Friday, September 09, 2022

The past isn't really past


Stalin: his own avatar by Gary Saul Morson

Like other liberal and radical leaders of tsarist Russia, Stalin grew up in an ideologically charged milieu. Ideas mattered, and one’s attitude to literature and “science” defined one. According to Lenin and Bolshevik theory, Marxist scientific socialism had proven that maximum violence against one’s enemies was not a regrettable necessity but a moral imperative. To spare a class enemy was to commit treason to the workers. Any tendency to compassion or pity (vices in Soviet thinking) indicated that one still clung to outmoded religious ideas about the sacredness of human life, which explains why, when Stalin ordered the arrest of thousands by quota, local party bosses demanded to arrest even more. The term “merciless” was one of the supreme words of praise in the Soviet lexicon.
It is easy to dismiss these local party bosses as craven cowards who were desperately trying to appease the crocodile. But that is simplistic and misses the fundamental nature of the Stalinist mindset.

Dostoevsky understood the appeal of ideology to the mediocre and morally weak: "causes' are attractive for another reason, because they provide an excuse for behaving badly."

If it were only ignorance and the fear of the NKVD which fueled Stalin's cheerleaders, then we would expect intellectuals outside of the USSR to be early and vocal critics of the Soviet Union. The opposite was true.

Tony Judt:

Western intellectual enthusiasm for communism peaked not in the time of 'goulash communism' or 'socialism with a human face,' but rather at the moments of the regime's worst cruelties: 1935-1939 and 1944-1956. Writers and professors and teachers and trade unionists admired and loved Stalin not in spite of his faults, but because of them. It was when he was murdering people on an industrial scale, when the show trials were displaying Communism at its most theatrically macabre, that men and women were most seduced by the man and his cult. Likewise the cult of Mao in the West.
The Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, but the Stalinist mindset is alive and thriving in the West.

Related:

Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

The birth of the hive mind

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Christians and journalism in light of James 4:11


Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.
William Barclay's commentary on this passage brought me up short:

The word James uses for "to speak harshly of" or "to slander" is "katalalein" .... "Katalalia" is the sin of those who meed in corners and gather in small groups and pass on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves. The same sin is condemned by Peter.

(Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. I Peter 2:1)

This is a much needed warning. People are slow to appreciate that are few sins which the Bible so unsparingl condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip.

As any carful reader of the news will recognize, a great deal of modern journalism qualifies as gossip by this standard: "pass[ing] on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves."

Edward Jay Epstein noted the close connection between gossip and journalism decades ago:

Only two forms of knowledge cross this principle: gossip and journalism. The gossip purposely obscures his sources, saying in effect, 'Don't ask who I heard it from,' to make the story more titillating. The journalist obscures his sources out of self-interest, claiming that unless he hides their identities, they will not provide him with further information. This claim assumes the sources are acting out of altruistic motives. If, however, they are providing the information out of self-interest-- and much information comes from publicists and other paid agents-- then their motive is part of the story.

I've never understood the journalistic argument for concealing sources except that it is self-serving. While a source might talk more freely if he need take no responsibility for what he says, he also has far less incentive to be completely truthful. The only check on the source's license to commit hyperbole, if not slander, under these rules is the journalist himself. But the very premise of concealing sources is that the journalist needs the cooperation of the source in the future. This makes the journalist himself an interested party.

Related: The problem with sources

Where does that leave us as Christians? When we engage with these stories, especially when we accept the substance of the unsourced revelations, are we not guilty of Katalalia?

Sunday, August 28, 2022

It's simple really

Roger Scruton:

Intellectuals are naturally attracted by the idea of a planned society, in the belief that they will be in charge of it.
They think they will be in charge because they see themselves as superior to the vast body of their fellow citizens. Related:

The continuing appeal of the hive mind




Saturday, August 27, 2022

Worth noting, now more than ever


The rule of law is no simple achievement, to be weighed against the competing benefits of some rival political scheme. It is the sine qua non of political freedom, available only where law is independent of the executive power and able to stand over it in judgment. Without a rule of law opposition has no guarantee of safety, and where opposition is unprotected it also disappears.

Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left
Roger Scruton




Monday, August 08, 2022

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize perverse incentives


This scheme was Big Pharma’s holy grail. Vaccines are one of the rare commercial products that multiply profits by failing. Each new booster doubles the revenues from the initial jab.

The Real Anthony Fauci
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

The fine line


The world would be a poorer place without those who blazed against the abuses and tyrannies of sin. But too often this is made an excuse for petulant and self-centered irritation.

William Barclay
Letters of James and Peter

Thursday, July 14, 2022

How technology makes us stupid and angry


Weak Men Are Superweapons

The straw man is a terrible argument nobody really holds, which was only invented so your side had something easy to defeat. The weak man is a terrible argument that only a few unrepresentative people hold, which was only brought to prominence so your side had something easy to defeat.
From the dak ages of this blog:

In the bad old days, you had to build your own strawmen when arguing politics. Now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you can just pick one off the cyber-shelf.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

How disasters become catastrophes: Seeds of destruction


When analyzing the grotesque failures of our COVID response, I think it is useful to keep this quote from Sir Michael Howard in mind:

This is an aspect of military science which needs to be studied above all others in the Armed Forces: the capacity to adapt oneself to the utterly unpredictable, the entirely unknown. I am tempted indeed to declare that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on now, they have got it wrong. I am tempted also to declare that it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What does matter is their capacity to get it right quickly when the moment arrives.

Michael Howard, "Military Science in the Age of Peace"
One can forgive early mistakes when confronting a novel threat. What matters is how quickly an organization can recognize its mistakes and make corrections. This is where Fauci and Co. failed and failed grievously. As the mistakes piled up, they insisted that they had all the answers and were well nigh infallible.

This is a recipe for catatrophe.

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition
Americans used to be good at learning on the fly when the balloon went up:

Despite the shock of Pearl Harbor, which crippled the battleship fleet and rendered the existing warplans obsolete, the Navy moved swiftly and with strategic focus.
We fumbled and we failed but we learned:

Bernard Lewis:

One was that they were unteachable. When America entered the war, we in Britian had been at war for more than two years. We had made many mistakes, and had learned something from them We tried to pass these lessons on to our new allies and save them from paying again the price that we had paid in blood and toil. But they wouldn't listen -- their ways were not our ways, and they would do things their way, not ours. And so they went ahead and made mistakes -- some repeating ours, some new and original. What was really new and original -- and this is my second point lastiing impression -- was the speed with which they recognized these mistakes, and devised and applied the means to correct them. This was beyond anything in my experience.
Our most successful organizations consciously tried to learn from failure:

Every action-report included a section of analysis and recommendations, and those nuggets of hard-won knowledge were absorbed into future command decisions, doctrine, planning, and training throughout the service.

Ian Toll, Pacific Crucible
We also understood the need to clear the decks by removing failed or compromised leaders.

We did none of these things with COVID.

Kaus-Reynolds with a vengence*
We are paying a high price for these failures. When the general public understands that it did not have to be this way, the fallout may be earth-shattering.

Related:

When do disasters become catastrophes?

Why bureaucracies fail (II): Can experts admit to mistakes?

Why bureaucracies fail: Politics and enforced solidarity

The hubris of the learned and the perils of technocracy

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Watergate: A legend turns 50


50 Years Later, the Motive Behind Watergate Remains Clouded

Despite the abundance of transcripts, FBI reports, and memoirs from those involved, we still know more about the cover-up than we do about the infamous political scandal.

One strange thing about Watergate, the scandal that led Richard Nixon to resign as president, is that 50 years later we still don't know who ordered the core crime or why.

Watergate as legend and myth is too important to be researched or scrutinized. So the MSM repeats the same old (discredited) cliches.

Watergate and history

Americans Aren’t Getting The Real Watergate Story From John Dean And CNN

Friday, April 29, 2022

"Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. “


One tweet that cuts to the heart of the fatal flaw of NeverTrump. "Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. “ 


The whole thread is well worth pondering.

GK Chesterton:

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man's body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem. There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church. Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.
The populist right often often taunts the establishment wing with the jab-- “What has Conservative, Inc. actually conserved?” The French Davidian wing's obsession with processes and “norms” suggest that they recognize that conserving anything of substance and value is beyond their power.

Oddly enough they are certain of one thing. Though they may be weak, exhausted, frightened, and out of ideas, they still presume that they are the natural and ordained leaders of the American right.

Is it any wonder that so many red state conservatives view them as Cromwell viewed the Rump Parliament?

It is not fit that you should sit here any longer. You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately … In the name of God go.


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Monday, April 25, 2022

Tories contra Chicago

Thomas Carlyle:
If the cotton industry is founded on the bodies of rickety children, it must go; if the devil gets in you cotton-mill, shut the mill.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
You talk about making this article cheaper by reducing its price in the market from 8d to 6d. But suppose in doing so you have rendered your cvountry weaker against a foreign foe; suppose you have demoralized thousands of your fellow-countrymen, and have sown discontent between one class of society and another, your article is tolerably dear, I take it, after all.