Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The hijacking of 'progress'

Progress is not getting the scepticism it deserves. Don’t get me wrong, I think moving forward with this human experiment is a good idea. Too much stasis makes everyone nervous and lazy. If we really do live in Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, it’s tempting to just sit back and let entropy take over. But if you have to live this all again, forever, then wouldn’t it be smarter to make the best of this short 80-90 years? That’s progress.

And maybe it’s just the way I think, but I get suspicious when I see something like “progress” being defined in a particular direction. For instance, the system (the sum of individual vectors pointing in different directions) has framed the conversation to describe success and progress by how many women are in senior roles (which is a job that men created, for men). It’s just assumed that if a person agrees with the idea of progress, then any framing of progress must be accepted. That leaves a big gap for people to exploit with their own self-interests, and there’s plenty of women out there using people’s near-religious acceptance of “progress” as an unmitigated good to wrangle their way into positions of status.

I get that women desire senior roles, but I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why I, as a man, should want women to be in senior roles. Why can’t I choose to describe progress as some other goal or using another metric? Why does women + role x (number of institution) – (number of men) = progress? Why is progress being defined in this way? Who benefits?

What would happen if the maths instead was: women + capital – men = progress? Don’t bother pulling out your calculator, I know what would happen. Feminists would be in prison as terrorists, or at least there would be no space at mental hospitals. Why? Because agitating for control of property and the true levers of power truly would be a threat to the system, which is precisely why the maths doesn’t sum in this way.

This conversation is controlled which means the true failure of feminism is revealed: it has not liberated women to be better women, it has simply succeeded in making women into men. And not strong, powerful men either, but cubicle drones easily bought off by a few trinkets and conferred titles.

“So, you’re saying the patriarchy does exist after all?” No, this has nothing to do with sexism, nice try. I reject this construction of “progress” because I don’t even want other men to beat me and get into senior roles. I think it’s great that women are forcing the system to adapt to their competitive weaknesses, but don’t try and pass it off like it’s some kind of moral achievement. It’s not. Women are asking the system to want to want them, without actually doing anything to outcompete men.

They are asking the system to change so that they don’t have to change. If women were just as suited for senior roles as men, then more women would be in senior roles. It’s as simple as that. The maths isn’t hard to do. But rather than working their asses off and finding sneaky ways to win inside the present system – just like the men must – women think it’s better to force the system to become more female friendly. Well, sure, but I should get to use my moped to score at the soccer game next week and if you say I can't, then I'll protest your oppressive anti-scooter rules. Down with the system!

The problem lies with forcing men to allow women into senior roles rather than convincing men to change their minds about women being in senior roles. What women don’t seem to understand is that they are giving men more power by letting men open the gates. But what happens if men decide to just shut the gates again? What is a woman’s level two when that happens? What could they really do then if men haven’t really changed their minds? Again, if women had a second option then they would have used it by now. It turns out the only chess move they’ve ever had is to trick men into acting against other men.

That’s why women should want to have a dialogue with frothing-at-the-mouth misogynistic men. Otherwise, he will always feel like society told him to think a certain way. Most men pretend to respect their female boss which makes them more angry and frustrated because they lie to themselves – and her – every day by not being able to say what they feel for fear of violence by other men. We could punch you through a wall, but we don't! The power you have is the power men let you have. Does this make me feel good? No, but that doesn't make it untrue.

The last person women should talk to is a smiling, oppressed man who now submits to other men and allows women into senior roles or wherever. Has he really changed his mind, or is he just smiling because a piece of paper tells him he must smile?

Same goes for diversity compliance as well. If the problem is racism (if it actually exists) or some kind of bias, then the only way to fix this is by logic and reason to argue a person out of their position. Black Americans were freed from slavery by a piece of paper, not by convincing farmers to see black people as people.

If all that creates civility between the races in America is a piece of paper, what it would take to burn that piece of paper?

Monday, 16 July 2018

22 + 1 paragraphs from Rene Girard's masterpiece

The below is long, but it's worth it.

In all my (short) years of reading, no other thinker has re-arranged my mental furniture in quite the same way as French author and thinker Rene Girard. His book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is, he admits, essentially a reinvigoration of ideas that stretch at least as far back as one monkey looked at the sky and said to the other monkey "the Sun said you should give me half your stuff." Once you understand his meaning, you'll never see the world the same way again. That's a good thing. And no, the language isn't purposefully obfuscating, like most post-modernists of his 20th Century France. His mission is to enlighten, not frustrate.

Some messages aren't for everyone. Not this. What M Girard has to say should be heard by all:
"People tell us that there is no language worthy of our adherence apart from the deadly equations of science, on the one hand, and on the other a form of speech that acknowledges its own futility and ascetically denies itself the universal dimension. As for the unprecedented events that we are witnessing – the grouping of the whole of mankind into a single society, which proceeds apace – there is nothing to be said, nothing definite or even relevant. None of this is of any interest at all. We must bow down before systems of the infinitely large and the infinitely small because they can prove that their power is explosive. But there is no place for any thinking on the human scale. No one takes the trouble to reflect uncompromisingly about the enigma of a historical situation that is without precedent: the death of all cultures. 
"Condemning humanity to nonsense and nothingness at the very moment when they have achieved the means of annihilating everything in a blink of the eye, entrusting the future of the human habitat to individuals who now have nothing to guide them but their desires and their ‘death instincts'-all of this is not a reassuring prospect, and it speaks volumes about the incapacity of modern science and ideology to master the forces that they have placed in our hands. 
"This complete scepticism, this nihilism with regard to knowledge is often put across just as dogmatically as the various dogmatisms that preceded it. Nowadays people disclaim any certain knowledge and any authority, but with a more assured and authoritarian tone than ever before. 
"We are getting away from one form of Puritanism, only to fall into another. It is now a matter not of depriving mankind of sexuality, but of something we need even more meaning. Man cannot live on bread and sexuality. Present-day thought is the worst form of castration since it is the castration of the signified. People are always on the look-out to catch their neighbours red-handed in believing something or other. We struggled against the Puritanism of our parents only to fall into a form of Puritanism far worse than theirs-a Puritanism of meaning that kills all that it touches. This Puritanism desiccates every text and spreads the most deadening boredom even in the newest situations. 
"But we cannot regain contact with meaning if we rely on the fallacious base that persists from the past. The critical thinking that we have absorbed is opposed to dead meaning, and so, to an even greater extent, are the historic catastrophes of the twentieth century: the failure of ideologies, the great massacres by totalitarian states, and the uneasy peace of the present, which is founded upon the terror spread on all sides by the atom bomb. All of this means that we must abandon not only the illusions of Rousseau and Marx, but anything else of the kind that anyone could come up with. 
"It is important for us to rediscover something in which we can believe; but there must be no cheating, either with the conditions that are forced upon us by the terrible world in which we live or in terms of those that dictate that the most rigorous research must do without any form of ethnocentrism, or even any form of anthropocentrism. 
"What kind of thought can satisfy these necessary conditions? It cannot derive from the masters of the nineteenth century: Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Nor can it return to Christianity as we find it today, whether in the directly sacrificial version or in the 'progressive' version, which thinks it has done away with sacrifice but remains more than ever in its thrall because it has sacrificed a large part of the text to an ideal, without noticing- -irony of ironies! that this text is the only way of attaining it. Sacrificial Christianity still believes in divine thunderbolts, while its progressive double completely stifles the apocalyptic dimension and so deprives itself of the most valuable card that it has in its hands, under the flimsy pretext that the first priority is to reassure people. It is better to say nothing, in my view, of the people who take the Judaeo-Christian scriptures to be a corpse, and attempt to slow down the process of corruption by giving it massive injections of structuralised Freudo-Marxist chloroform. 
"We are attempting to accept the constraints of the time in which we live. We are going further than our predecessors in our rejection of anthropocentrism, since our anthropology is rooted in the animal kingdom. We have followed through all the forms of critical thought deriving from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and by pushing them even further in the direction of excessive modern iconoclasm, we have come out not simply with a particular mode of the victimage principle, but with a recognition of the principle in itself-as the only truly central and universal principle. The thesis of the founding victim is the logical culmination of the great atheistic bodies of thought of the nineteenth century. It completely deconstructs the sacredness of violence, together with all its philosophical and psychoanalytic substitutes. 
"Within the same line of argument, the Judaeo-Christian text comes to the fore again. As long as the founding victim remains hidden from view, it appears to be more and more similar to all of the others. But then it suddenly comes to seem radically different because the revelation of the founding victim was first achieved in this text, and we have been incapable of recognising or assimilating it, as the text itself predicted. 
"People who stand for a radical intertextual approach would reach exactly the same result if they followed their cherished principle to its conclusion and included ethnological texts, religious texts and texts of persecution in their analysis. They would then see clearly that everything becomes systematic in terms of the scapegoat mechanism, but that at this point a new, unique and hitherto undetected difference comes to the fore-between texts reflecting misapprehensions of the victimage principle, which are all mythic or derived from mythology, and the Judaeo-Christian scriptures, which alone bring these misapprehensions to light 
"Obviously, the revelation that they bring about cannot be dissociated from the dynamic, anti-sacrificial current running all through the Judeo-Christian scriptures. We were able to detect a series of stages in the bible that invariably pointed toward the attenuation and later elimination of the practice of sacrifice. Sacrifice must therefore appear in the light in which the great biblical thinker, Moses Maimonides, placed it in his youth: not as an eternal institution that God genuinely wished to be found, but as a temporary crutch made necessary by the weakness of humankind. Sacrifice is an imperfect means, which humanity must do without. 
"This remarkable thesis is just one testimony among many of the non-sacrificial inspiration that has always been preserved in medieval and modern Judaism. I am bound to mention at this point a Talmudic principle that is often quoted by commentators drawing inspiration from Judaism, like Emmanuel Levinas and AndrĂ© Neher, and is always described as 'well-known'. According to this principle, any accused person whose judges combine unanimity against him ought to be released straight away. Unanimity in accusation is in itself a cause for suspicion! It suggests that the accused is innocent. 
"As a result of our analysis, not only the Old Testament but all the religions of mankind appear as intermediate stages between animal life and the crisis of the present day, when we must place our bets either on the total disappearance of the human race or on our arriving at forms of freedom and awareness that we can hardly imagine, swaddled as we are in myths that now have become, paradoxically, myths of demystification. We think we can bring these myths to a positive conclusion through our own means, but they are actually leading us straight to destruction, now that there are no more Others to demystify, now that naive confidence in science and humanism have given way to the terrifying presence of a violence that is completely unmasked. 
"From the perspective of humanity, there is thus a continuity between past and present experience. Every great crisis has always been a matter of driving violence out of the community, but the religions and humanisms of former times have never made it possible for violence to be expelled without claiming its own share-at the expense of the victim, of the human element that remains outside of all human societies. Today we can envisage something that is both very similar and very different. It is still a matter of rejecting violence and reconciling people with one another, but now there is no violence and no 'outside'. That is why the continuity between all religions, from a human perspective, in no way obviates the fact that there is no contact, no complicity and no compatibility whatsoever between the Logos that has now been finally superseded-the Logos of sacrificial violence-and the Logos that is itself always sacrificed and increases its pressure on us from day to day. 
"That is the most remarkable thing about it, so it seems to me. On the one hand, there is a complete cleavage, and on the other there is a continuity which is capable of reconciling us with the past of all humankind-not to mention the present, the site of our own culture, which does not deserve either the excessive praise once heaped upon it or the bitter condemnation directed against it today. Surely it is extraordinary that the most radical perspective on our cultural history should finally turn out to be the only tolerant and favourable one-the one that is as far as possible from the absurd scorched earth policy Western intellectuals have practised for more than a century? I see this as being the height of good fortune and, in a sense, the height of humour as well. 
"Traditional Christian thinkers could proclaim the cleavage between Christianity and everything else, but they were incapable of demonstrating it. Anti-Christian thinkers can note the continuity, but they are unable to come to terms with its true nature. Among our contemporaries, only Paul Ricoeur, particularly in his fine work La Symbolique du mal, is willing to argue with determination that both positions are necessary. 
"The non-sacrificial reading of the Judaeo-Christian scriptures and the thinking that takes the scapegoat as its basis are capable of coming to terms with the apocalyptic dimension of present times without relapsing into frightened hysteria about the 'end of the world'. They make us see that the present crisis is not an absurd dead-end into which we have been pitched by a scientific error in calculation. Interpreting the present in this way is not an attempt to force outdated meanings on mankind's new situation, nor is it a desperate attempt to stop new meanings from coming across; there is simply no need for frivolous expedients of this kind. We have carved out such a strange destiny for ourselves so that we can bring to light both what has always determined human culture and what is now the only path open to us-one that reconciles without excluding anyone and no longer has any dealings with violence. 
"In the light of the non-sacrificial reading, the crisis of the present day does not become in any way less threatening. But what it does take on some hope for the future-which means a genuinely human significance. A new kind of humanity is in the process of gestation; it will be both very similar to and very different from the one featured in the dreams of our Utopian thinkers, now in their very last stages. We are now absolutely unable to understand and for a long time we shall still understand only very inadequately, the basis of mankind’s suffering and the way of setting mankind free. But we can already see that here is no point in condemning one another of maligning our past. 
"What is important above all is to realise that there are no recipes; there is no pharmakon any more. Recipes are not what we need, nor do we need to be assured-our need is to escape from meaninglessness. However large a part of 'sound and fury signifying nothing’ there may be in public and private suffering, in the anguish of mental patients, in the deprivations of the poor and in the rivalries of politics, these things are not lacking in significance, if only because at each moment they are open to the ironic reversal of the judgement against the judge that recalls the implacable functioning of the gospel law in our world. We must learn to love this justice, which we both carry out and fall victim to. The peace that passes human understanding can only arise on the other side of this passion for 'justice and judgement', which still possesses us but which we are less and less likely to confuse with the totality of being. 
"I hold that truth is not an empty word or a mere 'effect' as people say nowadays. I hold that everything capable of diverting us from madness and death, from now on, is inextricably linked with this truth. But I do not know how to speak about these matters. I can only approach texts and institutions and relating them to one another seems to me to throw light in every direction. I am not embarrassed to admit that an ethical and religious dimension exists for me, but it is the result of my thinking rather than an external preconception that determined my research. I have always believed that if I managed to communicate what some of my reading meant to me, the conclusions I was forced to reach would force themselves on other people as well. 
I began to breathe more freely when I discovered that literary and ethnological critiques are inadequate-even if they are not totally worthless-when confronted with the literary and cultural texts they claim to dominate. This was before I came to the Judaeo-Christian scriptures. I never even imagined that those texts were there for the purpose of passive enjoyment, in the same way as we look at a beautiful landscape. I always cherished the hope that meaning and life were one. Present-day thought is leading us in the direction of the valley of death and it is cataloguing the dry bones one by one. All of us are in this valley but it is up to us to resuscitate meaning by relating all the texts to one another without exception, rather than stopping at just a few of them. All issues of ‘psychological health' seem to me to take second place to a much greater issue-that of meaning which is being lost or threatened on all sides but simply awaits the breath of the Spirit to be reborn. Now all that is needed is this breath to recreate stage by stage Ezekiel's experience in the valley of the dead: 
"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' And I answered, 'O Lord God, thou knowest.' Again he said to me, 'Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, 'Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host (Ezekiel 37, 1-10)"

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

John Stuart Mill and the Christian legacy of open borders

The thing about democracy is that the presence of Mexicans in the US electoral system tends to turn the American political system into the Mexican political system, its government into the Mexican government and the US into Mexico.

I have some questions for open border advocates: Do you live in Mexico? Do you want to live in Mexico? If so, why? If not, why not? Which scares you more? MS-13, or global warming? If the latter, you may be a progressive.

Do they seriously believe that the difference between the US and Mexico is down to climate, geology, electoral laws, or anything other than demographic disparities? Is there some magic force – the public-school system, perhaps – that turns the children of Mexican immigrants into Norman Rockwell characters? What "empirical basis" do they have for this belief?

Okay, I'm retarded. I just don't get it. I mean, I have trouble understanding why people believe in democracy in the first place. But given that so many do, surely importing vast breeding colonies of foreigners so that one side can keep winning elections makes any questions about abortion rights or voting machines or "superdelegates" rather silly.

The recent hysterical reaction to kids in cages at the US/Mexico border shows many Americans think there’s no essential moral distinction between national border controls and apartheid. They think both are evil because it assigns an arbitrary classification to a newborn baby who has done nothing at all to deserve it.

The grand idea of apartheid was that two separate nations – in the Latin sense of the word – could live under one government participating in the same labour market and all that fine stuff. Since apartheid no longer exists, it's hard to call it a success. But if the Afrikaners and Rhodesians had put fences, they wouldn't have had to flee their homes and countries. (Which they stole, of course, from the noble savage, blah blah. I can't think of anywhere else that might have happened.)

Anyway, while I understand the strategy, I do have some concerns about the whole open-borders thing. My first concern is the physical security of myself and my family. My second concern is the desire not to live in a Third World slum. I'm not sure what my third concern is, but I suspect that people like Voltaire, Hume and Smith would share it. The existence of ancien-regime France proves that inequalities in prosperity and civilization can exist stably within a single country, suggesting that open borders could work perfectly well without democracy.

Even today, Dubai handles its hordes of Pakistani gastarbeiter effectively. Although their treatment reminds me of the good old days of Hendrik Verwoerd. Shh – don't let the NYT hear about it. Dubai's system works because it has a complete absence of politics. (Or almost complete. There are some worrying signs of union activity.)

In a democracy, all people are soldiers. There is never any shortage of power-hungry people ready to convert any population, no matter how illiterate, ignorant and bigoted, into what India calls a vote bank. Perhaps the gastarbeiters can't vote. But they can still cause trouble! This gives the Sopranos, Gracchi and Alinskys an opportunity to say, quite reasonably, that if you just give the deprived some cash they won’t get so angry: “You wouldn’t want something bad to happen, would ya?”

Mr Trump wants to deport the illegals, destroy the ghetto gangs, fire the poverty pimps and race hustlers. In other words, hit the sclerotic, lying mafia state where it really hurts – by smashing its vote bank. The open borders team isn’t compassionate, they’re scared of losing their power-base.

There are two kinds of intellectuals: those who try to make some sense of this gigantic, horrifying mess we call the real world, and those who seek to impose their preconceptions on it. The former group isn’t useful to the State. The latter sometimes isn’t, but then again, sometimes it is.

After 1945, control of the Third World was transferred from a political faction which believed in human neurological biodiversity, to a faction which believed in human neurological uniformity. Neither of these sides back then knew jack, by modern standards, about biology. But the winner didn’t care about evidence. It depended on power, as it still does. (If you have any evidence of neurological uniformity across all living human subpopulations, you should forward it to Jim Goad and John Derbyshire, both of whom have been looking for evidence their entire adult lives.)
John Stuart Mill

Ask yourself: has the quality of government in the Third World improved since WWII? Advocates of open borders believe their goodness means they deserve to be in power. Have their good thoughts led to good things? If you go to Google News and search for "poisoned arrows," what are the results? If you read travellers' accounts of Africa in the 1930s, how does this compare?

Ever since Mill wrote his response to Thomas Carlyle on The Negro Question and probably well before, writers in the English Protestant tradition have been defending the blatantly theological idea that "all men are created equal." In the absence of any evidence for this idea, one can always say that there’s no evidence it isn’t true. Of course, the same strategy can “prove” the existence of God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster…

Here is Mill:
“We are told to look at Haiti: what does your contributor know of Haiti? ‘Little or no sugar growing, black Peter exterminating black Paul, and where a garden of the Hesperides might be, nothing but a tropical dog-kennel and pestiferous jungle.’ Are we to listen to arguments grounded on hear-says like these? In what is black Haiti worse than white Mexico? If the truth were known, how much worse is it than white Spain?”
Note the ugly stench of anti-Papism in that last sentence. Haiti today can't really be described as a "pestiferous jungle" – it's more of a pestiferous desert. The idea of "white Mexico" is also fascinating if you think of Latin Americans today.

Here is more Mill (I know it’s long, but it’s worth it):
“It is by analytical examination that we have learned whatever we know of the laws of external nature; and if he had not disdained to apply the same mode of investigation to the laws of the formation of character, he would have escaped the vulgar error of imputing every difference which he finds among human beings to an original difference of nature. As well might it be said, that of two trees, sprung from the same stock one cannot be taller than another but from greater vigour in the original seedling. Is nothing to be attributed to soil, nothing to climate, nothing to difference of exposure — has no storm swept over the one and not the other, no lightning scathed it, no beast browsed on it, no insects preyed on it, no passing stranger stript [sic] off its leaves or its bark? If the trees grew near together, may not the one which, by whatever accident, grew up first, have retarded the other’s development by its shade? 
“Human beings are subject to an infinitely greater variety of accidents and external influences than trees and have infinitely more operation in impairing the growth of one another; since those who begin by being strongest, have almost always hitherto used their strength to keep the others weak. What the original differences are among human beings, I know no more than your contributor, and no less; it is one of the questions not yet satisfactorily answered in the natural history of the species. This, however, is well known — that spontaneous improvement, beyond a very low grade — improvement by internal development, without aid from other individuals or peoples — is one of the rarest phenomena in history; and whenever known to have occurred, was the result of an extraordinary combination of advantages; in addition doubtless to many accidents of which all trace is now lost.  
“No argument against the capacity of negroes for improvement, could be drawn from their not being one of these rare exceptions. It is curious, withal, that the earliest known civilization was, we have the strongest reason to believe, a negro civilization. The original Egyptians are inferred, from the evidence of their sculptures, to have been a negro race: it was from negroes, therefore, that the Greeks learnt their first lessons in civilization; and to the records and traditions of these negroes did the Greek philosophers to the very end of their career resort (I do not say with much fruit) as a treasury of mysterious wisdom.”
This is perhaps the first recorded sighting of the "Black Athena" hypothesis. The most impressive attempt to prove Mill correct was the Jesuit Reductions of Paraguay where an extremely non-progressive patriarchal Big Brother created something like a European society from a population of Guarani Indians, fresh in from the rainforest. Unfortunately, when the Jesuits were expelled, the Guarani went back to the forest. Read about it – the episode is fascinating.

But really, all of Mill's arguments turned out to be false, so he falls back on the old "no evidence" routine. Yet – in the marketplace of ideas – for some reason Mill wins and Carlyle loses. Don't you find that slightly disturbing? Doesn't it make you want to ask where the open borders people get their ideas?

Do the open borders crowd seriously believe that the difference between Haiti and Japan is climate or geography? What would it take to turn Haiti into Japan? If you had a trillion dollars, the US Marines, NPR and the Society of Jesus in its black-robed prime, could the job be done? And would it stay done? Paraguay suggests the answer is no.

In reality, the idea that modern human populations are, like dog breeds, the product of strong recent selection – I have even seen the word "domestication" – is pretty well established at this point. There is no good reason to think that the European or Asian hunter-gatherers of 10,000 years ago could adapt instantly to modern life, let alone humans of 100,000 or 1 million years ago. And if you flick this around, I would make a crappy hunter-gatherer.

What kinds of societal dysfunction would ancient populations display if a time machine transported them to 2018? Probably the same dysfunctions we see in all human populations which haven’t experienced many generations of selection for successful adaptation to urban lifestyles.

But it’s entirely possible a good human breeder could turn Australian aboriginals into Ashkenazi Jews in twenty or thirty generations, and vice versa. Belyaev's work with the silver foxes is impressive evidence of this. Unfortunately, I don't think I’ll live for 900 years, so I’d prefer to have borders between me and all populations of humans who aren’t adapted to civilisation – as much for their benefit as mine.

Yet even with zero evidence that "all men are created equal," why do so many people believe it? Perhaps because of the West's Christian heritage? And more specifically, the English Dissenter tradition of primitive Christianity, which evolved into Whiggery and gave us John Stuart Mill and today’s progressives? It's easy to call yourself an atheist. Anyone can do it. But when I talk to my “atheist” friends, it’s painfully obvious that getting rid of the whole package of assumptions that came along with Christian theism is proving far more difficult.

Obviously, truth doesn’t matter because, in a democracy, power is a function of public opinion and in a fascist state power is a function of how many thugs you have on speed dial. Both accomplish the same goal – influence over the decisions of the State. The difference between fascism and democracy is that instead of corrupting army officers, a democracy corrupts intellectuals.

Modern Western governments are jewellery stores full of rings of power. Our official university system and official press is the most sophisticated machine for managing public opinion ever constructed. It makes the Catholic Church look like the Buddha's bo tree. And everyone who wears the rings – yes, even the immigrant children lovers – sees himself as a Boromir, wielding that dark power for good rather than evil.

Noam Chomsky
Can power be used for good? Can the State be improved? Absolutely. But not as much as you think. Across the history of the 20th century, the pattern you see repeatedly is that those willing to play harder and less scrupulously win and the jewellery store grows and grows and grows. Even worse, “conservatism” creates an illusion that the system can reform itself. In other words, it distracts its subjects from the genuinely dangerous idea that maybe the whole ring shop should just be dumped, shopkeeper and all, into Mount Doom.

Intellectual shouldn’t get involved with power or impact or influence but stick to thinking what they think, typing it up and posting it where anyone can read it, like on a blog. Intellectuals should focus on reality, not public opinion. You can't throw away everyone else's ring, but you can start by throwing away yours.

The thing about cultural hegemony is that someone always has it. Open border, transnational progressivism is a culture, too. It's a set of values, beliefs and perspectives which isn’t exactly tolerant of contradictions. What culture is? And if those ideas aren't "Anglo-European," what are? It’s not like they came from Indonesia.

In fact, even "Anglo-European" is too narrow a description here. The West is still in the grips of a battle between British and Protestant, liturgical and pietist Christianities (low-church, high-church), with the racist replacing that old standby, the Papist. If you look at US fundamentalism as a sort of hick neo-Catholicism, the pattern of Anglophone history is unbroken. And the connection between Puritan and progressive is obvious. The open borders discussion often has an extremely rarefied moral tone. Again, very Puritan.

But the idea that the purpose of government is to create a safe, pleasant and open society for people to live ordinary civilized lives, should be more popular than it is. Mr Trump believes a sovereign State with a $3 trillion budget should at least be able to secure its cities and clear them of militias. If his border wall can achieve this, maybe then we can have a mature conversation about immigration.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Runaway by Norman Rockwell

The Runaway, 1958 by Norman Rockwell.

I like this painting.

If you look at a large print of it, you'll notice the cop’s eyes aren't focused on the kid. He's facing the boy but looking at the bundle out of the corner of his eye. The cop sees what's at stake, and you're supposed to see it too.

Rockwell painted what you're supposed to see in the painting, but it's in the details.

The guy behind the counter is obviously a seedy character. Consider the greasy hair, cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He looks like he's been up all night.

The cop, by contrast, is immaculate. His boots are polished, he's clean shaven, sporting a fresh close-cropped haircut, and his expression is not as easy (or insidious) as the other guy's smile.

The kid is running away. Rockwell is showing the kid at a metaphorical fork in the road. One way leads to order, duty, honour and respect. The other leads to ill repute, and in Rockwell's world, decay. Decay is everywhere in Rockwell's paintings, it's at the edges. Decency, honour and justice keep decay at bay.

Why a cop, and not a businessman? Because only the cop (law and order) makes routine contact with the world's seedy underbelly and remains uncorrupted. These are the two people best suited to tell the kid what his future holds if he continues with his choice to run away. The counter guy's cocky too-familiar smile betrays he's not giving the kid a straight story. And his raised eyebrow means he's sizing the kid up, taking him in.

But the cop is leaning down, and he's not really smiling. He's more reassuring than friendly. The cop is calmly going to talk this kid into returning home. He's looking at the bundle and he's focused. He knows what he must do. It's his job to send this kid home.

That's why he's still wearing his hat. Cops today take their hats off when they eat and back when this was painted everybody took their hat off when they sat down to eat. The hat is still on the cop's head because he isn't there to eat. He's there to work. He's there to get the kid on his way home again.

And this innocent apple-cheeked kid is all the while blissfully oblivious to everything going on right in front of his face.

Monday, 9 July 2018

David Lynch films love, not movies

David Lynch makes innocuous things seem inexplicably wrong.

He’s a sexual being made uncomfortable by his own sexuality. I don't know if you've been to America but that's a fairly ubiquitous feeling over there, certainly not unique to gender.

There are two ways to make movies. One is the Stanley Kubrick approach, where every single prop, colour choice and word of dialogue has meaning. It’s all very careful, very thoughtful film as text where everything illuminates the layers in a film. I'm thinking here of Kubrick's choice to make the monolith in 2001 the same aspect ratio as a movie screen so that the totally black shots with the creepy opera music would be closeup shots of the monolith.

In "Eyes Wide Shut," Kubrick built an entire city intersection and meticulously chose the colour and words on every piece of signage to convey additional hidden meaning. The "Rainbow" costume shop refers to the party at the start of the film where two girls invite Tom Cruise to go with them to the "end of the rainbow.” And when Cruise is stalked on the street by the creepy guy after the orgy scene, one of the shops he passes is the "Verona," Verona being a city in Veneto which also contains Venice, whose carnival festivals in the middle ages spawned the creepy costumes shown during the orgy scene. The style even works across Kubrick’s films (Beethoven in Clockwork Orange (Ludwigo treatment), Beethoven in EWS, etc.).

The other approach is to shoot a movie like de Kooning or Kandinsky paint. Random images depicted only vaguely or haphazardly, with everything – the colour, brushstrokes, composition – adding to a single emotional message, mood, or feeling, like paintings which are more gestalt works. You see the painting and hear something (noise, jazz, traffic) but it’s all in service of a single thought. The creation of a work with multiple layers and a single unified message.

David Lynch’s films are like abstract art (he studied painting, not film) and he loves the digital video as a medium because it’s more flexible and conducive to experimentation. He will conjure a scene completely divorced from any context because it creates a mood, the way a painter displays a cube that pushes the colours around in some new way. Then he strings the scenes together to connect the moods. It's only because the same actors are used in different scenes that the viewer’s mind constructs a linear story.

His films are love stories, gestalt works of art about different stages of being in love. Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. TP is the innocence of young love, perverted by a collision with adult lust. LH is about jealousy, betrayal and the fear of losing the one who betrayed you. You kill the thing you love (just like in TP). He’s filming the emotional component of the love story, not the intellectual story of boy meets girl.

These are stories about joy mixed with lust and poisoned by jealousy. But he conveys the joy and the lust and the jealousy not through plot or dialogue, but through pure image and sound. Lynch insists on doing his own sound design for his own films. He's not trying to make you feel happy or sexy, but rather to communicate what the character is feeling.

Lynch likes the motif of the doppelganger and its corollary the switched identity. He uses it so often you can almost assume any new film he makes will have it. In TP, Lynch made the sexually abused stripper Laura Palmer look exactly like her sweet innocent cousin Madeleine (different hair colour, accentuating how overt her choice is). LH has Bill Pullman become someone else after killing his wife, only to find that in some psychotic fugue escape fantasy he falls in love with her twin (or is it really her again?). MD repeats this theme, with the jilted lover slaying her partner only to become her and nonetheless fall in love with her.

IE is the purest example of this motif. Laura Dern descends through her own loveless life, to assume the identity of the lover she portrays, which leads her to experience the tragedy of the Polish prostitute and her husband losing their son. But isn't this what love is? What is making love other than the desire to unite or become the person you love?

Think of your own life, have you ever loved someone who also sometimes made you jealous, or hurt you? Did you ever find yourself later thinking about those hurt feelings, or re-experience that jealousy at the most inappropriate time, such as during sex? This thing you love hurt you, so you soothe the ache by embracing it tighter.

Lynch pushes these feelings into you by bypassing your reason. Inland Empire delivers scene after scene to disturb and unsettle you, right after he makes you comfortable. It’s like having a nice afternoon picnic with your lover, and you suddenly remember (how you caught her at a party last year slow-dancing with some other guy (which she said meant nothing (yet it's obvious the guys is better looking/richer/more experienced than you (who you now feel inferior to (opening the wound again))))) and she smiles and says "It's such a nice day isn't it?"

That's not something you can convey linearly with plot and dialogue. Lynch is a master at offering no discernible story of the viewer to cling to for safety in that storm. He sails you into the storm and throws you off the boat.

He could give you some syrupy dialogue about how "You complete me," but instead, in Inland Empire, prefers a quick cut over brown noise to Laura Dern walking towards you out of focus on a dark path. At the last minute you’ll realise she isn't walking but running at breakneck speed in slow motion, and then, as she bears down on the camera, you see that she’s screaming.

She lost herself in the love story because her relationship with her husband is antiseptic and procedural. This is a source of anger. How can you deny me love if you really love me? Or do you merely control me? Her relationship with her husband is so bereft of love that it’s easier for her to become the impassioned lover of the film in which she stars and thereby replace reality with that fantasy. Her mind reconstructs her world to allow her to be in love rather than let her keep her sanity without it. But she can't re-establish her true self until she is totally devastated.

Love is overwhelming need, vulnerability and anxiety. Lynch is trying to portray that message. You hate your lover because you need them so much that it terrifies you and that fear can turn to madness or rage. Love is turmoil. Hate for and love of the same person are held at once in your heart, and that passion resolves itself one way or another – both people develop separate identities within the relationship, or the relationship ends, and each are broken. Lynch recognises this as inherently irrational, and yet it is a universal experience of every human. Why does one person make you feel so wonderfully and frighteningly out of control, sometimes even before you've spoken to them? Isn't that madness?

Lynch shows this to you. He recreates the madness, the emotions, with sound and image, noise and shattered darkness, so that you empathise with the plight of the lover in his film. The endings only seem fantastic, the way you look back on your mindset during a frenzied love affair only to shake your head and wonder "what was I thinking?"

You can't deconstruct a David Lynch film the way you would a Kubrick film. That’s like looking for Christian symbolism in a Pollock drip painting instead of in Michelangelo’s Pieta. You watch a David Lynch film to be reminded that love is terrifying and beautiful and worth sacrificing everything in the world for. You watch it the same way you stare at Munch's "The Scream."

Why is this person screaming? Am I screaming?