Without belief in a god, but never without belief in a devil.

silence 1

It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer

I

1958 hospitalized Robert J. Biggs. He’d been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. From his hospital bed the dying man wrote a letter to the President, back when that was a thing that made sense to do, right on the cusp of the years when that would be ridiculous. The letter is, in a sense, about that transition.

Biggs was 43 – he’d been born in 1915, and thus entered his terrible twos just as America marched to war. Certain theories place a high premium on those early years; the soul of the man is shaped by the experiences of the child and the adult mere fruition of some deeper, agentless germination. I do not believe these, not really, but I think about them sometimes. I like to imagine what it would mean if they were true. For Biggs, it means that the stage of negativity, the traditional Year of the No, coincided with the United States becoming a truly global power. That is, perhaps, as good a proof as any, for what animates the dying man’s letter is precisely this concern. To become America, these democratic states needed to lose some part of themselves, and a nation of free men had to become something else. It’s the opacity in government that Biggs sees which we most clearly recognize now, followed by the populist reactions. We take this in stride – it’s America, after all – but one wonders about those born when the Shining City on a Hill really was supposed to shine. Opacity, after all, is not friendly to those things that shine. Biggs: “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”

Something else happened that year (fewer things happened per year in the past). On the Road, though published late 1957, came into its own. Think pieces on “Beatnik Philosophy” began to appear, all referencing Kerouac. Then Lawrence Ferlinghetti published A Coney Island of the Mind, and Gregory Corso published Bomb. American counter-culture, which owes its all to the Beats, finally took root.

One more: December, 1958, saw the retirement of a man named Robert Welch Jr. He was magnate of a candy empire, an unimportant fact but one that I find funny. The following is less funny: he’d made the decision to form a politcal pressure group. Its name was the John Birch Society.

1959 killed Robert J. Biggs. It was also an interesting year in American letters. Welch’s founding presentation was published and spread as The Blue Book. It consolidated support and spread the sense of panic. On the other side, William S. Burroughs, an enemy if the Birchers ever had one, published Naked Lunch in July (in Paris, it must be admitted). And Eisenhower, before the death of Biggs, posted a reply:

I think it is undeniably true that the activities of our government have tended to become much more complex, impersonal and remote from the individual, with consequent loss in simplicity, direct human contact and clear guidance by higher authority I believe you to be urging. In good part this situation is inherent in life in the mid-twentieth century–in a highly developed economy and a highly complex society such as our own.

[…]

Even if this division in the government did not exist, I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed. Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life. This is to me what Lincoln meant by government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The mental stress and burden which this form of government imposes has been particularly well recognized in a little book about which I have spoken on several occasions. It is “The True Believer,” by Eric Hoffer; you might find it of interest. In it, he points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems–freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.

Ike, like any good American, was a little too emphatic about “democracy”. What he’s talking about is what Hoffer calls frustration. This is independent of government type, but it might not be independent of era, and our era might be the perfect breeding ground.

Corso seems to have thought so. His creatively titled 1959 begins like this:

Uncomprising year—I see no meaning to life.

Hoffer gave it a name, Ike gave it wary glare, but frustration always takes power for itself.

II

Eric Hoffer wrote The True Believer in 1951.  One prefers to think of the hippie 60’s, or the raging 70’s, or the majorly moral 80’s, when they discuss mass movements. But all of those preyed on the same kinds of people, and followed similar patterns to, the Beatniks and the Birchers. It also immediately shifts us away from the more popular model of “economic dissatisfaction”. I don’t mean to imply that poverty is unimportant for mass movements – economic discontent is one of the primary drivers – but that it’s not alone capable of explaining their rise. The ’50s were horrifically unequal in other ways, but they aren’t a by-word for mass poverty. Perhaps more telling: neither the Beats nor the Birchers arose from the impoverished classes.

I’ll be quoting Hoffer much more than I quoted Scott or Polanyi in this review. This is mostly because I enjoy his writing. That also means that a few terms need to be explained: There’s a difference between an active mass movement (also called “vigorous”, etc.) and its culmination. The culmination is either when it’s taken power or become an “organization”, a political lobbying group, a pragmatic part of the system. When Hoffer and I talk about mass movements, it’s the active period we refer to. The true believer persists into the later period, but not all people after a culmination are the same. This is to say: there’s a difference between a soldier of the Beer Hall Putsch and a draftee into the Wehrmacht. That Wehrmacht soldier might or might not be a zealous member of the Nazi party, but that earlier has to be.

I can already sense the peanut gallery shelling itself, so let me update the recon and allow for better targets: I’m not saying that Birchers and Beatniks are the same, nor am I suggesting that all expressions of frustration are equally valid. Even less do I want to suggest that frustration is “wrong” or misplaced. There are many valid reasons to be frustrated. To quote Hoffer himself:

It is perhaps not superfluous to add a word of caution. When we speak of the family likeness of mass movements, we use the word “family” in a taxonomical sense. The tomato and the nightshade are of the same family, the Solanaceae. Though the one is nutritious and the other poisonous, they have many morphological, anatomical, and physiological traits in common so that even the non-botanist senses a family likeness. The assumption that mass movements have many traits in common does not imply that all movements are equally beneficent or poisonous. The book passes no judgments, and expresses no preferences.

This also dictates how I’ll be discussing political movements. I’m going to avoid (to whatever extent I can) moral judgments. The intentions of a political movement may or may not be “good”, and their grievances may be justified, but that says nothing about the movement’s behavior. Let’s not jump to determine which is a good intention and which is a bad one, but merely recognize that even the worst groups have their own justifications, and that these are necessary for their survival.

Hoffer is most famous for (what’s now called) “Horseshoe Theory”, which postulates that extremes are always closer to one another than to moderates on either side. He thinks something similar, although I’m not sure he would agree with our common use. I’ve heard basically two arguments for horseshoe theory, one better and one worse: 1) the bad one, that “extremism is extremism” which is tautologically true but explains approximately nothing and, 2) that effective tactics will be adopted by extremist parties, making their actions the same if not their intentions. This is not exactly true, but with some qualifications it’s a lot closer.

What Hoffer thinks extremes share is neither ideology nor praxis. He thinks they share a hatred of the present, a desire for some vague future, and that their behavior is predicated on this. Here’s the passage that gets the most play:

In reality the boundary line between radical and reactionary is not always distinct. The reactionary manifests radicalism when he comes to recreate his ideal past. His image of the past is based less on what it actually was than on what he wants the future to be. He innovates more than he reconstructs. A somewhat similar shift occurs in the case of the radical when he goes about building his new world. He feels the need for practical guidance, and since he has rejected and destroyed the present he is compelled to link the new world with some point in the past. If he has to employ violence in shaping the new, his view of man’s nature darkens and approaches closer to that of the reactionary.

The reason for this commonality, for this shared deprecation of the present, has to do with the “state” of a person that joins (active) mass movements, and the way that mass movements exacerbate this quality. There’s not necessarily a connection between the current cause of frustration and whatever heaven will “resolve” it. Indeed: to find the “cause” would be to dwell on the present, which is precisely what it seeks to avoid.

This state is what Hoffer calls frustration.

III

Hoffer doesn’t mean to explain precisely why humans get frustrated psychologically or politically. He’s more interested in what happens after it exists. Frustration is useful because it’s the only common factor among the disparate groups that make up an early mass movement. This is apparent from his taxonomy of the frustrated (Part II), and I’ll give you the chapter titles without going into detail: The Poor (subdivided into The New Poor; the Abjectly Poor; the Free Poor; the Creative Poor; the Unified Poor); Misfits; The Inordinately Selfish; The Ambitious Facing Unlimited Opportunities; Minorities; The Bored; The Sinners, i.e. quite a wide array of people.

The impetus to join a movement appears among the poor and the wealthy, so it can’t be strictly economic (the abjectly poor aren’t actually frustrated: the chapter is instead about why they aren’t). It appears among the unemployed and the ambitious, so it can’t just be “a job”. It appears among the smart and the stupid, so it’s not simple intelligence. What these groups instead share is dissatisfaction with the self and an attempt to substitute their self for a larger group identity. Or, this:

The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race, or his holy cause.

Frustration in Hoffer’s lexicon, is never only frustration with “the system” or the status quo. It is always, always frustration with yourself. Even that frustration with the system is your own relation to it. This doesn’t mean it’s unjustified. It might be, like if the system stole your wife, but it might not be (examples abound). Its objective justification is fundamentally irrelevant. The individual always feels that it is.

Hoffer often talks about “substituting”, and the above passage is an example of it. One of the drives of the frustrated is to substitute an unsatisfactory self for some other thing. The dissatisfaction is not merely self-image, but fundamentally about action. You can tell yourself that you’re “good and perfect and beautiful” all day every day, but that’s not going to make you hate yourself less. At least the larger group you choose does something, or can do something.

Again, this might be justified or not: Perhaps you really do have the best start-up idea ever and Those Bastards are keeping the capital from you and destroying your life. Or maybe you have a notion that you’re “meant for something”, couldn’t figure out what and didn’t bother to try, and now you work a soul-crushing job clearly meant for [losers] that are definitely worse than you. Or The Onion. Or you’re incompetent but can’t admit it. Or you’re incompetent but only in this context and genuinely are meant for better things (if you read any link, make it that one; Ben Grierson is not the object of opprobrium here). All of this will result in the same: the sense that life has no meaning.

The frustrated cannot derive satisfaction from acting, which means that they can’t derive it from the present. Something else has to fill the void, and that something cannot be practical acts in the present. There are two reasons, mutually exclusive: For some, successfully finding that would reduce frustration and make them focus on the present rather than the future. For others, it would just be one more failure, another more empty nothing, another piece of evidence that the world is against you.

Hoffer:

There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization. The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.

This is also why mere labor is never enough. Most people work, of course, so if doing whatever were enough to satisfy people, there would never be a mass movement. The individual has to find some kind of purpose, some meaning to their labor, whether as a job or as a hobby. No, I have no idea why. Everyone knows that “money doesn’t mean happiness”, probably for similar reasons. Someone can find me a study if they insist, but I’m not going to prove that “people want to find a sense of purpose, and this is actually quite an important motivation.” There are (rough estimate) five thousand explanations for that, choose your favorite.

Right now we have the following necessities: self-regard and valuable activity. Even if you don’t have those there’s a safeguard: community.

The poor who are members of a compact group […] are relatively free of frustration and hence almost immune to the appeal of a proselytizing mass movement. The less a person sees himself as an autonomous individual capable of shaping his own course and solely responsible for his station in life, the less likely he is to see his poverty as evidence of his own inferiority.

Cf. the desire to escape the self, and also [a whole host of other things I’ll get to later].

You’re going to say that mass movements are a “kind” of community, and I’d agree. But I think there’s a very important distinction between the two. Community – family, friends, whoever – make you accountable. They require action, and your identity is based in reciprocating those actions. Of course, you’ll always be your mother’s son, but for “being a son” to mean anything to you there have to be duties. At least you go to the funeral, right? More important: you can never fully give up your self, because “who you are” is obviously important to other people you care about, and it’s unique. To liquidate the self would be to harm them, which is inexcusable when done intentionally. There’s a reason that Dante put traitors in the very bottom of Hell.

All of this implies some kind of behavior. Movements, on the other hand, require only belief and identity.

IV

Consider the following line:

We cannot be sure that we have something worth living for unless we are ready to die for it. This readiness to die is evidence to ourselves and others that what we had to take as a substitute for an irrevocably missed or spoiled first choice is indeed the best there ever was.

Most people will not, in fact, die for a mass movement, and Hoffer doesn’t think they will. The import is on the appearance of this readiness, as in the certainty. You can tell this because the dying is not the good, the readiness is (although, to be fair, mass movements will exploit this and make people actually die).

More important: there’s absolutely no discussion of an end goal here. The cause itself is not what’s important, nor is acting towards it in anyway what’s important. We elect [something], gain the appearance of a “readiness to die”, and that’s what gives the cause value. Since I’m willing to die for it, you tell yourself, “the cause must be valuable”. But, tautologically, since I am willing to die for a valuable cause, then I must be valuable. In doing so, you project worth not onto your own life – which you could not control anyway – but onto something else. In other words: people who – for whatever reason – cannot derive purpose out of action substitute it with an identity that is considered valuable.

Compare that with this line, its opposite:

Poverty when coupled with creativeness is usually free of frustration. This is true of the poor artisan skilled in his trade and of the poor writer, artist and scientist in the full possession of creative powers. Nothing so bolsters our self-confidence and reconciles us with ourselves as the continuous ability to create; to see things grow and develop under our hand, day in, day out. The decline in handicrafts in modern times is perhaps one of the causes for the rise of frustration and the increased susceptibility of the individual to mass movements.

This is the same process – the individual is imbuing something with worth based on their involvement in it. In our martyrdom example, the ineffable end was imbued with purpose (=future), it gave someone an identity. The artisan, on the other hand, emphasizes a continuous process, which is about present satisfaction. One other comment: there is an implicit commentary on power here, and what it means. Think about it.

The appeal of a mass movement is not primary. It’s something people take in lieu of something else (meaningful labor, community, etc.). It’s also not about the final cause of the movement, which is unimportant compared to what the sense of that having a cause, any cause, provides. This is the second proof of the interchangeability of mass movements. Present satisfaction makes you uninterested. Were it important what the cause is, they would look very different. But the “cause” being unimportant means that joining one movement from another is not exactly difficult.

When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ready for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In pre-Hitlerian Germany it was often a toss-up whether a youth would join the Communists or the Nazis. […] Hitler looked on the German Communists as potential National Socialists: “The petit bourgeois Social Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communist always will.”

No, I’m not saying that it’s “random” which organization any individual joins. I am saying that it’s a whole lot less meaningful than they’ll tell you it is later on. Most of their actions later are about justifying the decision.

I’m dangerously close to spilling into narcissism and identity, and that’s not really what I want to talk about here (that comes next time). What Hoffer’s discussing is the preference for an “imagined” self over and against the real self, of a vague, impossible “future” and of the present. It’s precisely from this that Hoffer derives the “similarity” of movements.

I wrote a long series on this once, cultimating in discussion of identity. I meant to use Hoffer there, but decided that he deserved something on his own. As I said there: narcissism is big now, but it comes from this urphenomenon he’s describing. Consider this, and relate it to [life] as you will:

There is no striving for glory without a vivid awareness of an audience […]

In the practice of mass movements, make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor. […] The desire to escape or camouflage their unsatisfactory selves develops in the frustrated a facility for pretending – for making a show – and also a readiness to identify themselves wholly with an imposing mass spectacle.

Now, I don’t think this is necessarily bad. Every heroic resistance, every band of brothers, has tapped into identity. But it’s hard not to notice that after successfully resisting, this same force turns against some other (weaker) lucky few. Every raffish rebel is a hero, but try being their outgroup. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is not really true, but there’s a reason that we think that.

V

There must  exist some critical mass of frustrated before a movement starts. After that, it creates and begets its own, the frustrated pullulate and joy goes on holiday.

The Beats, whatever you think of them (I only like Burroughs), terrified America. This seems quaint now, doubly so because they didn’t initially have what we’d call political complaints. Kerouac was a conservative catholic; Burroughs was probably the closest to A Truly Godless Man that’s ever existed, and godless men don’t give a shit about your moral qualms or practical actions. Ginsberg was political, but that wasn’t his initial focus. The point is that they had no larger monsters to fight. A vague sense of nothingness, sure, but that’s not quite the same.

Subcultures from every other era are still around, but you don’t see many beatniks. They burned themselves out astonishingly quickly. Even in their own day, the Beats only had a solid decade before disappearing, and most of the ones that lingered became: a) highly political, or b) hippies. That was not an accident.

Whatever you think of them, the Beats had one thing going: they acted. Most of their literature might have been about “feeling empty” or their restlessness in ’50s America, but they still wrote it and writing about meaninglessness ironically gives you meaning. You watch your complaint get a little better day by day, you care a little more about how it’s received, and then one day you’re no longer a sullen outcast but some normie working at a craft. That craft may be about how it’s not really a craft and [bleh], but Kerouac’s whole “authentic, instant inspiration” thing was a lie. It was publicity. The real Kerouac spent hours obsessing over prepositions, and you don’t do that if you think it’s all worthless in the end. You’ve imbued those prepositions, your actions, with purpose.

No mass movement can survive such a thing. The later countercultures understood this well. The “point” of a mass movement might be [any redressance of grievance], but mass movements are always broad and thus blunt, and the behavior of a mass movement is this: it escalates to survive and to spread.

Starting out from the fact that the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and that they usually join of their own accord, it is assumed: 1) that frustration of itself, without any proselytizing prompting from the outside, can generate most of the peculiar characteristics of the true believer; 2) that en effective technique of conversion consists basically in the inculcation and fixation of proclivities and responses indigenous to the frustrated mind.

[…]It was also necessary to examine the practices of contemporary mass movements, where succesful techniques of conversion had been perfected and applied, in order to discover whether they corroborate the view that a proselytizing mass movement deliberately fosters in its adherents a frustrated state of mind, and that it automatically advances its interest when it seconds the propensities of the frustrated.

One framework for understanding mass movements looks quite similar up until the end. It goes something like this, subbing in terms: populism is the result of [resentment]. The populist movement advances the desires of its adherents over and against an outgroup. “We are the 99%!” means: we’ll take what we want from the rich. Bad for the rich, but certainly good for the 99%. In this view, the ills of a mass movement are their violence, or their illberalism, or their [other].

This is not what Hoffer’s saying. Were that the case, his final sentence would read: “…automatically advances when it seconds the interests of the frustrated.” Mass movements do the opposite: they pretend to give you power, while stealing what little you had; they pretend to solve your problems, while entrenching them. Movements make the frustrated more frustrated and they self-perpetuate with no regard for those who perpetuate them. The seed that they sow is frustration.

This is for one obvious reason: competition. Groups that maintain frustration, or are better at sowing it, will outcompete the others. The strength of a movement is directly proportional to its size and the fanatacism of its adherents, and the fanatacism of its adherents is directly proportional to the frustration they’re trying to escape. Mass movements that are good at what they do: a) make previously content outsiders frustrated; b) further frustrate their adherents while pretending to advance the movement. This means that the strongest mass movements are inevitably going to be the ones that are the best at not delivering the goods. Any movement that actually succeeds for (advances the interests of) its frustrated adherents will make them less frustrated. Hence, they’ll stop being members. Or it will succeed at its purpose, they’ll still be frustrated, and they’ll just join another.

Modern mass movements are actually pretty inexplicable without this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say [group] never does anything of value, and they’d be much better off if they [achieved this material goal]. I think Hoffer explains this perfectly. To achieve that goal would enervate the movement, and another would fill the void.

(That doesn’t mean it never takes power, just that in taking power it either devolves into an organization or manages to accomplish zero of its utopic plans.)

This sort of sounds good, depending on what the end goal of a mass movement is. But the problem is that it doesn’t mean movements do “nothing”, it means they frantically commit to useless, meaningless tasks that appear to solve something (Hoffer calls this “united action” – it dulls the mind and weakens the person). So instead of fighting the system, they suddenly start fighting random people taken to “represent it” but that specifically have no such power. Or they spend all their time writing manifestos and critiques, screaming and marching for no cause, making everyone else frustrated but fixing absolutely nothing. Or they turn on each other, trying to virtuously succeed at tasks they hate which have no real end. I really need to stress this: it kind of sounds like I’m attacking the left, but this is bipartisan, omnipartisan. All movements have this behavior: think of your own. It’s easy.

Now, I should say: I think that’s bad no matter what happens. I’d like to avoid any “society of truly self-loathing people” as much as possible, and so I care about these adherents. Any mass movement inevitably weakens its participants. “Power” might be a good in itself, but you don’t have to to understand why this is bad: weaker people means more fnatical adherents and less resistance.

But even if you don’t care about their own personal happiness, you should be quite concerned about what movements do to others.

VI

The majority of The True Believer is a dissection of the active movement’s “unifying agents” – the particular way that a mass movement breaks down the individuality of the adherent and renders them susceptible to influence. All of these provoke feelings already “native to the frustrated mind”. The movement never makes a better world in steps. It would die if it were to, be outcompeted by something that’s better at failing. But that doesn’t mean that the movement automatically has the loyalty of its adherents. They can go join another, right? So you need a “unifying agent” to make them stay a Bircher, rather than a Beat.

The strongest of these is hatred.

Hatred does several things: it unifies people, in the way that all people unify before a common enemy; it itself provides one with a meaning, and genuine meaning in human existence can easily be subbed out for virulent hatred; it still frustrates you.

It’s such a powerful tool that you’ll never find a large movement without it, and that final one (more frustration) is incredibly important. The bigger the enemy, the better. If it’s so large that no practical steps can be taken, then nothing can satisfy it in principle. Since these movements are based in the future, since they cannot succeed without being outcompeted or losing suddenly-satisfied adherents, the enemy inevitably takes on nightmarish proportions. It maintains the movement, holds it in perpetuity. There’s always some enemy sneaking out there that you have to get before everything will be okay. Of course, this also functions for proselytizing.

Movements understand the necessity of an impossible to conquer demon very well. Consider the opening of the Bircher manifesto:

For the truth I bring you is simple, incontrovertible, and deadly. It is that, unless we can reverse forces which now seem inexorable in their movement, you have only a few more years before the country in which you live will become four separate provinces in a world-wide Communist dominion ruled by police-state methods from the Kremlin.

I don’t care if you think that Senator McCarthy had a point. This isn’t addressing that point, it’s just pretending to. Think about the enemy they’re describing. Can they fight it, or can’t they? What is its psychological role?

Do I have to say this? This is bad. You know that old Seneca quote: “All cruelty springs from weakness”? Movements weaken their adherents to get stronger, and weak men do terrifying things. Not to mention: frightened people do terrifying things, the weak are generally more scared of things, and an impossible large enemy is pretty scary.

On the surface, people do bad things and live with it because they have no guilt. People in a movement feel this way: after all, they’ve given their agency to the movement, etc. This is a lie, and it’s a lie with devastating consequences. Their guilt adheres them to the movement, because only the movement can justify their actions – only the movement’s justification can let them live with themselves, be “good” anymore. This also makes them hate the outgroup more: Benjamin Franklin effect, cognitive dissonance, whatever you want to call it: when we do bad things to people, we tend to hate them more, regardless of a movement. The movement just makes it easier to ignore.

It’s not hard to see how this might result in counter-groups, which in turn will grow more vicious to the enemy, repeating the entire process. Groups self-perpetuate, but they also obviously create counter-movements. They increase frustration among adherents and among enemies. They ratchet up the stakes.

This sounds pretty bad, sure. It gets worse when you consider that these are never isolated from the broader system.

VII

Hoffer tends to focus on movements as though they were isolated. He obviously knows this is wrong, but you have to start somewhere. Let’s broaden the scope. Mass movements shape and are shaped by, societies around them.

First, it’s not hard to see where they come from at this moment. Mass movements aren’t unique to modernity (Hoffer thinks the first was Christianity), but modernity is a perfect breeding ground. There are roughly three things that prevent mass movements: meaningful work, community, and the broader sense of “meaning” that interacts with those two. Note that each and every single one of those is something I discussed in Scott and Polanyi.

I think there are two very important aspects to meaningful labor here. One is Polanyi, whom Hoffer seems to be channeling in this quote:

It was the new poor in seventeenth century England who ensured the success of the Puritan Revolution. During the movement of enclosure thousands of landlords  drove off their tenants and turned their fields into pastures. “Strong and active peasants, enamored of the soil that nurtured them, were transformed into wageworkers or sturdy beggars; …city streets were filled with paupers.” It was this mass of the disspossesed who furnished the recruits for Cromwell’s army.

That mostly speaks for itself, but the Scott one is a little harder. Metis, as I keep saying, is not simply an action, but the worldview around it. Every “act” has a larger meaning already encoded into it. Epistemic knowledge explicitly does not. No matter whether you think that’s good or bad, one of the things lost will inherently be “meaning”. The job can be the same, the peasants don’t need to be driven from their fields, but without a certain religious implication or the pride in craft, it will not be similarly “meaningful”. Of course, the job rarely is the same, which makes this doubly important.

None of this can really be stopped. From Scott, illegiblity always means that the community loses against whatever is in power at the moment. It can’t even express its complaints, and those complaints look bizarre. That’s bad for the individual trying to protect their meaningful labor, and it also means that community is annihilated. Either they’re the subject of government experiments, or the market corrodes their earlier institutions (or these are the same thing). This sets the stage for a mass movement, as I discussed in the Scott review, and as Hoffer points out:

It is obvious that a proselytizing mass movement must break down all existing group ties if it is to win a considerable following. […] Where a mass movement finds the corporate pattern of family, tribe, country, etc. in a state of disruption and decay, it moves in and gathers the harvest.

I don’t want to repeat earlier reviews entirely, but we should remark that a lot of this will relate to the difference between communal and governmental safety nets that Polanyi discusses.

Polanyi takes us further in one direction: the double movement. All the above is how modernity shapes mass movements, how it cultivates them, but they also shape our political life.

VIII

Eisenhower places much of the burden on democracy itself. I don’t fully agree, but I take his point. Part of the transition into modernity – into a globalized system – is that things become more complex and more opaque but also more fragile. He suggests – hell, pretty explicitly states – that some part of the government needs to be unintelligible to the citizenry in order for it to function. The problem with this is that mass movements happen, and even if they don’t understand the wheels of power there are a zillion things they can ram through the spokes.

At the same time, the citizenry gets richer and more powerful. This would be the famous Tocqueville effect. Everyone talks about it, up to and including Hoffer, but they never explain what it is (also including Hoffer). It’s never said, only sneered. A weird morality hangs around it, as though the problem were “greed”, the frivolous desire for more of [something]. I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Let me run through a series of explanations, because it’s not just one effect. It’s a couple with superficial similarity. (A) is isolated, but (B) and (C) feed into each other:

A) The simplest explanation for a Tocqueville effect is simply power. Suddenly realizing that you can achieve a big thing means that you’re also able to do the little things. If you conceive of it this way, it’s no stranger than: “He bought a house, but then he went and bought a whole bunch of fancy wine.” That’s no cunning insight, and this explanation is not one that’s important to us.

B) The Polanyi and Scott reason behind it: with each and every single disruption, the previous community bonds have been shattered, even if people have gotten richer (see: the economic prejudice). This opens groups up for mass movements, and you don’t even have to manufacture a demon. Whoever’s in power is obviously the monster.

C) Hoffer: Mass movements don’t thrive on “success” they thrive on frustration. Eliminating every single gripe of every group member is impossible, but if you take all of those to be the sign of some larger, ineffable conspiracy that once it’s overcome takes us to paradise, then you have the perfect breeding ground for frustration. In this way, the Tocqueville effect is actually unrelated to, say, any previous civil rights movement. The (succesful) movement ends itself with its success. Of course: There’s still mass frustration because (B) plus Hoffer, so some group picks up on frantic, meaningless activity as a unifying agent to further its own group power. One of those will wear similar clothing, and hence appear to be the same movement with more frivolous goals, but is not aiming to achieve them. It’s more effective at being a movement for being less effective at achievement. There is no goal, having a goal is antagonistic to its power.

Let’s make it worse. Modernity is also an experiment in scope. Part of this means that anything has to be mass, but it also means that everything is more complex. As with (B), none of those movements aim at or even understand the causes (and thus solutions to) frustration, which means that any solution is going to fail. To reclaim their own metis, they’ll destroy that of any previously unmolested community.

It also means that they can frustrate a whole lot more people.

Consider this, and tell me if it doesn’t sound completely fucking insane. One community does [thing]. This gets disrupted, either by a market or a state. This will always be done in some epistemic way. Now, people want their community rights back, but to do so they have to change the laws, because laws are that of the state. All of a sudden, they’re incentivized to not merely regulate their own community, but that of everyone else. Let’s say the movement takes power and actually puts in legislation. That’s a mismatch for other communities, because it crushes their metis, which in turn…

Or this, more specific and less related to mass movements (kind of): Republicans are, nominally, all about the rights of the individual. This is often in a pro-capitalist sense (shut up, don’t tell me why that’s only a ‘boujie’ freedom). So a business owner ought to have the right to do [whatever] with his employees. Ok. Some of us don’t like what some owners do, so we regulate that. A group of business owners who do want to have the freedom to Iron Maiden their employees or whatever now form a group to combat that. Well, now they’re no longer looking for – or merely have the power to – impact their company and employees. They fuck with the state, because it’s state law that impacted them. Ok. So now the GOP is instead about State’s rights. Instead of an individual determining their life, or a community determining its own, the GOP determines everyone’s. There’s no other way to get it done. How does this play out? Well, you didn’t like their first plans, so you presumably won’t like it state-wide. You switch to the national level, and then all of a sudden they respond by trying to institute laws at a national level. All of this is technically in service of a community, or an individual, but now the game is being played at an insanely gigantic level.

You think this is a problem with “democracy” perhaps, but mass movements aren’t limited to democracies. Stop being edgy and act like you give a damn. This isn’t even a problem with politics. Economic systems engender the same. Whether or not you agree with Polanyi that it removes the individual’s power, it certainly engenders larger structures of power. More people are wealthier, which means they can use that, sure. But it also means that a society is more deeply tied to its economy. If any disruption happens (say, from a mass movement), then that will also lead to more frustrated people.

Ok. Now make that global.

In this way, modernity sets itself up on an infinite feedback loop, a whirligig of misery where every single group that forms has the potential to damage the society and create infinitely more frustrated people, who will then do the same. In the process it will make all of them weaker, all of them hate each other, and nothing will get done.

Or, possibly…

IX

“So… we should get rid of the state?” How did you get that from this article? We’ll get rid of the state, surely, at some point in the future where modernity doesn’t exist, or capitalism is gone, or… That kind of future? The impossible-to-reach-utopian one that is definitely coming soon? Reread this article and think about what you sound like.

“Then democracy, definitely.” Democracy is: a) the best outlet we currently have for those frustrations and, b) the only thing keeping us from going totally insane. Intractable political parties aren’t “bad”, they’re a necessary block for the system. Same thing re: the constitution. Why do I have to say this? I understand [arguments against democracy from all sides]; some are good and others bad, but note that each and every one of those groups offers nothing actionable, which means –

At this point it sounds like I’m saying: we should never do anything. I really don’t mean to. Some of this things are necessary in a society, inasmuch as things like Jim Crow are bad and we really do need to intervene to stop them. But you don’t get anything without a tradeoff, and if you ignore where that tradeoff comes from, then you’re left defenseless.

This series isn’t about solutions, not yet. It’s about problems. This is showing you how nihilism works, why it’s more than just a vague philosophical worry, why it isn’t just “people are sad sometimes, and also Cioran”, why “meaning” or lack thereof has really big effects on the world. Admittedly, this makes me sound a whole lot like one of the frustrated who just happens to have chosen “nihilism” as their impossibly large enemy. Fair point. So:

Hoffer has a few recommendations. They’re helpful as a guide. One is personal, the other points to a political movement.

Personal: Focus on meaningful action in your own life. Do that [thing you wanted to do]. Joining movements with gigantic impossible enemies not only are doomed to fail but are designed to fail. Be skeptical of any movement that doesn’t have defined, concrete positions and goals. You will not get to a utopia through them, and it’s just a defense mechanism. Really, you don’t need me or Hoffer or [other books] to tell you this. Seriously, it’s important.

Political: Hoffer mentions that it’s possible for movements to have one objective. It might be hard, but they exist. These movements take concrete actions for the frustrated and make them powerful themselves. This, of course, means the movement quickly withers, but it leaves a whole lot less of the frustrated around. Since he thinks that only a mass movement can defeat another mass movement, this is a suggestion we should take very seriously.

Hoffer’s example is fascinating (more so given that he was a relatively staunch conservative). It’s unions. Now, he doesn’t say this explicitly, but Hoffer was a member of the Longshoreman’s union, and he certainly knew the history of the US labor movement. There’s no way he thought that unions lacked a mass movement. Yet he says:

One of the reasons that Communist leaders are losing out in our unions is that by following the line and adopting the tactics of the party, they are assuming the attitude and using the tactics of a mass movement leader in an organization made up of free men.

In other words: the creation of the union, one specific goal that was successful, not only did what people wanted. It also made them much more resistant to other movements even if those movements claimed to be their continuation. The only thing I can think of for this would be some reverse Tocqueville effect.

Unions are going away, of course, but that same tactic (objective goal) should be considered, both for movements themselves and in any capacity you have to interact with them. They certainly aren’t going to go away on their own.

How they might change is to get more intractable. Less effective, almost by definition, but impossible to extricate. The Beats were a bad movement, the Hippies learned to do it better, and [later groups] learned to do it even better. On the other side, the Birchers became the Paleocons became […], and each one is more and more focused on identity. Everything accelerates and identity is always an arms race.


 

top image from Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence

Author: Lou Keep

samzdat.com

33 thoughts on “Without belief in a god, but never without belief in a devil.”

  1. “Some of this things are necessary in a society, inasmuch as things like Jim Crow are bad and we really do need to intervene to stop them.”

    You know the policy that most resembles Jim Crow? The existence of national borders. You even see the same effects; the dismantling of the racial system in the 1960s was followed by a massive crime wave and the importation of foreigners from the Islamic world is currently creating a massive crime wave.

    But having absolute moral certainty and the ability to use it to hurt people you don’t like is just too attractive to give up.

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    1. By their fruits ye shall know them.
      I always sensed this was a reactionary blog, but this clinches it. Looks who it attracts.

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      1. Yes, god forbid that a blog attract readers with a variety of different perspectives or anything like that! There’s a couch in the next room for you to lie down on; I’ll fetch the smelling salts.

        Also, this might have slipped your attention, but ‘Samuel Skinner’ is disagreeing rather vehemently with Lou Keep here.

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      2. Ironically, my first thought when I read the article was “this (i.e. what Hoffer describes) is why I don’t trust neoreaction”. It’s not that it’s demonstrably wrong… just that it’s great at peddling frustration and terrible at generating actionable proposals for improvement.

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    2. That’s remarkably disingenuous. Borders separate two governments, each acting (at least nominally) in the interests of its people and ideally separate from outside powers. That’s not remotely close to a subjugated population under another’s government, whose separate status is not bilateral. Try this: New York now controls the entirety of Red America, but we still have “governors” within those territories. Does that feel like a nation with borders, or like a colony? “It’s already like that” – knew you’d say that, stop changing the goal post. Not very good, is it?

      My last few articles were about why things like Jim Crow are Bad Things. Go read them or go away.

      The crime wave was for a whole lot of reasons, probably the most significant being that there was a larger share of young people in the populace (the baby boom, duh). You know when murder rates were as high as the 60’s? The 30’s, which is not generally known as a time of racial egalitarianism in the United States.

      It’s easy to pick and choose someone already-hated-by-the-in-group to show all the ways that you have no power in this society and nothing is your fault. It’s also a sign of weakness and cowardice.

      I haven’t really thought about how to deal with commenting policy here, and I generally dislike all forms of censorship. Right now I have a “no deleting comments” policy, and I assume that won’t change. Say what you will under three conditions: 1) if you’re making an outrageous empirical claim, you better have a source; 2) if you’re making an outrageous argument, you better back it up; 3) you will be polite.

      I’m neither a reactionary nor an anarchist, but I have readers who are both. Try not to annoy each other and/or me when it happens.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ” Borders separate two governments, each acting (at least nominally) in the interests of its people and ideally separate from outside powers. That’s not remotely close to a subjugated population under another’s government, whose separate status is not bilateral. ”

        Yes, the situations are legally different. Notice how I talked about effects, not legality. Borders separate nations; Jim Crow separated nations.

        “Try this: New York now controls the entirety of Red America, but we still have “governors” within those territories. Does that feel like a nation with borders, or like a colony? ”

        I’m not following what you are trying to say here. If your point is ‘living in an empire sucks for ethnic minorities’, I’m not sure why you think I disagree with that. Historically the result has been the dissolution of empires where each ethnic group with enough strength gets their own territory.

        “My last few articles were about why things like Jim Crow are Bad Things. Go read them or go away.”

        I’m seeing magical beliefs are adaptive, the next two don’t mention it either.

        “The crime wave was for a whole lot of reasons, probably the most significant being that there was a larger share of young people in the populace (the baby boom, duh).”

        And with segregation in effect the blacks wouldn’t be murdering the whites and so the rate of victimization by white people wouldn’t have caused white flight.

        “The 30’s, which is not generally known as a time of racial egalitarianism in the United States.”

        Only because you make a fundamental distinction between black-white and say English-Polish. They certainly looked down on hyphen Americans and their solution was to turn them into American-Americans; I’m not sure how more egalitarian you can get then that.

        http://www.jrsa.org/projects/Historical.pdf
        Homicide rate started increasing from 1905, peaked at about 32 and dropped like a stone. Looks like is tied to immigration and eventual assimilation.

        “It’s easy to pick and choose someone already-hated-by-the-in-group”

        I’m curious what you think my in-group is.

        “you will be polite.”

        You declared it was necessary to intervene to eliminate Jim Crow, which the consequent effect that the amount of white people being murdered and raped by blacks went up. Because it is wrong for people to enact policies that would prevent them from being murdered by outsiders.

        Your model of politeness is bad.

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        1. “Because it is wrong for people to enact policies that would prevent them from being murdered by outsiders.”

          Like, oh, say, the Civil Rights movement?

          A) it’s awfully strange to argue that segregation within a country is the same as borders controlling movement between countries, for, like, so many reasons I can’t even really get a grip on where to start listing them. The economic situation is completely different. There is still extremely near proximity and everyday intermixing between the segregated communities.

          Hey, here’s an example: Jim Crow made it extremely difficult for the black population of the US “to enact policies that would prevent them from being murdered by outsiders.”

          As much as I don’t endorse ethnic sseperatism, borders around a nation make it easier to enact any kind of policy against “outsiders”; living under a regime of segregation makes it harder.

          B) Jim Crow and any form of segregation explicitly prevent any kind of assimilation of a population into “American-Americans.”

          C) 100 years ago, you, or someone like you, would have been confidently explaining that the Jews were so fundamentally different from gentiles that only someone invested in magical thinking could believe that they could ever integrate into gentile society.

          I mean, for all I know you believe that, but for most people the Jews of the world have ceased to be parasitic outsiders and are now pillars of Western Civilization.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Also, like, outsider is doing so much work in that sentence you should pay it overtime.

          If a man murders his wife, was she killed by an “insider” (a member of her close family who knows her personally) or an outsider (a member of a different sex).

          If a white man moves to my city and stabs me in the neck the first time he meets me, was I killed by an insider or an outsider? If a white civil rights worker is killed by a mob of whites… Was that civil rights worker an insider to that mob? What would members of the mob say?

          Who is my brother, anyway?

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        3. “Like, oh, say, the Civil Rights movement?”

          What on Earth could possibly make you think I believe the civil rights movement was a good thing? Heck, what about the African-American communities performance since 1965 makes you think it was a good thing?

          “The economic situation is completely different. ”

          Which is not relevant to what I am talking about.

          “Hey, here’s an example: Jim Crow made it extremely difficult for the black population of the US “to enact policies that would prevent them from being murdered by outsiders.””

          There were towns that were entirely black. If that was a major concern you could have always moved to them.

          ” borders around a nation make it easier to enact any kind of policy against “outsiders”; living under a regime of segregation makes it harder.”

          Unless you are a vassal state of another country in which case while there is a legal difference, there is no practical one.

          “B) Jim Crow and any form of segregation explicitly prevent any kind of assimilation of a population into “American-Americans.””

          This is assuming assimilation is both possible and desirable (by both parties). Neither of those are true. Culture is not fashion- it is the lessons learned about how to live most effectively, tailored to a population by their history and experience.

          “100 years ago, you, or someone like you, would have been confidently explaining that the Jews were so fundamentally different from gentiles that only someone invested in magical thinking could believe that they could ever integrate into gentile society.”

          This is why I was curious about what you think is my in-group. Guess what? I’m half-Jewish. And yes, I do believe that the only way Jews could possibility integrate into another society is by intermarriage (I also believe this about every other white ethnicity integrating with other white ethnicity).

          “I mean, for all I know you believe that, but for most people the Jews of the world have ceased to be parasitic outsiders and are now pillars of Western Civilization.”

          That is mostly because Western Civilization has gone from defining itself as Christianity and the legacy of Greco-Roman culture to defining itself as the mindless pursuit of hedonistic pleasure.

          “Also, like, outsider is doing so much work in that sentence you should pay it overtime.”

          An outsider is an individual from a different nation. A nation is a group of people with shared ancestry, faith, language, culture and history.

          “Who is my brother, anyway?”

          Anyone who is within your 30th first cousin.

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        4. “You declared it was necessary to intervene to eliminate Jim Crow, which the consequent effect that the amount of white people being murdered and raped by blacks went up.”

          Black-on-white murder in the US hovers at around 3% of the total murder rate. The BoW murder rate in the US is thus lower than Macao’s, the lowest nonzero number on Wikipedia’s list of countries by homicide rate (with a single murder reported in 2015).

          Even if you consider the US black population as a separate nation and calculate accordingly you get a BoW murder rate near-identical to… Sweden’s. And this assumes that every black-on-white homicide would be prevented by Jim Crow laws, which is trivially false.

          I submit it to you that the reason people neglect this effect is that it’s negligible.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. The number of Americans killed by Islamic terrorism between 2000-2017 is less then the number killed by blacks.

          And yet people care.

          But please, tell me about how we need to ‘fix’ people not to care about this, and how you will need more power over the poor benighted proles.

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      2. I’m with you and pretty much everyone else here (except Mr. Skinner, obviously) that Jim Crow was a Bad Thing. The Tulsa Race Riot in 1921 is a permanent stain on the history of the United States; if Conservatives/Reactionaries/Rightists complain that a lot of Afro-American culture has become enveloped by a self-perpetuating culture of lawlessness, violence, drug abuse, etc. (which I think it has), perhaps that transpired because when they set about making themselves into a productive population, their most successful neighborhood was fucking firebombed including a fucking aerial attack what the hell Oklahoma.

        Sorry, I got a little carried away there, but the Tulsa Race Riot was just the worst. Where was I? Right; Jim Crow and the attendant violence were terrible, but I do have to admit some puzzlement when you say your last few posts were about this.

        What does Jim Crow have to do with gri-gri? And the previous few posts beyond that were the extended discussion of metis versus episteme. Jim Crow was a combination of a lot of things – laws, customs, etc. – but if we want to use the metis/episteme distinction to categorize things, Jim Crow is clearly metis and Desegregation and the Civil Rights Act is clearly episteme. Yes, Jim Crow was encoded into law, but I think the social aspect is even more important, i.e. it was a bottom-up set of informal customs practiced throughout the South, i.e. it was metis. George Wallace represented the ‘ancient’ customs of the South when he stood in the schoolhouse door; the National Guard represented the top-down epistemic federal government when they removed him.

        Of course the larger point we can draw from this is that sometimes episteme can be right and metis wrong. But we already knew that because while metis has existed since basically forever, it was the dawn of episteme brought us the scientific revolution, modern technology, etc.

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        1. Interestingly, in another one of his books Scott himself uses desegregation as an example of why larger government bodies are sometimes necessary and desirable. I think, more broadly, it is wise to recall that metis occasionally is pretty awful, and epistemic knowledge is not only helpful but justified. So thanks, and that is true.

          That being said, I was thinking in a broader way about relative powers between parties. Jim Crow was based in metis, but as you point out it was also political. If, say, a Christian fundamentalist government took over, it would certainly be coming from metis, but would the policies it enacted be that? It may just be that there are certain places where the metaphor isn’t that useful. In those cases I kind of default to power relations and self-determination.

          So, one problem with epistemic knowledge is that it’s rationalism without actual empiricism, or [other epistemic issues]. But the other problem is just that a powerful body politic is messing with the customs of a weaker body politic, and that doesn’t really require rationalism. The powerful one can definitely be based in folk customs and still be just as catastrophic for a local economy. I think Scott’s real value is not just as a kind of epistemic watchdog, but also for pointing out that smaller bodies have really important customs on their own, and attacks on those can be disastrous no matter what. I probably was exaggerating some, but I think you get that pretty strongly from both Scott and Polanyi. Admittedly, you might need some other groundwork to broaden it quite as much as I just did.

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        2. Jim Crow is clearly metis

          Isn’t this true only from the perspective of (some of) the white population of the US? For one thing, the African American populace was brought to the US under one legal regime they couldn’t really effect or participate in, and it’s hard not to see Jim Crow as an extension of that. I think, or assume, that one of the points being made here is that, for instance, a law against miscegenation and a local norm against miscegenation function differently and have distinct psychological effects, although one is not really better than the other.

          Like, for example, a lot of racists have exceptions to their racism “Oh, not you, you’re one of the good ones” is a cliche for a reason. This is about religion, but I recently read that when Trump was talking up his Muslim ban, he said something along the lines of excepting the Muslim mayor of London from the ban. That’s Trump’s metis; “We’ll ban all the Muslims, except the ones who I know personally are good Muslims”

          But that’s not really how law functions in the modern US; our scale and assumptions about how the state should function, and about liability, mean you can’t really have Trump reviewing every Muslim who wants to enter our country, nor can you have each border control agent just go, “Eh, you seem like a nice guy, I’ll let you get around the ban today.”

          Well, okay, you CAN have that latter thing happen; that kind of thing happens all the time in every organization, but it’s not the ideal, or based on policy, or even really likely to be accepted if it’s discovered.

          Even if they are driven by custom, or religion, or what have you, modern legal norms are centrallly enforced; are based on decisions from a central authority about what is and is not relevant or measurable; and are above all standardized. Part of the way they work is to remove the abilities of locals to go “Yeah, but in this case I’ll do something different”. “Obviously we aren’t going to ban the mayor of London, go on through!” becomes “I don’t care if you’re the mayor of London, the law says you don’t get through.”

          This is not always bad; it can be used to blunt and provide protection from certain local community norms that aren’t morally desirable, like, say, KKK members burning crosses on a black family’s lawn. I haven’t yet read Seeing Like A State, but as I understand it that centralization and standardization are big parts of his point. Even if racism represents an American metis, once it becomes codified into Jim Crow it begins to be something different, albeit not necessarily better or worse.

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        3. “The Tulsa Race Riot in 1921 is a permanent stain on the history of the United States;”

          Unlike the rapes and murders since 1965 that happened because of desegregation? Nice to see white people are your outgroup. Or is this “the use of force to maintain society is bad, the violence caused by the collapse of society is not my fault”?

          “perhaps that transpired because when they set about making themselves into a productive population, their most successful neighborhood was fucking firebombed including a fucking aerial attack what the hell Oklahoma.”

          Only white people have agency. Like Jews. Can’t forget the expulsions and anti-Jewish pogroms that have failed to stop Jews from climbing to the top. Or the Chinese who did the same thing. Or the Igbo. Or…

          Not to mention the fact that the black community succeeded in making themselves into a productive population between 1945-1965 goes un-noticed; obviously the black community has always been as dysfunctional as it is now. Look at the poverty rate- in that time span the black poverty rate halved.

          “Right; Jim Crow and the attendant violence were terrible,”

          It is so weird that after eliminating Jim Crow we proceed to create an even worse equilibrium. Unless you think locking up 1 in 3 black males is an improvement. Oh wait- the ideal of society in your head is better then Jim Crow and it is the fault of everyone else that it hasn’t come to fruition, not that it is utterly impossible.

          “For one thing, the African American populace was brought to the US under one legal regime they couldn’t really effect or participate in, and it’s hard not to see Jim Crow as an extension of that.”

          You are conflating multiple things here. Blacks could (and did) participate in political action and use the legal system. The situation was terrible in the rural south because they were really poor and sharecroppers were essentially serfs.

          “although one is not really better than the other.”

          The law cannot function without the norms. The norms can function with law, but only in certain conditions and they tend to degrade over time. You need both working together in order to stop it.

          “That’s Trump’s metis; “We’ll ban all the Muslims, except the ones who I know personally are good Muslims””

          I don’t think that is his thought process. I think it is along the same lines as why he’d still let in the rulers of Saudi Arabia- they are Rulers and hence not governed by the same rules as everyone else. “Good” doesn’t enter into it.

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        4. @ Lou Keep and Christopher Hazell

          I do not accept the notion that the point of metis-vs.-episteme can be simply ported to a more general case of stronger-political-body-vs.-weaker-one. As far as I understand the argument, it is about the advantages of different kinds of knowledge. Jim Crow’s imposition does not take the form of top-down epistemic intervention in the black American community, regardless of the fact that some of it was coded into law; once again, it seems to be much better described as a set of customs, some enforced by law but many not. It was if anything a merging of the white metis with the black metis to form a new syncretic Southern metis, albeit one in which the black population was clearly subordinate to the white population.

          The point is that the imposition of Jim Crow did not rest on epistemic ‘knowledge’. Even the formal laws which were linked to it reflected a metic ‘knowledge’. A hypothetical Christian government’s imposition of Christian laws would indeed have an epistemic flavor about it. But note that in this case these laws would also govern the internal dynamics of non-Christian communities, thus destroying their metic knowledge. But as far as I understand, Jim Crow governed the relations between white and black populations, it did not replace or destroy the internal metic dynamics of the black neighborhoods. Hence, I stick with the notion that Jim Crow was metis.

          If you want, slavery may be considered a twisted form of episteme which was imposed on black Africans and which replaced the metis of the communities they were kidnapped from. But not Jim Crow.

          @ Samuel Skinner:

          You have no idea what my political positions are, except that I consider Jim Crow to have been bad. Any claims of who my “outgroup” is are totally unfounded.
          The Tulsa Race Riot was not “the use of force to maintain society”, and you’re crazy if you think it was. It was the use of force to destroy a thriving society, i.e. the exact opposite.
          I’m not saying that black Americans bear zero responsibility for their present condition. I’m saying that if we consider the cultural pathologies afflicting many of their neighborhoods – contempt of the law, gang rule, drug abuse, etc. etc. – we can conclude that an attack upon a peaceful, economically productive neighborhood is all the more reprehensible. Hence, “stain on American history”.
          Various groups did in fact manage to prosper after suffering decades or centuries of persecution, as you point out. Note however that their real flourishing almost always happened after integration began, e.g. in the case of the Central European Jews who became the vanguard of science in the early 20th century. [Before then, there were some very rich Jewish bankers and court Jews, but the majority of Jews were extremely poor.]
          Regarding peoples having “agency”, I’m a big believer in the power of incentives. Incentivize a dysfunctional culture by withdrawing police presence and permitting gang rule, as has happened in many neighborhoods e.g. the Robert Taylor Homes (see: Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh), and voila you get a dysfunctional culture. Disincentivize success by burning down the most prosperous black neighborhood in America and murdering dozens or hundreds of its residents (not to mention other violent acts across the Jim Crow South), and don’t be surprised that criminality and violent behavior become prominent. The Tulsa Race Riot by itself does not explain everything; but are you seriously suggesting it was justified or helped matters?
          I concede that the present situation is terrible, as your statistic suggests (though you worded it a little ambiguously, it’s that 1 in 3 black males go to prison at some point in their lives). I’m even sympathetic to the idea that large parts of the black American subculture were in better shape in 1965 than today, and certainly better than they were in the awful 1980s. And yet the idea of openly promoting divisions amongst Americans does not sit well to me, all the more so because my position is Nationalist. I would much rather we have criminal justice reform, in particular applying corporal punishments to minor crimes e.g. graffiti. In short, I would ask: WWLKYD (What Would Lee Kuan Yew Do)? Corporal punishments would also permit some jail sentences to be avoided, which is good because often jail is a place where criminals socialize with each other.

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        5. “You have no idea what my political positions are, except that I consider Jim Crow to have been bad. Any claims of who my “outgroup” is are totally unfounded.”

          Amazing how there is no evidence and yet the charge is accurate, isn’t it?

          ” It was the use of force to destroy a thriving society, i.e. the exact opposite.”

          No, it was the use of force to kill blacks and destroy buildings. This does not destroy societies. See Japan where we reduced every single city to rubble and yet Japanese society continued to function.

          “we can conclude that an attack upon a peaceful, economically productive neighborhood is all the more reprehensible.”

          Unlike the attack on a peaceful, economically productive white neighborhood. This is how we know your outgroup- you have a ton of justifications about how the exact same bad thing happening to white people isn’t as bad as the same happening to black people.

          “Note however that their real flourishing almost always happened after integration began,”

          Nope. The Chinese were rich long before they integrated, ditto with the Igbo. Jews have been poor… compared to NW Europeans. Compared to Russian, Greek or Arab peasants the Jews were better off as they are even today in Arab countries that hate their guts.

          “Incentivize a dysfunctional culture by withdrawing police presence and permitting gang rule, as has happened in many neighborhoods”

          Neighborhoods have historically functioned without the existence of police. Withdrawing police does not cause a take over by gang rule. What leads to gang rule is
          -banning weapons (so power goes to violent thugs)
          and
          -free resources (so that women no longer look for providers but instead for the most violent thug to protect them which leads to an increase in the amount of violent thuggery to score with women).

          Since the black community supports both those policies, I’m not sure how you can blame whites. Well, unless the accusation is the problem with white people is that they are letting blacks involved in the political process.

          “Disincentivize success by burning down the most prosperous black neighborhood in America and murdering dozens or hundreds of its residents”

          It doesn’t disincentive success; that requires white to target successful blacks, not blacks in general.

          ” The Tulsa Race Riot by itself does not explain everything; but are you seriously suggesting it was justified or helped matters?”

          Society requires the usage of force to maintain it. Pointing out that sometimes force is misused always leads into ‘and this is why I need to be given power over everyone and regulate everything they do in order to prevent it’. This leads to more violence and ever more claims that they need to be invested with more power.

          “And yet the idea of openly promoting divisions amongst Americans does not sit well to me, all the more so because my position is Nationalist.”

          A nation is a group of people with shared ancestry, religion, culture, language and history. Black America and White America do not meet that criteria, hence your position is not Nationalist, but Imperial. Of course since we live in an empire that denies it is an empire this means the traditional imperial solution (separate rules and authority for different nations) is denied even if it is the situation on the ground.

          “I would much rather we have criminal justice reform, in particular applying corporal punishments to minor crimes e.g. graffiti. ”

          This assumes the same criminal justice system would work regardless of race. The criminal justice system of the Scandinavian countries work despite their massive leniency compared to the American system.

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        6. @ Samuel Skinner: Let’s go through your points one-by-one.

          (1) It’s amazing that you’re so confident about such an inaccurate statement. Actually, it’s not amazing at all, it’s totally expected.

          (2) One huge difference between Tulsa and Japan was that the violence in WWII had a clear end-date; once the war was over, we would not be going to blow up anything, and they could rebuild with a guarantee that they weren’t just going to have their cities leveled all over again. In Tulsa, no such guarantee existed, and it was obvious that such an event might happen again at any time. Rebuilding under such conditions is much harder; resorting to antisocial modes of existence is much easier.

          (3) This is how we know your outgroup- you have a ton of justifications about how the exact same bad thing [neighborhoods destroyed] happening to white people isn’t as bad as the same happening to black people. Really, that’s fascinating. Please show me where I made any such justification, let alone “a ton” of them – go ahead, I’ll wait. Oh right, I never said anything of the sort. So stuff it.

          (4) The point is that integration, done properly, leads to more prosperity. It happened this way in Central Europe; in countries where the Chinese population can integrate, they are more prosperous than in those where they couldn’t; etc. [In Russia, integration came with Bolshevism, so obviously that was a huge dumpster fire.] For a brief period after the Civil Rights Act, black Americans were making real gains, which were reversed because of other trends that came in on the same wave. America didn’t get Bolshevism, thankfully, but what we got in the 1960s was still pretty bad. You blame the results on the end of Jim Crow; I blame them on the takeover of American culture by the “educated” literati. Those events are obviously linked; but the end of Jim Crow, taken in isolation, was a good thing (it was possible to end Jim Crow without the takeover, many European emancipations of the Jews, e.g. in Britain, were initiated by monarchs or aristocrats rather than intelligentsia). In short, not every consequence of a bad movement is bad (the Autobahn was built by the Nazis after all); and if you’re wondering about the practical relevance of this, my point is that if we want to restore American society pre-academic-takeover, we should leave out Jim Crow.

          (5) All societies existed with police; they may not have been called “the police”, but a group with the power to use violence always maintains order. If the official police are withdrawn or cannot fulfill their duties, an unofficial force will take their place, namely the gangs in this case. In Montreal (very white, if you’re wondering), the police went on strike, and the city was immediately was racked by looting sprees.

          (6) Your conditions for what leads to gang rule applies to e.g. the Northern European countries. And yet, hardly any serious, violent gangs (amongst the natives, but your conditions apply to them too). So your “conditions” are not the real story. The real story is a withdrawal of the legitimate authorities (under pressure from the professors and radicals), creating a vacuum which the gangs filled.

          (7) Since the black community supports both those policies [banning weapons, and free stuff], I’m not sure how you can blame whites. And I’m not sure when you think I “blamed whites”, given that I never fucking said anything like that. And while I’m broadly against gun control, I do wonder if you really think more guns in poor minority neighborhoods is the correct solution.

          (8) It doesn’t disincentive success; that requires white to target successful blacks, not blacks in general. Greenwood was the most prosperous black neighborhood in the country, so they did target successful blacks. Try again.

          (9) Yes, society requires force to maintain. But (a) this almost never translates to indiscriminate burning, looting and slaughter, and (b) there is an armed group whose job is to maintain order, they’re called the police. The Tulsa riot was a mob action, which is basically the opposite of order.

          (10) “Nation” is very arbitrary. Were the Irish in the 1850s and 1860s “Americans”? They certainly didn’t share much of a race or history or religion or culture with other Americans. Whereas black Americans do share a lot of history and religion and culture with white Americans; they fought for America over and over – the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the various modern-day conflicts, etc. etc. They contributed massively to American culture, especially via music, sports, and literature. Their families have lived here for a very long time. They are Americans by any reasonable definition.

          The trend of anti-patriotism among black Americans, encouraged by the “brahmin” caste, is of course terrible; but many black Americans are still patriots. The fight is properly directed against the brahmin dominance of American culture, and not against black Americans as a race. You want to go after the cape; I want to go after the matador.

          Like

        7. “(1) It’s amazing that you’re so confident about such an inaccurate statement. Actually, it’s not amazing at all, it’s totally expected.”

          If you feel the exact same thing happening to blacks is worse then if it happens to whites, whites are your outgroup. That is the definition of outgroup.

          “In Tulsa, no such guarantee existed, and it was obvious that such an event might happen again at any time. ”

          No, it happens whenever a black commits a crime against a white. The guarantee of this not happening is to live in communities away from white people. Which many black people did.

          “Rebuilding under such conditions is much harder; resorting to antisocial modes of existence is much easier.”

          The entire point about Japan is you can have a functioning society with your building in rubble. Antisocial modes of existence have no relation to the architecture. If you want to say ‘well it went away’, I’d point to the plague which kept on ravaging Europe and didn’t prevent society from functioning.

          “Please show me where I made any such justification, let alone “a ton” of them – go ahead, I’ll wait. Oh right, I never said anything of the sort. So stuff it.”

          “we can conclude that an attack upon a peaceful, economically productive neighborhood is all the more reprehensible. Hence, “stain on American history”.”

          Notice the end of Jim Crow lead to integration and white flight because blacks attacked white people. Hence the destruction of peaceful economically productive neighborhoods. In short the exact same behavior that you claim to be against. One is a stain on American history. The other is justified away.

          “The point is that integration, done properly, leads to more prosperity.”

          No. The country Jews were historically most integrated with was Weimer Germany. That ended with the mass murder of Jews. Integation of the Chinese in South East Asia was typically followed by pogroms against the Chinese (World on Fire for the gory details). Integration in Africa was typically followed with ethnic cleansing of Indians and whites.

          Integration of market dominant minorities usually ends with mass murder.

          “For a brief period after the Civil Rights Act, ”

          Blacks were making real gains starting in 1945 and continuing to 1970. The Civil Rights movement had nothing to do with it.

          Ending Jim Crow results in the talented tenth of the black community leaving and the rest of the black community following apart. It also has the exact same effect on local white communities as importing a large number of dysfunctional 3rd worlders. If you prohibit whites from excluding blacks, you destroy the communities of the white lower class.

          In short, it has the exact same effect as abolishing national borders and was pursued for the exact same reasons.

          ” In Montreal (very white, if you’re wondering), the police went on strike, and the city was immediately was racked by looting sprees.”

          I’m familiar with the case. I’m also familiar with the fact it was a temporary destruction. Long term destruction result in communal policing or warlordism. That is the historical norm.

          “Your conditions for what leads to gang rule applies to e.g. the Northern European countries. ”

          I listed 2 additional conditions. The first condition you listed doesn’t apply to NE European countries hence this doesn’t occur there. It is beginning to apply to European states (see how the police treat crimes by migrants) so we should expect similar transformation of European societies.

          “And I’m not sure when you think I “blamed whites”, given that I never fucking said anything like that.”

          Content and implication.

          “And while I’m broadly against gun control, I do wonder if you really think more guns in poor minority neighborhoods is the correct solution.”

          Notice the complete absence of an attempt to engage the argument or idea. The idea is clearly ‘if there is no legitimate policing, power will go to those with weapons and if weapons are illegal this will be exclusively criminals’. Now you could say the police will confiscate… oh wait, we just said the police aren’t policing these communities.

          Your position is they are being denied legal resources to fix themselves and this is enabling criminals and you wish to deny them additional legal resources to fix themselves.

          “Greenwood was the most prosperous black neighborhood in the country, so they did target successful blacks. Try again.”

          Context. I’m saying ‘target successful blacks’ as in PREFERENTIALLY TARGET. The target was blacks in the vicinity of black-on-white crime.

          ” But (a) this almost never translates to indiscriminate burning, looting and slaughter, ”

          And when the white communities stopped indiscriminate burning, looting and slaughter towards the black communities they were subject to indiscriminate burning, looting and slaughter by blacks.

          “and (b) there is an armed group whose job is to maintain order, they’re called the police. The Tulsa riot was a mob action, which is basically the opposite of order.”

          The police enforce order for the state. The mob enforced order for its community. Conflicts between communities often involve collective punishment. This is why highly different ethnicity rarely overlap; one usually drives out the other.

          ““Nation” is very arbitrary.”

          Nope. Shared history, language, culture and religion.

          “Were the Irish in the 1850s and 1860s “Americans”? ”

          The Irish aren’t American (that is to say British) today. If England couldn’t convince them to stay with Britian, no reason to assume they will adhere to the US in the long run- the British after all had about 300 years compared to the US’s 170. The United States is an empire which means the citizenship on its papers is no longer related to the historic American nation.

          ” Whereas black Americans do share a lot of history and religion and culture with white Americans; they fought for America over and over – the two World Wars, ”

          A total of 708 African Americans were killed in World War 2 (compared to 600,000 white Americans); in no sense did they fight in the World Wars. Blacks have their own history, their own churches and their own culture much of which does not overlap with white Americans.

          “They contributed massively to American culture, especially via music, sports, and literature. ”

          Sports and music maybe, but literature? Not really. African American contribution to American literature is thinner then any of the white ethnicities.

          “Their families have lived here for a very long time. They are Americans by any reasonable definition.”

          The Basque predate all other ethnic groups of Spain; their language implies they have been there about 7,000 years. They consider themselves their own ethnic group apart from the rest of the Spanish people. Proximity does not make individuals members of the same community.

          “The trend of anti-patriotism among black Americans, encouraged by the “brahmin” caste, is of course terrible; but many black Americans are still patriots. ”

          Yes, ethnic identification is all white people’s fault. No, blacks identify more with other blacks then with America as a whole. This shouldn’t be a surprise; leaving aside genetics the black community is primarily made of blacks so they spend most of their time interacting with blacks, they are related to other blacks and their local opponents (slum lords, developers and the like) are non-blacks.

          You can test this easily; see if blacks identify with non-American blacks.

          “The fight is properly directed against the brahmin dominance of American culture,”

          The Brahman dominance which abolished Jim Crow and seeks to abolish national borders. You are coming up with a variety of reasons why the first doesn’t imply the second and how they are actually being hypocritical. It looks to me the same exact mechanism is at work in both cases, the same results are observed and the same bad arguments are advanced to defend it.

          Like

        8. To expand on it, I’m going to provide the historical context you are missing/ignoring.

          Prior to the Civil War there were few pogroms against blacks (one in Washington DC in the 1830s). Cases of ethnic violence involved fighting between the Irish and Americans in Philadelphia and several other cities and fighting between the Irish and blacks in New York (over jobs; the blacks were there first and the Irish wanted them more).

          The Civil War featured violence against white Unionists in the South and the infamous Draft Riots in the North (Irish attacking blacks; I’m sure you see a trend).

          After the Civil War, there was large scale violence between the white and black populations in the South; the white population won.

          This equilibrium held until the Great Migration in the 1920s when a large number of Southern blacks started moving North which was followed by a large amount of violence in Northern cities against the black population.

          It is easy to see the pattern; when a new violent population is introduced into an area the social boundaries are set by violence. In situations where people are unwilling to act you get post 1965, a crime epidemic and white flight. We can see the process happening today in Europe where the refusal to use force against migrants is resulting in a massive epidemic of crime.

          Like

  2. So, apparently I live in hicksville because even though the Toqueville effect is famous I hadn’t heard of it.

    Anyway, going back to legibility, I think one question that isn’t considered when we talk about how wealthy somebody is is how able they are to direct their own time.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever been poor; I’ve had enough concerned, wealthy people in my life to keep me from ever having lived on the streets. But I’ve certainly been poor-adjacent, living in government assisted housing complexes while temping.

    And, you know, people living in those places have all kinds of astonishing luxuries at their fingertips: Electric lighting, internet access, dishwashers, laundry rooms, all kinds of amazing push-button age miracles that would have astonished and humbled any Roman Emperor.

    What you don’t have in that situation is the ability to direct any of your resources. Every dollar and cent is earmarked for a specific bill. If you walk past a Starbucks, you can’t buy a latte, because then you’ll be four dollars short on your electric bill, or your car insurance payments, and then you’ll have to drive without insurance, and then you’ll get a ticket, and then paying that comes out of the electric bill…

    There’s an episode of Flight of the Conchords where the decision to purchase a second cup causes a downward economic spiral into male prostitution, which illustrates the whole process pretty well.

    You know, I talked about not being able to direct your own time, but actually now that I’ve talked about it, one of the most frustrating things about being poor is not being able to easily redirect what resources you have towards new goals. You might still have that 50″ TV you bought before you lost your job, but it’s a few years old now, and while you could sell it on eBay, you’d end up with enough money to buy a week’s worth of groceries.

    You might well live in much more material splendor than any of your ancestors, while at the same time having less ability to direct those resources.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bug report: The quoted passage followed by “Emphasis mine” does not appear to be emphasized, as this page’s CSS rule for bold within blockquotes sets font-weight, counterproductively, to 400. I was briefly confused. (Italics within blockquotes are also stripped of their styling.)

    I have been enjoying this series and look forward to its continuation.

    Like

  4. That’s an interesting choice of title; whilst there is noting in your writing to suggest any particular religious affinity, is it too far off to suggest that you think [higher power] was a defence against nihilism, before the triumph of modernity?

    Obviously you point out that Hoffer deemed Christianity as the original mass movement, so it might perhaps be better to state that the ideal of spirituality was the defence, rather than any particular institution. The enlightenment/scientific progress/technology/whatever explained away the possibility for most to believe in anything more, and so the majority lost their gri-gri against nihilism, or narcissism.

    But, even if such a hypothesis is true, you cannot now undo the loss. People cannot doublethink the non-existence of most spiritual phenomena, and at the same time choose to believe in it because it might have benefits. A lot of mass movements seem to mirror the paths of religions and cults, and the traditional view has been that this is because such methods of organization are simply better. But I wonder if that’s actually what people want, spiritual leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t be so confident in that. About 40% of Americans are creationists and given differential fertility and faith having a genetic component, the individuals who fall prey to nihilism will be bred out. Sure it will have absolutely nothing supporting it unlike the past, but it is perfectly possible to run a modern society with smart people who believe in obvious nonsense.

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  5. Just a few observations:
    1. Eisenhower was, whatever public actions he took for better or worse, a good egg.
    2. Frustration as Heller understands it is crucially important to understanding the level of resentment so many feel–regarding their life-style, their capacity to make their voices heard in the public sphere. I haven’t read him in a while, but I think that as you present him you are underestimating the level of “politically” manufacture fear. I’m an American and live in [Eastern European city]. A compatriot told me, straightfaced and without guile that he was glad to get out of the US because of all the pedophiles. (Who apparently were targeting in some indefinable way his children.) Fear can sit there as a vague background motivator, but it can be weaponized when given direction and encouragement. America has always been a nation of fearful individuals, so…
    3. Mass leadership is going to be very difficult… we communicate with levels of rapidity and clarity (not necessarily accuracy) that make developing, enforcing, and motivating a party-line very difficult. There are always “cracks in the edifice” and the few people who see those cracks can broadcast their observations readily and with remarkable effect.
    4. You got me started on blogging again. Hooked me with Polyani, who I make advanced students read, and now I’m off to read Scott.
    5. Recommendation: (if you haven’t already: Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, … Truth and Truthfulness.
    Thanks so much!

    Like

    1. Thanks, I’m glad this was useful.

      You’re right about that downplaying, although it wasn’t quite intentional. To get into all aspects of a book would take far too long. I’ll probably publish some scraps on Hoffer that didn’t make the cut (at some point, who knows).

      What do you teach, if you don’t mind me asking?

      Funny – I was just told to read Bernard Williams the other day. I suppose I’ll have to now.

      Like

  6. “Everything accelerates and identity is always an arms race.”

    Taking this on its face, you’d conclude that identity was less salient in the past. But was it ever so? Back when Archie Bunker was sitting on his recliner, most people opposed intermarriage, and America was Great? Back during Jim Crow? The Jackson administration?

    Or if the idea is that identity becomes increasingly salient within movements over the course of their lifespan, until the movement collapses, is this because the focus on identity brings about that collapse?

    What if your “identity” were: tolerant pluralist. You identify yourself as one (of a community) that defines itself by not disriminating based on identity. You’d have to make an exception, of course, for those who DO discriminate based on identity – can’t have that in a tolerant society… This isn’t just theoretical; it comes pretty close to the sort of civic religion of the US that I, for one, was raised on, and that sort of runs neck-and-neck with white supremacy as the dominant ideology of American society (yay cognitive dissonance!). Is tolerant identitarianism the way to defuse the sort of will-to-regulatory-power discussed here? Or can such an identity never be more than a comforting noble lie for an empowered cosmopolitan class? Hmm.

    By the way, just started reading this blog and am finding it really fascinating. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mostly the second. I’m also pretty sure that there’s a strong difference between identity based in actions and pure identity. The latter seems much more common nowadays, although I suppose it’s hard to ask medieval peasants. Either way: identitarian movements now play on one another and up the ante. I talk about this some (the phrasing is different) in the series I wrote about social states. I’ll be discussing it more with Lasch.

      I do have some notion it will get worse over time (not merely within a movement), but I obviously can’t prove that at the moment.

      I suspect there will always be an outgroup (as you point out). I also suspect that it’s going to get larger – the obvious question is “what counts as discrimination based on identity?” I doubt it’s fixed, although whether that’s good or bad is a totally different question.

      Thanks for reading. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

      Like

    2. One of the things I read here (And at another, older blog called The Last Psychiatrist, which might also have been written by Mr. Keep) is a distinction between action and identity.

      In my hometown of Portland, during the recent protests and counter-protests,

      People from each side began screaming insults at each other as a circle of observers live-streamed the confrontations. Within minutes… Tiny Toese, the 20-year-old American Samoan, flattened an antifa protester half his size with a punch to the face, while the kid had his arms crossed defensively.

      Later that afternoon, Toese returned home and recorded a video for his Facebook page calling the day a success.

      “We don’t come there to fight. Our goal is to educate,” Toese said. “I know it turned a little bit ugly. I had to do what you guys saw me do. But please, everybody, that is not who I am. Don’t take me as a violent person. I am just a big, happy Samoan. A brown brother for Donald Trump and a brown brother for America.”

      I kind of wanted to say, “Dude, that is exactly who you are, because it’s what you actually did.” Not to his face, of course, since I’m afraid he’d knock me out.

      I mean, I would respect him more if he said something like “That’s not who I want to be, I don’t want to be a violent person and I’m working towards that”, but in a way I’d also respect him more if he said, “Damn straight, if some scrawny hippy gets up in my face I’ll knock him out” because even though I don’t approve of that kind of violence, at least a person who says that is admitting that the actual action itself is the important thing, that it matters that he hit somebody in the face.

      But he is a non-violent, happy educator, which is more important than what he does.

      There’s examples on the “left” too; One thing that I have never seen anybody point out about the Berkeley protests against Milo Yiannopoulos is that, in order to keep the Berkely campus safe and inclusive for everybody, a bunch of people decided to put together a violent mob to expel a gay speaker from campus because the mob didn’t like what he was saying.

      Yes, Yianopolous is a total choad and a third-rate Andrew “Dice” Clay impersonater, but according to the idea of privilege that all my liberal friends espouse, privilege is a matter of systemic power, not personal virtue. Supposedly, a mob of presumably mostly straight people running a gay guy out on a rail ought to be an example of the privileged policing the voices of the unprivileged…

      But again, it doesn’t matter if you’re part of a screaming mob threatening bodily harm to a gay guy, that’s not who you really are, and anyway he had it coming.

      Basically, I think a lot is going to hinge on whether your identity as “tolerant pluralist” comes with an attempt to cultivate certain behaviors in yourself, or whether it primarily comes from trying to demonstrate the ways in which you are not like your intolerant enemies.

      Ol’ Milo was laid low by a young person who has explicitly said she didn’t like him becoming a celebrity, because conservatism ought to be about actual values, not just mindlessly doing whatever pisses off the liberals.

      Like

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