Monday, June 3, 2013

The Hidden Divide between Conservatives and Liberals

The internet showers us with information and because we fear the unknown, we try to string together as many pieces of information as possible to form meaningful patterns. Thus, conspiratorial thinking is rampant on the internet. Instead of thinking critically about our glut of data, we may resort to imagining the most entertaining fictions to tie up the loose ends. One popular conspiracy theory is that the political division between the right and the left is a sham, because there’s some third group, some amoral, even superhuman elite that secretly rules modern societies, bent on establishing a totalitarian world order. But the various speculations about how such a minority controls the world shouldn’t interest us as much as the sense many people have that something is fishy about the way the mainstream media present the split between conservatives and liberals--especially in the US where there are only the two official parties. The consensus narratives about how the two sides of the political spectrum differ on policy questions are caricatures, at best. It’s worth examining, then, a couple of those narratives, to get at the real, hidden political differences in modern democracies.

Tradition and Progress
 
If you were asked how you think the Western media portray the political differences, you might say that conservatives defend tradition while liberals are progressive in that they embrace the new and deride traditions as dogmas and delusions. You can see from this distinction how the American culture war rhetoric emerges. From the conservative viewpoint, conservatives are the real, patriotic Americans and liberals are elitist, decadent traitors. The assumption here is that nationalism requires faith in the myths and ideals that are foundational to your country, so while a conservative can meaningfully swear allegiance to the flag, since she conserves precisely some traditions made up of just such myths or ideals, the restless liberal has no faith in anything but is always looking forward to the next frontier. The conservative has a moral code, while the liberal is ambivalent about the values needed for morality; to compensate and to keep the peace, the liberal merely obeys the politically correct rules that serve special interests. Meanwhile, from the liberal viewpoint, the liberal lives in the reality-based world while the conservative is mired in the past, wallowing in fantasies about how the world works. The liberal’s the hero, not the flag-waving conservative, since the former struggles to live in the real world while the latter is shamelessly opposed to reason.

So much for the caricatures, but where did the distinction between tradition and progress come from and what’s at the root of it? In the classic sense, “liberalism” is pretty much synonymous with “European modernism.” Skepticism about tradition and optimism about progress are defining features of early modernity, beginning with Renaissance humanism and continuing with the Protestant Reformation, which set the individual at odds with the Catholic institution; the Scientific Revolution, which overthrew the Thomistic synthesis of Aristotle’s worldview and the Bible; the American and French Revolutions which fulfilled Enlightenment ideals and established democracy and capitalism as the official expressions of the new faith in the sovereign individual; and ending in the Enlightenment’s science-centered, positivistic philosophy which set the stage for the postmodern period in which The Simpsons and Jon Stewart, for example, mock the Western culture that’s the fruit of all of that progress.

Early modern conservatives, that is, the monarchists and aristocrats were defending medieval traditions that were dashed by classic liberals who proclaimed the equal rights of every person. Now, in the medieval period, conservatism was genuinely heroic, because the choice was to have faith in tradition or to suffer the chaos left after the fall of the Roman Empire. But then a new world order emerged, thanks to the historical events just listed. The feudal lords were no longer needed as protectors, since advances in technology and in exploration were producing a globalized world in which the majority could make their own way as merchants and free workers, as opposed to living as serfs. Individualism became the rallying cry, and what made the individual special was his freedom, meaning his ability to choose how to act based on his rational, conscious control of himself. Eventually, this rationalistic appreciation of the worth of the sovereign individual was expanded to cover not just white males, but women and people of other races, such as African-Americans.

So liberalism was an ideology that celebrated the birth of the modern world in these respects. Freedom of thinking and of commerce, freedom to vote and thus to govern, the individual’s freedom to pursue her personal artistic vision--the early modernist saw the writing on the wall, the glory of ancient Greek writings compared to Thomistic dogma and the superiority of the empirical theories of Galileo, Newton, and Maxwell to those of Aristotle or Ptolemy; and the new wealth being created by the self-interested merchants and mercantilists. And for the liberal, progress went hand in hand with the power of the free individual. When a person is free to live as she sees fit (as long as she doesn’t deprive anyone else of the same right), she’s bound to be more or less original, because she has her personal identity to express--and so much the worse for the oppressive traditions of the dead-weight past that ought to be left behind by those who have woken up from the Dark Age, eager to explore new ideas.

There are at least a couple of curiosities here. First, the heart of classic liberalism looks like it beats now in the chest of the American conservative. After all, isn’t it the American talk-radio host, the Fox News pundit, and the Tea Party libertarian who champion personal liberty but who are loathe to stand anywhere near a left-wing Democrat, let alone to vote for one, while the Democrat wants to empower the government to regulate everything and take away people’s freedoms? There are a number of reasons why this turn-around has happened, but the one I want to focus on has to do with the fate of the liberal in the postmodern world. All of that eye-opening enlightenment, that righteous modern skepticism and trust in people’s freedom to decide what they should do with their lives, which birthed the culture of modernity have given way to postmodern cynicism, apathy, and anxiety, and to the heartbrokenness of folks who’ve lost their modern religion.

What happened, in short, is that the narrow progress in science and technology has far outpaced the individual’s ability to advance in terms of finding happiness, choosing creative goals, or of living peacefully with others. Indeed, part of the way science has progressed is by showing why we shouldn’t expect much personal or social progress. Darwin explained how our species is in fact continuous with the animals we eat, enslave, or hunt for sport; Einstein, Gödel, Heisenberg and others showed that knowledge is relative and partial, not absolute; and Freud popularized the discovery of the irrational unconscious, while cognitive psychologists today expose the myriad biases we have and the fallacies we’re prone to commit because of how our brains evolved. Moreover, amoral advances in technology have improved our lives in some ways while harming us in others. The world wars, for example, were devastating to the hope that societies might progress along with the narrow rational project of discovering the natural facts and exploiting them with technology. Then there was the corruption and collapse of the socialist utopias in the last century, including the communist and Nazi ones. In Britain and the US, the ‘60s hippie revolutions fizzled out (after serving up the progressive victory of civil rights) and gave way to the free market consensus in the ‘80s, under Thatcher and Reagan, and all the while the Western art worlds and philosophy departments were reflecting the public’s disenchantment with all overarching narratives that proclaim some universal meaning of life.

To return to the American conservative’s coopting of the liberal myths, then, one reason this has happened is that the conservative has been spared the suffering from the deflation of modern expectations, because she’s held on to the premodern myths without taking to heart the modern ones. Only the liberals were quintessentially modern and so only the liberals are left to writhe in the ashes of modern culture. To be sure, Western conservatism should have ended centuries ago at the dawn of the Age of Reason. But precisely because people are the animals that scientists have shown us to be, conservatives stubbornly clung to their prejudices and their theistic delusions, without much shame or cognitive dissonance. We are not as rational or as heroic as the Enlightenment myths proclaimed, and as modernists felt the full force of that discovery over the last couple of centuries, they lost the drive to cheer for the modern slogans. Postmodern liberals aren’t so keen to speak of individual liberty in the full-throated, early modern way, because those liberals have lost faith in the free individual’s ability to save herself.

Meanwhile, the wily conservative has taken a page from Thomas Aquinas’s playbook and synthesized the premodern Christian worldview with the modern one, creating a Frankenstein monster that ought to horrify all decent people. Instead of proclaiming the same old, transparently preposterous myths that no longer made sense in Europe after the Scientific Revolution, Protestant conservatives joined the ever-flexible (compromised) Christian doctrines with the modern myth of the greatness of the rational, autonomous individual. Martin Luther made this possible by following up on the Gnostic heresy, albeit replacing the ancient Gnostic’s elitist confidence in rational enlightenment with idol worship of the Bible. So postmodern Western conservatives hold on to premodern myths even while they zealously guard the modern privileges of the liberated citizens of capitalistic democracies. Not realizing that the ideal of modern freedom of thought and of action is condemned by the Christian Promethean tale of the rebellious angel Lucifer who goes his own way unto his destruction in hell, the postmodern Christian conservative cheerfully embraces the modern American project that precludes theocracy or any other tyranny in the US, out of trust in what rational and free individuals will choose to do. Isn’t the individual cursed with original sin? Aren’t God’s ways foolish to the worldly-wise elites? Isn’t satanic individualism the epitome of evil? No matter! If you can wrap your mind around premodern notions in the first place, even after the Age of Reason has blasted them a billion times over, you can betray Jesus’s hippie ideals, snatch the modern torch from the crestfallen liberal’s hand, and carry on like the oblivious pair that waits for Godot. Either that or you can use premodern myths to distract from your private postmodern nihilism.

The second curiosity is that liberalism can’t amount to the abandonment of faith for pure rationality, because the classic liberal committed himself to the modern faith that society could and would progress just like science and technology. Although there was some such progress, depending on your values, the cynicism and angst of the postmodern period indicate a crisis of faith, that is, disenchantment with the modern metanarrative. And this returns us to the first popular way of distinguishing between conservatism and liberalism (the conservative values tradition while the liberal is more open to change). The modern/classically liberal spin on this is to say that the conservative prefers feel-good superstitions while the liberal understands Reason’s empowerment of the individual to improve her circumstances. But we oversimplify the political difference if we assume that the conservative has religious faith while the liberal just follows Reason in all affairs. Modernism is not the sum of the scientific findings and rational calculations that have accrued over the last several centuries. Instead, modernism is, or rather was, itself a religion, featuring an ideology that posited a distinction between sacred things (progress, reason, freedom, equality) and profanities (dogma, irrationality, oppression, rigid hierarchy). Again, there would have been no postmodern angst were the modern ideology that discredited itself just a purely rational expression of modern culture. Thus, if you think the conservative irrationally commits to a tradition in spite of what Reason tells her, while the liberal is a sage with no irrational commitments, you’re not clear on the political difference in question. The classic liberal had faith in Reason, trusting that Reason would tell us not just how nature works and how we might modify our environments with technology, but how we ought to behave and how we can improve ourselves.

After a few hundred years of trusting in human nature, liberals began to lose their modern faith, in the last century, while conservatives managed to maintain their faith by combining premodern and modern myths. That means that scientific objectivity has rubbed off more on liberalism than on conservatism. Liberals had the decency at least to hit rock bottom with postmodern relativism and nihilism after recognizing the folly of certain modern ideals. Still, it’s not the case that conservatives have strong values while liberals have none. Modern skepticism presupposes an emotional attachment to the modern ideals and even to the myth about the brave utopian future opened up by rational exploration. In the end, modernists didn’t like what they found. Modernism has resulted in postmodern malaise and ennui, and so liberals currently have no basis for speaking of social progress. They lack a compass even if they pretend to know where they’re going, like the proverbial lost man who won’t ask for directions.

Postmodern liberal nihilism has been exacerbated by the rise of communications technologies, which have swamped experts with information that can’t be fully analyzed. The internet collects all of this information and it’s available at the push of a button, but this technological power intimidates more than it emboldens. Certainly, the availability of so much mental labour has its advantages, but its timing kicks liberals when they’re down. The difference between information and wisdom becomes clear when we see that we have an overabundance of the former and so little trust in any idea as to what should be done with the data glut. More and more information flows in so that we can’t create new traditions even if we wanted to: we lack the patience or the clarity of vision to commit to any new ideal to replace the modern one. American liberals trusted that Obama would change their society, but his biggest changes have been the tone of his rhetoric and his skin colour. Policy-wise, there’s been more continuity with the Bush regime than there has been change, and the deepest reason why that’s been so is that postmodern liberals no longer have a map to tell them where social progress lies. They’re left with hollow, vestigial rhetoric.

So far, then, the actual difference between conservatism and liberalism is that the former is an untenable synthesis of premodern and modern ideas and practices, which calls upon its adherents to boldly dispense with their capacity for shame--even if some conservatives only pretend to be premodern in their outlook--whereas liberalism/modernism was a new European religion that competed with Christianity until the modern myths lost their power to enchant in the face of recent history, leaving liberals with all too much shame.

The Size of Government

More likely, though, you’d answer the foregoing question by saying that conservatives want government to be small whereas liberals want to expand government, that conservatives privatize government functions and lower taxes while liberals add regulations and raise taxes. But this popular way of putting the distinction, too, isn’t helpful. For example, George W. Bush increased the size of the American government and Bill Clinton and Obama deregulated the economy. Obama even employed the same economic experts who laid the groundwork under Clinton for the Great Recession, to deal with that Recession (namely Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner who were one with Paul Rubin and Alan Greenspan in their zeal for deregulation). Foreseeably, then, as of mid-2013, the big banks are still too big to fail or to prosecute and the interest rates are once again low enough to punish savers and to inflate the stock and bond markets with borrowed money, encouraging the gambling that has historically produced the Ponzi schemes called “booms” that lead inevitably to busts.

To understand what’s going on here, I believe you should be aware of three principles that trump the mainstream media’s talk of small versus big government, low versus high taxes, and so forth. First, the default organization of groups within most social species, from fish to birds to mammals and primates, is the dominance hierarchy, which is to say the pecking order in which resources are split unequally between alphas, betas, and the rest. This inequality facilitates mating by laying bare genetic differences between competing males, and ensures that finite resources aren’t squandered on unfit individuals. Second, there’s the Iron Law of Oligarchy, which is that the larger a group, the more power has to be concentrated within fewer and fewer hands so that the group can operate with any efficiency. Third, there’s Lord Acton’s maxim that the more power someone has, the more likely she’ll be corrupted by that power, so that if she enjoys absolute power she has no chance of preserving her moral sense. You can test this maxim by asking yourself whether you’d act more immorally than usual if only you had no fear of getting caught; say, for example, you had the mythical Ring of Gyges which gives you the power of invisibility. When we put these principles together, we should see that for biological and pragmatic, organizational reasons, society tends to empower a minority to rule over the majority, which concentrates power, corrupts the minority, and endangers the whole society.

Given that default social dynamic (DSD), let’s return to the second superficial difference between the conservative and the liberal. The conservative wants to transfer power from the political sphere to the economic one, shrinking government and creating more opportunity for private profit. The belief here is that competition between suppliers in a free market is a more efficient way not just of setting prices but of managing society in almost all areas, compared to lobbying or voting in a democratic election. Notice that in either case, the DSD is in force, despite the appearance of a decentralization of power in the free market. If the collective demand of the majority of consumers actually determined what’s of value and thus what should be produced and how society should be run, the outcome would be far from optimal, because the population would be split and the society would lack a coherent plan of action on any issue. Moreover, majorities tend to be weighed down by those who are naturally inferior in their cognitive abilities and tastes.

To correct for this, the Iron Law of Oligarchy is applied, and so demagogues and public relations experts arise to manipulate mass opinion, to turn the population into a mob in which social pressures eliminate idiosyncratic differences of opinion. And in the political sphere, most modern democracies are representative rather than direct, so that again power is concentrated. Because of the DSD, we can expect corruption and eventual decline and possible revitalization in either a free market or a modern democracy. The more power is given to the private sector, the more monopolies will form and the majority will be manipulated for the sake of social unity and exploited as the monopolists are corrupted, until the majority come to resemble medieval serfs who depend on the largesse of the wealthy elites. Likewise, the more power is entrusted even to a democratically elected government, the more the government will abuse that power, manipulating mass opinion for the sake of national security and striking corrupt deals with cronies in the private sector, until the society exhibits the fixed inequality that’s typical of the default social order.

When it comes to the size of government, then, the effective difference between the conservative and the liberal is that the conservative values traditional social structures which most efficiently reflect natural inequalities, whereas the classic liberal proposed an egalitarian, socialist experiment which naturally failed, leaving the postmodern liberal to pretend that she has some viable way of overcoming the DSD. To understand the conservative reflex, you need to appreciate that the main difference between ways of organizing large groups is between the DSD and some radical challenge to that default. The conservative unleashes nature’s primary means of sustaining large groups, the dominance hierarchy, which is to say a pyramidal sort of economic and political inequality. Modern liberalism arose as a socialist, egalitarian rival to that default social order. When that rival first appeared, the dominance hierarchy took the forms of monarchies and oligarchies, while today the hierarchy is often more hidden from view but is still operative, for example, as a plutocracy (United States) or a kleptocracy (Russia).

At the start of the Age of Reason, classic liberals redefined human nature, based on an awakened view of our power of reason. Reason freed us from the tyrannies of natural forces and of dogmatic institutions like the Catholic Church, and again modernists thought that all people free themselves by their power of rational self-control. For modernists, that freedom is the source of human rights and so liberals feel that anyone who finds herself impoverished or disempowered mustn’t be allowed to languish. Marx gave voice to this secular humanism, predicting that because capitalism exploits and alienates the working class, the workers will revolt and establish a communist society that abolishes private property. Communism was thus supposed to be a democratic revolution, one that would liberate the majority. Russia provides the most instructive example of a country that carried out the modern experiment of diverging from the DSD for the sake of social progress.

The causes of the Soviet Union’s collapse are complex, but notice at least the pattern in the transitions from Marx to Lenin to Stalin. In applying Marx’s neo-Hegelian theory of history’s rational unfolding, Lenin found he had a practical need of a vanguard party of elite revolutionaries who would lead the workers in their revolt and secure the revolution by dealing with counter-revolutions. Thus, whereas Marx spoke of liberation for the working class, Lenin applied the Iron Law and said that the workers’ power would have to be concentrated for the revolution to succeed in the real world. Stalin added the paranoid thesis that political repression would always be needed even after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, because the capitalists would continually try to worm their way into the worker’s paradise and corrupt it from within. Thus, Stalin purged the Communist Party and repressed the peasants, creating a police state to stamp out any sign of political opposition. In fact, this theory of ongoing class struggle provided a pretext for Stalin’s totalitarian entrenchment of the vanguard party. The Cold War turned on a contest between American and Soviet propaganda, and because the communist stronghold degenerated into a natural dominance hierarchy that repressed rather than liberated the majority of workers, soviet propaganda proved less effective in uniting and inspiring the communists. The soviet economy unraveled, there were nationalist uprisings in parts of the USSR, and the soviets lost control of their police state.   

Thus, the progressive experiment failed because the humanistic myth of social progress proved unequal to the task of escaping the force of social gravity, which is the DSD. This failure has monumental consequences besides the well-known ones. European modernists marveled at the secular humanists’ progress in understanding and controlling natural forces, and wanted to duplicate that progress in the social sphere, by speculating on how reason can control ourselves (our “passions,” instincts, or unconscious desires). Modern thinkers duly produced bureaucratic hierarchies that boasted all the formal justifications you could ask for; alas, the bureaucrats were mammals, not logic-chopping machines, and the leaders of modern states followed the cold dictates of reason to the point of exerting totalitarian control over the masses instead of liberating them.

And postmodern liberals are left without an inspiring ideal to motivate mass opposition to the DSD. Dominance hierarchies are found throughout the animal kingdom, so the conservative has no need to long for a glimpse of her shining city on a hill. Her model social arrangement is just the default one in which the weak members submit to the strong and exchange the right to their “fair,” equal share of the resources, for protection by the alphas. The conservative is mocked for calling this the Trickle-down theory, but as the Too Big to Fail banks on Wall Street made clear in 2008, the financial elites hold the integrated global economy hostage and so, as the beady-eyed economists said, the choice is between appeasement or apocalypse. By contrast, the classic liberal was a radical who dared to establish the supernatural kingdom dreamt up by spiritual visionaries from the Axial Age. This liberal trusted in Reason rather than in God to sustain an egalitarian utopia, and when people proved to be insufficiently godlike to overcome the force of social gravity, the communist bureaucracies and Keynesian welfare states disintegrated and had their treasures looted by predators who captured the regulators, rewrote or repealed the relevant laws, and installed or reinstalled crony capitalistic pecking orders.

There are rival ways of co-opting the modern rhetoric of freedom. The classic liberal bets on democracy as the vehicle of a rationally-illuminated and thus liberated majority. In the US, this democratic impulse got mixed up with individualism, self-reliance, and even social Darwinian xenophobia, because the US was settled, relatively recently, by tough pioneers who fought for their independence. Bur for all the modern rationalistic bluster and doubts about traditional religions, modernists like Marx had a spiritual, miraculous idea of progress. To progress from natural inequality, modern radicals promoted the ideals of freedom for all and of equally-shared political power. These ideals govern democracy: one person, one vote, which equalizes political influence. The moral reason for the equality is that people have the same rights because of their innate capacity for rational self-control. Conservatives counter with the mechanism of the free market, which frees the producer to satisfy the demands of the marketplace and that frees also the consumer to act on her preference by buying what she likes, thus rewarding the producer. A free market is clearly an instrument of deepening social inequality, because unlike in a democracy in which power is tied to the equally-distributed votes, the power of money is cumulative in an unregulated market, so that the more money anyone has there, the greater her power. (This is how money can corrupt a democracy.) Thus, while liberals want a permanent sort of freedom to honour our equality as dignified, rational beings, a freedom that wound up being preserved paradoxically by totalitarian communists, conservatives want mainly freedom of opportunity, which is the hypothetical freedom that stops at the starting gate, as the natural rewards and punishments, dished out by unregulated (wild) competition, are allowed to shape society, corrupting the winners and ensuring the losers’ downfall.

So back to the question of big versus small government. This is a tempest in a teapot since either way, nature wins. Liberals had their chance at supernatural progress and the DSD played its tune even on the modern instruments. The current split between conservatives and liberals on this issue of the government’s size is farcical because it’s so one-sided in light of the failure of large-scale progressivism to offer a sustainable alternative to the default social order. To be sure, the conservative society is execrable from the modern viewpoint, since it dehumanizes us, treating us as animals struggling on our own for survival and power. And to be sure, some conservatives tell noble lies to conceal that this is what they fight for. Thanks to its association with the Nazis, social Darwinism is politically incorrect, but this is the true difference between conservatives and liberals. A small government means a power vacuum in the private sector and thus a brutal natural competition, which corrupts the weakened government and tanks the whole economy in boom and bust cycles. And a large government means the empowering of the vanguard party or of the bureaucracy’s upper echelons, which again corrupts the power center and dooms the society. In a conservative social order, the powerful minority benefit the most, although as in most animal groups, the total population benefits from the stability which is preferable to anarchy. In a progressive, egalitarian society, the naturally weakest members benefit the most since they receive a free lunch, but because this sort of society is miraculous it tends to be short-lived. Thus, only the rich and the powerful now have ardent political defenders in modern states, leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Liberal politicians are much more confused about their social ideals than are conservatives, although the latter may seem confused in public if they keep their postmodern ideals secret.

The Culture War

Finally, I suspect you think that conservatives and liberals differ clearly on the current issues of the day like abortion, gay marriage, when to use the military, whether to legalize drugs, whether to teach Creationism in science classes, how to interpret religious scripture, and so forth. Indeed, there are these cultural differences in all modern democracies. I won’t go into them here, but I’ll close by suggesting that this culture war derives not just from the mainstream media’s need to stir up conflict to sell the news as prepackaged infotainment, but from the history and the other factors I’ve just discussed. Conservative smugness and schadenfreude, for example, are due to the self-evident benefits of the dominance hierarchy and to the lack of a viable alternative, while the liberal’s kneejerk confidence in technocracy derives from her need to lose herself in academic abstractions, so she can avoid perceiving the unsettling reality that she’s standing in the wilderness, which is where the conservative wants to be. True, just because the dominance hierarchy stabilizes most social species doesn’t mean it will stabilize ours. Corruption can affect human predators by making them downright evil, and we have the power to wipe ourselves out beyond the possibility of our recovery. In any case, there’s no arguing with the force of social gravity; instead, there’s just the mad vision of spiritual malcontents and the recent sinking of God’s kingdom into the swamp of hierarchy and corruption, after the socialist revolutions.

Conservatives look at liberal democracies, such as the hybrid ones in Europe and Canada, and see fattened calves doomed to go belly-up like Greece, to be double-crossed and slaughtered by predators like Goldman Sachs in the open market. True, Canada’s banking system was largely protected from the recent real estate bust, so liberals can take pride in the advantages of a social safety net. But there’s a reason Canada’s success here isn’t widely-celebrated or even well-known. As safe, clean, and peaceful as Canadian society is, few people dream of being Canadian. The cost of these liberal benefits is the postmodern liberal’s cultural vacuum, the result of her disillusionment. So Canadians and Europeans may enjoy some benefits of the modern vision of social progress, but whether these benefits can motivate liberals in the long run to save our moderately socialist states from the crushing reality of the biological and pragmatic pulls toward inequality, corruption, and catastrophe is doubtful. 

20 comments:

  1. When you speak of "liberals" and "conservatives," you are over-simplifying to the point of total error. Peons who self-identify as liberal have nothing in common with powerful politicians and leaders who self-identify as such.

    By doing that, you've corrupted your narrative with the naivete of believing that the major actors who created the several centuries of history which you rely upon to draw your conclusions were actually acting while believing in the philosophies they espoused. If we believe these actors, then most of what you said is correct--they were inevitably drawn toward inherent corruption by the alternating currents of self-contradictory worldviews. You are exactly the brilliant thinker that they want in this phase of society.

    These actors, though, did not actually believe the worldviews you ascribe to them. They said they did; they made speeches about it; they wrote screeds about it; they argued and spent and advertised and ordered other men to die for it. However, they did not actually believe these "conservative" or "liberal" things.

    What they believed in was your preferred ideology: the DSD. Their true beliefs--not their masks--created the history you're writing about, which is what makes your conclusions so seemingly close to accurate. The "conservative" and "liberal" powerful are the same families; the same stockholders; in cases, the same people, saying they disagree on stuff that they all actually agree upon. They have spoken, for centuries, with the same elite voice: "divide people into illusory sub-groups, foment internal and external strife through resource shortages, and have them make war on each other."

    Conservative, New Democratic, Liberal, conservative, liberal, Democratic, Republican: all these businesses and parties have spoken with the same voice. They call for slaughter, environmental destruction, mass financial exploitation, and hollow infotainment feeds.

    The things they've been telling you, Mr. Cain, about what they "believed," are not and were never the things they actually believed. They believed in your DSD, which is why they used their nation-states and their megacorps to create a history that expressed the DSD. Believing that they were ever actually philosophically opposed to one another is just a slightly higher stage of the very infotainment that keeps a different subset of the population unable to learn to read or think well enough to understand your blog. You are being played, too, to believe in and perpetuate the DSD.

    If we allow ourselves to see behind the set, we see the wars, diseases, and famines as part of that unified philosophy. We see that it is not inevitable, but rather, that they wanted us to believe it was inevitable. As intelligent (and interesting!) as your rhetoric is, it is still occurring within the Matrix, to use a metaphor you might prefer. :)

    The black knight thinks he is the more powerful because the white knight cannot defeat him; the white knight knows that she would defeat the black knight if she stopped trying to protect him.


    ~Ebenus Moravic

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    1. I'd like us to get clear on this, High Arka. Until you said "You are being played, too, to believe in and perpetuate the DSD," I really thought we were on the same page, because the whole point of this article is that the distinctions that many people take for granted, between liberalism and conservatism, are phony. If we see what's really going on, the picture changes. You say the leaders of both sides actually agree on a naturalistic, subversive, and authoritarian viewpoint, which I call knowledge of the DSD. I can agree that that was often so (although you'd have to name names here), and now I'm trying to spill the beans for the masses.

      But as I read on I was forced to think that you reject not only the consensus that liberals and conservatives disagree in the standard ways, but that there is this underlying natural process, the DSD. I take it you'd replace the DSD with your Life-Antilife dualism, and you think the DSD is just a myth spread for nefarious, Antilife purposes. Do I have this right so far?

      Now, I agree with you that the DSD has unsettling consequences and that it tempts unscrupulous people to dominate others, but this doesn't mean the three assumptions that define the DSD are false. Honestly, those assumptions seem to me axiomatic. I don't know how in the world you could refute them. I'm afraid I do feel a little like the black knight on this one. Just tell me, do you dispute the fact that most social animal groups naturally form dominance hierarchies? Do you not see the pragmatic logic that the larger the group, the harder it is to manage without concentrating power and thus forming a hierarchy? And do you not think there's overwhelming evidence from history that power tends to corrupt people? If you agree with those three points, then you agree with me that the DSD is a natural fact. There is, as it were, a force of social gravity.

      This doesn't mean we can't break away from that force or that the DSD assumptions say everything there is to say about society. So I think my account is compatible with yours. But you've got to be clear about distinguishing between whether DSD is factual and whether elites have exploited those facts for nefarious purposes.

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  2. Arka: A very interesting comment. Worth some further thought.

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  3. Dear Mr. Cain, you raise a number of interesting issues. Is it natural when beavers build a dam of logs? What if they build that same dam using primarily discarded shopping carts and shipping containers? Is it natural when the American Pentagon builds an oceanic reef of outdated tanks? When a physician inoculates an infant with thimerosal?

    The DSD is "natural" in the sense that, over a very limited historical span of one species' allowable recollection, said to have occurred during a much smaller fraction of one planet's very limited lifespan, in one corner of one galaxy of one section of verse, the DSD can be said, with some accuracy, to have happened. It is natural for there to be confused, frightened life, wedded to a tiny portion of its current arrangement, and as a result, feeling disconnected from itself and everything else--ergo self-ish, temporally-limited behavior, providing us with a handful of written centuries of DSD.

    In observing that, you're in large part correct. DSD has happened. Is it natural? As natural as anything else. It is "natural" in the sense that it was created by nature, and has a high probability (maybe a near-inevitability?) of occurring in the presence of these types of living structures. It is "not natural" in the sense that it is the way living things (including organisms or the societies they produce) will always demonstrate DSD.

    Posit a grounded fourteen-year-old lying in her bedroom from 8PM until 1AM, every night for months, believing that she will never be allowed to drive, because Mom and Dad are such jerks. The metaphor is highly inaccurate in many ways, but it speaks to the perception of time and inevitability. Even if all our prior experience suggests "DSD = inevitable," the experience we allow ourselves to partake of here is sorely limited (to be less emotional about it, reword that to just "our experience" or "verifiable experience").

    Within that experience, though, we run into a number of problems, similar to what we've encountered before. Here, our fantasies will probably diverge: you have drawn upon official, elite, hierarchical sources of knowledge, in determining what the verse (and Earth) looked like in the past, and what they look like now. If we believe elite depictions of Nation-State History, Market-Style Evolution, and Big Bang Cosmology, then your model, however temporally-blind, finds complete evidentiary support from all reliable sources.

    Lacking either formal education or intelligence, many average people will find your writing radical, ridiculous, ignorant, or incomprehensible, because they will not understand the ways that all the things they believe in--Nation-State History, Market-Style Evolution, and Big Bang Cosmology--not only support, but mandate your conclusions. They look to elite thinkers for answers, and those elite thinkers--who have carefully, over many centuries, promulgated the cosmos' rules--will tell them to settle down, buy crap, and work.

    You are different: you have mastered the true meaning of the histories and sciences you've been fed, and drawn them to their logical conclusions. In a verse governed by those rules, you understand everything except a few trivial details. You duel this one at both the highest and lowest level of philosophy. Our fantasies are at the same point on the circle (if you prefer two dimensions): the point of simultaneous beginning and ending. Most people are involved busily journeying around different stages of the curvature, remarking often about the colours of the foliage, and still believing that they're heading to some sort of ending.

    So we come again to your reliance on the knowledge products produced by the hierarchies of the temporally selfish--of the frightened, disconnected souls trying to eat and fuck the most before they vanish into nothingness. Consider, in the next post, a few questions about our perceptions of Nation-State History alone:

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, High Arka. My question about the DSD wasn't so much about whether it's natural, but whether it's factual. The distinction is between whether the assumptions are true and whether they have bad consequences. I felt like you were running those two things together. Now you're saying the assumptions are true, but that the DSD needn't be permanent. Maybe you have an optimistic, Hegelian view of the destiny of our historical trends. At any rate, I like my social gravity metaphor, since it's possible for us to escape Earth's gravity, although this is very hard to do. So I too can hope for social progress (the point of my positive writings on existential cosmicism is to lay the groundwork for that progress), but I know of no reason to be confident that we'll socially progress.

      I just want to be clear that my impression is that biologists say the dominance hierarchy is found not just in primates, but in almost all social species, including fish, birds, and mammals. Your second paragraph speaks as though only humans were at issue, although in your second point in Part Two below, you come back to the broader issue, which is the one I'm raising. More on this below.

      When you criticize the elite, patriarchal telling of history, I wonder what other sources of information you have. You clarify below that you agree with what I'd call the feminist version of postmodern revisionism. I'm familiar with this line of argument, and I even enjoy some revisionism here, especially from Terence McKenna who posited a largely socialist prehistory for humans based on the assumption that they were high on mushrooms much of the time. I'll come back to this below.

      If we're talking about what humans were like many thousands of years ago, I agree the field is wide open since there's very little evidence one way or the other. If I speak of dominance hierarchies in humans, though, I'm speaking about recorded history (all the monarchies, emperors, oligarchies, and so forth).

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  4. 1) We know the saying that the victors write history, right? Why do we take it for granted, then, that there are no good examples in our past, whether or not they've been properly recorded and maintained by the current ruling elite (or the even more trustworthy ruling elite of a century ago)? The only history we've been allowed to read, and been told to rely upon, is a history of elites using nations to trick uneducated simpletons to butcher each other.

    Is it at all possible that this is the only history remaining because this is the way we are supposed to believe people always were?

    I'm not saying "Atlantis!" here. I'm not saying something that needs to be taken in an outlandish sense. Is it not possible that the kings and conquerors we think of as responsible for "history" are the simply the ones who invaded, raped, spent, and wrote? How many thousands of globe-spanning tribal collectives could have existed in property-less, agrarian unity, for tens of thousands of years, before some among them fell ill, poisoned the wells, burned the old books, and created this 5,000 year spurt of nasty "war history" we have now?

    What makes you trust our leaders about our history? About the nations, and the sins, they claim existed? What other honest things have our greatest leaders said over the past couple hundred years?

    (How well is parchment preserved?)

    2) Oh, and the traditional biological and anthropological issues: the people who chart "dominance hierarchies" in "nature" are snobby, white, wealthy men, who were trying to justify colonialism, genocide, eugenics, and Market-Style Evolution at the same time as they founded modern zoology (including the caging, displaying, testing, torturing, etc. of animals for profit) and biology. Most of the "dominance hierarchy" crap that has built up in biology and zoology over the past century and a half is a result of the British Empire trying to explain why beautiful Hindi twelve-year-olds needed to be gang-raped by a bunch of pasty white fatshit Tudor lordlings and their entourages.

    Actual, "natural" animals have social arrangements, but it takes an advanced, civilized, probably Anglo-American human to see dominance hierarchies in even a significant minority of Earth's current species. White supremacy, monotheism, patriarchy, gender norms, sexual mores, and the rest of the nasty stew of western civilization informed the history of the modern "animal" disciplines, and the most recent stuff (you might appreciate this part) is highly tainted by obtuse, alogical notions of political correctness, game theory, and resource economics.

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    1. Yes, the victors write the history, but what's your alternative source of information about the past? You seem to be positing peaceful socialist collectives in our agrarian past. Fine, if you're talking about prehistory, like McKenna, but how would those societies have worked? McKenna is interesting because he identifies a mechanism for overcoming the ego, namely psychedelic trips from magic mushrooms. We do have evidence from the last century about what happens to communist societies: they degenerate into dominance hierarchies. Now, if the group is small enough, as it would have been before recorded history, the Iron Law of Oligarchy might not have applied, and thus neither would Lord Acton's principle about corruption. So I'm open to thinking that thousands of years ago, there were many small socialist, non-hierarchical collectives. I'd like to know how that could work for a very large group, though, without massive spiritual (e.g. Buddhist, anti-egoistic) enlightenment, magic mushroom use, or something like that.

      As to the feminist criticism of science (and current history is more scientific than it was before), I don't think that criticism successfully overturns scientific consensus. The scientific methods of discovery withstand any demonstration that the scientists themselves have ulterior motives, biases, political agendas, etc. The whole point of those methods is that they take human subjectivity out of the process as much as possible. You simply run the experiment to see how nature works. I know that data can be manipulated or misreported, and experiments can be misleading, but if it's repeated and the data are accurately recorded as opposed to sensationalized, we have a genuine scientific finding, albeit perhaps a highly qualified one. And we should be wary of committing the genetic fallacy, as is the postmodernist's wont.

      As to whether most social species form dominance hierarchies, it's important we understand what those hierarchies are. Those hierarchies are just priorities when it comes to how much resources (food and sex) the group's members are consistently allowed to have. As long as there's consistent inequality in the use of those resources, you have a dominance hierarchy. So my understanding is that biologists have observed that in wolves, primates, and many other species, some males have privileged access to the food and to the females. They're called the alphas. Others get second pick, while still others are always given last pick (the omegas). Do you dispute that most social species (i.e. species in which the members live in groups rather than living alone) form hierarchies in that sense?

      I agree that game theory is fishy, though. In fact, I'm gearing up to write a criticism of economics in general, based mainly on Michael Hudson's articles on the misuse of mathematics in economics.

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    2. This one isn't offering an alternative source of information about the past--rather, this one is saying that it would be irrational to trust that the elite history to which we have access is complete, or even "mostly complete." The history we have now is based upon the mandatory industrial school system adopted by America, which was based on the Prussian military university system, which was based on Christian church learning monopolies. Prior to that, "reliable written history" was controlled by the same sorts of people: king-priests making up moral and legal codes based on arcane documents that they rewrote whenever convenient.

      So, were there any socialist utopias (shudder) in our past? Maybe, maybe not. The operative point is that we do not have many, if any, reliable sources from which to draw conclusions that humans have always been "that way."

      Even if we do accept (and trust) only the sources we have, there are many reasons to believe that comprehensive histories, rather than Nation-State Histories, are more, well, comprehensive. For the simplest, silliest, best-known example of this trend, there's always Howard Zinn's A People's...

      What's an alternative source of information about the past? Well, we can see in today's pop culture (including "news") the types of behavior that elites tend to use to historically sanitize their actions. Using those same models, we can draw reasonably accurate conclusions about "what really happened" in any given formally-recorded ("historical") epoch.

      Permitting the modern and postmodern biologists to draw conclusions about "dominance" hierarchies based on their objective reading of the evidence is quite a grant of authority. When we project our own mores onto a group, it's easy to personify the animals, and project our own desires and worries onto their actions.

      Consider the Jerry Seinfeld joke about aliens observing a human walking a dog, then picking up the dog poop in a bag and carrying it to a trash receptacle.

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    3. For example, we have males with "privileged" access to the food and to the females, right? Well, how many of the males are homosexual? How many are expected to be first in line to fight if an intruder enters the common space? Alien observers to Earth might notice that our enlisted soldiers get free clothes, meals, bed, shelter, entertainment, upgrades to first class, and encouraging posters and bumper stickers. They're given preferential access to the most powerful weapons and most sensitive areas, and appear larger and stronger, by far, than the population at large. They also have easier access to the lower-class prostitutes that surround military bases.

      Being an enlisted soldier, then, would seem like a really great role. However, that enlisted soldier might be getting 4 hours of sleep a day, have a handful of STDs from the Thai prostitutes he bought over the past few years, be making $26K a year, and be destined for dying of a slow bleed somewhere in Syria in 2015.

      When that enlisted soldier comes home, and needs to see a doctor, what happens? The enlisted soldier gets shown to a special room, just for him, where he is allowed to read free magazines and sit on a cushioned chair. The doctor (making $250K a year, and in a monogamous relationship with his wife) enters the room, and very deferentially asks what the soldier's problem is. He thanks the soldier warmly, then orders people to give the soldier prescriptions. Several receptionists and nurses attend to the soldier's needs on his way out.

      Now, who is the more powerful individual--the physician, or the corporal?

      A bunch of narrow-minded biologists can easily draw conclusions about food and mating, when they have no idea how much the animals in question value time for reflection; safety; first pick of sleeping area; first pick of bathroom territory; longevity; lack of responsibility for children; etc. You've seen Idiocracy, so you know that the person with the most access to food and mates is not always the most powerful in any given society. In fact, having too many mates and too much food may be bad. When we look at the "biggest male," we are projecting our own desires for masculine size onto animals that may actually value dexterity or nimbleness. Naive football fans will get most excited about the burly linemen, and naive MMA fans will get most excited about the fighter with the most muscles, and they'll be entirely missing the point.

      The alpha, beta, omega thing is an outgrowth of Anglo-Victorian ritualized courting and Victorian colonial dominance--where wolves, gorillas, fish, and African tribes were all likened to smaller, child-like versions of pasty white British guys.

      Sticking to alpha, beta, and omega frameworks is like trying to buy land from the Pequot--it just doesn't apply. They signed the treaty, but they don't know what the hell you're talking about, and it's only your own particular culture of insanity that gives the treaty a meaning.

      (Alpha, beta, and omega works great in the crap-buying dating culture of the now, though--no argument there.)

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    4. I agree that social patterns can be complex enough to allow for different interpretations. Your examples dealing with soldiers and doctors are a little misleading, though, since they deal with enormously complex human societies, involving millions of people, whereas most animal groups are much smaller and thus not as hard to understand.

      You say the idea of the dominance hierarchy is just a projection of Anglo-American, Victorian mores. Not so, since the idea began with a Norwegian scientist's observation of chickens in the 1920s, when he coined the word "pecking order." The ethological theory of the dominance hierarchy emerges from that of natural selection. That is, given natural selection, we have to explain the pretty consistent pattern of ritualized violence within social groups all around the world. As a strategy for surviving, many animals learn to live together in groups, but they don't live peacefully. Resources (food and mates) are scarce, and many animals starve and never mate. But all animals have an instinctive will to live and to reproduce. Thus, there's competition, as Darwin argued.

      Death is the environmental mechanism for creating biological design, without any pre-existing intelligence. Whole species perish because they don’t fare as well, competing for resources, as mutated versions of themselves, and so a new species evolves. The point about the dominance hierarchy is that the same process occurs within small social groups. So the theory of dominance hierarchy builds on the theory of natural selection. Just as there’s competition between species and between groups within one species, there’s competition between members of each group. Why is there competition? Because resources are scarce, meaning there’s not enough for everyone. And why is that? Because there’s no God, life wasn’t meant to be, but is an accidental emergence in a largely inhospitable world.

      Only workable strategies for dealing with these harsh facts produce organisms that are most likely to survive. In groups with no mechanism for dealing with inter-group conflict, the group will fall apart from the anarchical violence. Remarkably, biologists observe that while social animals often fight, they very rarely fight to the death. Instead, they engage in ritual combat or displays of dominance. (You can observe this too by watching dogs or cats meet for the first time or watching birds at a bird feeder.) This happens between males and between males and females and also between females. The dominance hierarchy is precisely the result of those observable and curious matches and displays. The whole group often also observes the contests, so that the order of rank is remembered and put into effect. This is the most prevalent strategy for surviving in groups, despite each individual’s independent will to succeed: instead of always fighting to the death, symbolic competitions are held and the losers are allowed to remain in the group but are punished by being given a lower position in the social order. And the winners get most of the spoils.

      You may have an alternative interpretation of the evidence, but this interpretation makes sense to me. It’s a strong theory, meaning that it’s conservative in the sense that it coheres with what’s already known (natural selection), and it has wide scope since it can explain most social animal behaviour regardless of the species. I’m not a biologist, though, so I defer to the consensus so that I can get on with philosophizing. However, I don’t always so defer, since I think modern economics is bullshit.

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    5. The soldier/doctor example is meant to show how an observer, unaware of the enormously complex nature of the soldier's society and the doctor's society, could draw erroneous conclusions. Even if some animals are 10 times simpler than us (or 1,000 times) there are still a lot of things to get wrong--particularly if we assume that their goals and desires are the same as ours. It might not concern them as much, for example, to go with less food or mating, if they feel that the group's survival chances are better with resources and genes allocated differently.

      It is humanity's own modern error--the pretension that death is the end of an isolated existence--that causes selfish observers to conclude that the resource allocation systems some animals employ are a reflection of the dominance of an elite. This is fostered by a human elite, which has subverted human kinship to the idea of a bleak, disconnected world, ruled by a greedy few.

      The animals we "study" also tend to be domesticated, caged, or highly aware of human observation. Most of our samples are tainted by the "subjects" being aware that they are being watched by powerful external beings. After thousands of years of animal husbandry, hunting, and geographical altering, the question of what "natural" animals might otherwise be doing is not as detached and scientific as we'd like to pretend. The animals that survive now on Earth are primarily animals who have learned to adapt to please, or endure, humans--their behavior would be more likely to mirror ours, and not because it's a "fact of reality," but because it's a fact of reality that we imposed upon them by our own dark choices.

      Your 1920s Norwegian had been raised in the world created by the British Empire. He was conducting his studies on a thoroughly domesticated line of obedient, human-mimicking chickens just after the Great War had shown all peasants that elite technological terrors would be chopping them all into mincemeat for the next few centuries. The idea of a "pecking order" was not novel; as you pointed out earlier, Sade had already laid out the philosophy of the strong dominating the weak, and that was centuries after the Torah.

      Quoting you:

      "This is the most prevalent strategy for surviving in groups, despite each individual’s independent will to succeed..."

      See the normative leap of "individual," "independent," and "will to succeed [in being superior to others]"? You've laid your own desires across the observations. You've personified your subject matter, assuming that it has the outlook you do.

      You are a child of advanced crony capitalism and bleak science, seeing value only in the artificially-pleasurable experiences you can grab for "yourself" during your short time here. Rise out of the matrix of the isolated spark of life, and see that you are perceiving the "evidence" this way because this kind of disparate-self nihilism leads inevitably to societies like those we have now: sad, futile murder factories, where the winners celebrate, the losers die, and the middling functionaries go onto the internet to complain about how empty the winners' parties truly are.

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    6. Your point about how other species have adapted to submit to us is interesting. Adaptation takes thousands of years, though, so I think biologists still have plenty of observations of wild animal behaviour. But you're right that we shouldn't take out of context scientific findings made in highly artificial settings.

      Whoever was the first to think of the dominance hierarchy, I don't think the idea is just a mental projection of British imperialists. There is evidence in nature of hierarchies. Perhaps the data support socialist or spiritual interpretations, but that means there's ambiguity and so we'd have to argue about which theory is best.

      When I speak of the biological assumption about the "individual's independent will to succeed," I don't think this assumption is normative. The normative point would be that we ought to be egoistic. That's not part of the theory of natural selection. The theory begins with the observation of conflict over scarce resources, and it explains how social structures emerge to make the best of nature's frugality. Instead of fighting to the death all the time and settling for chaos, creatures whose love is limited to their kith and kin--because love is genetically determined--band together and form hierarchies so the members know where they stand. If they didn't know, they'd have to fight all the time to find out and that would be counterproductive.

      I wonder why you don't think of what I'm doing as plunging into the naturalistic, hedonistic Western ideology to critique it from within. I'm not a nihilist and soon, when I write on Emil Cioran, I'll explain why, although it should be clear from a number of my writings.

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    7. A chimpanzee learning to paint is "adaptation," but not adaptation in the way you're using it. An individual animal's routine, and the nature of animal-animal interactions ("animal society") can be changed by one animal or a group of animal. If you've ever trained a dog to sit on command, you can believe that without even needing to acknowledge the tiny corresponding generational changes (which skilled breeders can observe in decades or years).

      Regarding the will to succeed, your explanation is a tautology. Again, what you view as "conflict over scarce resources" may not necessarily be "conflict" in the sense that Animal A is bitter at losing the first ten bites to Animal B.

      Lionesses hunt, but yield much of the initial meat to the male lion, despite his frequent worthlessness in the hunt; lionesses provide for cubs despite their massive negative net value on lioness survival prospects.

      Why? Because they're forced by "[exclusively] chemical love" to harm themselves by giving away food? Because they're slaves to selfish investors, excuse me, genes, who demand a return next generation? Even if so, those genes would be selflessly, replicating slightly altered versions of themselves, then dying off. The selflessness, or kinship, of the network is built into the seemingly irrational, harmful-to-self actions of providing for others (or wolves raising and training a random pup found in the wild). The behavior you decry as "just chemical" is antithetical to the idea of selfish genes or individuals, ergo why a fertile young urban white man and a fertile young urban black woman in Toronto might adopt a Filipino orphan boy, work and slave to raise him, then leave him all their property.

      Even if they're social jerks, avowedly adopting so they can brag to their friends about how cosmopolitan they are, they end up dead and the Filipino genes end up reproducing.

      Alternatively, Barack and Michelle Obama are the end result of strains of African genes that dispersed to the west, then became the most recent front for a predominantly-white imperial faction that has recently exterminated six million Congolese blacks (to say nothing of their other crimes). Where is the genetic "selfishness" there?

      The pulling forces of life and antilife, and the banding effects of what you might call "kinship," will regularly overlap, but kinship (all the way down to the most elemental "more similarity in atomic particle arrangement" version of the same argument) can never consistently explain the behavior. Kinship only seems to work because it frequently overlays a relationship on behavior essentially motivated by something else.

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    8. I know there's a standard objection to natural selection, which is that this theory can't explain altruism, but I'm not sure I understand your particular formulation of it. I think you're saying that even short-term selfish behaviour can have long-term selfless or self-destructive consequences, and so selfishness is just an illusion, because something else is going on.

      There certainly is something else going on, since genes aren't literally selfish. But genes cause their hosts to have narrowly-directed interests, to prefer to help some of their kind more than others. Animals also cooperate, especially if their behaviour and their genes are connected by a long rather than a short leash. Alternatively, their selflessness might be a spandrel, an accidental side-effect of a trait that was selected to perform some other function. I assume you think selflessness isn't accidental in nature, but I prefer a cosmicist or mysterian metaphysical picture to an anthropocentric or life-centered one.

      In any case, the process of natural selection is blind; it doesn't look into the future to ensure that selfish behaviour always benefits the selfish creatures. So the long-term effect of selfishness carries no weight against natural selection, as far as I can see.

      Moreover, my fallback defense continues to be that I assume the conventional, elite worldview of naturalism to critique it from within. I do believe that natural selection explains biological design, but I'm interested more in the philosophical implications of the worldview and in the prospects for adding existential and religious dimensions to it.

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  5. Now, that part about Canada's cultural deficit is just ridiculous.

    I happen to live in a country on the opposite end of the "success" list. And here, believe it or not, a hell of a lot of educated people dream about living in Canada. Reason? (beside safety and professional prospects) Canadians are far more compassionate, respectful and understanding people than what human material we have here.
    Cultural vacuum? Values not present in Canada? In my country values and the likes are far more often than not brought up to justify your need to kick a gay (or an asian immigrant or anyone defenseless really) in the face, and needless to say you will get away with it. Museums, classic or modern literature, arts are not just unpopular, they barely scrape by. If you lived here, my friend, you would howl on the moon from the lack of culture.
    Some of my friends who moved to the west 10 or so years ago sometimes repeat your complains. I have to remind them about this dull feeling of despair you develop when on a daily basis you have to watch pensioners searching for things of value in garbage containers (pension is 300$ and prices are just like in your country), drunk or drugged people lying on the streets in winter, policemen robbing and beating immigrants from even more miserable countries in broad daylight and, most of all, faces of the overwhelming majority not giving a ****, but talking about supremacy of their "values".

    You may complain about Canada's or America's cultural inadequacy in the face of the overarching natural tendencies, and its probably the right thing to do, but you have to remember that in less developed countries almost universally this deficit is far, far more dire.

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    1. Well, Samir, if you didn't care for the few sentences about Canada in this article, you might really be livid if you read an article I just sent to Salon.com, called "Why is Canada So Boring"? If it doesn't appear there, I'll post it here in a week or so.

      We have to make sure we're defining "culture" in the same way since the word has multiple meanings. Here are some definitions from dictionary.com:

      1. the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action
      2. the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group: the Mayan culture
      3. a particular civilization at a particular period
      4. the artistic and social pursuits, expression, and tastes valued by a society or class, as in the arts, manners, dress, etc
      5. the enlightenment or refinement resulting from these pursuits
      6. the attitudes, feelings, values, and behaviour that characterize and inform society as a whole or any social group within it: youth culture

      When you imply that Canada has a lot of culture because it has museums, literature, and respect for the arts, you're talking about culture in the fifth sense, whereas I'm more interested in the first, second, and sixth definitions, as well as the third (when I talk about Spengler). The point is that you're focusing on the arts, whereas I'm talking more generally about ideas, beliefs, and values. I'm sure Canada does have more respect for the arts than do some oppressive countries, but oppressed people probably feel stronger about certain ideas than do decadent, postmodern folks like most Canadians. Also, although Canada has produced many first-class actors and comedians, it's done so by allowing them to move to the US. Homegrown Canadian novels, movies, and TV are usually dreadfully dull. (Hopefully my novel will be an exception!)

      Also, you say Canadians are very compassionate, respectful, and so forth. I agree and I actually use that fact as part of my argument in this other article. Anyway, if you can stomach it, have a look at my full argument about Canada when it comes out, before you make up your mind. You should know, though, that my writings about Canada are a little facetious.

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  6. I will read the article, but honestly I don't think it will make me change my mind.
    This is a very important question indeed, what definition of culture should we use when we're trying to evaluate it.
    I'm not a religious person at all, but I take close to heart these famous words from the bible I read when I was a child: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have no love, I am nothing".

    So what kind of value do traditions, beliefs or artistic pursuits claim to hold if they're not concerned with disastrous (physical, emotional and intellectual) conditions of fellow humans? In my opinion such "values" mock the very idea of value.

    I am one of those folks who refuse to give artists like Leni Riefenstahl any respect regardless of their achievements in professional sphere. Regarding traditions, I do not care (do not include in my definition of culture) about any tradition or belief that accepts discrimination or ignores the calamity that human life so often is.
    Its totally not politically correct, but I believe that not all traditional national cultures should be allowed to persevere. And while Canadians may have not much "traditional culture", I deeply respect you for, among other things, your attempts to adopt some of our hapless children.
    It infuriates me when I hear my countrymen express their "need to defend our valuable traditions and beliefs from foreign influence", when we have more children in (horrible, inhuman - "White on Black" by Rubén David González can give you a glimpse) orphanages than we had after the WWII.


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    1. Yes, this is an interesting question about what sort of culture is best. I take your point that traditional cultures can be horrible and not worth preserving. Indeed, I've always maintained on this blog that not all values or ideals are equal, even if we have only aesthetic means of judging them. So if a country has virtually no authentic culture, that's one problem, and another problem is which culture is best, given those countries that do have cultures.

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    2. Oh, I forgot to add that I address this question of whether love is the meaning of life here:

      http://rantswithintheundeadgod.blogspot.ca/2012/02/is-love-meaning-of-life.html

      For the record, I think Paul's comment on love is sentimental nonsense. Socrates's view is far superior in Plato's Symposium.

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    3. Samir mentions a good point that many "western dissidents" miss, namely that, in the vernacular, a lot of third world countries suck. Compared to the student, tourist, or other-popular-image of the first world, the third world is incredibly violent, backward, and filthy.

      What Samir may be missing is that the first world is much like a British castle: everything looks great and civilized until you find the dungeon (or just the servants' quarters off the stable). Samir, there are many places in America and Canada where sewage chokes the ground, children starve, wives are mutilated, minorities are killed, and fags are beaten to death. You might think of "ghettos" or "Indian reservations," but that kind of lifestyle is not limited to such places.

      African-American infant mortality and prenatal care rates are comparable to, or worse than, many places that are considered "third world."

      The "first world" is an illusion, built up by the corporate movies that sell Canada and America as pillars of civilization. In actuality, the pollution-soaked violence is still there: it's just being cropped out of the picture.

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