Quotulatiousness

October 15, 2017

David Suzuki’s (incomplete) economic understanding

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Several years ago in the Literary Review of Canada, Joseph Heath explained how he tried “being green” and in the process discovered that Canada’s secular environmental saint David Suzuki literally didn’t have a clue about economics:

David Suzuki’s most recent, The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future, is billed as an attempt by “one of the planet’s preeminent elders” to “sum up in one last lecture all that he has learned over his lifetime.” Suzuki is, of course, one of the most influential public intellectuals in this country. Like most Canadians of my generation, I grew up watching The Nature of Things, and so tend to think of Suzuki as a constant in the universe.

Suzuki was also an environmentalist long before it was cool to be an environmentalist. Perhaps because of this passionate commitment to the cause, it is startling to discover that Suzuki is oblivious to the logic of collective action. What’s worse, he does not even know what an externality is, and seems unwilling to learn. In The Legacy, he repeats the same incorrect definition that he has been using for years (he equates externalities with anything that is not part of, and hence external to, an economic model, and then claims, on that basis, that economists ignore them). Elsewhere, he even provides a detailed account of where the misunderstanding arose. It was apparently based upon something that the instructor said to him, on the first day of an economics class, which he evidently misinterpreted and never bothered to double check.

It is worth pausing for a moment to reflect upon this. It means that Suzuki does not know the first thing about environmental economics. It means that in 38 years as a university professor, public intellectual and environmental activist, he did not once take the time to find out what social scientists have to say about the problem of global warming. It means that he has never even glanced at the Wikipedia page on environmental economics.

Because of this, Suzuki winds up committing the core fallacy of environmental activism. He thinks that if people only understood the consequences that their actions were having on the environment, they would each be motivated to change their behaviour. And so, to the extent that we are not changing our behaviour, it must be because we do not understand, or that we have not been telling ourselves the right “story.” Yet this is manifestly not the case. My wife understands the science of global warming perfectly well. But she also does not like dandelions growing by the side of the road. And when push comes to shove, the desire to kill dandelions wins over environmental peccadilloes. It is not particularly mysterious. It is called free riding; people do it all the time.

Thus when Suzuki writes “we say we are intelligent, but what intelligent creature, knowing that water is a sacred, life-giving element, would use water as a toxic dump?” he seems genuinely not to know. The answer is easy: we are intelligent creatures who care just slightly more about ourselves than we do about other people. For example, like most residents of Toronto I do not use the water on my land as a toxic dump; I use Lake Ontario for that purpose. Saying that “we are water, and whatever we do to water, we do to ourselves” sounds very nice, but all the “we” talk actually encourages a very serious confusion. What I do to water, I primarily do to other people, not to myself, which is why I care about it just ever-so-slightly less.

In the end, and somewhat contrary to all expectations, Suzuki winds up coming off as a science chauvinist. There are basically two bodies of knowledge that he respects. There is physical science — genetics, biology, the stuff that he studies — and there is what he calls “traditional knowledge” — by which he means the wisdom of aboriginal and indigenous peoples. Conspicuously absent is any interest in what social scientists might have to say about how human beings work, about the political process, about the economy and about how societies mobilize to address collective action problems. As a result, he knows a lot more about the nature of things than he does about the nature of people.

H/T to Andrew Potter, via Stephen Gordon for the link.

October 12, 2017

QotD: The Progressive vision

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!

Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944.

October 6, 2017

QotD: The likely transnational progressive endgame

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

… if transnational progressivism actually succeeds in smothering liberal individualism, its reward will be to be put to the sword by some flavor of jihadi. Whether the eventual winners are Muslims or Mormons, the future is not going to look like the fuzzy multicultural ecotopia of modern left fantasy. The death of that dream is being written in European banlieus by angry Muslim youths under the light of burning cars.

In the banlieus and elsewhere, Islamist pressure makes it certain that sooner or later the West is going to vomit Stalin’s memes out of its body politic. The worst way would be through a reflex development of Western absolutism — Christian chauvinism, nativism and militarism melding into something like Francoite fascism. The self-panicking leftists who think they see that in today’s Republicans are comically wrong (as witnessed by the fact that they aren’t being systematically jailed and executed), but it is quite a plausible future for the demographically-collapsing nations of Europe.

The U.S., fortunately, is still on a demographic expansion wave and will be till at least 2050. But if the Islamists achieve their dream of nuking “crusader” cities, they’ll make crusaders out of the U.S., too. And this time, a West with a chauvinized America at its head would smite the Saracen with weapons that would destroy entire populations and fuse Mecca into glass. The horror of our victory would echo for a thousand years.

I remain more optimistic than this. I think there is still an excellent chance that the West can recover from suicidalism without going through a fevered fascist episode and waging a genocidal war. But to do so, we have to do more than recognize Stalin’s memes; we have to reject them. We have to eject postmodern leftism from our universities, transnational progressivism from our politics, and volk-Marxism from our media.

The process won’t be pretty. But I fear that if the rest of us don’t hound the po-mo Left and its useful idiots out of public life with attack and ridicule and shunning, the hard Right will sooner or later get the power to do it by means that include a lot of killing. I don’t want to live in that future, and I don’t think any of my readers do, either. If we want to save a liberal, tolerant civilization for our children, we’d better get to work.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

October 4, 2017

QotD: Transnational progressivism

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Soviets didn’t invent [transnational progressivism], but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate — and appallingly successful — attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.

Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he’s reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s.

Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

The first step to recovery is understanding the problem. Knowing that suicidalist memes were launched at us as war weapons by the espionage apparatus of the most evil despotism in human history is in itself liberating. Liberating, too, it is to realize that the Noam Chomskys and Michael Moores and Robert Fisks of the world (and their thousands of lesser imitators in faculty lounges everywhere) are not brave transgressive forward-thinkers but pathetic memebots running the program of a dead tyrant.

Brittingham and other have worried that postmodern leftism may yet win. If so, the victory would be short-lived. One of the clearest lessons of recent times (exemplified not just by kaffiyeh-wearing western leftists but by Hamas’s recent clobbering of al-Fatah in the first Palestinian elections) is that po-mo leftism is weaker than liberal individualism in one important respect; it has only the weakest defenses against absolutist fervor. Brittingham tellingly notes po-mo philosopher Richard Rorty’s realization that when the babble of conflicting tribal narratives collapses in exhaustion, the only thing left is the will to power.

Again, this is by design. Lenin and Stalin wanted classical-liberal individualism replaced with something less able to resist totalitarianism, not more. Volk-Marxist fantasy and postmodern nihilism served their purposes; the emergence of an adhesive counter-ideology would not have. Thus, the Chomskys and Moores and Fisks are running a program carefully designed to dead-end at nothing.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

September 26, 2017

When virtue signalling is more important than tens of thousands of jobs

Filed under: Britain, Business, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Spiked, Brendan O’Neill slams the (mostly left-leaning) critics of Uber for their blatant two-faced attitudes:

The satire writes itself these days. For the past 16 months, ever since voters said No to the EU, the supposed liberal set has been signalling its virtue over migrant workers. These Remainer types have filled newspaper columns and dinner-party chatter with sad talk about foreigners losing the right to travel to and work in Britain. Yet now these same people have chortled as London mayor Sadiq Khan and his pen-pushers at Transport for London (TfL) have refused to renew Uber’s licence in the capital. Which means 30,000 people will lose work. Many of them migrants. They cry over migrant workers one day, and laugh as they lose their livelihoods the next.
Anyone would think their overriding concern is less with migrants’ right to work than with their own insatiable need to engage in political posturing. And right now, when it’s trendy to be anti-capitalist, to sneer at Silicon Valley fat-cats who make apps that employ people in far from ideal conditions, the posture that guarantees one’s spot in liberal circles is to be Uberphobic. Sticking it to Uber, making a spectacle of one’s haughty disdain for the vagaries of life in 21st-century capitalist society, takes precedence over concern for workers themselves. Welcome to 2017, where it’s cool to be anti-capitalist but not pro-worker.

[…]

One of the ugliest sentiments behind Uberphobia is the idea that this service is a threat to the public, especially women. Darkly, the new left is at one with the anti-migrant hard right on this question: both have cheered Uber’s licence loss on the basis that women of London must be protected from unregulated drivers. Let’s get this into perspective. Last year it was revealed that between February 2015 and February 2016 there were 32 allegations of sexual assault against Uber drivers in London. There were a total of 154 allegations against all taxi and car firms, meaning Uber made up a minority of complaints. What’s more, there are millions of Uber journeys in London every year, so the chances of assault are minuscule. It’s the same in the US. There was scandal when it was revealed that Uber had received complaints from women who said they had been raped by drivers. It received five complaints between 2012 and 2015, which means 0.0000009% of car journeys involved an alleged act of rape. Uber is very safe indeed.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, from both leftish feminists and the hard right, the panic about Uber is driven partly by fear of unregulated foreign men driving around our cities. The state must regulate, they say — and they mean it must regulate both business and foreigners, both fat cats and untrustworthy outsiders, both moneymen and migrants. Cheering as migrant workers lose their work and being complicit in the depiction of migrant drivers as a rapacious threat: sections of the liberal-left have really exposed their prejudices through their posturing against Uber. The tragedy of Uberphobia is that it confirms that even anti-capitalism is now virtue-signalling. It is no longer a serious call to improve working people’s lives; it is just the fleeting thrill of shouting ‘Down with Uber!’ without ever letting the issue of its drivers’ livelihoods cross your pristine, virtuous mind.

September 23, 2017

Statuoclasm

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

ESR has some thoughts on what is really driving the “tear down the statues” mob:

It is 2017 and the wounds of the Civil War have not entirely healed. “Damnyankee” is still a single word in much of the South. Failing to understand the great settlement creates the risk that those wounds could re-open into divisive regionalism and eventual conflict.

This is especially so since Southerners already feel like victims in the red/blue conflict that now divides coastal urban elites from Middle America. Many Blue tribesmen talk as though they think everybody living more than 60 miles inland and outside a university town is a closet neo-Confederate. This is fantasy, but there is a possible future in which Southern resentment becomes the dominant symbology of the Red tribe in a way it is not today.

Some people are going to want to interject at this point “What about the insult to black people? Aren’t those statues symbols of white supremacy that should be smashed on that account alone?”

Brother, if I believed that I would be swinging a hammer myself. But the mission of the statue builders was to redeem the honor of the South in part by editing white supremacism and slavery out of our cultural memory of the war. They largely deceived themselves with Lost Cause romanticism. Making those statues into symbols of black subjugation would have undercut their whole project.

I do not want to see the post-Civil-War settlement undone. Thus, I’m in favor of letting Southerners keep their statues and their myths. We should let Southern heroes remain American heroes because that is what worked to pull the country back together – and because after the war so many of them really did argue for reconciliation.

There’s another reason I’m opposed to the statue-smashing that has nothing to do with the great settlement. That is: I believe the statue-smashers have a larger aim unrelated to any kind of justice.

Many of these people are, in effect, Red Guards. They don’t just want to erase icons of Confederate pride, they want to smash American pride. Statues of Columbus have already been defaced; I am pretty sure Washington and Jefferson will be next. The actual agenda is that Americans must be made to feel their nation was born in sin and cannot be redeemed – patriotism must be replaced with obsessive self-criticism and eternal guilt. Anything positive in our national mythos must be razed and replaced with Marxist cant.

If there were no other good reason for it, I’d defend our statuary just to oppose the Red Guards.

September 20, 2017

In the 60s and 70s, “Confederate Chic escaped the modern odium that often had been accorded the Lost Cause revisionism”

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Victor Davis Hanson on the era when the progressive left embraced the “Lost Cause” imagery of the South:

Leftists love Johnnie Reb in movies and songs. But statues? Not so much. How exactly did the Left romanticize the Lost Cause Confederacy, and by extension its secession and efforts to preserve slavery? To use a shopworn phrase, “It’s complicated.”

Good Ol’ Rebels

Well before the end of Jim Crow, post-war leftist Hollywood still largely continued its soft mythologies of the Confederate Lost Cause. Perhaps the cinematic romance arose because of the lucrative fumes of earlier Gone with the Wind fantasies, which themselves might’ve come from an understandable desire to play a part in “binding up the nation’s wounds.”

[…]

The supposedly left-wing 1960s and 1970s, in fact, were the heyday of Confederate Chic. True, there were plenty of In the Heat of the Night portraits of the now-familiar racist white Neanderthals, but with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow segregation, the romance of the Old South reappeared, updated and tweaked for the era of counterculture protest.

The contemporary hippie style of long hair, beards and mustaches, resistance to government authority, twangy folk-song strains, and hard-edged metal all fed into the rural, down-home Confederate romance. Notions of slavery, segregation, and secession mysteriously disappeared. Southern attitude was no longer Bull Connor but airbrushed Sixties-era resistance, at least at the superficial level of pop culture.

In Walter Hill’s post-Vietnam The Long Riders (1980), the murderous Jesse James gang morphs into a sort of mix of Lynyrd Skynyrd with Bonnie and Clyde — noble outlaws fighting the grasping northern banks and the railroad companies’ “Pinkerton Men.” David Carradine and his siblings, playing members of the gang, appear like Woodstock rockers, with exaggerated southern accents, long unkempt hair, hippie buckskin, and a don’t-give-a-damn Bay Area resistance attitude.

[…]

The unlikely common denominator that brought together left-wing Sixties popular culture with Confederate cool was a mutual hatred of a supposedly big, square, soulless, and powerful Washington, hated for its insolence in Vietnam and for stifling the individual — as if the poor lost South had been once as defenseless as the Vietnamese in the face of such a godless steamroller, or as if the Carradine clan were like the Allman Brothers with six-shooters.

Southern pop-music angst, hard metal, and crossover country and western channeled southern and Confederate themes, supposedly adding authenticity to mostly mainstream northern suburban American pop. Were rockers from the South popular versions of the 1920s and ’30s Southern Agrarians (“I’ll take my stand”) critics?

Few pop icons (but see Neil Young’s “Southern Man”) dared in the 1980s to suggest that southern chic was somehow blind to the racism of the Confederacy rather than just defiant and anti-government. The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd (“Sweet Home Alabama”), the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels (“The South’s Gonna Do It”), Confederate Railroad (“Summer in Dixie”), and even REM squared the circle of grafting old-style Confederate attitudes with hip counterculture, even if superficially and often nonsensically.

In other words, Confederate Chic escaped the modern odium that often had been accorded the Lost Cause revisionism sweeping the country from 1890 to 1920, in part fueled by rising nativism and renewed commitment to Jim Crow.

September 19, 2017

Even in a progressive educational bubble, this isn’t correct

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Education, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Holly Nicholas shared this photo, which is said to be from an Alberta school:

If this is indeed how public schools are presenting the political spectrum (and it’s unfortunately easy to believe that they do), the closest thing to a “centrist” party in Canada is the loony left Green Party … who somehow pip the NDP on the right. The far right end of the spectrum, Fascism, is graphically indicated to be all about “Market Economy, Free Enterprise, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism”, because as we all remember, Hitler and Mussolini were in no way fans of state intervention in the economy, right?

The graphic does, however, support certain shibboleths of the left including implying that libertarians (who are actually in favour of market economies, free enterprise, and laissez-faire capitalism) are in the same economic and political basket as actual fascists. Nice work, faceless agitprop graphic artist!

How Millennials Worship The Establishment

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Sep 2017

Brendan O’Neill http://brendanoneill.co.uk/

September 18, 2017

Identity politics

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Brendan O’Neill posted this to Facebook a few days back (but it only showed up on my timeline now):

Here’s the danger in identity politics. The more we mix up the personal and the political, the more we define ourselves and our entire worldview according to what colour or sex or sexuality we are, the more we will experience every criticism of our beliefs as an attack on our very being, our personhood, our right to exist. If your politics are indistinguishable from your self — your biological, racial, sexual self — then every challenge to your politics will naturally look like an assault on your self, on you as an individual. This is why identitarians describe even measured debate about their political beliefs as “erasure” or even “violence”: because having made politics all about them and their mental wellbeing, they naturally see political disagreement as an assault on them and their mental wellbeing. Identity politics directly breeds thin-skinnedness and intolerance. And in green-lighting such fragile narcissism, it green-lights violence too. After all, if political disagreement really does threaten your very existence, if critical speech really is violence, how should you deal with it? By censoring it, or even crushing it, by any means necessary, to protect your precious self.

September 12, 2017

QotD: Mandatory voting is still a stupid idea

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

My old boss, William F. Buckley Jr., often said liberals don’t care what you do so long as it’s compulsory (though he probably borrowed the line from his friend M. Stanton Evans).

There’s probably no better illustration of this illiberal streak in liberalism than the idea of “compulsory voting.” The argument usually goes like this: Voter turnout in America is low. Low voter turnout is bad. Therefore, we should make voting mandatory. (This argument is most popular after an election like last week’s when things don’t go so well for Democrats.)

When asked why low voter turnout is bad, one usually gets a mumbled verbal stew of Norman Rockwell–esque pieties about enhanced citizenship, reduced polarization, and, on occasion, veiled suggestions that Washington would get its policies right — or I should say left — if everyone voted.

To call most of these arguments gobbledygook is a bit unfair — to gobbledygook. First note that this logic can be applied to literally every good thing, from brushing your teeth to eating broccoli. Moreover, the notion that forcing people who don’t care about politics to vote will make them more engaged and thoughtful citizens is ludicrous. We force juvenile delinquents (now called “justice-involved youth” by the Obama administration) and other petty criminals to clean up trash in parks and alongside highways. Is there any evidence this has made them more sincere environmentalists? If we gave every student in the country straight As, that would make all the education trend lines look prettier, but it wouldn’t actually improve education.

This sort of enforced egalitarianism is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron,” set in a society where everyone must be equal. Above-average athletes are hobbled to make them conform with the unathletic. The smart are made dumb. Ballet dancers are weighed down so they can’t jump any higher than normal people. The prettier ones must wear masks.

[…]

Even the ancient left-wing assumption that if we could politically activate the downtrodden masses of the poor and the oppressed to storm the polling stations, we might topple the supposed tyranny of privilege and inequality is wrong, too. The overwhelming consensus among political scientists who’ve looked at the question is that universal turnout would not change the results of national elections. It would, however, probably have a positive effect on local elections for school boards and municipal governments, because these low-turnout elections are monopolized by entrenched bureaucrats and government unions (and that’s the way they like it, by the way).

Jonah Goldberg, “Progressives Think That Mandatory Voting Would Help Them at the Polls”, National Review, 2015-11-13.

September 6, 2017

When in doubt, cry “Fascist!” or “Racist!”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Brendan O’Neill on Facebook recently:

The left’s greatest mistake so far this century has been to accept at face value the establishment’s explanation for why people gave it a bloody nose. Stunned by Brexit, dizzied by Hillary’s loss, the establishment has gone into serious moral and political meltdown. It can only understand the various populist revolts against it as mass acts of racism, maybe even fascism, as the handiwork of demagogues who “got at” the people and twisted our minds. I mean, why else would anyone reject such wonderful institutions as the EU and the Democratic elite…? And, for shame, most of the left has embraced this propaganda, this made-up horror story. They have nodded along to this perverse politics of fear born of a wounded establishment’s fury with the “deplorable” demos. All those Antifa and commentators out there screaming “OMG, fascists everywhere!” think they’re being radical when in truth they are the unwitting spindoctors of the old establishment, bit-part players in a top-down narrative of hysteria that has no relation to reality.

QotD: Suicidalism

The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West’s will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.

But al-Qaeda didn’t create the ugly streak of nihilism and self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West’s intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western intellectual life.

Consider the following propositions:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal.
  • Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself.
  • But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

These ideas travel under many labels: postmodernism, nihilism, multiculturalism, Third-World-ism, pacifism, “political correctness” to name just a few. It is time to recognize them for what they are, and call them by their right name: suicidalism.

Eric S. Raymond, “Suicidalism”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-13.

September 1, 2017

“Antifa looks increasingly like the militant wing of Safe Space fanaticism”

Brendan O’Neill posting to Facebook a few days back:

People are shocked by images of antifa activists beating up normal, peaceful right-wing protesters in Berkeley or physically shoving right-wing people off Boston Common. Why? This is what happens when you tell an entire generation that other people’s ideas are dangerous, that their speech is toxic, that their words can wound you and traumatise you: you invite that generation to shut people down, to use any means necessary to ensure “dangerous” ideas are not expressed and do not cause injury to people’s self-esteem or sense of safety. We are starting to see what happens when speech is talked about as a form of violence: it green-lights actual violence against certain forms of speech. If speech is violence, shouldn’t it be met with violence? Antifa looks increasingly like the militant wing of Safe Space fanaticism, the bastard offspring of a culture that elevates mental safety over intellectual liberty, and people’s feelings over public freedom.

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.

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