The Supreme Court and Federal Reserve are corrupt in the same way. Both institutions defer excessively to legislative and regulatory agendas instead of sticking to their respective mandates.
Archive for the 'Deep Thoughts' Category
Posted by Lexington Green on 9th June 2015 (All posts by Lexington Green)
One of my Conservative activist friends was getting depressed, so I rattled off the following. (I hope I am right.)
Reagan used to tell jokes about how Communism didn’t work. Reagan understood that stupidity ultimately destroys itself. All the people around him assumed the evil would last forever. Hardcore Conservatives, like me, thought he was naive. Turns out we were naive. The modern welfare state really got started in the 1960s. It lasted about two generations and it is totally dysfunctional. The first Conservative movement gave us Reagan, who did some good but did not reverse the trends. The new reform movement has barely gotten started. But this movement looks to be broader and deeper than the first Conservative movement. The Tea Party started around the turn of the year 2008/09. That is 5.5 years. Major reform movements usually take a generation to start winning lots of elections. The GOP has just taken over more elected offices than any time since the 1920s, and the reformers are driving it, and the RINOs have to at least talk the talk or they can’t get elected. We are moving along very well. We are in the process of taking over the GOP, and in the process of taking over the government. I thought Obamacare would be embedded and unmovable by now, and it would take us decades to dismantle it. It may go much better and quicker than that. People on the Right have lots of competing ideas of what to do. The internal conflicts are a sign of vitality. The Democrats have NO IDEAS. Zero. All they do is attack and lie and say their opponents are racists. That’s it. That is all the cards they are holding. They nakedly abuse power to insulate themselves. They cannot tell the truth about who they are or what they want to do or they will lose. They are like the Soviet Communists under Brezhnev. Hillary even looks like an old, corrupt, smug Communist bloc apparatchik. Their day is over and they are clinging to power. The worst menace is crony capitalism, but even there people are increasingly aware of the problem and starting to push back.
This is going to be a long struggle, and we will lose battles, and there will be betrayals, and people will get exhausted and give up.
But the deep trends are in our favor.
We are right, factually and morally.
They are wrong, factually and morally.
They will lose.
We will win.
Posted by Charles Cameron on 3rd June 2015 (All posts by Charles Cameron)
[ a gadfly question ]
We have seen various conversations online in which its is plausibly suggested that YESness leads to upward mobility across an array of silos and disciplines, specifically including the intelligence community and the military — the end result being risk-averse group-think that is pretty much “inside the box” by definition.
Similarly, we have noted that serious and nuanced issues are frequently debated in the media by those who are known for their general-purpose punditry or seniority, rather than by those with specific knowledge of and insight into the particular issues of concern.
Question: How shall we get outside the box thinking from inside the box thinkers?
When I originally posted this on Zenpundit, I almost just posted the title by itself. As one of the commenters there suggested, and I tend to agree, it’s a million dollar question — and one I’d like to see widely cross-posted and debated.
What say you all?
Things have gotten so bad that one’s first thought on reading about Hastert is that he probably either 1) did something that conflicted with the interests of prominent Obama adminstration constituents or 2) was singled out to intimidate Republicans before the 2016 elections.
UPDATE: This post from Glenn Greenwald makes important points. (Via Lex.)
The fact is that America is now run by people who profit from keeping everyone else from taking risks.
This is an exaggeration but there is enough truth in it to make a serious point. We live in the safest society in history, yet many people in this society are obsessed with risk. What is going on?
If mankind is, as has been claimed since ancient days, a species driven by the narrow passions of self interest, what holds human society together as one cohesive whole? How can a community of egoists, each devoted to nothing but his or her own ambition, thrive? Or for that matter, long exist?
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury thought he knew the answer.
|John Michael Wright, Thomas Hobbes (17th c).
Hobbes is famous for his dismal view of human nature. But contrary to the way he is often portrayed, Hobbes did not think man was an inherently evil being, defiled by sin or defined by vileness ingrained in his nature. He preferred instead to dispense with all ideas of good and evil altogether, claiming “these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them, there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man.”  Only a superior power, “an arbitrator of judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up” might have the coercive force to make one meaning of right the meaning used by all. Absent such a “common power”, the world is left in a condition that Hobbes famously described as “war of every man against every man” where they can be no right, no law, no justice, and “no propriety, no dominion, no ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ distinct, but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it.” 
This description of the wretched State of Nature is familiar to most who have studied in the human sciences at any length. Also well known is Hobbes’s solution to the challenge posed by anarchy:
[Those in this state will] appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgements to his judgement. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one person is called a COMMONWEALTH; in Latin, CIVITAS. 
What is most striking in Hobbes’ vision of this State of Nature and the path by which humanity escapes it is his complete dismissal of any form of cooperation before sovereign authority is established. Neither love nor religious zeal holds sway in the world Hobbes describes, and he has no more use for ties of blood or oaths of brotherhood than he does for the words right and wrong. He does concede that if faced with large enough of an outside threat fear may drive many “small families” to band together in one body for defense. However, the solidarity created by an attack or invasion is ephemeral–once the threat fades away so will the peace. “When there is no common enemy, they make war upon each other for their particular interests” just as before.  Hobbes allows for either a society dominated by a sovereign state or for a loose collection of isolated individuals pursuing private aims.
Hobbes’ dichotomy is not presented merely as a thought experiment, but as a description of how human society actually works. Herein lies Hobbes’ greatest fault. Today we know a great deal about the inner workings of non-state societies, and they are not as Hobbes described them. The man without a state is not a man without a place; he is almost always part of a village, a tribe, a band, or a large extended family. He has friends, compatriots, and fellows that he trusts and is willing to sacrifice for. His behavior is constrained by the customs and mores of his community; he shares with this community ideas of right and wrong and is often bound quite strictly by the oaths he makes. He does cooperate with others. When he and his fellows have been mobilized in great enough numbers their strength has often shattered the more civilized societies arrayed before them.
The social contract of Hobbes’ imagination was premised on a flawed State of Nature. The truth is that there never has been a time when men and women lived without ties of kin and community to guide their deeds and restrain their excess, and thus there never could be a time when atomized individuals gathered together to surrender their liberty to a sovereign power. Hobbes mistake is understandable; both he and the social contract theorists that followed in his footsteps (as well as the Chinese philosophers who proposed something close to a state of nature several thousand years earlier) lived in an age where Leviathan was not only ascendent but long established. They were centuries removed from societies that thrived and conquered without a state. 
To answer the riddle of how individuals “continually in competition for honour and dignity” could form cohesive communities without a “a visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants,”  or why such communities might eventually create a “common power” nonetheless, we must turn to those observers of mankind more familiar with lives spent outside the confines of the state. Many worthies have attempted to address this question since Hobbes’ say, but there is only one observer of human affairs who can claim to have solved the matter before Hobbes ever put pen to paper. Centuries before Hobbes’s birth he scribbled away, explaining to all who would hear that there was one aspect of humanity that explained not only how barbarians could live proudly without commonwealth and the origin of the kingly authority that ruled civilized climes, but also the rise and fall of peoples, kingdoms, and entire civilizations across the entirety of human history. He would call this asabiyah.
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Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st May 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
A science fiction writer acquaintance of mine, John Ringo, is already going nuts about this “Shawyer Drive” on his Facebook page, because he
is friends with one of the scientists involved.
See power point page and the links below:
Magnetron powered EM-drive construction expected to take two months
Emdrive Roger Shawyer believes midterm EMdrive interstellar probe could flyby Alpha Centauri
The drive seems to be a quantum “zero-point energy” phenomena that you put electricity into and get reaction massless thrust out of.
_AND_ it looks to be both scalable and improvable with better magnetrons.
This is also dovetailing nicely with a Lockheed Martin compact fusion reactor that
1. Generates more power than it uses and
2. Produces something on the order of 7.4 megawatts
Given the reality of Space X’s and Blue Origin’s reusable rocket successes, and it seems that Mankind is about to burst out from this planet in a very big way.
And all of the above is driving John Ringo to despair on his science fiction writing career.
… hear me roar … and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick too it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close to losing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.
Sarah Hoyt thinks not.
When I was thirty one, I sat on my back porch on a lovely summer day, reading Reason magazine. The issue was devoted to debunking global warming. And suddenly, like a weight lifting, I realized there really wasn’t proof. That it wasn’t preordained that my generation would be the last to have a decent life on Earth. That my kids and grandkids (I only had one kid at the time, and he was still nursing) wouldn’t necessarily be doomed. That the future wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Since then I’ve been skeptical of the end of the world prophecies.
Every weekend I read Barry Ritholtz’s recommended reading and there are a lot of gems in there. Recently he posted this Credit Suisse graphic about markets at the turn of the 20th Century by market share and compared it with 2014 on the topic of global equity investing.
In his article he mentioned the fallacy one might fall into as a UK equity investor in 1899… why bother investing in the USA when the UK market is so much larger? And then this line of thought ends up missing the huge growth in US market share over the next century.
However, the real issue here isn’t the relative change in market share by the different countries; it is the fact that almost all of these markets were entirely extinguished at one time or another by political, economic or military events that wiped out the investors.
Generalizing from his own experience, Jonathan Rauch finds evidence of a U-shaped happiness curve in life:
I was about 50 when I discovered the U-curve and began poking through the growing research on it. What I wish I had known in my 40s (or, even better, in my late 30s) is that happiness may be affected by age, and the hard part in middle age, whether you call it a midlife crisis or something else, is for many people a transition to something much better—something, there is reason to hope, like wisdom. I wish someone had told me what I was able to tell my worried friend: nothing was wrong with him, and he wasn’t alone.
Last year I reviewed quite a few books, including several that IMO are extremely important and well-written. Here’s the list:
The Caine Mutiny. The movie, which just about everyone has seen, is very good. The book is even better. I cited the 1952 Commentary review, which has interesting thoughts on intellectuals and the responsibilities of power.
To the Last Salute. Captain von Trapp, best known as the father in “The Sound of Music,” wrote this memoir of his service as an Austrian submarine commander in the First World War–Austria of course being one of the Central Powers and hence an enemy to Britain, France, and the United States. An interesting and pretty well-written book, and a useful reminder that there are enemies, and then there are enemies.
That Hideous Strength. An important and intriguing novel by C S Lewis. As I said in the review, there is something in this book to offend almost everybody. So, by the standards now becoming current in most American universities, the book–and even my review of it–should by read by no one at all.
The Cruel Coast. A German submarine, damaged after an encounter with a British destroyer, puts in at a remote Irish island for repairs. Most of the islanders, with inherited anti-British attitudes, tend toward sympathy with the German: one woman, though, has a clearer understanding of the real issues in the war.
Nice Work. At Chicago Boyz, we’ve often discussed the shortage of novels that deal realistically with work. This is such a novel: an expert in 19th-century British industrial novels–who is a professor, a feminist, and a deconstructionist–finds herself in an actual factory. Very well done.
Menace in Europe. Now more than ever, Claire Berlinski’s analysis of the problems in today’s Europe needs to be widely read.
A Time of Gifts. In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first. This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.
The Year of the French. The writer, commentator, and former soldier Ralph Peters calls this book “the finest historical novel written in English, at least in the twentieth century.”
[Update: These ideas apply to Web pages as well.]
A few suggestions from a mere user:
-Stop using script-based popup menus. Go back to old-style Microsoft-standard (c. 2003) clickable nested menus emanating from a static menu bar, with standard headings (FILE, EDIT, etc.) plus the unique headings needed for each piece of software. If you are using script menus as a workaround for complexity you should redesign your user interface. If you are using script menus for any other reason you should stop.
-Knock it off with the icons. Use text buttons instead. The point of software it to economize on human effort, not to appear stylish. A trash-can icon is probably OK, but much more than that and users are forced to waste time mouse-hovering over your icons or (worse) looking things up in the online help.
-Hire focus groups of 75-85 year-old occasional computer users and turn them loose on your products. They may not understand the fine points but they will tell you quickly if your products have any gross UI deficiencies that people like you who use software all day may be overlooking.
The longest night, the shortest day, the turn of the year – and I think likely the oldest of our human celebrations, once our remotest ancestors began to pay attention to things. They would have noticed, and in the fullness of time, erected monumental stones to mark the progression of the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, the light and the dark and all of it. The farther north and south you go from the equator, the more marked are the seasonal differences in the length of day and night. Just north of the Arctic Circle in the year I spent at Sondrestrom Greenland, those mid-summer nights were a pale grey twilight – and the midwinter days a mere half-hour-long lessening of constant dark at about midday. It was an awesome experience, and exactly how awesome I only realized in retrospect. How my ancestors, in Europe, or even perhaps in the Middle East, would have looked to the longer days which would come after the turning of the year; the darkness lessening, sunlight and warmth returning for yet another season of growing things in the ground, and in the blessed trees, when the oxen and sheep, and other domesticated critters would bear offspring. And the great primitive cycle of the year would turn and turn again, with the birth of the Christ added into it in due time.
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“I’m losing my house.”
A friend of mine sent me this text message when I was on my way to meet her. Fearing the worst, I called her. She told me she had just left her house and was on her way. Her fancy new cellphone’s predictive-text feature had changed “leaving” to “losing”.
This kind of thing seems to happen a lot these days.
The Sydney Morning Herald called for “empathy” for the terrorist who committed the recent hostage-taking in a cafe. Hillary Clinton, too, has recently called for empathy for our enemies.
I’m reminded of something G K Chesterton wrote:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race– because he is so human.
Posted by Grurray on 22nd November 2014 (All posts by Grurray)
“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful”
-George E.P. Box
Models, predictions, and forecasts are always wrong, or, more accurately, they’re never completely right. That’s obvious since the map can never truly be the territory. Some are better than others, but no matter how hard we try and how much information that we gather, we’ll never construct a representation of reality better than the real thing. That being the case, forecasts therefore reveal more about ourselves and our present state of mind than anything about the future.
The Research Feature in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, “Beyond Forecasting: Creating New Strategic Narratives” (link here – requires a one time registration – or purchase Kindle article here for a few dollars), concerns a certain type of forecasting called scenario planning. The authors studied a tech company that was being hit hard during the 2001 economic crash and needed to find new strategies to navigate the rough seas ahead.
Their research revealed that
“future projections are intimately tied to interpretations of the past and the present. Strategy making amid volatility thus involves constructing and reconstructing strategic narratives that reimagine the past and present in ways that allow the organization to explore multiple possible futures.”
These explorations of possible futures, more commonly referred to as scenarios, are stories intended to describe possible futures, identify some significant events, main actors, and motivations, and convey how the world functions.
The authors note that constructing forecasts based on these methods usually doesn’t work very well because the future is uncertain and often unfolds in a way that is very different from current trajectories. The current paths are comfortable and familiar, so they are difficult to deviate from. Constructing scenarios of the future actually first requires constructing paths that connect the past, present, and future. The narratives are those paths.
”In comparing strategy projects within CommCorp, we found that the more work managers do to create novel strategic narratives, the more likely they are to explore alternatives that break with the status quo. In other words, to get to an alternative future, you have to create a story about the past that connects to it.”
Predicting, prognosticating, and prophesying have been around since time immemorial. The modern version of strategic scenario planning can be attributed to Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute and his “thinking the unthinkable” about nuclear war by taking into account non-linear, disruptive changes that lead to an uncertain future. The first to bring scenarios into the business world was the pioneering strategy guru Pierre Wack at Shell Oil who coined the term. Wack was a colorful and imaginative individual who took Kahn’s insights and repurposed them to affect the quality of judgment rather than quality of predictions.
Among the many books, case studies, and articles on the Shell planning department, I just completed The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience, a history of the scenario group culled from interviews of former members. Pierre Wack helped found it and headed it throughout the 1970s. The book concerns the entire history from then until the present, but it devotes a large part to Wack’s work and legacy.
In contrast to Kahn’s theories, Wack was less concerned about decoding uncertainty or getting predictions right and more concerned with making future uncertainty more relevant to the present situation.
“Wack was interested in scenarios as a way to ‘see’ the present situation more clearly, rather than as a basis for knowing about the future. The value of the scenarios is not in better forecasting what ‘the’ future will be, but in encouraging already smart people to learn by ‘seeing’ the present situation afresh, from the perspective offered by plausible, alternative futures , in a process that Wack termed ‘disciplined imagination’.”
With an emphasis on present adaptation instead of future clarity, their first attempts happened to be nicely prescient. Their November 1971 scenarios covering “Producer Government Take/World Economic Development” and their January 1973 scenarios for “Impending Energy Scarcity” presented different tracks for oil prices including: a low slow growth scenario based on the continuation of past agreements with producer countries, a track that the corporate leadership expected; and a high price growth scenario which factored into concerns that producer countries were reaching limits to how much more capital inflows they could absorb.
These scenarios involved explorations for prices through the late ’70s into the early ’80s. It’s important to keep in mind that, in keeping with the notion that they weren’t meant to be exact predictions, the high price track scenario still ended up being off by a factor of 20 as oil embargoes and inflation pushed prices higher than anyone could have imagined. Despite the fuzziness of the numbers, however, presenting a possible future far off from what was expected shifted thinking outside the company’s comfort zone.
There was some initial skepticism from top executives, but the scenario planning helped the company to think differently and conditioned them to adjust in flexible ways that they wouldn’t have considered previously. Consideration of the high price track eventually led to Shell investing in nuclear and coal which helped offset the political turmoil and price shock that would arrive in the mid ’70s.
“In October 1973, the first oil crisis began to unfold, and the entire organization became aware of the possibilities that scenarios offered. The 1973 scenarios report had provided a new frame of reference – the mindset of the oil producer countries. This new frame was significantly different from the usual analytical frame – the mindset of an oil company. The scenarios had enabled Shell executives to rehearse the future as a thought experiment rather than a crisis exercise. When the crisis actually occurred, Shell was able to collectively re-interpret the turbulent situation and to respond much faster than its competitors.”
In order to be taken seriously, the Shell scenario team had to relate to top management how the oil producers’ situation related to their own situation.
“In September 1972, Wack gave what those present remember as a three-hour, enthralling performance that was based on an image of the six scenarios as a river forking into two streams, each of which divided into three tributaries. The insight about hither oil prices and possible energy crisis… were integrated into one of these scenarios.”
This technique demonstrated the narrative of how the high price scenario was linked to Shell’s operations and how it could have sprung forth from Shell’s past. The key was teasing out the culture, values, and qualities of the past that could make that future plausible.
Similar re-interpretations of the past are what the MIT researchers found were most successful for their tech company. It wasn’t that they provided better predictions, but it helped provide a unifying vision and get everyone to buy into course changes that didn’t seem to fit before.
“the crash in the market for its existing products had forced everyone at CommCorp to reevaluate the company’s historical strategic trajectory. This questioning enabled one manager to reinterpret CommCorp’s history, not only as a provider of big-ticket hardware for the backbone of the Internet but also as a provider of communications technologies across the whole network. By seeing the company as all about “communications,” the manager was able to propose a project for improving access at the “last mile” of the network. This reinterpretation made a radical shift in a future vision possible: CommCorp could provide small-ticket, standardized products as well as customized, high-end technologies.
The narratives and scenarios became a way to define the company as it was today and illustrate a more coherent organizational structure. This is possible because of the rich potential of examining the past.
“strategy making is not about getting the ‘right’ narrative. It’s about getting a narrative that is good enough for now, so that the organization can move forward and take action in uncertain times. This recognizes that strategy will in some ways always be evolving and “emergent.”
Everyone loves to try to make predictions, but the real value lies in re-evaluating the past and restructuring past trajectories to provide for a launching point to navigate into the future. This “re-programming” the past is the way to deal with an uncertain future. Instead of forecasting futures that merely extrapolate from the status quo or futilely fighting future models that conflict with conventional mental maps, the use of narratives, scenarios, and strategies provides ways to create stronger and more harmonious models of the present.
Many of the comments on this post by Glenn Reynolds are quite good. Worth a read.
This is one of David Brooks’s better columns.
Politics is obviously a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the United States should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.
The broad social phenomenon is that as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being hyper-moralized. People are less judgmental about different lifestyles, but they are more judgmental about policy labels.
The features of the hyper-moralized mind-set are all around. More people are building their communal and social identities around political labels. Your political label becomes the prerequisite for membership in your social set.
There is much to this, though I would disagree that “people’s essential worth is being measured” by their politics. It would be more accurate to say that among nonreligious people politics is becoming a substitute for religion, an idea not unfamiliar to readers of this blog.
Where Brooks falls flat is in eliding the easily observable fact that the social politicization he discusses is much more characteristic of the American Left than of the Right. But there’s an election coming and the Democrats are set to lose big, so it’s time to anticipatorily attribute the outcome to societal problems rather than the policies of the losing party. Still, he makes good points and his column is worth reading.
Rush Limbaugh was speculating today about the causes of anti-American sentiment in disaffected young people like the NYC hatchet jihadi. He attributes the anti-Americanism to leftist ideas and historical ignorance endemic to our schools. I think this is correct to some extent.
However, the jihadis and other violent anti-American Americans are extreme outliers. The vast majority of people on the Left are not nearly so hostile to American institutions and culture, though they tend to hold grievances against this country and its political system and culture that conservatives do not. Limbaugh makes the typical culturally tone-deaf conservative error of attributing to anti-Americanism that which could better be attributed to cynicism and ignorance.
The USA is a political, economic and cultural wonder, but you need some history to appreciate this fact and our schools no longer teach it. If you don’t know much history, facile cynicism and the tendentious explanations of people who really don’t like the country become plausible. It’s difficult for someone who understands the origins of this country’s institutions and traditions to become a jihadi. It’s even more difficult to become a jihadi if you also understand the intellectually convoluted roots of modern Islamism.
Young European women, as well as young European men, are joining ISIS, in numbers which–while not huge–are still large enough to raise concern.
And in the United States, more Hispanics are turning towards Islam, and more than half of Miami’s 3,000 Hispanic Muslims are female. One converted-Muslim Latina, who holds a masters degree, explained the appeal of the religion partly as follows:
It defines their world on a clear grid of what’s permitted or ‘halal,’ and what’s prohibited which is ‘haram’. So they know exactly where they stand. So the Qur’an becomes this guidebook that tells you exactly what to wear, what to eat, how to wash, how to behave, when to pray.
From the above-linked article about European girls converting to Islam and joining ISIS:
The girls sought out IS fighters because the West seems weak and unmanly and they pine for real men who are willing to kill and die for what they believe in.
Why? Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?
Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.
Karim Pakzad, of the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations, said some young women had “an almost romantic idea of war and warriors. I think this has been true in many if not most places throughout the world and many if not most times throughout history…but today’s West, in many if not most of its subcultures, does not honor its own warriors very much these days.
The motivations of the women referenced in these articles are similar though not identical to the motivations of Arthur Koestler’s protagonist Hydie Anderson, in the 1950 novel The Age of Longing. (My review of the book is here.) Hydie is a young American woman living in Paris, a former Catholic who has lost her faith. She is not attracted to any of the American or European men she knows, but falls hard for a committed Russian Communist. Koestler makes it clear that Fedya’s sexual appeal to Hydie is due in large part to his cultural self-confidence:
“Listen, please,” (Fedya) said. “We have talked about these matters often before. You don’t like that we make scientific studies of human nature like Professor Pavlov. You don’t like revolutionary vigilance and lists on the social reliability of people, and discipline and re-education camps. You think I am brutal and ridiculous and uncultured. Then why did you like making love with me? I will tell you why and you will understand…”
“I am not a tall and handsome man…There are no tall and handsome men who come from the Black Town in Baku, because there were few vitamins in the food around the oilfields. So it was not for this that you liked to make love with me…It was because I believe in the future and am not afraid of it, and because to know what he lives for makes a man strong…I am not handsome, but you have felt attracted to me because you know that we will win and that we are only at the beginning–and that you will lose because you are at the end…”
In my review, which was originally posted almost 5 years ago, I linked a British Muslim woman who said that ““Since 9/11, vast numbers of educated, privileged middle-class white women have converted to Islam”…she identified these converts as including women at “investment banks, TV stations, universities and in the NHS.” Her concern was not that they are converting to Islam…something I’d presume she would applaud…but that they were converting to “the most restricted forms” of the religion.
In the review, I said:
I don’t think Koestler’s protagonist would have been attracted to a fundamentalist Muslim in the way that she was drawn to the communist Fedya. The gap in values would have been far wider: while Communism is a bastard child of the Enlightenment, radical Islam is counter-Enlightenment, and does not make the kind of universalist, humanitarian, and secular promises that the Communists made–the cruelty is closer to the surface.But the loss of Western self-confidence has greatly accelerated since Koestler wrote, and today’s Hydies are unlikely to share the educational and religious depth of the woman Koestler imagined.
Posted by Mrs. Davis on 19th October 2014 (All posts by Mrs. Davis)
Two viruses are making the news these days. One, Ebola hemorrhagic fever has infected two in the United States with no deaths yet. It has created wide spread concern bordering on panic. The other, Non-Polio Enterovirus D 68, appears to have infected 825 this year and been directly responsible for at least one death and indirectly responsible for many others, primarily among children. It has generated comparatively little media attention and very little panic. Why the difference?
First the victims of D 68 are primarily children, Ebola also strikes adults. As a culture we no longer value children as much as we once did. Children are an option, almost a luxury. They have become more expensive than most luxuries we consume. Perhaps it is because the high cost to rear a child is reflective of the damage we humans are doing to the planet Or because so few of them die at an early age as compared to the past. And I suspect that childlessness is far more prevalent among our media elite opinion makers. In any case, few children vote and so they don’t really matter to policy makers.
Second, D 68 generally kills indirectly by weakening the child so that pneumonia or some other respiratory illness can be the cause of death. Ebola eats you alive! I’ve seen it on TV! And it is a terrible new way to die unlike ways we’ve died before.
Finally, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE. D 68 is poorly understood and we have no idea how prevalent it is in the population or how many childhood deaths it has contributed to. And it’s non-Polio. But we know Ebola has a 50-70% fatality rate among those who contract it in African third world countries. After all it’s hemorrhagic fever. We’re going to bleed to death. So, if it gets loose here we could have millions of deaths like that! But we actually have all the tools we need in our public health system to prevent it from spreading widely, once we get the Bozos out of power. So it’s highly unlikely that this outbreak will spread among the general population.
It’s a very small probability of a terribly frightening event. And some folks have used the propensity of people to exaggerate the possibility of catastrophic outcomes to further their political goals. I’m thinking of nuclear power, an energy source that has killed no one in the US. Compared to the coal industry, which routinely contributes to the death of both its producers and consumers, nuclear power is harmless. However, some used Three Mile Island to shut down the development of power plants that could have cushioned us from the effects of the OPEC cartel. Or how about the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) fraud? Or the reaction to a terrible but unrepeated terror bombing? The public has been taught to fear by leaders who want to harness public opinion to support their political goals.
Now comes Ebola. True, a threat. But a highly improbable one. Except when the incompetence of our elite leaders is made abundantly clear for all to see. And then those leaders have the audacity to be surprised when a formerly courageous people are reduced to trembling? The chickens are coming home to roost.
Don Sensing writes about Fermi’s Paradox:
The universe is many billions of years old. Fermi calculated that an alien species smart enough to become spacefarers could reach any point in the galaxy in five million years. But we we have no scientific evidence that aliens beings have been here…So, Fermi asked, where is everybody?
Standard answers to the Paradox involve emphasizing the vast distances involved, and the fact that “as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center,” as Edward Teller put it. Another theory is that species which are sufficiently intelligent to achieve interstellar travel have a tendency to blow themselves up long before they reach anywhere in our vicinity. But another possible explanation is suggested by Geoffrey Miller:
I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.
Reading the above, I was reminded of an old science-fiction story…I couldn’t remember the name or the author, but, amazingly, I was able to locate it online. The story is called “Ambition,” and it was written by William Bade in 1952. The idea is that a scientist working on space travel finds that he has somehow been brought by time-travel to an era hundreds of years in the future. He is thrilled, because he assumes that the people of the future will have developed space travel to a high degree, and that he will actually be able to fulfill his dream of journeying to the planets. “Somewhere, out there in the night, there must be men who had walked beside the Martian canals and pierced the shining cloud mantle of Venus…Surely, a civilization that had developed time travel could reach the stars!”
And he finds that the future civilization indeed has created vehicles that would easily be capable of such exploration…but they are used only as super-airliners. Nobody has any interest in traveling into space, indeed, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. A sympathetic woman explains to the protagonist that “this is the Age of Man. We are terribly interested in what can be done with people. Our scientists…are studying human rather than nuclear reactions.” There appears to be no thirst for adventure in a form likely to be recognized by a 20th-century man. (Indeed, it seems that the reason the future people chose the protagonist as a research subject is that they found his interest in going to the moon and beyond to be so bizarre as to be worthy of psychological investigation.) The story’s subtitle is:
To the men of the future, the scientific goals of today were as incomprehensible as the ancient quest for the Holy Grail!
So…when a society reaches a certain level of wealth and sophistication, does the desire for adventure tend to die out? I’m reminded of a passage from another SF story, this one by Heinlein, in which a Martian is asked why he and other members of his species just sit around all day, “growing together,” as they called it, never actually doing anything. The Martian’s reply is: “My fathers have labored, and I am weary.”
I’m finding that a lot of our assumed shared vocabulary isn’t as shared as we think it is. Whether it’s “ISIS is not Islamic”, what is “combat” or “war”, or even what is “equality”, we fight an awful lot about issues that depend on terms that we haven’t defined well at all or have tribally defined them and assign our tribal definition of the term to somebody who holds a different definition.
Simple questions can clarify this sort of thing.
What is Islamic
What are the various categories of military action
How do you assess equality
So what simple questions have you found to be thought provoking or interesting? My current list will be in comments.
Your assignment for today, should you choose to accept it:
Read Roger Cohen’s much -discussed article The Great Unraveling, in which he looks back at our era from a hypothetical after-the-collapse/in-the-ruins future: “It was a time of beheadings..it was a time of aggression…it was a time of breakup…it was a time of weakness…it was a time of hatred, fever, disorientation.”
Then read NeoNeocon’s take on this article, in which she notes that the people in Cohen’s circle seem to have been quite unaware of things which many of us have been following for years. See especially Geoffrey Britain’s comment about the specific and direct causes of each of several “unraveling” phenomena that Cohen cites.
Next, watch this video: Can the threads of the American tapestry be rewoven?, with Bill Whittle, Scott Ott, and Steve Green.
Also read Sarah Hoyt’s post The Great Re-Weaving.