Friday, July 31, 2020

LARPing our way to a bloody cataclysm


So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.

Inside the Whale
So why do they do it?

Tom Wolfe:

From the outset the eminence of this new creature, the intellectual, who was to play such a tremendous role in the history of the twentieth century, was inseperable from his necessary indignation. It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down on the rest of humanity. And it did not cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise. As Marshall McLuhan would put it years later: 'Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.

Hooking Up
They do not protest because they have found a cause. They must find a cause to justify their riots and protests. The cause only matters in so far as it allows the LARPers to feel brave and moral.

In this they are just like your average conspiracy theorist:

Belief in the conspiracy makes you part of a genuinely heroic elite group.

David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories
Think of their LARPing and protesting as a form of "kitsch".

Roger Scruton:

Kitsch, in other words, is not about the thing observed but about the observer. It does not invite you to feel moved by the doll you are dressing so tenderly, but by yourself dressing the doll. All sentimentality is like this - it redirects emotion from the object to the subject, so as to create a fantasy of emotion without the real cost of feeling it. The kitsch object encourages you to think, "Look at me feeling this - how nice I am and how lovable."
The more ideological the activist, the more susceptible they are to kitsch:

Ideology is not the product of thought; it is the habit or the ritual of showing respect for certain formulas to which, for various reasons having to do with emotional safety, we have very strong ties and of whose meaning and consequences in actuality we have no clear understanding.

Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination
The LARPers find the perfect environment to nourish their totalitarian worldview in our universities.

Whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. When I say “totalitarian,” what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life…

In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.

Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
We've seen this before:

Chekisty and poets were drawn to each other like stoats and rabbits-- often with fatal consequences for the latter. They found common ground: the need for fame, an image of themselves as crusaders, creative frustration, membership of a vanguard, scorn for the bourgeoisie, an inability to discuss their work with common mortals. There was an easily bridged gap between between the symbolist poet who aimed to epater le bourgeois and the checkist who stood the bourgeois up against the wall.

Donald Rayfield, Stalin's Hangmen

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

The A.M.A. and the whole organized medical profession at that time had denounced Kenny and all her works. She was only a nurse and therefore couldn't discover anything of importance; she was only a woman, also, and therefore could not understand medicine, which requires male brains; her technique of treating polio, we were told, was dangerous nonsense and hogwash and "witchcraft." Thus the major event of my early childhood consisted of being cured of a major crippling illness that left most of its victims permanently confined to wheelchairs, by a method that all recognized experts denounced as unscientific and useless. This instilled in me certain doubts about experts.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Why Lincoln would want no part of the Lincoln Project and #NeverTrump

The man understood what it took to build a winning coalition.

Stand with anybody that stands RIGHT. Stand with him while he is right and PART with him when he goes wrong.

Speech at Peoria, Illinois (October 16, 1854)

The Never Trumpers only understand losing. No wonder they are reduced to begging crumbs of leftist oligarchs and pats on the head from the SJWs of the MSM.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

“Behold a Pale Horse”

William Milton Cooper was a crank, a radio host, a violent drunk, an awful husband, and a Navy veteran who saw combat in Vietnam. He was also a die-hard believer in nearly every conspiracy to come down the pike from UFOs to the Illuminati and the NWO. He spent decades promoting various crank theories, some of which he originated. Cooper believed, for example, that he had unmasked the real assassin of JFK: the Secret Service agent driving his limo.

For all that, he did a better job predicting the 9/11 terror attacks than CIA.

Immediately after CNN aired their exclusive interview with Usama bin Ladin (28 June 2001) Cooper warned his listeners to expect a mass casualty event on US soil. This was weeks before the infamous 6 August 2001 PDB and was much more specific and concrete in its predictions.

Cooper did not expect the attack to come from al Qaeda. He believed the UBL interview and the “terrorist attack” were all part of a plan by the US government to seize new powers and tighten their control over US citizens.

After 9/11 he went on the air with another prescient forecast.

“They are going to kill me, ladies and gentlemen,” he told his audience. “They are going to come up here in the middle of the night, and shoot me dead, right on my doorstep.”

And right around midnight on November 5, 2001, less than two months after the 9/11 attacks, that's exactly what happened.
Cooper lived long enough to see his earlier prediction come true when the Patriot Act became law on 26 October 2001.

I had never heard of William Cooper until I read this biography. I had no idea that this old dead white guy had a following among hip-hop superstars or that his book is one of the most popular titles inside the nation's prisons. Cooper and his book have been name-checked by the likes of Tupac, LL Cool J, Jay Z, and Wu Tang's Old Dirty Bastard.

ODB offered this explanation to Mark Jacobson:

Everybody gets fucked. William Cooper tells you who's fucking you. That's valuable information.
Cooper was a crank and a nut, but he did have standards. For instance, he hated Alex Jones. Jones, he said, had only one purpose: “to stir people up – to keep them in a lather.” Cooper wanted to do much more than that; he wanted to be an educator and a sentinel.

He took his role seriously. Cooper told his audience what they needed to know, not what they wanted to hear. For example, he let lose with this jeremiad in 1992 after the LA riots:

When you sit in front of your television on Friday and Saturday night and watch cops, Top Cops, Lady Cops, 911 Cops, SWAT cops, Detective Cops, Grandma Cops... you watch them break down doors without identifying themselves, without a search warrant, without a court order, rip people's mattresses apart, throw away their clothes; if they don't find anythging, all they have to do is drop a little bag of white powder.

You sit there, cheering them on, 'Get those scummy so-and-sos.' And the reason you do it is because you're watching it happen to blacks, to minorities, poor white trash, Puerto Ricans.
It took the prestige media a quarter century to catch up:

What "Running From Cops" Learned From "Cops"

Are True-Crime Podcasts Ready for the #DefundthePolice Era?
The lack of attention paid William Cooper in our present troubles is rather like Sherlock Holmes's dog that did not bark. The MSM is usually eager to sniff out conspiracy theories that circulate in populist movements. Complete nobodies get doxxed and canceled for sharing “problematic” memes, yet there is no interest in determining the extent to which anti-police sentiments are fueled by ridiculous conspiracy theories.

Stephen Ambrose rightly noted that conspiracy theories usually serve a political agenda. Is the studied ignorance of the MSM driven by the fact that they support the agenda of those espousing the paranoid theories?

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Sobering thought of the day

Large empires and small kingdoms, which had taken centuries to evolve, collapsed rapidly. With their end came a period of transition, once regarded by scholars as the first Dark Age. It was not until centuries later that a new cultural renaissance emerged in Greece and the other affected areas.
Eric H. Cline, 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed
We don't know why this happened which means we cannot be sure that it could not happen again.

It seems that the politics, trade, and diplomacy of thirty-five hundred years ago, especially during the fourteenth century BC, were not all that dissimilar to those practiced as part and parcel of the globalized economy of our world today.
We have come close to destroying ourselves before.

They seemed oblivious to the huge casualties of the still relatively recent American Civil War, and expected a short, decisive conflict. It never occurred to them that the failure to make their alliances correspond to rational political objectives would lead to the destruction of civilization as they knew it.
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy
Looking at the last 30 years it is hard to argue that the citizens of the developed world have become more thoughtful and more willing to face complex realities.

The survival of civilization in the twentieth century was a near thing. And the perils were greatly exacerbated by unreal thinking within the democratic culture itself. Kierkegaard once said that the most dangerous mental faults are laziness and impatience. Laziness of mind meant unwillingness to face unfamiliar, complex and refractory realities. Impatience led to infatuation with supposedly all-explanatory theories in lieu of thought and judgement.
Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Understanding Never Trump and Trump Derangement Syndrome

T.S. Eliot:

I can see no reason for believing that either Dante or Shakespeare did any thinking on his own. The people who think that Shakespeare thought are always people who are not engaged in writing poetry, but who are engaged in thinking, and we all like to think that great men were like ourselves.
I wonder if we can expand on this a little:

People different from me cannot be great

Understanding Trump: War on Mount Olympus
It's become routine to blame snobbery for the Trump Derangement Syndrome that has gripped vast swathes of the professional and grifter wings of the conservative movement and the GOP. This explanation seems reasonable when we remember that pride and snobbery are not the same thing.

Lionel Trilling:

Snobbery is not the same thiing as pride of class. Pride of class may not please us but we must at least grant that it reflects a social function. A man who exhibited class pride -- in the day when it was possible to do so -- may have been puffed upp about what he was, but this ultimately was depended on what he did. Thus, aristocratic pride was based ultimately on the ability to fight and administer.

Snobbery is pride in status without pride in function. And it is an uneasy pride of status. It always asks, 'Do I belong -- do I really belong? And does he belong? And if I am observed talking to him, will it make me seem to belong or not belong?' It is the peculiar vice not of aristocratic societies which have their own appropriate vices, but of bourgeois democratic societies.
Trump destroyed the pretense that these famous conservatives and well-compensated operatives had any real function. Political professionals announced that he could not win and that his campaign was a joke. Conservative “thought leaders” declared that the man and his ideas were anathema to true conservatism.

Turned out that the rank and file conservatives did not care what the thought leaders thought. The only people laughing on election night were Trump supporters.

It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead – and to find no one there.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Inept experts and leaders with no followers – no surprise then that they lash out at the man and the voters who increased their unease in the status they took such pride in.

Are there any better examples of Taleb's “inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking 'clerks' and journalists-insiders“ than the Never Trumpers who show up on “Morning Joe”??

Never Trumpers spend a great deal of time lauding themselves as defenders of “democracy”. Those few who really believe this are just LARPing as they reveal their ignorance of history.

As historian John Lewis Gaddis notes, in ancienty Athens, democracy “functioned by divorcing virtue from status. If a man wished to participate – a virtue – then 'the obscurity of his condition' – status – wouldn't prevent his doing so.”

The Never Trumpers want the very antithesis of this. The system they are defending has failed America repeatedly. From Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the opioid epidemic to China to the COVID pandem – their system has produced death, impoverishment, misery and despair.


Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

Steak, ketchup, and Trump Derangement Disorder

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Friday, July 17, 2020

How Twitter destroyed the public square (updated)

An insightful post by The Scholars Stage:

The World That Twitter Made

That is the problem with Twitter and the other aggregator sites. See the beliefs of the next generation of public intellectuals before you! See what happens to those who have only experienced America's public square through high-follower account on twitter!

Loofburrow is not alone in these beliefs. I suspect an entire class of pundits has internalized the idea that all of this is what public discussion is. Of course they don t believe in free expression, civil debate, the spirit of liberalism, and all of that jazz. To this generation those things are just words. The public sphere they have known has always been a bare-knuckle brawl.
I think he makes too sharp a distinction between the blogging world and the Twitter-sphere. Many of the problems he ascribes to Twitter were already showing up in the blogging space in the early-Aughts:

One of his points, while true, points to a serious weakness for the blogosphere. Rapid-response to the news of the day does seem critical to blog success. Yet the premium on speed weakens analysis and fresh reporting. Those latter activities are the very areas usually cited as the strengths compared to traditional journalism.

One way to be fast is to do reflex-punditry of the sort we see on TV (especially on the McLaughlin Group). Talking heads react to the news and apply their individual ideological template. Eleanor Clift and Pat Buchanan don't bring new information to the viewers; they simply repeat the appropriate talking points. A lot of blogs end-up as nano-pundits: "More idiocy from the Bush Camp," "Go Rummy," etc.
Energy, confidence, conviction, self-nomination: traits that are ideal for writing memorable posts quickly. The problem is that such bloggers-- because they don't "accept suggestions" and are loath to admit mistakes-- will keep propounding their version despite new evidence dug up by others. The real power of blogs to facilitate collaboration gets stifled when this type of blogger becomes a key interpreter of a story or issue.

The need for rapid response also turns many bloggers into amplifiers for those self-nominated experts. With nothing to say ourselves, we link to those who write fast and take a clear position that we agree with. We end up with fewer serious dialogues and more of the formulaic debate pioneered by Crossfire.
It is certainly true that the rise of Twitter has exacerbated this problem:

Twitter, journalists, and our civic conversation

Update: 21 July

1. The Spring Claremont Review of Books has a review essay that has some relevance here.

Our Bookless Future

Wolf’s answer comes, once again, from neuroscientific studies revealing significant cognitive and affective differences between print and screen reading, and between “deep reading” and fast reading—differences that show up in brain activity. In one study, researchers “were frankly surprised that just by asking their literature graduate students either to read closely or to read for entertainment, different regions of the brain became activated, including multiple areas involved in motion and touch.” In another, after one group read a story on paper, another on screens, the first reconstructed the plot more accurately than the second—for a book, unlike a virtual text, gives the brain a concrete spatial arrangement for the action. In sum, Wolf says, the paper reading brain has better memory, more imagination, immersion, and patience, and more knowledge than the screen reading brain. The physiology proves it.

Wolf’s pleading tone—“reader, please, come home”—follows from the fact that, in spite of the dangers, screen time is displacing book time. We are in trouble. “The more we read digitally,” she warns, “the more our underlying brain circuitry reflects the characteristics of that medium.” For six millennia, reading compelled the human brain to deepen and widen its cognitions. It is a glorious achievement, threatened by a “fundamental tension between our evolutionary wiring and contemporary culture.” We are moving backward.
To steal from Yeats, as we become more digital we become dumber yet filled with a “passionate intensity.” We lose our empathy and stop thinking; theories replace thought and indignation substitutes for study.

This is a recipe for disaster as Lionel Trilling reminds us:

When we say that a movement is 'bankrupt of ideas' we are likely to suppose that it is at the end of its powers. But this is not so, and it is dangerous for us to suppose that it is so, as the experience of of Europe in the last quarter-century suggests, for in the modern situation it is just when a movement despairs of having ideas that it turns to force, which it masks in ideology
2. Twitter and Facebook claim they want to drive trolls and bots from their platforms. Journalists decry the “toxic environment” that prevails online. But one has to wonder if they are sincere.

Bots and trolls are extraordinarily good at feeding that “dopamine-addiction feedback loop” that keeps users engaged and on the platform. For lazy journalists these digital hamster wheels (the more toxic the better) provide ready-made stories perfect for social media. No need to pore over documents or even make phone calls. Just collect the tweets or posts and the story really writes itself.


Nit-picking free riders

Streaming TV's real business model

Tolstoy, Netflix, and the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Science and the pandemic

The “Party of Science” is more concerned with the party-line than with honest science

Two recent articles:

Why We Can’t Trust Anything ‘The Science’ Says Any More

It’s as obvious as the swaddled noses on our faces that science is now just a weapon to be used against people who disagree with the left, or simply want to be able to retain the classic American freedom to run their own lives and families as they see fit. This runs much deeper and longer than coronavirus. Probably the most significant example of scientific corruption is the ongoing replication crisis. It’s summarized in Nature this way: “More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments.”

In other, other words: What “studies say” aren’t generally reliable.

Radiation Politics in a Pandemic

Why is Covid-19 science making us more partisan?

In his 2007 book The Honest Broker, political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. characterized two different idealized styles of decision-making: Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics. In the case of an impending tornado, citizens are bound together by a common purpose: survival. And simply acquiring information whether through science or direct observation drives the negotiation about how to respond. In contrast, Abortion Politics is characterized by a plurality of values, and new scientific information only contributes additional complexity to the divergent goals and motivations.

As Pielke admits, this is a somewhat rough characterization. Many contentious issues have elements of both Tornado Politics and Abortion Politics. The conflict over how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic has been little different. Yet what has been striking is how many people seem to insist that the pandemic be treated as a case of Tornado Politics, as if it were a cyclone bearing down on us. But it hasn’t been this kind of case. Every day, its politics has come more and more to resemble that of abortion, as scientific information about the virus has become weaponized for partisan ends.
At CNN and the DNC, (AKA Tweedledumb and TweedleAOC) the narrative dismisses these concerns. They deny that there is any reason to doubt the edicts of unelected bureaucrats who claim that science supports their contradictory orders. Only Trump and his brain-washed supporters raise questions – which just goes to show how stupid and dangerous the Bad Orange Man is.

It is a cool story and a convenient framing, but it is simply not true. Long before Trump, smart people were raising the alarm.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can’t tell science from scientism — in fact in their image-oriented minds scientism looks more scientific than real science.
Andrew Gelman:

2011: Various episodes of scientific misconduct hit the news. Diederik Stapel is kicked out of the psychology department at Tilburg University and Marc Hauser leaves the psychology department at Harvard. These and other episodes bring attention to the Retraction Watch blog. I see a connection between scientific fraud, sloppiness, and plain old incompetence: in all cases I see researchers who are true believers in their hypotheses, which in turn are vague enough to support any evidence thrown at them. Recall Clarke’s Law.
2016: Brian Nosek and others organize a large collaborative replication project. Lots of prominent studies don’t replicate. The replication project gets lots of attention among scientists and in the news, moving psychology, and maybe scientific research, down a notch when it comes to public trust. There are some rearguard attempts to pooh-pooh the failed replication but they are not convincing.

Late 2016: We have now reached the “emperor has no clothes” phase. When seemingly solid findings in social psychology turn out not to replicate, we’re no longer surprised.
Daniel Sarewitz:

Science, pride of modernity, our one source of objective knowledge, is in deep trouble. Stoked by fifty years of growing public investments, scientists are more productive than ever, pouring out millions of articles in thousands of journals covering an ever-expanding array of fields and phenomena. But much of this supposed knowledge is turning out to be contestable, unreliable, unusable, or flat-out wrong. From metastatic cancer to climate change to growth economics to dietary standards, science that is supposed to yield clarity and solutions is in many instances leading instead to contradiction, controversy, and confusion. Along the way it is also undermining the four-hundred-year-old idea that wise human action can be built on a foundation of independently verifiable truths. Science is trapped in a self-destructive vortex; to escape, it will have to abdicate its protected political status and embrace both its limits and its accountability to the rest of society.
If we look back to the beginnings of modern science, we do not find demi-gods issuing pronouncements from atop a 17th century Mount Olympus. Instead we see curious scholars sharing research and debating theories.

This way of proceeding forms the sharpest contrast between what are thought of today as the early scientists and those who are dismissed as 'alchemists'. The interests and actions of the two groups often look indistinguishable. But the Royal Society categorically rejected the instinctive secrecy of their predecessors. Boyle's first publication was, quite aptly a plea for open publication and commentary.

John Seely Brown snf Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information
Today our scientific establishment and academic apparatus seems to be falling back into the primitive modalities of sorcery and alchemists, secret knowledge and esoteric mysteries.

Even worse, it is not too hard to find echoes of the darkest parts of the 20th century. Stalin spoke, the Politboro jumped, and Lysenko replaced Gregor Medel in the biology texts of the USSR.

Today, Twitter mobs get the same result.

When Brown University researcher Lisa Littman found evidence that transgenderism was a “social contagion” driven by social media and peers, her academic journal and university threw her under the bus after a pressure campaign from activists who didn’t like these findings. The episode “raises serious concerns about the ability of all academics to conduct research on controversial topics,” wrote former Harvard University medical school dean Jeffrey Flier. You don’t say.

A British and German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as 'the truth' exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as "Science". There is only "German Science," "Jewish Science," etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Before Munich there was Ethiopia

Codevilla's essay deserves credit for its concise brilliance.

I don't think I've ever read a more astute, succinct description of the grievous missteps the British government made in the mid-Thirties.

Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, and Britain’s reaction to it, started the chain of events that led to World War II in Europe and, incidentally, to Mussolini’s own deservedly grotesque end.

Overheated rhetoric had not blinded Mussolini to Italian geopolitics’ principal fact: as ever, Italy’s independence depended on keeping the Germans at bay. Hence, whatever else the Versailles settlement had done after the Great War, its weakening of an Austria separate from Germany had served Italy well. Italians, not pleased at Hitler’s rise on a platform of pan-Germanism, and worried that Austria was friendly to it, had cheered Mussolini’s alignment with Britain and France in a pact to sustain Austria’s independence, signed at Stresa, on Italy’s Lake Maggiore, two hours by rail from the Brenner Pass. Geographically, Italy was the sine qua non of support for landlocked Austria’s independence – which independence guaranteed its own. But in 1935, everybody forgot all that.

Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, another member of the League of Nations, exposed the League’s nonsense. Britain could have stopped the invasion by closing the Suez Canal to Italian shipping. This would not have avoided the consequences of alienating Italy, but it would have saved Ethiopia. Or, Britain could have sacrificed Ethiopia and the League for the sake of appeasing Mussolini in order to stop Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria. Instead, Britain and France doomed Ethiopia by keeping the canal open, and alienated Italy by instituting energy sanctions. The Italo-British interactions of 1935 might qualify as the 20th century’s dumbest, most tragic diplomatic démarche. Hitler was the only winner.
Back in the Dark Ages I wrote about this disastrous own-goal by Britain:

One track minds: Not every crisis is a Munich

On the utility of “Fascist”

The Spring issue of the Claremont Review of Books has a really fine esay on Mussolini and Fascism by Angelo Codevilla.

The Original Fascist

From movement to epithet

Today, the adjective fascist is an epithet -- often mixed promiscuously with white supremacist, sexist, etc.that the ruling class uses to besmirch whoever challenges them, and to provide emotional fuel for cowering, marginalizing, and disempowering conservatives.

This maneuver consists of defining fascism in terms of unpopular ideas, political practices, and personality traits observable in many times and places; then, having cited Hitler’s Nazi movement as fascism’s quintessence, of pinning those deplorable characteristics on the intended targets. This reductio ad Hitlerum aims at no less than to outlaw conservatives. As the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin exclaimed: “these people are not fit for polite society…. I think it’s absolutely abhorrent that any institution of higher learning, any news organization, or any entertainment organization that has a news outlet would hire these people.”
Codevilla demonstrates that their “argument” is worse than wrong: it is self-serving and betrays a totalitarian mindset.

It is wrong to say that “Antifa are the real Fascists”; they are much worse. They are the idiot spawn of Stalin and his progeny.

Communists in general and Joseph Stalin in particular are responsible for turning the words fascism and fascist into mere negative epithets. They did this as a result of a major tactical decision regarding the political wars of the 1920s and ’30s, which pitted the Communists against the rump of the socialist movement as well as against various nationalist and conservative movements. For the Communists, the practical, tactical question was whether to seek power alone or to ally against the conservatives and nationalists with the socialists or whomever. Early experiences had been equivocal. Hungary’s Béla Kun had taken power alone but had been overthrown quickly. In Italy the Fascists, led by a socialist, had swept the Communists from the streets while the socialist party stood by. In 1922-23, Germany was the big question. Its socialist party was really the only big nationwide force other than the Christians. The two did not get along. Stalin judged that the Communists could defeat them both, and the National Socialists, too, acting alone. Perhaps most of all he feared that if Communists were to ally with movements not under his control, he might lose control of the Communists.

Hence, Stalin elaborated the doctrine of social fascism which, verbiage aside, meant that Communists should consider all to the right of them-- essentially all who were not under Communist discipline-- as fascists.

Codevilla explains why the fascist straw man remains useful to our mandarin class:

But what is the point of repeating from society’s commanding heights that the ruling class’s opponents are fascists, fascistizing, near-fascists, Nazis, white supremacists, racists, and so forth?

Today, those words mean simply that those so indicted have no right to challenge the ruling class. Whatever they do in that regard is illegitimate.
Again, this echoes the Stalinist's playbook from the 1930s. During the Spanish Civil War, Arthur Koestler was tutored in the dark arts of propaganda by Willi Munzenberg – one of Stalin's most talented agents:

'Don't argue with them,' he kept repeating. 'Make them stink in the nose of the world. make people curse and abominate them, make them shudder with horror.'
This form of debate, now so prevalent from cable “news” to prestige print journalism, is fundamentally totalitarian and un-American to its core.

Sir Isiah Berlin was an often astute observer who spent time in FDR's Washington and in the Soviet Union during the peak of Stalin's Terror. As historian John Lewis Gaddis notes the contrast was stark and immediately discernible:

America and Russia differed, he could now see, not just in geographies, histories, cultures, and capabilities, but also, critically, in necessary ecologies. One thrived on cacophony. The other demanded silence
As Bari Weiss can tell you, there is a growing contingent of activists (including journalists and professors) who hate the cacophony and align, enthusiastically, with the silencers.


Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

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Thursday, July 09, 2020

Now what?

[The newspaper] fulfills in America the cultural function of the drama of Aeschylus. I mean that it is the expression through which a people – a people numbering many millions – becomes aware of its spiritual unity. The millions, as they do their careless reading every day at breakfast, in the subway, on the train and the elevated, are performing a … ritual. The mirror of their culture is held up to them in their newspapers.

Johan Huizinga, America: A Dutch Historian's Vision from Afar and Near,
He wrote this about the America of the 1920s and 1930s. I doubt many readers now gain a sense of “spiritual unity” as they read their morning paper. For a large segment of the readership it is quite the opposite.

“This newspaper views me with contempt and hates everything I love” is a perfectly reasonable assessment for patriotic readers and those who are not “woke”.

Perhaps a badge of honor, but maybe not the best business model


Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Does anyone still understand irony at the New Yorker?

A puff piece on Unicorn Riot – an activist organization that covers/streams protests across the country.

The Tiny Media Collective That Is Delivering Some of the Most Vital Reporting from Minneapolis

You could refer to what Unicorn Riot does as “activist reporting,” just as you might call a bystander capturing footage of N.Y.P.D. officers tossing people to the asphalt or plowing cruisers through crowds “citizen journalism.” But you also could decide that these distinctions reflect a certain snobbery and have lost a certain salience. There is no use in quibbling about objective journalism amid this emergency, when the power of people’s voices is our only defense. To be a good citizen is to be an activist. To report is to speak up. To have your eyes open is to witness democracy in action, and its failures in abundance.
The writer, Troy Patterson, is probably blind to the totalitarian cast of mind that declares “to be a good citizen is to be an activist”.

The surprising part, to me, is his casual dismissal of conventional journalistic standards as obsolete and snobbish.

The New Yorker's entire business model depends on snobbery. That is the appeal to the subscribers and the luxury brands who advertise in its pages. Snobbery is the force that puts money in Troy Patterson's pocket.

Usually we don't talk about that when we talk about the New Yorker and Journalism. (Tom Wolfe did which is what made him Tom Wolfe).

No, we are required to blather on about the New Yorker's rigorous fact-checking process and the layers of editors who make certain that only the very best stories with the most verified facts and the most thoughtful reporting appear in its pages.

After decades of this ritualistic praise we now have a New Yorker writer dismissing it as obsolete and unimportant,


Mediated democracy and the temptations of Leninism

Steak, ketchup, and Trump Derangement Disorder

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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Streaming TV's real business model

This is a brilliant piece of analysis:

A Golden Lie

the big streaming platforms aren’t asking the questions you’d like them to ask about your browsing. Ideally, you’d expect them to ask how they’re going to help you find great art, or at least great entertainment. You’d expect them to hire experts whose whole job would be making content easier to navigate. Because, after all, they have the stuff you’re looking for, so the product really sells itself, right? They just have to put you in touch with the right series, or the right New Wave French movie.

For a long time, that’s how I actually thought digital television worked. Then I started to notice that the big companies, like Netflix or Amazon, were acting a bit strange. They seemed to be hiding the stuff I wanted to find, on purpose, like a shopping mall or casino. The conversations I was having about television started to disturb me as well; nobody was watching the same show, anymore, but everyone seemed desperate to know what they ought to be bingeing that week. Then it hit me: streaming television isn’t a business model based on rushing out to you, for your viewing pleasure, whatever show happens to be your catnip. That’s an afterthought. The real money’s in constructing a mirage of endless possibility. Netflix’s profits are based on your perception of what you could, potentially, find the time to see. That’s what keeps you consistently subscribed to their service, month after month.
The “mirage of endless possibility” goes beyond the manipulative user interface. Netflix, Amazon, HBO, et. al. have shrewdly co-opted journalists and critics to serve their marketing and retention strategies. A couple of buzzy shows of the sort that appeal to Twitter-obsessed scribblers is all that is required to ensure plenty of free media attention. Customers will keep paying that monthly fee convinced that it unlocks a treasure trove of unique programming. After all, everyone is talking about all the great programming.

In the end, those customers spend most evenings watching re-runs of series from broadcast networks and boring basic cable.

This part of the strategy is not too different from the “salting the mine” swindle.

More than customer inertia drives the business model.

FOMO obviously plays a role:
the fear of missing out — fills us with so much anxiety that it feels like fire ants swarming every neuron in our brain.
So does “intermitten reinforcement” – the phenomenon that makes gambling and video games addicting:

The high is in expecting an outcome, desiring it, imagining it, not in its fulfillment.

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