Quotulatiousness

August 21, 2017

QotD: The (long-running) decline of written science fiction

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The problem with the Rabbits is not that left-wing politics is dessicating and poisoning their fiction. While I have made the case elsewhere that SF is libertarian at its core, it nevertheless remains possible to write left-wing message SF that is readable, enjoyable, and of high quality – Iain Banks’s Culture novels leap to mind as recent examples, and we can refer back to vintage classics such as Pohl & Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants for confirmation. Nor, I think, is the failure of Rabbit fiction to engage most SF fans and potential fans mainly down to its politics; I think the Evil League is prone to overestimate the popular appeal of their particular positions here.

No, I judge that what is dessicating and poisoning the Rabbit version of SF is something distinct from left-wing political slant but co-morbid with it: colonization by English majors and the rise of literary status envy as a significant shaping force in the field.

This is a development that’s easy to mistake for a political one because of the accidental fact that most university humanities departments have, over the last sixty years or so, become extreme-left political monocultures. But, in the language of epidemiology, I believe the politics is a marker for the actual disease rather than the pathogen itself. And it’s no use to fight the marker organism rather than the actual pathogen.

Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.

Eric S. Raymond, “SF and the damaging effects of literary status envy”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-07-30.

August 17, 2017

QotD: Can you describe romance novels as “pretty people behaving stupidly”?

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve been learning about the romance genre recently. I have no intrinsic interest in it at all, but I have an intelligent friend who plows through romances the way I read SF, and we’ve been discussing the conventions and structural features of the genre. Along the way I’ve learned that romance fans use an acronym TSTL which expands to “Too Stupid To Live”, describing a class of bad romance in which the plot turns on one or both leads exhibiting less claim to sophont status than the average bowl of clam dip.

My wife and I have parts in an upcoming live-action roleplaying game set in early 16th-century Venice. As preparation, she suggested we watch a movie called Dangerous Beauty set in the period. I couldn’t stand more than about 20 minutes of it. “It’s just,” I commented later “pretty people behaving stupidly.”

On reflection, I’ve discovered that PPBS describes a great deal of both the fiction and nonfiction I can’t stand. It’s a more general category that includes not just TSTL, but celebrity gossip magazines, almost every “romantic comedy” ever made, and a large percentage of the top-rated TV shows (especially, of course, the soap operas).

Eric S. Raymond, “Pretty People Behaving Stupidly”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-29.

August 9, 2017

Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novella is out in ebook format

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Any book by Lois McMaster Bujold is an automatic buy for me, but with her current “Penric” series, I have to wait until it appears in hardcover (the first two were published by Subterranean Press, and I expect they’ll eventually get this one into print as well).

Penric’s Fox: a Penric & Desdemona novella in the World of the Five Gods. Book 3.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

Penric and the Shaman was a 2017 Hugo Award nominee in the novella category.

For those of you who are all up-to-date and twenty-first-centurying like there’s no tomorrow, you can get the Kindle version here.

August 6, 2017

QotD: Confessions of a book-hoarder

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Well, tomorrow I’d bring up stuff from the basement. So the next day I go downstairs to the utility room. The floor’s wet. The rug is sopping. I open the freezer, and discover that I’d locked the freezer door before closing it. The door had been open all night. Dead meat, droopy brats, sloshy ice cream — and water everywhere. The utility room was full of boxes from the storage room — we’d just had some shelves installed, and I’d moved out crates I’ve hauled around since my dorm room days. Books. Hundreds of books.

I felt the sides of the boxes to see if they’d wicked up the horrid slurry from the fridge — were they ruined? Would I have to throw out all these old, venerable friends? Everything I read and saved from 1976 to 1997 — were they lost to me forever?

They were dry.

You cannot imagine my disappointment.

This was the perfect opportunity to be rid of these mummified albatrosses forever. Friends, let’s be honest: Books are a curse. We’d all love to have a library with shelves stretching up to heaven, a ladder on rollers that lets you access the 17th level, where you keep the minor Polish poets and the monographs on eighth-century Chinese mandarins. But you end up with boxes of books in the basement, and you cannot part with them. Simply throwing them away feels sinful — hey, why not build a time machine and go back to Nazi-land and burn them, dude? You could sell them, but there’s something depressing about getting $7 for 70 pounds of paperbacks. It’s like auctioning your kid’s baby pictures on eBay and getting a high bid of a buck-fifty. The last time I divested my excess books I dumped them off on a Goodwill dock in the middle of the night, and I felt like someone pushing the family dog out of the car on a country road. The books will find a good home. I’m sure there’s a farmer around here they can live with.

James Lileks, Star Tribune, 2004-07-11.

August 4, 2017

Harry Potter and the Economic Segregation of Muggles

Filed under: Books, Economics, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 3 Aug 2017

Harry Potter contains a ton of incredible lessons about society, authoritarianism, and the power of love and individualism in the face of people who would exclude others based on group identity. But something people don’t think about as much are some of the economic lessons that we can draw from a world segregated into wizards and muggles.

On this episode of Out of Frame, we take a look at what the world might look like if magic and non-magic people were actually allowed to trade and interact with each other without the Ministry of Magic obliviating and arresting people for it.

For a transcript of this episode and more engaging content, visit:
www.FEE.org

QotD: Shakespeare’s sonnets

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Sonnets were published late in Shakespeare’s career (1609) — by a clever and unscrupulous man. His name was Thomas Thorpe. He ran what was for the times a unique publishing business, playing games with “copyright” that were often unconscionable but, usually, this side of the law. He owned neither a printing press, nor a bookstall — two things that defined contemporary booksellers — subcontracting everything in his slippery way. Indeed, I would go beyond other observers, and describe him as a blackguard; and I think Will Shakespeare would agree with me. Though Shakespeare would add, “A witty and diverting blackguard.”

He collected these sonnets, quite certainly by Shakespeare, but written at much different times and for quite various occasions, from whatever well-oiled sources. Thorpe had a fine poetic ear, and knew what he was doing. He arranged the collection he’d amassed in the sequence we have inherited — 154 sonnets that seem to read consecutively, with “A Lover’s Complaint” tacked on as their envoi — then sold them as if this had been the author’s intention.

We have sonnets not later than 1591, interspersed with others 1607 or later. In one case (Sonnet 145), we have what I think is a love poem Shakespeare wrote about age eighteen, to a girl he was wooing: one Anne Hathaway. (She was twenty-seven.) It is crawling with puns, for instance on her name, and stylistically naïve, but has been placed within the “Dark Lady” sonnets (127 to 152) in a mildly plausible way. It hardly belongs there.

Indeed, once one sees this it becomes apparent, surveying the whole course, that there is rather more than one “Dark Lady” in the Sonnets, and that like most red-blooded men, our Will noticed quite a number of interesting women over his years. But Thorpe has folded them all into one for dramatic effect.

David Warren, “Dark gentleman of the Sonnets”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-05-11.

July 30, 2017

“… sooner or later, and usually sooner, the British will be blamed”

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

In Pragati, Alex Tabarrok reviews Shashi Tharoor’s 2016 book history of the British Raj, An Era Of Darkness:

“Political Map of the Indian Empire” from Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, 1893.
(via Wikimedia)

At sophisticated dinner parties in Delhi, Calcutta, or Chennai, whenever the discussion turns to politics, one can be sure that sooner or later, and usually sooner, the British will be blamed. It’s a fine parlor game, and clever players can usually find a way to cast blame for whichever side of the debate they favor. Is India’s traditional family falling apart due to internet porn? Blame the British! Are the laws against homosexuality too strong? Blame the British! The British are an easy target because much of what they did was reprehensible. But blaming British imperialism for contemporary Indian problems is also an easy way to let India’s political class off the hook.

An excellent case against the British comes from Shashi Tharoor, bestselling author, former Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations, and current member of the Indian parliament, in his 2016 book An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (also published this year under the title Inglorious Empire[UK title]).

Tharoor makes three claims:

  1. The British empire in India, from the seizure of Bengal by the East India Company in 1757 until the end of British government rule in 1947, was cruel, rapacious, and racist.
  2. India would be much better off today had it not been for British rule.
  3. Britain’s success and the Industrial Revolution were due to British depredation of India.

The first claim is true, the second uncertain, the third false.

The first claim is the heart of Tharoor’s book: the British empire in India was cruel, rapacious and racist. All true. But who would expect otherwise? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The theft, the famines, the massacres, the formal and casual racism, the utter hypocrisy of suppressing independence while using hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers to fight for democracy and freedom in two World Wars — on all this Tharoor stands on solid ground. The ground is solid in part because it has been well-trod. Tharoor brings the case against the East India Company and Britain, initiated by Edmund Burke (1774-1785) and continued by the likes of Indian nationalist Dadabhai Naoroji [PDF] (1901) and American historian Will Durant (1930), to its conclusion and climax with the Indian independence movement. In this, Tharoor is entirely successful and his work deserves to be widely read.

In his eagerness to blame Britain, however, Tharoor reaches for every possible argument in ways that are sometimes misleading and sometimes absurd.

July 24, 2017

QotD: Salvador Dali, in his own words

Filed under: Books, Europe, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Here, then, are some of the episodes in Dali’s life, from his earliest years onward. Which of them are true and which are imaginary hardly matters: the point is that this is the kind of thing that Dali would have liked to do.
When he is six years old there is some excitement over the appearance of Halley’s comet:

    Suddenly one of my father’s office clerks appeared in the drawing-room doorway and announced that the comet could be seen from the terrace… While crossing the hall I caught sight of my little three-year-old sister crawling unobtrusively through a doorway. I stopped, hesitated a second, then gave her a terrible kick in the head as though it had been a ball, and continued running, carried away with a ‘delirious joy’ induced by this savage act. But my father, who was behind me, caught me and led me down in to his office, where I remained as a punishment till dinner-time.

A year earlier than this Dali had ‘suddenly, as most of my ideas occur,’ flung another little boy off a suspension bridge. Several other incidents of the same kind are recorded, including (this was when he was twenty-nine years old) knocking down and trampling on a girl ‘until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.’

When he is about five he gets hold of a wounded bat which he puts into a tin pail. Next morning he finds that the bat is almost dead and is covered with ants which are devouring it. He puts it in his mouth, ants and all, and bites it almost in half.

When he is an adolescent a girl falls desperately in love with him. He kisses and caresses her so as to excite her as much as possible, but refuses to go further. He resolves to keep this up for five years (he calls it his ‘five-year plan’), enjoying her humiliation and the sense of power it gives him. He frequently tells her that at the end of the five years he will desert her, and when the time comes he does so.

Till well into adult life he keeps up the practice of masturbation, and likes to do this, apparently, in front of a looking-glass. For ordinary purposes he is impotent, it appears, till the age of thirty or so. When he first meets his future wife, Gala, he is greatly tempted to push her off a precipice. He is aware that there is something that she wants him to do to her, and after their first kiss the confession is made:

    I threw back Gala’s head, pulling it by the hair, and trembling with complete hysteria, I commanded:
    ‘Now tell me what you want me to do with you! But tell me slowly, looking me in the eye, with the crudest, the most ferociously erotic words that can make both of us feel the greatest shame!’
    Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered:
    ‘I want you to kill me!’

He is somewhat disappointed by this demand, since it is merely what he wanted to do already. He contemplates throwing her off the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Toledo, but refrains from doing so.

During the Spanish Civil War he astutely avoids taking sides, and makes a trip to Italy. He feels himself more and more drawn towards the aristocracy, frequents smart salons, finds himself wealthy patrons, and is photographed with the plump Vicomte de Noailles, whom he describes as his ‘Maecenas.’ When the European War approaches he has one preoccupation only: how to find a place which has good cookery and from which he can make a quick bolt if danger comes too near. He fixes on Bordeaux, and duly flees to Spain during the Battle of France. He stays in Spain long enough to pick up a few anti-red atrocity stories, then makes for America. The story ends in a blaze of respectability. Dali, at thirty-seven, has become a devoted husband, is cured of his aberrations, or some of them, and is completely reconciled to the Catholic Church. He is also, one gathers, making a good deal of money.

George Orwell, “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali”, Saturday Book for 1944, 1944.

July 21, 2017

QotD: Anachronistic “Regency” romances

Filed under: Books, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Which brings us to a discussion about romances, yesterday. Like apparently most people who read Regencies I’ve become aware of a tendency for them to read more and more like modern romances than like something set in that time.

Someone nailed it for me by pointing out that female characters have been getting more modern. For instance, they will do things like not want to marry UNTIL they have sexual experience, so they’ll be engaged and go out to find someone to sleep with them: in a time without either contraceptives or antibiotics and in a time when a unwed pregnancy would ruin not only the woman but all her relatives.

Or they rebel against being the one who was supposed to marry to make the family fortunes. I’m not saying a woman might not wish to marry someone else rather than make the family fortunes, but it would present in her own mind not as resentment to lifting the family out of debt, but as “I’m madly in love with the stable boy.” or whatever. And if a woman was thoroughly opposed to [being] married, it often manifested (at least in Catholic countries, granted, not England) as a “vocation.” What it didn’t manifest as was “I want to pursue a career.” Women married, or if they were unmarried stayed around the house helping with the nephews and the running of the house. If they had the means they might set up household with a companion. But only the poor worked, (even for men “having to” work was a downcheck on status.) If you were a governess or a nurse, it wasn’t for a “career” but because you were desperate.

Oh, and please save me from all the women running philanthropic organizations. While there were of course a number of these run by women, it wasn’t every other woman as seems to be in today’s regency romances. And charities for unmarried mothers would be very heavy on the preaching and getting them to give the baby up for adoption. Not telling them they’ve done nothing wrong and “affirming” their choices. Again, no contraceptives, no antibiotics. Sex and its consequences were serious business PARTICULARLY for women who make more of an investment in reproduction.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

July 20, 2017

Deirdre McCloskey defines libertarianism as “Liberalism 1.0”

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The introduction to her “Manifesto for a New American Liberalism, or How to Be a Humane Libertarian” [PDF] states:

I make the case for a new and humane American “libertarianism.”

Outside the United States libertarianism is still called plain “liberalism,” as in the usage of the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, with no “neo-” about it. That’s the L-word I’ll use here. The economist Daniel Klein calls it “Liberalism 1.0,” or, channeling the old C. S. Lewis book Mere Christianity on the minimum commitments of faith (1942-44, 1952), “mere Liberalism.” David Boaz of the Cato Institute wrote a lucid guide, Libertarianism — A Primer (1997), reshaped in 2015 as The Libertarian Mind. I wish David had called it The Liberal Mind.

In desperate summary for you Americans, Liberalism 1.0 is Democratic in social policy and Republican in economic policy and non-interventionist in foreign policy. It is in fact mainly against “policy,” which has to be performed, if there is to be a policy at all, through the government’s monopoly of violence. (To confirm this experimentally, try not paying your taxes; then try to escape from prison.) Liberals 1.0 believe that having little or no policy is a good policy.

That does not put the Liberals 1.0 anywhere along the conventional one-dimensional left-right line, stretching from a compelled right-conservative policy to a compelled left-”liberal” policy. The real liberals instead sit happily up on a second dimension, the non-policy apex of a triangle, so to speak, the base of which is the conventional axis of policy by violence. We Liberals 1.0 are neither conservatives nor socialists — both of whom believe, with the legal mind, as the liberal economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek put it in 1960, that “order [is] … the result of the continuous attention of authority.” Both conservatives and socialists, in other words, “lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about.”

Liberals 1.0 don’t like violence. They are friends of the voluntary market order, as against the policy-heavy feudal order or bureaucratic order or military-industrial order. They are, as Hayek declared, “the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution,” against the various parties of left and right which wish “to impose [by violence] upon the world a preconceived rational pattern.”

At root, then, Liberals 1.0 believe that people should not push other people around. As Boaz says at the outset of The Libertarian Mind, “In a sense, there have always been but two political philosophies: liberty and power.” Real, humane Liberals 1.0 […] believe that people should of course help and protect other people when we can. That is, humane liberals are very far from being against poor people. Nor are they ungenerous, or lacking in pity. Nor are they strictly pacifist, willing to surrender in the face of an invasion. But they believe that in achieving such goods as charity and security the polity should not turn carelessly to violence, at home or abroad, whether for leftish or rightish purposes, whether to help the poor or to police the world. We should depend chiefly on voluntary agreements, such as exchange-tested betterment, or treaties, or civil conversation, or the gift of grace, or a majority voting constrained by civil rights for the minority.

To use a surprising word, we liberals, whether plain 1.0 or humane, rely chiefly on a much-misunderstood “rhetoric,” despised by the hard men of the seventeenth century such as Bacon and Hobbes and Spinoza, but a practice anciently fitted to a democratic society. Liberalism is deeply rhetorical, the exploration (as Aristotle said) of the available means of non-violent persuasion. For example, it’s what I’m doing for you now. For you, understand, not to you. It’s a gift, not an imposition. (You’re welcome.)

July 17, 2017

QotD: Utopias

Filed under: Books, Britain, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All efforts to describe permanent happiness […] have been failures. Utopias (incidentally the coined word Utopia doesn’t mean ‘a good place’, it means merely a ‘non-existent place’) have been common in literature of the past three or four hundred years but the ‘favourable’ ones are invariably unappetising, and usually lacking in vitality as well.

By far the best known modern Utopias are those of H.G. Wells. Wells’s vision of the future is almost fully expressed in two books written in the early Twenties, The Dream and Men Like Gods. Here you have a picture of the world as Wells would like to see it or thinks he would like to see it. It is a world whose keynotes are enlightened hedonism and scientific curiosity. All the evils and miseries we now suffer from have vanished. Ignorance, war, poverty, dirt, disease, frustration, hunger, fear, overwork, superstition all vanished. So expressed, it is impossible to deny that that is the kind of world we all hope for. We all want to abolish the things Wells wants to abolish. But is there anyone who actually wants to live in a Wellsian Utopia? On the contrary, not to live in a world like that, not to wake up in a hygenic garden suburb infested by naked schoolmarms, has actually become a conscious political motive. A book like Brave New World is an expression of the actual fear that modern man feels of the rationalised hedonistic society which it is within his power to create. A Catholic writer said recently that Utopias are now technically feasible and that in consequence how to avoid Utopia had become a serious problem. We cannot write this off as merely a silly remark. For one of the sources of the Fascist movement is the desire to avoid a too-rational and too-comfortable world.

All ‘favourable’ Utopias seem to be alike in postulating perfection while being unable to suggest happiness. News From Nowhere is a sort of goody-goody version of the Wellsian Utopia. Everyone is kindly and reasonable, all the upholstery comes from Liberty’s, but the impression left behind is of a sort of watery melancholy. But it is more impressive that Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest imaginative writers who have ever lived, is no more successful in constructing a ‘favourable’ Utopia than the others.

The earlier parts of Gulliver’s Travels are probably the most devastating attack on human society that has ever been written. Every word of them is relevant today; in places they contain quite detailed prophecies of the political horrors of our own time. Where Swift fails, however, is in trying to describe a race of beings whom he admires. In the last part, in contrast with disgusting Yahoos, we are shown the noble Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses who are free from human failings. Now these horses, for all their high character and unfailing common sense, are remarkably dreary creatures. Like the inhabitants of various other Utopias, they are chiefly concerned with avoiding fuss. They live uneventful, subdued, ‘reasonable’ lives, free not only from quarrels, disorder or insecurity of any kind, but also from ‘passion’, including physical love. They choose their mates on eugenic principles, avoid excesses of affection, and appear somewhat glad to die when their time comes. In the earlier parts of the book Swift has shown where man’s folly and scoundrelism lead him: but take away the folly and scoundrelism, and all you are left with, apparently, is a tepid sort of existence, hardly worth leading.

George Orwell (writing as “John Freeman”), “Can Socialists Be Happy?”, Tribune, 1943-12-20.

July 15, 2017

Another critique of Nancy MacLean’s book smearing economist James M. Buchanan

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the Washington Post, a fellow Duke professor airs some concerns over MacLean’s recent character assassination attempt, Democracy in Chains:

Professor Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains has received considerable attention since its release a few weeks ago. A recent Inside Higher Ed article reports on the critical reviews and Professor MacLean’s allegation that these critiques are part of a coordinated, “right-wing” attack on her work. The book’s central thesis — summarized elegantly in the Inside Higher Ed piece – is that Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan “was the architect of a long-term plan to take libertarianism mainstream, raze democratic institutions and keep power in the hands of the wealthy, white few.” MacLean concludes that Buchanan’s academic research program — known as public choice theory — is a (thinly) disguised attempt to achieve this purpose, motivated by racial and class animus.

As president of the Public Choice Society (the academic organization founded by Buchanan and his colleague Gordon Tullock), I am writing to respond to Professor MacLean’s portrayal. Since she believes that critiques of the book are part of a coordinated attack funded by Koch money, let me begin with a disclosure. I have no relationship with the Kochs or the Koch organization. I have never received money from them or their organization, either personally or to support my research. I have not coordinated my response to the book with anyone. I do, however, have a personal connection to Buchanan. My father was a longtime colleague and co-author of Buchanan’s. I am also very familiar with Buchanan’s academic work, which relates directly to my own research interests. In short, I know Buchanan and his work well, but I am certainly not part of the “dark money” network Professor MacLean is concerned about.

There are many things to be said about Professor MacLean’s book. For an intellectual historian, the documentary record constitutes the primary source of evidence that can be offered in support of arguments or interpretations. For this reason, intellectual historians generally apply great care in sifting through this record and presenting it in a way that accurately reflects sources. As numerous scholars have by now shown (see here, and links therein, for an example), Professor MacLean’s book unfortunately falls short of these standards. In many instances, quotations are taken out of context or abbreviated in ways that suggest meanings radically at odds with the tenor of the passage or document from which they were taken. Critically, these misleading quotations are often central to establishing Professor MacLean’s argument.

[…]

What then, of “chains on democracy”? It is true that Buchanan did not think much of unfettered, majoritarian politics and favored constitutional rules that restrict majority rule. But the foregoing discussion should already make clear that this conclusion was not based on an anti-democratic instinct or a desire to preserve the privilege of a few. Instead, Buchanan’s careful analysis, originating in his seminal work with Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent, led him to the conclusion that in choosing a political framework (“constitution”), all individuals will typically have good reasons to favor some restrictions on majority rule in order to protect against the “tyranny of the majority.” As he argued, democracy understood simply as majority rule “may produce consequences desired by no one unless these procedures are limited by constitutional boundaries” (Buchanan 1997/2001: 226). In other words, what justifies “chains on democracy” for Buchanan are his commitment to individual autonomy and equality, and his emphasis on consent as a legitimating principle for political arrangements. To paint his endorsement of constitutional limits on the use of political power as motivated by an anti-democratic desire to institute oligarchical politics is to fundamentally misunderstand Buchanan’s sophisticated, subtle approach to democratic theory, which was committed above all to the idea that political arrangements should redound to the benefit of all members of a community.

July 10, 2017

“Jane Jacobs was fatal to conventional wisdom”

Filed under: Books, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Reason, Sam Staley reviews Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs, edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring, calling it “Jane Jacobs in her own words”:

In her books, articles, and activism, [Jacobs] destroyed the 20th century urban planning groupthink and laid out a radically different way of thinking about cities and society — one that rejected the prescriptive and centralized approach that dominated the planning profession, and one that instead highlighted how decentralized, market-driven decisions lay the foundation for vibrant and sustainable cities.

A journalist rather than an academic, Jacobs worked regular gigs at Iron Age and Architectural Forum and contributed to popular magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s. By the time she took a leave of absence from Architectural Forum to write what remains her most iconic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs was already starting to acquire a reputation as a fierce critic of conventional top-down planning.

She was not opposed to planning per se. Indeed, she believed small-scale plans were vital to cities’ sustenance. Neighborhood parks were essential to urban vitality, for example, and their location required planning to be successful. But to work, planning — and governance in general — needed to be devolved to the neighborhood level, moving away from large-scale systems that concentrate authority and power. Jacobs was thus an ardent critic of regional planning and regional government. Regionalizing, or “amalgamating,” made city government too far removed from the governed.

[…]

During the 1950s and ’60s, Jacobs used her position at Architectural Forum to examine urban development and redevelopment. Though the magazine championed modernist city planning, Jacobs emerged as one of modern planning’s chief critics during her stint there. Her journey from urban observer to planning critic began, as Zipp and Storring point out, as she examined how buildings, and then cities, worked rather than how they looked or were designed to function.

In the process, she started to develop her critique. “Philadelphia’s Redevelopment: A Progress Report” (July 1955) reviews the city’s redevelopment plans for 10,000 blighted acres. The city avoided large-scale slum clearing — what economist Martin Anderson would call “the federal bulldozer” a few years later — but still targeted large swaths of land for redevelopment using “a busybody concern with what private developers will be up to next.” (It wasn’t all bad, though: She lauded the city for incorporating some neighborhood features that reinforce such institutions as churches, schools, and playgrounds.) Another Forum column discusses the difference between “pavement pounders” — planners who walk around cities and neighborhoods to get a feel for the urban fabric and dynamic — and “Olympians,” those who plan based on maps and statistics. Her appreciation for small businesses as the glue that holds neighborhoods together comes out in “The Missing Link in City Redevelopment” (June 1956), where she laments the tendency to think of businesses merely as storefronts or spaces, not as enterprises that also serve as social centers and community anchors.

July 8, 2017

The past was not just like today in fancy dress

Filed under: Books, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

My QotD entry yesterday (The Marxist influence on modern “Regency” romances) gets an interesting echo in this article by Megan McArdle:

Open a historical novel, and you’ll find characters who would, sexually speaking, not have much difficulty fitting into the 21st century dating scene. Authors usually pay lip service to the era’s taboos, and sometimes use them as plot devices. But even there, the assumption is that what is being suppressed, or happening on the sly, is pretty much the same as what 21st century Americans enjoy, or wish they were enjoying. Humans have been having sex for millions of years. How different could it have been?

Quite, argues sociologist Gabriel Rossman. (The link is frank, but not prurient.) Ask an anthropologist, or a classicist, just how different it can be. Even things that look superficially similar — Greek tolerance toward homosexuality, for example — turn out upon closer examination to have been quite different. It wasn’t what we call “homosexuality”; neither the social nor the physical activity resemble a modern gay couple all that closely.

Since this is a family column, I will leave the frank discussion to Professor Rossman. But a couple of less … er … colorful examples may suffice to illustrate just how culturally and time specific sex actually is.

Take kissing. Pretty basic, yes? We might imagine that the cultural rules for when people kiss would vary, as indeed they do in our own culture, where very orthodox religious groups proscribe it before marriage, and libertines kiss strangers on national television. But it’s hard to imagine that the activity itself really varies all that much.

Except it does. For starters, a whole lot of cultures don’t kiss, at least romantically. It isn’t necessarily proscribed; they just don’t do it. The idea that kissing is a foundation for further sexual activity is to us so natural that it rarely occurs to any of us to question it, and yet, this is apparently a learned behavior, not an instinctive one, because in large cultural areas it is seen as weird and doesn’t happen.

(And so it is, if you think about it. If you enjoy kissing, I recommend not thinking about it very hard.)

Is sex the same, without the kiss? In some aspects, obviously. And yet try to imagine the West’s romantic literature, its poetry, its art and film, without the kiss. The result feels different not just in degree, but in kind.

July 7, 2017

QotD: The Marxist influence on modern “Regency” romances

Filed under: Books, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Which gets us to why these romances of people sashaying around in costumes while being 21st century moderns go against the wall: It is the perverse and self-aggrandizing view of history of the modern Marxist.

Because their religion is all pervasive, it projects itself into the past. Forget that there was no contraception, there was no modern medicine and the deaths in childbirth were shockingly high and that it was for women eventually a number game: have children often enough and you will die of something going wrong with the pregnancy and the birth. Women are just like men in their view and as “entitled” to consequence free sex. Everything else would be an injustice.

In the same way everyone is “entitled” to being supported while doing whatever they please, be it painting or rescuing unwed mothers. Anything else would be “unfair.” And since they all froze in kindergarten when “unfair” was the battle cry that would bring the teacher down, they think that complaint trumps EVERYTHING.

So they know those people in the past were just pretending at being unenlightened, but really were doing wrong ON PURPOSE. Which is why they hate the past and keep trying to remake it into the current-day-Marxists shining idol image which is always of themselves.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “What Has Gone Before Us”, According to Hoyt, 2015-08-03.

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