refuse to use reason in debate. It is they who join hands and use the social controls of boycott, shunning, shaming, and moralistic opprobrium to marginalize others.

So, how to attack them? Perhaps reason will not cut it — not to begin with, any way. They must learn that their basic values are not universally shared. That their tastes are not universal, and not written into the warp and woof of the universe.

Maybe, chastened, shown not to be as “open” to diversity as they had pretended, they will then listen to reason, and learn that the way to accommodate diversity is with the easy yoke of liberty and not the dead hand of the totalitarian state.

twv

IMG_2518

a question asked on Quora; my answer:

The level of incredulity about political and bureaucratic governance would almost certainly be astoundingly high. Mockery of those in government, and their major supporters, would make Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Samantha Bee blanch — and these denunciation “comedians” would act in earnest as what they truly are, conservatives in temper if not institutional preference.

Also, before a majority were reached, a tax revolt would likely usher in a crisis on a constitutional level. The federal government would be apt to undergo spasms of an amazing nature, something like we have not witnessed in our lifetimes.

And yet, the power of a squeaky wheel, an intransigent minority, is worth remembering.

If the libertarian majority remains culturally laid back and tolerant of the boorishness and rudeness and sheer crazed monomania of the statist minority, that seemingly likely revolt might not happen.

Right now, for example, less than a quarter of the population is progressive, and yet progressive institutions dominate. Indeed, they are seemingly impregnable. Even political conservatives, who ostensibly oppose progressives, contemplate thoroughgoing attacks upon progressive institutions only in the realm of wish and fantasy: they accomplish next to nothing. This makes their limited-government values mere velleities. Indeed, it seems clear to me: all conservatives really want is conscientious and responsible maintenance of society’s basic institutions, which just happen to be FDR/LBJ progressive in nature. Note that conservatives cannot now manage to muster the energy and intelligence to repeal the recently enacted Obama/Pelosi medical regulatory/subsidy institutions.

And yet the left freaks out over this — progressives have even called the Tea Party “anarchists.” The egregious Elizabeth Warren is the ninny, here, and a more absurd judgment could hardly be imagined. Leftists are so far out on whatever limb they have crawled onto that they see responsible maintenance of basic institutions as a threat to those institutions. It’s quite astounding.

But even more importantly, our conversation is still being driven by the cultural left, obsessed with issues regarding racism, sexism, and the like. Indeed, much of the current angst is the result of the popular revolt against “political correctness,” which most Americans think has gone way too far down the road to groupthink bullying.

So, who knows what would happen? It depends upon what form the ideas and proclivities a libertarian majority would take, and how they would relate to other habits of thought and action. If libertarians remain as quelled and squeamish as conservatives have been, and allow themselves to be serially betrayed by their spokespeople and representatives, as social conservatives have, then, well, progressives will continue to dominate.

There is no automatic unfolding of policy and constitutional order from an ideology. There is always that niggly matter of the difference between fantasy and reality.

I just hope, whatever libertarian ideas come to dominate, and whatever mores the new libertarian majority possesses, those future libertarians will not allow themselves to become as delusional as social conservatives and intersectional progressives have become.

twv

a questioned asked on Quora; my answer:

A number of times. But here is one obvious case, in what amounts to metaethics. Maybe I am misapplying the idea. You tell me.

What modern normative philosophers call “morality” — and what older philosophers might have designated as “the rules and standards of justice” — depends, in practice, upon widespread reciprocity. That is, there are prisoner’s dilemmas throughout situations of conflict and potential coöperation, and it makes sense for any individual to coöperate often only if others also approach such arenas of interaction with an open attitude, not flight or fight, much less with a hankering to steal.

It has been shown that a tit-for-tat strategy of reciprocity — which closely tracks many traditional notions of justice — leads to the most widespread success. But how can you trust “the other guy” to treat you fairly, justly, and not as predator to prey?

It takes more courage than many, many folks naturally possess to approach a potentially dangerous situation with a reserved reciprocity standard in mind. So, how do we steal ourselves to this? Indeed, how can we open ourselves to such attitudes before we gain the practical experience with the world to be confident that such strategies do in fact work, for both self and other, and over a long haul?

A number of religious ideas have helped. They differ from society to society, and we call them myths, and all or most seem obvious fictional. Made up. But the threat of a punishing Deity encourages some to curb their bloodlust and “defector” urges. The idea that we are all “equal before God” helps, too. And as a number of evolutionary psychologists have pointed out, the mere contemplation of a supernatural (nature-transcendent) or metaphysical (normal existence-transcendent) Being or even Principle signals both to self and others a willingness to transcend narrow ego-interests. Setting the stage for civilized coöperation.

This sort of thing often gets swept up under the rubric of “signaling.” But such signaling works regardless of reality. There may or may not be a God. Or natural rights. Or the categorical imperative. But even fictional ideas can be real in their effects.

I sometimes think of the advance of civilization as aided by a series of outrageous fictions.

Seems like the Thomas Theorem to me.

twv

Social Justice Lunatics

If ever we wondered how on earth a wide, once-learned culture could ever go whole hog for repression, tyranny, rage, murder, etc., we no longer need to. Just look at the faces of the young “activists” on college campuses. Cultism incarnate.

Smug self-righteousness in mob form.

These youngsters are worse than the traditionalists who scorned the hippies. The people who made me a “radical” when I was young. As if Hegel’s dialectic really were a thing, left has become right and right left; the cultural “radicals” (I hate to imply we take the same noösphere space) now exhibit the censorious traits of the cultural trads.

Yes, the new cultic leftism is really a form of conservatism (defending the institutionalized policies of the left, and then pushing for tyrannical advance of every last marginal gain through social controls like bullying, threats, mass boycott, shaming, and all the rest) combined with a self-image of radical chic “coolness.”

This is the age of the steely-eyed radical . . . with power.

One good thing about the Trump phenomenon is that these dangerous totalitarians have been dealt a firm kick in the pants.

They deserve many more.

twv

Nope Trump

 

 

The Moon at Apogee and Perigee

I began my interest in politics with a fascination with anarchism. It was how I reacted to the discontent and horrors of the Sixties and Seventies.

This early study put me in an ideal historical context to assess all forms of radical activism. How? Because the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries may have been the least effective proselytizers of a cause in our time. They completely undermined their own dreams and ideals by engaging in “propaganda by the deed.”

Most such deeds — shootings, sabotage, bombings — amounted to anti-propaganda.

But earnestly done nevertheless.

Which brings us to the spectacle of radicals jumping off, willingly, their alleged high moral ground with stupid, indeed, utterly foolish actions (and writings) . . . allegedly for their cause.

Can I Punch Nazis?

So here we are, witnessing the lunatic Left immediately following apogee. That’s fine with me, but I guess I would prefer it if, somehow, these lunatics would break orbit and wander away from the home world.

In any case, to witness a whole movement in self-destructive behavior — committed to self-destructive behavior — is breathtaking. And it does suggest that radicalism tends to be dominated by (if not reserved for) the unhinged.

And the problem appears to be there with both Early and Late Adopters of a radical position.

twv

N.B. The photos of the Moon, above, show the sizes of the Earth’s smaller double at apogee and perigee.

IMG_4624

There is nothing more boring than the NFL. Not even golf.

But, I confess: these last few weeks have gotten rather entertaining. To witness conscience and folly collide, in real time — pop the popcorn, bring out the beers (or in my case, smoked baby clams and whiskey). And to witness the fall in honor of an inexplicable national pastime? Instructive.

Full disclosure: I may never have watched a professional football game all the way through. I cannot remember, exactly. I have seen a few minutes here or there. I happened to be watching at the famous moment when the runner with the ball got his leg horribly broken, snapped like kindling. That was unpleasant, and I hoped never to see anything like it again.

That moment, by the way, is imprinted in memory as having taken place at about the same time as the Challenger disaster. But I so rarely think about football I could be off by a decade and never know it.

I played football for three seasons in my early teens, for no better reason than that it was expected of me. I was not interested enough to learn the rules. Or have any informed thoughts on the subject — even after being made third-string quarterback.

But it did have an important personal lesson for me: disappointing people is something you can get used to. Indeed, people who expect a lot of you do not necessarily have your interests at heart. They want you to do well for their benefit, according to their terms, even if you secretly despise their values.

As I did.

Yes, football was a metaphor for my position in society. I came to exult in avoiding what others wanted . . . in cases where I had no interest in their goofy beliefs, whims, hankerings, agendas.

One of the next culturally expected things I gave up, after the sports cult, was patriotism, as in respect for the flag. I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance a year after I ceased showing up for football practice. It was the 1970s, and I was not impressed by what these United States had become. And the symbology of flag-pledging patriotism seemed tribal at best, utterly orthogonal to justice — or what I understood of the original intent of my favorites among the Founding Fathers.

I could not, in those long-ago vanished days of my youth, imagine Thomas Jefferson insisting that normal citizens salute the flag, much less pledge fealty to it.

Ridiculous. The very idea struck me as ludicrous. I knew that Jefferson thought of Virginia as his country.

So, today, my youthful heresies collide. National Football League players are kneeling instead of standing during the National Anthem. Or staying out of the arena until after the melodic leaps and inapt vocal stylings of “To Anacreon in Heaven” are over.

On the face of it: more power to them.

As for the President’s reaction, it is a sort of knee-jerk patriotism expressed in the standard mouthings of the vulgar tongue. Trolling of the highest order. He gains a lot of sympathy from a huge hunk of the vast (and quickly shrinking) NFL audience. Trump has nothing to lose.

But you know who does have something to lose? Those multi-millionaire NFL entertainers who do not seem to understand that they are throwing the game . . . all in the name of their alleged “cause.” Which, they tell us, is the cause of cop-on-black violence.

Now, this might be admirable, were it not for three things:

  1. When you compare blacks killed by police to whites killed by police, and figure in instances of police-suspect interactions, the percentage of whites killed by police is higher than blacks so killed — that is, to repeat, measured against criminal investigations/police interventions. Why? That is obvious, even upon a cursory look at crime stats. The number of blacks who commit crimes, as a percentage of the population is alarmingly higher than that of whites, it is all out of whack. The ratios indicate that cops might actually be giving blacks some cautious leeway. Racial justice is not the issue.
  2. Besides, why take it out on the U.S. flag? Police are run — funded, managed, and directed — by city, county, and state governments. Most policing is not a federal matter. Acting as if it were so is stupid, uninformed. Witless.
  3. And, it should not be forgotten, these entertainers are under contract. But the collective bargaining agreement has little to say about ceremonial performance while the rule book has become less specific about patriotic observance. Still — most importantly — they play to entertain an audience.*

I hazard that these violence-whores desperately misjudge their social function.

Not only are they entertainers, but they are the “heroes” of the cultural institutions closely associated with the armed forces. “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton,” as the saying goes. And this idea, that the sportive is tightly wedded to the military, cannot be utterly lacking in merit.

And this is why professional athletes, more so than most civilians in American society, are tied to the American nation state (as instantiated in the federal union and especially in its military). Seeing that this is the case, they should probably know their place.

But if these athletes continue to flout custom and rite, fine with me. And if they do so to the degradation of their idiotic sport’s somewhat puzzling high standing in American culture, no skin off my nose.

Setting aside my schadenfreude, if I can, I will here earnestly wish them the best with their cause — properly construed.

If they want to help their local “hoods,” fine.

But the way to help inner-city African-American populations is probably not to alienate Americans outside of those urban hellholes. They need the goodwill of the American people at large.

And, from what I can tell, they are fumbling the ball, if not offsides.

twv

* I originally wrote two sentences in this passage about failure to perform according to contracts, but looking over the collective bargaining agreement (available online), it now seems to me, two days later, that much of what I had read about this subject proves less than reliable. 9/27/2017

KimJong-un-rocket-man

Trump’s “Rocket Man” epithet was of course funny.

All the non-witless agree. But there is more to the story.

Scott Adams explained on Periscope how it is funny. It really is about Trump finding the boundary of “good taste” (political etiquette; verbal rectitude) and deliberately crossing that borderline. The joke works not because it is, itself, hilarious — stand-alone it’s worth a mere chuckle — but because the quarter of the audience that expresses shock and dismay make it funny.

Two birds with one rock, man. Humor depends upon a logical catastrophe, as John Allen Paulos has explained so well. We laugh when the logic slips and our grasp on categories shifts, when something or someone in one category falls into a lower category (occasionally the reverse). In the case of “Rocket Man,” not only does a dictator get a demotion, but Trump has yet again tweaked the sensibilities of his critics.

“Something for the fans.”

In a follow-up talk, Adams notes how it proved to be more than that. Trump effectively took away one of Kim Jong-Un’s goals: the “prestige thing.” Trump’s belittling of the dictator, Adams perceptively argues, effectively took out of the negotiation room one whole issue.

“Rocket Man” became “weaponized.”

It all depends on the full frame. “A month ago, every time Rocket Man launched a new rocket, how do you think he felt?” Adams asks. “I’m gonna guess proud. Probably good for his ego. Made him feel important, made him feel like he was a big player on the world stage.”

That must be right. The dictator surely felt the bigger man because of the rocket launches, because of his threat. “Powerful. Bold. . . . his T-count went up a little bit.”

After Trump’s mocking monickerization, however, “he will feel that the entire world is laughing at him.”

Correctly feel, I might add.

Trump, Adams argues, effectively took Rocket Man’s nukes away from him in terms of honor — with a simple two words. Without touching a nuke . . . or dropping one.

I must admit, I worry about a dictator stripped of his last shred of pride. What does he have left, now, but his life? Even his power may taste like sawdust.

But there’s no doubt that the negotiation game has changed. And, short term, this may be quite advantageous to nearly everyone but Kim Jong-un. (The loss of honor will eat away at the man, though. That could be quite bad.)

Trump’s “linguistic kill shots,” as Adams dubs them, amount to something important. At first blush, this routine may seem not too much different from schoolyard taunting. But there is a difference. It is not the “slow kid” or the “ugly girl” who receives the brunt of the ribbing, the humiliation; it is not the lowly or the powerless: in most cases it is the cultural elites, the people who have cultural power, the people who have determined for decades what may or may not be said. They are the ones who take the hit.

And in the case of Rocket Man, he who took the hit is someone with outrageous, horrifying political power. A man utterly deserving of any put-down we can deliver.

In this context, the litany of complaints about Trump’s rough language seem, increasingly, to be vapid and even stupid.* Schoolmarmy.

The schoolmarms naturally object to his example. What will the kids do? Will bullying go back on the rise? Perhaps.

But they miss something. Trump’s not the bully. That’s not the right metaphor. He’s the smart-ass who mocks the principal and the teachers in the hallway and, if the jocks misbehave or abuse their power, the jocks, too.

It’s not “Truth” to Power, of course. Not exactly. Trump is saying not that the Emperor has no clothes, but that the empire’s hangers-on and petty enforcers have their flies open.

And that our biggest enemies are dicks.

Keep those pocket-rockets docked, boys, or the Donald will getcha.

twv


 

*The piling on of boos and hisses, sad-faces and disses by world leaders is just the usual bit of U.S.-bashing. It is cheap credit for the world leaders. It is pathetic.