Culture

A Case-Study in Hatred

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a debate and come away with a stronger feeling of having just wasted time than after listening to the Munk Debate on Political Correctness. The motion — “What you call political correctness, I call progress” — went largely untouched, a point that Frye repeatedly pointed out, but to no avail. Peterson made some rather lame and, in my opinion, really underpowered points about the dangers of tribalism, while his tribalistic opponents simply ignored the subject to go after Peterson personally, with a few snide asides at Trump and at white people generally (white men specifically).

But there was a useful takeaway for me.

I first heard Michael Eric Dyson several years ago in an exchange with Andrew Breitbart on the Bill Maher show. Dyson speaks in a manner that fuses colloquial pop lingo and maximally emotionally-charged language into a kind of slam poetry that manages to be simultaneously imploring and berating. Rhetorically speaking, Breitbart was simply outclassed. But being rhetorically outclassed does not make one wrong. Consider the following exchange from the Bill Maher show:

Breitbart: …Who’s afraid? I’m sorry, where is this racism coming from? I haven’t seen this.

Maher: Well the racism is coming from Rush Limbaugh

[audience applause]

Breitbart: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know what, I find that offensive, because there’s nothing in this country that is a worse accusation. It’s where, in America, if you accuse someone of racism, that person has to disprove that. It is completely un-American to call racism. You tell me what he has said that is racist.

Maher: Michael, you wanna…?

Breitbart: The man has been on the air for 21 years, 15 hours a week…

Dyson: Well, I tell you, first of all, Rush Limbaugh had a problem — he seems to have a problem with the black guys who run things. Think about it. So he was jumping on Donovan McNabb, for being a “black quarterback” because he was black, he was being celebrated, he got pushed off the air, that was Rush Limbaugh. Donovan McNabb went on to win the MVP which suggested that it was not just a figment in Rush’s imagination, that the reality is that this man really has skills. Now he’s jumping on Obama. Look, we know that…

Breitbart: I, I, look, I watched…

Maher: He’s said a lot of racist shit.

Breitbart: No he hasn’t. No he hasn’t.

Dyson: Wait, let me finish. He’s not saying “I hate negros,” specifically. What he is doing is creating an atmosphere of such profound vitriol and hatred, and I think denunciation of black people and of the ideas associated with those people who are vulnerable that yeah, there is a strong implication about blackness going on there, and if you put Rush Limbaugh in the context of the monkey appearing at the New York Post cartoon and the Barnes and Nobles…

Breitbart: He didn’t put that in…

Dyson: I didn’t say he did. I said in the context…

Breitbart: But wait, wait, wait, but didn’t put in the context…

Dyson: It’s code language.

Breitbart: No it isn’t code language. He was trying…

Dyson: It’s code language. Look, he was implying something serious about black people and a deficit about black culture, and an assault upon vulnerable people.

Notice the charge. The allegation of racism is justified by proclaiming an intentional creation of a hostile environment. This is a rhetorical ploy we’ve heard mostly used in schools and in bureaucratic work environments.

How is this claim justified? By pointing at anecdotes and choosing to interpret them as part of a larger pattern. Never mind that Breitbart points to exceptions in the pattern, such as Limbaugh’s defense of Clarence Thomas. Thomas — we are told — does not speak for all black men.

We are left to assume that someone else perhaps does speak for all black men? Perhaps that person just happens to be sitting in the interview with Maher and Breitbart… wouldn’t that be convenient!

But Dyson is not merely a talented emotional manipulator and a sophist. What he is doing is projecting, and this comes out in his debate with Jordan Peterson, whom he also accuses of being a “mean, mad white man,” which he promptly doubles down on, citing “lethal intensity and ferocity right here on this stage” and “evident vitriol with which you speak and the denial of a sense of equanimity among the combatants in an argument.”

“So I’m saying again, you’re a mean, mad white man, and the viciousness was evident.”

Cue audience applause.

That was in response to Peterson asking for a point at which everyone could agree that the political Left had gone too far.

On its face, the outrageousness of the hyperbole is almost laughable. It is a self-parody, except that he clearly means it sincerely. And the audience cheers. How can this make sense? Are they all delusional? Is everyone so stupid that they just can’t see it?

To me, this appears to be the less parsimonious explanation. The simpler, more reasonable solution is that Dyson is simply projecting.

All of his claims about indirect attacks upon blackness, about fostering a hostile environment against blacks, about using code language to harm “vulnerable people” (blacks), and about people like Peterson being mean to people “less privileged” than himself (blacks), all of these assertions perfectly describe Dyson’s treatment of white people. He’s not saying “I hate whitey,” specifically. What he is doing is creating an atmosphere of profound vitriol and hatred. He is doing so carefully and cleverly… and therefore, knowingly.

Michael Eric Dyson hates white people, and he is very effective at hating us. His aim is to attack “whiteness,” which is itself a euphemistic phrasing for weakening, diluting, and destroying whites.

The implications of this are pretty straightforward if you have read In Defense of Hatred. If you love yourself, and you find yourself subject to a willful existential threat, the appropriate thing to do, the moral thing to do, is to hate them and to hate them well.

I hate Michael Eric Dyson. It is not a passionate, burning hatred. It’s just a kind of recognition, a quiet “oh, I see, this guy is the enemy.” It’s a realization that he is “them,” and not merely a “them,” but an antagonistic and dangerous “them.” Nothing he has to say to me will be taken as sincere or honest, because his goals and my goals are mutually exclusive. Like men and lions, there can be no pacts or agreements between us; we will simply hate each other. To do otherwise is to betray your duty to love what you hold to be valuable — namely, yourself and others like yourself.

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On Names

Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name! I have given you my soul; leave me my name!

— Arthur Miller, The Crucible

The sixth amendment to the Constitution guarantees an accused person the right to face their accuser. This is known as the “confrontation clause,” and in practice, it means that people at least have a right to know who is accusing them, even if they never end up facing them per se. But this concept enshrined in our national founding document was not invented on American soil. Indeed, it is possible the idea predates even the civilizations of Europe, extending back to the age of Mesopotamia.

The preservation of justice in a society is threatened by what is known as the “tragedy of the commons,” the tendency of individuals to free-ride on collective property because it is economically advantageous to do so. There are a number of ways that different societies attempt to deal with this, but among the most common and effective is to give members of that society a stake in the commons. That one’s children may inherit the use of collective property alone may be enough for some people to reject free-riding and abusing the commons for personal gain. What is critical, of course, is that the members of the society be made to have skin in the game.

Among the more important kinds of commons–in conjunction with infrastructure and the environment–is social trust. Defined by PEW as a “belief in the honesty, integrity, and reliability of others,” social trust is a critical, necessary building block for civilization. Civilization requires some stability, and if other people cannot be trusted to act in a predictable (just) manner, then why should you be a chump and let others take advantage of you?

The right to face one’s accuser is perhaps the most critical infusion of skin into the commons game, where social trust is concerned. It creates accountability and incentives which encourage moral behavior and punish immoral behavior.

Now we have the internet, and everything has become a lot more complicated.

The internet represents an intersection of three different rights: freedom of speech, facing one’s accuser, and being left alone. If our rights to privacy and to speak freely are respected, then other people’s right to face their accuser will be lost, should we choose to slander and malign them. If we are held accountable, then our right to be left alone is threatened, should anyone accuse us of slander, or even causing harm. Should restrictions to preempt such predicaments be put into place, then the freedom of speech is imperiled.

This intersection existed, of course, prior to the world-wide web. The general solution was that a degree of each of these freedoms was given up so as to preserve as much as possible of all three. We can say almost anything, can be mostly left alone, and will at least get the chance to know who our accuser is, even if we cannot interrogate them in court.

What the internet has done, however, is throw off the balance. It has introduced the real possibility of anonymity.

Historically, people could try to be anonymous by putting on a mask, by lying about their name and origin, or perhaps by using proxies and servants. But masks are clearly visible (you know you’re dealing with someone whose identity is hidden), lies can, in principle, be discovered and punctured, and servants can be traced back to their masters. Towns were small enough — even cities were small enough — that what went around did come back around.

Now true, real, powerful anonymity is possible. This anonymity has two sources: first, the  People can spread self-serving lies (“fake news”), even allegations, without having their reputational skin in the game.

Part of the use of anonymity is defensive in nature. The fact that these attacks are a possibility is reason enough not to put our own name out there for evaluation and possible attack without reprisal. Having your name known is, in most cases, an intimate and vulnerable state.

Our name can be known by many other people that we don’t know, of course–if we are famous. Even here, the widespread knowledge of our name represents fame or infamy. In a word, honor.

Having honor is caring about what others think of you, specifically of others within your honor group. Honor is, first and foremost, an enforcement mechanism against the tragedy of the commons (a man is not honorable if he takes advantage of his friends, and treason is the deepest depth of dishonor). But it is also something we can be proud of when we act honorably. To a great extent, we measure a man by how honorable he is. And when honorable men are admired, honor itself is reinforced.

This means that the prevalence of online anonymity is not just a threat to social trust and to our right to face our accuser, but to the very heart of what is valued in being men. Our name is a part of our identity, a linguistic association that has been gradually, symbiotically cultivated around our history and our nature. It would be overstating the case to say that the anonymity of the internet and the dishonorable behavior it encourages threatens our very identities as individuals, but it does threaten to erode something special and something important about who we are, which makes us respectable and admirable as individuals, and which makes civilization possible.

We face two spirals: one downward, and one upward.

The former is a path of safety, achieved through hiddenness, anonymity, dishonorable conduct, and a win-lose world of dyscivic cat-fighting. This world is dystopian in its pettiness; a world where it is a casually accepted, grimly amusing fact that someone can have their lives and reputations destroyed for “racism” or “sexual harassment,” arising from anonymous sources, and where real victims are increasingly, cynically, disbelieved. It is a ghost-world, where nothing is solid, no one is “real,” and the experience of attempting to make friends is a global extension of the “Seattle freeze” (by necessity).

The second path is a path of openness, of sincerity, and of honesty — of honor. This path will encourage others to emulate you, because people cannot help but admire courageous, authentic people. But this path does take courage, because it incurs real risk. People do lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their families, and even their lives, for the sake of their name.

In the end, we’re all going to die, and our names will likely be forgotten anyways. Still, it should not be thought of as an easy choice: name or life; honor or security. Our culture has defaulted to security, arising from the all-encompassing logic of liability (cover your ass). But this is not a sustainable path if civilization is to be preserved. The only way that will happen is if we begin to care more about our honor than our safety.

Hatred and the YouTube Shooting

In the aftermath of the YouTube shooting, I decided to tune in to Stefan Molyneux for the first time in a few months, and I felt like I was having bits of In Defense of Hatred read back to me:

In scrolling through the website, you can see… I hate to say obsession because the mistreatment of animals is a horrifying thing to see, but people people people: manage and control your exposure to horrors. Look, you can spend all day scrolling through the internet and finding the most appalling and horrifying behavior against whatever you treasure, whatever you hold dear, everything will be insulted, and violated, and tortured, in video after video, if you want to pursue it.

You have to, have to, have to manage your exposure to horrors in this world. As Nietzsche said, if you look too long into the abyss, remember, the abyss also looks into you. Do not chase monsters to the point where you become a monster. Do not overexpose yourself to horror, it will mess up — in my opinion — it will mess your mind. You have to manage it, you have to control, you have to manage your exposure.

We want to oppose evil because virtue and goodness are so beautiful. You understand? We want to fix ugliness because we love beauty, but if all you do is stare at ugliness you lose sight of the beauty that’s actually the motivating force behind what it is that you do.

From the book:

You only have so much time to give attention to things, and you can only love, cherish, improve, and protect that at which you direct your attention. If hating something draws away all your attention, you will functionally cease to love anything. It is in this manner that hatred, while at once an expression of love, can also overtake and override the very love that drives it.

Like Achilles, we can spend all our energy justifying our rage, only to find that we haven’t spent any energy enjoying and building anything that we love. Fruitless hatred, and hate that ignores love, can ultimately become as soul-killing and self-defeating as an unwillingness to hate.

I suppose it is now time to reveal one of my ulterior motives for writing In Defense of Hatred, one which I have shared with a few friends, but which I have generally kept hidden.

Ultra-nationalism is on the rise, in Europe and in the United States, especially within “Generation Z,” affectionately referred to as “Generation Zyklon” by those in far-right circles. And there is a lot of hate in this surging tidal wave. SJWs who think they are opposing fascism have no idea what’s coming, or how they themselves helped create this wave of nationalism.

I myself am a nationalist, but the ultra-nationalist strain of consciousness that puts the nation above family, above God, and above the individual, truly is a pathological and dangerous idea, and one that genuinely scares me. The catch is that the would-be ultra-nationalists are right to oppose the forces we are dealing with: a modern iteration of Marxist progressivism, a kind of soulless capitalism derived from a materialistic, scientific, worldview which seeks to commodify and commercialize everything, and of course, militant Islam.

In the end, the ultra-nationalists may be necessary, as they are in many cases the only people who seem sufficiently cognizant of what is at stake. Nevertheless, they pose an enormous danger in their own right, to the survival of others and to ourselves. The Roman king after Romulus, Numa Pompilius, had to go to extraordinary roundabout lengths to distract his new population from warring themselves to death, and the ultra-nationalist tendency to expand and conquer as an expression of vitality (really, an attempt to conjure desired vitality) holds the same danger.

It is what defeated Hitler, after all.

In Defense of Hatred is first and foremost a justification of hatred, but it is also a constraint around hatred. I hope that to the degree that it resonates with ultra-nationalists — or with rabid animal-rights activist vegan bodybuilders — it also checks the pathologies that can arise from excess hatred, which are extremely likely when the proverbial pendulum is on the back-swing from the multicultural day-dreams that have dominated our collective moral consciousness for the last several decades.

The Problem with Marxism

People who dismiss Marxism in absolute terms do so at their own risk. As a philosophy, it would not have attracted the fanatical devotion of millions of people were there not truths within it that made it compelling. Addressing these criticisms of the status quo might even have prevented the communist revolutions in many places, like addressing the concerns of conservative American voters prior to 2015 might have prevented Trump’s successful campaign for president. Because these concerns were ignored, sufficient popular support managed to win a conflict, rather than a conversation, for the power of the state to act upon these ideas.

As a refresher, here are just a few of the things that Marxists have gotten right:

  1. Inequality – The evidence is pretty firm on the Gini coefficient, which predicts crime, as well as a host of other factors. Within the social sciences, the only thing more scientifically valid than the GC is the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Marx was right that the increasing levels of inequality would be destabilizing and would create conflict.
  2. Business Cycles – Marx wrote extensively about this relatively recent theory in Theories of Surplus and Value. Although not first advanced by him (that honor goes to the French historian Sismondi, in 1819), Marx’s theory of inevitable communist revolution was predicated on increasingly severe business cycles. Whereas previous economists thought that these cycles were caused by external affairs (like war), Marx realized that business cycles were caused by the functioning of the system itself.
  3. Capitalism – The separation of the laborer from the products of his labor is a serious psychological problem. The efficiency pursued by industrialists led to the breaking down (dumbing down) of tasks in order to optimize consistency, and this in turn made laborers unskilled, and disposable. Beyond the decrease in their value, these increases in systematic efficiency of production also reduced the possibilities for improvement, and the achievement of mastery in a craft or trade for the laborer. Marx noticed this, and it served as one of his heavier criticisms of capitalism.
  4. Religion – Marx is often cited as crassly referring to religion as the “opiate of the people.” To dispel the presumption intoned in this crass half-lie, it is worth reading the quote in full:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

— Marx, Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

The quote is neither crass nor dismissive, nor is it unserious in its psychological analysis of the motivations behind religious belief. One cannot honestly even say it is wrong. The best one could say–and which I will say–is that it is incomplete in its exploration of alternatives, or in its grasp of the totality of the motives which bring people to religion.

The importance of addressing this subject became clear to me after reading about the possibility of an upcoming debate between the traditionalist (if not entirely conservative) Dr. Jordan Peterson and the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Peterson challenged Zizek to a debate after Zizek wrote about Peterson in the press. It wasn’t a particularly good article, as it fundamentally misunderstood Peterson’s individualism (“clean your room!”) and projected a Capitalist straw man that blames outsiders for his own problems onto Peterson. Perhaps in addition to the “hysteric,” who lies in the expression of a truth, and the “obsessive neurotic,” who tells the truth in the service of a lie, we could add the “lazy,” who lies without realization because he hasn’t done his homework.

Nevertheless, Zizek’s article captures something unique to the Marxist mind, which mirrors one of the left’s own longstanding critique of conservativism.

In his piece on Peterson, Zizek references Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst:

…if what a jealous husband claims about his wife (that she sleeps around with other men) is all true, his jealousy is still pathological: the pathological element is the husband’s need for jealousy as the only way to retain his dignity, identity even.

This statement is interesting because it tries to drive a wedge between cause (infidelity) and effect (jealousy) and criticize the effect without noticing the cause.

The claim that jealousy is needed for his dignity and identity frames the matter pathologically from the get-go. We could imagine a situation in which a man is being chased by a hungry bear: isn’t there something pathological about a man’s need to run? What, does he think he will lose his dignity, his identity even, if he does not run from the bear? As a matter of fact, yes, if the bear eats him, his identity as a living being will be greatly threatened, and with it, any posibility of dignity.

In a similar vein, why should a man not feel jealous if his wife is unfaithful? What is pathological about that particular negative thought in that instance? His identity as a loved spouse has been destroyed, and with it, his dignity — his ability to discern truth having been exposed as false.

This is the form of argument which my book addressed on another subject, reuniting the wedged-apart emotions of love and hatred. Love without the possibility of hatred sounds idyllic, but we were not constructed to live in that way.

Jealousy and hatred are not the only blots upon the untrammeled ecstatic happiness of the human experience: fear, disgust, resentment, lethargy, boredom, suspicion, sadness, pain, and despair all haunt our lives from the periphery. Whatever we may think of these emotions in the moment, they exist for a reason, and we ignore them and reject them in all cases as “pathological” at our own peril. Even resentment–an emotion brimming with potential for genuine pathology–can sometimes be a motivator for positive action. In any case, what good is telling someone that the emotion they are experiencing is wrong? They are products of facts and values, and cannot be done away with without one of their causes being changed or done away with.

The Marxist project is all about the pursuit of an unsustainable emotional ideal. Like Lacan and his inhumanly stoic husband, Marxism — and the creative bent of leftists generally — pursue impossible states of equality, stability, purpose, and happiness. They identify problems, and rather than adapting to them, and learning to live within them, seek out their own kinds of final solutions.

A classic leftist critique of conservativism is that of nostalgia: there is no going back, even if the past was idyllic in some ways.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last paragraphs of The Great Gatsby are often quoted in this vein:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Yet the leftists are not different in kind than the conservatives they criticize. They are only different in the direction they are looking: utopia lies in the future!

When the leftists point out that problems and evils also existed in the past, and that it was perhaps not as “golden” as conservatives imagine, they are right. But when conservatives point out that the future will also be full of danger and evil and pathology, they are also right.

In other words, what’s right about Marxism is inextricably bound up in what is wrong with Marxism, because their compulsion to point out the problems of modernity stem from their desire to escape from problems absolutely. What is communism, where no one can own anything, if not a proposed final solution to the problem of inequality? What is the end to personal ownership if not a permanent solution to the uncertainty that emerges in capitalist business cycles — the “end of history?” What is Marxism if not the attempt to refasten the laborer to the fruits of his labor, regardless of what that labor might be? And what is Marxist atheism, if not an attempted great and fatal blow to all comfortable lies that protect states of emptiness, sadness, and oppression?

The Marxist does not see value in the progress of overcoming an obstacle, only negative value in the obstacle’s presence. This is why they tend to make arguments about the pathologies of “unhealthy ideals” when they believe the achievements of such ideals are impossible. In fact, this argument itself was first presented to me by Zizek himself.

A point that Dr. Peterson has been clear on in his lectures is that the world is a chaotic place: we do not know what the problems will be tomorrow, nor is it necessarily true that the solutions we have for the problems of today will continue working tomorrow. In such a world, the ideal solution is not to solve all of the problems once and for all, so that we do not have to worry about them, as Marxists work towards. This is both futile and undesirable. Rather, the answer to the chaotic world is to become the sort of person who can solve problems. On a broader, social level, this means giving people the tools to deal with problems, rather than physically or psychologically removing all of their problems.

The Strong Case for Censorship

Here’s a puzzle: what’s wrong with Slavoj Zizek’s argument for censorship?

I like censorship, but what kind of censorship? Not ‘the office, you get imprisoned,’ but censorship which is a measure of cultural standards. What do I mean by this? For example, I wouldn’t like to live in a society where you argue against rape. You know, this reminds me of Ronald Reagan, you remember one of his legendary stories is that once he said when he was accused of tolerating holocaust denial, he said: “No, it’s not true! Whenever, at my dinner table, there are people who deny the holocaust, I strongly oppose them.” Well, the question being, ‘what kind of friends, yes?’ Yes, all the time oppose them!

But my point is that it’s the same with… you know, I like to live in a society where you don’t have to argue why rape is prohibited; why rape shouldn’t be allowed. I would like to live in a society where when somebody, in any way, tolerates rape, it’s simply—how would you put this—disqualifies himself, is perceived as either dangerous or ridiculous. This is what I mean by censorship, that it’s inadmissible, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. And the sad thing is that in Europe, the standards for what is publicly admissible are falling lower, and lower, and lower. Things at the level of racism and so on, which 20, 30 years ago simply were not possible, are today tolerated and accepted.

The answer is only this: he’s on the wrong side.

Conservatives outnumber liberals in the United States, meaning that cultural norms for censorship (which are always democratic in nature) will be firmly against anything that smacks of Marxism or Communism. In extreme cases, they will oppose even things which seem too intellectual, because to the layman, they appear untrustworthy.

Even if immigration eventually makes democrats outnumber republicans, the essential psychological breakdown will not have changed, because immigrants side with the democrats for personal benefits, not out of ideological loyalty. Hispanic Catholics and Muslim Africans may be fiscally liberal, but are socially conservative. Perhaps more importantly, they are functionally low in verbal intelligence as a group, due to language barriers, and this correlates with supporting political censorship.

What is most ironic about this support for cultural censorship is how conservative it is in its psychology. The leftist mind is open to experience, while the conservative mind is characterized by conscientiousness. Thus censorship–which establishes the stability in a society that Zizek alludes to, in which we do not have to constantly answer for established principles–will always work to the benefit of conservatives, and at the cost of liberals.

Perhaps more accurately, censorship solidifies a paradigm, while free speech opens the paradigm to criticism. Even if this criticism is answered, the energy and effort of answering it is a burden that detracts from the defenders’ ability to focus on other tasks in their society. Rather than focusing on the finer details of, say, property law, within the confines of an established legal paradigm, we have to yet again go over whether or not the very concept of property is legitimate.

Or whether or not rape is okay.

If such challenges are taken remotely seriously, then the entire structure of society rocks back and forth in an ongoing, low-grade earthquake. How high can it be built? How long can it even stand?

The only reason that free speech is plausibly defensible is that it can, sometimes, be used to identify flaws in the structure itself–not to exploit for demolition, but to strengthen the structure. The argument presumes that the harm that can be prevented through this speech is greater than the harm imposed by its existence. It also presumes a kind of socio-cultural coherence which Zizek alludes to. This coherence, Zizek and other leftists attack, as “racism” and “xenophobia,” despite being a necessary condition for the sort of society Zizek desires to live in.

What, then, should be done? Logically, the thing to do would be to establish support for free speech as a cultural metric for censorship: if you oppose free speech, then you are “dangerous or ridiculous.”

Whether or not this itself constitutes a paradox, I leave to the contemplation of the leftists advocating for repressive tolerance 2.0, as “cultural censorship.” Indeed, they would escape the seeming contradiction by advocating against free speech, rather than for it. I think, however, that they know as well as we do how that would turn out for them, were it accepted by everyone at the same time. They have the cities and the universities in their ideological grasp, but that is not nearly enough of a lead to win the censorship war that they are hell-bent on sparking.

For my part, I am this close to throwing up my hands and putting my redactor’s warpaint on. It seems as though protecting the value of free speech may require tightening the restrictions on the speech of those who do not share that value. Whether this is the more slippery slope to step on than allowing the left to maintain the reigns of cultural censorship, I do not know.

It certainly looks like a shallower angle though.

In Defense of Sargon

UPDATE: I have retracted the view I expressed in this piece, in light of further information.

To me, Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin is much like Christopher Hitchens: I don’t agree with him on very much politically, but there is something about the quality of his mind that is admirable. In my discussion with Greg Johnson, we both agreed that someone who is principled but wrong is better than a person who is right but unprincipled, because the person who is principled can eventually correct their error which will inevitably reveal itself, whereas the unprincipled person can deny their error or hide from it indefinitely. Moreover, the principled person is trustworthy, whereas the unprincipled person cannot be trusted, especially in the moments that it matters the most.

In his refusal to help Kraut & Tea’s dishonest operations, Sargon demonstrated a degree of moral integrity and fortitude that everyone likes to imagine that they have, but few are able to manifest when actually put to the test. He has repeated this elsewhere, in his humane treatment of Laci Green, and his consistency in discouraging doxxing, violence, or abuse of other people online with whom he disagrees. For all of his faults, Sargon has character.

Lately, Sargon has come under fire in the aftermath of his now infamous debate with Richard Spencer, and after a rather rough conversation with Mister Metokur. While there are many criticisms of Sargon’s political positions, the main claims being made now are not attacks on his position, but attacks on his character. He is being attacked for “having a big ego,” for instance, as well as for thinking he’s a leader, and perhaps most popularly (from Richard Spencer) for thinking he’s smarter than he really is.

I will go after Sargon all day long on his political positions. JF has leveled some devastating criticisms of the half-baked hybrid liberal-libertarian position that Sargon has amalgamated together as an alternative to the neoliberal and Alt-Right positions vying for the next generation’s metapolitical fealty, and I believe JF is absolutely correct in his criticisms. However, observing that someone is wrong does not mean that the person lacks character, and it is a threat to the value and respect of character to go after someone’s character merely for being wrong.

I would like to bring back to mind that Richard Spencer participated in the attack on Greg Johnson in conjunction with Daniel Friberg. Greg utterly refuted the claims, was vindicated by Aedhan Cassiel, and then again by John Morgan. (AltRight.com’s responses were weak and off-topic). Richard Spencer is an intelligent person, but he does not have character in the way that Sargon does. He certainly has a bigger ego than Sargon, not only for going to the media and participating in stunts (Charlottesville, HailGate) that give him publicity at the expense of the movement, but also for audacious and hubristic claims, such as that he would be the leader of the Alt-Right and would direct its course for the next hundred years.

Mister Metokur is, in my opinion, even worse than Spencer, who at least stands for something. Mister Metokur, so far as I can tell, does not stand for anything. All he does is tear things down… and man, does he do it well. By his own admission, he’s only doing this for laughs. Life is a big joke to him.

Deconstructing something is easy. Anyone can notice that the epistemology supporting any particular view of the world is incomplete, and can point out apparent inconsistencies and flaws. If they do it with humor, this deconstruction can be particularly devastating, but it doesn’t help anyone. It’s a hell of a lot harder to create something, which Mister Metokur seems adamantly opposed to doing. Listen again to his conversation with Sargon, and see if you can hear anything else. Functionally, Metokur is a nihilist. But he makes you feel superior while you’re following him down, so it’s okay (because those people were trying to feel superior to us; joke’s on them!). If there’s someone out there putting in decades of thought and research into bringing meaning and purpose into the lives of the next generation, Metokur is the kind of guy who would rather shit on his work than try to do something better.

Sargon is better than Spencer or Metokur. He may not be the smartest guy in the world, or the most well-read. He may not be a natural leader, or a even a “moral genius,” to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris. But he is reasonably smart, he works hard, is a good organizer, is charismatic, and most importantly, he has demonstrated his good character in virtually every case in which it has been tested, which is more frequently in public than most people will experience in their lifetime.

I understand why Sargon wants to shirk his role as “leader” of anything. Strategically, it is risky, since being a leader makes one a target, and targeting leaders has been a consistent SJW strategy. Being “leaderless” was one of the things that made #GamerGate so successful. It was difficult to attack, because it was difficult to pin down. For this reason, it is also personally stressful. Finally, it is distracting from other goals and plans, such as “making shitty video games.”

That said, however, I think Sargon should step into a leadership role, and would urge him to do so, if not within the “Liberalists,” than in another classical liberal advocacy project.

Strategically, the problem with leaderless movements is what’s morally wrong with Mister Metokur. If ground is to be defended, real people, with real names, have to defend them. #GamerGate was defined as successful not because video games were protected, but because most of the Gaming journalism sites changed their official policies and Gawker went down. This was no small feat, but the same enemies that were aiming for video games have been relatively successful at infiltrating comic books and movies, not to mention schools and businesses. #GamerGate is one small victory in a war that has been generally looking grim… or at least had been, until Donald Trump and the Alt-Right began, mostly independently, challenging the underlying Left-Wing cultural hegemony over society. Guerilla fighting can be successful in the weeds and in the swamps, but this war will be decided on the battlefield, where real people face off in real-life, with elegant ideas more metaphorically like gleaming swords and shields than like the rusty dirks of “dank memes.”

Personal risk is a serious problem, and cannot be ignored. I would only respond by quoting my friend Augustus Invictus: “I wonder which is more terrifying: to lose a child to a cause – or to lose the respect of that child when she discovers that her parents were cowards who made a virtue of submission?”

This is the kind of sentiment that is easy for people like Mister Metokur to laugh away, but it is the kind of sentiment that strikes a chord with anyone who simultaneously possesses self-respect and sincerity, both of which Sargon possesses.

Anything worth doing is hard, and changing the world is a lot harder than making shitty video games. In my opinion, that alone should guide Sargon’s choice of priorities.

It may sound suspect that I, an ideological opponent of Sargon, would be giving him advice about what he should do. But for me, ideology is a secondary loyalty. Loyalty to good character comes first, which is why I like Sargon more than Richard or Metokur, despite both of the latter coming closer to my own political views than Sargon. Ultimately, no political movement can succeed if it is run by people with poor character, and a civilization is composed of multiple political movements with differing positions on a variety of subjects. At the end of the day, Sargon and I are on the same team, fighting for a similar social ideal (a Republic, infused with English-American values). We just have different ideas of how to get there.

I also happen to think that the Left does have a lot to say about politics, and that if the Left is represented by bad people, the underlying concerns that the Left usually seeks to address will not go away, but will only reemerge stronger and more pathologically down the road.

Finally, as I stated in my book, I want strong enemies:

I do not want my enemies lying to themselves. Perhaps they have something important to say, that I can learn from. […] I want strong enemies. When I was in debate club in college, I could demolish liberal students whenever a politically partisan issue came up because none of them had read conservative arguments, as I had. They were unprepared, weak. And I was a less skilled debater than I could have been because of it.

[…]

And is it not simply more satisfying to defeat stronger enemies? Whether it is in literal warfare, or the more metaphorical variety–politics, law, culture, or even sports–the strong man never gets a sense of satisfaction from defeating pathetic, weak enemies. It is only from defeating challenging enemies, worthy of one’s hatred, that your own strengths can be vindicated and demonstrated. As Nietzsche pointed out many years ago, it is in this way, at least, that we can learn to love our enemies.

My best wishes and hopes go out to Sargon, whom I think of as an imperfect but worthy and respectable opponent in the battle of ideas. Like Henry V, or Hamlet, I think Sargon should step up and take his crown as “leader,” heavy of a burden as it is, because ultimately it is worth the cost. For his own sake, and for his movement’s sake, he should step up to the plate, and we who disagree with him — about race, or individualism, or rights, or anything else — should support him in this if we also believe character and virtue to be more important than the details of political theory.

Don’t join in the crowd of resentful losers, leaping on any wounded animal they can smell like hyenas. That is the path of weakness.  Rather, respect great men, because the only chance anyone can have of becoming great is by recognizing and venerating the qualities of greatness in others. As measured by character, Sargon is a great man.

Sargon, if you ever read this, thanks for all the great work.

The Moral Con

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The creators of Cards Against Humanity recently pulled an interesting and illustrative stunt. They purchased land on the Mexican border, with the goal of preventing the Mexican border wall.

“Donald Trump is a preposterous golem who is afraid of Mexicans. He is so afraid that he wants to build a twenty-billion dollar wall that everyone knows will accomplish nothing. So we’ve purchased a plot of vacant land on the border and retained a law firm specializing in eminent domain to make it as time-consuming and expensive as possible for the wall to get built.”

Whatever you may think of the border wall, positive or negative, one of the virtues of this stunt is its creativity. It is neither violent nor destructive, is entirely legal, and appears likely to be an effective impediment.

Yet even if you disagree with the wall and applaud the clever means of opposing it, there is something off about the motivation behind it. Their statement from their website begins with a somewhat immature insult, and a straw-manning of a very serious and reasonable concern among many Americans, particularly on border states: the job-loss, crime, and cultural dilution that comes with the scale of immigration we’ve been experiencing. It may be wrong, but it isn’t unreasonable.

More telling is their line about making the wall as expensive and time-consuming as possible. Given that two of their stated reasons for opposing the wall are its cost and its projected ineffectiveness, this tactic specifically designed to increase the cost and reduce  the wall’s effectiveness indicates another motive, especially when we consider they made no positive case for the Mexican migrants. They aren’t pro-immigration, they’re just anti-Trump.

It is entirely possible–likely, in fact–that their motives are entirely economic. As a marketing scheme for promoting their game, immediately before the holidays, it’s pretty brilliant.

That it may cost taxpayers millions of dollars would be just an unfortunate side-effect.

Even if their motives really are civic, and their positions are–contrary to all appearances–clear and thought-through, there’s something suspicious about the timing and the pandering. It’s very popular to signal against Trump these days. Isn’t this the very reason why so many dislike Trump in the first place?

The whole situation reminds me of a video Davis Aurini put out about two years ago, in which he describes the mechanism of the con man:

The important thing you need to remember about con artistry is what the ‘con’ stands for, what a con-man is. He’s a confidence man. He’s someone who gets your confidence and uses that to steal your money. You know, there’s an old saying, that “you can’t con an honest man.” You can defraud an honest man, but conning him? Much, much more difficult.

Why is this?

Aurini explains a basic confidence trick called the “pigeon drop” that involves two cons and a mark. One con engages the mark in conversation, while the second sneaks up behind him and drops a wallet on the ground. He then points it out to the mark and the first con, asking if the wallet belongs to either of them. The first con and the mark both say they don’t recognize it, and so the second con–with the tacit approval of the first con and the mark–opens the wallet, to find it loaded with cash; maybe $3,000.

The first con verbally notes “that’s  $1,000 each.”

The second con puts the cash in an envelope (and through some sleight of hand, swaps the envelope with an identical envelope filled with sheets of paper, simulating the $3,000). He then hands the dummy envelope to mark to hold on to the cash; he’s going to take the wallet inside the nearest building and see if he can find the owner, on the condition that the other two don’t leave. The first con volunteers a few hundred dollars of his own to the second con as collateral and proof he won’t wander off… thus pressuring the good-natured mark to do the same.

When the second con-man doesn’t return, the first says he’s going to look for him, leaving the mark with the envelope full of paper, left to eventually to realize he’s lost a few hundred dollars and gained an envelope of nothing.

There’s one critical key to all of this […] a real con-man gets his mark complicit in the crime. See, look at that pigeon drop; what happened there is these three people found a wallet with $3,000 in it, and you don’t know who this money belongs to. That could be their first and last month’s rent, maybe they’re on to a new apartment. It could be money they desperately need. And here the three of them are talking about splitting it among themselves, because this poor, imaginary fellow dropped their wallet? They get the mark complicit. If you’re going to be a con-man, you get the mark complicit.

What would be the point in putting your own money into a collateral pot if you weren’t planning on taking some of the found cash? The sly observation “that’s $1,000 each” primes the mark to participate in the theft. Putting his own money in the plot seals it, and in doing so, opens him to the con men’s ploy.

Where does Cards Against Humanity fit into all of this?

For people on the right (the ones who tend to support the border wall), traditional values are important, if not sacred values. Even for those on the left, the “traditional values” are valuable, even if they don’t beat out compassion, openness, and fairness.

Cards Against Humanity is not just a game like Risk, Monopoly, chess, or hearts. It is an invitation to creatively practice inverting these values and embracing the inversion. We are not laughing at the incongruity of the cards when we play Cards Against Humanity; we’re laughing at the dark creativity of the players. This form of irreverent creativity is a skill, and like any skill, is refined and even habituated with practice.

From the perspective of a right-wing traditionalist, it makes absolute sense that the designers of such a game would be the type to not only support left-wing policies, but do so of their own accord, in a creatively dickish manner, once given the power and resources to do so.

To summarize the mechanics, Temkin, Dillon, Dranove, Halpern*, Hantoot, Munk, Pinsof, and Weinstein* functioned as moral and civic con-men. They invited us to participate in a game that mocks the moral character and values that a traditional conservative should take seriously. It was only a joke, you see. When we discover that the creators of such a game don’t actually share the values we do, and are actively working to thwart our civic goals, it is like being the mark, standing alone, and discovering that he is holding an envelope full of paper.

(In fairness, gun-stores which sell guns to liberals, and who then donate some of the proceeds to the NRA, function in a similar manner. Here, the con-man label is not analogous to the motives of the con, but the experience of the mark).

This may sound a bit puritanical. What, are we not allowed to laugh? Are we not allowed to enjoy irony and make jokes?

This is a very tempting line of thought, and curiously, a sort of intuitive one. Curious, because a rejection of a particular kind of humor is no more a rejection of all forms of humor and laughter than a rejection of sweets constitutes a rejection of all forms of food or even tasty food, nor is rejecting theft a rejection of making a little bit of money. There’s an interesting question: exactly how much theft can we reject before we become puritans? There is no reason the “puritan” thought should be intuitive, and yet it is. C.S. Lewis was right when he observed — in the voice of his demon-tempter, Screwtape — that the word “puritanical” and its associations has become one of the greatest tools for facilitating habituated sin.

In fact, it may be useful to go over the four sources of laughter outlined in The Screwtape Letters, Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy:

You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such time shows they are not the real cause.

Fun is closely related to Joy — a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct.

For Lewis’ demons, neither joy nor fun are particularly useful for tempting mortals, except as a distraction. Where the real usefulness of laughter begins is with the Joke Proper:

The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field […] The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their ‘sense of humour’ so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is ‘mean’; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer ‘mean’ but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful–unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke […] Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as ‘Puritanical’ or as betraying a ‘lack of humor.’

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place, it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be made to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armor-plating against the Enemy [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

There are times when laughter is useful in dealing with difficult situations; the light side of dark humor. And of course, in the realm of what is allowed to others, we can’t make special exceptions or bans. “All of it’s okay, or none of it’s okay,” as they say, and there is good reason for this. But allowing others to target anything does not oblige us to participate in their particular forms of humor.

Laughter is immensely powerful. It is persuasive, because it makes us participants, but sometimes the participation is in more than the punchline.

We don’t need to become conspiratorial investigators, doing deep reconnaissance on the backstory behind every comedian, every Onion headline, and every satirical cartoon that rolls across our feed, just as the man in the street doesn’t need to know everything about everyone to have a basic level of trust. He just needs the will to be an honest man.

And we need the will to be honest and serious in our own values.