“Let us be clear,” as the Obama loves to say, in his station as talking-head-in-chief. Grand displays of public grieving are invariably fraudulent. Those who knew none of the victims are faking it. Those who encourage them are morally disordered.
David Warren, “Orlando”, Essays in Idleness, 2016-06-14.
June 24, 2016
June 22, 2016
Of all the sound, fury, and quiet voices of reason in the storm of controversy about tech culture and what is to become of it, quiet voice of reason Zeynep Tufekci’s “No, Nate, brogrammers may not be macho, but that’s not all there is to it” moves the discussion farther forward than any other contribution I’ve seen to date. Sadly, though, it still falls short of truly bridging the conceptual gap between nerds and “weird nerds.” Speaking as a lifelong member of the weird-nerd contingent, it’s truly surreal that this distinction exists at all. I’m slightly older than Nate Silver and about a decade younger than Paul Graham, so it wouldn’t surprise me if either or both find it just as puzzling. There was no cultural concept of cool nerds, or even not-cool-but-not-that-weird nerds, when we were growing up, or even when we were entering the workforce.
That’s no longer true. My younger colleague @puellavulnerata observes that for a long time, there were only weird nerds, but when our traditional pursuits (programming, electrical engineering, computer games, &c) became a route to career stability, nerdiness and its surface-level signifiers got culturally co-opted by trend-chasers who jumped on the style but never picked up on the underlying substance that differentiates weird nerds from the culture that still shuns them. That doesn’t make them “fake geeks,” boy, girl, or otherwise — you can adopt geek interests without taking on the entire weird-nerd package — but it’s still an important distinction. Indeed, the notion of “cool nerds” serves to erase the very existence of weird nerds, to the extent that many people who aren’t weird nerds themselves only seem to remember we exist when we commit some faux pas by their standards.
Even so, science, technology, and mathematics continue to attract the same awkward, isolated, and lonely personalities they have always attracted. Weird nerds are made, not born, and our society turns them out at a young age. Tufekci argues that “life’s not just high school,” but the process of unlearning lessons ingrained from childhood takes a lot more than a cap and gown or even a $10 million VC check, especially when life continues to reinforce those lessons well into adulthood. When weird nerds watch the cool kids jockeying for social position on Twitter, we see no difference between these status games and the ones we opted out of in high school. No one’s offered evidence to the contrary, so what incentive do we have to play that game? Telling us to grow up, get over it, and play a game we’re certain to lose is a demand that we deny the evidence of our senses and an infantilising insult rolled into one.
This phenomenon explains much of the backlash from weird nerds against “brogrammers” and “geek feminists” alike. (If you thought the conflict was only between those two groups, or that someone who criticises one group must necessarily be a member of the other, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.) Both groups are latecomers barging in on a cultural space that was once a respite for us, and we don’t appreciate either group bringing its cultural conflicts into our space in a way that demands we choose one side or the other. That’s a false dichotomy, and false dichotomies make us want to tear our hair out.
Meredith Patterson, “When Nerds Collide: My intersectionality will have weirdoes or it will be bullshit”, Medium.com, 2014-04-23.
June 9, 2016
Published on 7 Jun 2016
“The experience of having everybody around me on campus say the left is the way to go and then…seeing communism collapse made me think maybe the libertarians have a better handle on how these things work,” says Todd Seavey, author of the new book Libertarianism for Beginners. “While the Soviet Union existed, the Marxists on campus were rooting for the Soviet Union.”
A New York-baseed comic-book writer, one-time producer for TV’s own John Stossel, and a contributor to Splice Today, Seavey found his way toward libertarianism while attending Brown University in the late 1980s.
His new graphic book, Libertarianism for Beginners, argues that the core message of libertarians is to “keep the government small and let people do what they want with their own bodies and property.”
June 3, 2016
May 18, 2016
April 18, 2016
The near-universal existence of religion across cultures is surprising. Many people have speculated on what makes tribes around the world so fixated on believing in gods and propitiating them and so on. More recently people like Dawkins and Dennett have added their own contributions about parasitic memes and hyperactive agent-detection.
But I think a lot of these explanations are too focused on a modern idea of religion. I find ancient religion much more enlightening. I’m no historian, but from the little I know ancient religion seems to bleed seamlessly into every other aspect of the ancient way of life. For example, the Roman religion was a combination of mythology, larger-than-life history, patriotism, holidays, customs, superstitions, rules about the government, beliefs about virtue, and attempts to read the future off the livers of pigs. And aside from the pig livers, this seems entirely typical.
American culture (“American civil religion“) has a lot of these features too. It has mythology and larger-than-life history: George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, the wise and glorious Founding Fathers, Honest Abe single-handedly freeing the slaves with his trusty hatchet. It has patriotic symbols and art: the flag, the anthem, Uncle Sam. It has holidays: the Fourth of July, Martin Luther King Day, Washington’s birthday. It has customs: eat turkey on Thanksgiving, have a barbecue on Memorial Day, watch the Super Bowl. It has superstitions – the number 13, black cats – and ritual taboos – even “obvious” things like don’t go outside naked needs to be thought of as taboo considering some cultures do so without thinking. It has rules about the government – both the official laws you’ll find in the federal law code, but also deep-seated beliefs about the goodness of democracy or about how all men are created equal, and even customs that affect day-to-day governance like the President giving a State of the Union in January before both houses of Congress. There are beliefs about virtue: everyone should be free, we should try to be independent, we should work hard and pursue the American Dream.
Insofar as this isn’t obvious to schoolchildren learning about ancient religion, it’s because the only thing one ever hears about ancient religion is the crazy mythologies. But I think American culture shows lots of signs of trying to form a crazy mythology, only to be stymied by modernity-specific factors. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we have too many historians around to tell us exactly how things really happened. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we have too many scientists around to tell us where the rain and the lightning really come from. We can’t have crazy mythologies because we’re only two hundred-odd years old and these things take time. And most of all, we can’t have crazy mythologies because Christianity is already sitting around occupying that spot.
But if America was a thousand years old and had no science, no religion, and no writing, we would have crazy mythologies up the wazoo. George Washington would take on the stature of an Agamemnon; Benjamin Franklin would take on the status of a Daedalus. Instead of centaurs and satyrs and lamia we would have jackalopes and chupacabras and grey aliens. All those people who say with a nod and a wink that Paul Bunyan dug the Great Lakes as a drinking trough for his giant ox would say the same thing nodless and winkless. Superman would take on the stature of a Zeus, dwelling beside Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bigfoot atop Mt. Whitney, helping the virtuous and punishing the wicked. Some American Hesiod would put succumb to the systematizing impulse, put it all together and explain how George Washington was the son of Superman and ordered Paul Bunyan to dig Chesapeake Bay to entrap the British fleet, and nobody would be able to say they were wrong. I mean, we already have Superman vs. Batman as canon, why not go the extra distance?
Scott Alexander, “A Theory About Religion”, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-07.
April 16, 2016
H/T to American Digest for the link.
April 14, 2016
April 12, 2016
… one of those dim, dumpy “world-famous in Canada” sorts who are especially unimpressive whenever they happen to be, as in her case, “Kay-BECK-erz.” This human chafing dish for received liberal wisdom has received so many “honors” and “awards” that one friend I’d brought along said he half expected that, mid-debate, someone would walk out on stage and hand her a new one.
Kathy Shaidle, “An Evening With the ‘Rape Me First, Kill Me Last’ Crowd”, Taki’s Magazine, 2016-04-05.
April 8, 2016
Further north into the Midwest, you run into the Polacks. This is technically a derogatory term for people of Polish descent, though I’ve also heard it applied to people whose Eastern European ancestors came from less well-known countries. In Europe, particularly France and Russia, Polish people are stereotyped as thieves or under-the-table laborers. In the US, you’re more likely to run into the stereotype of “Polish people are unintelligent,” although both continents tend to associate being Polish with being a plumber. Polacks are also the target of a uniquely American type of joke, the Polack joke, which has developed regional variations. In Texas, they’re Aggie jokes instead.
Further north still, in Minnesota and the Dakotas, you get the Scandahoovians. Tall, blonde, chubby, kind of dim and easy to put one over on, but friendly: there’s your stereotypical Scandahoovian. Jokes about Scandahoovians are kinder, on average, than jokes about Polacks; the Scandahoovian is still the butt of the joke, but about half the time, he outwits the Yankee. Scandahoovians will also never stop feeding you, but instead of sausages, it’s casserole and they call it “hot dish.” They’re quiet folks; I’m told this is a survival trait, acquired as a result of having to spend the entirety of winter either at home with your family or ice fishing. (Get into a spat with someone, and you’ll be doing a lot more ice fishing. So they keep things to themselves.)
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Italians. Italians compete with Czech-Germans for keeping you fat and happy, but they’re much more talkative. They also compete with the Scots-Irish for fighting you. I don’t know much about Italian white trash culture; I married into Pennsylvania Scots-Irish, and that branch of family sure loved Italian food and was happy to work with their neighboring Italians, but tended to keep to their own culturally. “Jersey Shore” is where most folks get their stereotypes of Italians these days, and I’m sure it only shows the shittiest, most laughable parts of Italian white trash culture. I’ve made a few Italian white trash friends, and they’re some of the most loyal people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
Meredith L. Patterson, “A Field Guide to White Trash”, Status 451, 2016-03-18.
April 6, 2016
April 4, 2016
… a survey by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Psychological Sciences, “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” found that consumers of “Green” and “Planet Saving Products” are more inclined to cheat, lie and steal.
Risibly, perhaps because Mazar and Zhong are from the planet Mars, and not aware of the last fifty years of human history, the researchers speculate that people who wear what they call the “halo of green consumerism” are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. “Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours.”
Pardon me, but I must pause to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.
Those of us from the planet Earth, who remember being lectured-at and talked down to for the last fifty years by these sneering self-anointed Green busy-bodies and Enviro-Marxists know very well why Greens tend to lie and cheat: it is because they are unbathed and draggle-haired hippies.
Anyone who did not note the moral degradation involved in the Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolt overlooked the express and often repeated point and purpose of that revolt: it was to degrade moral standards, first in the sexual realm, then in common courtesy, chivalry, common decency, then in independence of character, then in toleration of dissent. Somewhere along the way personal hygiene fell by the wayside, along with respect for one’s elders and respect for one’s word.
The purpose of the Green Movement, which sprang from the unbathed Youth Movement, is not now and has never been to save the planet and preserve the beauty of nature. That is what Boy Scouts and Rod and Gun clubs and other arch-enemies of the Greens mean to do. The Greens want to trash industry and to feel good about themselves.
It is self esteem therapy, not anything related to reality.
John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.
April 3, 2016
I have said on a few occasions that, in my opinion, based on my reading of history, wars are, as often as not, caused by fear. Even Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression is, I think, a result of his fear of what is happening to Russia: a steady decline back into political and strategic irrelevance. It is not at all unreasonable to suppose that fear of the societal changes that very large scale migrations will bring cannot and will not provoke people into electing governments that will, out of fear of the unknown, attack their neighbours in a misguided effort to sauve qui peut in their own societies.
I think Sir Max [Hastings]’s “think-tank friend in Washington,” was (still is) wrong when he “observed last week: ‘Democracy only works where there is a broad consensus about the distribution of wealth and power.’ And it is because this consensus faces unprecedented stresses in consequence of migration in Europe, that he believes some factions may resort to violence, even outright war.” The “broad consensus” is not about wealth or power, it is about respecting the rules, living with and within the “institutions” which make democracy work. Those institutions are strong in e.g. Britain, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries; they are weaker in e.g. France, which, for example, tossed out a democratic government and constitution in 1958 when the Algerian war went sour.; they are weaker still, in my opinion, in the entire “Southern tier” of Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and the Balkans and in the Eastern European states that only recently tossed off the yoke of Russian/communist rule. If trouble is going to start it will happen, I think, in those weaker states. A European war is likely to start when one of the countries with weaker institutions decides, our of fear, that it must break the rules that hold Europe together.
Ted Campbell, “Everyman’s Strategic Survey: Europe(2)”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2016-03-22.
March 20, 2016
March 7, 2016
I was thinking about this the last few days and I realized we – we modern people – have a very odd relationship with death.
Look, I’m in no way complaining about this, okay? I want you to understand that upfront. For my final exam in American culture, back in Portugal, I had to read this very stupid book who deduced all sorts of crazy stuff about Americans from the fact our dead are usually embalmed. Frankly, I think the author should have his head examined. (He also went on about our putting people in old age homes, forgetting that our elderly live MUCH longer than normal, which means at the end they need a lot more specialized care. He also seemed not to get the sheer immensity of our territory which means family can be flung all over the continent. Organizing a rostrum to visit grandma and make sure she takes her meds is a tad-bit more difficult than in a village or even a moderately sized town.)
However it makes us weird about death. And it distorts our view of everything.
Accidents most of all. What, you think it’s a coincidence that the more remote the possibility of death, the more we pile on safety mechanisms in cars? The more we make our kids wear helmets and eye protection for perfectly harmless activities? (I think the end run of this is that we pad all the trees, like the royal family of Spain when their kids had hemophilia.)
And it goes further. Any death has become unthinkable. We react with shock to any death that doesn’t take place after protracted illness. We start cowering back from eating meat because “the poor animals” and we shy back from any war and try to have it humane and with ROEs that make it impossible to do what war should do: inflict terror and pain on the enemy until they surrender. (I think this goes hand in hand with no longer knowing how to END a war. We don’t say “We’re going to end it by winning.” Or “It ends when the other guy is rubble.” No, we say “We need an exit strategy.”)
If you think of death as the dark tints of life, we’ve become washed out, and in many ways incomprehensible to cultures in which death is still very common.
I know, I know, culture this, culture that – but in the end I wonder how much of our decay and our seeming wish for suicide, from having too few kids to not being ruthless enough to those who hurt us, comes from the fact that death has come to seem unnatural and strange.
Again, I’m not complaining. I’m no more fond of death than anyone else, and no more resolute in the face of it. I know I might be called upon to die for what I believe in, and that’s fine – it’s much, much harder to accept dying because someone’s clutch slipped, or because I caught some weird virus no one could figure out. And I can’t imagine dying even at 100 without feeling that I’m leaving a lot of stuff undone. Still, I can come to terms with my own death – the death of those I love is something else. I’ve already told Dan he must die after me or I’ll never talk to him again. The thought of losing the kids is unimaginably horrific. Heck, I’m all broken up about the idea of losing a cat within the year, and I’ve lost cats before.
BUT while I wouldn’t want a return to things quasi-ante, and while the solutions I could pose – as a science fiction author – range from the repugnant to the horrible and are all “I don’t want this” (Though some might make interesting stories.) I do wonder what part of our decay, or the decay of our willingness to fight and win, is because death is alien and a surprise to us.
We have become like the elves who spawn rarely and live unnaturally long “blessed” lives. Maybe there is some ancestral memory there. Maybe there is a cycle where you become too comfortable, too little used to death, and then the ruthless cultures come in and destroy you, because they walk with death everyday.
Sarah Hoyt, “Death in the Surprise Position – A Blast From The past from Dec. 2012”, According to Hoyt, 2015-11-06.