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the Red and the Black

Two blogs I read are Monkey Smashes Heaven and roissy. Here are their points of agreement:

  • Moral language is useless and moral restrictions are actively crippling. The clear-eyed achieve their goals by any means available.
  • The civilization of industrialized countries will collapse under the weight of its own contemptible decadence. Jihadists and commissars will dance in the rubble.
  • The duty of the writer is truth. Clarity and strength demand obedience to logic and fact.

Of course they disagree on everything else: their sympathies and factual beliefs regarding races, sex, class, &c. This could be another homily on the analagmatic character of The Extremes, but that's a stupid genre. Instead I'd rather discover here the opposite point: the total irrelevance of the supposedly driving affective, formal aspect to substantive engagement with the world (where "substantive engagement with the world" equals electronic temporizing.) That you have a gun doesn't dicate where you point it.

(Even more: that the extremes are similar in certain respects shouldn't strike us as particularly interesting, unless the intended point is that this makes them so crazy compared to the dominant morality. Coming through one's one accord to a position that is impossible to utter in polite society entails things entirely on its own. When your every ethical intuition clashes with your every moral conclusion, it's hard not to conclude that the whole enterprise is absurd. But the philosophically violent break into "all that is neccessary for X!" of course entails a whole bucketful of written and unwritten rules. The rules that all our instincts scream out are of this character too; but the partisans of X have grown strong enough that we can no longer give it a name.)

The psychological question is interesting, of course. Weirdly, this mix of internet tough guy and Jacobin Virtue probably entails someone more willing than less to attribute their acceptance of the statements they defend on a totally logical or empirical basis to their own irrational characteristics. There's a worship of strength here, discipline: even roissy in his hedonism is with every post invoking the discipline of Nietzsche's dancer - not to mention seven or ten syphillitic calumnies about women, socialists, God. Roissy would of course attribute this to the self-aggrandizing bravura of men, until you told him that most of MSH's writers are female, at which point he would say of course, women worship power. We're all just going where the facts lead us.

the Oppressed is also the Oppressor

Or to put it less artfully, America isn't just governed by sick children. It also locks them up.

As cash-starved states slash mental health programs in communities and schools, they are increasingly relying on the juvenile corrections system to handle a generation of young offenders with psychiatric disorders. About two-thirds of the nation’s juvenile inmates — who numbered 92,854 in 2006, down from 107,000 in 1999 — have at least one mental illness, according to surveys of youth prisons, and are more in need of therapy than punishment. 

“We’re seeing more and more mentally ill kids who couldn’t find community programs that were intensive enough to treat them,” said Joseph Penn, a child psychiatrist at the Texas Youth Commission. “Jails and juvenile justice facilities are the new asylums.” 

At least 32 states cut their community mental health programs by an average of 5 percent this year and plan to double those budget reductions by 2010, according to a recent survey of state mental health offices. 

Juvenile prisons have been the caretaker of last resort for troubled children since the 1980s, but mental health experts say the system is in crisis, facing a soaring number of inmates reliant on multiple — and powerful — psychotropic drugs and a shortage of therapists. 

In California’s state system, one of the most violent and poorly managed juvenile systems in the country, according to federal investigators, three dozen youth offenders seriously injured themselves or attempted suicide in the last year — a sign, state juvenile justice experts say, of neglect and poor safety protocols.

Sometime I should do a series on Gøsta Esping-Andersen's Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Of course the residual welfare state works this way. The American system is especially dysfunctional because the way the "laboratories of democracy" have to maintain procyclical fiscal policy. But what else can one expect?


In Defense of Stalin's Weimar Policy

Is America going fascist? Sara Robinson seems to think so, mostly because we're seeing direct action from the right. But this is pretty silly. The Jim Crow South had direct action from the right and tacit government support for it as a defining feature - but while it was certainly a monstrous society in need of destruction, it wasn't fascist. And we have much less rightist direct action or mainstream support for it than existed under Jim Crow.

This sort of paranoia fulfills two functions, I think. First, it feeds into left-liberal romanticism. Our enemies are... fascists! Everyone says this and it's so stupid; this kind of claim is fine if you're using it amid the admirable art of invective, but it's misplaced in serious analysis, which is what Robinson attempts. Second, it's the "serious" double of guffaws at Sarah Palin's solecisms or Glenn Beck's latest coke binge. It says the real enemy is a short bus full of troglodytes raving about euthanasia and birth certificates when there are "liberals" writing checks to the banks, escalating state terror around the globe, and probably torturing people to death.

The title of this post is of course ironic. If I'm wrong on this I'm goint to look like the KPD saying "ignore the Nazis, let's fight the SPD!," which is probably the archetypal example of a strategy that was suicidally dumb. But I doubt I'm wrong.

Pakistan: a Modern Democracy

I.e.: everyone hates government policy but no one can think of an alternative. 

In a recent poll Pakistanis thought that the biggest threat to their country was not the force trying to overthrow their government, or the one with which it's been locked in on-again off-again, but its ally. Nobody supports the Prime Minister, but nobody supports a military government either. The most popular politician was until recently banned from office for hijacking a plane.

It might be that Pakistanis are most willing to identify the US as the biggest threat to their security simply because saying so isn't a marker of seeking expanded confrontation with them. What could the Pakistani state do, if it wanted to? It could reach some sort of compromise with the Taliban - about as popular as military confrontation - but ultimately the top state elites aren't going to allow that. Their eyes are ever pointed south, and the only thing that could wean them off military aid would be if they thought it was structured to make a coup more likely. Pakistani (state) opposition to drone attacks is a purely affective gesture; if they had the ability to enforce their sovereignty, they wouldn't dare.

Maybe we'll see action now after all

Well, this is good. Not that climate change is going to lead to vast social catastrophe the world over, which all intelligent people already knew, but that the people with the strongest leverage over U.S. policy now know it and think it runs counter to their interests.

Addendum: and it's fucking with supply chains, too

That Old Oscar Wilde Line

If nothing - nothing in physical reality - happens the same way twice, then the proposition of determinism is untestable. But we accept it anyway because it's useful. 

Science is always going to remain a craft, despite our hopes for it. Another confounding variable will always remain, presenting alternative explanations. Philosophers will never become unemployed.

Well, unemployed in spirit, of course.


A Charitable Summation of Libertarianism

Tyler Cowen wants "to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism." Okay. Here's a good faith attempt.

1) The market mechanism is an extraordinary means of coordinating social action. This mechanism reflects not the will of a few well-positioned central actors but the aggregate knowledge and preferences of society. 

2) Furthermore, even a perfect democratic state which perfectly reflected aggregate knowledge and preferences would have a fatal flaw - it would force everyone to go along with the same program. The market is not only effective but moral, because it represents the spontaneous free action of all.

3) Although there are differences in station between members of a liberal order, these are in principle gradations of comfort, not power.

4) Furthermore, most people can attain any station they wish in a liberal order; it's primarily a function of preferences for consumption goods vs. free time. (There's nothing, of course, wrong with either preference.) Some people have an easier time of it than others, but increasing the reach of the state is only likely to multiply their advantages thereof.

5) Not all human social evils are specifically statal in nature; sexism, racism, homophobia are of course awful, because they judge individuals by the quality of the group. It is unfortunate that many left attempts to attack these only create another artificial hierarchy of priveliged groups when equality can only mean the treatment of each as an individual, not a possessor of group characteristics. Left to the profit motive, people will discover that these prejudices are irrational and abandon them.

6) Likewise, the free movement of goods, services, people, and technology across borders will tend to disrupt the maintenance of particularistic identities and systems of tyrannical control. The global market-society represents not the particularlistic social vision of Western Europe, although the inhabitants of that region were fortunate enough to first live within it, but the universal condition of human emancipation. However, the consolidation of this global society in systems of global governance - beyond those neccessary, at least, to ensure its continuation - would only undermine its essential character.

7) Those who argue about preferences for equality vs growth in an economy should have paid more attention in third grade math. Compound interest means that even a slight increase in the growth rate will be good everybody in the long run, regardless of what happens to the distribution of wealth.

8) Furthermore, the protection of the environment is best achieved by the free market growth machine. With higher standards of living, people are more willing to sacrifice consumption for environmental quality, and with incentives for innovation they are more likely to implement environment-saving technology.

9) Most new ideas come from people who start businesses.

10) In a large state true democratic governance is impossible, because unlike the market, a perfectly functioning democracy would require every voter to have perfect global knowledge. In the absence of such ficticious beings all particular attempts to regulate an industry - whether through tariffs, industrial policy, safety and environmental regulations, antitrust, whatever - will fall most under the influence of those with the most interest in it, the industrialists themselves. Thus, the tendency is for all regulatory frameworks to descend into the protection of market power.

11) Humanity's natural risk aversion means that crowds are likely to erupt into moral panics. This irrational side of human nature allows unscrupulous individuals to strip them of their liberties in the name of regular overblown crises - environmental, financial, military, cultural.

12) The influence of culture on human affairs is generally overstated. Human beings are alike everywhere in that they respond to material incentives and unlike everywhere in that each is a singular individual with hopes, dreams, and talents of her or his own.

Some of these I agree with, some I partially agree with, some I think are technically true but miss the point; but I tried to phrase everything in the most reasonable way I could. I don't think these apply to all libertarians - a majority of explicit racists are probably libertarians, or at least more likely to be libertarians than the average population - but I think they apply to genial ones like Tyler. If any libertarians object to the things here, well, they'd certainly know better than I.

Introductory First Post Thing

Hello, World.