Riled Up Citizenry

saint-stalin

Saint Stalin, via The Charnel House

The Nation has a very good profile of Karl Polanyi, the mid-20th century left-wing Austro-Hungarian sociologist and economic historian.

“…[Polanyi] had been a violent critic of the gold standard—which, like the euro, restricted a nation’s capacity to inflate or deflate its currency based on the needs of its citizens. In his classic of economic history published in 1945, The Great Transformation, Polanyi showed how the gold standard made it impossible for nations to manage their own economies and how it often encouraged the retraction of welfare. It also empowered a small group of financial elites over the rest of society. Given their access to credit, bankers—rather than politicians and civil-society activists—became the country’s most powerful decision-makers. “Under the gold standard,” Polanyi complained, “the leaders of the financial market” find themselves “in the position to obstruct any domestic move in the economic sphere which [they happen] to dislike.”

…But Polanyi’s Great Transformation was not all dark prophecy; it also offered us some insight into how societies rebelled against this marketization of social life. The free-market economy, Polanyi argued, not only empowered financial elites and commodified social goods; it also created a countermovement in which bodies of people emerged, demanding that the state protect them from the market.”

Polyani’s observation that free-market economies tend to oligarchy but they also generate their own resistance,  came to mind whilst listening to a recent episode of Open Source with Christopher Lydon. Lydon was interviewing Yale historian Timothy Snyder about his new book “On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” (here is the originating Facebook post).

Synder’s entire book is an historian’s warning that Trump represents a serious threat to democracy, with 20 idea about how to prevent a Trump presidency devolving into a Caesarian tyranny. Snyder believes Trump’s early actions are a coherent stress test of the democratic institutions. He is feeling the edges of his power, taking stock of the strengths of his opposition. Snyder believes only civic resistance can deflect the Trumpist power grab.

The book is full of gems. I learned that the founding fathers – heeding Plato – never expected democracy to last as long as it did.

It brings to mind a wonderful passage from The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. Much of this is eerily familiar:

“Plato’s reduction of political evolution to a sequence of monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and dictatorship found another illustration in the history of Rome. During the third and second centuries before Christ a Roman oligarchy organized a foreign policy and a disciplined army, and conquered and exploited the Mediterranean world. The wealth so won was absorbed by the patricians, and the commerce so developed raised to luxurious opulence the upper middle class. Conquered Greeks, Orientals, and Africans were brought to Italy to serve as slaves on the latifundia; the native farmers, displaced from the soil, joined the restless, breeding proletariat in the cities, to enjoy the monthly dole of grain that Caius Gracchus had secured for the poor in 12 3 B.C. Generals and proconsuls returned from the provinces loaded with spoils for themselves and the ruling class; millionaires multiplied; mobile money replaced land as the source or instrument of political power; rival factions competed in the wholesale purchase of candidates and votes; in 53 B.C. one group of voters received ten million sesterces for its support. When money failed, murder was available: citizens who had voted the wrong way were in some instances beaten close to death and their houses were set on fire. Antiquity had never known so rich, so powerful, and so corrupt a government. The aristocrats engaged Pompey to maintain their ascendancy; the commoners cast in their lot with Caesar; ordeal of battle replaced the auctioning of victory; Caesar won, and established a popular dictatorship. Aristocrats killed him, but ended by accepting the dictatorship of his grandnephew and stepson Augustus (27 B.C.). Democracy ended, monarchy was restored; the Platonic wheel had come full turn.”

At one point Lydon asks,

“Are we sleepwalking still, is there something to be said for a riled up citizenry?”

Snyder replies in the affirmative, and observes that in the anti-Trump reactions he saw unprecedented speed (airport protests) but also numbers and intelligence (large scale, multi-partisan alliances in the Women’s March). He also talked about the role of lawyers, pointing out that in 1930’s Germany the legal profession acquiesced then enthusiastically collaborated with the Nazis, whereas the Trump era has the legal profession leading the fight in the form of lawyers helping travel ban victims or judges blocking executive orders.

This lends some evidence to my feeling that Trump, far from being the ultimate defeat for the American left, could herald their ultimate triumph.

Hear me out here.

The US right have put their bets on Trump, a classic bullshitter (I mean in the strict academic sense, Plank’s chauffer)

Now the corruption – Russian interference, Oligarch money – and his lack of intellectual substance, disorganization and personality flaws will all be exposed.

The Trump effect is already damaging Populists in Europe. Trump may have helped in Wilder’s defeat in The Netherlands and he may well help sink Le Pen in France too. Merkel, despite domestic terror, is booming again in the polls.

I think the mood driving populism is still there. If Populism is a reaction to elites, globalism, industrial automation, immigration, cultural and political alienation, then we can expect it to intensify as the agonists are strengthening.

But the current right-wing populists are fairly or unfairly associate with the Populist Khan of Khans  Donald Trump. As he flounders, he could take down the entire right-wing populist surge with him.

This leaves an opportunity for the the populist left, and within that opportunity there are also dangers.

Jordan B Peterson, Dave Rubin, Sam Harris and others argue very persuasively that contemporary leftists also have a decidedly authoritarian bent.

The grim mirror image of Trumpian tyranny we have the left’s Neo-Stalinist assault on free speech, SJWism, essentialist identity politics, obsession with race/gender/privilege, racism and anti-Western obscurantism.

Can the center reassert itself? Can a principled, moderate left emerge? Are we like 1930’s German’s, facing a choice between two violent revolutionary anti-democratic ideologies: Nazism and Communism.

dare we hope for something good to come out of all this, or is it going to be the perpetual power of nightmares?

If the left can evolve out of identity politics and rediscovers its principles, embrace true pluralism and welcome true diversity, then it could be facing a golden age. If the US Democratic party can transform itself from being the party of white urban elites and minorities into a party that also genuinely represents the interests of rural people, the white flyover citizenry, and the poor – regardless of provenance – then it could be a generational political force.

Today’s left are Orwellian Nationalists. They assume that “human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.””

If it doubles down on PC, intersectionality and identity politics, it is doomed. Either it slips into leftist tyranny or dies with a whimper, on the scrap heap of ideas. The former entails bloodshed and civil war. The latter a triumph for Trump.

I hope a reformed New Left can emerge, recognizes the importance of individualism and embraces a principled politics of the 21st century based on science, reason and genuine democracy based on strong institutions.

Which will it be?

“All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.”

WB Yeats, “Easter, 1916”

Or

“What rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

WB Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Links

http://radioopensource.org/survivors-guide-tyranny/

https://www.thenation.com/article/karl-polanyi-in-our-times/

https://withoutbullshit.com/blog/4-kinds-bullshitters-trump-fits

https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/were-all-cucks-now

Checking the the idea of “Privilege”

I noticed three articles this week on the theme of privilege and leftist ideology as religion.

One of my favorite public intellectuals, Jonathan Haidt, has a video in the Wall Street Journal (paywall)

Jonathan Haidt on the Cultural Roots of Campus Rage – “ An unorthodox professor explains the ‘new religion’ that drives the intolerance and violence at places like Middlebury and Berkeley.”

On Twitter, Peter Boghossian points out that he called this first, back in 2016:

Privilege: The Left’s Original Sin:

The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you’re born with. It’s something you can’t escape. It’s something you can’t really do anything about – except be ashamed. It’s something you should confess and try to cleanse yourself of. It’s something that requires forgiveness, atonement, penitence, and work. It’s something, if you take it to heart, for which you will browbeat others.

For many contemporary left-situated activists, privilege occupies the same role in a religion of contemporary identity politics. There is no greater sin than having been born an able-bodied, straight, white male who identifies as a man but isn’t deeply sorry for this utterly unintentional state of affairs.

Finally, “The last thing on ‘privilege’ you’ll ever need to read” is a book review of Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s “The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage”.

Power really does corrupt

I learned last week that becoming powerful has measurable neurological effects on your ability to empathize.

Listen to this fascinating episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain on “The Perils of Power”.

If you have a Harvard Business Review subscription there is a long article in the October 2016 edition called “Don’t let power corrupt you”.

Zikr

The BBC recently reported on the “Islamic Sufi prayer ceremony known as Zikr“.  It is pretty popular in the Caucasus. 

Years ago I remember seeing a brief news spot on Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman ruler of Chechnya. He was doing what I now realize is the Zikr dance. At the time I was absolutely intrigued, and I still am.There is something fascinating about this. Must be the raver in me.

There is an entire Youtube channel devoted to Zikr.

And because it is the internet, there is a pisstake (this dance set to rave music, which highlights just how similar dance/trance and these spiritual practices are to each other).

More

A Whirling Sufi Revival With Unclear Implications  – NY Times, 2006

Chechnya: Kadyrov Uses ‘Folk Islam’ For Political Gain – Radio Free Europe, 2016

Kadyrov Turns to Zikrism to Legitimize His Rule – The Jamestome Foundation

A look under the soft rock of lunacy

Due to a bug in the WordPress.com mac app I found I was “following” some Punjabi writer collective blog. This could have been a moment of serendipitous largesse, instead it was a glimpse under one of the rocks of lunacy littering the internet.

The top post on the day I accessed it was a repost of a Black Lives Matter (BLM) sub-group called Dream Defenders, defending their policy position supporting Palestine and branding Israel as “genocidal”.  Another recent post on the blog declares that Khizr Khan, the father of a dead US solider who had a run in with Trump, is “the Uncle Tom of America’s Muslims.” No really. Not even Trump got that crazy.

The Dream Defender’s statement is meant to protest that their militant anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. I was not convinced. The tone, is, well…judge for yourself:

Their [“Zionist” Jewish organizations] response has made it all the more clear why we stand in solidarity with Palestine and with Black and Brown people around the world fighting for justice.

Those who have previously claimed to be allies of the Black lives matter movement have shown us that they are comfortable with our resistance so long as it fits within particular confines and restrictions. It is convenient to endorse black lives matter when it benefits you. And as long as we stay silent about Israeli apartheid, they will “stand” with Black liberation in the US. Now that our movement has taken a stand against all forms of white supremacy and oppression, Black lives no longer matter. We want no part in this quid pro quo form of politics. True solidarity does not come with strings attached.

We’ve been dealing with this type of hypocrisy with our supposed “allies” for generations. On the American left, there are many wolves in sheeps clothing. You have revealed yourselves. And now that we know who you are, we will not forget.

As I read it they are saying that Jewish American’s, despite being at the forefront of civil rights in the USA for “generations”, have “revealed themselves” as, “wolves in sheeps clothing” (sic).  50 years of social activism by the Jewish community brushed away as nothing but Zionist entryism.

Who are Dream Defenders anyway? Reading their website one can easily sympathise with and support their cause. Social justice, non-violence, democracy…and they look like friendly, positive people:

Dream Defenders

From the front page of Dream Defender website – http://www.dreamdefenders.org/

Then you browse to the About page of their site, and you see this….

dreamdefenders.png

From the About page of http://www.dreamdefenders.org/

Same people, very different photo. It turns out this is some sort of Black Power group. Disappointing.

One of the oddities of the USA is the flagrant double standard in when it comes to ethnic pride, symbolism and self-interest. Black Power, recently feted by Beyonce at the Super Bowl, is according to Wikipedia, about…

“…emphasizing racial pride and the creation of black political and cultural institutions to nurture and promote black collective interests and advance black values“.

This definition leaves out all the anti-White racism and separatism that is very much a “wing” of the movement. It also ignores the origin of this term in the black supremacist Black Panther Party (established 50 years ago in 1966), whose legacy of anti-White racism and murder was recently revived by Micah X Johnson, the Dallas cop killer.

In 2016, in the USA, “Black and Brown people” (the “us” or “we” of BLM), can and do express both racial pride and openly campaign for their collective interests in explicitly racial terms. This includes the creation of racially exclusive political and cultural institutions. Whites doing this would be denounced as “racist” and forcefully resisted as a social evil. If members of white “civil rights” groups went so far as to be photographed doing Nazi (White Power) salutes, that would be unequivocal evidence that the group was racist. Not so for Black Power groups, even though the only difference between these ideologies is the skin colour of the members.

I am saddened when I see groups like this embracing Black Power. I want to support their quest for fairness and justice, but I cannot but oppose a group that embraces an ideology defined by it’s opposition and hostility to me, my family and children, based on our skin colour. This is racism on stilts.

As with radical feminists, I will not let this sort of bigotry, chauvinism and hostility dim my personal commitment and support for an entire movement,  in this case for the continued struggle for civil rights,  genuine racial equality and justice for African-Americans.

BLM and other groups in the collective ought to heed Bayard Rusti’s warning to groups that were embracing Back Power  in the 1960’s (as opposed to an inclusive civil rights platform):

“It diverts the movement from a meaningful debate over strategy and tactics, it isolates the [Black] community, and it encourages the growth of anti-[Black] forcesthey [will] emerge isolated and demoralized, shouting a slogan that may afford a momentary satisfaction but that is calculated to destroy them and their movement.”

He is right. Part of the Trump phenomenon driven by whites adopting grievance based identity politics. I am still haunted by David Frumm’s brilliant amalgamation of the voices of Trumpland. Heed this passage, because it should sound a very loud warning:

“You tell us we’re a minority now? OK. We’re going to start acting like a minority. We’re going to vote like a bloc, and we’re going to vote for our bloc’s champion. So long as he keeps faith with us against you, we’ll keep faith with him against you.”

This is the nightmare situation. A restive, militant and confrontational white underclass defining themselves in explicitly racial terms, block voting for populists (anti-establishment) politicians who campaigning on a white grievance platform. It is the predictable outcome of years of identity politics and victimhood culture but it could also spell the end for US consensus democracy.

One of the saddest realities of America in the 21st century is that these racial divisions really do serve to divide the poorest of Americans against each other. They should have such strong solidarity. Instead they are pitted against each other by identity politics, ongoing racism and forces of polarization unleashed by our disintermediated technocracy.

Imagine if BLM, instead of alienating poor whites with their “Black and Brown people vs Whites” narrative embraced the white working-class and invited them to support social justice for African-American’s as part of a broader and truly inclusive alliance of the disadvantaged? That is a movement I could enthusiastically support.

See more:

https://policy.m4bl.org/  – Black Lived Matter policy platform

http://www.inquisitr.com/2785751/black-pride-vs-white-pride-war-rages-define-black-power-positive-racial-prides-racist-hate-groups/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Power

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Power_movement

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-problem-with-black-lives-matter/18643 

Forsaken: The Global Persecution of Christians

An email popped into my newsletters folder the other day from OR Books. They were promoting a new book by Daniel Williams called Forsaken, about the persecution of Christian’s in the middle east. Here is the blurb:

Across the Middle East, Christian communities today find themselves the victims of widening repression: massacres, expulsions, and brutally enforced restrictions on the right to worship have all become commonplace. Such persecution has now reached the point where, in the region that was once its birthplace, Christianity’s very existence is under threat.

Radical armed groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) justify their offensive against the “infidels” with reference to new interpretations of jihad, the Islamic tradition of holy war, that have burgeoned in the region since the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq at the beginning of the century.

The impact on Christian communities is visible for all to see. In Iraq, the Christian population has withered from well over one million to just 300,000. In Syria, where the word “Christian” was first coined more than two millennia ago, at least half a million Christians, one third of the total, have fled their homes. In Egypt, where the Coptic Church, with its seven million adherents, is as old as the Church of Rome, Christians are emigrating in waves after being squeezed between those who blame them for the 2013 ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood government and a new military dictatorship that is heedless of their civil rights.

The book was published on the 10th March 2016. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a bomber target Christian women and children at a park in Lahore, Pakistan murdering at least 70 innocents and maiming hundreds more.

It is not just the middle east. Pakistan, India, Iraq, Burma, North Korea, Eritrea, Nigeria..there is a long list of places where Christians are viciously oppressed. Even the Pope has started speaking out about it.

The Western media has been pretty muted on this topics, but I notice it is getting more attention now. Here are some articles prompted by the Lahore bombings.
Where are Christians most persecuted around the world? – The Independent

The Lahore attacks are just the latest atrocity in a war on Christians – The Spectator

The Persecution of Christians – Wikipedia

Open Doors – a charity devoted to helping persecuted Christians

Disclaimers Against Reality: Charles Bukowski on Censorship

A wonderful letter on censorship from Charles Bukowski that I found on the Farnam Street Blog. Bukowski had one of his books removed from a library and this was his response to the person warning him about it. The emphases are mine. It was written in 1985:

The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them. I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere, in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. They were only taught to look one way when many ways exist.

I am not dismayed that one of my books has been hunted down and dislodged from the shelves of a local library. In a sense, I am honored that I have written something that has awakened these from their non-ponderous depths. But I am hurt, yes, when somebody else’s book is censored, for that book, usually is a great book and there are few of those, and throughout the ages that type of book has often generated into a classic, and what was once thought shocking and immoral is now required reading at many of our universities.

I am not saying that my book is one of those, but I am saying thatin our time, at this moment when any moment may be the last for many of us, it’s damned galling and impossibly sad that we still have among us the small, bitter people, the witch-hunters and the declaimers against reality. Yet, these too belong with us, they are part of the whole, and if I haven’t written about them, I should, maybe have here, and that’s enough.

may we all get better together,”

Absolutely wonderful.

Michael Mauboussin

Just heard an interview with Michael Mauboussin on The Knowledge Project podcast (a Farnum Street blog production) and he was super interesting.

A few quotes form the podcast. These are paraphrased:

  • “An expert is someone who has a predictive model that works.”
  • “When it comes to decision making, Daniel Kahneman advises us to use the statistical baseline first (system 2) then Overlay your intuition (system 1), not the other way around or you have confirmation bias.”
  • Evaluate your decision making – track your results. The objective is to make quality decisions over time (like Munger and value investing which is more about avoiding loss than making huge gains).
  • Lessons from Colonel Blotto – if you are dominant player you want to keep It as simple as possible – fewest possible battlefields.    Also for weaker then dilute the power Of the powerful opponent.  Create more complexity, more battlefields.
  • Advice for Parents: Instill Growth Mindset (praise for effort not characteristics) , consider opposite viewpoints and learn how to bet ( decision tracking). Teach kids that even though they win a bet, if it was an irrational/reckless bet, they will lose in the long run. Offer them recommendations, not orders. If you are right, they will learn to respect your recommendations.

He recommended these books: