I Wonder If That's True?

AVI speculates:
Most of your ancestors did about as well as they could under the circumstances, but their times were not ours and you wouldn't have liked them much. You would have found them slow, ignorant, indifferent to violence, intolerant of people twenty miles distant, dirty, and smelly. On the other hand, they would find you pampered, soft, arrogant, overfed, sexually uncontrolled, irreligious, and wasteful. And they would be right, I suppose, though I don't think I would hang around to hear them talk about it.
Well, I don't have to care what anyone thinks of me who isn't my wife or a few close friends. I've built my life that way on purpose.

Still, I've spent a lot of time with the dead -- at least the ones who wrote books, or who had books or sagas written about them. I usually like them fine, often better than my contemporaries. It's a subset, of course, of the whole population; but then again, the population was a lot smaller in the old days and traveled a lot less. It wasn't as important that you learn to like people who were from far away, because it wasn't as likely to come up that you'd need to do so.

As an aside, I sometimes tell a story about how progressive and conservative thought are both the result of psychological illusions, and AVI's speculation reminds me of it. I'll run through it quickly here just because I haven't written it down in a while, and maybe it'll be interesting to some of you or at least useful to someone someday. The story goes like this:

For the most part people learn their values by contact. You can think of values as 'rubbing off' in an almost literal sense: you get yours by rubbing up against someone else who already has them. That's how they teach you to have them. Now you're more likely to rub up against people who are closer to you than who are further away. That closeness holds for both time and space: those who are closer to you in time rub up against you a lot more than those who are distant, unless you're one of those who goes out of their way to seek out the old books, or institutions that bring old things forward anew.

The illusion that gives rise to progressivism, then, is just that this process makes it seem like those who are closer to you in time are increasingly like yourself. Since what you believe is right is what you believe is right, and you got your values by rubbing up against those closer to you than further from you, naturally as you look further and further back the moral world of those older generations looks less and less in agreement with your own. Because you believe your own values are right, this fact makes it appear as if there is an 'arrow of progress' in history that points in your direction. Every generation gets closer to you, as if they were learning lessons that are bringing them closer to the true values you hold in your heart.

Of course it's just an illusion. As things get further away from you in the future, those people will have rubbed up less against you and those you rubbed against. Their values will change in a different direction. There's no arrow of history. It's an illusion, almost an optical illusion. It comes from this fact of perspective.

The illusion that gives rise to conservatism comes from picking a point in history -- real or imagined -- and holding it up as the exemplary one. It doesn't matter if it is the Founding, the Age of Mohammed and his Companions, the Early Christian Church, the Viking Age, the 1950s or the High Middle Ages. King Arthur. Camelot. Whatever. Once you've picked a point and a set of values as exemplary, this very same process I have been describing means that history looks like a long falling away from that moral ideal. Every generation is less and less like the one that lived in the great days.

That's an illusion too. It's an illusion of the very same kind.

What isn't illusory in the moral world is the transcendent values, the ones that hold true by virtue of the structure of reality and human nature. Courage is a virtue in every generation, because the courageous are more likely to succeed in achieving whatever it is they want to achieve. So too the self-disciplined. So too the ones who love at least certain particular others enough that they lead lives they enjoy and value. Courage, honor, moderation, discipline, love, friendship. These things really matter. They are not illusions.

Almost everything else is. Some of the illusions are harmless; others give rise to terrible tragedies. But they should be recognized by the wise for the illusions that they are.

The Logic of the Current Revolution

Dr. Codevilla has a long piece on what he calls the current revolutionary moment. He posits at least one scenario in which it ends well for the most part:
Were a conservative to win the 2020 presidential election, dealing with the Progressives’ renewed resistance would be his administration’s most pressing problem. But had the Left’s resistance failed utterly during the previous four years, it may be possible to convince it to switch from its present offensive mode to a defensive one. Were this to be the happy case, the conservative side of American life, operating from a dominant position, might be able to obtain agreement to some form of true federalism.

Unattainable, and gone forever, is the whole American Republic that had existed for some 200 years after 1776. The people and the habits of heart and mind that had made it possible are no longer a majority. Progressives made America a different nation by rejecting those habits and those traditions. As of today, they would use all their powers to prevent others from living in the manner of the Republic. But, perhaps, after their offensive resistance’s failure, they might be reconciled to govern themselves as they wish in states where they command a majority, while not interfering with other Americans governing themselves in their way in the states where they are a majority.
I used to think something like this could work; of late I've become unconvinced. I think the real issue now is that there are progressive urban areas even in the reddest states, and red areas even in the bluest ones. Federalism still might work, but not state-oriented federalism. We need some way of preventing the Mountain Tribe from having to be ruled by the City Tribe; and vice versa, not that I think the Mountain Tribe has much interest in ruling over cities or their people.

Seven Years in Prison for a 40 Year Old Mistake

A Vietnam Veteran awarded the Silver Star is being sent to Federal prison for buying an M-14 like the one he carried in the Army.
The raid and arrest on Pick’s Plano home came two weeks after his wife of 40 years died of cancer. They were using marijuana, which authorities found and added another criminal charge.

Friends of the vet showed up to support him after he pleaded guilty in a Plano federal courtroom and was sentenced to 87 months in prison by a judge.

“He’s had it all these years never robbed a bank or done anything with it,” said Shackelford. “Somebody that made one mistake and now 50 years later, he’s paying a really big price for it.”
Good candidate for a Presidential pardon, that.

Silence, Dogs!

I just don't get the concept that the best way to fight "dehumanization" is through speech bans. Nothing is more characteristically human than speech; respect for freedom of speech is the sin qua non of respecting someone's humanity. It is far less dehumanizing for Louis Farrakhan to suggest that his Jewish opponents are "termites" than it would be for us to tell Louis Farrakhan that he wasn't permitted to speak in public.

The right to think for yourself is one of the clearest cases of natural rights: nature itself defends this right. As long as you have a human brain -- unless some opponent should lobotomize it or physically destroy it -- you will think. Speech is just one step removed from this natural human right, as it's just a way of putting your thoughts in the air. No one has to agree with them. No one is necessarily going to be persuaded. Hearing Farrakhan doesn't make me scorn or dislike Jews; it persuades me only that he's a nasty person. But I know he's a person. I know it in part because I got to hear him speak his thoughts.

Freedom of speech should be non-negotiable, especially in America. Whatever they do elsewhere, here we speak our minds.

Elizabeth Warren's DNA

This raises a couple of thoughts in my pea brain.  One concerns identity politics: many pundits are saying that her DNA outcome and her touting of it spell the end of identity politics.  To the extent this works out to be true, would this make Warren a heroine of the right?

The other concerns the DNA itself.  I suggest that, by fair means or foul, we're all at least as much African-American as Warren is Native American.  We all can open our businesses and claim our minority-owned subsidy.

But why stop with molecules?  Why not take seriously particular groupings of DNA?  I have at least half the number of X chromosomes as my wife, as do all of the nominally male population of the Hall and of America at large.  On that basis we don't have to self-identify as female, our genetics make the case for us at least as soundly as Warren's DNA makes her case.  We can open our own businesses and claim our woman-owned subsidy.

We're all two-fers now.

Eric Hines

Bill Gates's Eulogy for Paul Allen

I somewhat dislike Microsoft, but Bill Gates & Paul Allen changed the world. Two days ago, Allen passed away. Yesterday, Gates wrote "What I Loved about Paul Allen," which is about their friendship.

The Worst Yet To Come?

A Bush administration veteran writes that the Left is not done; they intend to get worse, he warns.
That liberals’ orchestrated effort took both Congress and Court to new lows was not their concern. Their one and only goal was in not seeing the Supreme Court move any more to the right. Yet, the left’s effort also served notice: If they have their way, the process will only get worse....

More importantly for liberals, [the Supreme Court] is not directly dependent on a political majority. Certainly, the President nominates and the Senate confirms justices, but these can be far removed from particular decisions… and both can also have been wrong in their assumptions about their picks.

The Court’s lack of dependence on a political majority has been crucial to liberals, America’s smallest ideology. Lacking the thick edge of the political wedge, America’s left have sought the thin one of the Court to advance issues for which they could never have constructed a public majority.
We just had what was proclaimed to be a ricin attack on Susan Collins, following demonstrated ricin attacks on Mattis and the chief of the Navy. Howling mobs have been driving Republican elected officials out of public places. Today two Republican candidates in Minnesota report having been attacked and punched while attempting to campaign. Of course there was the 2017 baseball shooting targeting Republican Congressmen as well.

Meanwhile when Republicans in New York invited Vice-founder Gavin McInnes to speak, an Anitfa group formed to harass them. After one of the Antifa members attempted to steal the hat off a man's head, it turned into a brawl. The New York government is regarding it as a hate crime -- by the Republicans, whom they are going to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law in order to let them know they aren't welcome in New York City. There are of course regular street brawls in Portland, Oregon now.

All this leaves out non-violent but illegal attacks on Republicans, such as the Reality Winner leak of classified information because she thought it was about Trump; or the Treasury Department employee just arrested for leaking Paul Manafort's bank records. The ongoing illegality from within the government is a serious problem for the operations of that government, but at least it stops short of violent attacks.

As we discussed in the comments recently, the easiest way to end a lifetime appointment is to end the life. You can force a special election to replace a Senator you don't like if you off the Senator. You don't need to form a majority for that either; just a competent cell of radicals willing to operate 'by any means necessary.' People on the right should expect this, and take appropriate precautions.

Actuality and Potentiality

Reason proposes that self-mythologizing is fine 'when you're young,' but that at some point you have to set aside childish things. That's an interesting principle I find somewhat attractive. Younger people are still 'coming to be,' and imagination can help them to decide how to actualize what is still mostly potential in them. At some point, however, you are actual enough that you should stand on what you've really done.

On the other hand, one cannot actualize what does not already exist as a potential. I can't actualize being Cherokee; I can't actualize being a woman either, current fashion notwithstanding. This is in line with Aristotle's dictum that 'potentiality is first actuality.'

Still, I'm not inclined to view someone harshly who -- even in their 20s -- has a rich imaginative life, so long as they are working towards translating what they imagine of themselves into actual accomplishments. Deeds to be proud of; becoming someone who has 'been, and done.' If they do that, I'd let youthful imagination fall away as harmless as the actual person emerges in adulthood.

You'll Never Guess Why People Switched to Trump

It's a Vox article, so there's no real shock:

"Hint: It has to do with race."

Well, your study doesn't apply to me. I never voted for Barack Obama, not even in a primary. I did for Hillary Clinton, in 2008, in the hopes of beating Barack Obama. In retrospect I'm not sure if we came out ahead or behind in that exchange.

Hating Dolly Parton

In the wake of the recent fires near Gatlinburg, Dolly Parton was on the scene to help people get back on their feet. She runs charities and a foundation that operate all the time, not only when there is a major disaster.

But, she like me is what AVI calls "Mountain Tribe," and if you were born in the Mountain Tribe but want to join the City Tribe, you have to prove your loyalty.
I needed to question Dolly Parton’s meaning in my and our lives.

I needed to confront Dolly Parton’s blinding, dazzling whiteness....

Her Appalachia is pure and white and heroic; her Appalachia is drained of white America’s sins....

She’s embraced by feminists and queer folks at the same time she is declared a queen by Confederate apologists. Dolly-as-mountain-girl anchors her to an ancestral white home in the imaginations of white people, while her class-conscious and gender-transgressive performance of whiteness becomes a signifier for white progressives who embrace gender fluidity and working-class iconolatry. She exhibits worldliness at the same she cloaks herself in the symbols of white nationalism.

Dolly Parton has built her empire on and with the debris of old, racist amusements and wrapped it in working-class signifiers and feminist politics. I ignored that fact for a long time because it didn’t fit the script of the feminist, working-class heroine I had conjured. But I also ignored how others’ attachment to Dolly is exactly because of her embrace of Dixie and her complex celebration of whiteness. And I have ignored how whiteness clings....

Dolly Parton’s mythical story-songs of a mountain childhood and her witty and glitzy hillbilly performance were the secret ingredient to Dollywood’s success and expansion — an expansion that requires the ecological demise of the mountains, that gobbles up tons of water, land, and bodies in order to simulate a white Appalachian past of real hillbillies that Americans love.... Does Dollywood and Dolly Parton herself rejuvenate whiteness, fueling it so that it rises up again and again in its Dixie-forms and in its Appalachia-(Scots-Irish-Anglo-Saxon-mountaineer)-forms?
Do half as much good as she has done, and then get back to me with your criticisms of her. But they'd better be stronger criticisms than this. I don't much love Pigeon Forge just because it's so fake; but what I do love are the real things the fakery symbolizes.

Parton is for real.

New meme rising

Some numbers are rendered inherently ridiculous by rash political claims, like George McGovern's standing behind soon-to-be-ex-running-mate Thomas Eagleton "1000%."  So I suspect Elizabeth Warren's DNA-test face-plant will be with us for a while.  Greg Gutfeld immediately claimed that he was 1/1024th Asian, which "is why I can't get into Harvard."  A poster is circulating asserting that Sen. Richard Blumenthal's own test reveals that he is 1/1024th Viet Nam vet.

Remember Ivory soap's 99.44% purity?  The impurities were 1/179th of the total.

Occupational Hazards

So there's kind of a big story going around about the Saudi government killing a "journalist," which would be a big human rights no-no, especially since they allegedly brought in a cleaner to dismember the body and ship the parts out of the country. That sort of thing isn't supposed to happen to journalists.

It does happen to spies, though.
Germany's leading right-of-center daily Die Welt this morning reveals that Jamal Khashoggi was not a journalist, but a high-level operative for the Saudi intelligence service, an intimate of Osama bin Laden, and the nephew of the shadiest of all Arab arms dealers, the infamous Adnan Khashoggi. John Bradley reported last week in the Spectator that Khashoggi, who allegedly met a grisly end in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that among other things wants to replace the Saudi monarchy with a modern Islamist totalitarian state.
I can't decide if all the upset and hand-wringing in the press about this is because they can't tell the difference between a journalist and a spy trying to pass himself off as a journalist, or if they're just emotional wrecks who can't think strategically, or if they're actively being influenced by Iranian allies like Ben Rhodes. Whatever it is, get a grip. Spies die sometimes. They know what they're getting into when they start trying to overthrow governments. It's a risky business, especially if you're playing against pretty much any state that isn't in the Anglosphere or Western Europe. The Saudis aren't worse than China, or Russia, or Iran for that matter.

Should we press Saudi Arabia to reform politically and socially? Of course. Should we get bent sideways because they killed a spy who was a buddy of Osama bin Laden? Come off it.

The World Gets Closer to Gattaca

According to an article in Wired:

In 2013, a young computational biologist named Yaniv Erlich shocked the research world by showing it was possible to unmask the identities of people listed in anonymous genetic databases using only an Internet connection. Policymakers responded by restricting access to pools of anonymized biomedical genetic data. An NIH official said at the time, “The chances of this happening for most people are small, but they’re not zero.”
Those interlocking family trees, connecting people through bits of DNA, have now grown so big that they can be used to find more than half the US population. In fact, according to new research led by Erlich, published today in Science, more than 60 percent of Americans with European ancestry can be identified through their DNA using open genetic genealogy databases, regardless of whether they’ve ever sent in a spit kit.
Gattaca is a great movie, but not a society I want to live in, really.

Who Gets Told To Shut Up?

In an article on "Women and Power," Nancy Pelosi writes: "If they tell you to sit down, stay standing. If they tell you to shut up, speak louder."


An Austrian fellow won a libel suit against a woman who falsely accused him of sexual harassment. But that's not fair, writes the NYT:
What do you do if you are accused of sexual misconduct and believe yourself to be innocent?

If you’re Brett Kavanaugh, you go nuclear. But if you’re a progressive man who sees himself as a feminist ally, the politically acceptable strategy is to keep quiet and lay low. If you do anything at all, put out a statement saying you support the #MeToo movement, that it’s an overdue and necessary corrective, and that you are taking some time for self-reflection. Spend some months ordering takeout and avoiding parties where everyone is whispering about what they think you did....

Of the dozens of men accused of sexual misconduct this year, many proclaim their innocence. But Mr. Elliott is the first from the list who is known to have sued. Some apologized. Some denied and carried on. Others were subject to internal investigations and kept their jobs. Some were fired. A few recently wrote widely panned articles about how the accusations ruined their lives. (Mr. Elliott checked this box with an essay in Quillette last month.)

Five of the men on the Media Men list on Thursday spoke to The Cut on the condition of anonymity to condemn Mr. Elliott’s lawsuit. What’s fascinating is that even as they expressed anger toward Mr. Elliott, most insisted that they, too, are not guilty of what they are accused of. But the collective sense is that Mr. Elliott should do what they’re doing: “taking one for the team,” as one of them put it.
That's quite a "team" you belong to, chief. The NYT hunted him down for an interview.
When I interviewed him this week, he seemed energetic. He’s moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans. He’s sober.

“I really feel like I’m happy for the first time since this started,” he said. “I have a politics. I know who my friends are.”

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What are those politics? “I still think of myself as a liberal,” he said. “But the left moved away from liberalism and I hadn’t realized that yet. If you are a liberal, by definition, you believe that it’s better to let a certain amount of guilty people go free than to jail one innocent man. That’s almost the definition of liberalism. These people on the left aren’t liberals at all, actually. What I’ve come to realize is how close they are to the people on the right.”
Yeah, well, I hate to break it to you but it's the right that is likely to ask for evidence before they convict you. If you're guilty -- if, say like Al Franken, there's photographs showing you doing what you are accused of doing -- the right will happily burn you for this stuff. But they will want to see some evidence before they do.

The NYT has been a reliably bad guide during this moment. They recently published a piece by someone describing herself as a philosopher who calls this a clash of "epistemic" worlds. In one world, accusers are believed; in the other world, she asserts, the desire is to maintain structures of power.

That isn't what epistemology is about. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, including theories about what constitutes knowledge. The Aristotelian conception of knowledge, which has been the standard for most of Western civilization's history,* is that knowledge is "justified true belief." When we hear people saying that they "believe the women," (or "believe survivors," when whether or not they survived anything is sometimes just what is needing to be proven), we should hear people proclaiming that they are ready to proceed to punishment without the bother of first obtaining knowledge that there was a crime. Belief is only one of the three conditions for knowledge. It is proper to ask also after truth and justification.

By all means we should take plausible claims seriously. That said, it isn't sound to ask people to 'take one for the team' when they are innocent. This really isn't about 'knowing who your friends are,' it's about knowing per se. Whatever you believe, ask about how that belief is justified and whether or not it is justified in the right way. Care about whether or not your beliefs are true. This is basic stuff, and as always, it's when you go wrong about the basics that you go really wrong.

* The 20th century brought some doubt on whether the JTB standard was complete. A few, including Timothy Williamson, have proposed abandoning it for alternative approaches. See the link for a full discussion.

"The End of Smugness"

Perhaps the shock of Trump winning the election is beginning to wear off- at least for some.  Devin Stewart, "senior fellow and director of the Asia program at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a Truman Security Fellow. He has served as an adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University and New York University", and a Democrat who admits that he felt at the time that "a Trump victory seemed to portend certain economic disaster, nuclear war, and pretty much the end of America as we knew it." has penned a piece titled "Trump and the End of Smugness", and shockingly enough, he doesn't mean Trump's.

He puts aside the feelings Trump may evoke, and what he refers to as the left's "efforts at amateur psychoanalysis", to examine what Trump has actually done in the arena of foreign policy.  It turns out that it's a remarkably rational, incisive examination of Trump's foreign policy record, and an attempt to begin to define a "Trump Doctrine".  My sense is that he's reasonably accurate.  If you'd like to have a rational argument about Trump's foreign policy with someone who is against Trump, maybe have them read this first.